Crowdsourcing an answer

Among the bets I made on the election (all favoring Biden to win), was this one, involving whether, if Biden wins, the election will be contested by Trump and ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. If Trump wins, however, the bet is off:

“Just as in the Gore election, the Supreme Court can decide the election along partisan lines. This will happen. I will bet $100 that if Biden wins, the election will be decided in the Supreme Court.”

I took that bet, guessing that the victory would be so substantial that the Court wouldn’t get involved. If the Biden wins and the Court doesn’t decide the outcome, I get $100. However, I just got an out from the bettor:

Recently you posted about the Chicago 7 and the famous Graham Nash song “Chicago” was mentioned. I thought of another popular song that references the trial, and it’s not listed in Wikipedia’s list of trial-themed songs. Can you think of it? If you can, I’ll let you off our bet (if I win the bet).

I asked if I could Google it, and the bettor says yes, I could do that, or even crowdsource the answer here. So that’s what I’m doing. Surely someone in this vast audience knows a song that references the Chicago 7 Trial but isn’t in this list.  Help me out if you know. Thanks!.

Are “mononyms” in classical music racist and sexist?

Although all liberal media sites are getting woke, sites like Salon and HuffPost have gone beyond the pale, while Slate always seemed to retain more sanity. After all, that was where Hitchens often wrote—though I’m not sure he’d be welcome there now were he still alive.  At any rate, there’s a new Slate piece that not only indicts classical music and its pedagogy as racist and sexist, but argues that this bigotry is instantiated in using “mononyms”—last names only—for famous classical white male composers (“Mozart,” “Beethoven,” etc.), but demeans female and nonwhite composers by using both first and last names.

The author, Chris White (an assistant professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst), suggests that to rectify this disparity, we “fullname” all composers, putting them on a level playing field of respect. What I’m trying to figure out is how much of what he says carries some truth.

You can read the article below by clicking on the screenshot.


The indictment is given without question, and perhaps there’s some truth to it. I don’t know enough about classical music to judge—it’s one of my glaring areas of cultural ignorance.

The past several decades have seen the world of American classical music reckoning with its racist and sexist history; as it has with many other areas of culture, that process has greatly accelerated over the past year. In my own corner of academia, the previous several months have seen an explosive focus on the inherent white supremacy and male-centrism within academic music research. This explosion was sparked by a lecture and an ensuing article by Philip Ewell, published in September, in which he calls out mainstream American music theory for its institutional racism. This flashpoint was preceded by work in similar veins by scholars like Ellie Hisama and Robin Attas, and subsequently brought into mainstream musical conservations by YouTuber Adam Neely and New Yorker writer Alex Ross.

White goes on to cite various attempts to rectify the overlooking of composers with “marginalized identities”, but is mostly concerned with how this “erasure” proceeds via mononyms.

The habitual, two-tiered way we talk about classical composers is ubiquitous. For instance, coverage of an early October livestream by the Louisville Orchestra praised the ensemble’s performance of a “Beethoven” symphony, and the debut of a composition memorializing Breonna Taylor by “Davóne Tines” and “Igee Dieudonné.” But ubiquity doesn’t make something right. It’s time we paid attention to the inequity inherent in how we talk about composers, and it’s time for the divided naming convention to change.

. . . For a lot of intersecting reasons, music critics, academics, consumers, and performers in the mid-19th through early 20th centuries thought about music history as the story of a few great men producing great works of art. (Of course, this tactic is very common in how we tell our histories in many domains.) Tied up in the respect and ubiquity afforded to these men is the mononym, or a single word sufficing for a person’s whole name. These canonized demigods became so ensconced in elite musical society’s collective consciousness that only one word was needed to evoke their awesome specter. Mouthfuls of full names became truncated to terse sets of universally recognized syllables: Mozart. Beethoven. Bach.

On the one hand, then, initiatives toward diversity and inclusion are placing new names on concert programs, syllabi, and research papers, names that might not have been there 10 or 20 years ago—or even last year. But these names are appearing next to those that have been drilled deep into our brains by the forces of the inherited canon. This collision between increasing diversity and the mononyms of music history has created a hierarchical system that, whether or not you find it useful, can now only be seen as outdated and harmful.

. . .As we usher wider arrays of composers into our concerts and classrooms, this dual approach only exacerbates the exclusionary practices that suppressed nonwhite and nonmale composers in the first place. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating the former as being on a different plane than the latter, a difference originally created by centuries of systematic prejudice, exclusion, sexism, and racism. (Dédé was a freeborn Creole composer whose music packed concert halls in Europe and America in the mid-19th century.)

Going forward, we need to “fullname” all composers when we write, talk, and teach about music. If mononyms linguistically place composers in a canonical pantheon, fullnaming never places them there to begin with. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Johannes Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating both composers as being equally worthy of attention. And while fullnaming might seem like a small act in the face of centuries of harm and injustice, by adopting a stance of referential egalitarianism, fullnaming at least does no more harm.

The last sentence is a bit weird, as why change a practice if there’s no advantage to doing so? But what I’m concerned with is whether fullnaming is demeaning. Now I can’t speak to classical music, except that I know that “Mahler” is more famous than “Alma Mahler”, but perhaps using the single name for Gustav refers not to sexism, but to how often the music of the two is played—that is, familiarity. (Of course, the relative frequency of performance could itself reflect sexism rather than quality.)

So I thought about painting instead, trying to see if famous white male painters, like Picasso and Rembrandt, are referred to in mononyms more often than famous nonwhite painters or women painters. I failed in this endeavor because I couldn’t think of many famous female or nonwhite painters (their relative paucity, again, likely reflects historical oppression). The first woman I thought of was Mary Cassatt, whom I always call “Cassatt”, but then there’s also one of my favorites, Frida Kahlo, whom I call “Frida Kahlo.” So that didn’t settle it. Then there’s “Grandma Moses”, but I’m not sure if that counts as the sexist use of two names. And I can analyze only my own usage here, as I haven’t paid attention to how society uses names.

As for nonwhite painters, I was at a loss for blacks, but the first two Asian artists who came to mind—Hiroshige and Hokusai—came to me as mononyms.

What about authors? Here there might be some sexism, as I refer to “Hemingway”, “Fitzgerald” and “Joyce”, but also to “Flannery O’Conner,” “Carson McCullers,” “Emily Dickinson”, and “George Eliot” (not her real name, of course, but the double name avoids confusion with T. S. Eliot). It may well be the case that, in general, famous women writers are more often discussed using both names, and if that’s the case, then sexism is a possible cause. After all, “George Eliot” is at least as famous as “T. S. Eliot”.

What about my own field—genetics and evolutionary biology? Here, at least, I always use single names, like “Fisher, Wright, Kimura, Haldane, Mayr, and Dobzhansky” for the men, and “Ohta, Franklin, and McClintock” for the women. I also speak of “Hershey and Chase” (one male, one female), as well as the married couple “Lederberg and Lederberg” (to be sure, her nonmarried name was Zimmer). The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was given to Doudna and Charpentier, and might have gone to Franklin along with Watson, Crick, and Wilkins (they could have split the DNA-structure prize between Chemistry and Medicine and Physiology). I can’t speak of how others refer to scientists, as I haven’t paid attention to the issue. But now I will.

For all fields, though, an alternative hypothesis to racism and sexism is one of familiarity and fame.  It’s undeniable that women artists, writers, and composers were subject to discrimination— why else would George Eliot and George Sand be the pen names of women writers?—and that this surely explains at least some of the relative paucity of famous women artists. That is, there aren’t as many famous women composers because there weren’t as many women composers, period. And if you’re less famous, using two names is a better identifier.

I’m convinced that there may be some truth in White’s indictment, but the composers he mentions with two names are also less famous than Beethoven and Bach. To find out if discrimination is the reason for “duonyms” for women and nonwhite composers, we have to compare name usage for groups of people of equal fame but of different race or sex. Given the paucity of famous nonwhite or women composers and painters, that’s a hard experiment to do.

As I said, in science I don’t think I discriminate.

Well, those of you with musical knowledge can weigh in below, but really, this issue holds for almost every field of endeavor.

Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins

Two generations of great guitarists play together. Here’s Mark Knopfler (born 1949) and Chet Atkins (born 1924, died 2001) playing together (at the “Secret Policeman’s Third Ball”, whatever that is) in 1987. There are two songs: “I’ll see you in my dreams” and then John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

I suppose the relevant word is “mellow”, but “great talent” is also in there. Both of these guys make Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Can you guess their positions? (1 is the top). The answer is at the link. (I have to say that I have a problem with that list: any ranking that puts Dickey Betts way below Derek Trucks and Keith Richards is, shall we say, problematic.)

I just realized that being a rock musician of this caliber is like being a professor at a research university: you’re pretty much your own boss and you’re getting paid to do what you really enjoy. Plus you can wear whatever you want on the job—though I did dress up a bit when when I taught undergrads. The big difference is that rock stars get their money for nothing and their chicks for free.

Two by the Everly Brothers

Actually, there are three songs here, as the first is a mixture of their two most famous songs. The harmony of this duo isn’t often appreciated, much less remembered, and several of their songs, like the three in the first two videos, were excellent. Phil died six years ago, but Don (born 1937) is still with us.

I must feed my ducks, so, as the evening approaches and with it Yom Kippur, I’ll leave you with two live Everly videos and French lagniappe:

This is, I think, their best song, and was recorded by Don and Phil in 1960 when they were 23 and 21, respectively. Here they perform it in 1989 when they were 52 and 50, and the harmony is still amazing: they hadn’t lost much.

I didn’t realize until I started putting this post together that “Let It Be Me” was originally a French hit: “a popular song originally published in French in 1955 as ‘Je t’appartiens’ [“I belong to you”] interpreted by Gilbert Bécaud.” So I looked up the Bécaud version, and it’s below. It, too, is very good.

Brush up on your French with the subtitles.

Is Beethoven about to be canceled, too?

There is no area of human endeavor, be it scholarship, art, science, or technology, that is immune from modern accusations of systemic racism. It’s almost funny how far the woke can cook up accusations, often without evidence, that an area is afflicted with bigotry and exclusion.

The latest victim appears to be Beethoven—not just the man and his work, but specifically the Fifth Symphony, which the authors below, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, indict for exclusionism and, curiously, for “regularizing” classical music concerts so that concergoers have to be polite, well dressed, and adhere to the rule not to make noise. Their article is in Vox, which gets considerable circulation, so you can’t claim that this is just a pair of cranks sounding off.

Well, that may well be accurate, but these cranks have cred. Sloan is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Southern California, while Harding is a music journalist, instrumentalist, and songwriter. Both men host the podcast “Switched On Pop,” billed as “a podcast about the making and meaning of popular music”.

In their Vox article (click on screenshot below), they take on classical music, in particular the Fifth. They find it a hotbed of racism as well as an historical inducer of behavioral control at concerts. But there’s a rebuttal, too, by Daniel Lelchuk at Quillette. Read on.

I’ll be brief because the Vox piece is just so dumb. First the double indictment of the Fifth. First, its exclusionary nature:

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts with an anguished opening theme — dun dun dun DUNNNN — and ends with a glorious, major-key melody. Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted that progression from struggle to victory as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.

Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among those in power, especially the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism. One New York City classical music fan wrote in the 1840s, for example, that he wished “all women shall be gagged by officers duly licensed for the purpose before they’re allowed to enter a concert room.”

. . .For classical music critic James Bennett II, Beethoven’s popularity and centrality in classical culture is part of the problem. “As you perpetuate the idea that the giants of the music all look the same, it conveys to the ‘other’ that there’s not a stake in that music for them,” he says.

New York Philharmonic clarinetist Anthony McGill, one of the few Black musicians in the ensemble, agrees that Beethoven’s inescapability can make classical music appear monolithic and stifling. He likens the inescapability of the Fifth Symphony to a “wall” between classical music and new, diverse audiences.

“If you pretend like there’s no other music out there, that Beethoven is the greatest music that ever will matter,” says McGill, then orchestras will alienate new listeners, since “we’re not promoting any of the composers alive today that are trying to become the Beethovens of their day.”

I feel sorry for McGill, dragged out as a person of color to make the authors’ point. But where is the evidence that the Fifth reminds LGBTQ+ and people of color that they are excluded? It’s a simple assertion—a speculation without evidence. And who pretends that there is no other music out there? As far as I know, orchestras are constantly trying to acquaint listeners with new music and music considered out of the mainstream. The reason people keep coming back to Beethoven is that he’s simply better than most, striking an emotional chord in many throughout the world.

And here’s Sloan and Harding’s second accusation of the Fifth: elitism—not musical but behavioral elitism:

Before Beethoven’s time, classical music culture looked and sounded quite different. When Mozart premiered his Symphony 31 in the late 1700s, it was standard for audiences to clap, cheer, and yell “da capo!” (Italian for “from the beginning!”) in the middle of a performance. After Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony debuted in the early 1800s, these norms changed — both because the rising industrial merchant class took ownership of concert halls and because of shifts in the music itself.

. . . In Mozart’s day, each movement in a symphony was self-contained, like a collection of short stories. Beethoven’s Fifth acted more like a novel, asking audiences to follow a single story that unfolded over an entire four-movement symphony. New norms of concert behavior developed in turn. Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music. Over time, these norms crystallized into a set of etiquette rules (e.g., “don’t clap mid-piece”) to enhance the new listening experience.

. . .Though concert etiquette that evolved in response to the Fifth may have had the goal of venerating the music, it can also act as a source of gatekeeping. “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven’s time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.

Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out. When you walk into a standard concert hall, there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t cough!”; “don’t cheer!”; “dress appropriately!”) that can feel as much about demonstrating belonging as appreciating the music.

Oy! The GATEKEEPING! All I know is that I used to go to the Chicago Symphony a lot, and I didn’t dress “appropriately”: I wore jeans. Nobody ever gave me the stink-eye, as I recall. And who wants to hear clapping, cheering, and yelling during a concert? No more than you want it during a play or a movie. This is a complaint without merit.

Say what you will about Quillette, but Daniel Lelchuk, the assistant principal cellist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and host of his own podcast (“Talking Beats“), has a firm, informed, but very polite rebuttal to the nonsense above. Click on the screenshot to read it. (I’d give a subtitle, “And finally, when they came for Stockhausen, I was glad” 🙂 )

Just two quotes here; you can read the spirited defense of classical music, which includes a lovely video that I’ve embedded:

I’m a professional cellist who—in non-pandemic times—performs classical music for people of all races. Beethoven’s music is precious to me. And it’s bizarre to hear these two men talk this way. None of what they say bears any connection to Beethoven’s actual work. And their call-and-response faux-curious dialogue about what aliens will think of Beethoven’s supposed “elitism” is embarrassing. Yet Sloan is a musicologist, and Harding is a songwriter.

They do, however, pay a backhanded compliment to Beethoven. This is what happens when a piece of art has such a gigantic influence on a society and its collective identity: The art’s story becomes our story. Naturally, those who demand that our story be rewritten to match a prescribed ideology or theme (such as, say, oppression and intersectionality) will also demand an overhaul in our understanding of the art that defines that story.

The hosts even accuse Beethoven—whose democratic ideals are well-known to anyone who has studied his life story—of empowering colonialism. Says one, “I can almost even see the sort of stride of empire, colonialism, industrialism, all those things that have sort of that same built in narrative of triumph and conquering.”

Really? That’s what you imagine when Beethoven’s 5th begins? I would be scared to imagine what flits though his mind during a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal.

In Japan—which, last time I checked, was populated by quite a few people of color—public performances of Beethoven are a holiday tradition.

And this. (Really, you shouldn’t dismiss Quillette as some “alt-right” site, as many do. There’s some good stuff on it, like Lelchuk’s piece.)

I really wonder what Sloan and Harding have to say about the Afghan Women’s Orchestra, which in 2017 performed Beethoven’s Ninth at the World Economic Forum. Please watch the brief YouTube clip, which appears below, and ask yourself whether you find yourself inspired—or, channeling Vox’s musical experts, tsk-tsking at all these misguided women paying homage to white supremacy.

Music of this type has no fixed story. It has infinite stories, as the possibilities of fantasy and enchantment are endless. There is no set program, no agenda. And if Beethoven’s 5th makes Sloan and Harding imagine the world’s people of color crushed under western jackboots, perhaps that’s something they might like to work on privately. Don’t blame the music.

Indeed. Here’s the video of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra playing 5½ minutes of Beethoven’s Ninth. Note the sitar and tablas. That’s cultural appropriation, but so what? The music is universal.

I guess we should ignore virtue-flaunting knuckleheads like Sloan and Harding. I couldn’t help myself this time, for it’s important to see how far the termites have dined.

h/t: Grant

Another reason why modern pop and rock suck

The link to this video came from reader Andrea, who said,

This may be one reason why you can’t stand today’s music… an insane overuse of the supertonic… the second note on the scale. BTW, the guy in this video has a cool keyboard.
Combine supertonic obsession with autotuning, and you get a bunch of songs that not only all sound alike, but are also boring, turgid, and unoriginal. This video by Andrew Huang gives a bunch of examples. If you think this kind of music is as good as the great rock and soul of the Sixties and early Seventies, you’re just wrong. Rock music is circling the drain, and survives solely because young people have to have some kind of music to call their own.

Earliest Joni Mitchell tape found

Knowing of my great affection for the work of Joni Mitchell, reader Mark sent me a link to this CBC article about a lost recording found 57 years later. Click on the screenshot to read:

An excerpt:

When Victoria resident Barry Bowman heard the first few chords of that baritone ukulele, he knew he had finally found it.

At first, Bowman worried the old tape his eldest daughter discovered in Bowman’s ex-wife’s basement in 2015 would disintegrate if he tried to play it, considering it was more than 50 years old.

But play it did.

And with those first notes, Bowman was transported back in time to 1963 when he was a teenage radio DJ in Saskatoon and he asked one of his pals, an aspiring young folk singer named Joni Anderson, if she wanted to record an audition tape.

“I never realized that there she was, this young lady at 19 years old, would one day be Joni Mitchell,” Bowman said Monday on The Early Edition.

It’s good they found this, and the recording is House of the Rising Sun, but why on earth do both guys talk over the damn song? Well, it turns out that the song is part of a series of archival albums Mitchell is releasing, so you can see the original recorded version below this first video.

The whole story is at the CBC link. What’s clear from the recording below is that Mitchell’s talent was already shining this early in her career, although of course her songs became much more sophisticated later. The “audition” is surely for a radio station given the YouTube notes below:

Joni Mitchell performed “House Of The Rising Sun” at the CFQC AM Radio Station in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1963 – the earliest known recording of Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell Archives Volume 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) is available for pre-order

Rap converges with religious glossolalia

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of rap music, which has replaced soul music, a fantastic period of song, as the African-American pop music. I do like some rap songs, but only when the rapping has a melody interspersed.

Here’s Iggy Azalea “freestyling”, which is improvised rap. She’s not very good at it, and this almost seems to be a form of glossolalia, or religious speaking in tongues. And, just like for those who do this in church, the crowd goes wild.

You can have it.

Is that any different from this?:

Song on a watermelon keyboard

I’m not sure what the “Playtron” is, but it appears to be a controller that, combined with a synthesizer and conductive objects (in this case, fruit) you can play music. The instrumentalist is Mezerg, a “one man band” who plays other instruments, like the theramin, on his channel, 

Beyond this I know nothing, but thought it was cool for soeone to play music on slices of watermelon. If you want to see the controller, or buy one, the link is below, in the YouTube description:

I’m playing with the PLAYTRON from PLAYTRONICA :

Christopher Walken dances to “Come and Get Your Love”

UPDATE: The original song that Walken was dancing to wasn’t “Come and Get your Love,” but “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim. The original video is here, and I’ve also embedded it below. Walken’s dancing is even more on the mark with the original song.

Still, I love the Redbone song, and have left it in.  I wonder how they got Walken to do the dancing.


This video absolutely freaks me out, but what do you expect with Christopher Walken? I didn’t know the man even danced, but I recall that when a reader posted the video in the comments not long ago, they added that Walken was once a dancer. Indeed, Wikipedia notes that  “Walken initially trained as a dancer at the Washington Dance Studio before moving on to dramatic stage roles and then film.”

And what a song to make the man move his bones! Yes, there are stunt doubles in there, but most of the hoofing is done by Walken himself.

I had forgotten who did that song, which really is a toe-tapper, so I looked it up, finding that it was done in 1974 by Redbone, the first Native American band to have a big hit (this song went to the top 4 on Billboard). Here’s a live performance of “Come and Get Your Love“, written by two of the band members, Pat and Lolly Vegas (Lolly is the lead singer, Pat on bass). Oddly, it starts with 45 seconds of an Indian dance.  The lyrics are strange and enigmatic, but the tune and performance are great, which of course is why Walken danced to it.