The Inspirational Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died in August 2018 at the age of 76. With her death, among the musical tributes, came a rush of tabloid-style headlines about the notoriously private singer.

Franklin was a phenomenal artist with an unquestionable place in music history. The first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1987), ranked number 1 on VH1’s Greatest Women of Rock N Roll, she sang at a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), at pre-inauguration concerts for Presidents Jimmy Carter (1977) and Bill Clinton (1993), and the inauguration of America’s first black President, Barak Obama (in 2009). In 1986, her voice was designated a “Natural Resource” by the State of Michigan. In 2008, she was voted the greatest singer of the rock era in a Rolling Stone magazine poll. During the 1988 Grammy Awards show, she stepped in for Luciano Pavarotti who was unable to appear due to ill health, performing the aria Nessun Dorma in his place. She went on to perform this aria several more times, the last of which was in Philadelphia for Pope Francis.

In a career spanning six and a half decades she placed more than 100 singles in the billboard charts, including 17 top 10 pop singles and 20 no. 1 hits on the R&B chart, a number matched only by Stevie Wonder and not yet bettered by any artist. Already a successful R&B/Soul singer in the 1960s, her 1967 recording of Otis Redding’s song RESPECT from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, which spent 2 weeks at number 1 in the billboard chart, won her international acclaim and mainstream recognition.

She received 18 competitive Grammy awards, has five recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame (Respect, Amazing Grace, Chain Of Fools, A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like), and I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You) and was given a lifetime achievement award in 1994.

One remarkable aspect of Franklin’s career was the turbulent life that prompted the probing headlines. She wasn’t a textbook success story or a kid with all the opportunities. Born in Memphis, Tennessee and brought up in Detroit, Michigan, her childhood was full of challenges. Her parents separated when she was just 6 and her mother (who was a gospel singer and pianist) died at the age of just 34 of a heart attack when Franklin was only 10 years old. Her first marriage was abusive and her life was plagued by rumours of addiction – to alcohol (which Franklin denied) and cannabis – and by health problems associated with her weight.

In many ways, her upbringing and aspirations were reflective of the times. Part of a generation of black baby boomers who were still very church-orientated, she was brought up by her father, a minister of national influence who presided over New Bethel Baptist Church. Although she never learned to read music, as a young teenager, Franklin performed with her father on his gospel programmes in major cities and was recognised as a vocal prodigy.

On June 10, 1979, her father was shot at home at point blank range by a burglar when she was on stage in Las Vegas. For the five years until his death, he required 24-hour care.

Franklin made the move to secular music at the age of 18. With the support of her father, to whom she confided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sam Cooke and record pop songs, she moved to New York City, where she was signed by Colombia Records executive John Hammond. Hammond had previously signed Billie Holiday and Count Basie. She released her first single under Colombia at the age of 18, and although it reached number 10 on the Hot Rhythm and Blues Sellers chart and was met with critical acclaim, a lack of focus in her output at meant she initially struggled to find the success for which she was destined.

However, in 1966 when her contract with Colombia expired, she switched to Atlantic Records where, rather than determining her artistic direction, her producer Jerry Wexler gave her the freedom to explore her own musical identity.

Franklin returned to her gospel roots, exemplified by constantly improvisatory, airborne vocals, and I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (Atlantic, 1967) was her first million-seller. Her first single with Atlantic, RESPECT, became an anthem for personal, racial and sexual freedom in line with her own values.

Franklin was immersed throughout her life in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. She provided money for civil rights groups and performed at benefits and protests. In 1970, when political activist, author and academic, Angel Davis was jailed, Franklin told Jet:

Angela Davis must go free, … Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.

Franklin was a strong advocate for Native American rights. Quietly and without publicity, she supported the struggles of indigenous people worldwide and numerous movements that supported Native American and First Nation cultural rights. She also donated heavily to churches and food banks in the Detroit area.

[Photo by Pete Souza]

Franklin gave her last full concert at the Ravinia Festival on September 3, 2017, and her final performance was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City during Elton John’s 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on November 7, 2017. She died of advanced pancreatic cancer.

She is known for significant contributions to African-American pride and ‘female self-assertion,’ and reached the pinnacle of her profession at a time when black women were fighting to be seen and heard on their own terms.

It is impossible to give a true representation of such an expansive life and career in such a short space – she made hit after hit, possessed a phenomenal voice, presence and ability to persevere and excel against the odds. She remains quite simply a consummate artist: Both iconic – in black American culture, in mainstream culture and in music worldwide – and deeply human.

Advertisements

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.

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:

 

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.


 

Do You Hear The People Sing? Batley and Spen Does…..!

West End Theatre Director Nick Evans talks to the Music Workshop team about an exciting community singing project in memory of MP Jo Cox…

“One year ago the horrific murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, shocked the country. In a nation that was divided by the Brexit debate, and with the news seemingly filled with bleak events across Europe and America, there was a real sense of not knowing ‘what to do’ to make things better. As a theatre director on shows like ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ my skills seemed less than useful.

Tributes in Parliament Square for murdered MP Jo Cox.

In the Summer, when a group of Jo’s friends in Parliament approached me to think if there was ‘anything theatrical’ we could do to celebrate Jo’s life and values, my skill base seemed suddenly relevant. I knew from my work with Sir Cameron Mackintosh, that the wonderful Boubil & Schoenberg musical ‘Les Miserables’ was Jo’s favourite show. Together with the brilliant new MP for ‘Batley & Spen’ Tracy Brabin, we got to work.

Over the last few months we have assembled 100 young people with a range of skills as singers, actors, designers, dancers, stage management and production crew, all drawn from Batley & Spen and the surrounding communities of West Yorkshire. This August, ‘Les Miserables’ will be staged in traverse (we think for the first time ever) in an empty industrial space in Batley. The project sees directors, musicians, choreographers and designers from top shows like Billy Elliot, Aladdin and Mamma Mia come to Yorkshire to inspire the next generation of talent.

The project has been driven by that talented young people of the region, and they are quick to talk about how the project has affected them. Alice Schofield, 16, from Batley said,

“Les Mis is all about the people coming together and starting a revolution for the good of everyone, and I think Jo Cox really believed in the community coming together to make a better society, a better world”

Michael Frith, 18, from West Yorkshire is playing the iconic role of Val Jean, and says working with a team of West End professionals has been a unique experience,

“Having an opportunity like this, being local, being free, being so accessible is an absolute privilege”.

The project has worked closely with the schools in the constituency, and a student of Upper Batley High School, Bilal Khan, 13, is clearly relishing making his acting debut in the role of Gavroche,

“It just goes to show that a place like Batley & Spen can pull a West End Musical off as well, and opportunities like this don’t come knocking on your doors every day. If you really want to do it why not, no one can stop you – just go and do it like we have done”.

As a visiting director, I’ve been blown away by the talent I’ve encountered in the area. The young people involved have an innate bravery, and I think we can make something really special happen for this brilliant community – and for the friends and family of Jo Cox – in putting together a show that will hopefully have a lasting legacy in Batley.”

The Company are hoping to attract fundraising and support from local people and businesses to realise the project. Their JustGiving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/bsyct/hearthepeoplesing

Performance dates are 9th -12th August, and information about tickets for the show will be available from the end of this month at www.hearthepeoplesing.com



 

Nursery Rhymes – Literacy, Imagination and Identity

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems sung to small children. They often contain historical references and fantastical characters, and many have been rumoured to have hidden meanings.

The earliest nursery rhymes documented include a 13th century French poem numbering the days of the month. From the mid 16th century children’s songs can be found recorded in English plays. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, first appearing in The Campaigners, a play written in 1698 by Thomas d’Urfey (1653 -1723). Interestingly, D’Urfey, active as a writer in the days when the term ‘wit’ was held almost as a career epithet, also composed songs and poetry and was instrumental to the evolution of the Ballad opera.

The first English collections of nursery rhymes were published before 1744.  Tommy Thumb’s Song Book and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included rhymes including London Bridge is Falling Down, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep; the very same songs popular today, nearly 300 years after they were first published. In fact they were probably sung for many years before publication, passed down in the oral tradition.

