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
Conditions of Use
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.