Waltz of the Chickadee (CD review)

Cool CD Cover

Cool CD Cover

My friends, Jessica and Robert, sent me the lastest CD by Mike and Ruthy as a get well gift. They even got it signed.

I cannot imagine a better way of recuperating than listening to Mike and Ruthy’s great mix of music.  There are songs and instrumental numbers.  Some of the songs are great political commentaries, and the instrumental numbers include fast folk dance tunes, including a great mandolin solo by Jay Ungar on Dust Bowl Blues.  It was this mix that caused me to fall in love with The Mammals in the first place.    If nothing else, I am inspired to start playing my mandolin again.

My Mum even approved, which is high praise indeed as both my parents are committed classical music listeners.  They scorn other kinds of music, but Mum commented on this CD without me saying who it was.  She even asked who was playing the fiddle and said she could see why I liked them.

Hopefully, I’ll get to see them in concert before the year is out.

Music Monday: The World in Six Songs, Daniel Levitin, A Book Review

Can the World be described by six songs? If so, what would the topics be and why? The question Daniel Levitin tries to answer in his new book “The World in Six Songs” actually appears to be can songs be divided into six categories? He obviously thinks so and his six themes are Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion and Love. The book is more than that, as he also describes how music effects us, emotional and mentally. He, like many musicians, myself included, is convinced that music does have a positive effect on us:

For example, we know that singing releases endorphins (again, a “feel good” hormone) but why is not known; and this lack of causal understanding makes many scientists uncomfortable about the connection between singing and endorphins.

However, he accepts that this means that he has a bias when it comes to research:

Scientists are in the business of wanting proof for everything, and I find myself caught somewhere in the metaphysical middle on this issue. As a musician, I’m reminded on a daily basis of the utterly ineffable, indescribable power of music.

But unfortunately current research showing this effect of music just has not been done, or done badly if it has been done at all:

On the research front, many of the studies on the effectiveness of music therapy are not performed to rigorous scientific standards, and so their claims remain unproven.

In fact, he goes on to compare some of the music therapy research with research done with potential psychic sense and not positively.

His thesis is a continuation of the thesis first presented to us in his first book, “Your Brain on Music” in which he totally disagrees with Steven Pinker who refers to music as “auditory cheesecake” meaning that our appreciation of music is an enjoyable side effect of language development. When I first read this quote from Pinker I decided that Pinker must be tone deaf and obviously has never MADE music himself. So it seems that I share the same bias as Levitin.  Levitin does suggest that since neurochemical states in the brain motivate us to act and emotion and motivations evolved together; the fact that music makes us feel good it motivates us to… fall in love, feel happy, get more energy and go to work, learn tasks, follow religion and so on.

But how does this fit with songs?  What is a song? Anything sung, apparently:

By definition, “a song” is a musical composition intended or adapted for singing. One thing the definition leaves unclear is who does the adapting. Does the adaptation have to be constructed by a professional composer or orchestrator, as when Jon Hendricks took Charlie Parker solos and added scat lyrics (nonsense syllables) to them, or when John Denver took Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and added lyrics to the melody? I don’t think so. If I sing the intro guitar riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones (as my friends and I used to do frequently when we were eleven years old), I am the one who has done the adapting, and even if separated from the vocal parts of that song, this melodic line then stands alone and becomes a “song”: by virtue of my friends and I singing it. More to the point, you can sing “As Time Goes By” with the syllable “la” and never sing the words – you may have never have seen Casablanca and you may not even know that the composition has words – and it becomes a song by virtue of you singing it.

He concentrates mostly on popular music because he is mostly interested in what music makes us tick:

I’m particularly interested in that portion of musical compositions that people remember, carry around in their heads long after the sound has died out, sounds that people try to repeat later in time, to play for other; the sounds that comfort them, invigorate them, and draw them closer together.

The discussion in the book was hard to follow as I lacked the depth of music knowledge required. It should have come with a CD. I have since discovered that clips of the songs are on the book’s website. Unfortunately, the book I read is back at the library. Perhaps when it comes out it paperback and I have time to read it leisurely, over the summer rather than during the first month of a new semester at a new college teaching new classes, I might try again and work through some of his arguments.

I enjoyed “This is Your Brain on Music” which was about the neuroscience behind our responses to music. It was fascinating. I tried to review it but found the detail overwhelming. I still have part 2 of my review in my drafts folder!

Other References

http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Carroll_C98.html
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/09/03/survival_of_the_harmonious/
http://nanopolitan.wordpress.com/2006/09/24/is-steven-pinker-right-about-the-evolutionary-irrelevance-of-music/
http://ebbolles.typepad.com/babels_dawn/2006/09/did_music_prepa.html

Music Monday: Mandolin

8 strings

8 strings

I just bought myself a new instrument.  I have been wanting one since Ashoken Camp.  Isn’t beautiful?

Pegs

Peg Board

Now I have to find out if I can really play it.  At the moment I need to build up calluses on my left fingers so that I can hold those steel strings down.  I also need to build up strength in my left little finger so it can hold strings down.

I found a few websites for mandolin players. Folk in the Woods has lessons.  They are on everything from how to hold a mandolin right to how to play more complicated melodies.  I might just have to buy his DVD.

Mandolin Cafe seems to be the place for mandolin players but I haven’t had much time to explore it yet.  I would rather be playing than reading the internet.

Having the mandolin has already achieved my first objective – more music making.  As I cannot play for long without getting blisters, I found that I would sing once my fingers started complaining.  The mandolin got me started and then my desire for music making took over.

Here is a picture of the whole thing:

Mandolin

Mandolin

It is a Rover and I purchased it from Elderly Instruments. I love it!  Expect to hear more about this new music adventure of mine in the future.

Music Monday: Tom Russell

Tom Russell

Tom Russell

On Friday Aug 29th Tom Russell was in concert at the World Cafe in Philadelphia. He is a singer-songwriter from Texas who writes topical songs that are quasi-political.  Yesterday (Sunday Sept 7) he was on NPR’s Weekend Edition talking about the impetus behind the song “Whose gonna build your wall?” which was the first song of his that I heard over a year ago (?). I was impressed enough to purchase the EP which lead me to hear some of his other songs and and I finally attended his concert.

Naturally as I am very selective about who I go to see, the concert was excellent.  One exciting moment was when feedback from the microphone somehow caused his guitar to bust a string or two.  He did, thankfully, sing Whose Gonna Build Your Wall as I would not have forgiven him otherwise, but otherwise he said his show was mostly new songs, which were great.  He has an anthology coming out in Oct so I intend to buy that to catch up with my Tom Russell history.  Unsurprisingly, he seems to have performed or co-written songs with every one – that is the folk music world is small.

Michael Martin on mandolin with Tom Russell

Michael Martin on mandolin with Tom Russell

Michael Martin accompanied Tom Russell on lead guitar, mandolin and high harmonies. He was an amazing performer increasing my mandolin desires exponentially.  I want a mandolin NOW!  I am surprised that I did not phone up a music store and buy a mandolin the next day.  Probably doing my accounts before I made the call was a good move.

More photos.

As always photos copyright © 2008 cdavies.  Please ask for permission before using.

Music Monday: Ashokan Southern Week

Instruments at Ashokan

Instruments at Ashokan

I was thinking that I didn’t have any pictures for Music Monday, but if you click on the photograph it will take you to the set of almost 100 pictures I selected from the over 400 that I took two weeks ago at Ashokan Fiddle and Dance camp: Southern Week.

It was an amazing week. Due to the exhaustion I suffered working and playing hard at Ashokan, I rarely went to bed before 1 am and regularly got up by 8 am the next morning, I was unable to do any posts early last week! Next time I will have two weeks of posts lined up so I do not have to worry about neglecting my blog readers.

I should write any essay about the week, but it was very aural – even the pictures don’t satisfy the senses. You would have to put at least three CD players on all playing different music:

Cajun

Courtney playing fiddle

Courtney playing fiddle

Appalachian Old Timey Music:

Radio Hour Initial Jam

Radio Hour Initial Jam

Playing alone on a guitar or fiddle

Fiddler

Fiddler

and don’t forget singing

Singing Group and Campers Night

Singing Group and Campers' Night

and dancing:

Dancing

Dancing

Conclusion for me:

  • As I suspected, the singing style results being very low in my voice so I do not find it as enjoyable as classical choir, but I can do it and it is good to use that part of my voice.
  • I cannot find rhythms easily under pressure and, while it looks fairly straight forward, flatfoot dancing is hard. As shown in this video:
  • I tried both mandolin and accordion and decided that a mandolin would be more fun and I could sing at the same time as playing. I have every intention of getting one in the next month or so.

As you expected all photos  copyright ©2008 cdavies. Can be used with permission.

Music Monday: Mike and Ruthy Videos and Pete & Tao Concerts

Ammuse has a review of Mike and Ruthy’s June 25th concert at the Colony Cafe, Woodstock and has posted some videos from the concert:

I also found out that Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez Seeger and Guy Davis are performing at Sellersville on August 6th.  What a night that will be.  Pete et al., are currently touring bits of Canada, one of their concerts was reviewed by Moose Wanderings.