Prize-Winning Storytelling…in 25 Seconds

In and among the usual suspects to land Peabody Awards today (including AMC for Breaking Bad, NPR for The Race Card Project, FRONTLINE for the excellent NFL concussion expose “League of Denial,” and a host of other terrific PBS productions) was the first YouTube video ever to win. In the words of the judges:

“Short, simple and spot-on in its critique of rape culture, the ingenious PSA by two University of Oregon students takes just 25 seconds to make its point that real men treat women with respect.”

Amen.  Congrats to students Samantha Stendal and Aaron Blanton for such a succinct and brilliant little production.   The complete of Peabody winners for 2013 can be found here.

Who’s in YOUR Choir?

Intriguing post in Choralnet the other day pointing out some famous faces who’s sung in their high school and/or college choirs. If you’ve got an entry to the list (and there are doubtless hundreds!) add ’em to the comments below!

Amy Adams, actress

Marcus Allen, football player

Terry Bradshaw, football player
Beyoncé, singer
Jamie Foxx, actor
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon & CNN medical advisor
Tommie Harris, football player
Chris Hatfield, astronaut

Ashton Kutcher, actor

Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer

Joe Montana, football player
Danica Patrick, race car driver
Julie Payette, astronaut
Walter Payton, football player

Brad Pitt, actor

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Army

Usher, singer

Wild About Harry: Belafonte @ Berklee

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A celebration of Harry Belafonte’s life and music at Berklee.

Great love fest and concert last night for the ever-dignified and charismatic Harry Belafonte, the “High School drop out getting an Honorary Degree from Berklee.”  At the age of 87, Belafonte stopped singing in public a few years ago,though you could spot him in the finale at least mouthing the words to “We Are the World,” the 1980s megahit for African famine relief that Belafonte brought in to being.

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Moments before awarded Harry Belafonte his honorary doctorate, Berklee President Roger Brown speaks about his remarkable career.

That’s just one of an incredible list of accomplishments recited by Berklee president Roger Brown before conferring an honorary Doctor of Music to the singer, songwriter, and activist, who noted that “Belafonte” literally translates as “fountain of beautiful things.”  The tone and feel-good vibe of the event (not to mention some incredible performances by Berklee students) is nicely summarized in today’s Boston Globe:

No artist has worked harder on behalf of truth and social justice than Belafonte. He bailed out Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham, Ala., jail; was John F. Kennedy’s cultural ambassador to the Peace Corps; and helped raise more than $50 million for humanitarian aid in Africa by organizing the recording of “We Are the World.”

That is how the current generation of Berklee College of Music students knows the singer, said Larry Watson, the professor who produced the show, introducing a rousing encore of the song. But to an earlier generation — long before Michael Jackson crowned himself the King of Pop — Belafonte was the “King of Calypso.” He was the first recording artist to sell a million copies of a single album, and he had enduring hits with “Matilda” and “The Banana Boat Song” (that’s “Day O” to fans of “Beetlejuice” or “The Muppet Show”), both of which were part of the program presented by four dozen or so colorfully attired students.

When it came time for Belafonte to speak, he was his usual poignant, gripping, and humorous self,  recalling the first time he went onstage to sing at a jazz club in New York.   The great jazz pianist Al Haig had agreed to let him work up a short set of standards, beginning with “Pennies from Heaven.”   But, when the moment came, Belafonte recalled,  “Up jumped Max Roach to sit behind the drums. And then Tommy Potter picked up a bass.  Charlie Parker sat down with his sax. So I looked around at my backup band.  And I haven’t looked back since.”

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Parting shot from Belafonte: “After this, I’m going home and smoking a joint.”

Two Pianos, Twenty Years On: Remember “The Mozart Effect”?

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More musings on the subject of two pianos:

During my Performance Today years, we sure devoted a lot of coverage to “The Mozart Effect” — and the flurry of books and recordings that came in its wake. And here in the Age of the InterWebs, I discovered that there’s an entire website from a University of Illinois grad student devoted to “the study of the studies,” e.g., the breathtaking number of academic inquiries to discover if listening to Mozart really did make you smarter.

And the cause of all of this was not the totality of Mozart’s amazing output.  Nor any of a handful of great works, like the late symphonies, or the piano concertos, of operas like Don Giovanni.   No, there was a single, little known, Mozart piece that started this fire.

It began with an article published in Nature in the fall of 1993, authored by University of California-Irvine neurobiologist Gordon Shaw, with researchers Frances Rauscher and Katherine Ky.   They described the nature of their research:

They assigned thirty six Cal-Irvine students to one of three groups, and offered the same “pretest” to each of the students. One group then listened to a selection by Mozart (Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448). A second group listened to what was called a “relaxation tape,” and the third group was subjected to ten minutes of silence. All of the students were given the same test, which was designed to measure spatial IQ. This test is described as mentally unfolding a piece of paper is that has been folded over several times and then cut. The object is to correctly select the final unfolded paper shape from five examples. The students who listened to the Mozart sonata averaged an 8-9 point increase in their IQ as compared to the average of the students who had listened to the relaxation tape or who had experienced silence. The increase in IQ of the Mozart group was transitory, lasting only about the time it took to take the test– from ten to fifteen minutes.

Hardly conclusive, but it hardly mattered; An author and psychologist named Don Campbell was the one who spun this somewhat spurious research into commercial gold. He went  so far as to trademark the name “Mozart Effect” via his 1993 book called The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit.”   In the words of one professor quoted in the Illinois study,

“By trademarking the name “Mozart Effect,” Campbell has even gone cable with infomercials for his book and its accompanying compact discs and cassettes. In the great tradition of P. T. Barnum and the “Veg-O-Matic”, Mozart has now hit the mainstream of American life.”

Campbell may be gone – he passed away at the age of 65 in 2012, but www.themozarteffect.com lives on, twenty years later, both in the halls of academe, where far more thoughtful and nuanced research about the very real effects of music on brain development and healing are taking place.  Not to mention in the commercial marketplace, where Mozart’s brain-enhancing abilities are still touted. Check out this fascinating 20th anniversary discussion on WQXR for a sample of some recent thinking.

Meanwhile, check out this smartly-turned performance by Martha Argerich and one of her young proteges, Gabriele Baldocci, play that (in)famous first movement.   Then go do a crossword puzzle!

UTunes: Music 1.01

A shameless cross-posting: A new addition to the blogroll on the left is the launch of UTunes: Music 1.01. Thanks to a Digital Humanities Start-Up Initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we’re going to be creating a new multi-media effort to create some podcasts, build a website, and other cool stuff.The goal? Nothing less than re-imagining how we learn about music in the new millennium. What was called “Music Appreciation” Back in The Day.

The “we” that are putting it together are RoeDeo Productions and The College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas-Austin. Follow the progress, join the conversation, and share your thoughts on the new site, which we just launched today. So let the games begin!

Facebook 1, Middlebury 0


Meanwhile, back at the alma mater, this news item in today’s inbox:



Facebook petition sinks revamped logo

By: Derek Schlickeisen

The College’s roll-out and subsequent retraction of its new logo this summer brought administrators face-to-face with a growing reality – the speed and power of Facebook as an organizing medium among college students.

Armed only with their computers and disdain for the “Middlebury Leaf,” Sarah Franco ’08 and Alex Benepe ’09 brought more than 700 students together in their group “Just Say No to the Middlebury Logo” within days of the College’s announcement of its new graphic identity to accompany a $500 million capital campaign.

“I first learned about the new logo at the end of May,” said Franco. “A friend of my supervisor came by our office, carrying a box with a sign bearing the new logo, and she informed me that that was our new logo.”

While Franco and Benepe’s efforts became united online, their initial impetuses were different.

“I started a Facebook.com group for the sheer purpose of sharing this logo with my Middlebury friends and poking fun at it,” said Franco, adding, “This was purely selfish and not at all altruistic. It wasn’t even my intention to stop the logo.”

Benepe had bigger plans.

“Almost everyone I know is on Facebook,” said Benepe. “It’s also extremely rapid – you can invite 400 people to a group in five minutes. And while it may not have the same weight as a real, tangible group of people, it still has numbers that make a strong argument.”

The short and mostly good-natured fight over the logo pitted Franco, Benepe and their followers against the product of the prestigious New York branding firm Chermayeff & Geismar, creators of the famous NBC “peacock,” as well as logos for universities like Cornell and NYU.

Still think that social media is a passing fad? Well, maybe it is, but if you’re a decision-maker, you’d better be paying attention. Article goes on to quote the college’s Communications veep Mike McKenna:

McKenna said he was surprised by the swift response to the College’s announcement – and by the power of Facebook.

“I was caught off guard by the strong reaction,” he said. “Facebook was invented by some guys who lived down the hall from my son in college, and as a result I have always viewed it as student turf and not used it. But when I learned of the anti-logo group I did finally register.”

Let’s see: The man in charge of “Communications” is only dimly aware of the No. 1 method of communications among the paying customers at his place of employment? Yeah, that sounds like a plan. I’m with the students on this one. The logo is wrong-headed and misbegotten, and deserves a quick trip to oblivion.

Harrumph.