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…

 

 

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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. 


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about anything in this blog, or to book a workshop, contact us today:

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.


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a workshop inspired by African music, contact us today:

Celebrating the Centenary of Two Jazz Greats: Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie

October 2017 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of two jazz legends: Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born 11 days apart on October 10 and 21, 1917, pianist, Monk and trumpeter, Gillespie, shaped the landscape of jazz composition and improvisation, each exploring harmonies with a complexity previously unheard in jazz, leaving behind an immense legacy of music.

Anyone familiar with jazz music knows the tune Round Midnight. That was written by Monk, as were standards including Blue Monk, Straight, No Chaser, Ruby, My Dear, Well, You Needn’t, and In Walked Bud.

Round Midnight, Thelonious Monk

Monk had an unorthodox approach to the piano. In fact, he was pretty unorthodox all round. Musically, his compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists, which combined a highly percussive attack with sudden, dramatic use of silence, switched key releases and hesitations. The unusual contours of his music led the jazz critic Whitney Balliett to describe them as rippling,

with dissonances and rhythms that often give one the sensation of missing the bottom step in the dark.

Apparently, on one occasion, when Monk was a guest at a jazz class at Columbia University, the lecturer turned to him and asked if he would ”play some of your weird chords for the class.”

“‘What do you mean, weird?” Monk bridled. ”They’re perfectly logical.”

He thought of jazz as an adventure and was always looking for ways to use notes differently: New chords, new ways of syncopating, new figurations and new runs.

Personally, he was known for his distinctive dress sense – suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also unusual in his performance style. Often, during a gig, while the band carried on, he would stop playing, stand up from the keyboard, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. He was frequently labelled as aloof, eccentric and weird, with even his son, drummer T.S. Monk, describing his father as an, “unusual guy”, while critic and writer Stanley Crouch called Monk “an abstracted stride piano player… he played it in a way that made it funny.”

As a testament to his musicianship and character, Monk is the second most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington. This is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than 1000 pieces, whereas Monk wrote only around 70. He is also one of only five jazz musicians to have ever been featured on the cover of Time Magazine, alongside Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and, more recently, Wynton Marsalis,

According to an obituary of Monk by John S Wilson, Randy Weston, a pianist who studied with Mr. Monk, called him: “As complete an original as it is possible to be.”

Alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Monk led a generation of jazz musicians through the bebop era. Dubbed the “The High Priest of Bop,” he refused to conform to expectations.

For years, they were telling me to play commercial, be commercial. I’m not commercial. I say, play your own way. You play what you want, and let the public pick up on what you were doing, even if it takes 15, 20 years.

Monk Performs with his Quartet in 1969:

By the 1960s, Monk had achieved recognition. He worked regularly with a quartet featuring tenor saxophonist, Charlie Rouse until in the 1970’s, his public appearances became infrequent because of illness. His last official performance was at Carnegie Hall in 1976.

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, ushered in the era of Bebop in the American jazz tradition. The youngest of nine children, Gillespie began playing piano at the age of four and received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Noted for his trademark ‘swollen cheeks,’ he admitted to copying the style of trumpeter Roy Eldridge early in his career.

It was when Gillespie began experimenting with his own style that he eventually came to the attention of Mario Bauza, the godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz who was then a member of the Cap Calloway Orchestra. Gillespie joined the band in 1939.

The following story is recorded in Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson,

Diz’s music was revolutionary. Even back then he was playing way ahead of the times. But only a couple of us who had our ears open listened. I knew he’d take music to a new place. So did Chu, Cozy [Cole], and a couple of the others.

Diz’s biggest musical problem was that he’d try playing things he couldn’t technically handle. I’d often hear him start a solo he just couldn’t finish. Whenever that happened, some of the older guys would look over at him and make ugly faces. Cab usually showed the same kind of disgust and often scolded Diz at rehearsals or after a performance. He’s say things like, “Why in hell can’t you play like everybody else? Why d’ya make all those mistakes and have all those funny sounds come outta your horn? Play it like the other guys do!”

Diz would sit quietly, with his head hung down. He looked like a little school kid being scolded by the teacher.

Gillespie continued to develop as one of the founding fathers of the Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz tradition. Influenced by Bauza, known as Gillespie’s musical father, he fused Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a burgeoning Cubop sound.

He toured Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America under the sponsorship of the US State Department, frequently returning with new musical ideas, and with musicians who would eventually go on to achieve world recognition.

Dizzy Gillespie, On the Sunny Side of the Street 1958

With a strong sense of pride in his Afro-American heritage, Gillespie left a legacy of musical excellence that embraced and fused the music of Africa, the Caribbean, Cuba and other Latin American countries. He also left behind a legacy of humour and good will that infused jazz musicians and fans throughout the world with the genuine sense of jazz’s ability to transcend national and ethnic boundaries.

Dizzy Gillespie, Salt Peanuts:


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Handel’s Water Music – 300 Years in the Charts

July 17th 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel’s famous Water Music. The orchestral suites were written for a party on the Thames river in London, held by King George I, in 1717.

 

The music consists of the Suite in F major (HWV 348), Suite in D major (HWV 349) and Suite in G major (HWV 350). However, although many of the pieces became instant hits throughout London, none of them were published at the time. Extensive research by Samuel Arnold led to a 1788 edition of nineteen pieces that is generally accepted as the authoritative Water Music, but the original structure is unclear.

One of the best-known and most frequently performed movements is the Alla Hornpipe from the D major suite:

George Frideric Handel is known today for many compositions, and for his role as a court composer. Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is one of the foremost composers of the Baroque era.

But he should never have been a composer in the first place.

Handel was born at a time when music and the arts flourished only in the highest echelons of society. His grandfather was a coppersmith, his grandmother was the daughter of a coppersmith. Handel’s own father was a barber, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Handel went to the gymnasium school in Halle. A gymnasium in the German education system is a selective school for the gifted. The headmaster at the school Johann Praetorius, was passionate about music, but many of Handel’s biographers record that he was withdrawn from the school because his father was implacably opposed to music education.

In fact, Georg Handel was alarmed by his son’s interest in music that he took every step to oppose it, even banning musical instruments in the house and forbidding Handel from visiting any house where they might be found. There is a story that Handel found a way to sneak a small clavichord into the attic of the house, and he would steal away to play it when the family were asleep. This tale is unsubstantiated, but for the fact that Handel was able to play the keyboard well enough to come to the notice of Duke Johann Adolf, who on hearing Handel play the church organ, persuaded his father to let him have music lessons.

 It’s quite incredible given this unpromising start that Handel is still a household name.

His Water Music was written for King George I of England. It consists of three orchestral suites, and was first performed on barges on the Thames. Its first performance as an integral part of a massive Royal shindig, was reported in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant.

The party was possibly an attempt by King George to win popularity (for various reasons, including a serious economic crisis in 1720, his refusal or inability to learn English and rumours about the treatment of his wife, the King was not well liked), and he turned to Handel to help him impress.

In 1710, Handel had worked as Kapellmeister to the German Prince George; the same Prince George who in 1714 became King of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel had left Germany to settle in England full time, which had angered Prince George at the time.

However, the Water Music is said to have allowed a reconciliation between King George and Handel. It was rumoured that the success of the music enabled the King to regain some of the London spotlight back from his son, Prince George, who was throwing lavish parties and dinners. The Prince did not get on with his father – a resentment that possibly began when King George dissolved his marriage to the young George’s mother due to ‘abandonment’, which meant that the children never saw their mother again (though the King did his best to ensure that his son had more choice when he was himself to be married).

The Courant records that at about 8pm on Wednesday, July 17th 1717, King George I boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace, along with several aristocrats, for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea.

A second barge, provided by the City of London, carried around 50 musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert.

According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges.

The king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites at least three times over the course of the trip, both on the way up to Chelsea and on the return journey, with the orchestra playing from around 8pm until well after midnight.

In 2009 the BBC aired a documentary showing an ambitious reconstruction of the performance, with the Water Music played by musicians of the English Consort in full period costume.


Contact the Music Workshop Company

Claudio Monteverdi: 450 Years of Inspiration

May 15th 2017 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi.

Born in 1567, in Cremona, Italy, Monteverdi was famous during his lifetime as a musician and composer, and his works are still regularly performed today.

Cremona is a city with a vast musical heritage. It was home to lute makers, later becoming renowned as a centre for musical instrument making, and home to the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari violin making families. The historic feudal system – the myriad noble families ruling Italy at the time – laid the way for music to develop, supported and funded by the court, offering employment and opportunity for musicians.

Monteverdi thrived in this musical hotbed, exploring and developing music far beyond his contemporaries. He is nowadays considered to provide a transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods – and his compositions influenced 20th century composers such as Stravinsky.

One of the main differences between Renaissance and Baroque music is the move from counterpoint to melody with accompaniment. Much Renaissance music was based on imitation and variations, with ground bass or ostinato, where a tonal structure and multi-movement forms emerged in Baroque music – functional harmony based on a central tonic with a strong harmonic flow and tonal sequences such as the circle of fifths.

Many of these ideas were introduced and popularised in the work of Monteverdi.

Monteverdi began his musical studies at the Cathedral in Cremona, producing his first published works – a collection of sacred songs – at the age of 15. After his studies were complete, he was employed as a court musician for the Duke of Mantua, where he initially worked as a singer and viol player before a promotion to music director.

It can be difficult to see historic figures in a human light, but Monteverdi’s life was full of drama; a nice parallel with the plays of Shakespeare, which were written and premiered during his lifetime over in England.

He tragically lost his wife and his baby daughter, he was robbed at gunpoint by a highwayman, on the death of his employer, the Duke of Mantua, he was fired by the Duke’s successor who could not afford to keep him on, leaving the composer with virtually no money, and he was ambitious, planning to show his music to the Pope. By his mid-40s, he was the most celebrated composer in Italy.

His work L’Orfeo is the earliest surviving opera still regularly performed today.

The beginning of opera as a genre is unclear. The concept was born partly by Florentine intellectuals who were fascinated by the dramas of ancient Greece. But the idea was probably gestating long before 1600. Admiration for antiquity was a strong trend in Renaissance Italy, but the recreation of Greek tragedies was not the sole intent of opera composers.

There was a strong interest in the bucolic, pastoral story – nymphs and gods were featured rather than kings and queens. Instrumental music was increasingly integrated into dramatic performances and madrigals were used as interludes in more serious theatrical court productions. Legends such as that of Orpheus were incredibly popular, and composers found affinity with the divine musical gifts displayed by Orpheus.

Monteverdi took these ideas and created something new: The debut of L’Orfeo defied all previous musical convention. He placed words and emotions right at the forefront, subduing the traditional Renaissance polyphony (two or more lines of simultaneous independent melody) to emphasise one prominent melody line. He exploited dynamics and unprepared dissonance in order to convey human emotion, responding sensitively to the text. He was the first to create opera out of ‘real’ characters – living, breathing, emotional beings.

L’Orfeo was premiered at the Ducal Palace in Mantua – indications are of a small space, a narrow stage and an audience of only men. All of the performers were male, with castrati playing the female roles. The performance was successful enough that a repeat was demanded for all the ladies of the city to attend!

Part of the uniqueness of the score lies in Monteverdi’s fragmentary markings and instructions. As was common for that period, Monteverdi encouraged instrumental ornamentation and embellishment, presenting his score as what today might be considered skeletal. This gives every performance of L’Orfeo its own distinct sound and identity.

Tom Ford – Limelight Magazine

Fragment of score for Poppea

The score also points to a composer in full command of his craft. It may be sparse, but it is not simple. Instrumentation was cleverly designed to characterise, and in some places, Monteverdi instructs what is to be played, not how: “Sung to the sound of five violins, three chitarrone, two harpsichords, a double harp, a double-bass viol and a sopranino recorder,” with only the vocal line and bass notated. This produces exciting challenges for modern performers.

Monteverdi’s second opera, L’Arianna, was completed a year after the tragic death of his wife. Sadly, like large swathes of Monteverdi’s work, this opera has been lost, save for Arianna’s Lament, which was so popular it was published separately several times.

In 1612, Monteverdi took a position as musical direct at the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. During his latter years, when he was ordained as a Catholic priest, he composed much sacred music and music for civic occasions. Despite being ill much of the time, he also wrote two more operas, including L’incoronazione di Poppea, considered by many to be his finest work. Poppea contains romance, tragedy, and comedy – a new development in opera. The opera foreshadows those of Mozart, its complexity describing the triumph of evil over good through beautiful music.

Monteverdi died at the age of 76 in Venice in 1643. His legacy of works fall into three categories: Madrigals, opera and sacred music. Over 50 of his letters survive, giving a wonderful view of Italy and of the 17th century.

Experience the Music of Monteverdi:

Monteverdi at the V&A

Monteverdi’s Vespers at the BBC Proms

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Is Music Reading Outdated?

A recent article in the Guardian by Charlotte C Gill has raised some interesting questions around problems in music education, and caused a fair amount of controversy too.

In her March 27 column, Gill expresses concern over the problems in class music – uptake in music at A-Level and GCSE has dropped by 9% since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2010, an issue, which we’ve previously covered under the ISM’s Bacc for the Future campaign.

The ISM has been supporting the inclusion of creative subjects in schools after researchers claimed that pressure on students to take subjects included in the EBacc meant that music was being squeezed out. According to a Sussex University study, nearly two thirds of 650 state schoolteachers surveyed said the EBacc meant fewer students were taking GCSE music.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

However, Gill asserts that she believes the best way to encourage more children to engage in music is to teach the subject in a ‘less academic’ way. Speaking from her own childhood experience, she says that the problem lies with the focus on notation:

This is a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers.

This is the statement that has raised hackles – and unlike the other points in her article, Gill produces no statistics to back it up. Gill’s own experience of difficulty with music reading, and the fact she struggled to have her love of music recognised are clear, but do they speak for every other state school child, and can one person’s undeniably frustrating experience ever validate the undermining of an entire subject?

It’s undeniable that elitism and imbalance exist. Just 7% of the UK population attended private school. But Gill’s statement that music is only for the “white and the wealthy” does not add up. If her question is aimed at preferential provision in private schools, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME citizens in British society as a whole.

[Image: Frank R Snyder]

Meanwhile, children from a white background have been found to make significantly less progress in school than their BAME counterparts (Centre Forum). And according the World Literacy Foundation’s 2012 report, 20% of adults in the UK struggle with basic reading and writing, indicating deeper problems in the education system that no amount of soft-soaping will solve.

Gill makes no new points with her comments. Offsted’s 2011 report on music education devoted large sections to the importance of practical music making and performance, with Sistema Scotland reporting that 93% of participants were happier as a result of their involvement in the scheme.

But Ofsted’s report showed out of 300 music lessons observed, only 30 were deemed above average. A tiny 7% of schools in a survey of 90 qualified as ‘outstanding’ providers of effective music education, while 61% were deemed satisfactory or inadequate.

Given that of these 90 schools, 66% were considered to be providing an effective education overall, this figure underlines the desperate situation into which music education has fallen. The weakest year group was found to be Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9), “A direct consequence of weak teaching and poor curriculum provision.”

The report opposes Gill’s claims that music is seen as too academic, stating that many students see academic music as a soft option. Only those children who have been exposed to culture from a young age, and who have developed proficiency as performers tend to be encouraged to take music at GCSE and A-level. The divide between those deemed suitable to take music is set almost as soon as a child joins the school.

This would seem to imply that in order for a child to progress in music at GCSE and A-level, more provision is needed in primary schools, and that children with parents who are interested in music are at an advantage.

In May 2015, world famous concert violinist and music education supporter Nicola Benedetti argued that:

…needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English…but suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.’

Benedetti’s comments underline the tendency, exemplified by Gill’s remarks, to feel that because music is profoundly personal and accesses the emotions, it does not warrant ‘restrictive’ academic study.

Gill’s comments have engendered an angry response from musicologist Ian Pace, who says her claim that music can only be read by a small number of people,

…flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds.

He continues:

As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.

Pace goes on to say that he agrees that “aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation,” but puts her comments about illiteracy down to “romanticisation,” warning that Gill’s position “could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.”

Another article, also from the Guardian in 2015, actually highlights the fact that instrumental music tuition in the UK is more often than not excellent, but that children and parents are not always made aware of what provision is available to them. Author Sarah Derbyshire states:

We need to focus less on the ‘best’ way to learn and more on the fundamentals of engaging children and young people in excellent music of all kinds – in all settings. The starting point is to define clearly the building blocks of musical learning, which are, to my mind: singing; reading music; access to instrumental tuition (both formal and informal); digital technology; attending live performance; creative involvement in composition; improvisation and performance of their own work.

To look at the genuine problems of music reading, a blog from dyslexia experts Brightstar Learning explains that learning notation may be more difficult for dyslexic students.

Reading music may be more difficult than reading text. For one thing, the written language of music contains signs that are multifunctional, for instance, the line. Lines in music can be vertical or horizontal; they may be long or short: straight or curved; mean something on their own; or need to be combined with other symbols to make sense. There’s no doubt that someone who has a problem with visual discrimination is going to have trouble reading music.

But the blog offers a range of imaginative solutions, concluding simply that:

The main factor in teaching the dyslexic student seems to be pacing the lessons so that the student doesn’t go into overload. It will take the dyslexic student a bit longer to process the information in lessons.

As explained by USA teaching business, Musika, learning to read music is one of the hardest things a beginning instrumentalist will do, but no instrument is mastered overnight, and music reading flows in stages alongside technique. Various programmes have been devised, such as the Colourstrings Method and Suzuki Method, which have structured and specific ways of integrating music reading and musicianship into instrument learning in an holistic way, and every beginner tutor book carries careful instruction in notation.

[Image: Grunpfnul]

Looking at these facts as a whole, notation is not the main issue locking children out of genuine engagement in music education. The separate issue of sight reading which is lumped in to Gill’s complaint about the inaccessibility of notation is a red herring.

Success in sight reading is predominantly a mater of concerted practice: Since when a player is sight-reading the muscles are required to react instantly to what the eye sees, and the eye to read several beats ahead of what the hands are playing, the more the player practises this specific skill, the better and easier sight-reading will become. If sight-reading is only approached in a handful of lessons leading up to a grade exam, the child is likely to endure an embarrassing experience causing them to echo Gill’s sentiment, “I can’t sight-read.”

Gill’s article ends with the assertion that,

Diversity breeds diversity, and teaching is where this needs to start.

Again this is not quantified in her previous comments, nor does it follow from her arguments. She sites relevant issues with the wider music curriculum, which are legitimate and ongoing. But she goes on to imply that predominantly white children enjoy a private education and that those at state schools can’t be expected to learn to read music. Both of these comments are naïve and in turn elitist, and wrongly put the onus on the class teacher who is working within a strict curriculum and often with limited resources.

To follow on from Benedetti’s remarks, if a child is interested in creative writing, it does not stifle that child’s expression to teach vocabulary and grammar – expression is enhanced when the student has the tools. A budding artist will remain frustrated if he or she is not taught some of the technique of drawing. To look at Picasso’s later work, one might surmise that figurative technique and study of drawing are unnecessary to make art, but his work was informed by an immense, learned skill in draughtsmanship. Failure to teach the basics actually damages progression and ignorance never aids confidence.

[Image: The Harker School]

Ultimately, while it has less day-to-day application than general literacy, learning to read music is no more difficult than learning to read. While it is not necessary for performers of every genre to learn notation, it is enormously helpful and inclusive to be able to converse in a universal musical language that crosses other language barriers. The sticking point for some may be that music reading is best learned during one-one instrumental or singing lessons, and these are not always available or even desired.

By failing to teach notation, children who want to progress as musicians will become locked out. By pandering to the idea that music is something that everyone can naturally do, generations of knowledge and technique become unavailable. By ignoring the international nature of notation, an inclusive, wholly egalitarian means of creative communication is lost.

The Scare Factor: Musical Inspiration for Halloween

Music can play on the emotions very strongly; a phenomenon explored throughout music history but more recently and notably manipulated by composers of film and TV soundtracks.

halloween_vintage_05One of the strongest reactions to sounds can be fear. In the run up to Halloween we take a look at some scary music. What inspired the composers and why do these sounds frighten us?

A 2012 article in Time Magazine describes the result of a scientific study to determine why some sounds create a fearful reaction. The research was carried out by Daniel Blumstein, chair of the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA and an expert in animal distress calls, in collaboration with the film composer Peter Kaye.

Blumstein wanted to explore the link between sounds classified as non-linear chaotic noise (animal screams, babies cries and dissonant chords) and the way scary music plays on the ingrained biological reaction that it these sounds provoke. He discovered that horror movie scores frequently used these non-linear noises. The sound tracks for The Exorcist and The Shining, two of the most terrifying classic films ever made, even use recordings of animal screams.

But composers were making use of scary noises long before film existed.

In his opera Don Giovanni, Mozart creates a terrifying scene as his lead character is dragged into Hell.

Earlier in the same opera, the arrival of the ghost of the Commendatory is accompanied by scary chords with silence in between, which heighten the drama of a father back for revenge.

Saint Saëns’ 1874 work Danse Macabre depicts a tale of Halloween horror. According to legend, Death appears at midnight every Halloween. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance for him until the cock crows at dawn when they return to their graves for another year. Saint Saëns illustrates the story with music, using the solo violin to represent death’s fiddle. The work opens with a single note on the harp, repeated twelve times to represent the twelve strokes of midnight. The solo violin enters playing a tritone. During baroque and medieval times, this interval was known as the diabolus in musica – the devil in music. The xylophone is used to represent the bones of the dancing skeletons, imitating the sound of rattling bones.

This short film from Walt Disney’s Symphony is another great example of percussion being used to illustrate dancing skeletons:

Hector Berlioz’s Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath from his 1830 work Symphonie Fantastique is another piece that illustrates a scary story. In his programme notes, Berlioz wrote of his character:

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

This excerpt from Hermann’s Pyscho Suite begins with suspenseful dissonant chords not dissimilar from the energetic dance of Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath. It employs heavy use of the semitone figure which also gives the feeling of terror in Jaws. The screaming violins replicate those animal cries that play on our primal instincts, creating a sense of fear and discomfort.

The opening music for the classic horror film, The Shining uses the Dies Irae from Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath, overdubbed with eerie sound effects. This is really creepy.

Nightmare on Elm Street composer Charles Bernstein also used dissonance and sound effects to create a really suspense-filled, scary soundtrack. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a move away from traditional orchestral scoring, and apart from a few vocal elements, performed by the composer himself and heavily distorted, this film score is entirely electronic.

This clip of the opening to Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas is interesting in that is includes the music for Disney at the beginning. This is in a major key with no dissonance, with lots of sweet, shimmery sounds and upward scales. It makes the listener feel optimistic and happy, where the music for the song This is Halloween reverts to the scary minor key with lots of low notes and sound effects. This music is not as scary as the soundtracks for The Shining and Psycho – it maintains a light-hearted look at Halloween which works well with the story.

The idea of dead people dancing was used to great effect by Michael Jackson in his famous song Thriller. Scary orchestral effects are used as Jackson turns into a zombie and begins the eerie dance. Otherwise the music is not suspenseful – it does not create a feeling of fear. The main aspect in this is the dance, in which Jackson was a pioneer.

Whereas the Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers was just a bit of pure Halloween silliness. This song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform a new dance. The dance becomes a huge hit when the scientist throws a party for other monsters.

The song features some inspired low-budget sound effects. The sound of a coffin opening was imitated by a rusty nail being pulled out of a board, the bubbling cauldron is actually water being bubbled through a straw, and the rattling chains were simply chains being dropped on a tile floor.

 

 

Harnessing Potential for London’s Young Talent

The Mayor’s Music Fund mmf (charity no. 1141216) was launched in 2011 in response to a London-wide survey carried out by City Hall, highlighting a number of gaps in provision for school-age musicians in the capital. We hear from Chief Executive, Chrissy Kinsella about the fantastic opportunities provided by the Fund. 

Our vision is that every young Londoner who demonstrates significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning an instrument is given the opportunity to develop that potential.

We aim to nurture and encourage young people to progress their musical talent through our Scholarships and Partnership Programmes. The young people who take part in our Partnerships are from diverse social and financial backgrounds, whilst our Scholars are from low-income, often challenging backgrounds.

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Our objectives include collaborating with London’s 29 local authority Music Education Hubs to provide extensive musical opportunities across London’s 33 boroughs. We support high-quality, sustained instrumental tuition for Mayor’s Music Scholars, organise an annual series of playing days providing opportunities for Scholars to create music together, and support large-scale musical collaborations between Music Hubs and professional arts organisations, providing opportunities for aspiring young musicians (aged 8-21) to learn from, be mentored by and perform alongside professionals. We also enable professional musicians and artists to be motivational role models, empowering young people to explore and develop their musical capabilities, which in turn develops their social and emotional well-being and frequently uplifts academic performance. 

Our programmes…

Our four-year scholarships programme is specifically targeted at children who have received some first-access provision, but whose families are unable to pay for them to continue learning, even at this early stage.

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We work closely with local music services and primary schools in each borough to identify children with potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning. Scholars must be in Key Stage 2 at the point of nomination, have been learning for at least a year and show potential on their chosen instrument. They receive a programme of around two hours per week via their music service, to include instrumental lessons, ensembles, and other supporting activities. They also have a named mentor to look after their programme, and an instrument to take home if needed. A Head Teacher in Bexley describes the positive effect the Fund has had on one of his students:

Michael was asked about being nominated for a scholarship: ‘Before, I was really naughty at school and now I’m really happy. I’m really good now and can do my work a lot better because of my trumpet.’ This scholarship opportunity won’t just give Michael the chance to become a better trumpet player, but it will give him a greater chance at life and breaking through the barriers of social deprivation.

Our Partnership Projects are large-scale collaborations, working with professional arts organisations to address a specific gap in provision. Previous projects have included an advanced string ensemble programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Hounslow and Sutton, a musical theatre orchestra led by the Tri-Borough and Youth Music Theatre UK, a world music ensemble based at the Lyric Hammersmith, run by Musiko Musika, and a jazz-meets-classical project in Hackney, working with the London Symphony Orchestra. One Young Musician’s Training Orchestra participant said:

Being in the Music Theatre Orchestra gave me an insight of how professional ensembles work and it is by far the best ensemble I’ve ever done! My confidence grew and I will continue to strive to improve and more determined than ever.

Success and Impact…

Since 2011, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded 375 scholarships across every London borough, representing over 330 schools. The second cohort (scholarships awarded in 2012) has just graduated, taking the total alumni to 140. The impact of our programmes is far reaching: In addition to evidence of higher self-confidence, self-esteem, and improved behavioural, social and academic skills, Music Fund scholars have gone on to win scholarships or places at independent schools such as Christ’s Hospital, & the Forest School, high profile state schools, Junior Conservatoires & London’s Centre for Young Musicians, and at specialist music schools such as the Purcell School and Menuhin School.

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Since 2011 the Fund has funded 28 projects across 29 boroughs, working with over 8,500 young musicians. Three additional projects have been approved for 2016/17, reaching a further 1,000 young musicians.

In total, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded over £1.5million directly to support music education in London!

The future…

A meeting of the Government’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last week heard about the challenges facing regional arts organisations following local authority cuts. Arts Professional reported that Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras said he was “disturbed” by the lack of diversity of young people entering employment as musicians.

At the Mayor’s Music Fund we are passionate about empowering and enabling young people from all backgrounds to fulfil their potential. Over sixty percent of Mayor’s Music Scholars are from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds, and 100% are from low-income families.

It is no surprise that just fifteen percent of state school children learn a musical instrument, as opposed to fifty percent of independent school children. We are committed and dedicated to ensuring that all children who show potential and commitment to learning are given the chance to continue.

We are delighted to welcome a new patron to the Fund in 2016, the recently elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. We look forward to working with his administration to further develop our programmes to ensure all Londoners are given the opportunity to develop their full potential.”

This video gives an introduction to the work of the Fund from the perspective of the students.

For more information about the Mayor’s Music Fund, please contact Chrissy Kinsella, Chief Executive on 020 7983 4258

 

 

Get Funky

We’re looking forward to Black History Month in October, and as the new term starts, we’re taking a look at funk music. Funk is a genre that originated in the 1960s with musicians such as James Brown, was pioneered by singers like Betty Davis who was influenced by her husband, jazz musician Miles Davis, and by Jimi Hendrix. Funk was exemplified by the genius of Prince and it was among the styles explored by David Bowie, and integrated into his music.

This year has been significant in that it has featured the sad loss of two of these great music icons, Bowie and Prince, so a celebration of the music and its influences seems fitting.

There’s also an exciting addition to the exploration of the influential contributions made by the African American community in the USA. On September 24th 2016, the Smithsonian African American Museum’s music exhibit opens its doors, with a three-day celebration. The museum will showcase musicians and music history from R&B, hip-hop, jazz, rock, and many other genres, covering 400 years of history. It’s a timely reminder of the influence of many African American musicians.

The exhibition will feature James Brown’s electric Hammond Organ and an exact replica of the P-Funk Mothership, the space ship used as a stage prop by funk band Parliament Funkadelic. The original ship was scrapped and sold by the band in the early ’80s.

Funk is a genre created through a mix of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues music. It brings the rhythmic groove of the electric bass and drums to the foreground, de-emphasising the prominence of melody and chord progressions. Like many African influenced genres, the focus is on complex interlocking rhythms played on bass, drums, electric organ and guitar. Funk bands often have horn sections of saxophone, trumpets and trombones that play rhythmic punches.

The word funk refers to a strong smell, derived from the Latin, fumigare, to smoke. It captures the idea of a mustiness or earthiness that was adopted by jazz musicians to mean something strongly felt.

Funk is characterised by a two bar (two-celled) off-beat structure, originating in sub-Saharan African musical traditions.

[source: Wikipedia]

This rhythm which derives from the mambo and conga was first integrated by musicians in New Orleans in the 1940s, and used to great effect by James Brown’s rhythm section. Like other music which originates in Africa, its roots are in the spirituals, blues, work-chants, gospel shouts and body rhythms of the African communities. Like other forms of African-American music, funk provided an outlet for the expression of the daily struggles of the poor and lower-class.

The chords used in funk are the same richly colourful extended chords used in jazz, chords with added sevenths, ninths and 11ths, but unlike jazz, funk uses very few chord changes and often features static single-chord vamps with a driving pulse. Chords are often modal – mixolydian or dorian in nature rather than major or minor – and melodies mix these modes with blues scales.

James Brown was one of the earliest exponents of funk. He redefined the genre as it was developing in New Orleans, being the first musician to put funk in a rock-n-roll beat. His signature groove gave heavy emphasis to the downbeat of every bar, moving away from the backbeat (one-two-three-four) that typified African American music.

Other musical groups and musicians picked up on the James Brown sound, and funk began to grow. The 1970s were the high point for funk in mainstream music, with bands including P-Funk (Parliament Funkadelic), Sly and the Family Stone, Rose Royce Donna Summer and Chaka Kahn to name a few. David Bowie’s 1974 album, Young Americans was funk influenced, as was Station to Station.

By the 1980s funk had been driven from the airwaves, replaced by hip hop and R&B, but rock bands began copying elements of funk, with groups including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against the Machine developing styles of funk rock and funk metal. The late 1970’s and 80’s also saw the rise of funk icon, Prince. Using stripped down instrumentation similar to that of James Brown, Prince was to have more of an influence that any funk artist since the 60’s. His music was as ambitious and outrageous as his stage show, combining eroticism, technology and rhythmic and melodic complexity. He won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, and in 2004 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked Prince at number 27 on its list of 100 most influential artists of the rock & roll era.

 

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