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Photo: Serena McKinney
Ludwig Göransson, composer to the
Black Panther music score, spent a month in Africa, returning home with “a totally different idea of music.”

I’m looking forward to seeing Black Panther when we can get it on DVD. In the meantime, I’m reading a lot about it. This story by Jon Burligame in Variety is on the development of the movie’s musical score.

“Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish-born composer who was charged with scoring Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ movie and has worked with director Ryan Coogler on all of his films, didn’t just visit a university library or look at YouTube videos: He spent a month in Africa.

“The result was life-changing, he tells Variety: ‘I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?’ …

“Nearly all of the unusual sounds in the ‘Black Panther’ score were recorded in the West African nation of Senegal, where Göransson spent two and a half weeks accompanying singer-guitarist Baaba Maal on tour. Maal introduced Göransson to other Senegalese musicians, and many performed on the soundtrack.

“The music that pairs with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), monarch of the film’s fictional African kingdom Wakanda, is led by six ‘talking drums,’ which Göransson explains as ‘a small drum you put on your shoulder, one that does what no other percussion instrument does — it breathes.’ The drummer squeezes, then loosens it to change the pitch. …

“For the theme associated with usurper Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the composer used another West African instrument, the Fula flute: ‘It sounded sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive,’ he says, and with the flutist speaking and even screaming into the flute, ‘it really resonated with the character.’ …

“Having recorded hours of music in Senegal, the composer flew to South Africa, where he spent a week studying at the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown. There he sought out recordings from across the continent and played dozens of instruments.

“At the same time, says Coogler, the score had to work as a superhero movie … ‘Ludwig is so well versed in orchestral composition, he could find a way to merge the two, and know when to go with one or the other.

“After months of writing, Göransson recorded more than two hours of music with a 92-piece London orchestra and a 40-voice choir in October and December, augmenting the African recordings and even using the orchestra to echo the multiple layers of rhythms in some of the complex drumming he first heard in Senegal. The choir sang in Xhosa, a South African language. …

“Says Coogler: ‘Ludwig really set the table for the emotion that we were trying to get across, whether it was excitement or reflection or sadness.’ ” More at Variety, here.

Have you seen Black Panther? If you are knowledgeable about African music, I’d love to hear what you thought of the music. Even if you aren’t that knowledgeable.

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Art: Dawn Marie Livett
Music goes hand-in-hand with other creative endeavors. This teacher writes, “Through music, from classical to popular, kids encounter themselves and experience the feelings and sensations associated with their worlds.”

Jeffrey Pflaum, a reader of this blog who taught children creative writing for many years, asked me if I’d be interested in reporting on some of his techniques. I am. This post is adapted from one of his blogs.

Pflaum writes that using experiences, reflections, and insights geared to “struggling, reluctant, and average readers and learners” in grades 3 to 6 helps them develop. “One key step to learning about any world is to know our selves first. …

“As an introduction to reading and writing I deal with kids’ inside worlds. What does each child have to know about mind, self, and imagination in order to learn? What makes up this inner universe? Why is it so important to know the contents of our worlds before studying the worlds of different subjects? …

“My lessons connect with the children’s inner lives.  It doesn’t help when education builds test walls around creativity and motivation, two huge channels to learning and developing a passion for reading. Education’s role is to open up students’ worlds so they are receptive to new ideas. … Motivation becomes self-motivation and education means self-education.”

Pflaum finds that helping children to develop self-knowledge enables them to tap their inner worlds and use their life experiences to enrich both schoolwork and everyday life. “Thoughts, ideas, feelings, fantasies, daydreams, dreams, dialogues, monologues, memories, reflections, and all the mental image pictures are the stuff of our inside worlds,” he says.

In one exercise, “kids close their eyes, visualize words in the mind, describe them orally and in writing, and then draw/sketch what they ‘see.’ Some examples of words for this practice exercise are: dog, rose, apple, room, sky, rainbow, clouds, parrot, pencil, pen.

“From here, I’ll build two-word sentences such as: Frogs hop; children play; birds fly. And then I probe what they are viewing with questions: What are you looking at? What pictures do you see in your mind? What thoughts are triggered? What feelings are connected to the image? Can you describe the mind-picture and your experience? Draw/Sketch the sentence you visualized (crayons, markers, pencil, or pen).”

Another exercise I liked had to do with using music for creative inspiration. It starts with a counting technique and progresses to listening to music, with the following instructions: “ ‘Sit back and relax. Put your heads gently down on the desks, close your eyes, and enjoy the music. When it’s over, write whatever you experienced inside yourself.’ … They learn to appreciate the contemplation process and the music as it soothes them into their worlds and journeys of self-discovery. …

“Through music, from classical to popular, kids encounter themselves and experience the feelings and sensations associated with their worlds.  They see what brings them up and down and learn to create a positive attitude towards contemplation, reflection, and self-expression.”

