How Should we Sing these Songs?

While planning a recent singing workshop, MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria, had cause to reflect on the names and lyrics of songs, how the meaning of some words has changed, becoming sensitive, controversial or unacceptable, and how some aspects of music might impact workshop participants.

Looking into the topic more deeply, Maria discovered examples that have created debate in the past. One such incident happened when Garry Martin, a headteacher in Melbourne, Australia, decided it was necessary to alter a word in the song Kookabura. His concern was around the phrase, “Gay your life must be.”

Mr Martin mentioned his decision to change the word ‘gay’ to ‘fun’ on local radio, and found himself under fire. He had been conscious that the word would potentially lose him control of his class: “I knew if we sing ‘Gay your life must be’ the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter … I wasn’t trying to insult gay people.”

Although Mr Martin’s decision was based on behaviour management, it raised concerns from gay and lesbian advocates who said it sent a signal that the word ‘gay’ was unacceptable.

Mr Martin later acknowledged that instead of avoiding the issue, he should have explained the meaning of gay as another word for happy, and taken the opportunity to educate the children that the term should not be used disparagingly.

Songs that use gay to mean happy or joyful are common. Jamaica Farewell, released in 1957, made famous by Harry Belafonte and covered by various artists including Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Carly Simon. is another example.

Down the way

Where the nights are gay

And the sun shines daily on the mountaintop

I took a trip on a sailing ship

And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop

 

But I’m sad to say I’m on my way

Won’t be back for many a day

My heart is down

My head is turning around

I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.

So how should we teach these songs in schools, youth groups, holiday clubs and other community groups?

The setting can be very important, but should not be prescriptive. While homosexuality can be a challenging issue in some religious settings, the original meaning and context of any lyrics still stand. Approach the subject sensitively. Decide whether it is really necessary to change any words, and think carefully about your reasons for doing so.

Other songs that can raise challenges include songs that may cause children to remember abuse or trauma.

What Shall We do with the Drunken Sailor is a sea shanty dating from as early as 1820 which became popular among non-sailors in the 20th century. As a song for musical activities, it has easy words with lots of repetition, makes use of drone and is a good way to introduce the concept of work songs – songs that helped workers carry out tasks.

Children often find the idea of drunkeness funny. However, for participants who have experienced abuse from a drunken relative, this song could trigger feelings of trauma.

Alcohol is a topic that requires care in religious settings. The tale of Sinbad the Sailor, which makes a great basis for a composition workshop, features drunkenness, even though it is set in Muslim countries. Again, sensitivity and awareness are key. Any elements of a story that might cause offence and risk children losing the opportunity to participate can be removed.

Music that links to war can also bring up bad memories or emotions in participants. The Second World War has inspired many composers, with works including Steve Reich’s Different Trains. MWC’s Maria says: “Having studied the Holocaust at school, I cannot listen to Different Trains. I find it chilling, it literally makes me feel cold.”

As a teacher or workshop leader, be aware that music can trigger strong emotions, and this can be a positive or negative experience. When choosing challenging music, try to predict possible issues, and once in the classroom make sure you are hyper-aware of the body language and reactions of your students.

Race is another subject that requires thought. Some pieces of music might be worth listening to for their cultural context or for their compositional value, but be laden with difficulty. For example, consider how you would introduce Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Is it best avoided, or is it better to teach the history behind the name? While it may be more comfortable to disassociate from this area of music history, this is a valuable opportunity to educate students and deepen their understanding. Instead of ignoring the piece, you can explain what it was about, and what ‘golliwog’ and ‘cakewalk’ meant. This excellent essay explains the racism behind the Golliwog Caricature.

Remember too that it is possible to be oversensitive. Teachers who changed the words to the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep to Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep because they felt the word ‘black’ was racist caused a debate about political correctness ‘gone mad’. In the case of this song, the sheep is black simply for the purposes of alliteration. Removing the word could send the message that ‘black’ is a negative term. It also gives an example of trivial political correctness that racists can use to criticise and undermine the very real issue of racism.

With many cultural items, things move in and out of fashion or are interpreted differently over time. Only recently, removal by Manchester Art Gallery of John William Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs, triggered by the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, sparked discussion about political correctness and the danger of censoring or editing art that does not conform to what is currently acceptable.

It’s important to constantly evaluate traditional attitudes and familiar phrases. It is also always possible, if you feel there will be a problem that might preclude some children’s inclusion, to chose an alternative song or piece of music that achieves the same result.

Every piece of art is a result of the society in which it was created. The challenge for music educators is to ensure the survival of great music while placing it in a context that shows sensitivity to the audience/participants and the works themselves.

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Creative Subjects Need Your Support

The Music Workshop Company has been following changes to the secondary curriculum in the UK with concern, as the implementation of the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) results in a worrying decline in take-up of arts subjects.

We’ve been supporting Bacc for the Future – the brainchild of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). We spoke to the ISM’s Jessica Salter to find out how the campaign is progressing:

“Bacc for the Future calls for creative subjects to be included in EBacc and ABacc league tables, or for these qualifications to be replaced by a more rounded option. The campaign began in 2011 when the EBacc was first imposed. It’s now supported by more than 30,000 individuals and 200 creative organisations.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

The EBacc is a league table measuring schools by pupil performance in five subject areas. The intention is for ‘at least 90% of students’ (nationally) to be entered into the EBacc subjects, with only certain types of schools exempt. This essentially makes it a compulsory qualification for most school-age children in England.

For a pupil’s performance to count towards this new measure, he or she needs to have studied a minimum of seven GCSE subjects which must include English Literature, English Language, Maths, two or three sciences, an ancient or modern language, and history or geography.

If students are encouraged to study triple science and history and geography, this minimum of seven GCSEs becomes a minimum of 9.

It becomes clear looking at this list that the EBacc pushes creative subjects, like music, out of the curriculum and out of school options at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level).

The fact that the EBacc undermines creative subjects in secondary schools is a big problem. Statistics released by the Department of Education (DoE) in January showed an 8% drop in the uptake of creative GCSEs in 2017.

Add that to the 8% drop in 2016, and the figures are significant.

A recent survey from the BBC, which looked at 1,200 schools nationwide, found that 90% of these schools had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.

The ISM continues to meet with parliamentarians to fight the EBacc. We still need your support and encourage musicians and music educators to actively participate to help us. You can do this by writing to your local MP and the Prime Minister about why creative subjects matter in our schools.

To find out more and to support our Bacc for the Future campaign visit baccforthefuture.org and follow us on Twitter @bacc4thefuture.”

Read MWC’s previous blogs about the campaign:

The EBacc and the Importance of the Arts in Schools

The EBacc and the Arts – An Educational Paradox

Government Bulldozes on with EBacc Despite Evidence

The ISM was set up in 1882. Today the organisation supports a growing membership of nearly 8,500 professional musicians from across the music sector. Its members include performers, composers, music teachers, music administrators, music technology professionals and portfolio musicians. The ISM provides a range of services including specialist legal and tax advice, template contracts, comprehensive insurances, professional development materials and select discounts – as well as fearlessly protecting musicians, the music profession as a whole and the wider industry through rigorous campaigning.


If you would like to contact the Music Workshop Company to book one of our bespoke workshops, or if you have an issue, an event or anything music-education related you’d like to see covered in our blog, get in touch today, we’d love to hear from you: info@music-workshop.co.uk


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Debussy: Trailblazing Modernity

Achille Claude Debussy, or Claude Debussy as he’s usually known, was, along with Maurice Ravel, the most prominent French composer of classical music associated with Impressionism. Born in 1862, he died on March 25th, 1918, making this year the centenary of his death. His music is still incredibly popular, and ‘centenary’ recordings are trending in the classical music charts.

Impressionism is a term used to describe both music and art. In music, it indicates works that convey emotion, suggestion and atmosphere, using timbre (texture) harmony (colour) and orchestration (palette) in the same way that impressionist painters such as Monet and Renoir built an overall impression rather than a detailed realistic image.

Children on the Beach at Guernsey, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1883

These styles were in keeping with the literary fashion of the time: Symbolism. Symbolism was a reaction against the grittiness of realism. It featured metaphor and suggestion. Individual objects were given symbolic meanings with the intention of representing ‘absolute truths’ that could only be described indirectly.

Debussy rejected the term ‘Impressionism’ when applied to his music. In a letter of 1908 he wrote,

I am trying to do ‘something different’ — in a way realities — what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.

In fact, the composer spent a lot of time, and shared many ideals with symbolist writers, including Mallarmé and Pierre Loüys. Although the label of ‘impressionist’ that was given him in a less than flattering way after he submitted Le Printemps to the Conseil de Art (it was refused by the Académie’s Secretary in a letter warning him about “impressionism, the most dangerous enemy of artistic truth”), he adhered more to symbolism than impressionism, and transcended both.

Debussy at the Piano

Debussy’s musical language marked the era of modernity. His focus was constantly on originality – a genuine trailblazer in the world of music. Experimental from the outset, he was also a brilliant pianist and a fantastic sight-reader. While he applied the techniques of the old masters, he pushed these to their limits. He used whole tone scales, pentatonicism, and unresolved dissonances by removing them from the tonal framework.

Travels to Russia in his youth had interested in non-European music. These trips possibly also prepared him for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, where he discovered the Japanese gamelan and Annamite theatre. By integrating these elements into his language, he created a sound that was previously unknown and was to spark modernism in music.

Russian music itself made a strong impression. Influences from late nineteenth-century Russian music, including that of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin can be heard in Debussy. There was increasing cross-cultural flow during the period of the Franco-Russian alliance in the late nineteenth century, and Russian music was also performed and popularised by musicians including Liszt and Saint-Saëns.

As winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition L’enfant prodigue, Debussy had received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to further his studies (1885–1887).

In his letters to Marie-Blanche Vasnier (a singer with whom he went on to have an eigth-year affair) he complained that he found the artistic atmosphere stifling. He didn’t enjoy the culture in Rome either. The operas of Donizetti and Verdi were distinctly not to his taste. He was often depressed and unable to compose. He was, however, inspired by Franz Liszt, whose command of the keyboard he found admirable.

In June 1885, he wrote of his desire to follow his own way, saying,

I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which it ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas.

It was Debussy who can to some extent be attributed with the development of modern music in the United States in the early twentieth century. American music critics showed mixed reactions to the composer’s highly original harmonic language and style, but his modernistic musical language and symbolist ideals soon evoked enthusiasm. In the early decades of the century, Debussy’s orchestral music was championed more than that of any other contemporary composer by the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, and New York. His work is also thought to have influenced American jazz long after his death.

Debussy died of rectal cancer at home in Paris home at the age of just 55. His death occurred in the midst of the aerial and artillery bombardment of Paris during the German Spring Offensive of World War I.

His funeral procession passed through deserted streets to Père Lachaise Cemetery as the German guns bombarded the city. The military situation in France was grave, and the public funeral he would otherwise have received, with its pomp and ceremonious graveside orations, was impossible. The following year, his body was reinterred in the small Passy Cemetery  behind the Trocadéro, fulfilling his wish to rest “among the trees and the birds”.

Further Reading:

Debussy: The first ‘modern’ composer (a New York Times article by Pianist Stephen Hough

Five pop-ish musicians who owe a debt to Debussy 

Debussy’s influence on jazz

And check out our MWC ‘Debussy’ Spotify playlists:

Debussy’s Piano Music

Debussy’s Orchestral Music

Wales – Land of Song

The feast of Saint David, patron saint of Wales, falls on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. Saint David’s Day has been regularly celebrated since his canonisation in the 12th century. To celebrate, we are exploring the music of Wales.

Wales holds a special place in our hearts here at the Music Workshop Company; firstly because it’s the home nation of founder and Artistic Director, Maria, and secondly because of its apt and joyful reputation as “Land of Song”.

“Door of Abbey of Ystrad Fflur. have crumbled and disappeared. The solemn procession and song of tonsured priests, themimicry of the heavenly choir by urchins of the hills hastily draped in white, and the fervidchant of the Cistercian fraternity, blending with the deep and thrilling tones of the organand sweetest voices of chilldren,— Ave, Regina coelorum !Ave, Domina angelorum ! have long ago passed away. Generations many, of the gentlest and best, the bravest andstrongest of the Ceredigion households, he in dust around,—princes, princesses, lords ofmanors and castles, warriors once terrible in battle, and the poorest of the poor, without dis-tinction or memorial, as equal as grains of sand, as unknown as if they had never been. Howimpressively quiet is their rest amid the mountain solitudes! ANTIQUITIES : LLANDDEWI-BREFI. 165 All that remains of the abbey is this solitary arch of Norman design. The land onwhich the abbey stood, and much of the country around, belongs to the estate”

This is partly a modern stereotype, based on the popularity and worldwide reputation of Welsh male voice choirs, a history of Nonconformist choral music and the Eisteddfods. But even as early as 1187, medieval chronicler Geraldus Cambrensis recorded that the Welsh sang in as many parts as there were people, and even that quite small children could harmonise. Music in Wales was a primary form of communication.

Welsh traditional songs, like those of other cultures, were based on seasonal customs such as the welcoming of spring and New Year. However, this music was suppressed for generations as a result of the Act of Union in 1535 and 1542, in which the legal system of England was extended to Wales. The intention behind the act was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction – fundamentally, Henry VIII was making the point that Wales was part of his England, and its separate language should not disabuse anyone of this fact. Section 20 of the 1535 Act made English the only language of the law courts and said that those who used Welsh would not be appointed to, or paid for, any public office in Wales:

from henceforth no Person or Persons that use the Welch Speech or Language, shall have or enjoy any manner Office or Fees within this Realm of England, Wales, or other the King’s Dominion, upon Pain of forfeiting the same Offices or Fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English Speech or Language.

The effect of this clause was to lay the foundation for an Anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales. This would have many consequences, not least for Welsh music. The language became the preserve of the workers, creating class divide within Wales and cultural ignorance outside.

Welsh traditional music declined further in the 18th and 19th centuries with the rise of Nonconformist religion, which emphasised singing over instrumental music. Any English subject belonging to a non-Anglican church or a non-Christian religion was called a Nonconformist. More broadly, this covered any person who advocated religious liberty. Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Calvinists Methodists, Unitarians and Quakers all fell under this definition. Due to the puritanical nature of many of these religions, traditional music became associated with drunkenness and immorality. However, many hymns that developed from the Welsh Methodist revival of the late 18th century were set to popular secular tunes or adopted Welsh ballad melodies.

The Male Voice Choir

The tradition of Welsh male voice choirs grew up out of mining, industrial and religious heritage, and in the competitive choral singing of the eisteddfod. It was not uncommon for a group of miners working together to form a choir to enter a competition or eisteddfod and disband shortly after.

Other choirs thrived and survived, such as the Treorchy and Morriston Orpheus choirs, both now famous throughout the world.

The men were tough workers and had hard lives, but produced some of the most soulful, powerful, sensitive music. Land of My Fathers is the National Anthem of Wales. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in Welsh, the words were written by Evan James and the tune composed by his son, James James, both residents of Pontypridd, Glamorgan, in January 1856.

Despite the decline of the mining industries, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s comment, “We are a musical nation,” is as relevant as ever. Male voice choirs remain a feature of life in Wales. More recently, too, there has been resurgence for Welsh male choral singing. In 2000, Tim Rhys-Evans, former musical director at Welsh National Youth Opera and a classically trained singer, formed the award winning Only Men Aloud! And Only Boys Aloud! Only Kids Aloud! followed, ensuring that choirs have a future among the younger generation.

Members of the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir – 1908

Female and mixed choirs, though historically not as well represented, are now equally popular, and choral singing is increasingly recognised for its health and wellbeing benefits.

Eisteddfod and Competitive Singing

​Competitive singing is very popular in Wales. The National Eisteddfod of Wales is the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Running over eight days each summer, it features competitions and performances entirely in the Welsh language, with all official announcements also in Welsh. It attracts over 6,000 competitors and audiences of over 150,000.

Another example of competitive singing can be seen in the Mari Lwyd (the Grey Mare) – a type of pre-Christian house-visiting wassail said to bring good luck.

