The Avid Listener: Performance Practice

22 posts categorized "Performance Practice"

December 7, 2015

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the “World Beat Dilemma”

Joshua Kalin Busman (University of North Carolina, Pembroke)

 

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan provides the soundtrack for a Coca-Cola advertisement.

 

“Here's a world beat dilemma for you: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is one of the world's great singers, but his qawwali music is intended for Sufi Muslim religious ceremonies in Pakistan. How can Khan … be made palatable to the general listener?”

—Ron Givens, Entertainment Weekly

In the spring of 1991, it was perhaps surprising to readers of Entertainment Weekly to find a review of the most recent album by qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. As the review notes, qawwali is a devotional style of music associated with Sufi Islam, and Khan, a Pakistani singer and composer, is the world’s foremost proponent of the style. Born in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 1948, Khan first came to the attention of Western audiences as one of the original acts to participate in Peter Gabriel’s World of Music, Arts and Dance festivals in 1982. Following his popular exposure through the festival, Khan was signed to Gabriel’s newly formed Real World Records label and collaborated with Gabriel on the 1989 soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The album being reviewed is Mustt Mustt, Khan’s first collaboration with Canadian guitarist and producer Michael Brooks and his second release for the Real World imprint.

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November 30, 2015

Religious Listening

Joshua Kalin Busman (University of North Carolina, Pembroke)

A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 40 percent of religiously unaffiliated people identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” In 2010, USA Today reported that nearly 72 percent of millennials would describe themselves as “more spiritual than religious.” By all accounts, the “spiritual, but not religious” trend (“SBNR” in Internet shorthand) is an important aspect of contemporary religious life. Writer Matthew Becklo has argued that SBNR has a uniquely strong hold in the musical sphere, becoming “the boring new normal” among contemporary pop musicians. Citing quotes from a laundry list of the biggest names in popular music, Becklo argues that SBNR creates a “middle way” that allows artists to avoid the shallow hedonism of materialism while simultaneously side-stepping the specificity of any particular religious tradition. Take, for instance, the title track of British folk-pop titans Mumford and Sons’s 2009 album Sigh No MoreThe first verse and chorus lyrics explicitly mention religious concepts like God, love, salvation, charity, and the possibility of an afterlife, but maintain a level of ambiguity that allow them to function effectively in a host of different religious value systems.

 

 “Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons

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November 16, 2015

Re-thinking Convention and Innovation

Nicholas Lockey (Sam Houston State University)

 

 Closing scene of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

 

The end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) defies the conventions of film endings. After the credits are over, the music has stopped, and the screen has faded to darkness, we are suddenly confronted with an interior shot of Ferris Bueller’s (Matthew Broderick) home. Is this the start of a new movie? Did the film’s editors make a mistake and forget to remove some material from the final product? The mystery is resolved when Ferris (or perhaps it’s meant to be Broderick speaking to us?) appears, breaks the fourth wall, and addresses the audience with bewilderment: “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. … Go.”  We realize that the director has played a humorous game with our expectations. American audiences in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have come to expect that a darkened screen after the closing credits means that the movie is over and, except for a company logo or two, there is nothing else to see. Ferris Bueller presents us with these conventional ending cues and then defies our expectations by not ending when it is “supposed” to. This scene surprises us precisely because we have reason to expect something different to happen—expectation that is built on the establishment of, and our familiarity with, conventions. In the decades since Ferris Bueller (and similar movies) first appeared, more and more films have included post-credit scenes. Sometimes, innovations themselves can become conventions.

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November 9, 2015

Bromantic Singing: Madrigals and Authenticity

(Andrew Dell’Antonio, University of Texas at Austin)

It’s been a common schtick among music history teachers to tell our students that sixteenth-century Italian and English madrigals are not the wholesome, jolly songs about shepherds, nymphs, and fa la la they learned to sing in high school. Ultimately, they’re about sex. Amused at having mildly shocked our charges, we are often satisfied to leave the matter at that and forge ahead to the “progress” of Baroque music. But if we’re willing to take the issue a bit deeper, there’s more for us to consider about gender dynamics and social singing—not just in the Renaissance, but up to the present day. Because madrigal singing was not just about sex: it was largely about bromance. 

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September 21, 2015

How It’s Meant to be Heard: Authenticity and Game Music

William Gibbons (Texas Christian University)

I never thought I would be listed as the “Dungeonmaster” in a concert program, much less for one of the world’s leading wind symphonies. Nevertheless, that was my title last March, when The Dallas Winds generously invited me to provide some on-stage commentary during a live concert of video game music. It was a thrilling evening—not only did I get to experience the ensemble up close, but I also got to speak publicly about one of my favorite topics to a large, enthusiastic, and diverse audience.

After the concert, I chatted with some audience members about what they had particularly enjoyed about the program. Though the responses varied, one refrain caught my attention: many listeners were excited to have heard their favorite game music “how it was meant to be heard.” They seemed to mean that they preferred the music performed by a large, live ensemble instead of the original, electronic version—they felt, in other words, that the orchestral rendition was somehow more “authentic.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hear game music played by an orchestra, of course—it can be a richly rewarding musical experience. But the idea of finding the “real” piece of music somewhere beyond its original form raises some tricky questions (and ones not unique to game music).

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Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener fosters weekly discussions between scholars and novices alike.

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Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis