Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Music for a Relaxed Finals Week

Research has shown (See the American Psychological Association summary) that "multi-tasking" is not effective, or even possible.  What the brain really does is switch between tasks, to the detriment of all the tasks being done.

One of the most prevalent distractions for students is music: their own or their neighbor's.  Yet if a student is used to having music on continually, will silence be too alien to be helpful to attention?

Ever since the flawed "Mozart Effect" studies, researchers have sought to explain the seemingly positive effect of music on learning through brain studies and other methods.  In one study, researchers found that slow (lento) music reduced test anxiety, which in itself could improve test scores.  (1)  Other studies have shown that classical music can reduce blood pressure in heart patients, and there is a medical specialty called Music Therapy.

If you like having music on, but find some kinds of music distracting, perhaps music designed for meditation can help your focus during Finals Week.  In most cultures that practice meditation, it's aim is to clear the mind of distracting thoughts.  Instrumental music - music without a vocal part - is less distracting because you are only absorbing words from one place: your study materials.

The Music Collection has some music for relaxation so you can have your cake (music) and eat it too (focus on your work):

"New Age Music" as a subject often includes soothing music, but some is ethnically-oriented percussive music that could have the opposite effect!

Brian Eno's Discreet Music (1975) was one of the first electronic music works created for ambiance.  His album, Neroli (1993) is so calming it has been played in maternity wards.

Steven Halpern  was one of the leaders of the 1970s and 1980s "anti-frantic" music movement, with albums titled "Inner Peace" and "Effortless Relaxation."

Coyote Oldman is a duo that plays native American flutes in simple and soothing First Peoples-inspired styles.

George Winston,  a pianist, is one of the pioneers of New Age music though he also performs jazz and folk music.  He records for the quintessential New Age record label, Windham Hill.  His "Plains" celebrates the wide expanses of the American plains.

Yoga Lounge includes music of various tempos for yoga stretching but can be relaxing at any time.  The CD is from Putumayo, a record label that issues compilations of tracks from around the world in several series, including "Lounge" and "Playground."

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For a selection of relaxing classical music, try:
Meditations for a Quiet Night
Compact Disc 982

Some people find smooth jazz soothing.  Try CDs by Chris Botti (trumpet), Dave Koz (saxophone), Kenny G (soprano saxophone) or Brian Culbertson (piano),

(1)  Lai, H., Chen, P., Chen, C., Chang, H., Peng, T., & Chang, F. (2008). Randomized crossover trial studying the effect of music on examination anxiety. Nurse Education Today, 28(8), 909­916. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2008.05.011

Friday, April 22, 2016

R.I.P. Prince

The music world lost another innovative, creative musician this week:  Prince Rogers Nelson, a.k.a. "Prince" died on April 21 at age 57.  His albums won many Grammys and he achieved success as a songwriter as well.  He is best known for his film, "Purple Rain," and its soundtrack, and the song "Party like it's 1999."  His blend of classic R&B sounds with modern synthesizers helped define the music of a generation.

Prince  (1979)
Compact Disc 15360

1999 (1983)

Purple Rain (1984)
Soundtrack:  Compact Disc 3666
DVD:  DVD Video 3932

Parade: Music from the Motion Picture "Under the Cherry Moon" (1986)

Sign "o" the Times (1987)

Black Album  (1988)

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)

1993:  The Hits & B-Sides (1993)

The Gold Experience  (1995)

Musicology  (2004)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Miles Davis

Don Cheadle's character study of Miles Davis in the 2016 film, "Miles Ahead" has brought the music of Miles to a new generation of fans.  The film limits itself to the non-productive years of Miles's life: the late 1970s.  He had outlived many of his creative collaborators, becoming an "icon" rather than the revolutionary innovator he was throughout his career.   Critics disagree about the film, but nobody questions Davis's complex character and contribution to jazz.  Every list of "best" or "most iconic" or "most ground-breaking" or "must-hear" jazz albums includes at least one by Davis.

In the 1950s Miles was one of the foremost performers of bebop.  His Quintet and Quartet recordings remain some of the definitive bebop releases, with John Coltrane on saxophone.  He headlined two quintets, the first with John Coltrane on saxophone, would release iconic bebop albums.  The second, starting in 1963, included players who would be the stars of the fusion movement that combined electrified other timbres and beats with jazz improv techniques.   The movement is known for combining rock music, but also brought in Brazilian percussion and other elements.

For more on Miles Davis, check out these books from the Music Collection.

Miles Davis Quintet (with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums)  This is the original bebop quintet that defined the genre.

  • Round About Midnight:  Recorded in 1955 by the Quintet for Columbia but released in 1957.  This album is considered by many to be the essential album from Davis's original Quintet.
    Compact Disc 15862

Miles as a innovator:
  • Miles Ahead features Miles soloing on flugelhorn with a big band directed by Gil Evans.  The same collaboration would result in Sketches of Spain in 1960.
    Compact Disc 13263
  • Birth of the Cool, one of the most highly regarded jazz albums of all time.  "Hot" jazz of the 1920s was defined by up-tempo, intensely rhythmic pieces meant for dancing.  "Cool" jazz would be known for softer sounds and more languid tempos.  The album was released in 1957, but was recorded in 1949 and 1950 by a nonet consisting of Davis and other innovators of the "cool" sound including Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz.
    Compact Disc 16121

  • At Newport (issued in 1964) was recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival adds Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and Bill Evans on piano
    Compact Disc 19012

  • Kind of Blue, #1 on the Village Voice's list of "Ten Jazz Albums to Hear before you die," this album features John Coltrane, Bill Evans on piano, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).
    Compact Disc 16525
  • Sketches of Spain. Davis and Gil Evans reworked classical composer Joaquin Rodrigo's guitar concerto, "Concierto de Aranjuez," as a jazz piece highlighting Davis in a soloist role with accompaniment.
  • Compact Disc 7833
    Compact Disc 4927 (1997 reissue)
In 1963 Miles assembled a new Quintet, with George Coleman on tenor sax (for one year, to be replaced by Wayne Shorter, who will later belong to Weather Report), Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  Several Albums include this new combination.
  • Seven Steps to Heaven, with the same group but with Victor Feldman replacing Hancock on some tracks.
    Compact Disc 19006

  • My Funny Valentine, recorded live in New York in 1964 at the same benefit concert that resulted in "Four & More"  The concert was dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy and raised money to support the Civil Rights Movement.
    Compact Disc 15596
  • Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965, Chicago) is a seven-disc set that features 10-20 minute versions of the Davis's best known  pieces from the early days and the new group.
    Compact Disc 13227
  • Miles Smiles, with the new quintet, was recorded in 1966 and released in 1967.
    Compact Disc 18991
Read about this album's impact on jazz history:  Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, and the Invention of Post Bop, by Jeremy Yudkin
ML 419 .D39 Y83 2008

  • Nefertiti, recorded in 1967, is considered "hard bop" but hints at the future direction of the members as creators of the fusion movement.
    Compact Disc 19435
  • Bitches Brew was a ground-breaking album that paved the way for experimental cross-over groups of the 1970s "fusion" movement.
  • Compact Disc 18300
    Compact Disc 3612 (1980s reissue)
  • The Cellar Door Sessions:  Recorded at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC in 1970.  Davis's collaborators included performers who would become the fusion supergroup, Weather Report.
  • Compact Disc 18253
  • On the Corner features funky bass, electric sitar and synthesizer among other new sounds not usually associated with Jazz.  With Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette.
    Compact Disc 17959

  • Tutu is a rather experimental album, with Davis as a soloist over dubbed performers.  He won a grammy award for this performance
    Compact Disc 7883
  • Amandla pairs Davis with a variety of performers, and the result is a multi-faceted album with influences from funk, African music, and electronic composition.
    Compact Disc 19520

Monday, April 18, 2016

Recent Jazz Acquisitions

During Spring Semester some fabulous jazz CDs have been added to the collection, as well as two books for performers:

Compact Discs:
John Coltrane.  Offering: Live at Temple University
Compact Disc 22794

Bill Frisell. East/West

Illinois Jacquet & Leo Parker.  Toronto, 1947

Fourplay.  Silver
Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Bird Calls

Brad Mehldau.  Live in Tokyo

Charles Mingus. The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-1965
Compact Disc 22802 (7 discs)

Houston Person.  Something Personal
Compact Disc 22704

Ben Webster and Associates
Compact Disc 22803

Brenna Whitaker
Compact Disc 22721

Wes Montgomery.  One Night in Indy
Compact Disc 22807

So You Want to Sing Jazz: A Guide for Professionals, by Jan Shapiro (sponsored by NATS)
MT 868 .S43 2016

Progressive Independence, Jazz: A Comprehensive Guide to Basic Jazz Drumming Technique, by Ron Spagnardi
MT 662.8 .S73 P7 2010

Friday, April 8, 2016

Outlaw Country and Merle Haggard

The music world lost an icon this week:  Merle Haggard died at the age of 79.  He was one of the last remaining musicians in the "Outlaw Country" genre.  This genre was in part a reaction against the clean-shaved, rhinestone-studded "Nashville Sound" of the 1960s.   Acoustic guitar and untutored vocal styles, combined with lyrics from the edges of society, turned country music on its head.

Merle Haggard: 40 Greatest Hits:  Compact Disc 21410
The outlaw theme is typified in his classic song, "Mama Tried:"
And I turned twenty-one in prison
doing life without parole
No one could steer me right
but Mama tried, Mama tried 
Mama tried to raise me better,
but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame
'cause Mama tried.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson:  Django and Jimmie
Compact Disc 22799

Willie Nelson and Haggard collaborated on an album in 2015.  The title song acknowledges the influence of Django Reinhardt, the famous gypsy jazz guitarist of 1930s-1950s Paris, and Jimmie Rodgers, an influential white Southern blues musician ("The Singing Brakeman") known for his yodeling, who died in 1933.

Willie Nelson's (b. 1933) "Red-Headed Stranger" (1975) tells the story of a heartbroken cowboy who kills a woman for touching his deceased wife's horse.
The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
The stranger went free of course
For you can't hang a man for killing a woman
Who's trying to steal your horse.

Waylon Jennings (1937-2002) "Are you Sure Hank Done it This Way" (1975) is an homage to Hank Williams, Senior, and at the same time a slam on the Nashville style:
Lord it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need to change.

Hank Williams, Jr. (b. 1949) summed up his outlaw ways in "Family Tradition," a song referencing his famous (alcoholic) father:
So don't ask me, Hank why do you drink?
Hank, why do roll smoke?
Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?
Stop and think it over,
try and put yourself in my unique position.
If I get stoned and sing all night long,
It's a family tradition!
Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003) a.k.a. "The Man in Black" is famous for singing "I shot a man in Reno just to see watch die" in Folsom Prison Blues, though he was never actually in prison himself.

It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine
Since, I don't know when
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin' on.

Nashville is no longer the rhinestone capital it was when Elvis Presley and Porter Wagoner chased the long-haired, acoustic bad boys to Texas and beyond, but the bad boy idea lives on in lyrics that continue to be covered by today's artists.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April is National Poetry Month - The Most Poetic Singer-Songwriters?

This year marks the 20th annual National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  While not usually considered "poets," singer-songwriters are indeed poets, who happen to also set their poetry to music.  Some songwriters are more lyrical than others, but it's indisputable that some song lyrics have become part of the cultural fabric of American life.  A peak period of poetic creativity in song was the singer-songwriter era of the sixties and seventies.

Bob Dylan's way with words is so well respected that his song lyrics have been published separately from the melodies.  His 1964 song,"Chimes of Freedom," typifies his angry yet empathetic politics, and gift for turn of phrase:
Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Joni Mitchell was part of the singer-songwriter movement in folk revival circles.  Some of her lyrics have become synonymous with the period.   "I've looked at clouds from both sides now" (From Both Sides Now) or "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" from "Big Yellow Taxi" are lines that are part of the American cultural landscape.  "Both Sides Now" from Both Sides Now begins with these lines:

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow it's cloud illusions that I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes cargo ship that went down in rough seas in 1975.  He created a story song reminiscent of old time sea shanties:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'gitche gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

Don McLean's "American Pie" celebrated or bemoaned (depending on your interpretation) the history of rock 'n' roll during his lifetime.

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Many Beatles songs used innovative poetic ideas, turning a phrase, imparting social and personal insights, or just nonsense syllables.  From "Eight Days a Week" to "Yesterday,"  Like Dylan, the Beatles Lyrics are profound and innovative enough to be immortalized in a book as well as song (ML421.B4 D385 2014)  They'll take you to "Strawberry Fields," among other places:
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Master of Acoustic Guitar: Tommy Emmanuel

On February 26, Tommy Emmanuel will be performing at the Egyptian Room in Indianapolis.  If you missed your chance to purchase a ticket, his virtuosic artistry (and sense of humor) are well known on youtube.  Perhaps his most famous youtube video is his TEDx Talk: My Life as a One-Man Band. His fingerpicking technique, based on the style of Chet Atkins, covers bass notes, chords, and melody, and he uses the guitar as a percussion instrument.  Who needs the standard rock group instrumentation?

For more, check out his CDs from The Music Collection:

It's Never Too Late:  Compact Disc 22653

The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World
(With Chet Atkins): Compact Disc 22806

The Guitar Mastery of Tommy Emmanuel CGP:  Compact Disc 22599

All I Want for Christmas:  Compact Disc 20791

Note:  CGP is a special designation awarded to Tommy by his hero, Chet Atkins.  It means "Certified Guitar Player," and was only awarded to five guitarists (including himself) before Atkins's death in 2001.

If you want to learn the "finger-picking" technique for yourself, check out these how-to books and songbooks:

Contemporary Acoustic Guitar, by Eric Paschal
MT 585 .P38 C6 1999

Fingerpicking Love Songs
M 1630.18 .F56 2011

Fingerpicking Wedding
M 1630.18 F58 2011

Acoustic Artistry: Tapping, Slapping, and Percussion Techniques for Classical & Fingerstyle Guitar, by Evan Hirschelman
MT 588 .H57 A3 2011

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Grammy Awards, 2016

This year's Grammy Awards went to some familiar performers, and the Music Collection has many of the winning CDs:

Album of the Year:  1989, by Taylor Swift
(Also Best Pop Vocal Album)
Compact Disc 22180
Record of the Year:  "Uptown Funk" on Uptown Special, by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars
(Also Best Pop Duo/Group Performance)
Compact Disc 22139

Song of the Year:  "Thinking Out Loud" on X, by Ed Sheeran
(Also Best Pop Solo Performance)
Compact Disc 22084

Best New Artist: Meghan Trainor
(Her album is titled "Title" -- Compact Disc 22138)

Best Dance Recording: "Where Are Ü Now" from Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü
Best Dance/Electronic Album:  Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü
Compact Disc 22822

Best R&B Song:  "Really Love" from Black Messiah by D'Angelo & Kendra Foster
Best R&B Album: Black Messiah, by D'Angelo and the Vanguard
Compact Disc 22727

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: "These Walls" by Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Best Rap Performance: "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar, on To Pimp A Butterfly
(Also Best Rap Song)
Best Rap Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
Compact Disc 22722

Best Urban Contemporary Album:  Beauty Behind the Madness, by The Weeknd
Compact Disc 22720

Best Country Solo Performance: Traveller by Chris Stapleton
(Also Best Country Album)
Compact Disc 22786

Best Country Duo/Group Performance: Girl Crush by Little Big Town on Pain Killer
(Also Best Country Song)
Compact Disc 22629

Best Musical Theater Album: Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Compact Disc 22652

Best Musical Film:  Amy (the story of Amy Winehouse)
DVD Video 12511

Friday, February 12, 2016

I Heard it in a Love Song - The Love Song in History

Even before the Biblical "Song of Solomon," love has been a major theme in poetry and song.   Throughout history some of the best musical works were dedicated to one beloved lady (most composers were men), or depicted love in a song.

Middle Ages

Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300 - 1377) was an innovative poet and musician of  Fourteenth-Century France.  In the tradition of the troubadours and trouvères of the previous century, his songs lamented unrequited love or listed the admirable qualities of his lady love.  His artistry is considered the height of the courtly love tradition.  Some of his poetic forms were also used by his slightly younger contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer.

18th Century

Opera, staged plays with music, reached its maturity in the 18th Century with the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).  His most popular operas portrayed love relationships amid comic circumstances, including mistaken identity and the mischief of jealous rivals.

  • Così fan tutte:  Two sisters are tricked into believing their lovers are away at war.
  • Don Giovanni:  Don Juan toys with the affections of the wrong father's daughter.
  • The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro):  Figaro's upcoming marriage is endangered by the machinations of jealous rivals and mistaken identity.

19th Century

Love-themed operas continued to be popular, but in the 19th Century they usually end with the death of at least one of the star-crossed lovers, sometimes from consumption, (tuberculosis), the scourge of 19th-Century Europe.  Somehow the soprano heroine manages to sing lovely arias right up until her final moments while suffering from the deadly lung disease!  Songs (arias) from these operas became popular songs of the day.

La Traviata, an opera by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) features Violetta, a high-class Parisian prostitute, who falls in love with a wealthy suitor, Alfredo. Alfredo's father interferes, and the couple are separated until just before her death from consumption.

La Bohème, an opera by Giacomo Puccini, shows another side of Parisian life:  In the Latin Quarter, starving artists fall in love amid the perils of poverty.  Sadly, the soprano, Mimi, also dies from consumption.

Lucia di Lammermoor, (1797-1848) by Gaetano Donizetti, portrays another doomed soprano.  This time Lucia, having been forced into a loveless marriage, goes insane during opera's most famous "mad scene."

On the lighter side, operetta gave audiences more light-hearted stories with happy endings.  The masters of operetta were Gilbert & Sullivan of England.  The stories are in the same vein as some of the classic Mozart operas: comic misadventures, sometimes with biting social commentary, got in the way of true love, but by the end all was well.

Popular songs in the 19th Century (sometimes called "parlor songs") looked at every aspect of society, including war, slavery, religion, and sentimental feelings of home and family.   Every middle class home had a piano, and songs were published by the hundreds.  Traveling troupes popularized songs that would be performed at home by amateurs on upright pianos.  The most famous songster of the 19th Century was Stephen Foster (1826 - 1864), whose "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair" is still well known today.

20th Century

In classical music, all kinds of topics could be sung about: politics, history, and of course, love.  For memorable love songs, a new genre would displace opera as the staged love story:  musical theatre.   Broadway musicals almost always have a happy ending, with the soprano and tenor overcoming whatever obstacles the alto and baritone threw their way.  Teams such as Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe penned memorable songs for Broadway hit musicals.

Musicals from Hollywood also portrayed themes of love, and like Broadway musicals the lead singers are joined in love at the end.  At the height of the genre, 1930s and 1940s musicals helped a struggling populace forget about their worries in The Great Depression and World War 2.

More modern musicals usually also have a love theme, though it is no longer a given that there will be a happy ending.

21st Century
The Love Song is alive and well in the 21st Century.  Some of the best singers of the new century have made their fortunes singing about love. Modern-day crooners include Bruno Mars ("Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade," from Doo-Wops & Hooligans),  Michael Bublé  (To Be Loved), Adele.

The Music Collection has these compact discs and many of Billboard's Top 50 Love Songs of All Time.