The boots hung from the power line like a pair of condemned convicts. They rotated limply in the humid breeze, savagely strung up four years ago and hanging by their laces ever since. The feat was remarkable—thirty feet of air stood between the ground and the power line, so the person who placed the boots up there had both good aim and a good arm.
The feet must also have been remarkable because the boots were size 14½ boots, extra wide. They were brown, tarnished by sunlight but disturbed by little else. They had observed as thousands of cars had passed underneath over the course of their time there.
The boots themselves didn’t mind, of course: they chatted often about how they didn’t miss deployment, as they called it, at all. Ryan, the left boot, and Candace, the right boot, talked frequently about how they missed their retail days when all they had to do was sit shiny on a shelf and wait to meet a new person. Ryan and Candace found themselves lonely sometimes—after all, the demand for size 14 ½ boots was minimal. But they had a happy life in their own way, cheering as their friends—the Johnston & Murphy loafers two shelves over for instance—departed to find their place in the world.
But Ryan and Candace didn’t obtain a good owner. A tall, thuggish man who smelled like grease and two-day-old-Old-Spice purchased the plus-sized couple. This man had taken them home and shocked Ryan and Candace at how he mis-handled them. The original coating of polish covering Ryan and Candace wore quickly off and was replaced with scuff marks and a handful of deep scratches.
All of this to say, on the night that Dank-Spice-Man decided to go out, drink one too many drinks with his buddies, hop in the back of their car, then halfway home complain he needed to use the bathroom NOW, Ryan and Candace were all too happy to lead Dank-Spice-Man out into the woods, before being involved in a bet where the man and his friends each began attempting to toss the boots onto the power line. It was Dank-Spice-Man’s friend Arnold who finally succeeded.
Arnold won $10 that night. Ryan and Candace? They won their freedom.
Today, Caroline Bennett discusses music periodizations, pedagogy, and more, while highlighting the importance of studying a variety of musicians and musical styles.
Whenever someone tells a story, reads a textbook, writes an essay, or participates in a discussion, this person inevitably employs a set of preconceptions and a view of the world. In a discussion of periodizations in music history, historian James Webster notes that “periodizations serve the needs and desires of those who make and use them…This is so whoever ‘we’ are, and whether we conceive our historical intentions as ‘objective’ or interest-driven.” Webster’s claim also pertains to the current push to diversify the study of music. When historians or teachers decide which composers to talk about they have certain objectives, and the attempt to diversify music history is a direct result of the value that American society currently places on inclusivity and diversity. Although this is not necessarily a wrong approach to music history, musicians should be conscious of why they study certain people or compositions. Musicians can actually achieve greater diversity in their view of the past by not making diversity the ultimate objective. Rather, musicians should strive to study and perform music that was impactful at the time that it was written, that serves an important pedagogical function, or that is timely and appropriate in a modern context. This goal, though daunting, is achievable if historians, teachers, and performers expand their knowledge of music and apply it to their respective disciplines.
Given the immensity of music history, it may appear unfeasible for music historians to talk about music that is not only excellent but also demonstrates diversity. However, this should not be the primary goal of historians. Instead, while conducting research historians should notice any information that is thought-provoking or could potentially connect with other facts. If the name of an unknown composer is mentioned in a document, a historian should consider going off on a tangent and seeing where else the composer is mentioned or what pieces the person wrote. This may lead to exciting connections between the unknown composer and more famous composers, or occasionally result in the discovery of a truly great or influential artist. Additionally, historians have a second task: they should notice the time periods, countries, and societies that did not have many composers of diverse ethnicities or genders. For example, a prevalent reason why there have been fewer and less-well known female and African-American composers in music history up into the 20th century is because they did not have good educational opportunities. Although this makes it harder for historians to include diverse composers in their writings and presentations, it is wise for historians to inform their audiences of these reasons because it gives context to the narrative and highlights the composers who did manage to overcome racial prejudice or social inequality, such as Scott Joplin, Ethel Smyth, William Grant Still, or Germaine Tailleferre.
Supplied with the wealth of resources that music historians share, music teachers can expand their knowledge of their instrument and its repertoire. It is important for teachers to be familiar with an assortment of pieces that not only come from various time periods but also have different purposes, contexts, and styles. This gives teachers an arsenal of works with which to inspire and challenge their students. Although a majority of the pieces that teachers assign their students will be by standard composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, if teachers are intimately familiar with their instrument’s canon they will have the freedom to choose pieces best suited to their student’s interests and abilities. Likely this will lead to more and more students studying works by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Clara Schumann, and the like. For example, if a piano student expresses interest in learning a blues or jazz song, a teacher might assign “Saint Louis Blues” by African-American composer W.C. Handy. The benefits of this are twofold. Not only will the student likely be more motivated to practice the piece because it is appealing, but it will also present an opportunity for the teacher to introduce the student to a specific segment of music history. Indeed, teachers ought to always seek to incorporate music history into lessons and expect their students to become well acquainted with the story and repertoire of their instrument.
When musicians receive a well-rounded education and are knowledgeable of their instrument and its repertoire, concert programs are more likely to feature unique and lesser-known works. A performer who remembers that she enjoyed studying Amy Beach songs in high school will be more likely search for more good pieces by Beach and include them on concert programs later on in her career. This will in turn introduce audience members to pieces and composers that they may not have been familiar with before and inspire other musicians to study new works. Though not overtly related to diversifying music studies, this process will certainly affect people’s understanding of music history and eventually make a mark on musical canons. The story of how Mendelssohn’s performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the mid-19th century helped instigate renewed interest in Bach’s music, though not an example of diversity, certainly demonstrates the power of performing uncommon pieces. Even one concert can prompt more and more people to study music by an unfamiliar composer until that composer becomes an established figure in music history.
If music historians are diligent in following tangents in their research and discovering new composers and pieces, and if teachers assign a variety of works to their students and encourage their students’ curiosity about their instrument’s history and repertoire, and if performers constantly present the most innovative, interesting, and compelling works on their instruments, then music history and music canons will naturally become more diverse. Instead of making a conscious effort to change the way people view the past, and in the process imposing current values or agendas, musicians ought to encourage diversity and inclusivity via a different route. They should study and teach and perform the music that is most impactful, most influential, most imaginative, most intriguing. And although this approach demands much from musicians and requires a well-rounded education, the results will be invaluable. Historians, teachers, and performers will have a deeper, richer understanding of music, its history, and the world, and this in turn will make them better able to share music with their audiences.
. James Webster, “Between Enlightenment and Romanticism in Music History: ‘First Viennese Modernism’ and the Delayed Nineteenth Century,” 19th Century Music, vol. 25, nos. 2-3 (2001-02): 110.
. Laura Artesani, “Beyond Clara Schumann: Integrating Women Composers and Performers into General Music Classes,” General Music Today 25, no. 3 (2012): 23. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 10, 2018).
. J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, Ninth edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2014), 461.
Artesani, Laura. “Beyond Clara Schumann: Integrating Women Composers and Performers Into General Music Classes.” General Music Today 25, no. 3 (2012): 23. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 10, 2018).
Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. Ninth edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2014.
Webster, James. “Between Enlightenment and Romanticism in Music History: ‘First Viennese Modernism’ and the Delayed Nineteenth Century.” 19th Century Music 25, nos. 2-3 (2001-02): 108-126.
In a break with tradition, we four authors have decided to work together on a special post containing some favorite, old, new, funny, long, or fun to say English words. Read on to see what we found, and please share some of your own favorites in the comments below.
Given the plethora of words that are fun to say, I have just gone with my most recent discovery: sesquipedalian. Originally coined by the Roman writer Horace to warn young poets against using overly long words, it literally means “foot-and-a-half long.” The Webster definition of the modern word is: sesquipedalian “-1: having many syllables, long; 2: given to or characterized by the use of long words.”
While certainly not a commonly used term, sesquipedalian does roll off of the tongue in a pleasing way with some practice. A few other words that have piqued my interest lately are: prescient, nepenthe, asphodel, castellated, and surcease.
Maybe you, like me, find new colloquialisms entertaining (Gasp! Young people are ruining the English language!). College-aged kids introduced the following to me in recent months: slap and bet. Be careful: they don’t mean what they traditionally mean!
“See you at the party tomorrow night?” “Bet!”
Hey, how was that party the other night?” “That party was slap!”
The meaning can be inferred based on context – bet meaning you bet, and slap meaning good or great.
Two other words pertain to a person’s sphere of knowledge and are both new to me (one I learned 2 years ago and the other, yesterday):
To go beyond one’s scope or province, esp to criticize beyond one’s sphere of knowledge
1. A person’s specific area of interest, skill, or authority. See Synonyms at field.
2. The office or district of a bailiff.
British Literature is Professor Barrik’s bailiwick, but she enjoys ultracrepidating on early American literature as well.
I can’t imagine using either word in a normal conversation where I wasn’t trying to be condescending, obtuse, or humorous. So the above sentence will have to do.
Tongue Twister: I have several favorite tongue-twisters, but one of the best is arachibutyrophobia. Because we all need a word for that fear we have of peanut butter sticking to the roof of our mouth.
New to Me: I always called cars with a missing headlight “cyclops,” but this past weekend I learned paddidle, which has interesting origins as a driving game.
Perfect for the Purpose: Some words have an almost onomatopoeic quality where their sound and their definition match in a satisfying way. Two examples are incorrigible and indeed (said with Jeeves’ level of emphasis and a hint of indulgence and incredulity, two other great words).
I like so many things surrounding this word. I love the alliteration in the Merriam-Webster definition: “Not readily investigated, interpreted, or understood” I like being this word. I like the challenge of scrutinizing (to use a sister expression) things that are this word. It’s got some fun synonyms, too: arcane, cryptic, enigmatic, impenetrable, uncanny.
I have loved this word ever since Calvin, of Calvin & Hobbes, used it in the following sentence: “I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.” It’s a feeling I often have myself.
I’ve actually used that very word in that very sentence several times, usually when justifying some inane thing I just said or did. If I’ve quoted it to a fellow Calvin & Hobbes lover, it’s an opportunity for bonding and swapping other favorite strips. If I’ve said it to anyone else, they’re likely to be even more confused. Which makes me, myself, a bit inscrutable.
English vocabulary may be a maze, but let’s own it in its delightful craziness. As Mark Twain reportedly said, “There is no such thing as the Queen’s English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares!” So let’s have fun with English in all it’s changing intricacy, sesquipedalianism, and inscrutability.
“Two Variations on a Theme Called ‘Song,'” using the golden shovel technique.
In the golden shovel poetry form, poets take a line or lines from another poem and make each word from this line the last word of each line in their new poem, using the words in order. So, if you read the last word of every line in the new poem, you will be able to figure out the line (or lines) of the original poem. The result is often a very different poem, but this poetic form can also be a challenging way to build on the original poem’s themes from a new angle. Perhaps if I dabble a bit more, I can achieve this level of technique, but for now, I will be satisfied with a totally unrelated golden shovel pair of poems.
Grasping my keys, I go,
Buckle myself in and
Twist the key, hear it catch,
A thrum, then off on a
Night quest—uphill, falling,
Each car winks like a star.
I wish that I could tell
Who just recognized me.
It seems no matter where
I go, they know me all
From one time we met—past
Maybe three or four years?
I forgot who they are.
Note: If you decide to try your hand at writing a golden shovel poem, please share it in the comments. I would love to read what you write!