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{ Category Archives } Music

Béla Fleck’s excellent adventure

Before it was Béla Fleck’s current tour, Throw Down Your Heart was a documentary film, an album, and the album’s title track. The subtitle on the film’s website is “Bela Fleck brings the banjo back to Africa.” What he got in return, apparently, is a wonderfully diverse group of musical interlocutors. Last week, thanks to […]

Tagged Africa, Bela Fleck, crossover music, Kenya, Madagascar

Clearing the Air about John Williams’ Simple Gift (part 2)

Picking up from part 1, which is mostly an analysis of “Air and Simple Gifts,” the composition John Williams wrote for Obama’s inauguration (it was all a single post until I saw how long it’d turned out)… The negative reactions that I’ve come across tend to work the premise that we should have gotten a […]

Tagged Alex Ross, Barack Obama, John Williams, music critics

Clearing the Air about John Williams’ Simple Gift (part 1)

I was looking forward as much as any average Bush-loathing voter to the Change that finally became official week before last, but I wasn’t going to let myself get glued to the TV for the inauguration. And then it snowed, and schools were closed, and what could I do? I heard the first part in […]

Tagged Barack Obama, John Williams, music analysis

Teaching jazz as a learning experience

It looks like the whole goodbye to teaching thing may have been premature. I was out of the country and away from easy internet access for most of the summer (thus no blogging). While I was away I got an email asking if I’d be interested in teaching the songwriting class again in the spring […]

Tagged Duke University, jazz, Miles Davis, music criticism, Stanley Crouch, teaching music

Music and Lyrics

I saw Music and Lyrics on the airplane a few days ago. It’s cartoonish in the usual Hollywood romantic comedy way. Hugh Grant’s character (Alex Fletcher) especially is too much of a chameleon, changing color from pathetic to sexy to serious at the plot’s convenience. But it’s true enough to the music and has enough […]

Tagged movies, pop music, songwriting

Gettin’ that canon off the pedestal

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a bit about the songwriting class I’d been teaching at Duke. I’m going to continue in the mode of self-debriefing, I guess you could call it, with some thoughts about how classical music fits into the general undergraduate curriculum. I’ve never had much sympathy with the point of […]

Tagged Alex Ross, classical music, Duke University, teaching music

HIPster’s guide to not winning friends and not influencing people

A couple of days ago I picked up a recording of Fidelio in the library. It’s conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a “historically informed performance” (HIP) specialist, meaning that his ideal is to calibrate the performance of a piece based on what is known about musical practices and instruments at the time it was written. When […]

Tagged classical music, flame wars, historically informed performance, music criticism, opera, Sequenza21

Coffeehouse goodbye

A few weeks ago my 8th class full of songwriting students met in the Duke Coffeehouse on east campus to sing their final-project songs. It was a final for me, too—my last significant act as an instructor at Duke—and it was a great way to close things out. I don’t remember the event ever going […]

Tagged Duke University, pop music, songwriting, teaching music

Operatic ambition and operatic reality

A few days ago that most incisive of gossip columnists, Opera Chic, had a little thing about Rufus Wainwright’s operatic ambitions, which are pretty high-flown (“My dream is to compose three operas that will be performed for the next two centuries”) but also seem to come from a sincere attachment to the genre. It’s refreshing, […]

Tagged Greensboro Opera Company, Henry Mollicone, opera, pop music, Rufus Wainwright

Going to town with “Going to a Town”

I’ve had it on my list for a while to look into Rufus Wainwright’s music. The time finally came late last week, when Roger Bourland posted a YouTube clip of “Going to a Town,” Wainwright’s new single. Bourland started his blog in connection with a freshman seminar on Wainwright’s music he was giving at UCLA. […]

Tagged music analysis, pop music, Rufus Wainwright, songwriting