Music: Its Language, History, and Culture
Douglas Cohen, CUNY Brooklyn College
Pub Date: 2015
Publisher: CUNY Academic Works
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This book is a timeline of terminology, historical facts, and music genres. It reads like several books albeit four authors. By the time the glossary read more
This book is a timeline of terminology, historical facts, and music genres. It reads like several books albeit four authors. By the time the glossary shows up the reader has traveled through different periods such as The Renaissance, The Baroque or Romantic period and modern music with a nod to Bartok and others in the Classical movement. Initially the book talks about audiology, linguistic phonics and electronic sound.. It 's comprehensiveness is in its peripheral narrative and its bibliographies after chapters end. You can buy a dictionary type glossary at book stores better than at the end of this book however. The composers of high merit mentioned seems to be historically bias. The Beatles are never mentioned , jazz great Chet Baker or Bill Evans, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors etc As a beginner's book Music:Its Language, History and Culture works.One of the best chapters is on the American Vernacular A strange line from the book however is: "The sentimental and tragic themes of Anglo American ballads, along with the high-pitched, "whiney" vocal style, have survived and flourished in 20th century popular country music." Religion and its roots in Blues , Classical and Jazz is delved into but Jazz gets most of the ink. The idiosyncratic nature of composers like Duke Ellington and Beethoven are nice novelties to explore. I found the book a little fragmented and seemed to rely on here say as much as historical truth.
The accuracy about language, audiology and historical influence is accurate. The need to express music and how it was invented to fit each period was well researched. The footnotes are accurate. It leans towards certain players as vanguards of a certain sound but really misses people like Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Robert Johnson, Lightning Hopkins to name a few. For a freshman who is curious about music there is an accuracy to details regards ensembles, instrument choice and World Music which pentatonic scales versus diatonic. Knowing this and information on syncopation and how modern music came to be is an accurate description of the human timeline regarding sounds and how form came to be. I thought doing a biopic of Handel and never mentioning his most famous religious piece "The Messiah" was a red flag regarding accuracy.
The fact that this is a historical narrative keeps it open to addition or a second improved pressing. THe second book could address many musicians not mentioned and could talk about the business side of music and the bands who maintained quality despite being commercialized. The freezing of time can be a problem for the book's relevance because Jazz has moved far away from the icons they gush over. The generalization of music as genre, nativity and intentional posturing is out of step with Rapp, Punk, Electronica. The book is a bit old timey in its clarion call to the arts.
The explanations of sound waves and pitch was easy to understand. The stories about the composers was good human history and its clarity to the common vernacular. It explained how many of the greats improvisers and not magicians. A young reader interested in the arts should find this book inspirational by merit of its organized trajectory. Using bold print before explaining terms like Wave Form makes it clear rather than obscure.
The first half of the book was very consistent while the World Music and Appendix/ Biography sections could have been more concise. To never mention Reggae after going on about Calypso was not consistent with the terminology and framework is one example.
The use of four writers make for groups of four in a classroom to explore the ideas. Math people will like the chapters on sound, while humanities people should enjoy the stories of the composers and their artistic drive that echoes on the timeline that leads up to their moment of fame and epiphany. World Music should create inclusion for those who are not in the western lexicon and its sounds and life expressions.
In regards to organization the book basically looks like four manuscripts glued together to make a book. The topic is very dense and if it was a graduate class would need a book just for annotation. Luckily for the writers this is appropriate for early college students.
The historical context lists really should be in the back rather than after the chapters due to their very long lists. Its good to let chapters flow easily for comprehension.
I saw no grammatical erors.
The World Music chapter and the discussion of primordial sounds gave this book a cultural relevance. The PC correct need to patronize or exoticize other cultures actually was a little odd. Music is a very opinionated forum if you start declaring who the real genius's were etc. The idea that John Cage was so profound and never mention Derrida, James Joyce or DuChamp made the book seem a little naive at times.
The book is excellent for history buffs and curious beginners.
