In a scene from the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, music teacher Glenn Holland tells his high school students about Beethoven’s deafness while playing the second movement of the composer’s seventh symphony (the same movement used fifteen years later during the climax ofThe King’s Speech). Holland has just learned that his toddler son is deaf. While Holland describes the irony of Beethoven’s situation—one of the greatest composers not being able to hear—it’s clear to the viewer that he’s connecting it to his personal irony, as his son will never be able to hear the music that has been his life’s purpose.
A scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus, in which Mr. Holland discusses Beethoven’s deafness with his students.
May 23, 2009, Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen sings Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” with a spoken introduction asking for people to support local relief efforts. “We’ve gotta stand up, support our neighbors, and please support the local community food bank of New Jersey.”
As Bruce Springsteen’s career unfolded, he became increasingly overt about his political framework and his belief that music can be a powerful means both for illuminating issues of social injustice and for bringing people together in community. Springsteen mined the rich lodes of traditional American music in his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). Here, he found a treasure trove: traditional songs that glimmered and shone as he gave them roots—rock inspired settings and elements that could also be forged and shaped into new works. Following this album, he continued to explore the ways that traditional songs could be melded together with rock and roll. Springsteen’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” was part of his 2009 Working on a Dream tour, and his subsequent reworking of the lyrics in new songs shows his process of adaptation. In particular, “Hard Times” can be read as a song of mourning in the aftermath of the“Great Recession” of 2007-2009 and a call to respond with community-based activism and cooperation.
Ann van Allen-Russell, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
J. C. Bach’s Symphony in B-flat Major, Op. 9, no. 3. This symphony is one of the three Op. 9 symphonies that were at the heart of J. C. Bach’s second lawsuit against the London publishers Longman and Lukey, who were accused by Bach of producing and selling unauthorized copies of the symphonies.
Make up a tune. You can hum it, whistle it, play on an instrument—anything you like. It’s your own tune after all. Or is it? Can you own something that doesn’t physically exist? And could you stop someone from stealing it? In modern times, a whole body of law exists around musical copyright, which protects musicians from having their intellectual property used without permission. However, such protection did not always exist. In fact, the modern-day concept of musical copyright can be traced back to mid-eighteenth century England, whenJohann Christian Bach—the youngest son ofJohann Sebastian Bach—started a lawsuit to stop a minor theft. Unbeknownst to him, it would end up changing the way we think about music.
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Bruce Springsteen singing Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” live in Copenhagen in 1988, prior to his tour with Amnesty International.
Since the beginning of his career, Springsteen has been haunted by his label as “the next Dylan.” Though promoted by John Hammond at Columbia Records (as Dylan had been), and admiring Dylan greatly (as he recently articulated while reflecting on Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature), Springsteen consciously chose to distance himself from Dylan’s musical style and forge his own path as a songwriter, embracing instead a carefully orchestrated, hard-rocking sound. In a 1999 interview withMark Hagen, Springsteen recounted that in his early twenties he began to avoid writing lyrics that relied on loosely strung-together images, a stylistic feature that was emblematic of Dylan’s music. However, from the late 1970s on, Springsteen covered songs written by Dylan, perpetuating—purposefully or not—the link between his work and that of Dylan. In particular, Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” was central to Springsteen’s political awakening in the years following the release of “Born in the U.S.A.” In 1988, two key performances of this song embody Springsteen’s quest for social justice: his concert in East Berlin and his participation in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! tour. Springsteen suggested that “Chimes of Freedom” embodied his ideal of rock music as a vehicle for expression of community—rather than simply individual—autonomy, when he stated, “This is one of the greatest songs about human freedom ever written.”
Andrew Dell'Antonio is co-editor of The Avid Listener and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas, Austin. His research interests include musical historiography, feminist/queer theory, and cultural studies, and he has recently written about contemporary popular music and the fashioning of a postmodern critical stance. He is co-author of The Enjoyment of Music (W. W. Norton).
Felicia M. Miyakawa (Ph.D., Indiana University) is co-editor of The Avid Listener and independent scholar based in Austin, Texas. Her research interests include Hip-hop music and culture, Black Nationalism, American Popular Music, African-American music and literature, gender and pedagogy, and queer studies. She has recently written about spirituals, song traditions, and Hip-hop pedagogy. She is series co-editor of Profiles in Popular Music (Indiana University Press) and serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Society for American Music.
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