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Posts Tagged ‘music’

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Photo: American Kennel Club
Most species respond to music, just not in the same way humans do.

Now that you have absorbed yesterday’s post on the responsiveness of cheese to music, it should come as no surprise that mammals, birds, and fish also have an affinity for music.

University of Amsterdam professor of music cognition Henkjan Honing writes at Nautilus, “We are all born with a predisposition for music, a predisposition that develops spontaneously and is refined by listening to music. Nearly everyone possesses the musical skills essential to experiencing and appreciating music. … Is musicality something uniquely human? Or do we share musicality with other animals. …

“By the beginning of the 20th century, Ivan Pavlov had discovered that dogs could remember a single tone and associate it with food. Wolves and rats also recognize members of their own species by the perfect pitch of their call and can also differentiate tones. The same applies to starlings and rhesus macaques. …

“Zebra finches turn out to focus mostly on the musical aspects of [sequences, as opposed to the order]. This does not mean they are insensitive to the order … but it is mainly the differences in pitch (intonation), duration, and dynamic accents [that] they use to differentiate the sequences. …

“Humans may share a form of musical listening with zebra finches, a form of listening in which attention is paid to the musical aspects of sound (musical prosody), not to the syntax and semantics that humans heed so closely in speech. … The research on starlings and zebra finches reveals that songbirds use the entire sound spectrum to gather information. They appear to have a capacity for listening ‘relatively,’ that is, on the basis of the contours of the timbre, intonation, and dynamic range of the sound. …

“What we know for sure is that humans, songbirds, pigeons, rats, and some fish (such as goldfish and carp) can easily distinguish between different melodies. It remains highly questionable, though, whether [animals] do so in the same way as humans do, that is, by listening to the structural features of the music.

“A North American study using koi carp — a fish species that, like goldfish, hears better than most other fish — offers an unusual example. Carp are often called ‘hearing specialists’ because of their good hearing. The sensitivity of a carp’s hearing can be compared to the way sounds might be heard over a telephone line: Though quality may be lacking in the higher and lower ranges, the carp will hear most of the sounds very clearly.

“Three koi — Beauty, Oro, and Pepi — were housed in an aquarium at Harvard University’s Rowland Institute, where they had already participated in a variety of other listening experiments. … In the discrimination experiment, the koi were exposed to compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and the blues singer John Lee Hooker to see whether they could differentiate between the two. In the categorization experiment, the koi were tested to see if they could classify a composition as belonging to either the blues or the classical genre. In the latter experiment, they were alternately exposed to recordings of different blues singers and classical composers ranging from Vivaldi to Schubert.

“The surprising outcome was that all three koi were able to distinguish not only between compositions by John Lee Hooker and Bach, but also between the blues and classical genres in general. The fish appeared to be able to generalize, to correctly classify a new, as yet unheard piece of music based on a previously learned distinction. …

“Rock doves, too, [pigeons] can distinguish between compositions by Bach and Stravinsky. And, like carp, rock doves can also generalize what they have learned from only two pieces of music to other, unfamiliar pieces of music. They can even distinguish between compositions by contemporaries of Bach and Stravinsky. …

“These species can do all of this with no significant listening experience. … This, in itself, is an exceptional trait. Most likely it is a successful tactic to generate food. Yet it still offers no insight into the ‘perception, if not the enjoyment,’ of music. That may be one aspect of musicality that belongs to humans alone.”

More at Nautilus, here. And while we are on the subject of critters’ artistic sensibilities, be sure to read the children’s book This is a Poem that Heals Fish. Hat tip: The inestimable Brainpickings.

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Delicious array of gourmet cheese on a platter

Photo: Foodandmore

Dear Readers, You know that you have been wondering why the taste of cheese changes depending on what music it was exposed to during the aging process. So much more agreeable than wondering who the next president will be or “why the sea is boiling hot,” to quote the prescient Lewis Carroll!

Well, wonder no more. Jason Daley at the Smithsonian has the musical cheese story covered.

The creation of good cheese involves a complex dance between milk and bacteria. In a quite literal sense, playing the right tune while this dance unfolds changes the final product’s taste, a new study shows.

“Denis Balibouse and Cecile Mantovani at Reuters report that hip-hop, for example, gave the cheese an especially funky flavor, while cheese that rocked out to Led Zeppelin or relaxed with Mozart had milder zests.

“Last September, Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler [whose day job is as a veterinarian] and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in individual wooden crates in Wampfler’s cheese cellar. Then, for the next six months each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels.

“The ‘classical’ cheese mellowed to the sounds of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The ‘rock’ cheese listened to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ An ambient cheese listened to Yello’s ‘Monolith,’ the hip-hop cheese was exposed to A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’ and the techno fromage raved to Vril’s ‘UV.’ A control cheese aged in silence, while three other wheels were exposed to simple high, medium and low frequency tones.

“According to a press release, the cheese was then examined by food technologists from the ZHAW Food Perception Research Group, which concluded that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples.

“The cheeses were then sampled by a jury of culinary experts during two rounds of a blind taste test. Their results were similar to the research group’s conclusions and the hip-hop cheese came out on top. …

“Michael Harenberg, director of the music program at Bern University of the Arts says he was skeptical of the whole project when Wampfler first approached him. ‘Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies.’

“It turns out that Wampfler was rooting for the hip-hop cheese to win all along. Now, reports Reuters, he and his collaborators want to expose cheese to five to ten different types of hip-hop to see if it has similar effects.”

More here.

 

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William Sidney Mount painting “Just in Tune,” 1849. See more paintings at FidlleHangout.

I’ve been meaning to share blogger KerryCan’s 2013 post at “Love Those Hands at Home” about the origins of her musical tastes. Her story about the farmhand with the drinking problem and the inspired fiddle playing really struck me, and I wondered if other people could pinpoint the musical influences in their own lives. I certainly thought about mine.

I commented at KerryCan’s blog that my earliest influences included traditional nursery songs, my father’s loud classical records, one brother’s folk tastes and his later blues show on college radio (http://mydadsrecords.tumblr.com/), the movie “My Geisha” about an opera singer, Broadway, jazz, and Edith Piaf. Eclectic. Like my blog. I used to sing loudly with younger kids on the school bus and on family trips. I got involved in Fire Island’s teenage musicals, for which the brilliant Lynn Lavner wrote the songs I still like to sing.

Here’s what KerryCan reported about her early influences. “Weirdly, the music that I am drawn to has little to do with anything I was exposed to early, except for one faint memory. The music I love best is folk music and the memory is of a man playing the fiddle in our living room at the farm.

“The man was Vic Parrotte (or Parrott); he was an occasional hired hand on the farm when I was very young. As I recall, he would work for a while then take his pay and go on a ‘toot,’ as my grandfather called it; he’d go off and get drunk. Then he wouldn’t show up for chores for a few days and my grandmother would urge my grandfather never to let him come back.

“Then Vic would come back and my grandfather would hire him and the whole cycle would begin again.

“But Vic could play the fiddle. I wasn’t allowed to stay downstairs and watch him play much — this wasn’t really considered appropriate music for a good girl to hear. But I would lie in bed, upstairs above the parlor, and listen to that incredible sound coming out of his instrument. As I recall, he put the end of the fiddle on his knee, instead of under his chin, and, boy, could he play!

“And, it turns out, we weren’t the only people who knew about Vic’s fiddle. Vic was always a sort of tragic-comic character at our house, a rambler who couldn’t hold his drink and played wild music. But years later I mentioned his name to an expert in Adirondack roots music who responded, first with stunned silence and then said, ‘Vic Parrotte was your hired hand?! He played the fiddle for you?!’ Vic was famous in some circles — imagine my surprise!”

Anyone want to weigh in on their earliest music memories? Will McM.?

 

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Photo: Afghanistan National Institute of Music
Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, Zohra, is touring.

I’ve been interested in Afghanistan since before the headlines were all about the US conflict there. At least since reading Jason Elliot’s excellent An Unexpected Light and seeing the Tony Kushner play Homebody: Kabul. But lately I have an even stronger interest as Erik’s sister works on women’s rights in Afghanistan for the United Nations.

This BBC story provides one angle on Afghan women’s rights. Vincent Dowd has the report.

“Five years ago, a unique all-female orchestra was formed in Afghanistan, a nation where only a few years previously music had been outlawed and women barred from education. Now Zohra is visiting the UK for the first time.

“No-one claims that in Afghanistan, the Taliban influence has been rooted out entirely. Violence continues. But two decades ago, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music would have been unthinkable.

“ANIM was founded in 2008, with international support, to bring music education to young Afghans. … ANIM teaches music skills to some 250 young people, both male and female. That figure is about to rise to 320 and there are plans to expand to cities such as Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Jalalabad.

“About 70% of the young people at the institute come from disadvantaged backgrounds — some used to work the streets selling vegetables, plastic bags or chewing gum to support their families. Ages range from 12 to around 20.

“But five years ago, ANIM founder by Dr Ahmad Sarmast was urged to start a new project specifically to benefit girls.

” ‘One of our students told me we needed a group of four or five girls to play pop music,’ he says. ‘I liked the idea but almost at once it became clear most of the girls at ANIM wanted to join. Suddenly we were talking about a full orchestra.’ …

“There are around 100 female students at ANIM, 23 of whom have come to Britain. Their numbers will be doubled when they play in concert with the London-based Orchestra of St John’s and others. Instruments they’ve brought with them include the sarod, the rubab, tabla drums and the dutar.

“The music performed is a combination of traditional Afghan music and western classical. For instance, their new arrangement of Greensleeves contains attractive new instrumentation probably not envisaged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1934.

“The conductor for the Afghan pieces is Negin Khpalwak, who at 22 is one of the older musicians in the group. She joined the school not long after it opened — not initially with the idea of conducting at all. …

” ‘It’s much easier for me to conduct when we play Afghan music,’ she says. ‘We’re very familiar with it and we play together easily. If we perform something like Greensleeves — which I think is very well-known in England — we have to concentrate extra hard.’ …

“Negin Khpalwak says even in Kabul, students can still sometimes encounter people beyond the school who think it’s wrong that the orchestra even exists.

” ‘They will say that in Islam women aren’t allowed to go to school, not just for music but to study anything. But it’s not true — women have their own rights and those people need to be educated. Our music isn’t the only way to do that — but it’s one way.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Musica Secreta
A new effort to bring back the choral music of Renaissance nuns is getting attention in classical circles. Composer and princess Leonora d’Este is the focus of this research.

Like other achievements of women centuries ago, the music of nuns in the Renaissance has been mostly lost to time. Until now.

At Bachtrack, Laura Volpi reports on a gifted daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.

“In 16th-century Italy – and across Europe – convents were the backbones of the economic and spiritual well-being of a city. At their core were expertly run choirs of nuns, so talented and so popular that they were considered tourist attractions. … During this vibrant yet under-explored chapter in Renaissance musical history, a princess nun was composing for her convent in Ferrara, and her anonymously published motets lay unsung and unloved for 500 years.

“To find out more, I spoke to Dr Laurie Stras, Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, author of the recently published book Women and Music in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara, musicologist and co-director of two early music female-voice ensembles – Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens. …

” ‘Most families couldn’t afford to pay a marriage dowry for more than one daughter,’ explains Stras. … ‘So families who wanted the best for their daughter would get her into a convent with plenty of income. But a comfortable convent might have had quite a high dowry in itself, so one of the ways to get a reduction was by bringing a skill to it, such as music.’

“Music was really profitable for convents: it brought in money from the community, donating to hear mass on their behalf, while a great musical reputation brought in girls of higher status and wealth. Music also kept the nuns entertained and helped develop and maintain community harmony. …

“Music composed for convents would only be for the choirs’ consumption, so to find some published was unusual. Yet princess Leonora d’Este is strongly believed to be the author of 23 motets. …

“Leonora D’Este was the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso I, the Duke of Ferrara. She became Mother Superior at Corpus Domini when she was 18 and several of her contemporaries write of her exceptional musical abilities. We know that her family supported her musical activities up to her death.

“Despite the limitations of a life of enclosure, for many women life in a convent was a passport to freedom.

‘Some women chose a monastic life because they were creatively driven and felt that they had more space to develop as creative or intellectuals in the convent than they would outside.’ …

“ ‘Leonora sent these motets for publication to see them preserved for posterity. Hers are incredible works, so far beyond what was already in print in the 1540s. Technically they are an amazing achievement. All these motets are written for five, equal voices, voci pari, all of which are more or less in the same compass. You get some very interesting dissonance treatment when you have five parts moving in such a confined space. … One of the most outlandish pieces is a setting of the Mass Gradual for Easter Sunday, Haec dies, in which the voices imitate the sounds of all the bells of the city going off.’ …

“It is important to bring this music back to choral ensembles today. ‘We know about the Sistine Chapel, we know about Palestrina and we know about Josquin des Prez only because of the way history has been written and the things that have been given value,’ says Stras. ‘By recovering this wonderful music, we bring the balance back. The English choral tradition has given prominence to boys’ voices as more appropriate for Renaissance music, but the sound of women singing is the sound of the Renaissance. It’s not something that is unusual or that should be suppressed: this is part of our heritage.’ ”

More at Bachtrack, here.

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Photo: Bruce Mendelsohn
A teen at a Youth Services center in Massachusetts takes a turn at conducting musicians from the Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble.

Years ago, just before Christmas every year, I would receive a funding request from a volunteer who was concerned for teens held in state custody. He would write that these young people were largely forgotten at the holidays, and he would take whatever donations he could round up and go buy them small gifts. I always thought he sounded like a very kind person.

This past holiday season, I heard about a similar outreach to youth in trouble and wanted to tell you about it.

Cintia Lopez reported at WBUR radio, “On a recent morning, a teen living at the Metro Regional Center, a Department of Youth Services facility, nervously stood in front of a string quartet in a windowless recreation room. Trying his hand at conducting a group of classically trained musicians, he tentatively moved his hands like a conductor, setting the tempo for the musicians as they played Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue.’

“His peers laughed in the background, while the musicians offered words of encouragement. When he got a better feel for the music, he began to dance, pointing his fingers up and down, bobbing his head and rolling his arms to the rhythm of the music.

“ ‘It kind of gave me a warm and kind of calm feeling and then as the tempo got a little bit higher it kind of gave me like a little adrenaline rush,’ another teen said of the classical performance. …

“The teens were being visited by musicians from Sarasa, a Boston-based chamber ensemble. Artistic Director Timothy Merton said he likes helping the teens talk about the music.

“ ‘They don’t have much contact with the outside while they’re there. And certainly not with arts programs,’ Merton said. He founded Sarasa about 20 years ago. … The group now performs in youth service facilities about a dozen times a year.

“For the teen, Sarasa taught him that he can listen to classical music to calm down when he is feeling angry.

‘I think it’s a very good experience for the youth here,’ he said. ‘Just to show culture that people aren’t always exposed to and it’s kind of like getting everyone to see other parts of cultures and kind of the diversity that the world has.’ …

“Later in the visit, violinist Rodolfo Richter played Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Cadenza’ for a second group of teens. The teens perked up at the speed at which Richter played, seemingly with ease. One teen likened the piece to an old ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon. …

“Here are teens, who in some ways have been hardened by life’s turns, awed by the sounds of a cartoon, revealing how much innocence they still possess.

“Seeing the teens connect with the music reminds cellist Jennifer Morsches of her own discovery of classical music.

“ ‘That’s where I learned much about classical music, watching “Bugs Bunny,” ‘ Morsches said. ‘And a lot of people react, young kids, react that way. It’s true and it does sound like Tom and Jerry chasing.’ ”

More at WBUR, here.

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Photo: Katherine Taylor for the Boston Globe
Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness.

How does one write a headline for a story like this? It’s not exactly about music giving homeless people hope. It’s more that focusing on music — music performed for you and music you make — activates a positive side of who you are. It’s that positive things can lead to other positive things.

During the 2018 Christmas season, there was quite a bit of comfort and joy being spread by music in the Greater Boston homeless community. Zoë Madonna wrote about it at the Boston Globe.

“The CASPAR homeless shelter, a low-slung brick building, crouches on Albany Street in Cambridge. When percussionist Jennie Dorris wheels her marimba through the front door, half of a large central room has been cleared, and a line of grizzled men sits at a long row of tables, watching. An enthusiastic older man in a Boston Strong T-shirt marches up, introducing himself as Danny. ‘Finally, the marimba’s here!’ he exclaims, grinning. ‘I wait all year for this.’…

” ‘What compels me is to take music where it’s needed and treat everyone with respect,’ says founder Julie Leven, a violinist. This year, its eighth, Shelter Music Boston has mounted scores of concerts in shelters throughout the Greater Boston area, including a full schedule in the days leading up to Christmas.

“It’s not the only music group focusing on the homeless around Boston. Eureka Ensemble, whose mission is to nurture social change, launched a Women’s Chorus that welcomes women experiencing severe poverty and homelessness. …

“Eureka’s most ambitious project, according to cofounder and conductor Kristo Kondakci, was a commissioned composition, Stephanie Ann Boyd’s ‘Sheltering Voices.’ Auditions for choral fellowships for women were held at Pine Street Inn and Women’s Lunch Place, says Kondakci, a recent graduate of New England Conservatory who has worked with the homeless since his student days at Boston College High School. Around 15 took part.

“Carrie Jaynes and Rottisha Mewborn are friends who met at Pine Street Inn. When they saw the audition sign-up sheet, they were initially skeptical, they say — they’re used to well-meaning outsiders putting in a few hours and then disappearing. But they went to the audition in March, in a room where the heater was going haywire. To cool it down, Kondakci threw open the door of a nearby freezer.

“And that, Mewborn says, put them at ease. … As Eureka Fellows, Jaynes and Mewborn rehearsed weekly with Kondakci, learning ‘Sheltering Voices.’ They were never treated as anything less than important and independent, they say.

“ ‘We became so desensitized at Pine Street that we forgot how we can be treated like a normal person,’ says Jaynes. At the rehearsals, she says, ‘we knew that we were in this together. We knew that we were all right . . . we could be human again. We could show emotion and not be judged if we cried, or laughed, or showed a softer side of us.’ …

“Shelter staff say that after Shelter Music Boston concerts, the atmosphere is more peaceful, and nights are more restful, notes Leven, who also plays with Handel and Haydn Society and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. …

“As for the Eureka fellowships, Jaynes and Mewborn say their experiences were powerful. ‘Having Kristo say “We’ll get you there no matter what” built up our trust and our safety,’ Mewborn says. Because Pine Street Inn has a daily lottery, she explains, she never knows if she’ll have a bed to sleep in each night. There’s little in her life she can truly count on. ‘So just having this little safety — even if things are going crazy out here, we can get there — it’s amazing.’ ”

More here.

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