The title and table of contents of this book appear to be comprehensive, but much of the contents are far too abbreviated to fulfill that goal. It read more
The title and table of contents of this book appear to be comprehensive, but much of the contents are far too abbreviated to fulfill that goal. It might well be able to write a book of this type in just over 100 pages (really only 64 if the appendices are pushed aside), but this to my mind is not that book. The historical chapters consist of only a few paragraphs for each style period (which makes it hard to get beyond sweeping generalizations), followed by long lists of people and events (mostly outside of music—for the ninteenth-century section, nineteen “major figures in music” are listed, and over sixty “other historic figures”). Not a single piece of music is discussed, or even named. A separate chapter is given for western art music since 1900, where two pieces of music are mentioned (one a nineteenth-century symphony), but even here a page-long list of “major figures in music” (which is balanced mostly toward jazz, blues, folk, and rock musicians) is dwarfed by longer lists of “historic context” and “other historic figures.” The chapters on “American vernacular music” and jazz are more substantial, but if they are the true focus of the book, then arguably too much space is given to the opening chapters. Why bother with a cursory discussion of the history of western art music, or its instruments and ensembles, if that is the case? The world music chapter returns to the cursory discussions of the western art music chapters. Nearly two pages are given to Africa, with a list of generally shared elements (such as the importance of music and dance), but no actual examples. Similarly brief discussions are given to the music of northern and southern India, Indonesia, and China. The Caribbean receives more attention, with some discussion of specific genres of music from Puerto Rico and Trinidad (including Trinidadian music in Brooklyn). The chapter ends with a brief discussion of music in South America, a separate section on the Argentinian tango, and Klezmer music. A large appendix (over 30 pages, so over 25% of the entire book) gives musician biographies, and a short glossary defines terms, but neither is connected to the text. I don’t understand why terms like “ritornello” or “tutti” need to be defined in a text that gives no examples of baroque music. I don’t see a good audience for this book; certainly it is not a book I could use even as a skeletal foundation for any class I teach, either for majors or non-majors. The level of information it would take to make this book make sense for someone who didn’t already know the material would be equal to that required without it, so the book is of no help whatsoever.
The book is general enough that it is hard to find large-scale errors, but there are many small errors and potentially confusing moments. To give just a few examples: * The first phrase of “Jingle Bells” does not end with a half cadence (though the second one does), and a contratenor (not contra tenor) is not the same as a countertenor (not counter tenor). * It is fair to say that the fact that the modern flute is made of metal but classified as a woodwind instrument, but it’s confusing to leave that statement without explaining that there are in fact historical reasons for that classification—without that, the reader is left wondering why such a classification error exists. * The so-called “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers in 1802 when he realized his growing deafness would not get better, was not a will. I am also troubled by the fact that the biographies in the appendix include substantial quotations for which no source is given. This encourages students not to cite sources in their own work.
The excessively cursory nature of much of this book makes it difficult to use. If the focus is on “American vernacular” music and jazz, then much of the rest is not relevant, while even those sections are too telegraphic to be useful. As I've said elsewhere, I don't see how I could use this text in any class I teach. The amount of work it would take to make the book make sense to a reader who did not already know the subject would be the same as that required without the book--which means it effectively serves no purpose. It's not so much that what is here is truly bad, as that it is not helpful.
What prose there is is not bad on the whole, but it’s too sketchy to be clear to a reader who doesn’t already know the topic. The lists of dates in the historical chapters are not always in chronological order, and there are catch-all categories with wide date spans (such as the “establishment of major European cities” in the medieval section, which goes from c. 450 to c. 1250), which makes them very difficult to use.
Much of the opening chapters are entirely focused on western music (such as the introduction of the elements of music, save only a mention of the pentatonic scale), including a section on “western categories of instruments” with no mention of other instruments, which makes it seem out of place when, for instance, the gamelan is brought in as an example of an ensemble. This is followed by the historical chapters, again focused on western art music but so cursory as to make them appear insignificant. It becomes clear that “American vernacular music” and jazz are the real interest, but that makes the opening sections make less sense—and the final chapter on world music again doesn’t seem to fit the true focus.
The book is suitably modular, but the modules are often too cursory to be helpful.
The basic organization is typical (elements, western art music, jazz and popular music, world music), but they are not well balanced. It would be more effective if it were better focused on the apparent true interest, which is jazz and popular music, preceded with a chapter (or set of chapters) on the elements of music that is better focused toward the true goal. Opening with physics rather than music I expect is offputting to many students; the material is adequate, but I think it would work better to draw in the reader with music, then provide the physical explanations. I also find that opening chapter out of balance: half a page on rhythm (treating rhythm and meter as different elements, not meter as one aspect of rhythm), followed by slightly more on pitch (which seems to include harmony, though the term appears as part of texture), melody, and texture. That means the entire discussion of the elements of music gets about 3-1/2 pages, which I think even music majors would find too telegraphic, unless they already knew the material (and therefore did not need the book at all).
The potential problems created by pictures and links in an electronic text are not an excuse not to have them. This book has no links, and no pictures beyond those opening chapters—even when specific instruments are introduced. After the opening section on physics, there are no diagrams or figures, only plain text. That would be difficult to justify for a print book on music; for one that lives on the internet, it is unacceptable.
The writing is generally decent.
The book does not include any examples of cultural insensitivity. By trying to do too much in too little space, however, it does not give sufficient value to any culture.
I think this book is simply trying to do too much in too little space. A book on US vernacular musics, with an appropriately pitched elements section, would have room to discuss specific styles and examples, and it appears this author would be able to do such a thing. In this form, however, I don’t think it works—certainly it could not work for any class I teach.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Elements of Sound and Music
- Chapter 2: Musical Instruments and Ensembles
- Chapter 3: Composer, Performer, Audience
- Chapter 4: European Art Music: Middle Ages through Romantic
- Chapter 5: European and American Art Music since 1900
- Chapter 6: American Vernacular Music
- Chapter 7: Jazz
- Chapter 8: World Music
- Appendix 1: Musician Biographies
- Appendix 2: Glossary
About the Book
Welcome to Music 1300, Music: Its Language History, and Culture. The course has a number of interrelated objectives:
1. To introduce you to works representative of a variety of music traditions. These include the repertoires of Western Europe from the Middle Ages through the present; of the United States, including art music, jazz, folk, rock, musical theater; and from at least two non-Western world areas (Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Indian subcontinent).
2. To enable you to speak and write about the features of the music you study, employing vocabulary and concepts of melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, timbre, and form used by musicians.
3. To explore with you the historic, social, and cultural contexts and the role of class, ethnicity, and gender in the creation and performance of music, including practices of improvisation and the implications of oral and notated transmission.
4. To acquaint you with the sources of musical sounds—instruments and voices from different cultures, found sounds, electronically generated sounds; basic principles that determine pitch and timbre.
5. To examine the influence of technology, mass media, globalization, and transnational currents on the music of today.
The chapters in this reader contain definitions and explanations of musical terms and concepts, short essays on subjects related to music as a creative performing art, biographical sketches of major figures in music, and historical and cultural background information on music from different periods and places.
About the Contributors
Douglas Cohen is an intermedia composer and often collaborator with film, performance and folk artists. He was an early advocate for digital media on the Internet. He organized the NewMusNet Conference of Arts Wire with Pauline Oliveros and later was arts wire systems coordinator.
Cohen is a specialist in American experimental music and pays particular attention to the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Pauline Oliveros. He co-created and produced the evening=length intermedia work imusicircus at Experimental Intermedia in New York and LACE Gallery in Los Angeles (later with the California EAR Unit at the L.A. County Museum of Art) as City Circus events for the John Cage exhibition Rolywholyover a Circus.
He received a bachelor of fine arts and a master of fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts, and a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo.