Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Idealization of the Popular

Daniel Bernard Roumain

Dominique-René de Lerma:

            The separation of peoples' music from that designed for critical listening became particularly obvious with the rise of the middle class in the 19th century.  Not that ordinary citizens lacked music before, but most of their music we know from that time was not that much different from the "art" music.  Haydn had idealized folk music in his symphonies, the menuets of a Mozart symphony differed from that designed for dancing with the presence of the viola, and Beethoven was not above composing music for dancing (even briefly attempting to dance).  But with him, if not earlier, there were erudite works that obligated full attention.  The distance became profound with Wagner, who expected the Bayreuth patrons to spend the first part of the day studying scores and debating philosophical implications of his music dramas.  That rather well left a less inclined public by the wayside.  Those in Bohemia found comfort in the ethnically oriented works of their composers, and opera in Italy won the hearts and minds of a general public -- Verdi was the people's composer.  All the people.
The invading French were a bit shocked to find Viennese couples embraced as they waltzed; dancers no longer maintained the decorum of only touching their hands.
Those who danced to the jazz of the days before the Second World War were now required not only to remain seated, not even jiggling the ice in their drinks when music of Monk, Parker, and Coltrane was being performed or when Billie Holiday was singing. Hardly the medium for the jitterbug.
The popular language of R&B reached greater sophistication with the Beatles, although the screaming mobs of youth were not mindful of the introduction of modes and Neapolitan sixths into the music they only thought was theirs.
In the past few decades hip-hop has become part of globalization.  In my current work on dissertations, I find the matter of rap and break dancing attracting the scholarly attention of many graduate students, even from Asia and South America.
This had previously raised some questions in my mind.  Even now, several decades after rappers have proliferated internationally, I have been hard pressed to find any real music.  The existence of the spoken word with music is not an innovation.  Opera itself was originally a musically nuanced drama. We have monodramas and moments already with Mozart, and very effective use in Beethoven's Fidelio.  To a lesser extent, we could include the recitativo, whereby we can deal with dialogue and then get to the aria.  But would we be interested in a CD that was dedicated to recitativo secco hits of Rossini?  Then there is Schönberg's Pierrot lunaire and Walton's Façade, perhaps even Peter and the wolf.  
Now, how to deal with rap?  Is this music or only another instance of oral tradition, such as the performer who improvised a commentary on me at a club in the Virgin Islands?
The hip-hop culture already is manifest in the works of Dr. Daniel Bernard Roumain, an exceptional talent I have ardently watched since his undergraduate days in Nashville.  Some years ago I brought him to Lawrence University within the Ben Holt series, not without a degree of apprehension.  Such had not been traditional fare for the Lawrentians.  But today's embryonic professionals have not renounced their earlier contacts with the popular of their younger days, and the reception was extraordinarily enthusiastic -- even from the faculty.  One professor collaborated in the program, belting out like a blues singer. 
I had begun to feel my age when a violin virtuoso (our own Rachel Barton Pine) expressed more than a mild interest in bluegrass and heavy metal, and even recorded with Joy Elane and Mark Weiner (vocals), Tony Spillman (guitar), Jason Muxlow (guitar), Ron Holzner (bass, vocals), Scott Davidson (drums) and guest vocalist Kristin Joy Elane – (Earthen Grave on Claude and Elmo Music, CECD001, 2012.
I have yet to hear any music by violinist-composer Dr. Gregory Walker, by reputation very in tune with recent trends, and I expect that my "mouldy-fig" bubble has not provided me with a chance to hear the work of other innovators.  Stravinsky always managed to be in the vanguard.  I wonder, had he lived, if he would have written for Snoop Dogg.

Dominique-René de Lerma

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