Resonances: Engaging Music in Its Cultural Context
Esther Morgan-Ellis, University of North Georgia
Copyright Year: 2020
ISBN 13: 9781940771311
Publisher: University of North Georgia Press
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Resonances is an impressive introduction to music textbook which offers us the tools we need to update this often tradition-bound course. That it is open access makes it even better! I look forward to adopting it the next time I teach our... read more
Resonances is an impressive introduction to music textbook which offers us the tools we need to update this often tradition-bound course. That it is open access makes it even better! I look forward to adopting it the next time I teach our Introduction to Music Literature course. The traditional music appreciation course (a general education course for non-majors) is a chronological introduction to Western classical music with maybe a class on jazz late in the semester. The majority of textbooks are in their fifteenth or twenty-third edition, very expensive, and written with this increasingly outdated model in mind, with revisions around the edges. This traditional course model requires decolonization and fails to reckon with our students’ experiences of music. My students like the security and framework of a textbook, but most of the available textbooks have failed to mesh with my attempts to revise the course’s approach. (I have taught this course three times with two different mainstream appreciation textbooks.) Resonances, with its nonchronological organization and incorporation of many different genres and styles of music, offers the tools to construct a diverse and intellectually engaging introduction to music course that is in line with current music pedagogy. It is impossible for any introduction to music to be comprehensive (as the authors state in their introduction), but Resonances offers instructors a very wide choice of topics, all presented in an accessible way and the authors make the music exciting without reverting to problematic rhetoric of masterpieces and masters or teleological narratives. The inclusion of links to listening examples and listening charts make it a full package, one which will be truly open access for students (and save instructors a lot of time hunting down audio and posting it on Blackboard). Content-wise, my main complaint is the elements of music section (Chapter 2) is very brief. Aural skills are an important element of most introduction to music courses and more depth here would have been welcome. There are sections of the book I will skip but way more intriguing ones and many creative juxtapositions. I’m definitely going to take the book’s hint and cover Die schöne Müllerin and Lemonade in the same week!
I have taught a number of the subjects in the book and found the book accurate and reflect current research in musicology. The additional reading lists at the end of each chapter are well-chosen.
Dr. Morgan-Ellis and her colleagues have really filled a need for music appreciation instructors, as I already discussed above. The audience for this book is students who have never taken a college music course before, and the book gives an introduction to all sorts of music they will hopefully find stimulating, without the condescension common in this textbook category. Musical taste is a very personal thing and too many appreciation courses tell students that they’re doing it wrong—not a good way to get them excited about class or to take more music courses! This book presents music they may have encountered before and material that will be new to them on an equal footing and discusses issues of prestige and class without implying that classical music is better or more worthy of academic study (as many of these books do). The section on the Pulitzer Prize in Music is particularly good for this and inspired me to add a class on the Pulitzer to my majors class. As for longevity, the links to external YouTube examples may be an issue in the future. YouTube videos can disappear at any time.
The writing in the book is appropriate for a general education level at a university like mine (the University of Arkansas). Occasionally there are too many rhetorical questions and incongruously casual asides, but it’s not intrusive.
The text is by a team of authors but the tone and terms are mostly consistent. Foreign language titles are presented in English with one odd exception (see page 281). This is easier for students, but it’s a trade-off because they aren’t going to be able to find The Elf King on Spotify (the German is given in parentheses, though).
The book is extremely modular, almost to a fault. The chapters are on topics like “music and storytelling” and “national identity,” each of which has a handful of sections centered on different musical works from different cultures and time periods, each of which could be a class session. Some of the themes are somewhat poorly defined (I don’t quite grasp the theme of Chapter 8: Listening at Home and at Court) but most are good. If you want to teach chronologically and construct a lot of causal relationships, this is not your book. If you have a nationalism lecture and want a bunch of pieces of music to teach related to it, you're covered, and you'll get an interesting variety of examples to either select from or juxtapose with each other. I found the authors’ emphasis on repertory, however, sometimes came at the expense of broader issues. The introductions to each thematic chapter are very short and I wish they gave more context or more of an umbrella for the following sections. It’s a very different book, but I think Danielle Fosler-Lussier’s OER text Music on the Move does a better and more sophisticated job of introducing theory and historical material to tie together similarly diverse repertories. Here, the connections between sections sometimes seem more placed more to smooth out the writing than to actually draw links between different traditions.
