Monday, November 1, 2010

World Music on the Web: National Public Radio

From time to time, VOAWorldMusic will survey a number of online resources for world music.

One of the most accessible is National Public Radio's Website, which on its "music" page has five categories: Rock/Pop/Folk, Classical, Jazz and Blues, Hip-Hop/Rhythm and Blues, and World. Of course, given the increasing contemporary tendency for music to exhibit aspects of two or more conventional musical genres--with examples often identified as "crossover music"--examples of world music may be found in any of the four other NPR categories.

In addition, there are two other relevant regular features on the NPR and The Thistle and Shamrock, a weekly program of Celtic music (Irish and Scottish), often with strong world music influences, hosted by Fiona Ritchie--as well as World Cafe, a program of music recorded live that periodically features traditional artists from around the world.

A recent sampling from among the almost daily musical offerings from NPRs many regular programs:

Mali's Bassekou Kouyate playing the lute-like ngoni.

Beijing-based Guo Yong playing naturally occurring garden leaves!

Joan Soriano, from the Dominican Republic, playing bachata, a genre of guitar music popular among poor people.

And from Nairobi, Kenya: Kenge Kenge, an eight-person ensemble presenting benga, "a traditional folk rhythm that dates to the 1940s."

These, and many other features, are from NPRs regular programming, including such news magazines as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, all three of which have specific music search options on the attached links.

World music can sometimes be heard on the 24/7 streaming podcast of All Songs Considered, with an accompanying blog by ASC's founder, Bob Boilen, who was Director of All Things Considered from 1989 to 2007, as well as in NPR's Song of the Day, the link to which can be e-mailed daily to those who sign up to receive it.

In addition, the NPR site has extensive search functions, and current programs contain links to previous features on a given artist or group in NPR's exhaustive archive.

Coming up: World music on the BBC.

And stay tuned next month for an exclusive VOAWorldMusic audio interview with Laurie Anderson, following her two performances last week of her latest project, "Delusion", at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Songlines through advertisements

In the previous posting I offered an introduction to Songlines, the impressive London-based magazine of world music, including audio clips from an interview with editor-in-chief Simon Broughton.

The advertisements themselves in the most recent issue (#66) of Songlines that I have in hand provide a glimpse of a broad range of recordings and events in the field of world music, particularly in Britain. Here, by way of resource exploration, is a description of each of the full-page advertisements in this issue:

Real World Records (see their Website), founded in 1989 by superstar Peter Gabriel, is one of the world's leading labels for this musical niche--if indeed the music of the entire planet can be considered a niche. . . .

Proper Music Distribution (see their Website), perhaps Britain's leading independent CD distributor, including a wide range of smaller traditional and world music labels.

The Sage Gateshead (see their Website), a visually striking glass and stainless steel performance venue in Britain's northeast with three auditoriums, and the center of a range of musical performances, conferences, and educational activities, similar in its mission to La Cité de La Musique in Paris (see also the Website). I'll be posting later on my recent visit to this impressive institution, with an audio interview with Philippe Bruguière, the curator of the spectacular display of musical instruments in the Cité's Musée de la Musique.)

The release on DVD of "Terra Em Concerto" by Mariza, the hugely popular Portuguese singer in the Fado tradition (see the extended official trailer on YouTube.)

The latest bestselling CDs from

New releases from Navras Records, the London-based juggernaut (the word itself is of Indian origin--used here only in the positive sense) of CD recordings of traditional Indian Music (on which I'll be doing a posting later in the year.)

World music CDs from Warner Classics and Jazz.

Events sponsored by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

World music performances at London's Momo Kemia Bar: "Be enchanted by the most beautiful live acts from all over the world! 8 PM - Free admission!!!"

New world music releases from, Britain's second largest online retailer of a wide range of products.

And on the back cover, an ad for the final collaboration between the Malian musical giants Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, on Britain's World Circuit Records, following their Grammy Award-winning "In the Heart of the Moon." (See also the label's Website.)

And coming up in a subsequent posting, an introduction to the Songlines Website, as well as the digital edition of the publication.

Interview with Simon Broughton, editor of Songlines

Songlines is without question the world's leading magazine devoted primarily to the field of world music. (See my post two years ago on the hard-copy demise of Global Rhythm, which happily is still available online, though not currently active.) An exceptionally colorful large-format glossy magazine, Songlines is published in eight issues a year, and has a circulation of some 20,000.

The current issue for November-December (#72, above), has a cover story on the London production of the musical Fela!, which premiered in New York City on off-Broadway in 2008, and on Broadway in 2009, and is based on the life of the enormously successful Nigerian instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, who died in 1997, having been a major force in Afropop music, as well as a controversial human rights activist. This issue has additional articles on music from England, Cuba, Réunion Island, Turkey, Norway, New Zealand, Eritrea, Bulgaria, and India, as well as an extensive listing of concerts and festivals. It also comes with two CDs: one with tracks from the ten "Top of the World albums," and a second bonus CD of World Music from Korea.

In a visit to London earlier in the year, I had the privilege of interviewing Simon Broughton, Songlines' editor (and also an editor of The Rough Guide to World Music).

I met him in the Songlines office, off of the Shepherds Bush station on the London Underground, in a neighborhood vastly changed from that in which I had lived while doing dissertation research at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1969-70. The office itself, bright with the afternoon sun, was what I might have expected: one wall with shelf upon shelf of CDs, and another filled with boxes of files with the raw copy and reference materials for each numbered issue, along with the usual array of computer and electronic equipment:

I asked Broughton about the origins of Songlines, which he said had started in 1999 as a quarterly supplement to Grammophone, a leading British bimonthly publication, begun in 1923, which describes itself as "the world’s best classical music magazine."

When Grammophone decided to drop Songlines--curiously, as he notes, just after 9/11--Broughton and his colleagues bought the rights to Songlines, and began publishing it independently in 2003, initially with six issues a year and a large format.

I inquired about Broughton's own background, and what led him to the field of world music. He had studied classical music in his early years, but was drawn in his youth to travel to Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania (he also learned Russian), and found an extraordinary range of music in these countries--particularly Rumania.

He joined the BBC after completing his university work, and recorded under BBC auspices a series of programs on Mali, which awakened in him a strong interest in West African music.

As he notes, his interests have since moved on to include Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and India.

He explained that the magazine's purpose is to look at "what's going on in the world, but seen through the perspective of music," and asking "Why is music the way it is?" In other words, going beyond the music itself to its roles in society.

When I asked Broughton about the state of world music in London, he responded by evoking the "diaspora from everywhere"--in other words, immigrants from numerous countries around the world. He points out that "every week there is a big name artist playing, and every night there are lesser-known--but often equally fascinating--musicians playing in all sorts of places, whether it's concert halls, or community centers, or bars . . . .":

He goes on to point out that the connections between present-day Britain and its former colonies have led to a concurrent interest in the music of India in particular, as well as of its African colonies, but he also notes the curiously strong presence of Cuban music in London, despite there being no strong historical British link with that country.

In Paris--the other major European city where he finds an equally broad and vibrant, yet distinctly very different, presence of world music--he notes the musical connections with France's former colonies: such Francophone African countries as Senegal, Mali, and Guinee (though he does mention a surprisingly lively presence of Malian music in London); North Africa; and Indochina, particularly Viet Nam.

Broughton goes on to identify in Paris (most probably as a result of serious "state support", or government patronage, comparatively absent in England) a very serious presence of "ethnographic music"--that is, music in the purely traditional styles of the countries of origin, without undue influence from "world music" and its tendencies toward blending and integration. He cites, as specific examples of venues hospitable to such traditional performances, the Maison des Cultures du Monde (this link in French can be translated) and the Théâtre de la Ville (click here for a link in English). At the same time, he laments the lack of such concerts in London:

When I asked Broughton about the effect of the financial crisis on Songlines, he expressed his sense that the magazine had not suffered as much as much, with a 5 to 10 percent drop in advertising revenues, as compared with "mainspring magazines," which he estimated had lost (at the time) 25 to 30 per cent. Nor, he notes, did Songlines have to lay off staff or cut rates of pay, as was the case with many other periodicals:

As he wrily notes, "in the best of times, magazine publishing is . . . on the borders of profitability."

Nonetheless, he is enthusiastic about the unique role of of the magazine:

"It is a very exciting publication, because I feel it really does bring you into contact with the world and with music, and a very exciting world of people who are interested in the world's music."

See subsequent entries for more information on Songlines.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

VOA Rap-Style on the new YouTube VOAWorldMusic channel

When the VOA Creole Service began its regularly scheduled broadcasts in February 1986, the audience in Haiti, and other Caribbean countries, quickly became aware of the mission of the Voice of America: To broadcast accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news and information to an international audience.

A few months later Jean Lyonel Desmarattes, a well-known Haitian journalist, playwright and artist, joined the Service. Over the years, he has developed a unique and novel way to bring news and information to the audience.

His performance, which presents VOA's mission in rap style in English, Spanish, and Creole, is from the 6 May 2009 celebration of VOA's annual Diversity Day. You can see the video of his performance by clicking here for the new VOAWorldMusic channel on YouTube.

Click here to see the YouTube video of Steve Frank's fine performance of his original song, "The Immigrants," from this year's Diversity Day celebrations at the Voice of America.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

America's "Living National Treasures": The National Heritage Fellows

Each year the National Endowment for the Arts selects a number of traditional artists and artisans in many genres, who, whatever their national origin, currently practice their skills as residents of the United States. They represent the many cultural currents, and the myriad artistic motives and achievements, embodying both individual and group genius, of the American "melting pot." Last Friday night at Strathmore was the 28th annual celebration of this year's National Heritage Fellows:

(To enlarge, click on the photo.) In the back row from left to right are: NEA Director of Folk and Traditional Arts Barry Bergey; Bharatanatyam Indian dancer Kamala Lakshmi Narayanan, fiddler Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor, bluegrass guitarist and singer Del McCoury, Irish flute player Mike Rafferty, and NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. In the front row, from left to right, are: lauhala (palm leaf) weaver Gladys Kukana Grace, folklorist and editor Judith McCulloh, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, and Ghanaian drum master Yacub Addy. (Afro-Cuban drummer and drum-builder Ezequiel Torres is not pictured.) The above photograph was taken by Michael G. Stewart (and used with permission from the NEA) at a ceremony at the Library of Congress on 22 September 2010.

As noted, the musical genres represented this year included Ghanaian and Afro-Cuban drumming (Afro-Cuban drummer and drum builder Ezequiel Torres does not appear in the picture), bluegrass music; and the Irish flute. The music of South India (also known as the Carnatic tradition), moreover, is the idiom of Bharatanatyam dance.

I very much regretted being unable to attend this year's Strathmore "concert" (I was in Denver for the fiftieth reunion of my high school class--of which more later), for the event has always been for me a high point of of the cultural year. I had attended my first National Heritage Awards celebration when I had come to Washington in 1986 to join VOA as the Chief of the Urdu Service, having found the folkloric tradition as one of my avenues of discovery of the communicative powers of music. The splendid narrator for the evening was the late Charles Kuralt, host of the incomparable "CBS Sunday Morning" television show, which more than any other news program before or since quietly but eloquently celebrated the diversity, humanity, and vitality of the American heartland. I remember that evening with crystalline clarity (having moved after 26 years of university study and teaching to broadcast journalism) as carrying a spiritual message that inspired me, in my new and exciting career, to explore culture as a medium of understanding universal values among humankind.

Since 1999, the Strathmore program has been ably hosted by the eminent folklorist Nick Spitzer, whose weekly program, American Routes, is heard throughout the U.S. on more than 200 public radio stations. (See a future posting on this fine series.)

This year, thanks to the medium of the internet, the 2010 program was streamed live on the Web and is due to be archived, and we are now able not only to access audio or video samples of performances by the musicians and dancer, but the audio and text of interviews with them (click on their names below), as well as with the other award recipients:

Jim "Texas Shorty" Chancellor, fiddler from Rockwall, Texas. At the Library of Congress Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman gave this citation: “A master of the intricate and ornamented style of fiddling known as the Texas style, Jim Chancellor could fill a trophy case with the local, state, and world championships he has won. He is a patient and skilled teacher of a new generation of fiddle artists across the country, but one who will remain always a sincere student of the tradition he loves.”

Del McCoury, bluegrass guitarist and singer from Nashville, Tennessee (feature podcast here, and MP3 feature for download here.) Landesman's citation: “Del McCoury is a distinctive singer whose penetrating vocals epitomize bluegrass standards of tradition and excellence. He is an innovator who has adapted the work of contemporary songwriters to reach new and broader audiences.”

Mike Rafferty, Irish flute player from Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey (feature podcast here, and MP3 feature for download here.) In the words of NEA Chairman Landesman, “Mike Rafferty is a master of the Irish flute who learned from family and friends in a small village in East Galway. He is an artist who brought his musical excellence to his new home in Hasbrouck Heights and has increased our appreciation of Irish music throughout the United States.”

Yacub Addy, Ghanaian drum master from Latham, New York. (Click here for an article on the music of Ghana.) In Landesman's words, “A master of the traditional Ga music, Yacub Addy is a generous mentor of aspiring drummers as well as a collaborator with jazz and popular musicians, who has created new works that speak to issues of social and cultural relevance today.”

Ezequiel Torres, Afro-Cuban drummer and drum builder from Miami, Florida. (Click here for an article on Cuban music.)

And finally, Kamala Lakshmi Narayanan, Bharatanatyam Indian dancer from Mastic, New York. Landesman's citation: “Narayanan is a master of south Indian classical dance whose name is synonymous with the art form. She is both a performer who has danced before queens, prime ministers, and presidents and a teacher who has trained students for the past three decades.”

I'll update this site as further possible podcasts and the archived video of the event become available. Last year's Strathmore program was featured on the 23 December 2009 edition of American Routes, and can be heard here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Khwaja Khurshid Anwar and music in Pakistan

Readers may notice a new picture of me on this blog, as well as a slightly modified layout, and therein lies the "hook" of this blog. Here is the story:

Earlier this year I was visited by Rabiah Khajah, granddaughter of the late Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, one of the towering figures in Pakistan's musical history (photo at right). She came to my VOA office with her husband, Salman Gauhar, and we shared many reminiscences of her grandfather. As it turned out, Salman took the picture you now see on my profile. But in any case, that attribution gives me the occasion to share some of my own memories of my first meetings with Khwaja Sahib ("sahib" being the honorific title in Urdu equivalent to the English "Mr.," only somewhat more respectful.)

In 1976, when I was teaching Urdu at Harvard, I spent the summer in Lahore (the cultural center of Pakistan), as Language Teaching Coordinator for the Berkeley Urdu Program in Pakistan. In connection with my work there, I met for the first time the late Saeed Malik, one of Pakistan's leading authorities on the traditional classical music of that country, with numerous newspaper articles and at least three books on the subject to his credit.

When Saeed learned of my longstanding interest in that music (it had in fact been music that led me to Urdu, but that is another story), he said that it was essential that I meet Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, who, as he explained, had been a major figure in composing some of Pakistan's most popular film music. Khwaja Sahib, he said, was now devoting most of his energies to documenting, preserving, and championing the traditional classical music that had been performed in Pakistan since the birth of the country in 1947, in what is usually referred to as Independence, or Partition, when India also became a separate independent state.

In our first meeting, Khwaja Sahib explained the center of his dilemma: the classical music of Pakistan--previously called Hindustani music ("Hindustan" being the historic Urdu name for the Indian subcontinent)--could not now be called "Indian music" for obvious political reasons. Nor could it be properly named "Pakistani music", because Pakistan had been in existence only since 1947. As a solution, he originated the unique yet comprehensive phrase "Ahang-e-Khusravi", or the "the music of Khusrau", referring to the thirteenth-century polymath Amir Khusrau, who is mythically credited with the origination of the sitar, the tabla, qavvali music, and Urdu poetry, among other important cultural expressions.

At the end of our first meeting, Khwaja Sahib invited me to come again the following Sunday morning. I arrived as planned, only to find an array of television cameras and tangles of cords and cables in his living room, and it soon became clear that a national television program was scheduled, with Khwaja Sahib addressing all of Pakistan. I tried to excuse myself, seeing that he was busy, but he insisted not only that I remain, but that that he wanted to be speaking directly, in person, to me--a westerner who had studied and practiced the music of the area--to emphasize that this music was of international interest.

Portions of the resulting program are available on YouTube in installments as the "Khurshid Anwar Raag Mala Interview," with Khwaja Sahib speaking to his countrymen about the historic contributions of Muslims to their classical music tradition, and this writer, back to the camera (and complete with prematurely balding head) appearing periodically in some of the footage. The photo at left was taken at that session. . . .

In our earlier conversation, Khwaja Sahib had explained that his task of championing Ahang-e-Khusravi was complicated by the fact that most Pakistanis, simply associating the music with historical connections with Hinduism, were unaware of the enormous contributions that Muslim musicians had made to the development of this music over the centuries.

In fact, as he emphasized in his television address to the nation, most of the leading gharanas (historical traditions, usually associated with a specific princely state in what was then British India), were established and propagated by generations of Muslim musicians, and that it was the cultural responsibility of Pakistanis to honor and continue the efforts of their Muslim predecessors.

In addition to this nationwide broadcast, Khwaja Sahib had already begun earlier to work for the continued patronage and recognition of this music. He had alaready established the Classical Music Research Cell in Lahore in collaboration with the late Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-84), arguably the greatest post-Independence Urdu poet. Together they established a library and archive which still exists in the offices of Radio Pakistan. But perhaps most significantly, they released through the recording company, EMI Pakistan, two important series of long-playing discs. The first, "Ragamala" ("garland of ragas"), presented the melodic structure of a hundred ragas along with brief performances in khayal style (the dominant form of Hindustani classical vocal music) by Pakistan's leading vocalists. The second, "Gharanon ki Gayaki ("the vocal music of the historical traditions"), presented 80 of these ragas in more extended (10 minute) renditions by the same major vocalists.

Both series--featuring the incomparable melodic accompaniment in the traditional fashion--now rarely heard--on the sarangi (a box fiddle whose sound is the closest instrumental approximation I have heard to the human voice) and rhythmic accompaniment on the tabla by Pakistan's leading masters of these instruments--were subsequently released on cassette, but are now unfortunately out of print. Yet these recordings present the best and most comprehensive anthology of khayal performances by Pakistani Ustads (masters, maestros) in existence.

After returning to Lahore in the 1997 and 1998, and impressed as I was with the quality of both these extraordinary series, I made two concentrated efforts, with the blessings of the late Salim Bukhari (the head of EMI Pakistan) to offer both series to EMI India--then the leading producer of long-playing records in that country. I tried to make the case that Khwaja Sahib had done in recordings what the late Indian musicologist V. N. Bhatkhande (1860-1936) had done in written notation: the classification of the major ragas into ten modal categories, a system which Khwaja Sahib himself followed in his recorded documentation.

Unfortunately, neither of these attempts succeeded. But as noted in my posting earlier this month on how the Internet has facilitated the widespread availability of an enormous range of music from around the world, I am very happy to note that the entire Ragamala Series is available on the Website, complete with the elegant commentary spoken by Khwaja Sahib himself, as a preface to each raga, in his incomparably rich and smoky voice.

Additional material on Khwaja Sahib is available on subsections of, created by one Dr. Surjit Singh, who describes himself as a "diehard movie fan(atic), period," and who sounds quite colorful; his home page (like all his pages, perennially "under construction") is prefaced with "This page should really be called Surjit Singh's Ego corner. I just blab on and brag about things I have accomplished. Enter at your own risk." But there is, in fact, much there of interest:

many audio and video clips of Khwaja Sahib's beloved film songs,
a documentary film from 1984,
and a miscellany of articles and tributes.

Finally, to return to the beginning of this entry, Khwaja Sahib's daughter, Rabiah, has established a Facebook group in his honor.

Thank you, Salman, for my new picture, and you, Rabiah, for the two photos of Khwaja Sahib. And a particular thanks to Khwaja Sahib himself, for all his rich contributions to our world of music.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ye Olde Record Shoppe: New York 1

With the advent of the Internet and the option of digital downloads and online CD purchases, the world of music has seen a significant change in the physical landscape of music sales, particularly where record shops--retail on-the-street establishments specializing exclusively in the sale of pre-recorded discs--are concerned. It has probably been two or three years since I last purchased a recording in a store here in Washington; since the closing of Tower Records (the Wikipedia article on the chain has the caveat "This article's factual accuracy is disputed") here in Washington in 2006, I have used the Internet as the avenue for all my U.S. purchases of new CDs, as well as out-of-print items--for which I have used eBay. Accordingly, I had assumed that the number of U.S. stores specializings in the U.S. had been drastically reduced.

Still, the lost world of actual record shops came flooding into my memory this morning as I was cleaning out my files while I am parked in my temporary office, and came across a folder of old business cards, including one for the Gryphon Record Shop, an establishment on the upper west side of New York City that I used to patronize frequently in the 80's and 90's in search of old and rare items.

Upon calling the number on the card, I was pleased to find that the store still exists, now under the name Westsider Records. Click here for their Website, whose photographs (two included here with permission) filled me with nostalgia for the old days when it was possible to walk into a store, browse at length through the extensive stock, and perhaps buy some joyfully discovered treasure. The store--managed under several owners (most often in combination with the Gryphon Bookshop on Broadway, now also Westsider Books) by Raymond Donnell, a man of great musical knowledge who died in 2008--continues to stock a vast selection of out-of-print long-playing records, as well as more recent CDs. (For those coming of age in the era of the digital CD, or Compact Disc, analog records in the 12" 33 1/3 rpm long-playing format pressed on vinyl were the dominant medium for serious music from the mid-50s into the 90's, and are still considered by most audiophiles to be of superior quality in the "warmth" and "presence" of their sound.)

Another card in the bundle announced the opening of G&A Rare Records, also on 72nd Street: "Gary Allabach, former manager of Gryphon Records and Jerry Gladstein, anounce the opening of an unusual shop for the purchase and sale of LP vinyl records--collections from 10 to 100,000 wanted." A call to the number on the card produced an out-of-service announcement, and a Google search led to a New York Daily News article noting that Allabach, "whose knowledge of records was encyclopedic," died in 1998. Discovering the demise of this store further reinforced my impression of the recent decline of record stores.

I again turned to Google to search to determine the number and diversity of actual record shops in New York City, to test my impression that times have been hard on the retail store. One of the first sites that I found was a 1997 entry on the Website of the Archive for Contemporary Music, (of which more in a subsequent post) which lists dozens of local New York record outlets, often combined with the sale of other products, particularly books. (When you open the Web page, the print is nearly illegible with black type on a dark purple background; but all you need to do to read it easily is highlight the entire page, and it appears as black on a lighter blue.) The witty and erudite annotations are obviously made by ARCMusic's colorful founder, Bob George:

"Horrible pressings, terrific music." "Where does he get his stuff? All the CDs, used or new, are (re)shrinkwrapped. This place has a slightly sleazy feel, albeit homey and harmless." "An odds-bodkin World section that can easily sprout something great for under $6." His listings are certainly comprehensive. For Chinatown: "Stores too numerous to mention. Walk through the ever-expanding Chinatown. . . . (slowly evolving into Thai-Town), jam-packed with video and CD/cassette stores that carry lots of teen Canto-pop with the occasional political Cui Jian or metallic-lite Tang Dynasty album. Gone are the days of Revolutionary People's Opera 102 records."

While George lists 135 record outlets (again, not all exclusively devoted to music sales), a presumably up-to-date listing on broken down into "Music Megastores and Music Store Chains (15); Music Stores (49); Specialty Music Stores (Jazz, Classical, Ethnic) (24); Jazz/Blues/Reggae/Country (1); LP's and Vinyl Records (20); and Websites (4)"--for a total of 113 stores, with many overlaps with George's list 13 years earlier.

In any case, it seems clear that, at least in New York City, the record shop is not an endangered species. I don't have the time to confirm that all the listings in Citidex are current, but the prospects are extensive enough to re-awaken my decades-old itch to collect . . . .

But more of that in later entries.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

And imagine a world without music . . . .

For some time, I've had it in the back of my mind to write about Walter Van Tilberg Clark's chilling story, "The Portable Phonograph," published in 1942 and set some time in the future.

But before proceeding there, let us briefly review the dizzying range of technologies by which music has been recorded, played, and heard (to use the late astronomer Carl Sagan's memorable catch words) "billions and billions" of times in the last 150 years up to the present: through the broadcast media of radio and television, and the Internet (see my last posting); on wax cylinders; on gramophone records (10- and 12-inch 78 rpm, and 7-inch 45 rpm, and 10- and 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm, as well as a wide range of less common sizes and speeds); on magnetic wire and reel-to-reel tape recordings of various materials, sizes, and speeds; on 8-track tapes and "compact cassettes" and micro-cassettes; on digital audio tapes (DAT); on compact discs (CDs), minidiscs, and digital video discs (DVDs); and now on compact flash cards of unprecedented capacity (i.e., hours of continuous recording on an electronic "card" the size of a thumbnail).

But from a tiny flash card which can contain whole symphonies, let us consider a world in which virtually all the technologies mentioned have been lost, a world in which only a small portable wind-up phonograph is left to commemorate the miracle of centuries of music throughout the world.

I read Clark's tale more than once in my youth, though I don't remember which years. But the dark, stark scene captured in that story has haunted me over the decades, even now as a scenario to contemplate, from the rich musical realms of the present, with both gratitude and dread.

* * * * * * *

After three paragraphs describing a chilly, desolate post-apocalyptic world, Clark writes: "Around the smoldering peat four men were seated cross-legged." The ragged quartet's host, an old man, was re-wrapping, "like a prehistoric priest performing a fateful ceremonial ritual," four books--the works of Shakespeare, the Bible, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, and Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy--and he is thanked by one of his companions for his reading from Shakespeare's "The Tempest."

Sensing some further expectation, the host said, grudgingly: "You wish to hear the phonograph."

The youngest of the group responded "anxiously, between suppressed coughs, 'Oh, please,' like an excited child." Slowly, painfully, the old man retrieved a small portable phonograph from its hiding place back in his "cell," carved above a frozen creek "like the mouth of a mine tunnel."

After carefully opening the case containing the phonograph, the old man said: “'I have been using thorns as needles. . . . But tonight, because we have a musician among us'—he bent his head to the young man, almost invisible in the shadow—'I will use a steel needle. There are only three left.'”

A brief discussion ensued as to which to use--the thorns or the needle--but the old man selected one of the three remaining metal needles, saying that he would only play one record: “'In the long run we will remember more that way.'

"He had a dozen records with luxuriant gold and red seals. Even in that light the others could see that the threads of the records were becoming worn. Slowly he read out the titles, and the tremendous, dead names of the composers and the artists and the orchestras. The three worked upon the names in their minds, carefully. It was difficult to select from such a wealth what they would at once most like to remember."

After some discussion, it was decided to play a nocturne by Claude Debussy--the young musician's choice.

"At the first notes of the piano the listeners were startled. They stared at each other. Even the musician lifted his head in amazement, but then quickly bowed it again, strainingly, as if he were suffering from a pain he might not be able to endure."

The four men listened, motionless.

"The wet, blue-green notes tinkled forth from the old machine. . . The individual, delectable presences swept into a sudden tide of unbearably beautiful dissonance, and then continued fully the swelling and ebbing of that tide, the dissonant inpourings, and the resolutions, and the diminishments, and the little, quiet wavelets of interlude lapping between. . . In all the men except the musician, there occurred rapid sequences of tragically heightened recollection. He heard nothing but what was there."

The story ends with the group disbanding, agreeing to meet in a week to listen to another record. The host carefully replaced his treasures--the books, the phonograph, and the records--in their hiding place, a hole in the back of his cell, covered by a board and then raw earth until nothing unusual was visible. Aware of the inestimable value of what he has hidden, the old man lay down to sleep facing the entrance of his cell:

"On the inside of the bed, next to the wall, he could feel with his hand, the comfortable piece of lead pipe."

Let us treasure all the music that we now have . . . . .

All the music in the world . . .

Listening to music reproduced by mechanical and/or electronic means has increasingly become a fundamental aspect of the human experience over the of the last century. Today, most of us take that experience for granted.

A recent VOA news story highlights the release of Apple's latest iPod:

"Fans cheered as Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled the company's redesigned iPod music players in San Francisco, California, the smallest one just slightly bigger than a person's thumb."

Of course I have my own iPod and iPhone, both of which allow me to have access at any time to hundreds of hours of whatever music I have chosen. And I have my laptop, with its own vast iTunes library of many different types of music.

Music, it seems, now has not only infinite portability, but an unprecedented accessibility from myriad sources on the Internet. An earlier posting here features an interview with Tim Westergren, founder of the leading on-line "radio" station, Pandora. And a Google search of "online radio stations" brings up an astonishing 6,620,000 hits!

YouTube in particular offers possibilities of virtually unlimited availability of western popular music, (as well as potentially infinite options for the propagation of various genres of music from around the world.) Of all the hundreds --thousands?--of popular music songs on the internal playlist of my life, there is only one that I have been unable to locate on YouTube: "Got No One" by (as far as I can recall--the 45 rpm disc is long misplaced) The Delgados. In the years following my life as a teenager until today, Sanford Clark's "The Fool" from 1956 has always been my secret "here's one I bet you don't remember!" item of musical trivia. Yet that rarely heard and marvelously innocent proto-Elvis song has multiple entries on YouTube, with the first focusing on a still photograph, of the 10-inch 78 rpm record itself, which morphs dramatically into a video of that very disc spinning on an old-style portable record player (keep that image in mind as you read my next posting . . . . )

And speaking of YouTube: that Website has provided us with the opportunity to create (at no cost whatsoever!) our own new VOAWorldMusic video channel with world-wide accessibility. VOA English Producer Steve Frank's rendition of his fine original song, "The Immigrants," is now online--the first video of several performances to be posted from within the VOA community.

With this enormous universe of online music in mind, I'm moved to consider the alternative in my next posting: a world virtually bereft of music, with echoes of what little remains being treasured almost as much as life itself . . . .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Following Falu (Falguni Shah), "Sufi rock singer"

Video excerpts of my 2008 interview with singer-songwriter Falu (Falguni Shah) are now posted on the new YouTube VOAWorldMusic channel. It seems worthwhile to note that in the ensuing period since that interview, Falu and her group have performed at a number of prestige venues, including Carnegie Hall and Joe's Pub in New York City (with several performances at each) and the Monterey Jazz Festival in California; she also will be appearing at The Rubin Museum of Art in New York this coming October. Since the interview she has collaborated with such well-known musical figures as Philip Glass, DJ Rekha, Blues Traveler, and perhaps most notably, in two appearances with India's musical giant A. R. Rahman (who won two Oscars, for Best Soundtrack and Best Song, for his participation in the film Slumdog Millionaire) on two occasions, the latter being in November 2009 at the White House for President Obama's first State Dinner as President, given in honor of India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

My interview provided the basis for a fine brief video feature produced by VOA's senior correspondent Ravi Khanna, including a short excerpt of "Copper Can", one of Falu's most compelling songs.

Later in the year I posted more extensive excerpts from my interview (filmed by the ever-capable Ilyas Khan of VOA's Urdu Service) in an extensive report on this blog, which appears below for those interested:

Falu, a.k.a. Falguni Shah, was kind enough to give me a television interview when she was in Washington as the opening act for the Pakistani supergroup Junoon.

I began the interview by asking Falu who her first music teacher was:

In the course of her answer, after crediting her mother for her initial training, she refers to her next teacher, Ustad Sultan Khan. (The term "ustad", on one level, is roughly equivalent to "maestro" among Muslim musicians, and is used on another level to describe one's honored teacher, equivalent to "guru" among Hindu musicians.) She also appends the honorific "Sahib" after his name, again as a sign of respect. You may notice her touching her ear when she says his name--this, too, is a customary indication of humility when speaking of one's ustad or guru, or of some great musical figure of the past. (The gesture is distantly related to the practice in South Asia of having naughty children cross their arms and pull both ears, sometimes while bouncing up and down as though sitting on their heels, as penance for bad behavior. . . .)

Ustad Sultan Khan is one of the world's leading masters of the sarangi, a fiendishly difficult box fiddle with a skin head, four main strings, and up to 40 sympathetic strings, with a haunting sound and expressiveness close to that of the human voice--which accounts for the fact that it historically has been used to accompany classical vocalists, mimicking almost exactly their improvisations after a split second.

Falu next mentions that she studied singing in the purely classical style with Vandana Katti, a disciple (the customary word for lifetime student) of Kishori Amonkar, one of the greatest vocalists in the Hindustani (Northern South Asian) style of classical music. She represents the Jaipur gharana, or musical/hereditary tradition associated with the princely Indian city of Jaipur. (I'll have more to say on the phenomenon of gharana in a later post.)

Next I asked Falu whether she remembered her first lesson, playful or formal:

Demonstrating how she was taught as a baby being fed by her mother, she sings (very quickly) the seven basic notes of the basic musical scale, or sargam, prevalent in South Asia (the same basic musical system exists in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well, but in common parlance--and hereafter in this blog--the music is generally referred to as "Indian" music.). The word sargam is formed from the first three of the seven basic notes, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni (Sa), which correspond roughly to the western Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti (Do). Click here for my more detailed description of the Indian sargam.)

She then sings the sargam--in a scale corresponding to the western major scale--shifted up one tone, in a musical process called modulation (key or chord change) in the west, but keeping the same names for the notes, since there is no absolute pitch in Indian music.

Then she changes the scale to that based on another mode or raga, Bhairav, with a flatted second (flat Re/Re) and sixth (flat Dha/La) and the rest of the notes natural. A raga is the format for the basic melodic structure in Indian music; click here for my brief definition of raga.

When I asked her what brought her to the U.S., she replied that while she felt extremely loyal to her classical Indian roots, she was attracted by western music and its various genres: jazz, blues, rock and pop, and the opportunities they offered her for innovation:

Knowing that improvisation is an integral part of Indian classical music, I was curious as to what circumstances led to her writing her first song. Her answer was immediate!

The next logical question was: "What was that first original song?"

Toward the end of her answer, I couldn't suppress a brief off-mike reference to "Both Sides Now", the seminal song by the legendary Joni Mitchell, and she agreed: "Yes, blame the clouds!"

She notes that the song was based on a classical raga, Bairagi Bhairav, a pentatonic (five-tone) raga, with the scale Sa Reb Ma Pa Nib (Sa) (Do Reb Fa Sol Tib (Do)--the "b" indicating the flat interval. In the course of the song, for a brief passage she actually sings the sargam of the scale, with the names of the notes as the words! (If I may be permitted a comment in my capacity of ethnomusicologist: the blending of Indian elements--including the raga--with a western pop sensibility and instrumental idiom in "Hey Baby" is stunningly effective, to the extend that no western listener is likely to hear anything foreign in the song, while at the same time someone familiar with South Asian classical music will most probably recognize immediately, at least subconsciously, the modal structure.)

Finally, I referred to one reviewer's description of her as the happiest singer he had ever heard. Her response:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"The Immigrants" - an original song by VOA's Steve Frank

The attached video of "The Immigrants (click here), an original folk song composed and sung by VOA's Steve Frank, marks the reactivation of this blog, VOAWorldMusic. "The Immigrants" was composed several years ago after Steve observed--from the sidelines--an immigration rally here in Washington. The rally was protesting the idea of a barrier between Mexico and the U.S. After this experience, Steve was moved to compose, in the hours beyond the office, this original song, very much in the tradition of American folk music, which acknowledges the role of immigration in the history of the United States.

By replacing "they" with "we" in the last stanza, the lyrics subtly emphasize the fact that virtually every living American--except those descended from the original Native Americans--has participated in the immigrant heritage.

By day, Steve Frank is the Executive Television Producer for the English Division of the Voice of America. But this year (2010), Steve volunteered his hitherto shadowed singer-songwriter identity to perform his song as the opening offering in VOA's ninth annual Diversity Day Talent Show, which showcased a roster of accomplished artists--musicians, dancers, and actors--selected entirely from VOA's eight Language Divisions. In the coming days this blog will present further video examples of the 2010 Diversity Day performances, to the extent permitted by copyright.

VOA's Diversity Day is sponsored by the Office of Civil Rights of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is VOA's parent agency; the BBG is comprised of all the U.S. civilian international broadcasting entities.

More to come . . . . .

Note: The blogspot platform (which currently hosts VOAWorldMusic) somehow no longer enables significant video content--hence the creation today of the VOAWorldMusic space on YouTube. We will continue to explore further avenues to bring video content to this blog's coverage, on behalf of VOA, of world music.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Musical memorials: the barsi, and death anniversaries in South Asia

In South Asian musical culture, the annual observation of the barsi--or death anniversary--of a deceased musician in a memorial concert is an important event.

In any musician's family--particularly if the one being honored is a hereditary musician--this occasion is one of the high points of the musical year, and provides a unique opportunity for surviving family members who are also practitioners of the musical art, as well as disciples and other musicians, to perform in tribute to and veneration of the departed.

At the performance, the venue may range from a musician's simple home to a large public auditorium. Prominently placed will be a portrait of the singer or instrumentalist being honored, with the customary flower garland (mala) or set of garlands draped around the picture, as are the pictures of some revered religious deity in a home or temple. In some cases the musician's instrument may be given a place of honor.

The occasion combines elements of both joy (in celebration of the life of the one being honored) and grief--the latter particularly in the first year anniversary of the honoree's death, and especially if the death was untimely. But as the number of years pass, the celebratory aspect gradually displaces the element of sadness and loss.

The word barsi is derived from the Hindi word baras, or year, which is in turn derived from the Sanskrit barsh, of the same meaning, and similar observations are conducted in a wide variety of non-musical--but very often religious--contexts. For example, a simple Google search of "barsi" in combination with "death anniversary" yields some 5,500 hits, many referring to the event in Muslim or Sikh culture.

As in many areas of South Asian life, there are consonant practices between musicians and religious mystics. For example, the discipline of chilla--a forty-day retreat focusing on practice (for the musician) or meditation (for the Muslim mystic)--is found both in Hindustani classical music and the mystical Sufi tradition in Islam. (Forty day austerities are found in other cultures as well, as in the examples of Christ and Buddha, the latter having attained enlightenment after a forty-day fast under the Bodhi tree.)

The celebrations of the death anniversaries of Muslim Sufi saints are among the cultural highlights of religious life in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The event is known as an 'urs, from the Arabic root for "marriage"--i.e., the marriage, or union, of the saint with the Divine--and takes place at the dargah, or tomb, of the saint, usually with performances of the style of group singing known as qavvali (also qawwali)--the genre of Muslim devotional singing brought to worldwide prominence by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan of Pakistan. (You can find numerous examples of his dynamic performances on YouTube).

