Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Babi Yar Remembrance Day

Lying to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them
            that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world
                             is wrong.
They know what you mean.
                        They are people too.
Tell them the difficulties
                          can’t be counted,
and let them see
                not only
                        what will be
but see
       with clarity
                   these present times.

Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow comes,
             hardship happens.
The hell with it.
                 Who never knew
the price of happiness
                      will not be happy.
Forgive no error
                you recognize,
it will repeat itself,
                      a hundredfold
and afterward
             our pupils
will not forgive in us
                      what we forgave. 

"Lies" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1952; Translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi (revised)

~ ~ ~

September 29 marks the first day of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar. While these original killings lasted three days, and were followed by two years of essentially non-stop murders, 10/29 is set aside as a day of remembrance. Take a moment to listen to the incredibly powerful first movement of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Music Feature– Nat Evans & "Sunrise, September 18"

This post begins the long-awaited New Music Feature that I’ve been ranting about for a year now. This past weekend, I was able to experience a composition by a composer named Nat Evans called “Sunrise, September 18.” Nat wrote the piece for a specific site in Seattle, but agreed to let those interested listen to the piece elsewhere. The music was coordinated with the sunrise; those in attendance began listening 9 minutes before sunrise, and the piece concluded about 16 minutes after that. The composer himself was gracious enough to comment on the piece, and I’d like to share his thoughts with you:

"I'm a part of a Zen group, and in Soto Zen, we sit facing a wall. Each week on Sunday evening the light has changed since the previous week, and over the course of 40 minutes the glow of the wall changes as well as the sun sets. Over the years I became interested in how we interact with these cycles as a result of sitting each week. There is also the tradition in Indian Classical music that certain pieces are to be played at specific times of the day and even specific times of the year. Thinking about music in this way combined with my own personal experiences in Zen is where this piece originated, and I decided after mulling it over in my mind for a while that I should just make it happen.

The work was originally conceived as being site specific to Kite Hill here in Seattle - it's right on the water and faces east towards the Cascade Mountains...but the concept of 'place' soon became irrelevant in my thinking process - I wanted this work to be as much about the music as it is about sitting in one place long enough to start  to realize all of the different myriad things that are happening at any given moment both in our surroundings and in our minds. The concept of coming together to take part in something larger than ourselves is a stronger theme, I suppose, but out of that the importance of place comes into play as we make the decision as to where we'll take take part. The concept of place extends through the title as well. The title describes the time of day and when it's happening, and through that natural 'event' it creates a sense of partaking in something, a reason to gather. Ultimately though, one of the experiences that led to this idea was staring at a wall every week, and most places are more interesting to look at than that, so it really could take place anywhere! And...I suppose that's why it is...people will be listing in many different places and contexts that are important and significant to them.”

The "before" picture...

In Louisville, a surprising number of us woke up early to share the experience. We went to the Fossil Beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park; while being in the largest exposed fossil bed in the world was neat, we were below the visible horizon, so I fear we lost some of the organic nature of the music’s coordination with the sunrise. That being said, it was still a very pleasant experience. Sitting by the river, watching the sky get progressively lighter, and enjoying the music made for an invigorating way to start the day.

I’d like to talk about the “music itself” briefly, with two caveats. First, the piece is designed to be part of something larger; like the music in an opera, one can only discuss the notes in relation to that total experience. Second, I only heard the composition one time. The piece begins and ends with nature sounds. While I think that these sounds might have been manipulated electronically, they are still rather “pure,” and it is easy to distinguish them as what they are. At times, they made a compelling counterpoint to the “real-time” nature sounds going on around us, blending aural experiences and shading the line between music and sound. I believe the piece was in 4 large sections, consisting more or less of fairly static textures of sustained notes, with some micro tonality and some electronic manipulation of the sounds. For me, the piece functioned in the space between full attention and subliminal hearing. The sustained textures created at times a wash of sound that was ever present, but that did not distract me from the larger experience. As such, I feel the music perfectly suited its dramatic function: it accompanied without overpowering, and it enhanced without trying to outdo. It was a sensitive handling of a tricky dramatic subject. It seemed perfectly appropriate to have that music accompany that sunrise, and my strongest impression two days later is of the totality of the moment: music, sunrise, and nature.

The "After" Picture

The composer stipulated that each individual must be listening to the piece in headphones. I am sure that there are a number of reasons, both logistical (noise ordinances, getting electricity for speakers) and musical (more accurate hearing of the electronic manipulation of the musical space) for this requirement, but it was the only aspect of the piece that I thought was odd. It managed to create a personal and insular experience in the midst of a large-group. That could very well have been the point, but I wonder what the experience would have been like if we had all be hearing from communal speakers. I hesitate to say that it would have been improved; I simply wonder if the "moment" created by the piece would have extended through the entire group, or if the experience was best internalized in a semi-personal way.

Overall, it was a unique experience that I was very glad to have shared! For those interested, here’s a link to Nat’s website:

Friday, September 10, 2010


Flip on your radio and search the stations. What do you hear? I’m willing to bet that, regardless of where you are in this great country, you have just encountered a slew of hideously overproduced pop and/or rap songs, a big dose of rock form the last thirty years, a handful of “country” (the parenthesis are to indicate that, unless you are very lucky, no radio station near you is playing Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, or George Jones), and one classical station that has a very dedicated following of about 50 or so people (most of which are music professors). Now, venture on over to iTunes and look at the current top selling artists. You see Katy Perry (a Christian-pop star turned bisexual), Enrique Iglesias (who despite his awful music, will always be my hero), and some dude who is, apparently, from Florida (and is also a popular rapper). Considering our country's current trends of musical consumption, I am left to wonder if truly artful music will ever be in the limelight. Although this was initially a rhetorical question that I have recently been asking myself, I just received my answer.

America’s Got Talent, is a popular television show that spends the summer searching for the hottest new act to headline in Vegas and to take home the million-dollar prize. There are magicians, Geek shows, dancers, comedians, and many, many musical acts. As you can imagine, the majority of the musical acts are terrible. And, since three non-musical people serve as judges, it is a wonder that any musician of worth ever makes it through. (Just to clarify for anyone who is too proud to admit they might actually get a kick out of this, the judges pick acts to advance in the early rounds and then their criticism is meant to guide the audience in their voting, which determines admission to the last few rounds. And although I doubt that anyone reading this blog would leave a rude comment correcting me, I will go ahead and acknowledge that Sharon Osborne was Ozzy’s manager and is largely responsible for him having a solo career, although the only times he has ever been tolerable is when Sabbath or Randy Rhodes was there to serve as a distraction).

Last night, the final four acts of the 2010 season were announced: Michael Grimm (whose voice sounds like whatever the lovechild of velour and sandpaper would sound like, and I truly mean this in the best possible way); Jackie Evancho (a wunderkind opera singer, who, despite some breathing issues sounds like an angel); Prince Poppycock (a phenomenal operatic tenor that looks like Mozart, that is, if you were to see Mozart when you had a head full of PCP); and a very cool black-light performance group that goes by the name of Defying Gravity. Yes, despite our nation’s insistence on routinely consuming the worst music possible, we have voted three extremely talented musicians (two of which are classical music) through to the final round. All of this comes on the heels of the 2009 and 2008 seasons, which were also dominated by classical musicians (Barbara Padilla, an opera singer, came in second in 2009 and Neal E. Boyd, yet another opera singer, winning the year before).

What does this say about the way we as Americans consume music? If anything, I think it tells us that despite our pervasive, lowbrow interests, we still treasure the art of music. If this is the case, however optimistic it may seem, then it appears there is still hope. If the masses choose to preserve these sorts of acts over guys with trendy hair cuts that play three chords on a guitar and try to sing like John Mayer, magicians that make trains disappear, adorable dancing children, and dudes who stick foreign objects into their skull, then maybe we are approaching an era when the value of culture will be restored. Or maybe not, what do I know? (I will leave it to John to burst my bubble by delving into the Ardornian philosophy of the devaluation of art through mass production).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Greetings and Introduction

Greetings to my fellow music aficionados and fellow bloggers. You are now reading this because I have graciously been given the opportunity to periodically share my personal musicological musings with all of you. But before we proceed onto any esoteric or convoluted postulations that I hold, I think a brief introduction is in order. My name is Tyler Fritts and I am originally from eastern Kentucky. In 2007 I earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in General Music from Berea College. In 2010 I completed my Master’s of Music in Music History and Literature from the University of Louisville. My thesis identifies techniques utilized by Luciano Berio for the amalgamation of western art music with various and diverse vernacular musics in Folk Songs (1964). Once uncovered, these techniques aid in understanding the symbiotic interrelationship, as well as the significance of this interrelationship, that is created by the juxtaposition of music and culture.

Currently, I am pursuing a PhD in Musicology/Southern Regional Studies from the University of Memphis. The program at the UofM is an interesting one as it provides a healthy helping of standard historically based musicological rigor while simultaneously emphasizing ethnomusicological principles and practicum. As the name suggests, students of the program concentrate on a popular or vernacular music (and its accompanying culture) prominently associated with the southern United States. I, for example, plan to focus my research efforts on exploring the role of politics in the traditional music of Appalachia. Other students of the program choose to delve more deeply into areas such as the Delta blues, the Memphis recording industry, and the musical evolution of Hank Williams, just to name a few.

Apart from my highfalutin academic pursuits, I have gained practical ethnomusicological experience through my work as a traditional music archivist and as a field researcher. Concerning performance, I have been involved with an African and Latin percussion ensemble, a Balinese gamelan ensemble, and an Irish traditional group. It is my because of my ethno interests (not because of my staggering intellect and uncompromisingly good looks, as I may wish to think) that I have been invited into the Musicological Musings family.

I look forward to offering another perspective on music and the culture that surrounds it. Future posts will include, but will not be limited to, the experience of field research and archival work, reactions to ethnomusicological sources, and the role of music in today’s America.