More ideas for teachers can be found at http://www.JeffreyPflaum.com. Some approaches might also work with adult students.

Educator Jeffrey Pflaum

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https://www.bamradionetwork.com/home/experiences-reflections-and-insights-a-project-in-reading-and-emotional-intelligence

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Photo: National Institutes of Health via AP
Soprano Renee Fleming looks at a brain scan with NIH neuroscientist David Jangraw after singing in the MRI machine.

To help scientists understand how music helps patients heal, notable musicians like opera’s Renee Fleming are getting brain scans.

Lauran Neergaard writes at the Associated Press, “Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care — although it’s still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning.

“ ‘It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don’t have to think about what’s going on,’ said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

“The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown’s, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain’s circuitry and figure out how.

“ ‘The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate,’ said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

“To turn that ability into a successful therapy, ‘it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan,’ Collins added. …

“ ‘The water is wide, I cannot cross over,’ well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

“The opera star — who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative — spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

“ ‘We’re trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain’s working right and what happens when it’s performing at a really high level,’ said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

“To Jangraw’s surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain’s emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.”

Read how the new insights are being used to study Alzzheimer’s patients and others here.

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Photo: The Guardian
Silicon Valley companies are sprouting a cappella groups with sui generis names.

I know that some people don’t like barbershop quartets and their stylized singing, but I have always gotten a kick out of them, whether they are harmonizing over traditional songs like “Ain’t She Sweet” to benefit the New Shoreham fire department or adapting contemporary pop songs like those you can hear at All A Capella on WERS.

Singing in harmony without instruments does not have to be hidebound. And it’s cropping up in strange places.

As Olivia Solon writes at the Guardian, “What’s the first thing that comes into your head when you think of Silicon Valley? … It’s probably not an a cappella Destiny’s Child mash-up where the opening lyrics of Bootylicious have been altered to include the names of technology companies.

“ ‘Apple, can you handle this? Twitter, can you handle this? Facebook, can you handle this? I don’t think you can handle this.’

“Techapella is an annual Christmas concert where the in-house a cappella teams from all of the major technology companies showcase their singing capabilities.

“Software engineers, data scientists, accountants, marketers and sales reps from across Silicon Valley’s fiercely competitive technology industry have over the last few years formed groups including Facebook’s the Vocal Network, Googapella, Twitter’s Songbirds, LinkedIn’s InTune and Apple’s Keynotes. The groups meet each week in boardrooms and music rooms on their respective campuses to prepare for a dramatic end-of-year crescendo: two public concerts held in celebrated music halls in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“ ‘I didn’t expect us to have an a cappella group, let alone everyone in Silicon Valley,’ said Remy DeCausemaker, open source program manager at Twitter and beatboxer in the Songbirds. …

“ ‘People don’t usually equate hardcore engineering and the arts. It’s very cool to see brilliant technical people one moment solving database scalability problems and the next moment saying: “I think you’re half a step flat on this note here.” ‘ …

“Deke Sharon, the ‘father’ of modern a cappella and this year’s Techapella emcee [says,] ‘There’s no better way to connect to other people and create something wonderful than to get together with others and sing.’

“Allie Polubiec, a front end engineer at Facebook and soloist in the Vocal Network, agrees. ‘It’s physically exhausting working at a computer day in day out. I need time to rest and stretch other muscles,’ she said.

“ ‘Singing is just good for you. Psychologically, there’s something very cathartic about using your voice and expressing your inner joy,’ added Rico Rodriguez, a software engineer at LinkedIn. …

“Techapella diverges from pop culture tropes insofar as it’s resolutely not a competition, with the exception of a friendly beatbox battle during the show’s interlude.

“ ‘My entire tenure has been more defined by a cappella than the work that I do. It was the thing that kept me at Google for as long as it did and it was the thing that keeps me at LinkedIn,’ said Rodriguez. ‘So really, I’m just a singer – and I code as a side job.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. I really liked the video there.

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Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Trumpeter Miles Davis, circa 1959. He once said, ‘”There are no wrong notes in jazz. It’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”‘ A small study suggests that jazz and classical music have different effects on the brain.

Pacific Standard loves these small-scale studies because they are fun and interesting. But as a retiree from an organization dominated by economists, I feel compelled to remind you that larger studies are needed.

Now for the fun. Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “Can creativity be taught? Not directly, perhaps. But if such a curriculum exists, it would train one’s brain to regard unforeseen occurrences as potential springboards, rather than disturbing anomalies.

“Fortunately, there is at least one type of specialized training that shapes neural activity in precisely that way. …

“In a new, small-scale study, a Wesleyan University research team led by Psyche Loui and Emily Przysinda report the brains of jazz musicians are uniquely attuned to surprising sounds. Electronic monitoring revealed these players have ‘markedly different neural sensitivity to unexpected musical stimuli,’ the researchers write.

“These musicians are trained not only to anticipate unpredictable turns, but also to engage with them in a positive, creative way. That dynamic reflex stimulates creative thinking.

“The study in … Brain and Cognition featured 36 students from Wesleyan University and the Hartt School of Music. Twelve were studying jazz (including improvisation), 12 classical music, and the final 12 were non-musicians. …

“The participants completed a short version of a well-known creative thinking test, in which they were given six open-ended prompts such as ‘List all the uses you can think of for a paper clip’ in three minutes. They were scored on both the number of items they came up with, and their originality (that is, how often each answer was also given by other students). …

“The young musical improvisers were uniquely receptive to unexpected sounds. …

” ‘The improvisatory and experimental nature of jazz training can encourage musicians to take notes and chords that are out of place, and use them as a pivot to transition to new tonal and musical ideas,’ Loui and her colleagues write. ‘This could lead to the increased cognitive flexibility in jazz musicians.’ …

“It’s possible that people who decide to learn an instrument have brains that are pre-wired in a certain way, but previous research suggests that’s unlikely. Loui plans to study that issue, as well as whether other types of artistic training — say, improvisational theater — will yield similar results.”

More here.

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Photo: AP
Hurricane Marie, as seen from the International Space Station last year.

To understand more about how tropical storms evolve and become hurricanes, two Penn State professors from very different fields are joining forces.

Mark Ballora, professor of music technology, and Jenni Evans, professor of meteorology, report on their research at the Conversation.

“During the 2017 hurricane season, major storms in the North Atlantic devastated communities in and around Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean. The destruction shows how important it is to understand and communicate the serious threats that these storms pose. …

“Since 2014, we have been working together to sonify the dynamics of tropical storms. In other words, we turn environmental data into music. …

“Most of us are familiar with data visualization: charts, graphs, maps and animations that represent complex series of numbers. Sonification is an emerging field that creates graphs with sound.

“As a simple example, a sonified graph might consist of a rising and falling melody, instead of a rising and falling line on a page.

“Sonification offers a few benefits over traditional data visualization. One is accessibility: People with visual or cognitive disabilities may be better able to engage with sound-based media.

“Sonification is also good for discovery. Our eyes are good at detecting static properties, like color, size and texture. But our ears are better at sensing properties that change and fluctuate. Qualities such as pitch or rhythm may change very subtly, but still be sensed quite easily. The ears are also better than the eyes at following multiple patterns simultaneously, which is what we do when we appreciate the interlocking parts in a complex piece of music. …

“We distilled the changing characteristics of a hurricane into four features measured every six hours: air pressure, latitude, longitude and asymmetry, a measure of the pattern of the winds blowing around the storm’s center. …

“In our recordings, air pressure is conveyed by a swirling, windy sound reflecting pressure changes. More intense hurricanes have lower values of air pressure at sea level. The winds near the ground are also stronger in intense storms.

“As pressure lowers, the speed of the swirling in our sonic recordings increases, the volume increases and the windy sound becomes brighter.

“The longitude of the storm center is reflected in stereo pan, the position of a sound source between the left and right speaker channels.

“Latitude is reflected in the pitch of the swirling sound, as well as in a higher, pulsing sound. As a storm moves away from the equator toward one of the poles, the pitch drops to reflect the drop in temperatures outside the tropics.

“A more circular storm is typically more intense. Symmetry values are reflected in the brightness of a low, underlying sound. When the storm has an oblong or oval shape, the sound is brighter.

“So far, we have sonified 11 storms, as well as mapped global storm activity from the year 2005. …

“Even for experts in meteorology, it can be easier to get a sense of interrelated storm dynamics by hearing them as simultaneous musical parts than by relying on graphics alone. For example, while a storm’s shape is typically tied to air pressure, there are times when storms change shape without changing in air pressure. While this difference can be difficult to see in a visual graph, it’s easily heard in the sonified data.”

More here.

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singing

Photo: Teachingtimes.com
Could these faces lifted in song be any sweeter?

I was tired of “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” before I got through Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you felt the same. Why is it so rare to hear carols like “I Wonder as I Wander,” the haunting “Minuit, Chrétiens,” or authentic Gospel music at this season?

Today I decided to correct that loss a little with YouTube music that should not make anyone feel like running and hiding. I’d love it if you would share your favorite seasonal music with other readers in the Comments.

Above, the Choir of Kings College sings “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Next we have the Cambridge Singers with “I Wonder as I Wander.”

Finally, whatever one’s faith or feelings about religion, who can resist the voice of Harry Belafonte with his honeyed Jamaican diction? (Note where the person typing the lyrics wrote “the” instead of what he really said, which is so much more charming.)

 

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