For example, the annual 'urs for the great saint Moinuddin Chishti (1141-1230) in the Indian city of Ajmer, lasts six days, and draws pilgrims of all faiths--Hindu, Sikh, and Christian as well as Muslim--from all over the Subcontinent, with nightly singing of qavvali

When I was in Pakistan in the mid 1970s, I was able to attend the last night of the 'urs for Ali Hujwiri (990-1077), popularly known as Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh, in Lahore. The death anniversary of Hujwiri draws hundreds of thousands every year, and is a moving and memorable experience for anyone attending, both for the spirited qavvali reverberating through the night, as well as the passionate devotion of the saint's followers. A three-part video of a recent qavvali performance at the shrine can be found here (in a YouTube search for "Data Darbar").

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dudamel in New York: The new versus the old

Gustavo Dudamel (see my earlier blog entry) made his first appearance in New York's Avery Fisher Hall last week as the new conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic last Thursday. A review of this event by Anthony Tommasini, again in the New York Times, noted aspects of the performance that the critic found to be the triumphal, as well as what he found to be the conductor's shortcomings:

"Mr. Dudamel is a phenomenally gifted musician with the potential to change the public perception of what an American orchestra should be. The ovation was ecstatic, and a group of patriotic fans in the top balcony waved a large Venezuelan flag. In response, he conducted an encore, the waltz from Bernstein’s 'Divertimento.'

"But Mr. Dudamel has to tend to the technical maintenance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and may need to spend more time, as the Tchaikovsky performance suggested, immersing himself in the repertory."

A survey of other reviews of the Philharmonic's performances around the country in Dudamel's inaugural year as Music Director reflects both aspects of Tommasini's critique, as summarized in excellent fashion in Tom Huisenga's report on NPR: "Cut Him Some Slack: Dudamel's Hype Turns To Drubbing." (The report also includes a link a YouTube video clip of Dudamel in conducting his inaugural concert in his term as the Music Director of the Philharmonic.) In his case, as in that of 40 year old Alan Gilbert , the new Music Director of the New York Philharmonic (see previous blog entry), there are the eternal tensions between youth and enthusiasm and energy, and age and experience, and in the needs of a cultural organization to maintain its established clientele at the same time as seeking new audiences.

Orpheus' Almanac: 24 May - PART 2 - The New York Philharmonic

"Orchestra's Opera Gamble" reads the headline from The New York Times (actually, yesterday's Sunday edition, again via today's Google News) of the review by critic Daniel J. Wakin,who asks with disbelief:

"A contemporary surrealist opera at the New York Philharmonic?

"About the end of the world?

"On Memorial Day weekend?

"What are they thinking over there at Avery Fisher Hall?"

Almost all musical programming organizations, in the past as well as today (symphony orchestras included), have to find the proper balance to strike between "old" and "new" music.

The latter term has a distinct connotation in the New York music scene in particular, but for our purposes it here it means only that--music that is new, and presumably has some characteristic differing from "old" music. See the Wikipedia article on Contemporary Music for a somewhat extended discussion of new music in the broader sense--including a section on "world music".

The history of musical development has an endless sequence of developments in which revolutionary music eventually becomes an accepted part of the canon ("a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works ", which in turn is assaulted by compositions with new approaches which are usually seen as being outrageous by the mainstream.

To return to our review of the New York Philharmonic, Waken explains that "The Philharmonic is presenting the New York premiere production of the earthily absurdist opera 'Le Grand Macabre' by György Ligeti [1923 – 2006], first performed in 1978, on [the coming] Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings [of the Memorial Day weekend}. It is a risky gambit for the orchestra and its new music director, Alan Gilbert, who have invested a lot of resources and hopes in the production. They are framing the performances as the signature event of Mr. Gilbert’s first season and a harbinger of things to come."

Wakin goes on to describe the economic implications of the unconventional programming strategy, which he says causes Gilbert no great concern: “'I feel like there’s a risky element, which I’m enjoying,'” [Gilbert] said. Preparations for the work have galvanized the orchestra’s staff and created a shared sense of purpose, he said, and while subscribers have generally shunned the performances, Mr. Gilbert said he expected that 'Le Grand Macabre' would draw many newcomers to Avery Fisher Hall."

The issues raised in such a venture remind me of my childhood visits to the Denver Symphony Orchestra, when my father, who like many of the New York Philharmonic's subscribers, had conservative musical tastes, and was sometimes indignant at the very occasional "new" (but not necessarily avante-garde) composition. He used to say, with a mischievous smile, that his idea of the perfect concert piece was "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage", by Felix Mendelssohn, which he much preferred to Igor Stravinsky's riot-causing Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, premiered in Paris 1913), which, thanks to my brother Barnard's introducing me to this surging masterpiece, became the defining classical music of my childhood--the ideal soundtrack to the darkling yet visionary science-fiction writings that were my literary obsession of the time.

As for Gilbert and his programming philosophy for the Philharmonic, change always has its detractors, is evident in a somewhat related music story which involves the moderate controversy that has arisen from the appointment of 29 year old Gustavo Dudamel as the new Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic--see the following entry (as well as my earlier blog entry on Dudamel and Il Sistema).

Orpheus' Almanac: 24 May - PART 1 - Afghanistan and Iraq

Today I am exploring a new feature for VOAWorldMusic--a musical "almanac" (for want of a better word) based on a variety of information regarding music in the world, ranging from media features encountered in the course of the day to statistics, such as events, births, and deaths on this particular day in history.

And for the moment I'm titling it "Orpheus' Almanac", in reference to the legendary poet-musician among the Greeks, a figure appearing in many dramatic representations, from early Greek poetry to the 1959 Brazilian film, Black Orpheus, directed by Marcel Camus. Orpheus' name itself is evocative of music, and so used here in honor of the irrepressible human impulse to musicality. . . .

[I am now writing after the above introduction, and at the end of the first day's survey. Given the volume of writing generated by this effort, I'll break this experiment up into three pieces, and then set it aside for the time being as being too large in scope to be a regular feature of this blog. The text below is a continuation of the original piece.]

I decide top begin my survey of material for this "alamanac" entry, I consult Google News today, and select the third story on "music" (at the time I accessed it) as most appropriate for "world music". The piece is titled "Feel-good stories about music in Iraq, Afghanistan", by the Baltimore Sun's classical music critic, Tim Smith (his bio is on this blog page).

He writes first about The Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul "where young people are eagerly learning instruments, Western ones and those from the region. Just a decade ago, in the neo-medieval days of the Taliban, instrumental music was banned entirely, and only songs of worship or praise to the Taliban were officially permitted."

Coincidentally, I had last week received an e-mail from Samir Chatterjee, a leading New York- based tabla master (see, with a link to a Wall Street Journal story by Lara Pellegrinelli on 21 March, entitled "An Upbeat Afghan Story", also about the Institute, and noting Samir's involvement:

"Renowned tabla player Samir Chatterjee, a native of Calcutta, India, who lives in New Jersey, has been leading efforts to establish the Department of Afghan Traditional Music; Hindustani musicians from northern India introduced classical music to the Afghan court in the 1860s, making the two traditions closely related.

"On his trips to Kabul, Mr. Chatterjee stays in a guest house under the watchful eyes of armed security. He travels to and from his drumming classes by car; each day brings a different driver and a different serpentine route. Mr. Chatterjee made one special road trip last year to recruit faculty, which involved tracking down musicians in the mountain caves of Jalalabad—while he was held at gunpoint, he mentions casually. 'I'm absolutely not a romantic,' he says. 'I try to be careful. At the same time, what is this life worth if I spend it in my living room?'"

I know from personal experience how much Indian musicians enjoyed playing at the court of the King of Afghanistan in the period prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979. Both the late Ustad Vilayat Khan, the eminent sitar master, and his younger brother, Ustad Imrat Khan (as well as numerous other musicians I knew less well) spoke with the greatest nostalgia of performing for King Zahir Shah. And even today in Washington, the members of the Afghan diaspora (some of whom, along with immigrants from neighboring Pakistan, hold a virtual monopoly on the Washington Flyer taxi service from Dulles Airport) regularly host concerts by visiting Indian classical artists of repute.

I'll be sharing these stories with my colleagues in VOA's Dari and Pashto Services, in the hope that they'll be able to do further coverage. . . .

Back to Tim Smith's article in the Sun: "Meanwhile, in Iraq, [Llewellyn Kingman Sanchez Werner], a 13-year-old pianist from California, son of an official from a US investment firm working in Baghdad, debuted over the weekend with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, playing [George] Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." As the young Julliard School graduate told the AP, "Several mistakes from my country have been made in terms of invasion and occupation. But me being here today is one way to show the U.S. has a lot of wonderful things to offer." You can see raw AP footage of the concert here on YouTube.

Smith's conclusion: "Music doesn't win wars or quell conflicts, but it sure can help remind us of the bonds we share as human beings, and it just might make a difference in how we treat each other. That, at least, is something worth hoping for in Afghanistan, Iraq and everywhere." (See the questions asked in my 1 May manifesto. . . .)

. . . . . To be continued

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Musical Manifesto for May First

Musicians and music lovers of the world, unite!

There is no question that music is one of the unifying forces in human society, a force which breaks down barriers and establishes avenues of communication, understanding, and love among the diverse branches of the human species.

And on this day (for me the beginning of a new musical year), I like to ask:

What is music? What is its role in our lives? Why is it so inseparable from the most basic human experiences?

The current state of music in the world is that literally millions of people--sometimes as themselves, sometimes forming groups with individuals of similar convictions, sometimes aspiring to national stature, sometimes challenging and crossing an incredible complex of difficult, even deadly, boundaries—are committing their efforts to musical offerings, statements, masterpieces, or even failures, from no less a primal source than their very souls, and their deepest and most sacred dreams and hopes of simply connecting with other beings, with the prospect of sharing the magic of music with those who care to—or have the opportunity to—or are (by those around them) forced to—listen . . . .

Music is the other language of today’s media—sometimes called the lingua-franca of this world, of human hearts and throats and tongues, and if it is not too much to wish for, of the souls of our fellow inhabitants of this complex, constantly changing, and constantly challenging planet (to our immediate knowledge, and infinite loneliness: the only proof-positive of the presence of life within the vastness of the perceivable universe. . . . )

So let us sing, let us play the music of our hands and voices and hearts; let us celebrate the myriad musics of our pluralistic world, to accompany the ultimate poetry and drama and philosophy of this miraculous—and yet gloriously ordinary—existence we share together today, and we hope, tomorrow.

When we think about music, many questions arise:

Why, since the dawn of human existence, have we been moved to sing, or to create musical instruments, however primitive, and play them?

Similarly, why has song, for millennia, been so fundamental an expression of the human spirit?

Why do humans sing when alone, as in tending herds of sheep, or together in vast choruses in towering cathedrals?

What joy, what fulfillment, is achieved by creating some new piece of music?

What reward is to be found in playing the music created by someone else?

Why are lullabies almost universal among human societies?

Why are gramophone records, or 45s, or long-playing records, or cassettes, or CDs, or now Mp3s such important cultural artifacts collected by millions with such devotion and often at considerable expense?

Why are the musical aspects of radio and television so fundamental to our culture?

Why is the music industry so huge?

Why is music used as a mobilizing force for religion, for sports competition, for war?

Why is music so important for dancing, or other bodily expressions?

Why is some music considered profane or even erotic, and other music held to be sacred?

Why is music used as enhancement for plays, for films, or for advertisements?

Why is music sometimes used as an element of torture?

Why can music provoke such strong feelings, either negative or positive, to send people dancing and celebrating in the streets, or to threaten or even kill those who propagate music, either by performing it or by being merchants of music?

Why does every nation have a national anthem?

Why does virtually ever religion have some sort of liturgy, or hymns, to awaken and enhance religious feelings, whether of humility, or celebration, or joy?

Why can music be divisive, in separating generations, social groups, or national entities?

Why can a bugle, or drums, motivate soldiers to fight and kill?

Why is song, or at least music, so intricately intertwined with expressions of love?

Why do hymns and songs assist in comforting in times of grief and loss?

Why can music constitute an expression of absolute, transcendent joy?

Why does some music make us laugh, some make us weep?

Why can the cacophony, or sheer boredom, of one musical expression as perceived by one individual or group, express the quintessential nature of another individual or cultural or national expression for which it is a source of pleasure, inspiration, or succor?

Why are new avenues of musical expression and innovation constantly sought?

Then again, why are the newest musical creations and styles able to generate extreme hostility, even violence, as well as an exultant sense of discovery and liberation?

Why is it that music is able to bring people together in extraordinary displays of unity and common purpose, even across lines and divisions that otherwise promote violence and even slaughter?

Why are some simple sounds pleasing to some, and anathema to others.

Why is there such an extraordinary diversity of musics in the myriad cultures of the world?

How can one song or collection of songs mobilize an entire social movement, or express and comfort the aspirations and despairs of an entire generation, or a dissonant splinter group?

Why is song, and not just words, used to tell the history, sometimes in entire epics, of a tribal group that exists without the benefit of literacy?

Why can music bring such an intense, even mystical, personal experience, associated as it is with the process of memory and nostalgia?

How does human music relate to the unchallengeable musicality of bird song, or the songs of whales?

Why do the songs of insects and other creatures have, to the human ear, musical qualities?

What is the relationship of music to science and mathematics—as in the Music of the Spheres, or the Pythagorean considerations of music.

Brian Q. Silver
07.18.08, rev. 05.01.10

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Once again, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on any of these matters, and continuing to share the rich experience of music with you.