Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why isn’t band music as respected as orchestral music?

A high school concert band. Photo by Sheila Herman.
Be honest: Does this picture
give you flashbacks?
As I mentioned in my previous post on my trip to Utah State University, one of the students posed a question that had the potential to be an interesting blog post. We had been discussing perceptions of “high” vs. “low” culture and how those get mapped onto music, and USU student Samuel Dickson asked:

“Why doesn’t band music get as much respect as orchestral music does?”

I had to come up with an answer on the spot, and I think I was on the right track overall. Yet this is the type of question that can reveal so much about history and cultural assumptions that it warrants research and a much more thorough answer than I was able to give off the top of my head.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Adventures of a Visiting Scholar in Utah (with link to my talk, “The Morality of Musical Men: From Victorian Propriety to the Era of #MeToo”)

Hello, everyone! If you’ve been following my social media accounts (either Facebook or Twitter), you’ll know that I was busy last week. I traveled to Logan, Utah for Utah State University’s Visiting Artist & Scholar series, part of their Year of the Arts. For two days, January 25-26, I was treated like a musicological rock star. It was an amazing experience, and I want to let you know what I did out there—for those readers who wonder what public musicologists do, or what an academic trip like this can look like, or just like to know what I’m up to.

A poster for my scholarly talk in the lobby of my hotel
 Poster for my talk in the lobby of my hotel. 
I received the invitation to USU in late 2016 from musicology professor Chris Scheer, whom I’d met through our shared Anglophilia and membership in the North American British Music Studies Association (the group that I mentioned in my post on Clara Schumann). Honored, I accepted, but I had a lot of concerns due to my health.

Long-term planning is difficult for someone with stage IV breast cancer, especially since my condition has been very unpredictable—in fact, last summer I had such a big setback that I absolutely would not have been able to travel then. I still haven’t gained back all the strength and mobility I lost then, so as my trip neared, I had to trim the trip down to the barest responsibilities of the position, knowing I wouldn’t have the stamina for much more.

Fortunately, Dr. Scheer and everyone else I met was accommodating and sensitive to my medical issues. The schedule was adjusted to four days: two days of teaching, discussing, and presenting, and a day of travel on either end. I arrived in Utah on Wednesday, January 24th, with responsibilities beginning on Thursday the 25th.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Is Music a Universal Language?

Hello, and happy new year! I hope your 2018 is off to a good start. I’m starting the year by tackling one of the most pervasive musical clichés, one that goes beyond any individual composer or even a particular musical style. Some readers may be upset with me for debunking this aphorism, perhaps because they believe it and that belief has done some good in their lives. Other readers have been waiting for this post since the blog began. So, here we go:

Is music a universal language?

Since this question is the title of the post and I’m big into Betteridge’s Law, you have probably already figured out that my answer is a resounding NO.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Myth of the Canon's Invisible Hand (Guest post by Anne C. Shreffler)

From Linda: Hello, everyone! This year has been remarkable for (among other things) public debates about women's experiences in our society, from the Women's March to the #metoo campaign. Just as the previous two posts on this blog have featured a multitude of voices, this post comes from someone else: Harvard musicologist Anne Shreffler. Many thanks to Dr. Shreffler for contributing to our continued discussion of the classical music canon.

The name of Beethoven engraved over the proscenium at Symphony Hall in Boston.
Beethoven, the disembodied name of a
musical deity, in Boston's Symphony Hall
“But isn’t musical quality more important than gender?”

Anyone who has ever proposed a greater inclusion of women composers and composers of color—into a curriculum, a concert program, or an archive—is familiar with this kind of response. One of the most persistent myths in music history is that the classical music canon came about as the result of a rational, inevitable process that ensured the preservation of only the "best" works, those that "stood the test of time." An influential proponent of this view was the German musicologist Carl Dahlhaus, who maintained in 1977 that the musical canon was not made but "found." According to Dahlhaus, we can't shape or change the canon, since it was created long ago by the invisible hand of tradition.

How exactly is this selection process supposed to have worked? One imagines a fictional court of justice in the heavenly spheres, presided over by—whom? (God? St. Cecilia? Herbert von Karajan?), that conducts annual reviews of ALL the compositions by ALL the people, and hands down impartial judgment on their "musical quality." The verdict: Sibelius, yes; his contemporaries Amy Beach and Will Marion Cook, no.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The "reception and perception of women composers" (Tweets about Women Composers, part 2)

Cécile Chaminade wonders when she'll be heard on the radio as often as Maurice Duruflé.
Cécile Chaminade wonders when she'll be heard on
the radio as often as Maurice Duruflé.
Hello, and welcome to part 2 of our recent discussion on Twitter about women composers in history. If you want to see what prompted the conversation, check out part 1, in which musicologists point out that, just because you haven't heard of woman composers at a particular time, doesn't mean they didn't exist.

Again, I've chosen to embed the Tweets rather than transcribe them so you may interact with them if you'd like.

As the conversation went on, "symphonic rabble rouser" Emily E. Hogstad had a substantial amount to say: