June 2010 Archives

#2: Assignments on chosen reading

Assignments:

#1: For my history of Rock and Roll Course (or perhaps music appreciation)

Take a look at popular music today. The variety that exists, the ways in which we disseminate the music we listen to. It might also help to discuss the history of radio broadcasting a bit and the popularity of music that was associated with the radio.

For discussion:

Why do we have some many musical styles?
How has the internet affected the choices we have and the popularity of music?
How did the radio and sound recording affect and lead to music of today?

Have the students write 2 -3 pages about how the music of today might be different without the radio and sound recording moving rock and roll to the forefront. Would classical music dominate or the music of Tin Pan Alley? Would rock and roll have developed and attained the level of popularity it ultimately did?

Another aspect that could be looked at is how future generations will view us and the contribution that radio has made to that image. I could see a 2 -3 page assignment asking student to discuss if we will be viewed positively or negatively for the songs we have today. How did the radio influence this path? Was the radio ultimately a good thing or a bad thing for music?

#2: For American Politics and Government

I would like this lesson to focus on campaign music and how technology has changed the music of campaigns and the way we hear that music.

Listen to four or five campaign songs from between 1800 and 1900.

For discussion:
• What are the defining characteristics of those songs?
• How are they constructed?
• How are they delivered to the electorate?

Moving along in history:
• What happens to this music in the 1920s when radio appears?
• How are the songs different?
• In what ways are candidates using these songs?
• Does marketing become more of a factor?
• How about the use of television?
• Or the internet in modern times?

Now, write 2 -3 pages discussing how the music has changed in presidential elections as the technology has changed. Remember to talk about how songs were constructed early on as opposed to what candidates chose to use now. Are the current songs more or less effective? Would they have worked with the new medium of radio? Why or why not?

#1: Blog on chosen reading

For my final reading assignment in this course, I decided to read the first chapter of our text entitled "Mass Technology and Popular Taste: The Tin Pan Alley Era." Now some cynics (such as my wife) would conclude that I chose this chapter because it is the shortest in the book and, for a slow reader as myself, makes it a bit more economical. There is a more devious motive for my choice and that it that I am interested in the way the new technologies influenced the path of music...or at least tried.

First, let me say that I am not sure why this thought kept coming into my head when I was reading this chapter but I will run with it anyways.

It has been said many times through history that "the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes." I would like to contest this logic by saying that "despite that everything changes, it all stays the same." Perhaps I am showing my pessimistic side with this thought, but let's look at our music industry as a case study. We go back to Tin Pan Alley and they are big businesses attempting to sell sheet music, which means that they, in a way, determined who would be famous and who would not as a song writer by whom they chose to publish. "It was the publishers who turned the creations of songwriters and lyricists into commercial properties."

This can be seen as we move into the era of records and radio (although, Tin Pan Alley did themselves in by not embracing the means of recording their hits when they had the chance, which hurt them drastically in the long run). This can be seen to further extent when see records and radio converging. Not only were the record companies controlling who had the ability to be recorded, but the DJs were making decisions on who heard those recordings over the air. This led to the whole idea of Payola (or pay for play) that got a bunch of people in trouble at one point.

What point am I trying to make. It is the business men who have made the determination of what "good music" is or at least decided regardless of the music, that they could promote an image. It is not the public at large who has make people or decided who would be the next biggest thing...that is perhaps until American Idol came on the scene, and even then, while the public decides, they are greatly limited in their choices by three people who think they are the end all be all of music. Where does that leave someone who thinks they have the stuff to go all the way in the music scene? Maybe what has finally changed is that ones only recourse is not hitting the rode playing a bunch of sleazy backroom bar gigs hoping that they are accidentally found by some grand record producer. Thinking about technology and how it has influenced music, I think that the internet at the end of the day may end up having the greatest influence of all. Not in the fact that celebrities can promote themselves as we discussed earlier, but in the fact that now we have a medium where a person can make themselves into celebrity by getting the public at large interested in what they are doing. As much as I hate to say it, look at someone like Justin Bieber. Using technology perhaps against the record labels and their management to force them into taking a look into what he has to offer to the musical world. Like I say, I don't know personally that it will be much if anything that he offers, but it is refreshing to see that technology can affect the outcome of ones musical career and not a bunch of "suites" as perhaps in the past.

So, having said all that, where do I want to go from here? I think the biggest reason that I read this chapter was because of the inception of radio round about 1920. The idea that we can market something to a broad range of people is appealing to me. I don't find it odd necessarily, but interesting that radio had this internal struggle between "classical" music or "high culture" and "popular" music. It seems to me a no brainer that at the end of the day, regulations and all, that it would head down a more populist avenue. Unless your goal is to force a specific music on the public (say classical in this case) for the purpose of spreading culture, the medium is bound to be headed for a populist view point. I mean, this is a great deal of what made jazz come as close as it did to becoming a popular music...not an easy feet considering that origins that it held.

Did they envision back then that radio would become what it is today? How about records or just recorded music in general? Could they see the vast influence that both of these mediums would have not only on music and determining what the latest greatest music was, but on news broadcasting, the outcomes of elections? Did they for see that other technologies might actually take the power of "creating" an artist out of their hands? Perhaps more important, with the large conglomerates having so much control, how was a newcomer supposed to break into the scene?

I guess another, and perhaps more disturbing, topic is that of sheet music. As the technologies of the day developed, the need for sheet music and the ability for people to read music in general diminished exponentially. It moved music from being a popular art form that was PRODUCED in the home, to something that was merely listened to in the home. In fact, many of the musicians today in the popular world can't read a note of music. Now I realize that popular rock and roll is devised from the aural traditions of African music, and I would never suggest that we would want to forget the roots. But, it seems to me that, with the populist bent, music gradually began to dumb itself down, and I think that may be in large part due to the radio and the record album. I mean, Jazz is an aural tradition, and look at the complexity that exists there, but its heyday ended at the end of the Big Band era as a "popular" music style...and at that time the Big Bands were reading a lot of their stuff. The popular music of today are 4...maybe 5 chords and some words which is a far cry from someone like say Gershwin, and an even further cry from say Brahms who was not all that much before Gershwin.

I guess the point I am trying to get at is that with every advance that we have in technology, there is a shortcoming that seems to follow. We record music, and suddenly we do not need to play it and, as a result, in my opinion, we do not know how to be good musicians and interpret music. Let me hang on this thought for just a moment. It is not that perhaps we don't know how to interpret this music, but we have changed from ACTIVE listeners of music to passive listeners of music. The fact that I have students who say they only time they listen to music is in the background because they don't want to have to "think" about it is rather appalling to me. Music is one of the most primitive connections we have to our brains. It can move us, inspire us, etc. and we have chosen to turn it into something that is just "there" because we don't want to have to think about it, or worse, allow ourselves to be vulnerable to it. Continuing on...we get computers and it seems that people lose the ability to write things out by hand or do math with anything but a calculator. We lose the ability to work "manually" for lack of a better term. How many people have had the internet go down at work and all of a sudden everything stops...or worse, it goes down and the entire lesson you were going to teach for that day is lost because you didn't have access to your materials any longer. On the flip side, the internet now allows us to see the Justin Biebers of the world and catapult them to stardom.

There are some questions to ask in the development of popular music styles however. What happens to popular music if we don't have the radio or the sound recording? Do we continue with the Tim Pan Alley style popular hits that we are used to hearing from the day? Does rock and roll ever develop? Or if it does, does it develop the popularity that it has now? Does parlor music continue to be the form of entertainment in the home or does something else come along to replace it? What about music and the movies?

I feel like this reading has simply inspired me to get on my proverbial soap box once again, so...for the final time I will descend from my pulpit and try to think about what this means to me in education. It means that music is now disseminated quickly. It means that the way we look at the world changes instantly. It means the landscape of our nations ultimately changes with media as the focal point. It means that "the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes."

#4: Assignments around the idea of reviews/critiques

Assignments:

#1: This assignment could be used for a music appreciation course of any type.

You could begin with a discussion of good vs. bad music. What makes them good or bad? What criterion do we use to decide if a piece of music is good or bad?

Have students read:
• How to Review a Concert (Classical) http://www.bachtrack.com/youngreviewer-how-to-review
• How to review a Concert (Jazz/Popular) http://www.ehow.com/how_4514634_review-concert.html
• Concert Goer's Guide (General) https://paris.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073122130/student_view0/concert_goer_s_guide.html
• How to Write a Great Album Review http://www.ehow.com/how_4800853_write-great-album-review.html
• How to Write a Good Music Review for Money (eHow) http://www.ehow.com/how_5898226_write-good-music-review-money.html

Have students get into small groups and articulate what criterion they should use when rating a performance. This can include a numeric scale of some type if desired, but should also have a place for them to articulate a "why" type response as well.

Gather these from each group and design a "rubric" for rating a performance/album, etc. This can be sued by students when they attend any concert performances that may be required for the class.

#2:

Have students attend a concert (if there are no concerts available, perhaps a CD of a performance of a particular work would suffice). Students should fill out the "rubric" as completely as possible...making sure to articulate the reasons they are assigning there specific scores and an over all impression of the performance.

Now, they should take their "rubric" and write a 2 - 3 page concert review making sure that it: speaks about the music/performance/album with an informed voice (intelligent), they argue their point in a persuasive manner, and they write it keeping their target audience in mind (more than likely the youth population).

Students should remember to use a variety of adjectives that articulate their point (as their reading suggests, they should keep a thesaurus handy)

For class discussion:
Does look at a performance with this "rubric" in mind change the way you listen to music? If so, how? Does it change your perception of the various types of music you have listened to? How?

#3 Assignment for American Government and Politics Class

Looking at the music of political campaigns and their effectivenss.

Listen to some songs of years past that were used in political campaigns (both pre modern era and current). Discuss with the class what makes them effective in delivering their message and swaying the electorate. Attempt to determine what makes them effective tools. Identify criterion that they can listen for to put in conjunction with the message of the campaign to determine if it is effective. A few might be:


  • Campaign message vs song message

  • popularity of the song being used

  • demographic the song will target

  • ability to put a candidates name in the public


Then assign students to identify two candidates from recent elections (1992 and later). Have them listen to the campaign "theme song" for each, Then, they should write 2 -3 pages reviewing the effectiveness of each and comparing how each campaign was attempting to use each piece. Try to take your political feelings out of the mix. Which campaign used their music selection more effectively and why?

#3: Review

Effington...times 2!

Throughout Ben Folds' long career, he has tried to infuse his own brand of humor into music that reflects many of real life events occurring in his life. His album release of Way to Normal is no exception to this history. In particular, Folds' song "Effington" is a fun depiction of perhaps an unpleasant moment in his life.

"Effington" is in reference to a town in Illinois (as is the "Normal" of the albums title). Folds here creatively and effectively uses "Effington" as a double entendre for both the location described above, but also a place in which people "do it too" implying that perhaps one of the problems towards the end of his most recent marriage was a lack of relations between he and his estranged wife.

The original version of the song is quite fluid. It opens with a nice a cappella rendition of the bridge "If there's a God he's laughing at us, and our football team" and transitions into the opening verse with piano, bass and drums. The simplicity of the instrumentation allows the text of the song to speak for itself. Folds is not "electronically" contrived, but rely a great deal on the piano as the fundamental "sound" of his group.

However, this is not the version of the song that I would recommend. On his album University A Cappella Folds actually makes his own a cappella arrangement of "Effington" that I think listeners will find to be far superior to the original. The fact that all the accompaniment and percussion is contrived via the voice gives the song a very unique sound. Also, the fact that this version was contrived by Folds gives one a unique perceptive into the creative mind of the song writer when deciding to branch out into other areas previously owned by groups like Inside-out and Tonic Sol Fa. The use of vocal percussion gives the song a driving beat that the percussion of the original cannot match. Folds is able to make a play on the original opening of the song by having children try to sing the opening lines. They are unable to make it past the word "God" before they begin to laugh, which in a way is very representative of the song as a whole. Also, the creative use of text to keep the accompanying vocal textures interesting allows Folds to emphasize portions of the song that were not necessarily done in the original, bringing perhaps a more important meaning to the original while enhancing the comedy and playfulness that Folds to keenly is able to incorporate into his music.

The playfulness of Folds is most apparent in the text of his songs. This can be seen in the opening lines of the song where he shows us the blatant use of the double entendre by stating "Effington would be a wonderful Effing place". He is also able to creatively express the dilemma he is facing when he says "I could change my name, grow a beard, start a family, Or I could just keep on movin' on till I get to Normal" Folds shows us the ultimate issue with his estranged wife and their lack of intimacy when he finally comes to the realization that "that's what 'Normal' people do...'Normal' people do it too". One of his more brilliant moments in the song, is his ability to point out how absurd we all are when it comes to the most unimportant parts of our life saying "If there's a God he is laughing at us and our football team". Here Folds is insinuating, and correctly so, that God has far better things to do than trouble himself with mundane things such as the outcome of sporting events. Perhaps this also speaks volumes to the relationships he is referring to in this song.

Ben Folds fan or not (which I most assuredly am not) one still has to respect the ability of this musician to bring everyday issues to the forefront through his use of music and real life experiences. It is no wonder that this album topped out at no. 11 which is the highest any of Folds' albums have been able to make it on the Billboard charts. "Effington" is a playful look into the soul of a destroyed man looking for answers...a look that is worth a listen!

#2 Assignments discussing "Celebrity"

Assignments:

#1: For the "History of Rock and Roll"

Looking at how celebrity was developed and maintained in the 1960s as compared to the 21st century.

Begin with a discussion of what celebrity is: What does it mean to be a celebrity? What are student's looking for in a celebrity that they follow? What maintains celebrity?

Let's look at the Beatles from the 1960's. How was their celebrity in the United States achieved?
• Marketing strategy of "the Beatles are coming"
• Appearance on the Ed Sullivan show
• Subsequent concerts and life

Compare that with someone like Kerry Underwood
• American Idol
• The ability to learn "who they are" through the course of a TV show and vote for them
• The use of modern internet forces to solidify their "real" or "personal" selves

Write 2 - 3 pages about the effectiveness of each of these methods. Which of these is more effective? Why do you believe it is more effective? Do you think a campaign like the Beatles would work today? How does the use of Face book and Twitter allow celebrity to maintain their popularity? Is it effective in your opinion?

#2: For "American Government and Politics"

Looking at the "consolidation of power" using celebrity as a way to look at politics.

Begin with a discussion: What is the goal of a celebrity today? What tools do they use to maintain their celebrity status? Are they effective?
• Make sure to bring up the idea of the public image vs/in conjunction with the "personal" image.
• Does offering a personal image help their celebrity? Why?
• The use of Twitter and Face book to offer fans a way to have a personal connection or a "buy in" to the celebrity.

Celebrities now days use the lure of offering a piece of their person selves as a way to maintain their hold on their celebrity and/or expand their celebrity...to "consolidate their power" so to speak.

How do politicians "consolidate their power" or create their image of celebrity? Do politicians use Face book and Twitter in the same way? Do they attempt in campaigns and while they are in office to reveal portions of their personal lives that might get people to relate and side with them? Is it effective?

Just as celebrities use their fame to inject themselves into politics, do politicians use their political clout to inject themselves into the world of celebrity? Does it make sense to you that politicians and celebrities will team up for political causes? How about political campaigns?

Write 2 - 3 pages discussing the role of celebrity and it relates to politics and politicians. How does the disclosure of their "personal" side help or hinder their ability to "consolidate power" amongst the electorate. Is this "personal" side "real" and does it matter if it real or not? Are there other factors that should be considered?

#1: Celebrity

After reading the article on "The Promotion and Presentation of the self: Celebrity as Marker of Presentational Media" by David Marshall, I decided to take a look at Ben Folds through the perspectives offered by the author.

To start, I would like to begin by saying that I find a great deal of truth in what Marshall is saying. In fact, I think that the introduction of the internet based medium have benefited celebrity a great deal. Not just in the fact that they can have more exposure to the public, but in the fact they now have more of an ability to control that exposure. The tabloids are attempting to capture their "real" personas in as much as they would love to see all the dirt that is a celebrity's life. However, with Twitter, Face book, You Tube, etc. celebrities now have the ability to control both their "professional" persona and what they would like people to believe as their "real" or "private" persona. The truth of the matter is that it is as fake as ever, but the perception of reality only bolsters their image, and, at the end of the day, that is what this is really about is being able to sell their image. Why else do we pay an extra $50 for a pair of jeans with their name on it (or because they wore a pair just like them in the latest movie they were in).

But I digress slightly. I find it interesting that the majority of celebrities sighted in this article were actors. Not to say that there weren't musicians, but those musicians that were mentioned I think were not so prevalent in the modern musical scene, but rather from years past. Their creative output has long since ceased which leads me to my first thought.

I find this concept a little less relevant for a musician like Ben Folds. There are a large number of musicians that do not write most if any of their own material now days, to which medium like Twitter and Face book become more important for the dissemination of the "personal" side of them. However, someone like Ben Folds, who write all his own music, has an advantage to the actors and other musicians in the fact that his music already reflects that personal side that others are trying to show in their controlled manner. Folds uses his songs to discuss the events that are currently going on in his life. He has written songs about his two children, dedicated an entire album to his latest divorce, and discussed his past three marriages all through his music. We talk about music being one of the most primitive natures of man. We talk about it being an insight into the soul. With the music of Beethoven and Brahms we are able to get a better glimpse into the specific events that were affecting them at any given time (take Brahms Symphony No. 4 for example). I know I rail against the "lack of music" in today's music, but if we look at from a music and text standpoint (which we must with all popular music) when dealing with a song writer we already have a glimpse into their collective soul...a look into their personal life that is in many ways the same or deeper as the controlled look into the actors life we get through a medium such as face book or twitter.

This does not mean it is not necessary for a musician such as Folds to use these other medium. However, they are many times going to use it more as a public relations and marketing tool. In many ways it is a brilliant public relations tool. You look at a website for a musician and in order for it to really be effective you have to get your listeners going to that site. To get new people there you have to hope that those who already visit the site "spread the word" for you. However, with something like Face book, you get your 200,000 fans or so to sign up as a "fan" or as a friend (depending on how you establish your page) and many times anytime you send out something to them, it also gets disseminated to every one of their friends. You have this exponential growth of the people who will see your material in one way or another. You still have the ability to control your message, control your image, but introduce new people to that "message".

Something like Face book or MySpace, etc. can serve as a way of two way communication even when the celebrity doesn't necessarily mean to have a meaningful two way conversation. Look at one of Ben Fold latest projects "University A Cappella". This was started because a college group took one of Folds' songs and turned it into a completely a cappella format. They then proceeded to send it to him via one of the various modes of internet communication. Folds saw this and began a dialogue which ended with a nationwide search for the best a cappella arrangements of these pieces which he recorded and released in 2009. Through the use of this medium he did two things. First, he was able to create a meaningful communication with some of his fan base. He made them feel like he cared by listening and responding (when in previous years this may have been sent to him via CD and might have ended up in the trash with a form letter). Second, by taking their idea and expanding upon it, he created an environment where college a cappella groups were interested in his music because they might have the opportunity to be on a CD performing one of this songs. What a great marketing tool. It actually led to a video on his MySpace page about the making of the CD and talking about the various groups that participated. He has maintained his "down to earth" appeal, show fans that he cares about what they have to say...in a meaningful way actually, and created a project with their help. He has created new fan base for life through the use of these internet based medium. (He created his own "reality TV" show so to speak)

Folds uses Twitter as well as a part of his arsenal following in the vein of Oprah Winfrey in that he has a following but does not follow anyone. The Tweets are fairly bland, discussing "a big ass birthday party" or "Gracie (his daughter) in a mask". Just enough personal information to keep you interested but nothing that is actually all that revealing or all that important for that fact.

At the end of the day, what are we talking about when we talk about celebrity? Are we talking about selling an image? Are we talking about an overblown popularity contest? I think the answer to these two questions is "yes" personally. In a day and age when people are on the web 24 hours a day and the news cycle runs the same way, it only makes sense that celebrities would want that same presence. As I said earlier in this post, what it comes down to is control. People want to know the "real" celebrity so celebrities now a have a way to show their "real" selves...the self they want the public to think they are. The problem is that I think people are smarter than that. Many people I think might follow these things for their novelty (or in order to get updates on events that may not be as publically advertised). However, we know that people's real lives are often fairly dark with many secrets or personal issues that a celebrity would not readily share (which is why they have to be careful in their Twitter posts ala Elizabeth Taylor). As a friend of mine said to me yesterday "it is not really about the dissemination of information, it is about the consolidation of power". Perhaps all this really is is a grand marketing strategy...

As I said earlier, however, the advantage that I think listeners of music have (when their artists are actually the song writers) is that they perhaps give away more than they intend through their musical outlet. Their music in combination with the other forms of communication solidify their "realness" for us and only make them that much more attractive.

#4: Censorship Unit Assignments

Assignments:

With this assignment I want to both get them thinking about the idea of censorship and what it means to the and also help to develop critical thinking skills or skills in formulating an argument.

#1
First, introduce the topic of censorship. Start from the vantage point of government censorship. What is censorship (various ways of looking at the topic)? Where have we seen it used in the past and for what purpose?

Next, students should write 2-3 pages for the following class discussing what censorship is and if there are ever and times where censorship is permissible.

#2
For the next class period I would like to bring up the topic of censorship in terms of the private sector. Have students read "Crash into me, baby: America's implicit
music censorship since 11 September" by Eric Nuzum and "Musical responses to September 11th: The list of allegedly 'banned' songs."

Begin with a discussion regarding the list of "banned" songs from September 11, 2001. Discuss that the list was not "banned" but rather a suggestion for sensitivity that DJs could use their best judgment to play or not to play. Which of these songs do you think are appropriate for a list of this type? Are there songs that you think are inappropriate for this list? Why do you think they are there?

Second, in Nuzum's article how does he define the idea of censorship in relation to music? Is there a difference between the government "banning: or "censoring" a particular type of music and a business "deciding" not deal with a particular type of music? When radio stations do not play songs from a "suggested" list of "do not air" songs, are they truly censoring the music or making a business decision? Is there a difference?

This topic I think would be fairly contentious. Ideally, I would divide the class up according to what there belief in censorship is when it comes to the private sector. Depending on how many take each position, it may mean that I would need to divide them up more evenly that the natural distribution. Have them work in groups of two to prepare for a debate in the subject against their counter parts. Give them 15 - 20 minutes to formulate the ideas that they would like to pursue to convince their classmates of their position. Then...inform them that they will be arguing the other position. Give them until the next class period to research and prepare an argument and a rebuttal to present in an in class debate.

The hope here is that by learning about the other side of the argument more in depth, it will not only inform the position that they have taken, but also help them learn how to argue their position more effectively.

#3
Finally, take a look at songs like "Cop Killer" by Body Count, "Suicide Solution" by Ozzy Osborne, "Let Me Put My Love Into You" by AC/DC, and "We're Not Going to Take it" by Twisted Sister.

Why do you think the PRMC would think these songs should carry some type of a warning label? Are they justified in their concerns? Is the request to put warning labels on various music types regarding content a good thing or a bad thing? Is it censorship? Are the movies different from the music industry in this regard?

Write a 2 -3 page argument for why you believe this is a good idea or a bad idea. Address the concerns regarding censorship regardless of your position.

#3: Music Censorship...

Censorship! Censorship is a difficult topic to discuss for any number of reasons...for example, ones man's censorship, in another man's common sense or statement of morality. It leads us to a very interesting question of what censorship really is and who determines if it really is censorship at all.

In the readings for this week, the authors discussed censorship as they potentially see it within the context of the twentieth century moving into the twenty first century. The article "Music Censorship (part 1) : A Brief History" by Kelly Sparrow seeks to identify over the past 60 years or so a number of instances where they have seen the "censorship" of music. These range from radio stations choosing not to play certain works to the attempt of congress to form an oversight committee to determine if songs were appropriate and perhaps even recommend (or in fact uniformly) change lyrics before they are offered for sale to the public. Our text book spends a great deal of the discussion regarding censorship discussing the role of PMRC and the "conservative" religious fervor as an element of this censorship of music.

These thoughts have led me to my own question...what is censorship? If we look in the dictionary, censorship is "1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively". We might ask to go further then and see what it means to censor. According to our dictionary, to censor is "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable". So now that we know what censoring is by definition, the next question I want to ask is what does it mean to have something censored? Who has the power to censor something? Is there a difference between censorship and choice?

We can look to our classrooms to begin our discussion. How many times have we cut off a student in the middle of a thought because they were heading on a different track or they were espousing their own belief in something that we did not feel was "appropriate" for the discussion or school for that matter? If we look at censorship in its truest form, are we not censoring the thoughts of our students and not giving the other students in our classes the right to consider those thoughts and make decisions for themselves? Or are we exercising good judgment as teachers, keeping our discussions to relevant topics and thoughts, and making sure our classrooms to not become havens for profanity because students don't have the vocabulary to necessarily express what they would like to say?

Take the individual who listens to music. Four people are driving in a car and someone wants to listen to a specific type of music. The driver does not allow that type of music in their vehicle the other occupants of the car are never allowed to hear it. Is the driver committing a true act of censorship or expressing their preference for their own type of music while in a vehicle that is under their control at the time?

May be those first two examples a bit nebulous, so perhaps we can discuss the radio industry for just a moment. Radio stations that are formatted for specific types of music...are they not committing an act of censorship by not allowing the playing of all the other varieties of music, or are they simply reacting to the market forces of their primary listenership. Is there a difference then between a company making a business decision that it feels is in its best interest, vs. actually censoring the music?

To me true" censorship" comes when a much higher power puts the "kibosh" so to speak on a form of communication. To me this usually insinuates the government. For example, if a radio conglomerate makes a recommendation to its djs that they should avoid playing a specific type of music due to a national event (this happened around the time of 9/11 if you recall) is it truly censorship? Can you not find the music you would like to hear from another source (the record store, YouTube, download from iTunes, etc.)? It is not as if the government has come along and declared that these songs cannot be played on the radio and should not be sold in stores and should be removed from the internet. That to me is true "censorship" as it were. When a higher power comes along and makes it impossible to get your hands on legally, that is when we have a problem here.

I think back to the readings in our text about the PMRC. Were they trying to "censor" something? Perhaps when they began their hearings before congress they had lofty goals in this direction, but initially they were looking for a rating system. I find it funny that we rate movies but due to the "quantity of music" we don't think we should be looking at the appropriateness of the music that our children can get their hands on. Even the FCC reserves the right for the "common good" to restrict the amount of foul language and explicit material that we are exposed to on television...why do we find it a violation of the first amendment then when we consider this with music? I realize that we find our selves coming down the slippery slope with interpretation, etc. As someone who is all in favor of metaphor in music and the higher thinking of music, why not keep it simply to material that uses foul language and explicit discussion of sex (take lil' Kim for example...a bit of both that I would not like my daughter getting her hands on without my knowledge).

Our book also references any number of court cases in which an album or a group was brought to trial for obscenity or something of the like. I think these are horrible examples of censorship...perhaps attempted censorship...but at the end of the day our justice system should be applauded for WORKING. These were not censored but rather declared the free speech that it truly is.

There are a few moments in history when censorship has been a huge problem. For example, when we ban certain books from public schools because we don't like content. Here, students can still get their hands on the material, but in a way the government is telling them that this material is unacceptable for their education and therefore bad. I believe the FCC position in 1971 bordered on censorship when they were threatening to revoke the licenses of radio stations for playing songs about "drugs". Even during WWII, censorship from the government occurred in radio because they feared that the information might help their enemy...perhaps justified...but still censorship to me.

There are any number of examples in these articles that I think are horrible examples of censorship, but rather business decisions made by companies who have the right to protect their interests. The 1955 example where the radio station stopped playing a particular song due to protect from its listeners...they actually listened to the consumer and we accuse them of censorship? 1968 when a Texas radio station "banned" or as I would say "made a choice" not to play Bob Dylan songs because they could not understand the lyrics...a CHOICE.

I think another thing I find funny here is that we lay the blame completely on the record labels and radio stations. These are businesses that make decisions like this all the time. Artists understand this going in, and if they don't they should not be allowed to use "ignorance of the law" as a way to blame the industry they have VOLUNTARILY gotten into bed with. Yes, they made their bed, they signed a contract with s record label relinquishing a certain amount of power and authority in their music making process if the label so chooses so why do we accuse the labels of censorship when they exercise the power that was granted to them? An artist can make a choice to sign elsewhere, form their own label or just be independent. There are any number of groups that strictly put thing out via the internet to avoid the record labels making decisions about their artistic visions.

Another thing that I find funny is that by avoiding what I might call an overreach in what censorship is, we may actually be censoring those we are accusing of censorship. Well, that was perhaps a bit nebulous so let us take our 1980 example from Sparrow's article. The reference is to a youth minister that "organizes a group of teenagers who publically burn records for the Beatles, Ravi Shanker, Peter Frampton, etc". Is this an act of censorship? I would argue that these people are exercising their first amendment rights to protest against a particular topic of public interest, in this case music. If we stop them from doing this are we not violating their first amendment rights and censoring their speech? Do they not have the right to express their opinion about this music, even if it is not shared by others? Isn't that what they are accusing the "conservatives" of doing? Seems to me that this is a two way street here.

So, in short, the question is not if censorship actually occurs...I think we all know that it does. The question is simply if every choice that is made that "limits" or "changes" the music is actually an act of censorship? There are other issues at play, for example, does changing the music or putting a warning label on that music only interest the population you are trying to "protect" more? Are their times that censorship of something is actually acceptable? Where does the line of making a business decision end and censorship begin? Is there a line and if not, isn't everything censorship at the end of the day? The material we chose to teach or not teach, the music we decide to record or not record (should every Tom, Dick and Harry have the "right" to a recording contract then since not having one would be to censor their music?), the opinions we listen to and chose not to listen to, etc. When you open up censorship as broadly as people like Eric Nezum would like, it seems that there are no choices you can make that are correct.

#2: Assignment around authenticity

Assignments:

As with many of the things that we do in my courses, a great deal of it revolves around discussion and presenting them with questions to guide their thought and allow them to explore the issue. These are no different.

#1: This assignment is for a jazz literature and appreciation course.

Let us take a look at "jazz" music through the lens of authenticity.

Questions:
What does it mean for music in general to be authentic?
What is "authentic" jazz?

Since most students do not come into this course with knowledge of jazz music(s), lets being the discussion with what it means to be authentic in the popular music that they encounter in their everyday world. What is the difference between a music developing and in turn becoming less authentic?

Read: "Authenticity Within Hip=Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation" by Kembrew McLeod

Here the author discusses what makes Hip-Hop "real" or "authentic". Music that does not conform to these criterion are therefore considered "fake" forms or perhaps even commercial forms of the music. Is the move of a rapper like Will Smith to more "commercialized" Hip-Hop truly a move away from "Authenticity" or is it a move in the development of the Hip-Hop medium?

Think back to early jazz and the definitions that were used to describe this music. Was Louis Armstrong correct when he insinuated that Bebop was not "authentic" jazz music because it did not conform to the early jazz forms that he had grown up playing? Why or why not? Does your view change with artists like Herby Hancock who used jazz to cross over into the popular music market? What is the difference between these two types of "development" within jazz? Would you define one as "authentic" and another as "Fake"? Is there a difference between "development" of a musical genre (in this case jazz) and the commercialization of that genre?

Write 2 - 4 pages explaining to the best of your ability what "authentic" jazz is and offer examples of "authentic" versus "fake" jazz forms. Touch also on the difference between "development" and "commercialization" of jazz.

#2: This assignment is aimed at my voice students and class voice students. However, I think it may even be applicable to music appreciation as well.

Opening Questions:
Thinking about authenticity in performance and in music...what makes a performance authentic? What makes it more than a performance, but rather makes it an experience that is shared by all, performer and audience member alike?

Music today focuses so much on the performer and their perceived "authenticity" which is in fact their image...and the performance of that music as well. But is that what makes the music...the fact that someone who has a name or an image is performing the music?

Read: "4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music" by David Pattie

Looking at the idea of "Authenticity" in performance from the perspective of rock music, what do you believe provoked the response or the "experience" to the concert the Verve performed in this article? How do you think that correlates to the attribute James says the performer must have under heading "Two" within the article?

Is the "experience" that was created due to the fact that the Verve were the ones performing the music...i.e. is it there image that created the experience or was it something greater?

Is the "Authenticity" or "truth" of the performer and their image the important part or is it the fact that the performer found the "authenticity" or "truth" in the music and was able to present that truth to the audience?

Write 2 - 3 pages (or more if necessary) discussing what you believe your role as a performer is in terms of the music and the audience you are performing for. What does it mean to search for the "truth" in music? Why is that "truth" important to you as a musician?

Or for music appreciation

Write 2 - 3 pages (or more if necessary) discussing what you believe you role as a listener is in terms of the music you are hearing? What do you expect of the performer of that music? How do you assess if the performance of that music was an "authentic" or "truthful" performance? How does the search for authenticity in the music and the performance of that music inform the way in which you may chose to listen?

#1: "Authentic Music"

The readings for this post have to do with idea of Authenticity in popular music. As a starting point we were assigned to read "4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music" by David Pattie long with "Authenticity Within Hip-Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation" by Kembrew McLeod.

The authors here take two different, yet, I might conclude, similar approaches to the issue of authenticity in music. Pattie argues in large part that authenticity has to do with the musical connection that a performer or ensemble has with their audience. What makes the group and/or the music authentic is the fact that the music and performance is transformed from a performer/audience perspective to one in which the performer and audience have an experience together revolving around the music. Contrary, McLeod takes a much more "scientific" approach o looking at the issue of authenticity within Hip-Hop music. He comes to the conclusion that authenticity has to do with a number of factors that can be attributed to all music types: Social-psychological, Racial, Political-economic, Gender-sexual, Social location, and Cultural. Within the Hip-Hop world, those who are "authentic" are those who remember the roots of the music they sing, remember where they came from, and worry more about accurately portraying who they are and the life they lead (and writing music to that effect) as opposed to "selling out" by trying to adapt their music to a more popular market.

These two concepts are seemingly different, but I would argue that they are perhaps the same. One might argue that for a performer and audience to have the chance to have an "experience" with each other that the music itself (and the performer for that matter) needs to be authentic. And according to McLeod that means that they stay true to the musical genre and the meaning within that genre...they don't change their image to market themselves...they don't change the music to be more marketable or "popular".

I have to admit that I have never really heard of "authentic" versus "fake" before in the musical world. I have heard of a similar debate which I am sure has been raging on since music and art were first invented...what makes "good" art. The issue here is that what makes art "good" is in the eye of the beholder that looking/listening to that work of art. I have a feeling that the same thing is true with what makes art "real" or "authentic". It depends on what perspective and criterion you are using to define a musical genre as an "authentic" one. Taking for example McLeod's work, he narrows down to very specific categories what makes Hip-Hop authentic. What gives his argument credence s the fact that he is looking to those who were perhaps originators of the art form or part of the underground that writes in the same vain as those original founders to determine what it means to be "authentic". One of the issues that I see here is that it doesn't leave room for the development of an art form. Hip-Hop began on the streets, but does that mean that it can't evolve into something else? I can see us saying that something has an "authentic" sound but it seems that putting a series of categorical restrictions on what the "authentic" music can and should be holds it in a very stagnant pattern that doesn't allow the music to grow. Also, the fact that race is one of those categories that determine if a music is "authentic" or not is a little disturbing. That is like saying there is no white person ever who grows up on the streets and has similar experiences and can write and perform music about them in the same style and manner of a black person.

I see a potential issue with that of Pattie as well. Just because there is an "experience" that occurs between performer and audience does that mean that the music is "authentic" or "real" or does it simply mean that the performance or shared experience as it were is "real" or on a different plain? I liken this to a solo song recital. There are many works that I love to sing, that I connect with and that I perform exceptionally well because of that fact. However, as a performer, I take special pride in being able to communicate the message of a song and bring my audience into a performance regardless of the work that I am singing, the amount of life experience I bring to it, etc. I think that is part of being a great performer. And one other aspect that is perhaps ignored (or that I perhaps overlooked within his argument) is that it takes a special set of circumstances for one of these types of performances to occur (and in fact I believe he does mention this). Does one of these performance make the music all the more "authentic"...I would argue that it makes the performance at that moment in time more "authentic" but that is a reflection of all the elements coming together. However, it could be argued that a great performance cannot occur with bad music...or at least an experience such as the one being described. Food for thought...

I guess one of the questions I would ask is what are we trying to be authentic/real to? Am I looking for someone who is authentic to the genre, to a culture, to themselves? The Fresh Prince for example...many Hip-Hop artists get on his case for the fact that he "sold out". His music has moved to a commercial vain and that he has lost touch with his roots. I can see this argument, but I would ask if the music that he performs now is more of a reflection of him now? Is it who he really was the whole time? Where should his loyalties lie in this vain? Is it better to be true to who you are or to the genre you began in? Would his music be as good as it is if he were trying to force himself to stay "authentic" within the genre he is writing? Could we ever get to the concert "experience" if he didn't believe in what he was singing about?

I guess this leads me back to the very beginning...what is "authentic" or "real"? How does one know that what they are hearing is "authentic"? Do we need someone to tell us when we have heard this music? Does the market determine it? Is it only people who are inside this music that really know if the music is "authentic" or not? At the same time, how do we ensure that all the music we listen to doesn't end up as an empty shell...music that is far more concerned with obtaining an audience and making the almighty dollar rather than actually saying something...being that "authentic" music that broke in in the first place?

There is no doubt that record executives will latch on to the latest, greatest thing and try to water it down to be a marketable commodity. Country music, for example, has been mainstreamed with a "pop" music type sound. Many people have said that these artists have sold out. One might argue instead that they have brought the genre to a new group of people. Regardless, while there are still elements from the original country sound, the music is not "authentic" as it were if we compare it to Hank Williams Sr. for example.

It is definitely a tough question to determine regardless of how you view it...

I have a hard time with the second part of this assignment as I do not listen to all that much "popular" music. The only lens that I can look through this question is with art song recitalists, which is, I am sure, exactly where you would not like me to go with this post, so I will try to look at country music, which I used to listen to long, long ago.

Back in the 90's when I listened to country music; I used to listen to the likes of Tim McGraw and Collin Ray. The first question is would I define either of these as authentic? And the first question I would ask back is authentic compared to what? If we are looking at the old country music of Hank Williams Sr. and the like I would definitely say that they are not authentic. But if we are looking at the country rock genre that has developed over the years I would say that they are fairly authentic representations of this genre. A genre that has taken a number of the elements of country (the steel guitar, the country "twang" in the voice, and a great deal of the subject material) and added a more rock undertone to them. However, I don't think this is what people mean when they ask about "authenticity" in the sound so...it is a bit of a catch 22.

The more important question, weather we are discussing authenticity or what makes for "good" music is how do you prove it to someone who does not feel the same way? The simple answer for me is that I have no idea. You can bring up all the great artists of the past who established the genre and try to show the comparisons between them and your artist. You can try to discuss the elements of a particular genre and show how the artist uses these elements within their music. You can try showing them artists within the genre that defiantly are not authentic as showing them how your artist does not compare with them. Regardless, at the end of the day, it is a matter of perspective and attempting to bring them to yours through education..."there are no right or wrong answers in music...only more educated ones."

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