There is a lot of speculation about the words of these rhymes with suggestions that they refer covertly to insalubrious or violent topics. It is commonly believed that Ring a Ring o Roses is about the black plague that hit London in 1655, with the ‘rosie’ thought to refer to the rash that developed and ‘we all fall down’ (dead) being the result, but although this theory fits with the illustrative lyrics, there is actually no evidence to support this.

John Newbery’s collection of English Rhymes, Mother Goose’s Melody (or Sonnets for the Cradle) was published in 1765. This is the first record of many of today’s classic nursery rhymes. Newberry’s compilation seems to come from a variety of sources including drinking songs, historical events, traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers’ plays and even ancient pagan rituals.

The name Mother Goose is associated with Maurice Ravel’s piano suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was originally written for two children of Ravel’s acquaintance and subsequently orchestrated for ballet. The movements of Ravel’s suite relate more to fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb than to the nursery rhymes of Newberry’s publication.

There are rumours that Mozart wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn’t. But he did write variations on a French children’s song, Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, originally an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740. The words to the popular English lullaby are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, The Star. The tune has been used for other songs too, including Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of real historical clarity, nursery rhymes and their weird and wonderful characters continue to entertain. History and the role of music in society are undoubtedly interwoven in a fascinating way into the sometimes seemingly nonsensical words of the songs. Pop Goes the Weasel is a nursery rhyme and singing game, first found in a manuscript of 1853, which not only references a pub that still exists, The Eagle on City Road, London, the words were added to an already existing dance tune.

Considering elements such as the incorporation of a pub into this song, it does seem likely that many nursery rhymes were not actually written for children. According to Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University, most of them were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumours about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas in rhyme and song. Existing nonsense rhymes would be adapted to make references to current events. It was not until the 19th century and the Victorian romanticising of childhood the past that nursery rhymes were written down and presented in collections for small children.

The poems are inhabited by kings and queens, peasants and drunkards, historical and mythical characters from a wild, often rural past. They predate many of our modern preferences, yet they are still relevant to today’s children and parents.

The world that spawned the rhymes seems far away from our modern lives, but the reasons people sang nursery rhymes are still the same.

Why Nursery Rhymes are Important

The dish ran away with the spoon…

Adults instinctively converse with babies using a sing- song voice with short, repetitive phrases and long pauses for the baby to respond.

This ‘dialect’ can be described as musical in its characteristics of rhythm, timing and rising and falling pitch. The qualities for relating well to babies and toddlers are also the basis of music, a nice synchronicity, since music is a means for bringing people together.

The way in which parents interact with their baby is vital to the baby’s development. It has been found that mothers who are having difficulty relating or who are suffering from depression can be helped if they are encouraged to sing and play musical games with their children. The singing provides a framework to support the mother to baby interaction.

Nursery rhymes fall into two categories:

  • Lullabies – designed to lull a baby to sleep or soothe a fretful toddler, lullabies are an age-old part of childcare in all cultures.
  • One-to-one songs/play songs – more appropriate for older babies and toddlers, these songs. They are sung and played on laps, often featuring actions such as knee joggling, tickling and surprise dips and spills. They are mini dramatic stories full of language, excitement, anticipation and rhythmic movement.

They help infant development and family relationships:

They are good for the brain. The repetition of rhymes and stories teaches language and builds memory. Nursery rhymes also often represent a child’s first experience of literacy. Before a child learns to read, they can see how a book works.

Nursery rhymes preserve generations’ worth of history and culture. Familiar rhymes provide common ground between parents, grandparents and children, and between people who don’t know each other.

Singing is a great group activity. Singing nursery rhymes allows children to feel confident about singing and dancing, engaging them with music and building self esteem.

The moralistic lessons in some rhymes might seem important, but the main message of nursery rhymes is that they are fun to learn and sing. The supposed meanings of the songs and their obscure origins do not detract from their value – the words just sound good and help children discover a shared language, shared experience and a sense of a shared past.

Resource:

http://www.mamalisa.com has lots of great songs and nursery rhymes from around the world. Here’s one we use in our workshops – a Turkish version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

Irish Song – A Window on History

Irish traditional music has existed for centuries, with songs and dance tunes passed on from generation to generation through the oral tradition. This practice of learning ‘by ear’ is still common today. Despite the number of printed tune and songbooks, students of traditional music generally learn tunes by listening to other musicians.

The traditional music that developed in Ireland first arrived with the Celts. Until the last decade or so, scholars dated the ‘arrival’ of Celtic culture in Britain and Ireland to the 6th century BC. However, recent research has given rise to the idea that Celtic culture emerged in Britain and Ireland much earlier – in the Bronze Age – suggesting its spread was the result not of invasion, as previously thought, but of a gradual migration enabled by an extensive network of contacts that existed between the peoples of Britain and Ireland and those of the Atlantic seaboard.

The Celts were originally from Europe – countries including Austria, evidenced by rich burial-site finds, Northern Italy, and even as far east as Turkey. By the middle of the 1st millennium AD, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and extensive migrations of Germanic peoples, Celtic culture had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall), the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity, with a common linguistic, religious and artistic heritage that clearly distinguished them.

spring_hill_review_jan_-_june_1907_1907_14768255862The Celts were influenced by music of the East. It is believed that the traditional Irish harp may in fact have its roots in Egypt. In ancient times the harp was one of the most popular instruments. Harpists were employed to play for chieftains and to create music for noblemen. In 1607, native Irish chieftains fled under threat of invasion, leaving the harpists to travel the land as itinerant musicians, playing where they could. One of the most famous of these harpists was Turlough O’Carolan, a blind musician and songwriter born in 1670 who travelled throughout his life from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing.

There are several collections of Irish folk music from the 18th century, and by the 19th century ballad printers were established in Dublin.

Like all traditional music, Irish folk music has evolved slowly, and most of the folk songs around today are less than two hundred years old. Where the oldest songs and tunes are from rural settings and come from the Celtic language tradition, the more recent songs generally come from cities and towns and are written in English.

The ultimate expression of traditional singing is an old-style called sean nós. This is usually performed solo, or very occasionally as a duet. Sean-nós singing is highly ornamented, with the voice placed towards the top of the range. A true old-style singer will vary the melody of every verse, but not to the point of interfering with the words, which are considered to have as much importance as the melody.

Non sean-nós traditional singing, even when accompanied, uses patterns of ornamentation and melodic freedom derived from sean-nós singing. It also uses a similar voice placement. This song from the Irish band Altan shows a more modern take on the traditional style.

Caoineadh is Irish for a lament. There are many laments in the Irish song repertoire, expressing sorrow and pain, often of a person lamenting for Ireland itself, having been forced to emigrate due to political or financial reasons. Laments were also used to express loss of a loved one or have their roots in war or the various economic crises caused by both partition and war. This song, Far Away in Australia, is a lament as an Irishman leaves home to seek better fortune, but like many Irish ballads is imbued with hope for the future.

The song, Mo Ghile Mear, written by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill, is a lament of the Gaelic goddess Éire for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was in exile.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley relates to the Irish Rebellion of 1778. Written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836-1883), it expresses a young man’s sadness at leaving his lover to join the United Irishmen, a sorrow that is cut short when she is killed by an English bullet

Other aspects of Ireland’s history are found in popular songs such as Whiskey in the Jar, which tells of the betrayal of highwayman Patrick Flemmen who was executed in 1650. This ballad became a signature song for The Dubliners in the 1960s and was even recorded by Thin Lizzy and Metallica.

If you would like more information about our Irish song workshops, contact the Music Workshop Company today.

TV Talent Competitions: A Route to Success?

TV talent shows have always made for gripping viewing. From programmes such as Opportunity Knocks and Stars in Their Eyes, the familiar format that takes ordinary people and thrusts them to stardom has long been popular.

These days many of the shows with highest ratings feature normal people being shown to excel at some task, whether that be cooking, baking or singing. Celebrity spin-offs abound, but always with the implication that the star is performing outside his or her comfort zone, on the level with the viewer.

There are criticisms that today’s highly produced talent shows are exploitative, but the lure of instant success along with the competitive thrill keeps us watching. Seeing the progress of a contestant from the first audition right through to the record deal gives a sense of, “I knew her back when,” as well as the intoxicating sense that anyone can obtain instant wealth, celebrity and status.