The Mari Lwyd (a hobby horse made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by an individual hidden under a sackcloth) and its companions would go door-to-door, singing, and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults in Welsh. At the end of this battle, the group would be invited into the house for refreshments.

A Gymanfa Ganu is a Welsh festival of sacred hymns, sung with four part harmony by a congregation, usually under the direction of a choral director. More than a thousand Gymanfa Ganu are held in Wales each year, taking place in almost every village and town. Other larger versions take place at festivals such as the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. Gymanfa Ganus are held across the world wherever people of Welsh heritage live, significantly in Patagonia, Argentina.

Maria Thomas attended her first Gymanfa at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, when she competed in the instrumental competition as a teenager.
I attended with friends and family, and even though I don’t speak Welsh and therefore didn’t understand the announcements or the hymn words, the sense of community was fabulous. Singing is a great activity, and when hundreds of people come together to sing, it is a very special atmosphere.

To listen to some examples of traditional Welsh song and choral singing, check out our Spotify playlist:

 

Music for my Mind

Music for my Mind is a new charity which seeks to provide evidence that personalised music enhances the lives of people living with dementia. The Music Workshop Company speaks to Project Assistant, Dimana Georgieva, to find out about the study, its potential impact and how it’s being funded.

For many years, it has been known that familiar music has a powerful effect on people. It can make us join in by singing along, tapping our feet or moving our hands, smiling or even dancing. Music allows us to go back in time and remember treasured memories from years ago. Using technology to select and monitor favourite music is new and a clinical trial will provide the evidence needed to make this treatment standard of care in care homes throughout the UK and internationally.

This is what Music for my Mind is all about. We are a new charity seeking to provide evidence that personalised music enhances quality of life and well-being of people living with dementia; it also helps them reconnect with their loved ones. We are working towards clinical trials that show the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of this approach.

Music for my Mind has the backing of a committed and influential Board, chaired by the Founder, Professor Keith McAdam, who witnessed first-hand, the effect that music and creativity can have on well-being and quality of life in people living with HIV in a clinic in Uganda, where he was the foundation director. His background in clinical medicine and research has helped us envision a step by step process to achieve our goal, working with cross-disciplinary collaborators.

In our pilot study last year, using Spotify, and based on date of birth and music tastes in their youth, a personal playlist was created for volunteers and residents in care homes, living at different stages of the dementia spectrum. Everyone’s playlist was unique and personalised, as were their reactions and emotions. It touched not only those living with dementia, but their family and carers too.

Huguette was born and grew up in Belgium, where she listened to French and Dutch music in her teenage years. In 1973, in her 30s she met and married David, a British accountant and moved to live in England seven years later. Sadly Huguette was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 aged 66. David looked after her in the family home until 2014, when it became too much for him to cope and she was moved to full time care. Now as the disease progresses she barely recognizes her visitors. She’s unable to express herself and communicate and is sometimes agitated and disruptive. Until one day she heard the sounds of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ by Jacques Brel which strikingly translates to ‘Don’t Leave Me’. She responded immediately, starting to sing along and looking lovingly at her husband. The song was followed by similar pieces which again evoked an emotional reaction and recognition. She became more interactive, less agitated and her attention span increased.

We have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to help change the lives of families like David and Huguette. We will be able to commence work on pilot studies that show that music should be part of the standard of care for people living with dementia. The funds will also provide support towards securing grant funding in 2018 for conducting a large scale trial. These pilot studies will answer a series of relevant questions such as:

  • Is there a minimum dose of music an individual needs to improve mood?
  • Is there a particular time in the day when music listening has a better effect?
  • Does a specific type of music help in certain moods – e.g. calming music when people are agitated and anxious?
  • Will the same music have different effects on successive occasions?

The funds we raise will also help us work with a small, experienced team to find an efficient and automated way to build personal music playlists; develop easy-to-use systems for delivering the music to people in care homes; and establish key relationships with health organisations, care homes and technology companies that will help us move this project forward.

Our ambition is to utilise modern technology such as physiological and artificial intelligence monitors to measure emotional responses to the music and to select a favourite musical playlist. Technology developments have made these goals possible. In our pilot studies, we used a wearable monitor, which measured galvanic skin response, blood volume pulse, 3D movement and heart rate. Further research on other monitors is targeted at finding a process that can be taken to scale.

Music for my Mind is also working through leading music streaming service Spotify in compiling personalised playlists from a person’s teenage years, using the program’s recommendation service. This period represents a time where the majority of our memories is created.

We all have soundtracks to our lives, whether we recognise it or not. Everyone can help us spread the message by sharing our cause with your networks or donating towards our crowdfunding campaign: https://musicformymind.hubbub.net/

For full information on the Trustees and future plans you can visit our website: http://musicformymind.com/


If you would like to know more about the Music Workshop Company or would like to book one of our tailor-made music workshops, contact us today:

The MWC Playlists – Listening Resources for You

Listening to music is beneficial for many reasons. It can be a relaxing pastime in itself, inspiring, soothing and uplifting, or it can be a focused learning activity that has many positive influences on social and academic development. The benefits of music have been widely reported for years, marketed by companies selling the concept that a baby who listens to Mozart will grow up to be more intelligent. There’s some truth in behind this belief: Research indicates that music lessons change the course of brain development and are likely to influence children’s success in other, non-musical tasks (read our guest blog from Dawn Rose to find out more).

Last term MWC launched our new Spotify playlists. We will be adding more throughout the year but wanted to introduce you to some of the new listening resources that we have recently shared and offer you the chance to contribute ideas and requests.

As discussed in our blog, A Focus on Listening, there is still debate as to whether young people should be exposed to full symphonies, suites or operas.

But for our playlists we have put together a series of short pieces or movements of larger works to create selections of music on specific themes, or to showcase the work of particular composers and artists.

The idea behind all of our MWC resources is to make teachers’ lives easier. While some music teachers’ knowledge is encyclopaedic, covering a range of genres and styles, others come to take on responsibility for music in a school based purely on enthusiasm or having learnt an instrument when they were younger.

All of MWC’s free resources aim to support novices and experts alike. Check out our free online resources on our website to see the full range.

Our playlists have been developed to help in a range of ways. Perhaps some of these suggestions might inspire you:

  1. Play music as students enter and leave assembly or another school gatherings. This gives them something to focus on, discourages talking and can be used as a starting point for assembly topics or classroom activities
  2. Use music listening as a starting point for a number of subjects, particularly for Early Years and Primary children, for example:
  • Maths – counting beats in a bar
  • Literacy – using music as the inspiration for writing a story,
  • Nature – exploring how composers have characterised animals, birds and weather through music
  • Geography – listen to music from around the world
  • History – make a timeline of music influenced by historic events, or compare how music styles fit with historic culture, fashion and politics
  • Science – looking at the phenomena of sound and acoustics
  • Social skills – discovering how making a simple piece of music together requires teamwork and empathy
  1. Playlists can also be useful when the children arrive or leave for the school day. The MWC team are great believers in “send them out singing!”

The Playlists

Our most recent listening selection is based on the seasons of the year, a topic that has inspired composers for centuries. One of the most famous depictions of the changing weathers is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons written in the 1720s. Vivaldi’s work is a series of four violin concerti, representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each of which is preceded by a sonnet describing the piece. This is thought to be one of the first examples of “programme music” – music that has a narrative.

The playlist takes us through the year, beginning with the popular Largo from Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The sonnet preceding the movement is:

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento.

Our favourite translation of this is:

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We move on to Spring as portrayed by Leroy Anderson, Delius, Coates, Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Summer is represented by works by Gershwin, Coates and Autumn by Delius and Grieg.

The Seasons Playlist – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6FStRJ6u06zfSCbI3dsiAG

In anticipation of our forthcoming February blog about Welsh music, we have put together a playlist of traditional Welsh songs to help you celebrate St David’s Day on 1st March. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!

Welsh Traditional Songs – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6kH5uBKNh84AsmLGqHPdLI

Our March blog will celebrate Debussy, commemorating 100 years since his death. We’ve put together two Debussy playlists, one showcasing his orchestral music, and the other featuring his piano music. Debussy is one of the composers most associated with Impressionist music and his work has been extremely influential.

Debussy Orchestral Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6nLvshf8FJpAXYvlKXRlHz

Debussy Piano Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6URpyG6ZqZLmI8fMQwFR8P

Check out these and other playlists on our website

If you would like a playlist on a particular theme or genre, email your request to Maria at music-workshop.co.uk…

 

 

Otis Redding – A Career Cut Short

December 10th 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of soul singer Otis Redding’s death in a plane crash at the age of just 26.

Just three days earlier, Redding had recorded what was to become his biggest hit. He knew the song would be huge – he remarked to his manager,

I got it. This is my first million seller.

He was right. The song (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, was released in January 1968, shortly after Redding’s death. It shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March of that year, topped the pop charts for four weeks. Dock of the Bay became Redding’s most popular record, selling more than four million copies worldwide. It went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Otis Redding wrote the first verse of the song while he was on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967. At the time, he was staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. Just weeks earlier, he had played the Monterey Pop Festival – a performance that was to go down in history. As the tour continued, he would scribble lyrics and ideas on napkins and hotel paper. In November 1967, Redding joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, to record the song.

Cropper described the origins of Dock of the Bay in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air in September 1990:

Otis was the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. […] He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. […] Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. Songs like Mr. Pitiful, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song); they were about Otis and Otis’ life. Dock of the Bay was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sitting in the morning sun. I’ll be sitting when the evening comes. Watching the ships roll in. And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah.

It was one of those rare moments when an artist knows immediately that he’s just created a masterpiece.

Together, Redding and Cropper finished the music and lyrics of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, and the song was recorded on November 22nd 1967 with additional overdubs on December 7th. The emotive yet restrained vocals are backed by Cropper’s clean guitar playing – but the song was never finished. There’s a whistled tune heard before the song’s final fade. According to Cropper, Redding had “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling.”

After the recording session, Redding’s tour continued. There was a television appearance to make in Cleveland, followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin.

But on its final approach to Madison on December 10th, 1967, the private plane carrying soul-music legend Otis Redding crashed into the frigid waters of a small lake three miles short of the runway, killing seven of the eight men on board, including Redding.

According to Ben Cauley, founding member of the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the crash, the band usually travelled “by station wagon and U-Haul”. If the distance to a gig and the dollars from it added up, they would load up the plane with Redding’s friend, pilot Dick Fraser.

In a 2007 interview in Memphis, Cauley says,

Something I’ll never forget about that plane… The first of the last three nights we were together, we got to the airport about 5:30 or 6, and we asked Dick if we could crank it up so we could get warm, but he said the battery was low.

Cauley said the band didn’t think too much of the comment, and the plane made the trip to Cleveland without incident. Next morning, they took off from Cleveland to get to their gig in Madison, Wisconsin. Redding sat beside Fraser in the cockpit. Cauley and Redding were back-to-back. Four other members of the Bar-Kays – guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, drummer Carl Cunningham, all 18, and saxophonist Phalon Jones, 19 – squeezed into the plane with their 17-year-old valet Matthew Kelly. Bassist James Alexander and vocalist Carl Sims couldn’t fit in, and took alternate transportation.

“We just talked as we always did on the plane,” Cauley says, ” Otis was talking about how he’d just cut a record and said, ‘You’ll hear it when you get back. We need to put the horns on it, so you’ll do that. That was the first time we heard about Dock of the Bay. That’s the last thing he talked about — how much he loved that record and that it’s something he’d wanted to do for a long time.”

Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay was released in its unfinished form several weeks later. The sounds of seagulls and waves crashing in the background were added by Cropper, who mixed the song after Redding’s death. Redding had requested these sounds to mimic those he heard while he was staying on the houseboat. Redding’s whistled verse became an indelible part of the now-classic record. The song became the first posthumous number 1 hit in pop music history, and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.

In the six months before his death, Redding had gone from one success to another. Aretha Franklin took her cover version of his song Respect to number 1 in the pop charts. His performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival had transformed him into an icon of the late 60’s counterculture. He was already a giant in the world of soul music, and during an era when the Beatles and Motown ruled the charts, he was beginning to gain recognition on a huge scale within the largely white mainstream.

Redding’s death was announced in the New York Times with only four column inches at the bottom of page 19, in which the names of the other musicians were listed. He was not yet considered a superstar, although his reputation among black audiences was enormous.

According to an article of 1968, hardly any of even Redding’s greatest fans realised he was only 26. The tragedy of his death was compounded by the shock of the discovery of his youth, a fact that makes his talent so much more extraordinary.


 

65 Years of Pop Music Charts

This month marks the 65th Anniversary of the UK music charts. As teenagers, many of us would anxiously await the chart radio shows, hovering over the cassette recorder to capture our favourite songs. Today, the charts give a fascinating insight into the changes in the Music Industry since 1952, both in terms of musical styles and tastes, and in the way music is ‘consumed’.

The move from records -45s and albums- to cassette tapes and CDs through to downloads and streaming have impacted the way the charts are calculated. Over its history the UK Official Charts have developed and adapted to changing music demands. In fact, interest in the history of music production has brought many music fans full circle, with LPs and cassettes seeing a resurgence in popularity – a backlash against the culture of obsolescence and ‘mainstream’.

The ‘top of the pops’ charts all began with Percy Dickins, the publisher of the New Music Express (NME). Dickins wanted to find a way to persuade people to advertise in his magazine. He telephoned his contacts in music retail to find out what was the best selling record. The result of his basic survey was that Here In My Heart by Al Martino was the first No.1. Dickins’ first chart was published as a Top 12, even though it comprises 15 singles, because there were ties at Number 7, Number 8 and Number 11.

In 1954 the standard singles chart was extended to the Top Twenty with NME introducing a Top Thirty in April 1956. In response, Record Mirror launched the UK’s first Albums Chart with a Top 5 from on July 28 that year. The first Number 1 Album was Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers.

1955 – Billy Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock becomes a hit for the first time, it enters the Top Twenty on five separate occasions – twice in 1955, plus in 1956, 1968 and 1974.

In 1957, the charts moved from print to broadcast as the BBC’s Light Programme host Alan Freeman started commenting on the Top Ten Charts published by the various music papers, Melody Maker, NME, Disc and Record Mirror. The following year an averaged Top Ten was introduced.

1957 – Elvis Presley scores his first Number 1 single with All Shook Up. He later sets the record for the most Number 1 singles – 22.

In 1960 the battle for pre-eminence for charts across the music print media was concluded with the UK trade magazine Record Retailer’s singles and album charts being recognised as the “official” charts. The Top Fifty singles and Top Twenty Albums were compiled by Record Retailer from a panel of 30 shops. In 1963, an independent auditor was brought in to compile the charts.

1963 – She Loves You becomes The Beatles’ first million-seller. To date, The Beatles have six titles in the all-time UK Million Sellers list- (She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out/Daytripper and Hey Jude.

In 1969 the BBC and Record Retailer commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to compile the UK charts on their behalf. These were the first industry-wide recognised charts, and were called the UK’s “official” charts for the first time. The charts were initially created from a panel of 250 record shops. The shops logged their sales by hand and submitted their totals by post. Over the years, the panel grew to 750 stores, with 250 used every week for the Tuesday singles chart and 450 for the Wednesday albums chart.

While the singles chart continued as a Top 50 rundown, the length of the albums moved a number of times, varying in length from 15 to 77, before stabilising as a Top 50 in January 1971. The lengths changed again in 1978, with the Official Singles Chart is extended from Top 50 to Top 75 in May and the Official Album Charts increasing from Top 60 to Top 75 in December.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings’ single Mull Of Kintyre became the first single to pass 2 million singles sales in the UK. It remains one of only four singles to sell 2 million copies – the others are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97.

In 1983 Gallup took over the compilation of the Official Singles Chart and Official Albums Chart. This change led to the end of hand-written diaries, motorcycle courier collection and manually-checked charts, implementing a new computerised system which involved collection of data via telephone and digital monitoring of sales to minimise hyping. The new system introduced Top 200 singles and albums charts every week (only the Top 100 is available publically at that point via Music Week). Cassette sales were also incorporated into the albums charts, while separate cassette albums and 12-inch singles charts were produced.

1984 – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas sets new sales records, selling 600,000 in its first week, another 810,000 in its second week and becoming the first single to Top 3 million sales. 1991 – Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You has 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1, breaking the 1955 record set by Slim Whitman’s 11-week chart-topper Rose Marie. Everything I do is also the biggest selling cassette single of all time.

Major changes in how people accessed music led to changes in 2004 with the launch of the UK’s Official Download Chart following the launch of iTunes 3 months previously. In July 2005 downloads are counted toward the Official Singles Chart for the first time, initially only the week before the physical release is available. The Charts further adapt to the digital revolution in 2007 in January, when the chart rules were changed to fully embrace downloads, which meant artists could chart for the first time without requiring a physical release. In 2008 MTV began broadcasting the Official Singles Chart every week for the first time, as part of a new partnership that made it the TV home of the Official Charts. The Official UK Top 40 is broadcast several times a week, following a first broadcast on Monday afternoon.

2002 – Following success on TV’s Pop Idol, Will Young’s Anything Is Possible/Evergreen scores the biggest first day (403,000 copies) and first week (1.1m copies) sales for a non-charity record.

Changes to charts again took place in 2012, when in May, the UK’s first Official Streaming Chart was launched. This reflected the change to music consumption from owning music to accessing music and included from services including Spotify, Napster and We7. Further changes were made the following year when streaming was added to the Singles Chart. This was calculated as 100 streams being equal to 1 single/download sale. Contributors to this data included Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks and many others. In 2015, streamed albums were counted towards the Official Album Charts.

2013 – Daft Punk’s Get Lucky sells a million copies in just 69 days, and the first track to be streamed one million times in a single week.


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Higher Education: What’s Right for You?

Although the deadline for applying to conservatoires and music colleges has passed, the closing date for university applications through UCAS (UCAS.com) is the 15th January 2018.

This gives plenty of time for potential applicants to consider whether they want to study at university, and if so, which university and which course best suits them.

Alex Baxter, Programme Leader Music Technology Programmes at the University of Hertfordshire advises:

The best degree courses expose their students to the huge range of connected areas which make up music technology as a whole – including those that students may not know even exist when they start their course.  Industry accredited degrees highlight that the broader industry sees the course content as being relevant to current industry practice, and this also offers excellent opportunities for industry input, and live projects where students’ developing techniques can be applied.  Universities which foster collaboration opportunities between courses (ie music technology students working with film & TV and animation students) offer that great extra dimension, as does the opportunity to study abroad or take a work placement.

UCAS offer 1,763 courses with ‘music’ in the title. These range from BMus(Hons) and BA(Hons) in Music to courses in Music Production, Songwriting, Music Performance, Community Music, Music Psychology, Music Technology, Music Composition, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Commercial Music, Digital Music, Popular Music, Sound Design, Composition for Film & Games and Music Industry Management…

That’s before looking at Joint Honours Programmes: Music and another subject.

[Image: Emily]

Supporters of universities suggest that benefits for students include the opportunity to study an area of interest, meeting people with both similar and different interests, making connections with fellow students, lecturers and industry, and improving job prospects.

With current fees in the UK at £9,250 per year for many degree courses, plus the additional costs of study (text books, resources, accommodation, travel etc.), it’s important to consider whether university study is for you.

There is a big difference between studying for A-Levels or BTEC and studying at university. Although universities offer a range of support services, particularly for those with learning needs, university studies are much more focussed on individual study and research. This requires self-discipline and focus.

Choosing the right university for you is also important. Different universities have different specialisms and contacts within particular Industries or Sectors. For example, if you are considering studying Music Business or Music Industry Management, you may want to study in or close to London to take advantage of the opportunities in London for internships and attending Industry events.

Universities also have different ‘feels’. Attending open days where you can meet staff and current students and check out the facilities can help you get a good feel for each institution.

[Image: Ольга Жданова]

The teaching staff are also a key element of your university experience, so research the teaching team. See what research they have been involved in, what their position in the industry is and how active they are outside the university. Also find out about industry speakers and alumni. Developing your network while still at university is crucial to developing a career on graduation.

When selecting a university, key questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want to live at home or move away?
  • If you want to move away, does the university have halls and suitable accommodation nearby?
  • If studying music, what aspect of music do you want to study? What might you want to do as a job?
  • Do you want an academic programme or a more vocational one?
  • Do you want to study with particular tutors/lecturers?

Key questions to ask the University include:

  • How much contact time do you get on the course? What wider support is available?
  • What experience do you get on the course? For example performing opportunities, recording, managing live projects?
  • What opportunities does the course give for Studying Abroad or a Work Placement as part of the degree?
  • Does the course focus on a specific discipline or does it give you a wide overview of your chosen area?
  • How involved in the programme are named tutors?
  • How many students are in each cohort / class?
  • What jobs do recent graduates get? Where are alumni working 3 – 5 years after graduation?

[Image: Danchuter]

The key to finding the right path for you is in looking at the most important aspects of study thoroughly. The most important decisions centre around whether or not to go to university, which course to study and where to study. It’s vital to take time to visit any universities you’re considering, and to seek advice from family, friends and people in your preferred industry.

The author of this blog, MWC’s Maria Thomas, is a Senior Lecturer on the Music Industry Management course at the University of Hertfordshire. 


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The Influence of African Musicians on Classical Music

Western classical music, by its very definition, is rooted in the sacred and secular traditions of the western world, centred around Europe. Although the genre has been influenced throughout history by folk song, jazz and music from other continents such as America and China, it rarely diverges far from its Western identity.

Much like Western music outside the ‘classical’ box, African music is incredibly diverse, varying greatly by region. There is lots of opportunity for creative inspiration.

In his 2006 book, Listening to Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Israel/Palestine, Theodore Burgh suggests that classical music ultimately has its roots in North Africa, in the art music of Ancient Egypt, as well as other ancient cultures such as Greece. However, there seems, at first glance, little evidence of African influence in classical music. When it is found, for example in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, it is generally Afro-American in origin, interpreted in a western-dominated form of music.

When explored, the contribution of black composers and musicians, and the influence of African music, forms a fascinating part of classical music history.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Probably the first and perhaps best-known classical composer of African descent, Saint-Georges was the illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe plantation owner, Bologne de Saint-Georges, and his mistress, an African slave girl of probable Senegalese birth called Nanon.

A contemporary of Mozart, Saint-Georges was barred from sharing his father’s French noble status because he was black, but his father ensured he was educated as an aristocrat. He studied fencing with a famous swordsman, becoming a champion fencer. He learned harpsichord, and he studied violin with one of the famous French virtuosi, Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder. His success both as a musician and athlete made him famous, but while religious leaders were agitating for an end to slavery, interracial marriages were still forbidden, and his skin colour built him an ambivalent status in society.

Although close to Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint-Georges was refused the prestigious post of director of the Paris Opéra, for which he was considered in 1775, because two of the company’s leading sopranos objected and successfully petitioned the Queen against his appointment on the ground of his race. Even so, he was a major star in Paris in the 1770s, nicknamed “Le Mozart Noir” on concert posters, often sharing equal billing with Mozart.

The later part of Saint-Georges’ life was disrupted by the French Revolution. Although he had been active in campaigning against slavery and sympathised with the democratic aims of the revolution, his aristocratic background meant he was not trusted.

He continued performing and directing up to his death, and he was remained famous enough to attract large crowds. However, living alone, he contracted a bladder infection and died on June 10, 1799.

Commemorative editions of his music were published, but within a short time, new restrictions on blacks came into force across France and its empire. Slavery had been abolished in 1794, but was re-imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Under Bonaparte’s regime, Saint-George and his music were removed from orchestra repertoires, wiping him from the history books for nearly 200 years.

His profile has risen in recent years thanks to concerts by ensembles including the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, but he has not yet regained the equal footing he held with Mozart among classical music fans.

Embracing Ideas in the Romantic Period and Beyond

Towards the end of the 19th century, composers were looking towards different cultures for inspiration. Antonín Dvořák’s interest in themes from the ‘new world’ is well documented. His move to New York brought him directly into contact with Afro-American music.

In fact, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World, written in 1893, contains some of the most famous examples of Afro-American themes in classical music. But Dvořák’s themes are not actually of Afro-American origin. The composer wrote accurate imitations of the pentatonic melodies, a technique which he also used in his American string quartet.

Interestingly, these compositions were pretty much contemporaneous with an emerging style of music in North America called ragtime.

Ragtime descended from the jigs and marching music played by African American bands, referred to as “jig piano” or “piano thumping”. Rags by Scott Joplin such as The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag are still instantly recognisable, and Ragtime had a lasting influence on classical composers. Igor Stravinsky wrote a solo piano work called Piano-Rag-Music, while ragtime is evident in the works of Erik Satie, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and the other members of The Group of Six in Paris.

In 1930, William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony marked the first symphony by an African-American man. The work marries conventional classical forms with popular African styles, also referencing the blues. The bass line of the final movement moves from an F to a D-flat, resembling Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

The following epigraph, from African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 work, Ode to Ethiopia, appears with the fourth movement:

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is considered to be the only black composer to have broken through from the Romantic era. Born to a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was from Holborn, London. He incorporated black traditional music with classical music, with such compositions as African Suite, African Romances and Twenty Four Negro Melodies. The first performance of his work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was described by the principal of the Royal College of Music as, “One of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.” Despite this success, Coleridge-Taylor’s music is out of fashion and all-but out of print.

Accepted to the Royal College of Music aged 15, despite concerns about his skin colour, he swapped violin studies for composition. His tutor was Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford challenged his student to write a clarinet quintet without showing the influence of his favourite composer, Brahms. Coleridge-Taylor wrote the piece, and when this work was revived in 1973, the New York Times critic called it, “Something of an eye opener…an assured piece of writing in the post-Romantic tradition…sweetly melodic.”

Despite little modern recognition, his influence lives on: From 1903 to his death in 1912, he was professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music in London. However, violinist Philippe Graffin performed the violin concerto at the Proms in 2005, and the Nash Ensemble have recorded the composer’s piano quintet.

Modern Times

Modern classical music has been more influenced by African culture. John Cage’s 1940 work, Bacchanale was the first significant modern synthesis of African and Western music. It was also instrumental in the development of the prepared piano, as the composer sought out African sounds with only room on stage for a grand piano.

Other composers such as George Crumb, Ligeti and Steve Reich have explored African influences, while composers born in Africa include Nigerian composer Joshua Uzoigwe. A member of the Igbo ethnic group, many of Uzoigwe’s works draw on the traditional music of his people.

Classical music is far from reaching the limits of inspiration from African music, and it is far from incorporating the work of black composers on a level playing field. However, for centuries, composers and the curiosity of the creative mind have shown us that the more the classical music world stretches its knowledge beyond the boundaries of its own traditional culture, the more unique voices will be found.


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