Maple Leaf Rag
I found this work very interesting because it kept an up-beat tempo and jovial sound throughout the piece. There are no lyrics, but the composition of the piano conveys the message that Joplin was trying to spread. I think that Joplin was trying to express the importance of keeping a positive attitude and not letting life get you down. The basis for this idea comes from hearing the lively tempo and timbre of the song, knowing that the time in which this was written would have been trying for an African-American composer trying to make a living. I think that Joplin loved the music he created, and the love and fondness he had towards the music can be heard through the major key progression in the song. There are parts in the song where the listener thinks it might come to an end due to a drop in the beat, but the music always kicks back in and comes back with string of chords in a slightly higher octave that bring the melody back into a playful sound. There are no words in the song, but the music gives off a cheery tone as the notes dance around on the piano and the rhythmic melody hums along in the background.
Maple Leaf Rag follows Candelaria’s African-American stream of music due to its outgrowth from slave music that included the styles of work songs, hollers and call-and-response. Polyrhythms and repeating patterns were trademark features of African American music and can be heard in one way or another in all of the music that falls into this categorical stream. Another ragtime song that is comparable to “Maple Leaf Rag” would be “Hello! Ma Baby” by Don Meehan and Dave Corey. Both of these songs exhibit solo piano performances, but “Hello! Ma Baby” features words and vocals that “Maple Leaf Rag” lacks. The strong use of syncopation connects the two songs and creates a similarity in their sounds. I have attached the YouTube links to both songs. Listen for the similarities in the chor dprogressions on the piano and how the players bounce from note to note in the distinctively rag-like fashion.
Brighten the Corner Where You Are
My favorite part of this song was the brief intermission in the middle of the song where Homer encouraged the audience to join in singing and to learn the words. I think this shows the importance of pull participation in gospel singing of the day. Church gospel music was meant to get the entire congregation involved in praising the Lord. This song closely resembles examples of folk music that we have examined up until this point. The use of acoustic instruments and the simple chord progressions as the chorus is repeated multiple times makes it easy to compare this song to its folk roots. The chorus, “brighten the corner where you are,” is the main lyrics of the song. This song originated in the gospel music scene of church congregations as a participatory song. I think it is important to make note of the fact that songs such as this were not created to be recorded, they were created to sing within church services to unite the congregation.
A similar sound can be heard in the song, “In the Sweet By-and-By” by the Harmoneian Singers. Both songs exhibit verse-and-chorus form and share similar messages. Verse-and-chorus form is common among all gospel music and usually serves the purpose of carrying a narrative with a religious message through the stanzas. Each song conveys cheerful optimism in their messages of revival in the repeated choruses that are meant to grow in strength with each repetition. These songs are meant to evoke emotion and passion within the congregation and are usually led with enthusiasm and supported by the deep tones of the brass instruments in the background.
Give the World a Smile
I really enjoyed the change of pace that the quarter provided because the sound of music created by quartet singing was so different from any other style of music that had been covered in the course previously. The way that multiples voices with varying voice ranges interact with the music creates a very dynamic sound. The Stamps Quartet performed the song and made the lyrics sound layered through the use of multiple voices making sounds to make the music instead of all voices being used to sing the words in a practice known as voice gymnastics. This song falls into the stream of popular sacred music, but was used commercially to sell song books. With the rise in popularity of white gospel music, the religious lyrics and undertones of the song soon began to be overshadowed by the commercial profitability of producing music for secular audiences.
This song is just one of the many examples of gospel and quartet music that was part of the urban revivalism taking place in the early-mid twentieth century. Another popular example that fits into this same sort of categorization is “Swing Down Chariot” performed by The Golden Gate Quartet. Their cover of the song gave an old gospel hymn a more contemporary secular sound, while still maintaining the integrity of the songs original spiritual agenda. Both of these songs follow the standard verse-and-chorus form that is common in gospel music. The jovial tone of the songs accompanied by the cheerful messages in the lyrics makes the music sound non-intimidating and approachable, making gospel music seem attractive to all who heard it. All male ensembles became a staple selling point for gospel commercialism, and the success seen by these two groups was not to be overlooked in the stages of incorporating secular sounds into gospel music.
Out of This World
John Coltrane’s “Out of This World” was much longer than the other pieces I had listened to when creating listening logs. The song reminds me of the soft music that plays in the background at a Panera bread or Starbucks. The piece is very soft and features a rhythmic harmony that seems to sway back and forth. The saxophone seems to be the main focus of the piece, as it is the only instrument that strays away from the main chords that repeat in the background of the song. John Coltrane was involved in the creation and progression of what is known as modal jazz. Modal jazz focuses on improvising as you play, as opposed to the strict structure of the chord set up that is traditionally seen in jazz music. Jazz emerged after the abolition of slavery from ragtime music, when the sounds of African American musical expression started to develop their own uniqueness and eventually became part of the African American racial identity.
Before completing the class, I was unaware of the distinctions in the sounds you hear in jazz music. The trumpet and saxophone were obvious, but throughout the last few modules, I have trained myself to really listen and isolate each of the instruments within a song. Listening for the distinctions between instruments has made listening to jazz music more enjoyable and gave me a greater appreciation for the sound of the music. I found a neat comparison in the differences between “Out of This World” and Thelonious Monk’s “Criss Cross.” Thelonious Monk is known for being a contributor to the sub-style of “cool Jazz.” In both songs, you can hear the distinctively jazz characteristics of the separation of the front line melodies and the rhythm based harmonies. The main distinction comes from Coltrane’s use of a strong front line with the lead taken by the tenor saxophone with a softer drum-line and then a very soft piano accompaniment in that carry the rhythm. Thelonious Monk’s sound is quite different in that the piano is the main contributor of the melody and drum line in the background is very soft, but still apparent enough to keep the rhythm of the song strong. The vibraphone can also be heard in “Criss Cross” as the instrument that creates the vibe-y feel of the song.
This song, by Henry Cowell, is very eerie in the beginning. It sounds as if someone is striking a knife or some other sharp object against guitar strings to create that sharp high pitched sound. The sounds created in this piece are unusual in that they are not exactly pleasing to hear, which greatly contrasted the other classical music being made at the time. Generally, classical music is meant to be soft and pleasant, but this piece is nothing of the sort. The uniqueness of the piece makes it perfect for film adaptations, especially when trying to project emotions onto an audience. This piece does a good job of setting the mood and communicating feelings, without the accompaniment of words to tell the audience what should be felt. I really liked the video I have attached for this song because it shows how someone would play this song on the back keys of the piano and makes sense of the sounds you hear throughout.
The work of Henry Cowell and John Cage ties together in the way that both composers were known for being experimental with their music. Cage’s work “4’33″‘ is so unusual in that there is no music being played by instruments, but it is the sounds within the silence of the auditoriums that make the “music” per se. Another one of Cage’s works, “Music of Changes,” is composed of different sounds being created by the piano while there are restraints such as coins and screws placed on the strings. I see a strong connection in the works of Cowell and Cage in the way that they challenge traditional sound and broadened the borders of what is considered music. Both of these composers placed a new emphasis in being able to hear music in the noise, while following Candelaria’s stream of classical music. I think these two composers were especially revolutionary within the stream of classical composition because they took a very traditional instrument, and manipulated it to create a whole new world of sound. It is as if they capitalized on all elements of sound from a single instrument that would hav otherwise been left un touched.
In this course, I have been introduced to multiple elements of music that I had brushed off before and never given a second thought to due to the fact that it wasn’t “my style.” I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for music in all forms and even changed my musical tastes a little. The songs featured in this post are all similar in the fact that I never would have listened to them on my own if it were not for this course, but have grown to appreciate them as pieces of musical art. Music has been a uniting factor between people for centuries and the earliest can be dated back to ancient ceremonial practices. Music brings people together in many ways, and is usually best enjoyed through collective and shared experiences. I like that this course has made me see that music does not have a concrete definition or parameters and that sound does not have to fit a certain mold to be beautiful. All of the music exhibited in this portfolio is unique, but so similar at the same time in the sense that it all started from someones passion. All music represents freedom to a certain degree due to the freedom of expression that is offered by creating music. The rhythms, syncopations, beats and harmonies may differ, but all of these same elements are the very essence of what unites all forms of music.
The manipulation of sound in order to make something beautiful that large groups of people can listen to and experience the same feeling is a mind blowing thought that is beyond the scope of my understanding, but it is music, and it is wonderful.