In the last two decades, the popularity of talent shows seems to have grown. Since Pop Idol in 2001, which launched the careers of Will Young, Gareth Gates and third-place runner-up Darius Danesh, and Pop Stars the Rivals which began Cheryl Tweedy’s career, programmes such as X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and various shows searching for the latest musical theatre star have dominated our screens. So much so, in fact, that comedian Peter Kay even created a spoof version called Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, a title which sums up the extent of TV coverage of these shows.

The process of manufacturing successful pop groups and artists is not new. The band The Monkees whose music is still popular today was created for a TV series, as, more recently, was S Club 7. And the Spice Girls was formed after an audition process advertised in The Stage:

WANTED: R.U. 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? R.U. streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd. are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition. Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street. Friday 4 March. 11 am-5:30 pm. Please bring sheet music or backing cassette.

[Wikipedia]

In January 2017, having lost the rights to its popular singing competition, The Voice, the BBC launched yet another vocal contest. Let it Shine, the brainchild of Take That’s Gary Barlow, will feature a search to find performers for a new musical. The winner will be offered a job rather than a transient record contract, and will tour the UK in a musical based on the songs of Take That for a whole year. Despite Barlow’s assurance that his show will be different, avoiding the negativity and mocking criticism popular in some high-ratings competitions, Let it Shine has already run into problems. There have been accusations that the result is rigged after it became known that several of the participants are already professional musical theatre actors. The media has expressed outrage that people who have already trained to sing should deign to enter a competition that might bag them a job.

[image: Matt Deegan via Flickr]

Gary Barlow [image: Matt Deegan via Flickr]

Despite the obvious issue that the winner will be expected to perform one or two shows a day for twelve months and will obviously require stamina and a significant level of vocal training to do so, it was apparently expected by the public that only completely untrained singers should enter in order not to dispel the myth that this kind of success is available to everybody.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from shows such as I’d Do Anything, a search to cast the role of Nancy in Oliver! which drew resentment and criticism from theatre professionals for denying a job to working actors.

So are these talent shows a good way to launch a performing career? 

583px-leona_lewis_-_turne_labirinto_xi

Leona Lewis

Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that many of those who have succeeded in these competitions and gone on to have careers with any longevity already had some training. X Factor winner, Leona Lewis, attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Susan Boyle, who won second place in Britain’s Got Talent but has gone on to sell over 19 million albums and win two Grammy Awards had taken years of singing lessons before the surprising audition that rocketed her to overnight fame.

It could be suggested that elements of the pop industry are, to some extent, manufactured. Many successful artists at the moment are either the result of Industry-formed groups or talent shows, and this has always been the case. In this sense, the TV talent show simply becomes an extension of the way the pop moguls create successful artists, developing the process for viewers’ pleasure.

These shows give another route to a career for a few singers. Many will fade back into obscurity. The competition is tough and the criticism offered by judges on screen is rarely constructive – one-time X Factor judge Tulisa’s “You smashed it,” not really in the realms of useful feedback, and because it makes good viewing, the negative comments are often brutal.

For those unprepared for the ensuing career there are pitfalls. Contestants are generally required to sign a contract with the show that may tie them in with a label or management company that may not be interested in promoting them, and that may involve poor fee and royalty terms. And the pressures of life in the spotlight can cause public difficulty on a personal level. Kerry Katona of Atomic Kitten, a band that was created by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey, is a prime example of a normal person who has struggled to cope in the public eye, and Susan Boyle has well-documented mental health issues that have caused long breaks from performing.

However, despite the criticisms and temporary setbacks, music has always been a competitive business. Many runners up have ended up with more successful careers than the winner of their show. Interviews with competitors who didn’t win focus on the experience, contacts and opportunities that came from the show.

Aoife Mulholland  was eliminated from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria in week 5 immediately went onto the West End Stage as Roxy in Chicago. In an interview with the Radio Times in 2012, Mulholland said,

I let myself wallow for about 24 hours, then I picked myself up and realised what an amazing opportunity I had. I had training, contacts, Saturday night TV exposure so I got on the phone and set up a few meetings with different agents.

