Category Archives: book review

Ethnomusicologizing (Book Review)

Ethnomisicologizing: Essays on Music in the New Paradigms, by William C. Banfield. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. 383 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

William C. Banfield describes his latest book, Ethnomisicologizing: Essays on Music in the New Paradigms, as a “reader/text” presenting “a choir of voices and perspectives” (p. x). Such a multi-voice assemblage is unusual for a single-author volume. Departing from the staid format of the conventional academic tome, Banfield mixes together interviews, historical surveys, opinion pieces, travel notes, letters, social theory, pedagogical essays, album reviews, and “poem-essays.” The twenty chapters originated as separate pieces, and the impression is more improvisatory jazz than rigid composition: themes are stated and later rephrased; motifs are artfully interjected; poetic riffs spring up seemingly on the spot.

This is fitting given both the author and subject matter. Banfield is professor of African Studies/Music and Society, composition, and graduate history studies at Berklee College of Music, Boston, as well as a jazz guitarist, composer, and public radio host. The book is in some ways a chronicle of his work at Berklee College of Music, an institution founded on popular music rooted in Black music traditions. In the African Studies/Music and Society program, Banfield explores the development of Black music in America, its global reach, and the students’ place in the cultural chain. As he states on his faculty website: “You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are, and where you came from. When you put those three things together, you have the best formula for making a successful impact on your craft and on the world of music. When students start to sense all the connections, you can see the ‘aha experience’ in the eyes. It’s in the questions they ask, it’s in their performances. It’s a spirit.”

The book’s composite, “improvised” character has a few drawbacks. Some ideas are too often repeated (in almost identical language), a review of George Lewis’ album Les Exercices Spirituels seems out of place, and the same quotations by Margaret Mead and Jean Cocteau appear more than once. A full speech by Cornell West is included without being identified until the very end—suggesting, until that point, that the words are Banfield’s, not West’s. But these are minor quibbles about an otherwise stimulating collection of reflections on the history and current state of American popular music.

Banfield is a pedagogue and activist in the tradition of his mentor, Cornell West. This gives context to the book’s construction: Repetition is a fundamental teaching tool, and rephrasing a message in different ways helps it resonate with different audiences. That being said, the eclectic approach poses certain challenges for the reader (and the reviewer). There is much to sort through in the nearly 400 pages; it is better sipped than gulped down all at once. The unevenness is accentuated by the sporadic chapter lengths: one is close to fifty pages, another is just three pages, the rest fall somewhere in between.

Yet, despite these idiosyncrasies, the book orbits around a clear and persuasive message—namely, that the “post-album age” of YouTube, downloads, music streaming, and hyper-commoditization has led to a decline in “quality, skills, value of human expression, individuality, creative innovation, and a lack of spirit-soul” (p. xii). Banfield is no enemy of popular music. However, he contends that misguided infatuations are driving contemporary trends—e.g., markets, celebrity-obsession, sexual exploitation, producer-driven albums—and that young talent is being lost to money-obsession and concomitant cookie-cutter sounds. In short, “Popular music has got to mean something again” (p. 263).

This is the essence of the book’s neologistic title, Ethnomusicologizing: the “act of being with the common man, doing music and art in ways that connect” (p. 28). As an artist-activist, Banfield argues that artists and humanitarians must join together in demanding more from the culture we live in, both artistically and politically. More precisely, he urges Black musicians to return to Black music worthy of the name: “music made by Black people connecting with their cultural conditions in and outside Africa in diaspora” (p. 98). Past generations said/sang “‘Let freedom ring’; they were singing about freedom—they didn’t say, ‘Give me the bling, bling’” (p. 86). “Music that matters” carries a “people’s voice” and commits itself to issues and sentiments that are bigger than the artist him/herself.

Banfield summarizes this concept using two types of cultural relevancy. Long-term relevancy encompasses expressive art that grows out of and deeply reflects the human experience. It continues to impact people’s lives long after the moment of creation. Market relevancy, on the other hand, is art manufactured primarily for the here and now. The magic formula, according to Banfield, includes a bit of both long-term and market relevance—that is, human and commercial awareness.

At the heart of these and other discussions is the uneasy relationship between art and commerce. Today, many young musicians are driven by a short-sighted desire for money, fame, and power. But the purpose of art—true art—remains the search for meaning, purpose, inspiration, and spiritual fulfillment. Banfield is hopeful in this regard: “Young people feel they are a more integral part of their success story if they are allowed to bring to a product a piece of who they are, what their story is. I think, despite our capitalistic surges, people always return back to the basic humanistic codes” (pp. 75-76). Such nuanced appraisals make Ethnomusicologizing a provocative and profitable read.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

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Kris Kristofferson: Country Highwayman (Book Review)

Kris Kristofferson: Country Highwayman, by Mary G. Hurd, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. 157 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Kris Kristofferson: Country Highwayman is fundamentally a book about song lyrics. This “minus the music” approach can be problematic, as a song’s sonic features—particularly timbre in the case of recording artists—tend to have equal or greater impact than the words themselves. Anthologies like Hal Leonard’s The Lyric Book reveal a general truth about songwriting: when words intended for singing are stripped of their music, their appeal is greatly diminished. Without the distraction of catchy melodies or infectious beats, stanzas can become flimsy, rhymes can become forced, and sentiments can become insincere.

Kris Kristofferson would seem likely to suffer from this approach. With such a recognizable voice—described variously as “raspy,” “jagged” and “froggy”—and a knack for exuding authenticity through it, his words risk being tarnished in the absence of sound. However, as Mary G. Hurd explains, Kristofferson is more poet than entertainer, more troubadour than singer-songwriter. Unlike many who pen lyrics for melody, his verses have legitimate literary interest; and nearly five hundred artists have recorded his songs, making his own voice less central than it otherwise might be. This is remarkable considering Hurd’s point that “each song reflects how [Kristofferson] felt at the time it was written, all his songs tell the story of him, psychologically and emotionally, and record his changes brought on by experience and the passage of time” (p. xvi).

The book begins with a biographical sketch. Because Hurd’s primary focus is lyrics, she offers only select glimpses into the complicated factors that shape Kristofferson’s songwriting. Of note is his upbringing in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where the ugliness of anti-Mexican sentiment taught him to sympathize with the downtrodden—a theme most strongly heard in his much-criticized album Third World Warrior (1990), which protests the U.S. government’s encroachment into Central America. After earning a B.A. in literature from Pomona College, Kristofferson deferred his military service to accept a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford’s Merton College. He became immersed in the writings of William Blake, adopting Blake’s injunction that the artist has a moral obligation to develop his talent. Kristofferson later resigned his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army, a decision that alienated him from his military family and from his first wife.

His commitment to the artist’s life and working class ideals also required a rejection of the highbrow world his education had prepared him for. He worked as a janitor at the Columbia Recording Studio in Nashville, which kept him in contact with industry professionals, and later jeopardized his success by emulating the self-destructive lifestyles of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr.

Hurd’s overview is a bit scattered and at times hard to follow. Nevertheless, it succeeds in contextualizing the career of an unlikely country music icon: an educated liberal whose imperfect voice, organic songwriting, sophisticated lyricism, and introverted nature emerged during Nashville’s slick and commercially oriented countrypolitan period. His anti-establishment bent—both musically and philosophically—propelled him to the ranks of future Highwaymen band-mates Jennings, Nelson, and Cash, and proved there was room for the “white man’s blues” in an age of glitzy country-pop.

Hurd, a retired professor of English, accomplishes the difficult task of using songs to summarize Kristofferson’s turbulent forty-year-plus career. As noted, she does this primarily through an analysis of lyrics, which she divides into six chapters: 1965-1970; 1971-1975; 1977-1984; 1985-1995 (Highwaymen); 1985-1991 (solo); and 1995-2014 (printed with an unfortunate typo as “2104”). Characteristically adept is her examination of Kristofferson’s award-winning song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970). She peers beneath the surface depiction of a miserable hangover: “Aching with loneliness and alienation, the speaker renders a powerful evocation of alcoholism and the loss of traditional values (family, home, and faith)—not unlike Kristofferson’s own situation—and the burden of freedom that follows that loss” (p. 35).

It is unlikely that this book will appeal to readers who are not already Kristofferson fans. Prior interest in his life and work (including his film roles) seems a prerequisite for appreciating the depth of analysis. An optimal reading would involve some degree of hearing the songs in one’s head. On the other hand, the book might inspire casual readers to listen more intently—or perhaps for the first time—to Kristofferson’s songs. (This reviewer found himself doing just that.) What this book does best is illustrate the intimate link between songwriter and song, and the complex layers such a link can entail.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

A Windfall of Musicians (Book Review)

A Windfall of Musicians: Hitler’s Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California, by Dorothy Lamb Crawford. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009. 318 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Immediately following his appointment as chancellor in January of 1933, Hitler launched an aggressive attack on Germany’s radio, press, film, music, and publishing industries. Hitler was himself an unsuccessful artist and amateur musician, who was denied entrance to art school in Vienna and failed in his effort to complete the text, design the sets, and compose the music for a mythic play Wagner had tossed aside. Control of the arts and media was given to propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who oversaw the content of every German newspaper, book, novel, play, film, broadcast, and concert, big and small. Goebbels gave the rationale for Nazi censorship, especially regarding music: “Judaism and German music are opposing forces which by nature stand in glaring contradiction to each other. The war against Judaism in German music—for which Richard Wagner once assumed sole responsibility [was to be carried out by] a united people.” As a result, Jewish composers, conductors, and performers who had once thrived in the Weimer Republic were now forced into silence and expulsion.

Musicologist Dorothy Lamb Crawford’s well-researched and informative book, A Windfall of Musicians, chronicles how many of these musicians fled Europe and gathered in the Los Angeles area beginning in the 1930s. As she explains in the unusually engaging Preface, Hitler’s rise to power coincided with the emergence of sound technology in Hollywood films. These converging developments brought an array of talented European musicians to the promising, though yet untapped, Los Angeles music scene. Crawford writes, “they constituted Hitler’s (unintentional) gift to American music” (p. ix), and helped transform Southern California from a “cultural desert” to a “musical mecca” (p. xi).

The book profiles fourteen composers, sixteen performers, and one opera stage director whose impact on the Los Angeles area was felt in the film industry, concert halls, universities, and through private teaching. Some of these musicians left Europe with impressive resumes and reputations, while others rose to prominence during their time in Southern California. Still others never quite established themselves in a cultural environment that for the most part resisted musical innovation. Even well known personalities like Arnold Schoenberg had trouble convincing the unsophisticated Los Angeles public to embrace his twelve-tone system; and Ernst Toch, one of the great avant-garde composers of the pre-Nazi era, constantly fought the label “film composer,” which he felt was beneath him. The book’s greatest attribute is its treatment of the struggles and successes of these immigrant musicians, both famous and lesser known.

The breadth and detail of this study are commendable, and evade summary in a short review. However, a couple of accounts gleaned from its pages should provide a sense of its fascinating subject matter. The third chapter profiles German-born conductor Otto Klemperer, who arrived in Los Angeles on October 14, 1933, and conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 1939, when he was incorrectly diagnosed with a brain tumor. Klemperer, a temperamental perfectionist, brought instant and marked improvement to the hitherto unimpressive orchestra. His first performance left audience members with the impression that he had brought the musicians with him from Europe, so changed was their sound. He was taken aback when he heard whistling in the crowd’s rousing ovation, which in Europe was a sign of disapproval.

The book also offers several portraits of composers in the motion picture business (chapter 8). Among them is Franz Waxman, who scored a number of classic films, such as The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and A Christmas Carol (1938), and earned the Academy Award for Sunset Boulevard (1950) and A Place in the Sun (1951). The seriousness with which he approached film composing was characteristic of this intense and highly trained group of composers. In a letter to the producers of The Nun’s Story (1959), Waxman complained about the late starting dates and short deadlines typically given for film scores: “Babies are not born overnight . . . and so it is with music or anything completely creative. . . . Everyone else connected with this picture has now been thoroughly drenched in it . . . and has had time to give it adequate thought. How, then, can a composer, if he is to do a decent job of creating, see a film one day and start writing it the next morning at nine o’clock?” (pp. 171-172).

Additional musicians featured include composer Igor Stravinsky, pianist Arthur Rubinstein, cellist Emanuel Feuermann, singer Lotte Lehmann, and many more who “managed to find personal self-renewal through individual journeys of discovery in their Californian lives” (p. 243). The depth with which Crawford delves into each biography varies, with some taking up an entire chapter (e.g., Klemperer, Schoenberg, Toch, and Stravinsky), and others just a few paragraphs. At times, these read like encyclopedia entries, with both the wealth of information and the dryness one would expect from such a resource. Still, Crawford’s enthusiasm for the book’s musicians and the Southern California setting is palpable. She has amassed a comprehensive survey of lasting value, and a worthy homage to this remarkable assemblage of vibrant personalities and artistic talent.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Ethnomusicology: A Very Short Introduction (Book Review)

Ethnomusicology: A Very Short Introduction, by Timothy Rice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 151 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Since its formal establishment in the mid-twentieth century, ethnomusicology has campaigned admirably against the misrepresentation of music as a detached art. Looking beyond musicology’s traditional focus on classical music and maturing beyond the romantic search for musical origins in “primitive” sounds of native peoples, ethnomusicologists have shed clarifying light on the centrality of music in the human experience. As Timothy Rice explains in his delightful primer, Ethnomusicology: A Very Short Introduction, this “discipline with an awkward name” (p. 20) combines fieldwork and theoretical tools to uncover why we are musical, how we utilize music, and what our musical-ness tells us about ourselves.

In this brief yet rich introduction, Rice, a professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA and director of the university’s Herb Albert School of Music, outlines the field’s kaleidoscopic history and multifaceted approaches. Through big picture discussions and excursions into illustrative case studies, Rice shows how a discipline that once focused on classically defined ethnic groups has broadened the term ethnos (group of people) to include “subcultures” or “microcultures” based on all sorts of social glues: work, class, peer interests, recreational experiences, and so on. Whether the music-culture of study is a remote tribe or angst-ridden suburban teens, researchers employ the same methods—namely, some combination of interviews, participant-observation, learning to sing, play and dance, documenting musical traditions, and transcribing and analyzing music. The resulting information confirms and expands upon the ethnomusicological premise that “humans make music as a constituent element of culture,” and make “connections between music and other facets of culture” (p. 65).

Rice expertly lays out the key findings of the discipline. Among them is the assertion that being “musical” does not depend on personal talent or skill, but on the basic human capacity to “make” and “make sense” of music. He notes the difficulty (impossibility?) of arriving at a blanket definition of music suitable for all culturally recognized examples. He advocates replacing “music as object” with “music as process”: “the interactions between all the human beings present during a musical event, the motivations behind their behaviors, and the significance they attach to them” (p. 6). He describes music as a multi-layered resource, encompassing social and psychological data (and interactions between them), semiotics, aesthetics, and “the construction, self-representation, and contestation of individual and social identities” (p. 73). Rice also provides the reader a glimpse into the work itself, with chapters devoted to conducting research (ch. 3), writing music history (ch. 7), and ethnomusicologists at work (ch. 9).

Two points in the book have particular interest for this reviewer. One is the emerging awareness that both stability and change are natural forces in musical cultures. Rather than assuming that change is a symptom of decline or stability is a sign of vitality, Rice explains that most cultures exhibit dynamism and persistent contact with outside influences: “People have always treated their musical traditions inventively and strategically as resources to revitalize their communities, cope with devastation and change, make older forms of music meaningful in new social and cultural environments, and move toward a hopeful future” (p. 92). The second point is that most ethnomusicologists have discarded old divisions between “traditional” and “modern” societies, replacing them with a nuanced understanding of borrowing, mixing, hybridization, syncretism, commodification, fusion, and creolization—all of which are amplified with accelerating globalization and technological developments (p. 99).

With these and other insights, Rice and the ethnomusicologists he ably represents not only explain how music functions in world cultures, but also how each of us weaves musical sounds into our daily lives.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel (Book Review)

Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel, by Robert D. Miller II, Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011. 154 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

The concept of oral tradition has long captivated scholars and lay readers of the Hebrew Bible. Many find comfort in the notion that behind the written text is a sturdy and unfailing oral tradition, able to preserve accurate memories across generations. This hypothesis gained support when Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), the founder of form criticism (which attempts to trace scriptural units to oral transmission), encountered the writings of Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt posited that human societies advance in predictable stages parallel to the development of the complexity of language—that is, from oral/illiterate to written/literate. Gunkel applied Wundt’s theory to the Bible, concluding that oral folklore was at the root of Israel’s stories. His position picked up steam with the oral-formulaic theory of Milman Parry and Albert Lord, whose study of epic poems led them to conclude that illiterate poets employed groups of repeated words (formulas) to retain and transmit their poetry. A certain percentage of formulas present in a written text was considered evidence of oral composition.

The oral-formulaic theory remains entrenched in biblical scholarship, with Lord’s The Singer of Tales (1960) occupying a particularly hallowed space. However, numerous holes have been poked in the theory since the late 1980s. Folklorists, classicists, anthropologists, and ethnomusicologists have exposed its limited applicability, and the absence of any one touchstone of oral tradition. For example, some oral folklore contains no formulas (e.g., Old Norse-Icelandic Skaldic poetry), some cultures value word-for-word memorization (e.g., Maori and Somali), and many societies produce oral and written literature simultaneously.

Robert D. Miller explores the latter observation in his slim but informative book, Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel. Miller, an associate professor of Old Testament at the Catholic University of America, advocates abandoning the outdated and simplistic linear model, in which oral stories circulate among bards and storytellers, are eventually written down, and are then recited or chanted to illiterate audiences. In its place, Miller proposes a fluid oral-written model for biblical literature, wherein “written texts circulated in spoken form by recitation long after they were committed to writing. And those recited forms begat oral forms that were not in writing, or were not put in writing for some time afterwards. Oral texts that circulated from bard to audience or bard to bard could be recorded in writing, could be consulted by writers, could be consulted by bards of other stories” (p. 54).

Miller appropriates Anthony Campbell’s “User Theory,” which sees the biblical narrative neither as a record of oral lore nor as a literary composition, but as “written outlines for oral elaboration (or for omission in performance)” (p. 55). This could explain why the ancient editors allowed alternative accounts and conflicting details into the text. Such kernels were, perhaps, optional rubrics to be chosen from for oral performance. This could also account for anachronistic accretions and other anomalies sprinkled throughout the stories. As the outlines were used and re-used in various contexts, they picked up ingredients from the local geography, social conditions, prevailing attitudes, regional folktales, and the like—some of which were recorded in writing.

These possibilities lie at the heart of Miller’s performance-centered analysis. In his reading, the Hebrew Bible is partially made up of “gobbets”: intentionally crafted memory aids that function as generic markers for narrative construction. They include story patterns, structural pathways, character sketches, images of situations, and traditional phraseology. These basic elements, swimming together in “tradition pools,” were selected and activated in performance or for a written text (pp. 37-38). The storyteller would assemble selected gobbets in a semi-rigid order, varying the details and style of delivery according to the needs of the moment, and modifying them to suit the setting. This improvisatory picture is enhanced by the likelihood that the performers told their stories with some sort of chant: a flexible spectrum of vocal utterance that includes plain speech, sung speech, spoken song, syllabic song, melismatic song, and adventurous vocalizations (p. 104).

The most tentative portion of Miller’s book deals with identifying orally derived bits in the Hebrew Bible. Although he confidently argues for the Bible as an accumulation of oral and written material, he hesitates to make definite statements regarding specific scriptural sections. That being said, his oral performance approach does shed light on the perplexing “bare gobbets,” such as empty references to Nimrod (Gen. 10:9) and the “giants” Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Num. 13:22), which were likely allusions to other stories and possibly served as starting points for individual storytellers. Miller also points out evidently oral elements in Genesis 49:9-12, 22-25 (Jacob’s final blessing), Numbers 24:17-19 (Balaam’s fourth oracle), and elsewhere, such as parallelism, ambiguous syntax, repetitions, obvious gaps, and broken connections.

With Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel, Miller offers a rich analysis of the interplay between literacy and orality in the Hebrew Bible. He paints a convincing portrait of bards and storytellers in antiquity composing from both oral and written sources, inserting their own contributions, and performing their tales. This lively picture stands in contrast to the fixed text as we have it today, and highlights the functional aspect of scripture.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Genres and Lyrics (Review Essay)

The Lyric Book: Complete Lyrics for Over 1000 Songs from Tin Pan Alley to Today, New York: Hal Leonard, 2001. 384 pp.

Daniel J. Levitin, The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, New York: Dutton, 2008. 354 pp.

Review Essay by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

Music scholarship in the twenty-first century has shined significant light on the indispensable roles of music in human life. In contrast to the dominant perception of music as entertainment—a view saturated with ethnocentrism and unsophistication—interdisciplinary allies have begun to see music’s ubiquity as a sign of its evolutionary necessity. The conclusions drawn by this group, made up of anthropologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and others, are not uniform and not uniformly convincing. But the track they’re on seems to be the right one, even if absolute claims about music’s origins would require a time machine to verify.

An enthusiastic representative of this “music is fundamental” group is McGill neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin. In his 2008 bestseller, The World in Six Songs, Levitin argues that six types of songs—friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love—have played a central role in facilitating the development of the human brain and human society. In his analysis, based on a lively mixture of scientific research and anecdotal findings, these song-types comprise the “soundtrack of civilization.” In every age, they have provided a medium for sharing information, strengthening bonds, asserting identities, imparting wisdom, and facilitating a host of other actions and attitudes that aided our evolution and define who we are today.

Reviews of Levitin’s theory and its supporting data have been mixed. While most admire his ambitious claims and appreciate their logical basis, some of his extrapolations have been called overreaching, esoteric, and difficult to demonstrate. His reliance on musical examples from his own catalogue of favorites (read: Caucasian American baby boomer) has added to the criticism, as has his nonchalant placement of the same song in multiple categories (e.g., “I Walk the Line” as a friendship, knowledge, and love song). Even so, Levitin has articulated a remarkably sturdy taxonomy of songs.

The cross-cultural ubiquity of the six song-types seems clear. Virtually every song one can think of fits into (at least) one of the categories, usually with ease. To be sure, this is partly because descriptive approaches are also constructive: when equipped with a set of qualities, we tend to identify those qualities in the things we encounter. We are, after all, the possessors of pattern-seeking brains. Consequently, the sometimes-fuzzy lines between types are ignored to preserve a broader picture.

Levitin’s arguments could have benefitted from a multicultural expansion of musical examples and the toning-down of some assertions. Then again, the book’s biographical vignettes and energetic storytelling help the reader relate to what could have been a dry and jargon-heavy scientific tome. Levitin encourages us to substitute his scenarios with our own life situations and musical favorites, and asks us to imagine our ancient ancestors using music in similar ways, adjusted for their own time and place.

Weaknesses in the evolutionary argument and the song schema itself do not invalidate Levitin’s work. If The World in Six Songs is not wholly convincing, it is at least more accurate than it is wrong.

To test this point, I applied Levitin’s six songs to The Lyric Book, a collection of 1,015 American popular song lyrics from Tin Pan Alley to the date of publication (2001). It is basically a fake book without the music, and is presumably meant for people who are training for a karaoke competition or who wish to settle a bet. The lyrics are pulled from a range of material, including but not limited to blues, early rock ‘n’ roll, jazz standards, country and western, R & B, soul, hip hop, classic rock, Broadway, disco, and bubblegum pop. All of the lyrics satisfy at least one of Levitin’s types, proving both the adeptness of his research and the power of pre-determined categories to define what one is looking for. (My own assessment is that it was mostly the former, though a few songs did have to be pushed and shoved into a category.)

Some words about The Lyric Book before delving into my findings. First, the good: In addition to a table of contents, the book contains an artist index (listing by performers), a songwriter index (listing by songwriters), and an index of songs from musicals, films and television. The bad: Although the lyrics are drawn from mainstream material, there is no preface or introduction explaining the rationale for what was included and what was not. It is also a “company book”: no compiler(s) or editor(s) are credited. As a result, it gives the impression of having been randomly selected and mechanically assembled.

There are some predictable offerings from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Lorenz Hart, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, and Richard Rogers. But there are just as many conspicuous absences. For example, of the artists included in LA Weekly’s list of “Top 20 Singer-Songwriters of All Time,” only six found their way into the book—and four of them with just a single song: David Bowie (“Space Oddity”), Johnny Cash (“I Walk the Line”), Bob Dylan (“Forever Young”), Willie Nelson (“Crazy”), Hank Williams (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and 2 others), and Stevie Wonder (“All in Love is Fair,” and 10 others). The missing singer-songwriters are Leonard Cohen, Robert Johnson, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Prince, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Elliot Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, and Neil Young.

Despite these and other flaws (unfortunate typos, uneven genre representation, inconsistent alphabetizing, etc.), the book’s unsystematic nature makes it an excellent testing ground for Levitin’s classification. The 1,015 songs did indeed fit into the six types: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. Several dozen exhibited multiple themes (e.g., joy and religion, comfort and love, knowledge and friendship), but in each case one theme was deemed primary and the song was placed accordingly.

My examination of the 1,015 lyrics yielded the following:

24 are songs of friendship. These include battle/bonding songs (“We Will Rock You”), songs extolling friendship (“With a Little Help From My Friends”), and songs dedicated to friends (“You’re My Best Friend”).

67 are songs of joy. These comprise songs of carefree enjoyment (“I Get Around”), mindless dance songs (“Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”), joyful songs of home (“Deep in the Heart of Texas”), songs of life’s pleasures (“Sir Duke”), and “feel good” songs (“These Are the Best of Times”).

95 songs provide comfort. These are songs of perseverance (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), solace (“In My Room”), encouragement (“Pick Yourself Up”), and regrets (“Holding Back the Years”).

115 are knowledge songs, which consist of morality songs (“Colors of the Wind”), learning songs (“Do-Re-Mi”), story songs (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”), and protest songs (“Power to the People”).

20 songs deal with religious themes, either with prayer (“God Bless the Child”), theological imagery (“Lost in the Stars”), biblical content (“Turn! Turn! Turn!”), or civil religion (“The Star Spangled Banner”).

694 are songs of love. Their topics include falling in love (“I Finally Found Someone”), staying in love (“Day by Day”), losing love (“I Fall to Pieces), never getting love (“I Can’t Make You Love Me”), the virtues of love (“All for Love”), and lust (“The Look of Love”).

The over-representation of love songs is not surprising given the content of The Lyric Book. The underrepresentation of friendship and religion songs is likewise understandable. If the book consisted of lyrics of another kind—say, folksongs or children’s songs—other categories would be more prominent. But, percentages aside, this exercise in organization highlights the validity of Levitin’s categories, both in addressing a wide assortment of songs, and in helping the cataloguer reduce songs to their basic themes. If American popular music is representative of music as a whole, then there really are six songs—six songs with many faces. And these songs resonate at the core of our species.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

The Great Animal Orchestra (Book Review)

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, by Bernie Krause, New York: Back Bay Books, 2012. 277 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

When George Berkeley posed the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” he apparently assumed that humans are the only sentient beings capable of hearing. Given the perpetual popularity of this eighteenth-century hypothetical, many are still convinced that audible events can only be confirmed in human ears. This anthropocentric view is often coupled with an equally condescending assumption that acoustic behaviors of birds, fish, insects and non-human mammals have just two basic functions: mating and territory. Aside from being psychologically reassuring—providing much-desired, yet difficult-to-substantiate, solace that the gap between human beings and “mere” creatures is unbridgeably wide—these beliefs betray our musical ignorance. As naturalist and musician Bernie Krause warns us in his provocative book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, “When it comes to natural sounds, there are few rules” (p. 59).

For forty-plus years, Krause has traveled the world recording and analyzing wild soundscapes. His archive includes over 4,000 hours of sound from more than 15,000 species. Captured at undisturbed locations, these chronicles reveal an aural aspect of natural selection. Contrary to what the untrained listener might suspect, the vast array of biological sounds did not come about arbitrarily. Rather, Krause explains, “each resident species acquires its own preferred sonic bandwidth—to blend or contrast—much in the way that violins, woodwinds, trumpets, and percussion instruments stake out acoustic territory in an orchestral arrangement” (p. 97). Krause calls this the “niche hypothesis,” or a partitioning process in which voices of a biome form unique sonic signatures that serve as terrestrial voiceprints or sound-marks. The nuanced audibles of each species accomplish specific functions: mating, protecting territory, capturing food, group defense, social contact, emotional cues, play, etc. From Krause’s vantage point, such sounds can be considered “musical” in the broad sense of being controlled patterns that exhibit structure and intent and are organized vertically (texture and layering) and horizontally (over time).

The impulse to find a niche may have also been a driving force of human music. Our forest-dwelling ancestors paid close attention to their native soundscapes, listening for signals in the rich textures of their habitats, finding distinct bandwidths to communicate with one another, and imitating the sounds of other species, both for play and practical purposes (like the hunt) (p. 89). From there, human cultures gradually developed the diverse sounds and sundry uses that comprise what we know as music.

Krause also opens our awareness to the multiplicity of sound sources on our planet. He proposes three distinct categories. The oldest is geophony: natural sounds springing from non-biological phenomena, such as wind, rainfall and bodies of water. All acoustically sensitive animals—including humans—evolved to accommodate the geophony, as “each had to establish a bandwidth in which its clicks, breaths, hisses, roars, songs, or calls could stand out in relation to nonbiological natural sounds” (p. 39). Animal sounds come in two types: biophony, or sounds emanating from nonhuman biological entities; and anthrophony, or human-generated sounds (physiological, controlled, electromechanical and incidental).

One of the implications of Krause’s work is that it can help evaluate the health of a biome. Not only can studying the acoustic community demonstrate the intrusion of foreign elements—i.e., human-made noise and the audible response of native creatures (silence, restlessness or alarm calls)—it can also indicate the diversity and vibrancy of the wildlife, or the absence thereof. Sadly, over a half of the wild habitats Krause has recorded no longer exist due to human encroachment—a reality discerned in part from the silencing of biophonic activity and the rise of anthrophonic noise.

These are but a few of the thought-provoking insights offered in The Great Animal Orchestra, a book enhanced by autobiographical stories, illustrations, online listening samples, and a reading group guide. To quote Jane Goodall, whose recommendation appears on the cover of the paperback edition, “[The book] speaks to us of an ancient music to which so many of us are deaf.”

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