Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Magic of Rhythm Instruments

Many teachers struggle with trying to raise Pre-school and Kindergarten age children's musical awareness and expressiveness. This article examines the use of rhythm instruments, such as rhythm sticks, shakers sand blocks, and bells, to do this, instead of singing. While the process of singing is very complex for young children in that they must remember the words and the notes, using rhythm instruments can be made fun and simple by using a variety of techniques. Some of these techniques are explained, such as playing along with familiar tunes with different lyrics ("This is the Way We Play Our Sticks" to the tune of "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush"), playing games where the children repeat the teacher, telling animal stories where different instruments symbolize different animals (sand blocks hit on the floor become dinosaur footsteps), and pretending the instruments are everyday items (the tambourine becomes a steering wheel). All of these processes are exciting for the children, while at the same time they will increase the children's awareness and expressiveness of music.

This article is from the October 2006 edition of Teaching Music

IPA in the Choral Rehearsal

Every choir director at one time or another has a problem with getting the choir to produce a uniform sound. This article looks into using the International Phonetic Alphabet in choral rehearsals. IPA is useful in the fact that it is universal and can teach students the proper sounds for not just English, but other languages as well. The author introduces IPA symbols and sounds during rehearsal time via warmups and transparencies on a projector. Using IPA not only reinforces pure vowel sounds, but diphthongs and rhythmic precision of consonants as well. This creates a more unified sound in color, blend, pitch, and breath management. This study is an example of how IPA can drastically improve a choir's singing.

"IPA in the Choral Rehearsal" from Teaching Music October 2006 issue.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Lady with The Hammer

Unusually simple piano scores scatter the studio floor of a reclusive composer in St. Petersburg. Galina Ustwolskaja does not travel and will not take interviews. Dubbed “The Lady with the Hammer” by music critics, blocks of polyphonic sound leap off the pages of her music. Bleak melodies are interrupted by a machine burst in the upper register, embellishing the typical socialist canvas of Soviet composition.
Ustwolskaja’s determination to create music uninfluenced by any other composer or genre made her unsuited to a career in the Soviet music business during the Stalinist era. Regardless, Ustwolskaja had to earn a living and came to an agreement with the state. This meant pumping out charming pieces in the Socialist Realist tradition to please the Soviet State. Her typical music, characterized by driving polyphony, severe dynamics (ffffff and ppppp), the absence of bar lines, and unusual instrumentation (Her Composition No. 1. was written for Piano, Piccolo, and Bass Tuba), was a luxury she mostly kept to herself for personal composition.
Born June 17, 1919, in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Uswolskaja began compositional studies at Leningrad Conservatory with Dmitri Shostakovich in 1937 and continued to study with him for ten years. Uswolskaja can be considered the only one of Shostakovich’s students who was able to escape the gravitational pull of his composing planet and create her own compositional style with, according to Uswolskaja, absolutely no influence taken from other composers: “there is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer,”

Even Shostakovich felt he failed to influence her; rather, he felt influenced by Galina. A man unlikely to compliment his students, Shostakovich supported her against the opposition of his colleagues in the Union of Soviet Composers and said of her, ‘I am convinced that the music of G. I. Uswolskaja will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance.” In fact, Shostakovich presented his scores to Ustvolskaya for her approval and attached great value to her comments.
. The scores of Shostakovich’s music for the film Hamlet were similar to Ustwolskaja’s music in mood and method. Use of large percussion blows and whip crack chords with militant simplicity, “almost puritanical in its distrust of anything colorful or soft-edged” The New Shostakovich (1990), expressed a similar experience of oppression under Communism. Otherwise, little connection has been found between Ustwolskaja and Shostakovich’s music.
A personal connection between the two, however, is evident. Rostropovich, a fellow composer who was friends with both of them, declared Uswolskaja and Shostakovich’s relationship as “tender.” In Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Elizabeth Wilson revealed their union as an “open secret.” Accounts of their relationship are in definite existent, but details are uncertain. The exact how and when of their relationship is unknown. Nevertheless, calling Uswolskaja his "musical conscience” Shostakovich was obviously struck by the young woman. It seems the relationship between the two was short and intense, since Shostakovich married another student soon after accounts of his affair with Uswolskaja were taken. It is known she broke up with the fellow composer in 1956, when she was 37 years old and the only contribution of the affair given by Uswolskaja herself is bitter and abrupt: “One thing remains as clear as day: a seemingly eminent figure such as Shostakovich, to me, is not eminent at all, on the contrary he burdened my life and killed my best feelings."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ani DiFranco

How many nine year olds have you seen playing Beatles covers in the local bars? Probably none since you’re all underage! But, if you were of age how realistic would this sight be? Not likely at all. Ani DiFranco is a well known artist who writes and performs all her own music and serves as one of the biggest music icons in the LBGT community, particularly among lesbians.

Ani DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York and began her career as a musician very early. By the age of nine she was playing Beatles covers and playing local gigs with her guitar teacher. By the age of eighteen she had recorded her first album under her newly opened record company Righteous Babes. She started the record company on her own with only fifty dollars in her pocket. From then on, she has recorded a new album every year (except 2000.) I feel the lesson we can learn from Ani’s life is the importance of and determination and independence as musicians.

The success of having your own record label can prove your determination and independence to a great extent. As musicians ourselves, artistic freedom is a major part of our career. Owning your own record label allows you to release whatever material you desire, whenever you desire, and as often as you desire. In my opinion, the fact that Ani DiFranco is able to take her music wherever she wants and express herself freely is greatly based on not having the “control” part of another record company. She has also helped her community out and purchased an old church that was going to be demolished due to vacancy. She now uses the church as the home to her Righteous Babes record company and it also serves as a concert hall.

Ani is a famous musician who has won her audience by the sound of her music and liberal lyrics. With lyrics that hit issues like sexism, racism, sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights, poverty and war she attracts many politically active college students who go on to spread the word of her music. Ani has experienced very little media exposure which would explain why the majority of DePauw’s students have not heard of her or her music. In fact, Ani has become popular by a small chain of leading events. It first started with cutting class to write poetry, then performing poetry, then turning poetry into lyrics and performing that. Once she obtained her drivers license her gigs began to spread from town to a bigger town, city to a bigger city, then state to state, and she now performs on tour all over the United States.

Ani is an independent artist who has left her success in the hands of her audience. She career is based on the approval of her fans. She writes lyrics that she knows her fans will be able to relate too. She is an feminine activist who believes in self expression as a musician.

Final Years: On Mahler, and the Musical Meaning of Mortality


It means ‘the awareness of life’s temporality’, but artists have always understood this word to mean much more. Mortality confirms humanity. To be mortal is to die, yes, at some point; but furthermore, to be mortal is to have lived.

It may be fascinating to examine an artist’s early life and influences to explain their work; however, I have chosen to consider an artist’s development – Gustav Mahler’s, specifically - as he realizes his own mortality. What led him to this discovery? Which events changed his outlook? And how, most importantly, was his music affected by this?

In July of 1907, Mahler’s eldest daughter, Maria (nicknamed Putzi) died of scarlet fever and diphtheria at the age of five. His wife, Alma, wrote: “Mahler loved this child so much that he more and more buried himself in his room, saying goodbye to his beloved child in his heart.” Following the tragedy of his daughter’s death, a cardiac specialist in Vienna diagnosed Mahler with a defected heart. The implications of this diagnosis meant that the composer, used to a life of constant physical activity, was restricted to limited movement and forbidden from overexerting himself. To have his child’s death and the threat of his own hit so suddenly and so close to him - one can imagine the sense of doom he must have felt. These events had an immediate affect on his music and his work ethic. He became increasingly productive as a composer and tireless as a conductor – often not returning home until late from the Opera Theatre, complaining of fatigue and the bad manners of coworkers.

As useful a distraction his work was to the composer, it left his wife feeling neglected and put upon. His intensity left her little room for her own interests (composition and painting) so she turned instead to architect Walter Gropius. In 1910, in a letter addressed to Mahler, Gropius declared his true intentions toward Alma – he wished her to be his forever, and leave her husband. Suddenly, Alma was able to tell her husband “how I had longed for years for his love, and how with his immense sense of mission he had simply overlooked me”. Abruptly, Mahler realized how close he had come to losing his wife. Thereafter, he doted on her – writing letter after lovesick letter, poetry, and even dedicating sections of his Tenth Symphony to her. Although she eventually married Gropius after Mahler’s death, there is no evidence of Alma’s affair continuing for the rest of Mahler’s life.

These events led the composer to perceive and accept his mortality. Mahler’s last years, musically, include deepening themes of loss, heartbreak, despair, and dread – clearly reflections of his life on his work - but also, recurrently, of hope. On a trip in New York, Mahler wrote to a friend: “When I hear music – including when I am conducting – I hear definite answers to all my questions – and am completely clear and sure. Or rather, I feel quite clearly that they are not questions at all.” Even amid the turmoil of his failing health, an unsteady marriage, and the ups and down of public opinion, Mahler’s final years find him a changed man – not only aware of his mortality, but accepting of it. By the end, he was able to put all his questions to rest – even the unanswered ones, he knew, would become clear after his mortality was manifested.


All direct quotes from Mahler: His Life, Work & World by Kurt and Herta Blaukopf
Other sources:
Mahler by Michael Kennedy
The Life of Mahler by Peter Franklin
Wikipedia's page on Mahler and subsequent links

Click to hear excepts of Mahler's Symphonies

Making A Name

Stephen Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930 in New York City. He was a very talented child who skipped kindergarten and was reading the New York Times by first grade. In 1936 he received his first piano lesson, however, this was not the beginning of his true training as a musician. There were many factors that lead to the instruction of the young Sondheim; the largest factor was his parents. His father, Herbert and mother, Janet were divorced in 1940. At first glance this may look as if it was a horrible emotional wrenching experience, as many divorces can turn in to, but in essence it was the beginning of Sondheim’s career. His mother uprooted him from New York City and sent him to military school. Unlike most children this was a very good experience for Sondheim because there was a wonderful organ there that he was allowed to play. The real achievement came after military school when Sondheim and his mother moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was here that Sondheim attended George School. George School was where Sondheim met and quickly befriended Jimmy Hammerstein. This friendship would prove to be one of the best things to happen to young Sondheim.
Jimmy’s father Oscar Hammerstein II soon learned of Stephen’s passion for music and became Stephen’s first mentor. He began teaching him about musical theatre and how to write musical theatre. Hammerstein developed a type of course outline for Sondheim to follow. This outline consisted of four assignments. The first was to turn a play he enjoyed into a musical, the second to turn a play he disliked into a musical, the third to use a non-dramatic piece and convert it into a musical and the final assignment was to create something original. This course took around six years and was finally concluded when Sondheim finished college.
Sondheim attended Williams College and was a music major under the influence of his first music professor Robert Barrow. After graduation he began private studies with Milton Babbitt in New York. They studied counterpoint and did a lot of music analyzation. Sondheim was a slow, hard working student. This hard work paid off in the long run.
Stephen Sondheim’s first major work was not that of composition, it was that of a lyricist. If there is one thing about show business that Sondheim learned and forever remembered it was that you take every opportunity you are handed. His first success “West Side Story” was premiered on September 16, 1957.
Sondheim continued to learn from his elders. He did not allow the fame of his first success to cloud his judgment, but continued to work diligently. He was given many other opportunities that would lead his way to his own full score and lyrics. He was taught his final lesson by Hammerstein when he was asked to write the lyrics for “Gypsy”. This lesson was how to write for a star. Stephen Sondheim achieved what every musician and artist hopes for, great success. He used the resources and opportunities he was given to make a name for himself in the musical theatre world, a name that will not easily be forgotten.

Zadan, Craig. Sondheim & Co. 2nd ed. New York, New York: Harper & Row,, Inc., 1989.

The Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. Washington D.C.: The Kennedy Center Education Department, 2002.

All Shine On...

Killed on his way back home from a recording session in December, John Lennon lived a truly legendary life. A member of the world-famous Beatles, and later doing solo work, Lennon made a huge impact on the planet and in the world of music.

John Lennon was born in Liverpool, during a German air raid. Both of his parents had musical backgrounds and experience, though neither pursued music seriously. Lennon lived with his parents until his father Alfred, a merchant seaman, walked out on the family when John was five years. His mother Julia (due to a current relationship and lack of home space) handed over care of young Lennon to her sister, Mimi Smith, after receiving a considerable amount of pressure from both Mary and child services to do so. Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his aunt. Like much of the population of Liverpool, Lennon had some Irish heritage. While Lennon had little exposure to his Irish heritage growing up, he came to identify with it later in life. He lived in a fairly middle class section of Liverpool.

Mimi and George, who had no children of their own, became strong parental figures to Lennon. Mimi was loving but stern, and kept John in line. George was softer than his wife and would indulge him, teaching him to paint, draw and buying him his first mouth organ. In Alfred's absence, George became a father figure and his death in 1955 was to have a profound influence on Lennon, especially in light of events that were to follow. On July 15, 1958, when Lennon was 17, his mother was killed returning from Mimi's house after being struck by a car driven by a drunk off-duty police officer. Julia Lennon's death was one of the factors that cemented his friendship with McCartney, who had lost his own mother to breast cancer in 1956, when he was 14. Years later, Lennon wrote the songs "Julia", "Mother" and "My Mummy's Dead" regarding his mother, as well as naming his firstborn son, Julian, after her.

Though failing at his exams by one grade at grammar school, Lennon was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and his Aunt Mimi, who was insistent that John would have some sort of qualification. It was there that he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell. Lennon would steadily grow to hate the conformity of art school, and he ultimately dropped out.

He then devoted himself to music, and was inspired by American rock 'n' roll with singers/musicians like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard. Mimi told Lennon frequently "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it." (Years later, when The Beatles were the top act in show business, he presented her with a silver platter, engraved with the same words.)

He started a little band in his Grammar School that was called The Quarry Men. With the addition of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the band changed to playing rock 'n' roll, taking the name "Johnny and The Moondogs", followed by "The Silver Beetles" , which was later shortened to The Beatles.

Fogerty Facts

In 1968, rock and roll was brought sharply back to its roots due to one album, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Led by the band’s lead singer, John Fogerty, CCR’s style reminisced back to the says of country, blues, and swamp-rock. The vision behind CCR is attributed to much John Fogerty's singing, songwriting, leadership, and guitar skills. Fogerty's compositions managed to evoke images of the utopian America as well as the inherent social issues of the time.
John, and his brother Tom, formed the band Tom and the Blue Velvets in the late 1950’s while staying in El Cerrito, California. They changed the band’s name in the mid sixties to The Golliwogs, but their popularity did not rise. It was not until John Fogerty took over the reigns of lead singer and front man, of the newly proclaimed Creedence Clearwater Revival, did the band become successful.
They released their debut album in 1968, and soon they had ten hit singles.
Some of these singles were “Proud Mary,” “Down on the Corner,” “Susie Q,” and “Who’ll Stop Rain.”

Unfortunately, Fogerty’s dominance of the group sowed seeds of disunity and mistrust. Tom Fogerty left the band in 1971 after expressing dislike at his brother’s upper hand in any decisions. This left CCR as a trio, and John agreed to allow drummer, Doug Clifford, and bassist, Stu Cook, equal shares of vocal time and songwriting on their next album, Mardi Gras, in 1972. The other band members protested, and said that it wouldn’t be a true Creedence album. They believed the fans would not understand. John replied, "My voice is a unique instrument and I will not lend it to your songs." He threatened to quit the band immediately if they did not agree to this. Mardi Gras turned out to be their last album, and Fogerty bought himself out of his contract and officially left the band.
Fogerty began his solo career under the name “Blue Ride Rangers.” For his 1973 debut, he played all of the instruments used and compiled an album of instrumental covers. He released John Fogerty in 1975, but sales were slim. Also, at this time, legal problems ensued. Creedence Clearwater Revival's former music publisher, affiliated with Fantasy Records, sued Fogerty because his new compositions sounded too much like his former work as songwriter for CCR. Later, in 1985, when Fogerty’s solo career finally hit its peak, he released the album, Centerfield. It went to the top of the charts and included the Top Ten hit, "The Old Man Down The Road" and the title track is frequently played on classic rock radio and at baseball games to this day. However, Fogerty ran into more legal problems with this album. It was believed that two songs on the album, "Zanz Kant Danz" and "Mr. Greed", were attacks on CCR’s former employer at Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz. "Zanz Kant Dance" was about a pig that can't dance but would "steal your money". Zaentz responded with a lawsuit, and Fogerty issued a revised version of "Zanz Kant Danz,” and changed the main characters name to Vance. Another accusation was that "The Old Man Down The Road" shared the same chorus as "Run Through The Jungle,” one of Fogerty’s hits while with Creedence. Fogerty won the case by proving the two songs were wholly separate and distinct compositions. He brought his guitar to the witness stand and played excerpts from both songs, demonstrating that many songwriters (himself included) have distinctive styles that can make completely different compositions sound similar to the ear.
Later, John Fogerty sued Zaentz for the cost of defending himself against the copyright infringement case. Fogerty v. Zaentz became precedent when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings in 1993 and awarded attorneys' fees to Fogerty, without Fogerty having to show that Zaentz's original suit was frivolous.
Fogerty followed up his success in 1985 with another album in 1986 entitled Eye of the Zombie. It was not merely as successful as it’s predecessor. Because of his albums failed success, Fogerty disappeared from the limelight until 1993 when Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, Fogerty refused to perform with his former band mates in retaliation with their siding with Fantasy Records during the copyright trials.

2004, marked a turning point in the life of Fogerty. He released another album, Déjà vu (All Over Again). Also, Fantasy Records was sold to Concord Records, which quickly ended to thirty-year fight between Fogerty and his former label. The new owners took steps to restore the royalty rights Fogerty gave up in order to be released from his contract with Fantasy in the mid 1970s. Finally, on June 9, 2005 Fogerty was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and in September he returned to Fantasy Records to release another recording.
John Fogerty has had a long and strenuous career. He was a musician who wanted to express his back to roots rock, and write music that made a statement during a turbulent time. However, due to the complications of his record company and former band mates, his career was spent defending his creativity. His genius inspired waves of musicians later in rock history, and will forever.

Works Cited

Bordowitz, Hank. Bad Moon Rising: The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Schirmer Trade Books.1998.

Creedence Clearwater Revival Biography
Creedence Clearwater Revival Free Music Downloads

Fogerty vs. Fantasy Inc.

NPR: John Fogerty travels ‘The Long Road Home’

Music for a Darkened Blog

I had just written a really extensive blog about Conor Oberst and that which is Saddle Creek with multi-media links and what not, but for some ******* reason, the internet quit and the blog was un-saved. And since I now know like everything about Conor Oberst, I do not want to have to write about him again, plus I want to learn about someone else. I picked someone who's music i also admired, but didn't know much about:

What do Homer Simpson, Spiderman, Pee-Wee Herman, Jack the Pumpkin King, Dick Tracy, and Eva Longoria have in common? Danny Elfman has composed music for all of these characters/actors. WHAAAA!??? indeed.

Danny Elfman was born on May 23, 1953, in Los Agngeles, California. He grew up in a racially mixed are and was known to his friends as "the whitest kid in town." As a child Elfman naturally spent his free time in the movie theaters, listening to the great film scorers of the time. Elfman dropped out of high school, and went with his brother to France. There, he played violin on the street, and performed in "Le Grand Magic Circus," an avant-garde musical theatrical group. After a while, he moved o Africa, where he voyaged through Ghana and Mali.

Around 1972, Elfman returned back to the states, where he joined his brother Rick to start a group called "The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo." The group became a cult classic, and later shortened their name to "Oingo Boingo" in 1978, and began touring the U.S. The band is known for their new wave influence and contributions to wierd 80's movie soundtracks. The band called it quits in 1995.

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Oingo Boingo, circa 1980. Elfman is the crazy guy with the guns. Elfman is portraying Satan for the movie "Forbidden Zone."

While Boingo was enjoying comporable success, Danny met Director Tim Burton in 1985. They instantly clicked, and Burton asked Elfman to score the music for his first main film (and one of my favorite movies) Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Elfman had no formal trainng, but Burton was convinced Elfman could make a fantastic, if not odd score. Since then, Elfman has scored all of Burton's films, except for one. Some of these movies include "Beetlejuice," "Batman," "Edward Scissorhands," and the latest being "Corpse Bride."

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Elfman and Burton

Elfman has also written music for tv shows including "The Simpsons," and "Desperate Housewives," the former got him nominated for an Emmy, and the latter won him an Emmy.

Elfman is is one of the great modern film scorers of our time, and is sure to influence musicians and writers for years to come. He currently lives in L.A. with his wife Bridget Fonda, and son Oliver.


Resources Used:

Ray Brown

“The Jazz giants-those that have lasted a long time-are a breed apart. They are not heroes free from the flaws of ordinary mortals. On the contrary, they seem to be more essentially human than most of us. Perhaps it’s because it takes extraordinary qualities to reach the top of a demanding profession and stay there. Whatever the reason, Ray Brown is one of those giants who through the eyes of the beholder has viewed him with awe as well as affection.” - Beatrice Richardson

Raymond Matthews Brown was born October 13, 1926, in Pittsburgh, PA. Ray started off with piano lessons at an early age, and when he saw how many kids at his school played piano, he decided he wanted to play trombone. He couldn’t afford one so he had to play whatever the school had extra of – the bass.

All throughout high school Ray listened and studied Duke Ellingtons tunes played on a jukebox, and studied Jimmy Blanton’s bass lines.

After high school Ray traveled with a few big band, but eventually decided to get a one-way ticket to New York. On his first night there, he ran into some luck and a friend who introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie, who was looking for a bass player and hired Ray on the spot.

This was the beginning of and long and successful career. Ray went on to play with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and singers such as Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughn and Nancy Wilson. He is considered one of the best jazz bassists to have ever lived.

Before Duke Ellington died, Brown got the great opportunity of recording an album with him called, “This one’s for Blanton” – referring to Dukes old bassist and Browns inspiration.

One afternoon in 2002 after Ray had gotten back from a round off golf, he died in his sleep while taking a snooze before a gig in Indianapolis.