Talent show winners:

Little Mix – X Factor, 2011

Kelly Clarkson – American Idol, 2002

Leona Lewis – X Factor, 2006

Paul Potts – BGT 2007

Alexandra Burke – X Factor, 2008

Joe McElldery – X Factor, 2009

Jodie Prenger – winner of I’d do Anything now has a TV and acting career including appearances on Loose Women and Celebrity Bargain Hunt

Talent show runners up:

Beyoncé – 2nd place with her group Girls Tyme, later Destiny’s Child on Star Search 1992

Susan Boyle – 2nd place, Britain’s Got Talent, 2009

Jennifer Hudson – 7th place, American Idol, 2004

One Direction – 3rd place, X Factor, 2010

Olly Murs – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Stacey Soloman – 3rd place, X Factor, 2009, subsequent winner of I’m a Celebrity

Rebecca Ferguson – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Cher Lloyd – 4th place, X Factor, 2010

Samantha Barks – 3rd place I’d do Anything. Later the same year she won the lead as Sally Bowles in a touring production of Cabaret, opposite Wayne Sleep. She went on to play Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables.

750px-thumbnail

Jennifer Hudson performs to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Tell us what do you think! Are TV Talent competitions are a good way to launch a performing career? Comment below to let us know your opinion, advice and experience.

 

 

Looking Forward to 2017

david_bowie_-_toppop_1974_10As the year draws to a close, it’s a time to reflect on 2016 and to look forward to the New Year. 2016 has seen the deaths of many true music legends – popular musicians including Prince, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, and over Christmas, George Michael and Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt. It has been a tough year in music education and the music industry too, with the ISM struggling to get a response to its Bacc for the Future Campaign and the anxiety caused by the Brexit vote.

Anniversaries

To start 2017 on a positive note there are opportunities to look back at the contributions of musicians over the centuries. The New Year marks the centenaries of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, two monumentally influential jazz musicians. Both Monk and Gillespie were born in October 2017. Monk was the most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington while Gillespie is recognised as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, and teacher to other great musicians including Miles Davis. An October celebration of these two kings of jazz could make a great focus for Black History Month. Look out for our blog about these great musicians later in the year…

Another renowned African American musician, Scott Joplin was born 150 years ago this year, and 2017 also marks the centenary of his death. Joplin died in tragic circumstances aged only 49, but his reputation as a pianist and his role in popularising Ragtime music mean he is still well known today.

department_store_ukulele_adIt is 350 years since the birth of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. Monteverdi was a key figure in the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods in music history. His opera, L’Orfeo, is the oldest surviving opera still regularly performed.

It is 50 years since the death of Hungarian composer and music edu
cator, Zoltán Kodály, who popularised the sol-fa method of vocal training, making music learning accessible to children of all backgrounds. Read more about the use of sol-fa in our blog Sol-Fa – Singing Through the Ages.

And it’s 100 years since that most popular of instruments, the ukulele, was patented by the Honolulu Ad Club!

Events

The Youth Music Give a Gig extravaganza will take place in March 2017. The Give a Gig Week will run from March 24 to 31, aiming to raise funds for Youth Music. Youth Music is asking musicians to organise concerts and events to raise money with artists including Liam Gallagher and Tom Odell already on board.

The UK’s biggest music education event, Rhinegold Music and Drama Education Expo, will take place in London on the 9th and 10th of February 2017. The Expo is a chance to network and get up to date with other music education professionals, and to take part in workshops, conference talks and CPD. Registration is already open online. And Rhinegold is launching an exciting new event in Manchester on October 4th, the Music and Drama Education Expo, for teachers of music and performing arts.

And finally, the 10th International Conference for Research in Music Education will be held at Bath Spa University between April 18th and 22nd, 2017.

The Conference website states:

The aim of the conference is to gather together researchers, teachers and practitioners to share and discuss research that is concerned with all aspects of teaching and learning in music: musical development, perception & understanding, creativity, learning theory, pedagogy, curriculum design, informal settings, music for special needs, technologies, instrumental teaching, teacher education, gender and culture. Music education is also viewed in the context of arts education, the whole curriculum and its sociocultural contexts.

Whatever your area of music education there are many exciting events taking place next year. If you’d like to let us know about an event, or to feature your event in a guest blog for the Music Workshop Company, feel free to contact us or to tell us about it in the comments below. The Music Workshop Company team wish you a happy, successful and musical New Year.

 

Sol-Fa – Singing Through the Ages

November 14th 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Curwen, an English Congregational Minister and music educator who was responsible for refining and popularising the tonic sol-fa system of musical notation. Although he did not invent tonic sol-fa, Curwen developed a distinct method of applying it in music education which included important aspects of both rhythm and pitch that have been formative in much of the singing and early-years music teaching ever since.

The sol-fa, or solfège, system is designed for singing. If you have ever heard the song Do Re Mi from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music, you will be familiar with the idea. This concept transfers over to instrumental learning with the understanding that children can learn a great deal about pitch, rhythm and tone by learning to sing which can then be applied on any instrument.

Initially developed in the form we recognise today by Sarah Glover (1785-1867) a music teacher from Norwich, to aid Sunday School teachers with a cappella singing, Glover’s teaching method used movable solmisation syllables (a system of attributing a distinct syllable to each note in a musical scale) as an aid to sight-reading, alongside a sol-fa notation, which she had devised as a stepping stone to reading music from the staff.

There is evidence to suggest that a similar system of solmisation existed many centuries earlier. In her research paper Non-Lexical Vocables in Scottish Music, Christine Knox Chambers of Edinburgh University traces the use of solmisation back to China, Korea and even the Native American tribes. In Indian Classical Music the notes of the basic seven-note scale have the names sa, re, ma, ga, pa, dha and ni. And in Scottish Gaelic, the word canntaireachd (chanting) refers to an ancient Scottish Highland method of solemnisation which ‘notated’ music played on the Great Highland Bagpipes. This made it possible for music to be passed on in the aural tradition even without instruments.

Sol-fa or solfège as we know it was first seen in Europe in the 11th century, developed by Guido d’Arezzo, a music theorist and a monk of the Benedictine order who is credited with inventing modern staff notation. Staff notation replaced a system called neumatic notation, an ancient system of inflective marks which indicated the general shape of the musical line but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung.

800px-graduale_triplex

Arezzo’s original solfège note names derive from an 11th-century hymn in which the solfège syllable is the word accompanying the first note of each phrase. The starting notes of each phrase are C, D, E, F, G, A:

In the sol-fa method, the seven tones of the scale are named do, ray, me, fah, soh, lah and te and are arranged into ascending and descending scales where do is the note C.

There is also a method called moveable do, which Curwen and Glover both employed, where the note do can be the tonic in any key.

Having experienced considerable difficulty himself with music reading and traditional music notation, Curwen became interested in the sol-fa method and its potential for teaching and developing music reading. He felt the need for a simple way of teaching how to sing. He believed that music should be easily accessible to all classes and ages of people.

In order to facilitate this, he devised a step-by step approach to teaching: Firstly reading from sol-fa notation, secondly reading from staff notation in conjunction with sol-fa notation below, and thirdly reading from staff notation alone. As his ideas developed he devised the pitch hand signs that are familiar to most music teachers as part of the Kodály Method and incorporated the French time names which are familiar from childhood music lessons (taa taa, titi). The use of sol-fa served as a memory aid as well as a learning aid.

379px-curwen_hand_signs_mt

Many of his pedagogical ideas are fundamental not only to other music teaching methods such as Kodály and Dalcroze, but also to general educational practice.

Curwen’s principles of education:

  • Let the easy come before the difficult
  • Introduce the real and concrete before the ideal or abstract
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Let each step, as far as possible, rise out of that which goes before, and lead up to that which comes after
  • Call in the understanding to assist the skill at every stage

the_empire_of_song_-_containing_theory_and_practice_lessons_for_singing_classes_exercises_and_pieces_for_institutes_and_conventions_tunes_and_anthems_for_choirs_and_glees_and_choruses_for_concerts_

Further reading:

A full description of sol-fa:https://blog.key-notes.com/solfege.html

More information about John Curwen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Curwen

A full description of Curwen’s method: http://music-ed.net/Curwen/Ped&TchngTechs.html

Information about the Kodály Method: http://www.britishkodalyacademy.org/kodaly_approach.htm

Indian Ragas: http://raag-hindustani.com/Notes.html

%d bloggers like this: