Storytelling: Why The School Band Matters

“In other parts of the country, people call band lovers band geeks. There’s no such thing as a band geek in New Orleans. We have band heads, where band is life, you know,” Herrero says. “It’s a way for people to express themselves in ways that they can’t in other avenues.”

Take 12 minutes to listen to this All Things Considered story about the Edna Karr High School Marching Band from New Orleans, a compelling feature that reporter Keith O’Brien put together over the course of the school year.   Outstanding use of audio, too.

Do as NPR suggests:

Editor’s Note: This is a story about a high school band. It is a story that demands to be heard, even more so than read.

At A New Orleans High School, Marching Band Is A Lifeline For Kids

But do go back and read the comments.  Like this one:

Tears seem to be a common reaction to this story. I too am a band geek and music kept me out of trouble in New Orleans. Only on NPR, on your drive home, can a story reach inside of you and lay open the feelings that compose your core; in this case, my core. Band saved my life.

 

 

 

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!

Harris Poll: Study Music, Get Girls, Make Money!

Sure, practically any rock-and-roller (not to mention conductor or concert pianist) that sex appeal was a prime motivator in luring them to music. What’s also revealed in a new Harris Interactive Poll is that the learning music is also good for your bank account: the more music you learn, the more likely you are to go to higher education; and the higher you go, the more you make:

Music education is associated with those who go on to higher education. In looking at what groups may have participated more in music, education shows the largest differences. Two-thirds (65%) of those with a high school education or less participated in music compared to four in five (81%) with some college education and 86 percent of those with a college education. The largest group to participate in music, however, are those with a post graduate education as almost nine in ten (88%) of this group participated while in school.

Music education is also associated with higher incomes. Three-quarters of people (74%) with household incomes of $34,999 or less and 72 percent of those with incomes of $35,000-$49,999 participated in music, compared to 83 percent of those with incomes of $150,000 or more.

The whole poll (taken among 2,565 American adults in October, 2007) is a fascinating read, but what I found especially striking was the absence of much of a geographic (music participation in school was slighty higher in the east), gender (women study music a little more then men), and most notably, racial divide in the findings: In fact, 80% of the African-Americans surveyed they had taken some sort of music instruction in school, compared to 75% of Whites and 73% of Hispanics. The Music Educator’s National Conference’s (MENC) (”No Child Left Behind Act is Leaving Music Education Behind,
Despite Proven Benefits”)
take on the study can be found here.

Required Reading – The Well-Tempered Web


In the Oct. 22 issue of the New Yorker you’ll find
a Critic At Large piece called “The Well-Tempered Web” – in essence, a Postcard from the Brave New Media World, written by Alex Ross. There’s a reason Ross is at the top of the list on my blogroll….this is one of the best, most stylishly written and comprehensive snapshots of what’s happening with classical music online, and its implications for the future. Ross writes about a lot of the things I’ve been trying to see and describe in this space, though, in my experience, the scenario is not quite as rosy as he paints. Sample grab:

Classical-music culture on the Internet is expanding at a sometimes alarming pace. When I started my blog, I had links to seven or eight like-minded sites. Now I find myself part of a jabbering community of several hundred blogs, operated by critics, composers, conductors, pianists, double-bassists, oboists (I count five), artistic administrators, and noted mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato writes under the moniker Yankee Diva). After a first night at the Met, opera bloggers chime inwith opinions both expert and eccentric, recalling the days when critics from a dozen dailies, whether Communist or Republican or Greek, lined up to extoll Caruso. Beyond the blogs are the Internet radio stations; streaming broadcasts from opera houses, orchestras, new-music ensembles; and Web sites of individual artists. There is a new awareness of what is happening musically in every part of the world. A listener in Tucson or Tokyo can virtually attend opening night at the Bayreuth Festival and listen the following day to a première by a young British composer at the BBC Proms.

Those who see the dawning of a new golden age should bear in mind the “Snakes on a Plane” rule: things invariably appear more important on the Internet than they are in the real world. Classical music has experienced waves of technological euphoria in the past: the Edison cylinder, radio, the LP, and the CD were all hailed as redeeming godsends for a kind of music that has always struggled to find its place in American culture. At the end of such bouts of giddiness, classical music somehow always winds up back where it started, in a state of perpetual fret.

Thanks, Alex. I’ll go back to fretting now. I think there’s still a critical missing link having to do with music education (or lack thereof) and the general broader cultural awareness of events outside of the roar of the pop-culture surf, which is what’s driving the UTunes: Music 1.01 project.

