In this article I explore of the key differences and similarities between Motown Soul, Stax Soul and Muscle Shoals Soul? These independents laid the foundation for music in the 60's and pointed the way for all independent labels to follow. I draw comparisons from an instrumentation, harmonic, melodic and production standpoint.
The similarities found in the big three record company/studio/music machine chart makers of the 60’s souls era is the fact they all produced chart topping soul music within its own regional local. This is about where the similarity seems to stop. Granted, Motown, Stax and Fame/Muscle Shoals were gate keeper business enterprises trying to increase revenues, each company produced a similar product line while maintaining their own unique sound and flavor of soul. Similar to selling soap, each of the companies had their own uniquely different, shape, size, scent and ingredients
A key factor in the focus and sound of a Stax, Motown or Muscle Shoals is found in the musicians who were laying down the grooves for the tunes being recorded. Another key factor is also found in the writing staff and a targeted effect towards selling to a crossover audience. That being said, I will try to break down those things which made each studio unique to itself and its listening audience.
Motown was founded by Berry Gordy, a hit songwriter turned entrepreneur. His previous work in an automotive assembly plant along with a strong work ethic, drive and support of family turned his idea of taking unknown raw talent and moving them thru a factory type system of music production and having a top flight artist come out the other end is what fueled the Motown Sound Enterprise.
Berry Gordy obviously had a knack and insight into what an artist was capable of. His ability to pick and sign a string of hit making artists has become legendary. At the base of the hit making factory was a core of house musicians called the Funk Brothers. They consisted of James Jamerson-bass, Benny Benjamin-drums, with other instruments listed as follows and taken from the Motown Museum archives:
Keyboards: Johnny Gittens, Johnny Griffith , Dave Hamilton, Ted Sheely and Richard “Popcorn” Wylie
Strings: Gordon StaplesTrombones: George Bohanon, Bob Cousar, Ed Gooch, Bill Johnson, Patrick Lanier, Carl Raetz, Paul Riser, Dan White and Jimmy Willkins
Motown had quite a payroll of musicians on its staff. Artists to record from their studios were Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Dianna Ross & The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandelias to name a few.
Staff writers, a live music coaching team, a business office capable of taking care of the payroll, royalties, licensing fees, publishing, promotions, touring acts as well as a continued A & R team to keep new projects coming in the doors kept things very active and busy for the company.
One of the main things which distinguished Motown from Stax and Muscle Shoals. Motown functioned as a full service music recording, publishing, promotion, live production music agency. It considered and took control of all aspects of its artist roster from beginning to end. The quality control exerted matched that of a fine tuned auto production facility.
Motown had what is now of who's who of pop writers on hand providing music for its artists; Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder.
Stax had as its house band Booker T. & The MGS. The instrumentation consisted of guitar, organ, bass and drums with personnel eventually consisting of Steve Cropper-guitar, Booker T. Jones-keys, Donald “Duck” Dunn-bass, Alan Jackson Jr.-drums. Cropper replaced Chips Moman as A&R and went on to be house producer, writer as well as session player on many of the Stax recordings. A horn section of regulars was also added to the house band.
Stax converted an old movie theater into a recording studio leaving the slanted floor and stage in tact. This tended to give the room its classic Stax big sound which added to the raw flavor of the soul recordings tracked in that room. Most aficionados of soul could immediately tell after a few notes if it were a Stax recording due to the bigness and rawness of sound.
Stax writers included Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, David Porter and Steve Cropper among others. A distribution deal brought about by Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records found Wilson Pickett and other Atlantic artists co-writing and recording with the Stax family as well. Latter, a fall out between Atlantic and Stax brought Atlantic and its artists, namely Aretha Franklin, to FAME studio with the Muscle Shoals band.
If you were to look at the Otis Redding tunes and Dock of the Bay in particular, they are mostly goseple with a flavor of R & B. The melodies are pretty much diatonic following a traditional blues based progressing with some chromatic approach chords to the IV and V thrown in.
The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was formed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 1969 after the rhythm section from FAME studios left to form their own recording/production studio, and publishing company. The studio produced and recorded a number of artists from 1969 thru the 70‘s including Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers, The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Dob Dylan, Paul Simon, Elkie Brooks and Millie Jackson, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Cher and Lynard Skinard.
The distinctive rhythmic stylings of the house band and the unique quality of the arrangements have found their way onto a tremendous number of legendary recordings. Artists who have recorded hit songs and complete albums recorded at this studio.
The house band at Muscle Shoals Studio consisted of Barry Beckett-keys, Jimmy Johnson-guitar, David Hood-bass, Roger Hawkins-drums. A great recording to differentiate the sound that the Muscle Shoals band put out vs the Stax band is found in the recording Respect. The Aretha Franklin version is a classic which deals with a tight driving rhythm section along with larger production in the way of backing vocals, harmony and arrangement style.
The Muscle Shoals group had their own production staff and apparently which produced their own style of arrangements unique to the facility. Because they owned their own publishing co. They could produce and shop the recordings created in their facility and use to their advantage. Not much info on this only assumed. As with Stax, Muscle Shoals did not seem too interested in promoting their artists through live performance, but more interested in the revenues received from tracking, mastering, distribution of units and collection of royalties from publishing deals.
It seemed the artists were the main writers. Muscle Shoals seemed to provide the musicians and arrangements if need be similar to Stax.
Contingent n the artists they were recording, but if you listen to the rendition of Respect, I would say it could get fairly advanced for an R & B/Soul band.
In this essay, I will briefly explore the relationships, if any, between the Civil Rights movement and the development of funk. James Brown's tune, "I’m Black and I’m Proud” comes to mind as a point of reference.
Now, if we are talking about James Brown and the development of funk in relation to the Black Civil rights movement in particular, and the tune “I’m Black And I’m Proud”, I am not too sure this was a main or primary concern for Mr. Brown. For instance, a quote from Wikipedia states;
“Brown only performed the song sporadically following its initial release and later stated he had regrets recording it, saying in 1984, "Now 'Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud' has done more for the black race than any other record, but if I had my choice, I wouldn't have done it, because I don't like defining anyone by race. To teach race is to teach separatism."
“...The song is obsolete now... But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people...”
Brown was very interested in making his shows the tightest, most polished act in the music business, how this translated into a geo/racial/political statement towards the Civil Rights Movement may be somewhat debatable. He was very active in African culture, in America as well as in Africa. His high visibility as performer in America and abroad as well as a large number of continuous yearly bookings helped to spread African American music around the pop world. Brown was very driven to succeed on all fronts.
“Pee Wee” Ellis, his saxophonist, once commented: “When you heard James Brown was coming to town, you stopped what you were doing and started saving your money.” Recorded in 1962, the album LIVE AT THE APOLLO is an awesome document of Brown’s dramatic shows and the raw, emotive power of his voice. The record sold millions of copies, establishing James Brown as one of the leading black performers of the period.”
“A perfectionist, he famously fined his musicians for missing notes or playing the wrong ones. And when he yelled out the name of a musician, that person was expected to improvise perfectly on the spot. Another saxophonist, Maceo Parker, admitted, “You had to think quick to keep up.”
It would probably be better stated that James Brown’s music was more a result of a growing movement towards musical and racial gender freedoms. White politicians may have used him as a screen for more votes and possible favoritism. Brown’s allegiance and agreement to then President Nixon and Boston Mayor White to curb race riots by continuing to do a scheduled Boston concert resulted in eased race tensions in that city during a particularly volatile time. Mr. Brown was a person who walked both sides of the racial line without so much regard for race as for his own personal beliefs.
Brown was a savvy businessman who always held his business and audience first with the highest regard. He knew when he was being taken advantage of and was able to turn that to an advantage as well. One instance in particular points to this direction. After his agreed to performance in Boston, Mayor White continued to broadcast his concert to ease tensions without compensation to Brown.
“White arranged to have Brown's performance broadcasted multiple times on Boston's public television station, WGBH, thus keeping potential rioters off the streets, watching the concert for free. Angered by not being told of this, Brown demanded $60,000 for "gate" fees (money he thought would be lost from ticket sales on account of the concert being broadcast for free) and then threatened to go public about the secret arrangement when the city balked at paying up afterwards, news of which would have been a political death blow to White and spark riots of its own.
White eventually lobbied the behind-the-scenes power-brokering group known as "The Vault" to come up with money for Brown's gate fee and other social programs, contributing $100,000. Brown received $15,000 from them via the city. White also persuaded management at the Garden to give up their share of receipts to make up the differences. Following this successful performance, Brown was cautioned by President Johnson to visit cities ravaged from riots following King's assassination to not resort to violence, telling them to "cool it, there's another way”.”
By the end of the 60’s the rock music scene had basically played itself out to its cross gendered audiences. Singer songwriter tunes based on introspection began to find a home with the youth of the day as did a growing trend towards minimalism in the classical world. James brown begins to really strip his music down to the bare essentials coupled with a truly vaudeville / glam/ music review and stage show. He boils it down to an incessant groove, dance and visual presentation which paved the way for performers like Michael Jackson.
Jackson is quoted as saying James Brown was his most powerful influence in his own music. The connection is easily made after viewing a Brown performance and then a Jackson performance. There is youtube footage of Brown and Jackson performing together. The similarities are pretty present at this stage of Jacksons development.
Brown's band during this period employed musicians and arrangers who had come up through the jazz tradition. He was noted for his ability as a bandleader and songwriter to blend the simplicity and drive of R&B with the rhythmic complexity and precision of jazz.
“Admirers of Brown's music, including Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, began to cite Brown as a major influence on their own styles. However, Brown, like others who were influenced by his music, also "borrowed" from other musicians.”
“Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, James Brown increasingly abandoned melody and harmony, focusing on rhythm in songs like “Cold Sweat,” “I Got the Feelin’,” and “Give It Up or Turn it a Loose.” Brown admitted, “I was hearing everything, even the guitars, like they were drums.” By the end of the 1960s, he was mercilessly reducing every instrument to a percussive role.”
Brown employed jazz arrangers and musicians into his fold to crank out a music which was infectious and continued to draw sweat from the pores of his musicians in following generations. Bootsy Collins was with Brown in this next musical incarnation. The Jimi Hendrix of funk bass, Collins helped to define Brown’s funk edge and went on to to expand the range and possibilities of funk in other bands.
Brown’s influence on humanity was great in the musical sense with a personal life shaped by the world he encountered as a young man trying to survive the absolute harshest of conditions.
Brief History & Evolution of the Three Horn Front Line
Recently I have had the opportunity to score two arrangements for a three horn front line and rhythm section in the jazz tradition. This is line line up which has not been used in contemporary music for over forty years. The common configuration at most is sax and trumpet ala, brecker brothers. I enjoy working with the timbral effects achieved with two brass instruments and one woodwind. This is especially true when the guitar takes some of the voicing/lead lines.
Three horn front line traditions began in the 1920's with Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet and King Oliver among others. The most common front line was usually trumpet, which carried the melody (or lead); the clarinet, performing an improvised, upper register secondary focus feature around the lead trumpet; and trombone, usually consisting of low-register countermelodies, growling effects and glissandi, produced by the slide action of the instrument. Rhythm section instruments would often include piano, banjo or guitar, and drums.
Trumpet, clarinet and trombone held as the main front line instruments through out the Dixieland era. There were exceptions such as King Oliver’s band which had two trumpets, soprano sax and trombone. But for the most part trumpet, clarinet and trombone were it.
When the big band era hit, the roles continued to evolve with the trumpets taking the lead role, saxophones continued as a secondary focus suppling countermelodies to the trumpets and the trombones continued their roles of low register harmonies and slide effects.
After World War II, the small bands began a reconfiguration of the original Dixieland line ups except the clarinet had fallen out of favor for tenor saxophone and a level of harmonic sophistication was applied to the arrangements. Two three horn line ups emerged which are epitomized by the albums Blue Train (John Coltrane leader) and Milestones (Miles Davis leader).
Blue Train had trumpet, tenor sax and trombone with acoustic bass, piano and drums as backing rhythm section. Milestones used trumpet, alto sax and tenor sax with acoustic bass, piano and drums as backing rhythm section. The following year, Kind Of Blue was recorded by Miles Davis with the same line up. The Kind of Blue recording is considered the classic jazz album of all time.
In 1964 the messengers put out a major recording Free For All which featured a trumpet, sax and trombone line up as did Bennie Golson with his Jazztet recording featuring trumpet, sax and trombone.
The arrangements I wrote used the trumpet, tenor sax and trombone front line with guitar, piano, acoustic bass and drums as rhythm section. The first tune I arranged was Gloria’s Step written by Scott LaFaro. This is a beautiful composition which I have performed thru the years. The progression is 5 measures in the A section with a descending major 7 chord pattern starting on Imaj7 and ending on a Imin7 chord. The B section contains 10 measures with reverse cycle 5 min7b5 chords ascending up a 5th and down a 6th.
Joanies Walk is an arrangement of a composition I wrote making use of the melodic minor scale, planned harmonies and an AB song form with coda inside a 3/4 time structure. Each section is 16 measures long with use of harmonization, unison and octave unison.
Both arrangements are mock up midi recordings but it is enough to get an idea of the tunes form and how it may sound live.
History & Background
Comtessa De Dia, also known as Beatriz De Dia (c.1160-1212), was a trobairitz located in the Bordeaux region of France. She was one of the most celebrated of the women trobairitz. The known surviving trobairitz (woman troubadour) were a relatively small group of women composers who belonged to the class of nobility. Their greatest output was between 1170-1260. It is suggested that 32 female compositions are survived with estimates ranging from twenty-three to forty-six.
An ancient biography shows a possible marriage to a Guillem de Poitiers but there is no surviving record of a Guillem de Poitiers. Since Poitiers seems to have been one of the first, main centers for troubadour song writers, the information makes sense as a possible living location.
Later, troubadours extended their traveling range from the Atlantic coast south of Bordeuax in the west of France to the Italian Alps in the east. Beatriz De Dia was also the possible daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia. This correlation also makes sense since all known women trobairitz of the time were from a class of nobility.
Women seemed to have held an elevated power according to the songs which were written about them from the male aspect in spite of the apparent historical of the feminine aspect. The poetry seemed to exalt the women as something extraordinary. Trobairitz held a special place in songwriting and shows a willingness on the male aspect to consider the female perspective. This willingness also seems to point the way to a certain amount of male / female collaboration and co-mingling of ideas and shared passions for the development of the song form.
Known composed songs from Comtessa de Dia are a tenso and four cansos, of which one, A chantar m'er de so qu'eu no volria still survives. This is the only extant melody and verse by a woman trobairitz. The original lyric is about the expression of love for another woman which, in a homophobic society, would suggest a lesbian encounter. In a songwriting surviving society it would suggest a set of strong universal writing skills which cross the gender barriers allowing free interchange of male and female roles.
Music and Lyric
According to a well known troubadour of the time, Folquet de Marseille, “a verse without music is a mill without water”. In De vulgari eloquentia, Dante stated that the cantio (chanson) ‘is the action or passion itself of singing, just as lectio is the passion or action of reading’; poetry is a ‘rhetorical fiction musically composed’, and a chanson ‘nothing else but the completed action of one writing words to be set to music’.
The music is of Arabic descent judging by the phrasing similarities, inflection, interpretation and form. Arabic music was descended from the music of North India. It was brought north by the Indian sufis, later known as gypsies in european terms. The sufis were traveling philosophers who struck out to experience the world. Their primary source of income form traveling town to town was their music. They carried the Phrygian and Dorian scales and a highly developed, researched understanding of music. It is quite possible derivative forms of this music found its way into the early works of the troubadours by way of the crusades and interaction with the Byzantine Empire. Since the troubadour music was stylized and of an improvisational and interpretive nature, it seems natural to equate a strong assimilation in this direction.
A Chantar, Form and Style
Comtessa de Dia’s form and singing style found in A Chantar (To Sing), lends itself to western analysis as well as eastern interpretation. The compositional tonality is D dorian and set as a standard repeating ||:AB Coda:|| form. This can further be broken down to an ||:A1B1:||CDB1 form followed by a D.C. Full chorus repeats are interjected with sung verse and instrumental variation. The vocalist has improvised liberty with nuance and inflection, depending upon technical ability and region, through each full chorus. The melody has distinct, implied harmonic cadences with the ending phrase notes on re (E) mm 1, 3 and do (D) mm 2,4. Standard accompaniment was apparently with flute although hand percussion and string instruments may easily have served the purpose just as well.
The standard classical North Indian form consists of ghat (a) main melody, munja (b) melody extension or answer in lower register, and entera (cd) melody in higher register. Improvisation are then taken mainly on the ghat and to a lesser extend the munja.
Overall: A = mm 1-4, B = mm 5-6, Coda = 7
A1 = mm 1, 3
B1 = mm 2, 4
C = mm 5
D = mm 6
B1 = 7
Gat = mm 1
Munja = mm 2
Entera = mm 5-6
Munja = mm 7
In summary, A Chantar is a troubadour song from the female perspective. According to a writing by Marianne Shapiro, with “the displacement of a male lyricist with a female lyricist...she has posited herself as suppliant and her lover as recipient, thus reversing the two polar humilities and triggering a movement of both male and female polarities towards a center and neutralizing her domination through her femaleness.”
The melodic aspect and its influence to the Arabic/North Indian traditions may also have been secured through ties with the byzantine empire and French Crusaders returning home. Either way, Available recordings and traditional folk music suggest a strong regard for improvisation and light accompaniment. By today’s standard, the surviving melody is easily transferable into most modern idioms requiring knowledge of eastern melodic phrasing technique and modern harmony.
Boethius was a Roman philosopher trained in the ancient greek traditions of philosophy and the liberal arts. He lived c.480-c.524 A.D. One of his first written works was an essay titled De Institutione Musica in four books. Out of the four mathematical disciplines of antiquity: arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, these were considered the discipline of quadrivium, “ the fourfold path to the knowledge of ‘essences’ – things unaffected by material substance.” Although De Institutione Musica did not survive in its entirety as a complete work, and seemed to have vanished from the 6th century to the 9th, it was a very popular musical treatise in its day. Resurfacing in the late 9th century it became the basis for music philosophy and music theory throughout the Medivel, Renaissance and into the early Baroque eras. Whenever a revolution occurs in Western music, the contemporaries look to ancient greek musical thought as a grounding fail safe modus operandi. This essential musical philosophy states;
“...Music occupies an unusual position among the mathematical arts, according to Boethius, for it is related to ethical action as well as to pure reason (De inst. mus., 1, chap.1). Since human behavior is potentially influenced by music, it is very desirable to understand and control the fundamental elements of music (e.g. tonal systems, genera, modes). Moreover, music, in the form of musica mundana, is an all-pervading force in the universe – determining the courses of the stars and planets, the seasons of the year and the combinations of the elements; and as musica humana it is the unifying principle for the human being – bringing the body and soul into harmony, and integrating the rational and irrational parts of the soul and the disparate members of the body into harmonious wholes. Music is also said to be found in instruments (musica instrumentalis), which are subdivided into strings, winds, and percussion (De inst. mus., 1, chap.2)...”
This essay focuses on Boethius’s position regarding the true musician, the three categories he creates and its relevance in todays modern world.
He defines the musician as instrumentalist, composer/songwriter and the critic/judge.
Boethius separates the European classical as opposed to “popular” musician into two main underlying categories; 1) the musician who knows music through the “nobility” of mind and 2) the musician who knows music through the “physical act”.
The first has gained musical understanding through careful, rational, contemplation and the act of reason. The second gains musical understanding through physical skill developed on their instrument. He further separates the musical artist into three kinds of people; 1) the instrumentalists, 2) the composer/songwriter and 3) the thinker/critic (those who pass musical judgement on the composers and instrumentalists.) Let’s look at each of the three types of of people who comprise Boethius’s musical arts and see if they apply in today’s world of European Classical Music.
The Classical Instrumentalist
Boethius states an instrumentalist becomes a slave to their instrument due to the physical demands it requires to continually produce descent tone, pitch and rhythm. Focus is placed on the performative aspects of generating the musical nuance needed to interpret, execute and deliver a quality sound which is pleasing to the listening ear as well as accurate representation of what is given them on the musical notated page. On the other hand, he states the use of reason and thought is “totally lacking” in this type of musician. They become a slave to the mastery of their chosen instrument. In European classical music, an instrument is to a composer what a brick layer is to an architect.
Does this viewpoint still hold true today? Well, let’s consider the number of symphony musicians who flawlessly perform the most challenging works by the greatest composers spanning the Western orchestral musical repertoire. The level of efficiency and execution can be mind boggling. These trained instrumentalist have the ability to execute and perform most anything laid in front of them on their chosen instrument. Yet, when the notated music is removed, the ability to perform a musical task from their own volition seems to vanish in many cases. When asked to perform an accurate representation of a simple folk melody from memory, the task becomes a bit more difficult. When asked to create a melody or even improvise on a given set of chords changes, the classical instrumentalist’s abilities to create reasonable sounds and ideas may be even further compromised.
Many classical musicians are required to develop a basic facility to play by ear, yet when pressed into service in the field of improvisation (music created in the moment, of the moment), the sounds produced can become childishly horrible in the least and highly undeveloped at best. Many classical musicians simply state with good cause, “Do not ask me to improvise.” This is not to say that classical musicians are not trained in the 20th century performance concepts of aleatory music. Instrumentalists seem to treat aleatoric music as a more gimmicky form of performance inside a non tonal structure. Improvisation becomes much more accommodating inside an atonal structure due to the number of notes available. Chord scale theory, harmonic knowledge, melodic development and phrase structure become much less of a requirement for making musical sense.
The irony is found in the simple fact that most classically trained instrumentalists who can play the greatest, most challenging works by the most skilled composers seem to be seriously lacking in the ability to bring together enough of the basic principles in the structure of music to perform the national anthem without music or even figure out the harmonic variations on the tune “Happy Birthday”. This may be the crux of Boetheus’s statement that these instrumentalists are “...totally lacking in thought...” and without reason. A serious lack in basic musical creative thought and reason seems to be in evidence where the classically trained instrumentalists becomes something only slightly better than a live tape recorder.
Boethius’s second type of musician is the composer. He states that this type comes to music by a “certain instinct,” not by thought or reason. Therefore, he is again separated from the music. In contemporary terms, the composer becomes like an architect of sound. He creates the overall plan (score), dispenses the working drawings (parts), checks for structural strength (musical form), makes the building aesthetically pleasing and functional (melodic lines and harmony) and completes with architectual ornamentation and decoration (articulation, dynamic, phrasing). The composer is directed by an inner guidance which does not necessarily separate as much as bond elements of the musical force in such a way as to express the spirit of art within. Those guided strictly by instinct, without the aid or development of a musical language and a solid basis of musical knowledge to back it would be like a tornado passing in the night and the next day leaving a fully assemble jet liner in its wake. Chances are unlikely this would happen anytime soon.
Although many popular songs and much secular music does not need the solid formal and educational basis found in the symphonic composers to create a memorable melody, there is a give and take. A songwriter can only advance as far as his knowledge base will allow before seeking the advice, help or services of a skilled orchestrator or arranger to develop a concept to its fullest potential. On the other hand, since the earliest days of the motet, composers have relied on secular music and popular folk melodies to weave into their compositions or in many cases as the basis of complete works.
Critic / Judge
The third type of musician Boethius describes is the one who is particularly “...suited to the art of music...” in such a way as to use reason and thought to explain all things musically related to a work, genera, concept or idea. In a contemporary sense, this type of person may be likened to the role of record producer, owner, conductor, executive producer and possibly A & R person. For example, Emet Erthehgun, owner and founder of Atlantic Records, based his whole career on an uncanny ability to hear in artists a particular something inherent to their musical sensibility, then develop, record and produce that defining aspect which other industry leaders could recognize. Many of Erthehgun’s artists came to him only after being turned down by the other leading record companies of the day. Some of the artists the Atlantic team brought to the forefront were: John Coltrane, The Allman Brothers, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young, to name only a few. For the most part, these were artists who were turned down by every major label of the day.
The amazingly functional importance for this type of music entrepreneur is to feed an unending supply of new and interesting music to an ever expanding audience base. Can this type of musician be called a critic and judge? Well, only as far as personal taste and moral dictates allow.
What about the actual music critic and the role this position has assumed through out Western musical history? Since the early Romantic period, composers have written critical works regarding reviews of performances, composers and program notes for listeners. Composers such as Schumann, Liszt, Debussy, Schoenberg, Stravinsky to name a few have all had a hand at writing critical work, reviews and essays about music to offset finances and at the same time contributing an insiders view to the musical literature of the day.
Do audiences really need a play by play on the breakdown and musical worth of a composition to render a new technique foreign to the accustomed ear acceptable and palatable? Well apparently in the past, operatic/theater music has driven the expandable bounds of acceptable sounds and the use of atonal/chromatic music since the time of Monteverdi. The popular introduction of program music served as a means to further the musical cause without the visual aid of of the theater setting. Todays modern equivalent is the modern movie theater where the scoring of music plays an integral role in the emotive content shown on the screen.
In summary, the three types of musicians Boethius describes, the instrumentalist, the composer and the critic, seem to be as valid and alive today as they were in the time it was written. Was he correct in saying only the knowledgeable critic and judge are capable of viewing music with any knowledge and reason? The fact of the matter is any instrumentalist or composer seeking to advance a craft and career has to not only listen to themselves from a critical stand point and be their own best critic but they must also rely on the mentorship and viewpoint of others for help along the way. Boethius makes some interesting points, probably more unknowing than knowing in his attempt, yet reflects a certain level of naivety and separatism towards the musical act, on all levels, except that of intuition, reason and thought.
Program Music of the Romantic era is descriptive instrumental music that tells a story. The essence of program music is found in its musical representation and description and served as fuel for ideas for composers, as well as a reference point for audiences. Program music incorporates the use of legends, scenes, characters, literary works, Shakespearian plays and other plays as well, seasons, animals, country sides, paintings, philosophies, nationalities. Examples include; Richard Strauss’s composition Also Sprack Zarathrusta, Vivaldi’s composition The Four Seasons, Debussy’s composition Nuages, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No. 6, Prokofieve’s Peter and The Wolf and Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition to name a few.
The program and music were intricately related to one another in such a way that one fostered the development of the other. Nearly anything was possible in the realm of program music. It is a music which is accompanied by written program notes to aid audience understanding of what was going on musically in their absence of musical text, libretto or other such device. Opera and music with religious texts, and songs were not included as part of the program music genre.
In its attempt to describe objects and events, the music follows a logical path in correlation to the development of the thing being depicted. According to Liszt, one of the early progenitors of program music, “In program music ... The return, change, modification and modulation of the motifs are conditioned by their relation to a poetic idea. ... All exclusively musical considerations, though they should not be neglected, have to be subordinated to the action of the given subject.”
Hector Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastic sonically describes a series of altered mind fantasies based on a surrealistic love affair involving romance, solitude, love, murder torment and hell. This particular work is propelled by story line and character depiction. Berlioz was able to take advantage of huge orchestration liberties in order to support the story line in what ever way he deemed necessary.
Operatic music of the past really set the stage for musical acceptability of the new and interesting sounds found in programatic music. Since the days of Oratorio and the early works of Monteverdi, opera has has served as a driving force for musical change and innovation. It set in motion the use of broader orchestration and ever increasing use of chromatics, dynamics, form and articulation supporting the emotive and visual content of the opera. Program music was the next development or maybe an offshoot in a continuing upward spiral of musical Western advancement. It was the emotive and visual content with out the libretto and vocal text content. The audience member still had the text to refer to but now more attention was being focused on the instrumental music content free from any vocal depiction of story line.
Absolute music, on the other hand, is a non representational form of music. It has no need to serve any agenda other than the music itself. It does not make use of words, scenes, dance, drama, characters, philosophies or anything extra musical to describe it. Absolute music is applied exclusively to the Euro-classical music tradition from the Romantic period. It suggests a work must have a “musical purity” to be considered absolute. This excludes anything with words, sonic depictions of events, objects or anything else extra musical. There is no reference to anything outside of the music itself. Expression is based solely on the music, free of visual, mental or verbal depiction. According to strict definition, if the meaning of the music is referenced to external objects, or even emotive expression of the mind, it can not be absolute.
Stravinsky tells us that art becomes absolute through objectivity, musical structure and form. As a great proponent of musical objectivity his works seem to reveal a disconnect of ego allowing each musical composition to truly stand on its own, speaking its own unique solemn truth. Although Stravinsky was castigated for his beliefs, his works stand as a 20th century testament to his philosophy.
The sonata form has no reference or application to anything other than the musical form itself. There are no outside objects or meanings attached. Music becomes music through the development of repetition, predictability, patterns and a heightened sense of tension release. A composer may be able to create music which has a string of unrelated notes, patterns, phrases and motifs but does this constitute the meaning of absolute music? Paramount to any artistic endeavor is and underlying current of purpose, direction, theme and content.
Program music was and still is a way to explore extramusical devices, themes, color, texture as well as new techniques which may not otherwise be easily or readily accepted by a ticket buying audience. It was also a way of expanding the boundaries of musical form, instrumentation as well as orchestration. Program music helped to distance and differentiate the Romantic era composers form those of the Classical period composers. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 is an early example of program music. His titles included a depiction of the pastoral country side with extra musical effects including a brook. Although the Pastoral Symphony is capable of standing on its own as a musical work free of depiction, a congenial flavor, sonorous atmosphere and somatic effect is added to the benefit of the audience with the inclusion of programatic content.
Another similar yet earlier example of program music can be found in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The musical depiction is not mandatory to the development of theme, form, musical direction or anything else which might be considered programatic. The music has since become highly recognizable and synonymous with the changing of seasons.
Pictures At An Exhibition by Mussorgsky, on the other hand, defines program music in a slightly different sense. The composition began as a sonic depiction of paintings by artist/architect and close friend Victor Hartmann. Recently deceased, Mussorgsky paid homage to his friend when an exhibition of Hartmann’s works depicting his travels abroad. The objects of art found in the gallery become integral to the thematic, structural, motivic and formal development of the work as a whole as Mussorgsky finds himself walking through the gallery, stopping to view each painting while absorbing each individual impact. The paintings become the musical vehicle with which to move each listener through musical space and time, as the viewer moves from one painting to the next. Each painting has its own tonal palette complete with motif, theme and development. The promenade theme is the device used to take the listener from one painting to the next. This was a very clever device with which to engage audience interaction. The narrative aspect is told through the music and its sonic depiction of each painting. The whole work is integrally tied: music to object being depicted, and object being depicted to music.
While Beethoven may have been the first to introduce the concept of program music, it was Liszt who championed the idea to acceptable heights with his creation of the Symphonic Poem. By employing the aspect of operatic overture, complete with its programatic tendencies and expanding it musically, Liszt began creating more complex, one movement instrumental works which was later echoed in works by Debussy, Ravel and Mussorgsky among others. The symphonic poem concept spread to France, Britan, Sweden, Czech and Russia. Sebelius featured concert sets based around celestial events, Tchaikovsky wrote Romeo & Juliet and Richard Strauss took the form to its highest symphonic apex with the use of extra musical devices and instruments added to crate the effects such as musical bleating sheep on stage.
Program music has found its way into many aspects of contemporary music and life. Music for film is an arena in which the use of drama, extra musical effect, theme and story line combine to create an integral sonic/visual/emotional/artistic whole. The audience member is surrounded in a time space environment designed to carry them to new heights of sonic and visual experience, similar in tradition to the theater works of Richard Wagner.
Composers can also be found receiving commissions outside the traditional venues with scores created for special out door events, celestial events, commemorative events, community events, national events, personal events, grand openings, theater and dance events as well as memorial events. A severe lack in the general population of music purchasers and music creators is widely prevalent in the commercial and non commercial music industry as to the power of music to direct behaviors and create positive motivational healing. For the most part composers see a need and try to fix it. Creating a musical commission is similar to an architect submitting a proposal to receive a commission to create a new building.
Composers of program music seem to have been allowed a certain amount of artistic freedom which became acceptable to by a paying audience. Under the guise of descriptive elements and devices, new tonal and orchestral freedoms were allowed to flourish in a way which may not have occurred otherwise. If a story line, object, philosophical thought, or setting can be attached to an abstract musical concept, then the tendency is for the new musical idea or sound to become more readily acceptable in terms of a general audience setting. Ticket sales also seem to reflect what is generally considered acceptable and popular. It may well be that program music needed to come about as the result of a shift from the courts of and noble patrons to the mass audience. This just may have been the out let needed for the music to advance as much as it did harmonically (Wagner), texturally (Mahler and Strauss), and sonically (Ravel and Debussy).
It would seem the resolution of any conflict of agreement towards program music and absolute music lies in the fact that music is generally considered a language of the emotions. Music is an art form which accesses the musical force of sound and vibration to trigger thoughts, feelings, memories, and action, in many cases. He first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring received enough of an emotive and physical response to have people yelling in their seats to shut the music off and then apparently inciting riots in the streets. Is this an effect of music to trigger changed emotive and behavioral response. When Phillip Glass began performing his new style of minimalist music with this traveling ensemble, some audience members were apparently driven to leave their home, purchase objects and then purchase a ticket with the expressed purpose of throwing these objects at the performers to get them to stop playing and disrupt the performance. This is a lot of work for some one who apparently does not care for a particular brand of music. A very interesting phenomenon according to Glass. Although the music is inciting action, albeit a negative action, it still requires a form of participation and involvement by the listener. This type of behavior is and its possible ramifications are interesting, to say the least.
Movie music today is program music in a slightly different context. Soundscapes and scores are created for the movie theater which would be considered way outside the norm of a standard symphony concert attending audience. The squealing pigs and shock and awe sounds found in the score for the original Exhorsist may not be as acceptable as the scores John Williams composed for the Star Wars series by most symphony audiences. As with Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, some of the movie music can stand on its own, other scores are integrally embedded as part of movie whole and can not stand on their own. A recent exciting development in this genre of music is Symphonies are now playing the scores to the film live as the movie is playing.
On a personal note, as a performer and composer, it has always been a personal contention to write music for the environment in which it was intended. This environment can include music for; persons in my ensemble, theater, modern dance, concert stage, compact disc, sports bars, private parties, jazz audiences, classical audiences, Indian audiences, major events, political dignitaries, music festivals, retailers, traveling in cars, skiing. My catalogue is pretty big. What is important in program music and absolute music is proper placement in relation to environment along with a full range of emotive / visual content. In other words, it would probably be unrealistic to perform intimate concert music in a sports bar with TV’s on and many people wanting socializing and expect them to sit and listen and or hear your performance. The same holds true for people purchasing tickets expecting a unique concert experience. They probably would not want to sit and listen to a mediocre rock cover tune when they came to a quality listening environment to experience something else. The bottom line which still remains is music carries certain programatic and absolute emotive requirements which carry over into the translation of style, venue, level of acceptability by a paying audience and relevance to setting in which it is placed.
For those in the know, A-Basin is a hidden Colorado Gem and one of the few Colorado destination points for avid high alpine skiers wanting to ride the 50+ degree steeps. To me, this is one of Colorado's finest, similar to Taos Mountain (one of my favs).
As a certified PSIA skier, my training allowed me to jam hard on everything the mountain's terrain had to throw at me. Hop turns, hour glass shapes and moguls were the order of the day. There is always a sense of awe gazing out on a landscape from 12,000 plus feet up.
The views, the ponderosa pines, the snow fields, ravens & hawks all speak in a silent kind of way; observing from the ultimate observer point of view.
I love skiing the January-February season. There is always a hefty base interspersed with big drops of snow and low population density on the slopes.
A-Basin (Arapahoe Basin) is located in Summit County, Colorado with a skiing season reaching well into the June and at times July months. It is known as the Legend and in 1946 was one of the first ski areas to open in Colorado.
I usually stay in Georgetown which is an old historic mountain village and ski Loveland and A-Basin. My wife and I stayed at the Hotel Chateuax De Chamonix. Amazing 10 bed room boutique French provincial hotel. We stayed in the creek side room complete with fireplace, mountain view and full on running creek to go to sleep by.
They also had a hot tub with a view of the valley as well as in room euro style continental breakfast. The price was 1/4 of what you would pay in Vail or Beaver Creek with the same amount of excellent service and rooms. For those that like the true Colorado ski experience complete with a hot spring soak, Indian Hot Springs is right down the road in the town of Idaho Springs. They have some pretty cool carved out underground hot springs caves you can soak in.
To reach the Basin from Georgetown, take Loveland Pass which is an amazing 30 minute drive thru snow capped mountains across the continental divide. The road then opens out into the A-Basin ski area, a truly beautiful sight.
Follow the links for more detail on each sight.
Sonic cleanse is a term I use for smoothing out vibrational fields caused by rifts in frequency. This is done by directing musical the force thru specially designed compositions, ancient rags, lights and crystals.
The compositions also enhance and strengthen and massage those frequencies which are particularly strong to give a prolonged heightened sense of overall spiritual well being.
Music operates on this level to various degrees any way, contingent on the skills and ability of the performer/composer. In other words, the more skilled and trained the musician in a particular field, the easier it is for a shift to take place.
Ever had your hair stand on end or felt a physical chill run thru your body as a result of listening to a beautiful piece of music? It is a common occurrence found in inspiring music and one way in which vibration has a physical affect thru sound and the musical force.
Below is a channeled description of the vibrational cleanse, music, setting and possible benefits to each listener/light worker:
A Sonic Cleanse is a beneficial life force attunement to bring about positive inflection of source DNA for the purposes of sustaining and transmuting personal long term frequency alignment thru the use of the musical force.
Includes DNA structural adjustment as well as perfection of the inner violet light frequencies to assist, align and elevate light workers on their sojourns.
Work includes soul essence clarification and core vibrational therapy as well as moving the musical force through out the physical body and soul essence vibratory interaction.
The use of incense (smell), colored lights (sight), sound (hearing) and crystal (communication) combine to create a full, multi dimensional, multi layered experience.
Instrument of choice is Guitar and a specially designed 20 stringed instrument called the Imrat Guitar (hybrid sitar/guitar). Various note combinations used from ancient rags create mood and vibratory fields necessary to affect cleanse. Harmonic motion sets up a platform for change and continuos spiral interaction.
Any one within relational distance to this sonic zone will be effected at some level. Compositions and rags were created to move the musical sonic force thru the body and elevate the soul. Bring a blanket for laying shavasana on the floor.
This practice has been in effect for the past four years with work in the cancer wards of the various siteman treatment centers located in and around the St. Louis region.