Thursday, May 17, 2018

Musicology and the Arab Origins of Solfege (Guest post by Michael Vincent)

From Linda: Hello, everyone! I want to alert you to the fact that this essay is a guest post by Michael Vincent. Not only is it informative and thoroughly researched, it fits with the overall mission of this blog. I am grateful that he shared this with me, and I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

When in doubt, ask a musicologist. As Linda has noted elsewhere, musicologists are great for contextualizing music and history with larger ideas. But our discipline has blind spots. We train in European-style universities, where we sometimes continue to work. We tend to be Eurocentric, incorporating other perspectives but safely cordoning them off as secondary areas of interest. Owing to this blog’s mission, Linda hasn't shied away from the issue.

When I read this post from WQXR Blog on the origins of solfege, I was happy to see that the author consulted musicologist Andrew Dell’Antonio, who has contributed to Not Another Music History Cliché. Everything that James Bennett II (the WQXR author) writes conforms with what is commonly understood in our discipline—an improvement over an earlier essay that caught the attention of this blog. Bennett acknowledges complexities, since solfege is “found in musical cultures all over the world.” He specifies the subject of the post as “the form [of solfege] most associated with western European music.” He has done his due diligence in researching and presenting the information accurately. So what’s the issue?

It’s where Bennett writes “Guido d’Arezzo (ca. 991–after 1033), the monk to whom we attribute the beginnings of staff notation as we understand it today, also gets credit for solfège.” Bennett smartly hedges the language, noting that Guido “gets credit.” Yes, he does! While this level of information is appropriate for the reader of the WQXR blog, here we can get into why Guido gets credit: because of the Eurocentric perspective adopted by musicologists.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Will following Beethoven’s example lead to success?

A friend of mine who goes by the handle MusicologyDuck alerted me to a listicle with a title I found impossible to ignore:


Since this list appears on a general life advice site rather than one focused on, say, musical composition, I anticipated that I’d find factual inaccuracies that would necessitate a list of corrections, as I did earlier for a listicle of Mozart myths. What I found instead was information that wasn’t quite factually wrong but lacked crucial historical context and was twisted to serve an anachronistic agenda.
Portrait of Beethoven
People who received ACTUAL lessons from Beethoven (above):
Carl Czerny, Ferdinand Ries, Josephine Brunsvik
These “lessons from Beethoven” have much in common with the sanitized composer biographies for children that I’ve previously criticized. Instead of presenting Beethoven as a moral role model for leading a virtuous life, however, this list offers the composer’s life as a model for a successful career. In the process, the complex, contradictory life of a real person is distilled to twenty-five aphorisms that cherry-pick events for anachronistic support of current economic practices.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Announcement: Guest spots on "The Listening Service" and "Are We Okay?"

Hello, everyone! I am currently working on an essay about a listicle which mines a composer's life for business advice, which I plan to post either this week or next. In the meantime, you can listen to me chat about music on two different shows:

For Tom Service's show "The Listening Service" on BBC Radio 3, he consulted me on the issue of whether music is a universal language. As you may recall from my post on this topic, my stance is that it is not. I state my case beginning at about 16:00 in the show.

"Is Music a Universal Language?" on The Listening Service
What is music good for? In our concluding link with the BBC's Civilisations season, The Listening Service asks one of the most fundamental questions we can about music, a claim often made on the art-form's behalf in a list of reasons why it's an essential good: is music a universal language? More »

I had a much longer conversation with Chris Lambert for his podcast, "Are We Okay?" We talked about music a bit, but we covered a lot of other topics, as you can read in the description. If you ever wondered how my life is doing outside of this blog, you can find the answers somewhere in this hour of off-the-cuff rambling.

"Rock the boat before I go" on Are We Okay?
I drop by musicologist and blogger Dr. Linda Shaver-Gleason's apartment to talk about female composers, Florence Price, playing the viola, musicology, Felix Mendelssohn's reception, finding something compelling in pop music, writing a blog, Harald Krebs' Fantasy Pieces, escaping school through logic puzzles, reading Mahler scores with her dad, being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, auditioning for Jeopardy! during brain radiation treatment, outliving a prognosis of six months, the process of chemotherapy, the BRCA2 genetic mutation, what she wants to be remembered for, and why she still feels lucky. More » 

And since this is an announcement post, I want to thank the readers who have sent me a total of 80 "coffees" via Ko-fi, as of the time I'm writing this. I write the blog for personal reasons and not as a stable income source, but I do put a lot of research into every essay I publish here. Using Ko-fi to buy me a $3 coffee is a way for readers to express support encouragement. You are, of course, under no obligation to send me anything, but I appreciate every coffee and note I receive.

Thank you for reading and (potentially) listening! More classical music culture critique coming soon.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What should we call classical music?

In March 2018, The Telegraph published an article that had classical music aficionados up in arms. Although it doesn’t take much to agitate this crowd, the headline was indeed provocative:


My initial reaction was similar to that of my music scholar colleagues: “What?! There is so much classical music that isn’t orchestral! What about opera? Solo works? Songs? Chamber music? Choral music?” and so on, naming as many genres of non-orchestral classical music as we could to show just how wrong, wrong, WRONG that idea is.

But when I actually took the time to read the article, I realized that the headline was misleading—likely intentionally so, to stoke those flames of OUTRAGE! that generate page views…

…because that’s not actually what the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s (RPO) managing director James Williams said.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Halls are Alive: Essay for VAN Magazine

Hello! Even though I haven't been updating the blog lately, I have been busy with other musicological endeavors. I discussed music, art, and philosophy on a local podcast (which hasn't posted yet), and I had a chat with BBC Radio 3's Tom Service for an upcoming episode of  The Listening Service about my stance on whether music is a universal language. I'll post links to these once they go live.

Meanwhile, here's my latest article for VAN Magazine (who previously published my essay, "Classical Music Isn't Cool"): "The Halls are Alive."

"Our familiarity with this inward-oriented listening experience may have dulled our sense of how precious it is."

"So many facets of classical music culture are holdovers from the 19th century and at odds with 21st century society....Yet in this essay I defend the most Romantic of 19th-century institutions: the concert hall. Yes, the physical manifestations of music worship, structures so Romantic that they wouldn’t be foreign to Richard Wagner. Though some argue that the etiquette for concert halls is outdated, elitist, and partly responsible for classical music’s struggle to find new audiences, concert halls actually provide unique experiences that have become all too rare." Read more »

I've also had a paper accepted to the "Music and Musicology in the Age of Post-Truth" conference in Dublin next September, and I've been writing program notes for a few new clients. Even so, I'm hoping to have a new post on The Telegraph's argument that "Classical music must ditch its name." Exciting times ahead!

Like what you’ve read?