As mentioned above, sometimes the connections from a section on one work to the next feel forced and arbitrary but each section within itself is well-constructed and the book balances cultural background with listening guides. Again, some more attention to overarching themes via chapter introductions or conclusions may have been helpful.
The volume is very professionally produced and includes plenty of good images and, most crucially for a music appreciation textbook, links to sound examples. It has the authority of a real textbook (which many of the other OER efforts in this category do not). The images and sound examples are well-chosen and the use of links to open access recordings and videos corresponding to the listening charts is another money-saver for students (who with a conventional textbook often have to purchase access to a streaming music site). A few of the page numbers in the table of contents aren’t clickable while most are, this could use an update. Most courses will not use anything close to the whole volume and the long PDF (150 MB!) may be somewhat unwieldy, but it’s also full-text searchable! An online interface like Fulcrum would be helpful. A print edition is available for a very reasonable price, but I haven't seen it. I usually don’t use PowerPoint slides provided by publishers, but the ones with this book include a number of useful discussion questions so I might this time.
I caught a few minor errors (premiere not premier, French horn not french horn) but the book is thoroughly edited and proofread.
This is a great strength of Resonances, as I already discussed in Relevance, above. The book includes music by people of color and women and doesn’t shy away from discussing the issues surrounding its reception (this remains an issue in many appreciation books). The books’ breadth and inclusive attitude is an argument that all music has value--and that there isn't a fundamental difference between "classical" and "popular" music. The book also includes ways to connect music to current events, such as sections on campaign songs and national anthems (both of which could be augmented with even more current material). That being said, the breadth can be a real challenge for the average instructor, who probably doesn’t have expertise in so many areas. My department still offers a general introduction to music course (no geographical designation) and a world music (implied folk and non-Western) course, which is a problematic distinction but does reflect the training of many faculty. This book is aimed at the general course model, which is the one I teach. I will do my best to continue to diversify my teaching areas, but more than any other music appreciation textbook this one reminds me how much I don’t know about music! I mean that as a compliment.
Thanks to Dr. Morgan-Ellis and her colleagues for publishing this book open-access. Based on the large number of music appreciation textbooks available, I suspect it's still a money-making category for publishers, but this book offers a compelling basis for an introduction to music course without the high cost to students and with an up-to-date pedagogy most of the those expensive books can't match.
A good song needs a memorable hook and so does a book. The text snared me the moment I was encouraged to listen to and view URL links that offer examples of junkyard "music”, piano interpretations of a subway and more. The text offers creative... read more
A good song needs a memorable hook and so does a book. The text snared me the moment I was encouraged to listen to and view URL links that offer examples of junkyard "music”, piano interpretations of a subway and more. The text offers creative ways of learning from the book’s downbeat. Overall, Resonances, covers an impressive amount of musical ground while offering information and insights that engage the visual, aural and intellectual processes. Resonances makes every effort to share music history in terms of origin, identity and relevance to the social fabrics of various times and regions of the world. It does not claim to be the end all in comprehensiveness nor would that be possible, even with over five-hundred pages and numerous weblinks. It does, however, contain a significant amount of thought-provoking material from world continents and does some deep diving into composers and compositions early in the book. Chapter One asks a broad question in its title---What is Music? I hopefully expected an unexpected answer and was rewarded with a variety of options to consider. They include, but are not limited to, human, animal, and environmental sources. As the book says, “Music is in the ear of the beholder”. So, I took a cue from the text and listened to “music” around me. A hawk calling out high in the sky, the distant drone of a highway, rhythmic steps of a jogger running past my porch, and syncopated clicks of flashing parking lights on a delivery truck. This was my first, of many, active learning moments inspired by the book. In Chapter 3, we are introduced to the composer John Williams and his work on Star Wars with Director George Lucas. It is useful to include this and other sequences about origins of work between collaborators. While it is difficult to delve deeply into every musical category and genre, the authors do give us a more than a taste from the world’s musical menu. If a revision is in the works, additional commentary on Latin styles and Blues music is worth considering. Distinguishing between Blues and R&B would also be useful since both are referenced in the book. The back of the book offers helpful references to Instruments of the Orchestra, Western and Non-Western Art Music, and a lengthy and detailed Terms of Definition glossary. Note to the Editor: It would be useful to add the terms leitmotif and vaudeville to the Definition of Terms.
Care has been given to spelling and grammar in the lengthy book (552 pages). The content appears to be well-researched and accurate. The presentation is fact-based and objective overall. One point to offer involves a photo by William Sidney Mount. The caption reads as follows. “An African-American listens surreptitiously to a white fiddler. We can imagine that he is a fiddler himself, and is perhaps listening in order to learn the tune.” It’s hard to know if the white man is more adept at the fiddle than the black man. This painting is more than a statement about music. It invites exploration and consideration into the topic of segregation. The following link offers more insight into the subtext of this particular painting. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-power-of-music-1847-william-sidney-mount.html Notes for the Editor: Page 30: “really” should be “ready” regarding the opening sentence on Texture. Page 536: The definition of Conjunct Motion in the Definition of Terms section appears to be partially inaccurate. The second reference to conjunct motion in the definition should read as disjunct motion.
Resonances make efforts throughout to mesh history with current day. Chapter Four’s exploration of the recent stage musical, Hamilton, is fascinating and relevant---offering commentary on the backstory and origin of the writer/composer/lead actor, Lin Manuel-Miranda. The text shares insights into instrumentation choices, structural style, reinterpretation of history, motifs and the creative process. The Stories Without Words chapter offers an interesting window on artists Berlioz and Mussorgsky. Both came to prominence in completely different ways. As played out then and is still with us today, we are reminded that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The book asks the reader to consider how many talented people have not been given voice due to challenging environmental and societal situations. The book effectively offers questions and comments about creative works and the settings in which they have been created.
The book opens with important, foundational information into musicology, physiology, psychology and other ologies. The authors in Chapter One do not strand readers in jargon-rich, deep waters too long. They offer human connection with an occasional comment such as "Whew! That was a lot of information about our highly complex human brain.” And “How bizarre is that?” As a learner, it’s nice to know the teacher is nearby and in tune (pun intended) with the student’s journey. Throughout the book, the authors use bold text with key words. This is also helpful. Note to the Editor: Please include the location of the school referenced in the caption on page 113.
Overall, the use of terminology is consistent throughout the text’s framework. Note to the Editor: Chapter One discusses three key areas of the brain. It references these regions in two different places in the chapter. Are these descriptions referencing the same brain areas?
Resonances is designed for college-level, music appreciation students as well as independent learners, advanced high school students and experienced musicians. Chapters are arranged thematically. This is an alternative way to engage readers rather than presenting in chronological form. Editor-in-Chief, Esther M. Morgan-Ellis invites instructors to use and order book elements to the benefit of their instruction. In her words, “We strongly advise that you do not attempt to teach this entire text in a single semester.” This foreshadows the breadth of topics covered. Morgan-Ellis invites readers to offer feedback and indicates a revision may be forthcoming.
It took a little while to become accustomed to the flow and ordering of topics within the thematic structure and in one case, the topics and headings within the chapter seemed a bit unrelated on first glance. Specifically, Chapter Three--Music and Characterization—offers interesting, in-depth exploration into work by four noted composers (Williams, Wagner, Holst, Stravinsky) and finishes on the topics of Ragtime and Dixieland Jazz. Structurally, there is transitionary language to move from Igor Stravinsky to Ragtime, but it appears a bit jolting in the table of contents and in the chapter layout.
Resonances makes ample use of attaching music and video links as well as other illuminating resources that compliment chapter subjects. Chapters One and Two offer links to describe musical terms. As an example, harmony is shown as a music score with accompanying piano chords to demonstrate the term. The author admits the topic of harmony is multi-faceted and for that reason it could be educational and interesting to add examples of vocal harmonies. In some early videoclips there is an animated character that stands next to on-screen text. The animator chose to show the character’s lips moving without hearing her words. This may offer an opportunity to include an audio narration for visually impaired students here and throughout the book. An accessible resource for the visually challenged may be available or in process. The book effectively comments on the role of music improvisation around the world. In the spirit of improvisation, it could be useful to create listening/viewing examples of fixed compositions that move into improvisation with jazz and/or other appropriate idioms. During this review, Safari and Firefox web browsers were used to access the QR codes and links provided in the book. At times, non-functioning links were encountered. A common experience for web surfers is to find URL links pulled from various sites. Maintaining the functionality of the links may not be in the control of the authors. Resourceful instructors will find suitable options elsewhere if need be. Note to the Editor: The following links were not functional as of 8-4-20. Chapter Three: The Imperial March, Princess Leia’s Theme, Yoda’s Theme, Wotan’s Farewell, Mars, Part II: Introduction from the Rite of Spring, The Black and White Rag and King Oliver’s Dippermouth Blues. Chapter Four: The Toccata from Orpheus, O Isis and Osiris, Hell’s Vengeance Boils in My Heart, and Ah, I Feel, it is Vanquished. Chapter Five: Ode to Billie Joe and the Sunjata Story links (2). Chapter Six: March to the Scaffold, Dream of Witches, The Gnome (2002 & 1996), the last three of four Ballet of Unhatched Chickens, Spring Movement II & III and Attack on All Sides. Chapter Seven: Symphony No. 5 Movement 1, Rhapsody in Blue, Symphony No. 1 Movement 2, Over There and Purple Haze. Additional links leading up to the final chapter were not checked. It is assumed the majority are functional, but it would be useful for the editor to confirm either way if another textbook revision is done. All links in the final chapter are functioning as of this review and they are a treat to hear because of the diversity and creativity of the human spirit. There is a great deal to explore throughout Resonances and in the end, the reader/listener is treated to an intoxicating mélange of music examples that cannot help but urge you to explore more of the rich diversity of this world.
Overall, the text was grammatically correct. Note for the Editor: Could Chapter Four’s title Sung and Danced Drama be changed to something that does not utilize a past participle tone? Perhaps Drama in Song & Dance or Song, Dance, Drama.
The book endeavors to show how music can affect our mindsets. It also intertwines the history of music development along with the development of societies and values. The opening chapter offers an efficacious introduction to music and its benefit to humanity. There is also an invitation to everyone to become musical in some way. Overall, the book offers a sense of diversity in race and age with visuals and topics about people and music from around the world. A photo at the end of Chapter One shows a group of people of various genders and ages singing in unison. It would be worth including another photo or creating a collage to show additional racial diversity here since Chapter One sets the tone that music is for everyone. It is worth repeating that the authors have made effective use of images and music that offers a sense of diversity and connectedness through music. Along with music education, the book offers relevant connections with yesteryear and today. It refers to racism and stereotyping, particularly in the segment on blackface minstrelsy. Jim Crow laws are also referenced, which are not only important to the conversation of music development but segregation and social injustice. The authors might consider briefly expanding upon reasons for the Great Migration of black people to the northern U.S. While Dixieland Jazz references an historical aspect of musical development, the word Dixie, alone, does bring about negative connotations in terms of segregation and slavery in America. Perhaps the authors will consider offering more information about the sentiment today regarding updated references to the use of Dixie in the term Dixieland Jazz. This is not to say that Dixieland Jazz should not be referred to or covered in topic. The book effectively refers to Orientalism as a stereotyped representation of Eastern cultures in Western works of art. Yellowface sensitivity and reform regarding visual depictions of Asians in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker are also referenced in the book and enlightening. There are places throughout the text that call into question an artist’s objectives and outcomes particularly where the work may be considered prejudicial or insensitive toward others. An effective example of this is in Chapter Three with references to Wagner’s anti-Semitic stances---this from an artist whose work is memorable and still-played today. In terms of talent and diversity, it is useful seeing composer Florence Beatrice Price included in the book. The URL link sharing an example of her orchestral music is enlightening and uplifting. As a side note, the gamelan segment in Chapter Four is illuminating and brings another region of the world, with its history and music, to the fore.
Test Bank Questions & Listening Guides There are test questions for students to ponder. Instructors can access these through the University of North Georgia Press website and the UNG Music Department YouTube channel. Some musical examples in the book have listening guides. The authors recommend that additional listening guides may be produced as part of student assignments. Availability and Affordability Chapter Two talks about Aaron Copland’s commitment to his art and his efforts to create music appreciation opportunities for everyone. The authors of Resonances share this dedication. The time and effort to bring this book into PDF form with URL activating technology (QR Code) will be of value to those students who are unable to afford a textbook. Final Thoughts I am a film instructor and producer/director. Music will always be an important aspect of my work and teaching. I am also a trained percussionist. Reading this book took me back to my times in high school and college---in the days of music appreciation and participation. I played in jazz quartets, big bands, marching band and symphonic orchestra---all while listening to Latin music, rock ‘n roll and world music. Heck, my first gig was in a polka band. I decided to review this textbook as if I were a student. I teach film analysis and storytelling. My classes dig into the visual and aural aesthetics that contribute to elevating the emotional experience of movie making and viewing. I intend to reference aspects of this book in my upcoming film aesthetics classes and encourage instructors who teaching any arts-related courses to see how they might incorporate all or aspects of Resonances into their teaching. As the title Resonances implies, the book is meant to create sound ideas about music that can resonate with and inspire everyone to find appreciation in this far-reaching art form.
Table of Contents
Unit 1 - Music as a Field of Practice and Study
- Chapter 1: Music in Human Life
- Chapter 2: The Elements of Music
Unit 2 - Music for Storytelling
- Chapter 3: Music and Characterization
- Chapter 4: Sung and Danced Drama
- Chapter 5: Song
- Chapter 6: Stories without Words
Unit 3 - Music for Entertainment
- Chapter 7: Listening at Public Concerts
- Chapter 8: Listening at Home and at Court
Unit 4 - Music for Political Expression
- Chapter 9: National Identity
- Chapter 10: Support and Protest
Unit 5 - Functional Music
- Chapter 11: Music for Spiritual Expression
- Chapter 12: Music for Moving
Unit 6 - Evaluating Music
- Chapter 13: What is Good Music?
- Ancillary materials are available by contacting the author or publisher.
About the Book
Welcome to Resonances: Engaging Music in Its Cultural Context! Although this book is intended primarily for use in the college music appreciation classroom, it was designed with consideration for independent learners, advanced high school students, and experienced musicians. That is to say, it includes enough detail that expert guidance is not required and is written using broadly-accessible language. At the same time, it addresses advanced topics and positions music as a serious object of study.
About the Contributors
Dr. Esther Morgan-Ellis is the author of Everybody Sing!: Community Singing in the American Picture Palace (2018). Her work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, and she has presented papers and lecture-recitals at national conferences. Dr. Morgan-Ellis currently serves as Managing Editor for the Journal of Popular Music Studies.