Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women's History Month: Hildegard of Bingen

One of the most remarkable women of the Middle Ages was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).  She entered a monastery as a child and became one of the most influential nuns of the era.  Today she is known for her music, art, and writing.

Her play about vices and virtues, called Ordo virtutum, is one of the earliest known plays with music.  It is available on DVD, CD.  This play pits personifications of vices and virtues fighting for possession of a soul, also personified.  The only speaking role (and the only male role) is that of the Devil.

Hildegard eventually became an abbess and preached in the area now part of Germany.  Women of the Middle Ages rarely preached, and it was even more unusual for them to write about theology.  Hildegard wrote several treatises on theology.  Her book, Scivias ("Know the Ways") is a masterpiece of medieval theology, with sections on everything from the nature of the soul to the a chapter on the devil.  Her Liber vitae meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life) expands on the concepts of sin and virtue.

It is rare for personal writings of anyone from the Middle Ages to survive, but Hildegard's letters have been preserved and translated.  Ball State University Libraries owns the two-volume set, and also makes them available online through ebooks.

Her hand-made books (manuscripts) are also known for their artwork.  Small paintings portrayed the mystic images that she had had since childhood (visions).  Although the actual painting was executed by artists, she is credited with the design.  One famous image, pictured on Anonymous 4's CD, "The Origin of Fire" (below) shows inspiration from Heaven entering into her mind.

Her musical works include long religious songs (sequences) and shorter pieces for use with psalms during monastic worship (antiphons).  They have experienced a revival and many are available on compact disc.

Because of her multi-faceted life, she is a frequent subject in interdisciplinary studies.  Scholars in music, theology, philosophy, art, history, and women's studies have all written about this important woman. To find information about her in multiple subject areas, try Ball State's MultiSearch, which searches many periodical databases (plus CardCat and WorldCat) at once.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Women's History Month: VH-1's Divas Live Concerts

VH-1’s Divas Live Concerts

Along with Lilith Fair (see March 4 post), VH-1’s Divas Live concert series has paid tribute to women in popular music since the late 1990s. Originally founded as a benefit concert for The VH-1 Save the Music Foundation, the concert series has maintained its commitment to helping music education programs in local schools. Additionally, the concerts have been used to honor some of the great female artists of popular music.

The first Divas Live concert on April 14, 1998 featured superstars such as Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Mariah Carey. The next year the concert expanded to include several special guest performers such as Elton John (called an “Honorary Diva”), Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Faith Hill, and LeAnn Rimes along with the headliners, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Cher and Brandy.

The Divas 2000 concert was the first to pay tribute to a female pop music legend: Diana Ross. In addition to Ross, performers included Mariah Carey, Donna Summer, Faith Hill, Destiny’s Child, RuPaul and of course, The Supremes. The 2001 concert was another all-star tribute to “The One and Only Aretha Franklin.” Franklin was joined on stage by a host of artists including Mary J. Blige, The Backstreet Boys, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Jill Scott, Nelly Furtado, Kid Rock, Bishop Paul Morton Choir, Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, James Carter, Russell Malone and Stevie Wonder.

From 2002 through 2004, the Divas Live concerts moved from New York to the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Of course, the shows played up the Vegas connection by including such Vegas legends as Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. Headliners from this era included Celine Dion, Cher, Dixie Chicks, Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Lisa Marie Presley, Chaka Khan, Jewel, Ashanti, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Jessica Simpson, Joss Stone, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Gladys Knight, and Eve.

In 2009, VH-1 not only restarted but reinvented the Divas concerts. Instead of paying tribute to long-established greats of the music industry, the new Divas concerts look to celebrate the up-and-coming artists who may one day be the next generation of Divas. The artists in 2009 included American Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson (for her role in Dreamgirls), Adele, and Miley Cyrus and in 2010 Nicki Minaj, Sugarland, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Keri Hilson, Paramore, and Katy Perry. The 2010 show was dedicated to the US troops serving overseas and was performed at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, CA and Army Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Are you wearing green today?  The "Wearing of the Green"  is a song about showing cultural pride but also signfies the hardships of the Irish at home and abroad.

Inspired by the American Revolution, Irish Catholics fed up with Protestant rule attempted a revolution in 1798.  Wearing green may have been a sign of opposition against the "Orange Order," a protestant group that was loyal to England.  Green is the opposite of orange on the color wheel, but also the color of the shamrock, associated with St. Patrick.

In 1798 wearing green would have been an act of defiance, and wearing it on St. Patrick's Day would have been an especially nationalistic act.  For immigrants to the U.S. in the late Nineteenth Century, celebrating St. Patrick's Day and wearing green became symbolic of ethnic pride for a downtrodden group.

Soon the ethnic pride of the Irish made everyone without their own ethnic holiday (i.e., everyone!) honorary Irish.  Check out Judy Garland singing "Wearing o' the green."

For the famous "Danny Boy," follow this link to the Historic American Sheet Music Collection at Duke University.  The tune may have been Irish but the words to this 1913 version were written by an Englishman and popularized in the United States.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Women's History Month: Lilith Fair

Women Rock On!

The summer of 2010 saw the return of one of the highest-earning touring festivals of the 1990s. From 1997 through 1999, Lilith Fair entertained 1.5 million fans and raised over $10 million for national and local charities. Ironically, the inspiration for this successful tour was the recording industry’s erroneous belief that a women's music tour could not be a financial success.

In 1996, Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan became frustrated with the concert promoters who would not feature two female musicians on the same bill and radio stations which would not play their music back to back.  Her frustration led her to decide to prove a point. McLachlan self-booked a tour for herself and fellow singer/songwriter Paula Cole, and it became one of the more successful tours of the year.  The tour date in Halifax, Nova Scotia (McLachlan’s home town) featuring McLachlan and Cole with guests Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey was the first show to be called “Lilith Fair.” The name came from the mythological Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who was cast out of Eden because she would not do as she was told—a fitting image for women who were bucking the male-dominated music industry’s rules.

The next year, McLachlan founded the Lilith Fair tour. A total of 61 acts played in various line-ups in 36 concerts across the United States and Canada, including the Deer Creek Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana, now known as the Verison Wireless Music Center.  The following two years saw an expansion in the number of artists and concerts on the tour, making Lilith Fair one of the largest tours of the 90s.

Ticket sales for the 2010 revival of Lilith Fair were plagued by the current state of the economy. Light sales  forced the cancellation of several dates. Nevertheless, reviews were strong and the organizers have promised that Lilith Fair will return in 2011 and 2012.

The Music Collection has CDs by several of the women featured on the 2010 tour including:

Cat Power

Colbie Caillat

Emmylou Harris

Erykah Badu


Martina McBride

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Disability Awareness Month

March is Disability Awareness Month, and music is one of the few fields where people with disabilities have become famous, while their disabilities all but disappear.  Consequently, there have been many famous musicians with disabilities.  Blindness is the most common affliction, but there have also been musicians with physical disabilities who attained fame. 

The Music Collection has books about music and disabilities, including books aimed at music teachers encountering students with disabilities, and biographies of some of the more famous musicians with disabilities..

Famous Blind Musicians:

Francesco Landini, 14th-Century organist blinded by smallpox

Blind Tom, one of the first famous blind musicians of the United States

Blind Lemon Jefferson, early Delta Blues singer

Blind Willie Johnson, early Delta Blues singer

Ray Charles, famous R&B singer/pianist

Stevie Wonder, famous R&B singer/pianist

Andrea Bocelli, popular classical crossover singer

Art Tatum, jazz pianist

George Shearing, jazz pianist

Tommy, by The Who, a rock opera about a blind and deaf pinball player

Musicians With Other Disabilities:

Itzhak Perlman, one of the top violinists of our time.  A native of Israel, because of a childhood case of polio, he needs crutches to get around.

Paul Wittgenstein was a famous pianist who lost his right hand in World War I.  Wittgenstein inspired, arranged or collaborated on piano music for one hand. Later injured pianists, such as Leon Fleisher, have been able to continue performing thanks to that repertoire.

Music, Disability, and Society by Alex Lubet ML 3820 .L823 2011