Given the current state of the world, Mother’s Day this year feels very different. For the most obvious reason: We are physically separated. Still, this actual distance does not necessarily mean distant. So, let’s celebrate moms; especially those beyond our reach.
In our previous Music Matters blogs we’ve discussed and shown many ways that music is employed and deployed to express or mirror the problems and triumphs in our worlds, to question the status quo, and to bring people together in their hopes for change.
Today, in the midst of the horrible coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere have a crying need to feel united, to express their pain, to hope, and to fight for a better tomorrow.
Music is at the center of all these universal human needs. For example, the Academy of Country Music Awards was aired on a CBS special online, social-distance broadcast called Our Country. This live-streamed event not only showcased some of today’s great country music performers, it offered a chance for audiences to join in solidarity through song, and to thereby be comforted and uplifted.
In what ways are current artists singing about present circumstances? Consider some of the following online concerts, performances, and social media “thank yous” through music.
In another example, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” – written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas – is a one of many songs that propelled the Civil Rights Movement. But how might it now embody the needs of the great cross-section of people in the grips of the current plague? Nina Simone most famously covered this track in the 1960s, and throughout her career as a jazz legend. Numerous artists past and present also performed this moving tribute to freedom. Consider the following versions of this song and the many different ways it “means” to/for people, right here and now.
And there are more examples of music making connections across quarantined spaces.
And these youngsters in Africa dance and showcase their courage and strength and hope. Let us keep hope alive through music.
We are living in trying times. Around the globe, people are isolated, panicked, quarantined, unwell, and uncertain about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Despite this, and regardless of social distancing, there are wonderful stories that showcase the unification of spirit and soul. And many such stories include music making and sharing from professionals and amateurs alike.
As experienced via Twitter, Yo Yo Ma stated and shared the following:
This is for the healthcare workers on the frontlines — the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. Your ability to balance human connection and scientific truth in service of us all gives me hope. #songsofcomfort pic.twitter.com/s9e35RW03N
— Yo-Yo Ma (@YoYo_Ma) March 16, 2020
Similarly in Italy, and even though the country is on lock-down, people nationwide are coming to their windows to sing. Yes, sing! Singing for those who are at “ear’s length,” singing for themselves, and singing for all of us around the world to communicate that hope and joy are ever-present in the hearts and minds of those confined at home.
Also, like the above-mentioned model of Yo Yo Ma, and in order to provide comfort and solace in their community, two young Ohio cellists serenade on the front porch of a quarantined neighbor.
Speaking of confined at home, for public and private school students who are no longer be able to perform school concerts, performances, and musical theater productions, Broadway star Laura Benanti called such students to share their songs with her via social media.
— Laura Benanti (@LauraBenanti) March 13, 2020
We could provide dozens and dozens more examples where people are coming together via social media through music making and sharing. Let’s not forget music’s potential power to unite, communicate, and transform for good. Even when we are seemingly on our own, we are united and can be even closer. Indeed, while at home practicing social distancing, Pink treats us with her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” As she stated via Instagram: “Free concert slash piano lessons from my heart to yours … To make you feel my love 😍 rehearsals.”
Let’s remember we are responsible for one another, even at a distance…
2020 GRAMMY Music Educator Award Winner is Mickey Smith, Jr! Great thanks to all the music teachers nominated and to those that weren’t: YOU help all your students be seen, heard, and loved! And for that, we celebrate YOU!
Last post, we raised the previously asked question: Why might music education matter? This is a difficult question, especially when attempting to answer it quickly. Because of this, the entire book, Music Matters, examines many of the answers to this important question.
Still, regardless of how difficult it is to answer this complex question, we need to continue to seek out answers. Because of that, take note of this story:
Why might music education matter? We’ve asked this question before. And it’s a serious question that every music educator should ask and answer multiple times every single day.
So, why might music education matter? In previous blog posts, we have noted that added-value claims like “music makes us smarter” and “music improves tests scores” are problematic for lots of reasons. We won’t go into that again now.
However, what we do know for sure is this: “Happiness” matters! More carefully stated: How you feel impacts how you do! So, it’s not that music makes us smarter. Musical experiences – of many different kinds – can impact students positively in many different ways. Therefore, if/when students are positively “tuned” through active music making and listening, they tend to do more things “better.”
So, what seems to propel students’ improved performance in schools—including the ever-dulling experience of “test taking”—is being in a positive state, which can result from many forms of stimulation during the time it takes to complete cognitive tests. As the eminent researcher, Ellen Winner says:
It turns out that if they [test takers] prefer to listen to a Stephen King story, and you let them listen to a Stephen King story, they also do better and rate themselves as more positively aroused. This is entirely consistent with what many cognitive psychologists have shown: that being in a state of positive arousal [or flow experience] improves performance on cognitive tests.
Logically, then, if students are engaged in something they deem to be positive, they are more likely to want to participate in whatever “it” is, both inside and outside of school. So, it makes perfect sense when Brian Kisida, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Missouri’s Truman School, says:
Take away message: Allow students to experience joy of many kinds. And importantly, we don’t teach the arts in schools so students will do better on tests. We teach the arts in schools so students will experience personal, artistic, social, empathetic, and ethical growth and fulfillment; health and well-being for oneself and others; social capital; self-efficacy and self-esteem; happiness for oneself and others; and a means of engaging positively with/for one’s community and the world.
It’s clear that we believe that music matters. And every day we’re reminded, again and again, how we’re not alone in this widely-held view.
And while we can argue about the merit – or not – of a show like “America’s Got Talent,” the following case about music’s significance in the lives of people was found there.
As reported on CNN, among other news channels and online media outlets, pianist and singer Kodi Lee shows how much music matters to him and to his mom through his rendition of “A Song For You.”
Rather than go into all the benefits and “goods” this mother and son experience from music making and listening and sharing, we’ll let this musicing speak for itself.
Today is Mother’s Day. As we stated this time last year, that’s reason enough to celebrate some connections between music, mothers, and their children.
Mothers begin their connections to their unborn child while pregnant. Notably, by the last trimester an unborn child has fully functioning hearing. Not only can unborn children recognize a mother’s voice, they can differentiate this voice from any other. As Ruth Fridman explains, singing to an unborn child establishes “a prenatal bond which contains tenderness on the part of the parents to be, a promise of protection, and the wish to see and hold the baby in their arms . . . It is of great significance for babies to hear music . . . during the gestation period. The mother’s emotional expressions benefit both herself and her baby.”
Moreover, parents and other adult caregivers are predisposed to interact with their infants by means of emotionally charged proto-musical vocalizations, or “motherese” (sometimes called baby talk, parentese, and so on). Motherese combines variations of pitch (melodic-type contours), timbre, rhythm, and accents that are the sonic building blocks of more sophisticated adult singing (such as lullabies). Because humans acquire the ability to distinguish changes in pitch and loudness in utero, it’s not surprising that infants learn to match some proto-musical elements after repeated parent-infant interactions.
Caregivers use motherese for all sorts of reasons: to comfort, arouse, communicate, and play in caring and loving ways with and for their pre-linguistic infants. The musical-affective characteristics of adult-infant interactions establish and strengthen emotional bonds between caregivers and infants. Motherese also includes proto-musical play, and proto-musical play gives infants a way of engaging in and acquiring the foundations of social competence and confidence in a safe, risk-free, enjoyable, and participatory context that is fundamental to the development of their social cognition and “domain-general cultural competence.” If such emotional bonding or “primary intersubjectivity” fails to occur via early motherese and proto-musical interactions, infants may suffer.
The values of motherese–both before child’s birth and after–are clear. In a highly social species like ours, an infant’s chances of surviving depend on “fitness” beyond physical fitness, namely, “cultural fitness” and social-emotional fitness. These qualities follow from parent-infant bonding and primary intersubjectivity and anchor an individual’s ability to interact cooperatively with others and contribute to group cohesion.
There are numerous projects world-wide that cherish the early relationships mothers create with their unborn children.
For example, in a women’s prison near Oporto, Portugal, early childhood music specialists help incarcerated mothers learn lullabies they can sing to their infants to promote mother-infant bonding.
Additionally, meet “The Lullaby Project.” According to Carnegie Hall:
The Lullaby Project pairs pregnant women and new mothers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies, supporting maternal health, aiding child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. In New York City, the project reaches mothers in hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Extending across the country and through several international pilot programs, the Lullaby Project enables partner organizations to support families in their own communities.
Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Iraq, Sudan—what these countries have in common is that they were, or are, on President Trump’s travel ban.
By way of musical reaction to the travel bans, The Kronos Quartet turned inward and outward and commissioned composers from those banned countries.
Or, they find an arranger to take on the challenge of transforming so-called banned persons’ music. Consider Jacob Garchik’s electric arrangement of Islam Chipsy’s “Zaghlala.”
Egyptian composer and keyboardist, Islam Chipsy, is a classically trained “street artist,” and is one of a three-member group, EEK. Billed primarily as linked to the electro chaabi and Mahraganat scenes in Cairo, Chipsy’s music marries EDM (Egyptian Dance Music) with an eclecticism that is as unique as it is fearless.
Chipsy’s “Zaghlala” is one of many pieces that is part of the Kronos Quartet’s project, Fifty for the Future—a project designed to reconfigure the landscape and cultural, social, gendered representation of composers and musics known as “string quartets” (a domain traditionally considered Western European):
Drawing on more than forty years of collaboration with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.
Kronos’ Fifty for the Future … commissioned [an] eclectic group of composers – 25 women and 25 men – representing the truly globe-spanning genres of string quartet literature in the early 21st century. The project compositions are intended to be approachable by musicians of a wide range of accomplishment, from youth ensembles to beginning professionals. Kronos/KPAA has commissioned more than 850 works since it was formed in 1973, but Fifty for the Future represents the largest single artistic and educational project that it has undertaken.
According to the program notes for “Zaghlala”:
If Kronos Quartet had a motto it might be something like: Taking string players to places they’ve never been before … Jacob Garchik’s surging arrangement of Zaghlala (Blurred vision caused by strong light hitting the eyes) … not only transports intrepid string quartets to the ecstatic milieu of a Cairo nightclub, but the chart also literally turns one ensemble member into a drummer, adding percussive drive to the tune’s lapidary churn. As part of Fifty for the Future, Kronos’ ongoing project to make new music works readily available to aspiring string ensembles, Garchik’s score is accessible free on the Kronos website, “where you can see how the piece can be played in such a way that each one of us can be the drummer,” says David Harrington. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every string quartet player in the world could be this Arabic drummer?…
Part of Egypt’s thriving underground music scene, Chipsy’s EEK trio has carved out a singular sonic niche distinct from the electro-chaabi artists who are almost required at wedding celebrations. Raw and lo-fi, his music is both virtuosic and unabashedly hand-crafted: “There’s a certain way that he plays where he takes his fist and slams it into the keyboard that feels so visceral and exciting,” Harrington says. “There’s also this sense of fun and abandonment. I can imagine thousands of people dancing.”
All of the composers’ music that is part of Fifty for the Future showcases fearless energy, determination, passion, and a will to be. Witness this music for change for yourself, as the Kronos Quartet heads to Europe and returns to the United States to perform music from banned countries.
Thank you, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)!
Thank you for Respect, and so much more!
Thank you for your voice. A song is much more than a song. And Franklin tapped into tone, texture, lyrics, and more for all sorts of messages and meanings. As Simon Frith notes, it’s not just what singers sing, “but the way they sing it.” And Franklin’s voice–her Respect–isn’t just a voice, but a voice that embodies self-respect, and therefore demands and commands self-other respect.
Thank you for your spirit. Franklin’s regal-ness shown through each and every appearance, performance, and recording. Yet, her overwhelming joy in life, as expressed through her appearances, performances, and recordings, helped listeners experience the thrill of the moment and beyond; helped listeners understand and appreciate a sense of freedom; helped listeners engage with the values of feminism; helped listeners tap into their sexuality; and helped listeners feel love.
Thank you for your activism. Whether it was to lend support or a song to a cause, you were there.
Franklin’s 76 years on Earth bookended a grand arc of tumult, letdowns, progress, setbacks, terror, and hope in American history. That in itself might not be a remarkable feat so much as a reminder that all black people older than 53 have seen and lived through hell. But Aretha—and that first name is sufficient, as it was in black churches and parlors for half a century—was an architect of a movement as much as a witness to it. She toured with the actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, when the organization was in dire financial straits and was attempting to embark on a Poor People’s Campaign. She was an activist who strained to keep a movement going even after King’s assassination, and who worked to support the Black Panthers and attempted to post bail to free the activist Angela Davis from jail. She loved black people. In this country, that simple fact was radical enough.
But most importantly, thank you for being YOU!
Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym.
Music educators, as you start to plan out your school year: How will you celebrate Franklin’s voice, her passion, and her ability to stand up for each and all?