Ross also makes a marvelous point about the utterly transparent online accessibility of arguably the most inaccessible of all composers….Arnold Schoenberg. Throwing copyright concerns to the winds, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna has created a transparent, robust, and comprehensive site dedicated to the inventor of “twelve-tone” music, a man some (like John Adams, f’irnstance) to have led classical music down a 75-yeard spiritual dead-end.

On the site, you can read immaculate digital reproductions of Schoenberg’s correspondence, listen to his complete works on streaming audio, examine his designs for various inventions and gadgets (including a typewriter for musical notation), and follow links to YouTube videos of him playing tennis.

And there’s this trenchant “deep catalog” observation:

Classical music, with its thousand-year back catalogue, has the longest tail of all. In Naxos’s case, thirty to forty per cent of its digital sales in the U.S. come from albums downloaded four times a month or less. Thus, a not insignificant portion of the company’s revenue comes from titles that, by Justin Timberlake standards, don’t exist

Required reading, if you care about classical music.

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On the Road – PRPD, Digital Lincoln, and Cuban Jazz


PHILADELPHIA – All quiet on the blog front lately, thanks to a combination of travel, deadlines, and Harpers Ferry business. But I’ve been saving up a lot of thoughts to share about the PRPD Conference last week in Minneapolis (PRPD stands for Public Radio Program Directors, now the biggest confab in pubradio) and some recent Nooze of the World (Radiohead’s “free” downloads, for starters). And there will doubtless be lots to share about the next couple of days here in Philly, where I’m a guest of the Rosenbach Museum and Library. They’re a fascinating operation with some interesting and varied stuff in their collection, including the Maurice Sendak Gallery (which for copyright-CYA reasons are not snapped for this blog but you can see them here).

Anyway, I’m in town to brainstorm with them about another significant part of their collection – a huge troves of materials around the 16th U.S. American President – Honest Abe’s letters, speeches, and other writings. The Rosenbach is looking to create a “Digital Community” based on the life story, ideas and words of Lincoln. That’s what I know so far, at least. Can’t wait to roll up the sleeves and dig in….once the effects of the Non-Dairy Creamer wear off…

Oh, and Cuban Jazz….this is also a blog about music, remember? One of the highlights of the Twin Cities trip was a visit to the excellent – and somewhat renowned – Dakota Jazz Club (in the bottom floor of the massive Target headquarters) to hear the Cuban emigre Nachito Herrera. All the ingredients for a Great Night Out..excellent company with co-owner Lowell Pickett, and WBGO Jazz 88 PD Thurston Briscoe, an outstanding meal, and Nechito’s wizardry on a variety of keyboards, rollicking through an oh-so-Cubano charged night of rhythm and moods, ranging from light classical to Heavy Weather. One of the many highlights: hearing Nechito accompanying his 16-year old daughter in a lights-out rendition of Besame Mucho. Mucho indeed!

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!

The Huckabee Band-wagon?

Huh. Little did I realize that when I posted about Ark. gov Mike Huckabee actually putting music and arts education on his campaign agenda, that he was becoming the It Guy among Republican candidates. The Boston Globe editorialized enthusiastically the other day, saying “when the former Arkansas governor starts talking about the importance of the arts and education, he’s practically Maria von Trapp harmonizing about the power of music and metaphor.” And guess who gets the big Style section treatment in the Washpost today?
Sample grab:
Huckabee has been seen as the cuddly antidote to what has been an awfully tough-talking Republican field. He’s the affable, compassionate, good guy and rock-and-roll evangelical who plays guitar and wants to hang with the Rolling Stones.

‘Course, it just might be that music is a far more interesting subject for reporters to cover than, say, Middle East geopolitics or subprime mortgage lending rates.

Or maybe this is a rare case of a political candidate with authentic knowledge and passion for a subject, and not the usual focus-group posturing. I’d like to believe that voters can tell the difference. Regardless, it’s fascinating to watch Huckabee ride this horse on the Iowa campaign trail as reported by the Daily Iowan:

“You’ve probably never heard a presidential candidate talk about music and art and the importance of it,” Huckabee said. “But if I don’t get to do anything else running for president, I want to make sure that this country hears that this is a vital part of future and a critical part of our education system.”

Also worth noting: the Post story was one of the paper’s most e-mailed articles today. I’ll be curious (and amazed, frankly) to see if any other candidates pick up this thread….