On December 5th 2019, Berklee staged its annual Singers’ Showcase, and the theme this year was A Night at the Opera—The Music of Queen. As a lifelong fan, I was honored to be asked to write the program notes for the evening’s performance.
Each song entry features a reference to the original Queen recording, and the official video embedded, plus a description of the approach the students took for the Berklee version. Selected excerpts from the show itself will appear online sometime in the future, but for now you can get a great behind-the-scenes flavour of the quality of the performance by watching Marshall Lilly’s terrific drumcam footage.
Popular Music Education. These three words, even though they have been at the center of my professional life for more than 25 years, continue to challenge and intrigue me because each one generates questions. What do we mean by ‘Popular’? Popular with whom, and for how long? Popular in the sense of widely distributed, or in the sense of culturally influential? When we say ‘Music’, which music… and whose music? The consensus reached long ago in conservatoires about the centrality of the European ‘common practice period’ has no easy parallel in PME, and popular music has evolved into so many forms and sub-genres that it is arguably impossible for any teacher or student to have knowledge of it all. And when we talk about ‘Education’, what, exactly, are we teaching? PME in high schools and in higher education deals variously with listening, performing existing music, creating original music, music technology, the commercial music industry, and (often controversially) the history of various canons, styles and traditions. Which of these should we choose to teach? Each answer to these questions breeds further questions. If we decide that our curriculum supports creativity, then our students will probably need to be songwriters, the song being the dominant creative product in most popular music. But how does one build a suitable grading framework for songwriting, when songs represent personal expression? What if the teacher’s definition of a good song is different from the student’s?
The Institute was founded on a musical question, which is:
What would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy?
This morning I was viewing the video of remarks from our outstanding keynote speaker Dr Farah Jasmine Griffin (William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University NY). Like a lot of people, when an inspiring speaker mentions artists, music or books that are new to me, I like to explore further – cue a brief trip down a Google ‘rabbit hole’. So here’s the full presentation, with citations below.
Dr Brandoff opens with two vignettes; one where he describes a time of personal social frustration where he wanted to punch a wall (but played some classical piano instead – he demos it live!). His second example is a patient case (see slide).
As a palliative care expert and pain specialist, he gives us an overview of patient needs, in the context of his profession, and in the context of US healthcare. He considers opioids an important part of pain treatment, but acknowledges the rampant public health opioid crisis. We look at some disturbing stats of overdose deaths involving opioids in the US, correlated with heroin and fentanyl takeup, and a more local analysis of the picture here in Massachusetts.
Dr Carr ones with a powerful statement: Pain itself is a disease. There are a number of causes, and types, of disease (heart disease, lung disease etc) but once they become established and manifest as pain, they have similarities. Dr Carr believes that having access to pain control is a human right. Pain is a public health issue. Pain professionals view it it as a disease, which can be understood as a combination of pathology, host and environment. Definition discussion (Williams and Craig, 2016).
Pain, Dr Carr suggests, is a public health issue (O’Brien et al, 2017) and lower back pain is argued to be a global disability.
Dr Heiderscheit begins with an historical overview, which is fascinating – see photo. She presents this slide with minimal comment due to pressure of time.
We see some quantitative (and remarkable) stats relating to public health issues – economic costs of addiction, trauma and pain – but Dr Heiderscheit suggests that the human cost of these issues is literally unquantifiable. They affect our health, relationships, wellbeing, security, purpose, community and environment. “We can work to slap band-aids on gaping wounds, but if we don’t address these areas we are not achieving [societal] well-being”.
Advocating for Popular Music Education – where do we go from here?
Steve Holley, Music educator
Steve begins with an overview of US music education generally, including high schools and universities, asking ‘why adapt now?’ and describing a necessary journey toward curricular adaptation. He takes us back to the mid-20thC innovators (USC, Miami, Berklee) who ‘took a chance on jazz’, and observes that the music education community thought they were crazy. Within 50 years of those early adopters, jazz in music schools had become mainstream. Steve believes that popular music education today is where jazz music education was in the 1950s, and predicts a similar trickle-down effect in future years, giving examples of schools where this is already starting to happen.
Practical Production Analysis: Helping Students Produce Competitive Songs
Misty opens by describing her particular students as ‘in the box’ producers – that is to say, they create the entire sound recording in a Digital Audio Workstation. The problem she’s trying to solve is this: the students’ recordings are just not ready yet [for the commercial marketplace]. So today, she will be sharing her approach to helping students to make their song recordings competitive, in the genre they want to produce in.
The approach starts with the assumption that students ‘have their chops down’ – that is, they can write melodies & lyrics, understand harmony, and can program beats. With this out of the way, the students are asked to work on these four areas:
I’m in Nashville, at the #apme conference, hosted by Middle Tennessee State University. Popular Music Education is still a relatively young field, at least in terms of having its own conference (launched ~10 years ago) and journal (launched last year). More about AMPE at popularmusiceducation.org. Conference schedule here.
Coming from Berklee, perhaps I’ve become too comfortable with the idea that everyone talks about popular music pedagogy all the time. A lot of colleagues here are from institutions that have a long history of classical music education, but have only recently launched popular music programs. They are often seen as mavericks in their schools, and are viewed with some suspicion by more traditional teachers and departments. So there’s a palpable sense of community here, and even during this first morning of day 1 I’ve frequently overheard the phrase: “I’ve finally found my people!”.
ABSTRACT: Over the past several years, perhaps no single person has fostered collaborations with groups on the fringe of networking infrastructure than Dan Nichols of Northern Illinois University. In this session, Dan will explain how to reach partners with limited expertise and resources. Prominent software solutions like Artsmesh and Jam Kazaam will be explored.
Thus far, the conference has focused on high-bandwidth institutions with fast Internet2 connections. Dan’s presentation covers bringing networked collaboration to the masses, particularly those who do not have access to these network/hardware/institutional resources.
Dan begins with a description of Jamkazam, a free solution (that also offers a $299 hardware audio interface). After describing its features and virtues, he plays us a demo of multi-site bands jamming at SXSW 2014.
This morning, on the final day of my visit to Berklee Valencia, I attended a gig/masterclass with the remarkable Dutch jazz trio Tin Men And The Telephone. ‘Jazz Trio’ is really an inadequate term for this ensemble. It might better be described as ‘interactive iPhone jazz gaming with live humans’.
The setup is as follows: the trio is piano, upright bass and drums. The drummer has a MIDI drum pad and snare sensor. The bassist has an effects pedal. The piano has a MIDI converter attachment, feeding a MAX patch, with occasional effects processing of the piano signal.
Today I attended two presentations at the DIY Musician Conference. The first one, which I’ll get to in a later post (because it’s kinda techy and will take time to write up) was an open DJ session with Ableton Live. The second, which I’ll briefly summarise here, is a one-hour overview of contracts for independent musicians, presented by my estimable colleague Tonya Butler, Assistant Chair of the Music Business department at Berklee.
ABSTRACT: When it comes to getting signed as a musician, a bad deal can be much worse than no deal at all. In this session, Tonya Butler, a top negotiator, will be providing vital information on key music contract clauses while walking the group through the key negotiation points of each clause.
Yesterday I attended the inaugural Berklee XR summit, held on Feb 7th 2018 at the Berklee Media Center, here at Massachusetts Ave in Boston, part of the Stan Getz Library. The all-day event was envisaged by our estimable Berklee colleague and XR Professor Lori Landay. XR is a catch-all term (Cross Reality, or Extended Reality) and it refers to “technology-mediated experiences that combine digital and biological realities”. Augmented Reality (AR) is adding virtual objects to the real world, typically through a smartphone camera (Pokémon Go being a well-known example); Virtual Reality (VR) is creating an entire immersive world for the user to experience, usually via first-person headset technologies. VR is particularly used in games such as Doom VFR but also in non-gaming contexts, including medicine, education and law (not to mention dance).
As promised to the delegates on the day, I’ve listed below some of the urls we collected, from listening to the artists, colleagues, presentations and exhibitors. If you were there and you think I’ve missed any, please contact me here or @joebennettmusic and I’ll be glad to add to the list.