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#4: Assignments around the idea of reviews/critiques


#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)
• How to review a Concert (Jazz/Popular)
• Concert Goer's Guide (General)
• How to Write a Great Album Review
• How to Write a Good Music Review for Money (eHow)

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.


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"


#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 "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 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.

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