Archive for October, 2009
This morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition, a remembrance of photographer Roy DeCarava. He died earlier this week at 89, an artist who broke ground in pictorializing the everyday lives of the black community in his native Harlem neighborhood in the 1950s. His freeform style and love of music led to comparisons of his art to that of the jazz musicians he photographed. Check out the slide show here.
Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios, in the context of our new world of music copyright awareness and enforcement:
#1 – Vienna, 1774: Ever listen to the middle – “Andante ma Adagio” – movement of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto? I mean really listen. It’s there, and it’s not even very subtle: this melody, written when the composer was just 18, was RE-used as the melody for his gorgeous aria, Porgi Amor from The Marriage of Figaro 12 years later.
Legal? Of course, this is Mozart borrowing from himself. Handel did it, Vivaldi did it, and they’re in in good company with countless others through the centuries all the way to today.
#2 – Vienna, 1782: Early springtime, and Mozart was preparing for a series of upcoming concerts for Lent. One of the new pieces to be premiered was his A Major Piano Concerto (#12), K414. While writing the work, he learned of the Jan. 1st death of his good friend, Johann Christian Bach. As a special tribute to his former mentor, Mozart borrowed one of J.C. Bach’s own melodies (from the opera La Calamita de Cuori) and used the theme as the basis for the new concerto’s poignant second movement.
Legal? Probably not. These days a reckless stunt like that could land Mozart in court, paying for representation to respond to “cease and decist” notifications, and having to create a defense for his unauthorized use of J.C.’s tune.
The world’s view of these things has changed much since Mozart’s time, in hugely significant ways that can’t be underestimated for their potential to change the course of today’s music. Borrowing isn’t “borrowing” anymore, it’s sampling, sometimes of original melodies and other times entire pieces of another artist’s recorded material. Intent, financial gain, and artistic control all figure into the larger conversation. Musical creativity is governed by strict copyright laws and it’s a hot point of contention on many fronts in today’s music scene.
On The Media dedicated their most recent program to a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the issues around these music laws.
Must hear this program, my friends.
Tonight held the second of three poetry events planned at the Fleming Museum this fall. The first was on September 30th (with Sue Burton & David Cavanagh) and the next one is coming up on November 18th (featuring readings by Caroline Knox, Dorothea Lasky, and Dara Wier).
The Painted Word Poetry Series guests for this evening’s readings were Jill Leininger, a former poetry resident at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, and UVM Assoc. Professor of Italian Antonello Borra with his translator Dr. Blossom Kirchenbaum.
The poems ranged from reflective and deeply personal (Leininger) to offbeat and whimsical (Borra, in animated renderings from his new collection Bestiario) with a lot of emotional and descriptive ground covered between the two styles.
Leininger opened her reading with a short, wincing account of the recent loss of all of the poems she had been working on for her second book. “Mac meltdown” was the description of the incident, and as a result the verse she shared all came from her first manuscript.
Inspiration can come from surprising places. Once Leininger’s considerable loss is a little less fresh, it occurred to me that as much as it wiped out the material for her second book , perhaps if she’s able to redirect that emotional energy the incident could also prove to be a fertile springboard for new poems.
It’s poetry and music this week on World of Music, featuring Gil-Scott Heron’s classic, The First Minute of a New Day, and more from the new Vermont-made collection Last Days: Live from the Black Door.
New releases from India, Colombia, and Mali also play into the mix along with dub versions of classics from The Beatles and Prince.
World of Music is blues, jazz, poetry, and world music every Monday on the Radiator, 3-5pm ET. Online, or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.
One of the most entertaining, insightful and concise assessments of the early music movement I’ve ever encountered is an essay by scholar/keyboardist/conductor Raymond Leppard.
Authenticity in Music (1988, Amadeus Press) considers the cyclical nature of cultural trends, and the many ways they’ve manifested at different times in recent history. The turn of the 20th century, much like the 1960s, was a time of renewed interest in traditional instruments like harpsichords, and handmade artisanship in everything from weaving and pottery to poetry and folk dancing. Leppard writes, “…the ‘knit-your-own-violin school achieved remarkable things and survived to take its place among the first of those who showed older values still valuable.”
Before the Arts and Crafts movement materialized, the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau artists around the start of the 20th century had already begun working in very much the same areas with a mission (art for the masses) and practices (high quality work) furthered in the textiles and designs of William Morris, in print (see: Roycrofters), in paintings and poetry, and in the many unique artistic efforts of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Today was the final day for the Shelburne Museum’s Tiffany exhibit, with four large rooms of the Webb Gallery dedicated to the glass panels, jewelry, ceramics, and – of course – lamps, from the Tiffany Company.
I’ve seen Tiffany glasswork in pictures, but never in person. If you’ve seen some of these same photos of the lamps, the stained glass panels, and maybe even some of the vases or other Tiffany Co. ceramics – I can tell you there is no comparison with seeing them in person. Photos flatten out the layers and depth of color that distinguish the works and make them special.
How it changed my understanding of Tiffany’s artistry and gave me new appreciation for his complete understanding of glass as a versatile, artistic material to see one of the flat wall hanging’s multiple layers of colored glass lit up with a security guard’s flashlight. (Quite happy oblige, he said “that’s what I’m here for!”) The top layer was milky, the middle one opalescent, and only in the third (bottom) layer of glass did we get to the the earthy, mottled emerald glass that gave the whole piece its rich colored foundation. Only backlit did the three layers of colored glass fuse to form the iridescent, deeply wooded garden scene of the panel’s design. Remarkable.
The exhibit’s accompanying video “Tiffany: Magic in Glass” (produced by the U. of Connecticut) surveyed the interesting back story, including Tiffany’s schooling at the National Acedemy of Design and his leaving the school over its emphasis on form and draftsmanship, over color and composition. Very telling. It is an oversight NOT to also mention Tiffany’s superb eye for form, though, realized in all of his works but none more than his jewelry. I’m thinking in particular of a brooch featuring an exquisite egg-shaped amethyst jewel nestled in an oval thicket of silver filigree, or the pear-shaped green tourmaline gem deeply glowing from the middle of its silver ring setting. Organic forms, all, unusual and perfectly crafted.
Raymond Leppard’s Authenticity in Music makes the case that the enduring values of older generations and cultures are as relevant as ever in today’s world. And, that it’s in the periodic societal re-acknowledgment of this truth that the early music revival and cultural movements like Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement can take root and flourish.
Whether it’s harpsichords, knitting, or stained glass lamps – there’s no question we’re a better world for that occasional rediscovery.
The Firehouse Gallery’s Human = Landscape exhibit ends tomorrow with a whole afternoon of events. Activists, community members, and artists will be gathering in Burlington’s City Hall Park and in the Gallery for a closing reception featuring speakers, performance, and discussions on environmental action:
2pm: Artists and activists gather at various locations and begin walk to Firehouse Center and City Hall Park
3pm: Tower bells at Ira Allen Chapel, The Firehouse Center and other locations are rung 350 times to bring awareness to 350.org and its mission promoting awareness of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and its relationship to global warming.
3pm – 6pm: Closing reception at the Firehouse Center
3pm: Speakers in the Firehouse Gallery:
- Ethan Bond-Watts, Human = Landscape artist
- Rebecca Schwarz, Human = Landscape artist
- Amy Seidl, Ecologist, activist and Middlebury College research scholar
- Nancy Dwyer, Human = Landscape artist
4pm: Speakers on the Firehouse Plaza in City Hall Park:
- Orin Langelle, Global Justice Ecology Project
- Elizabeth Sawin, Program Director, Sustainability Institute
- Jeff Wolfe, CEO, groSola
4:30pm: Panel Discussion in the Firehouse Center, Art and Environmental Intervention, featuring artists Cameron Davis, John Anderson, Patrick Marold and Firehouse Gallery Curator Christopher Thompson.
“Welcome to Dartmouth.”
That was the gracious opening remark from a man who, himself, was actually the visitor on Tuesday night. But only in the most formal sense. As a performer on the world stage for over five decades, in truth Ravi Shankar’s name and music are as well known as even the most frequent visitors at the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium.
He continued, “I will miss Anoushka tonight as much as you will miss her. We will do our best to make up for it as much as we can.”
It had just been announced that his daughter Anoushka had taken ill and would not be joining him on the stage that evening. That could have been a disappointment, but instead it turned instead into a very intriguing prospect: her absence allowed for his first live performance without her, in fifteen years.
The first half of the concert had been filled with a single raga, plaintive and rhythmic with Ravichandra Kulur’s soulful solo flute taking the lead. Typical of North Indian classical music the textures were layered and transparent, the structure was patient to develop, gaining volume and speed even as each of the three instruments folded in to the mix. The first half ended in a breathless punctuation of synchronized voices. Exciting!
After what seemed to be an extraordinarily long intermission (I didn’t time it, but it felt like a half hour or so) Ravi Shankar and the original three musicians took the stage: Kulur on flute, with percussionists Tanmoy Bose and Pirashanna Thevarajah, along with two younger players identified as Kenji (Shankar’s student) and Benjamin.
They played a long set of several ragas, and throughout the whole performance the one thing that struck me was what a bluesy sound Shankar was able to make with his sitar. I’ve heard the instrument played in many different ways, in live settings and on recordings in all kinds of music. And I’ve heard a lot of Indian slide guitar, much like the lap steel of American blues music in both construction and sound. But I’ve never heard the sitar sound like a blues voice before Shankar’s performance.
So is that his legacy to the art? It’s certainly one of them, but with a professional and personal history so closely associated with the Beatles, the Indian music infusion of the ’60s, and a long past of humanitarian work – it’s only one of many.
One final thought – the Spaulding stage sits low, and the auditorium seating is at a very moderate incline. Since Indian musicians traditionally sit right on the stage the situation made for difficult viewing at best.
Maybe a raised platform on the stage can be arranged for the next Indian concert?
Which reminds me, the next show: April 1st, 7pm, again at the Spaulding. One of the best Indian percussionists in the world, Zakir Hussain. Must see (hear!)