Category Archives: Music

Creative Juice #319

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Creative Juice #319

The Thanksgiving weekend edition. I’m thankful for all the creative artists who inspire us.

Kora

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My first exposure to the kora was a video I discovered on YouTube 10 years ago:

The kora originated in western Africa, dating back to the fifteenth century. It shares characteristics of the harp and lute. It has 21 strings that are plucked with the thumb and index fingers of both hands (the other fingers hold the instrument).

I had forgotten about it, but there was a segment on 60 Minutes last Sunday that featured Sona Jobarteh, one of the first female Kora players ever. Click the link to watch it; it’s fascinating. I learned that playing the kora was a privilege passed from father to son for hundreds of years, limited to certain families known as griot or jali. Jali is a Mandinka word that means historian or storyteller.

In this video, you can clearly see the musician’s hands as he plays:

Here’s a trio including a kora:

If one kora is good, two are twice as good:

An hour-long concert with Sona Jobarteh:

My husband, Greg, said the kora reminded him of a banjo. That makes sense, because the first banjos were created by enslaved Africans in North America–they tried to make something familiar with the materials available to them.

What do you think? I could listen to the kora for hours.

Video of the Week: Astor Piazzolla plays his wonderful Libertango on accordion in 1977

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Video of the Week: Handbells

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This is Ringing Praise, the handbell choir at my church, playing Rise Up, O Church of God for Reformation Sunday on October 30, 2022. I am the person on the left end of the back row. I am wearing a mask that I sewed from red chili pepper fabric (that’s why my face looks so weird.)

Skills in Score Preparation

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One thing I found while I was decluttering my office was a short paper I wrote in grad school for the course Skills in Score Preparation. I was a music education major. The scores in question were pieces of music, especially multi-instrument or multi-voice pieces for orchestra or ensembles or choruses; the score contains all the parts for each individual instrument and/or voice. The conductor or teacher would need to carefully study all parts of the piece before beginning to rehearse or teach the piece. The conductor/teacher would want to mark the score to remind himself of important points to cover; for example, entrances that would need his cueing, or changes in time signature or key signature.

Skills in Score Preparation was by far the most memorable, interesting, and helpful class I took during my Masters program at Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey). I’ve forgotten the professor’s name, but he was passionate about good conducting and helping us to become better conductors. He was everything you’d want a professor to be: wise, skillful, an excellent communicator, kind, and encouraging.

I wrote the paper in the fall of 1975. I typed it on a typewriter on onionskin paper. The assignment was to list the steps I would take to prepare a score I might use in my career (in my case, in an elementary music classroom). I’m posting it here just in case it might be useful to one of the musicians who follow ARHtistic License.

Steps in Score Preparation:

How to Prepare a Score

for Study in the General Music Class or for Performance by the Chorus

  1. Background Information: by whom, when, and why was the piece composed; what are the characteristics of the composer, the period, and of other pieces of music used for the same purpose; how does this piece adhere to or depart from these general characteristics; what is the meaning of the lyrics, if any; how does the music express the lyrics
  2. Harmonic Analysis: is the harmonic structure predominantly diatonic, modal, atonal, homophonic, polyphonic, monophonic; does a particular chord have a function other than the obvious one; identify key changes and reasons for them
  3. Form: identify major and subordinate themes; examine thematic development; determine pattern formed by themes
  4. Interpretation: determine phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, tempi, other diacritical markings
  5. Musical Elements: glean for terminology which might be unfamiliar to students; check for difficult melodic passages, entrances and harmonies which may require extra attention to master; look for exemplary passages which could be used to illustrate particular musical concepts being studied [After each item in the paper, the professor wrote encouraging comments, like v good, yes, and also good. After this item, the professor wrote the suggestion sustain unusual chords for memory work.]
  6. Fresh Viewpoints: listen to different recordings while following score to hear different interpretations, bring to light aspects that might have been overlooked; read album jackets, books, and articles for additional information

On the cover sheet of my paper, the professor wrote quite comprehensive work, which makes me happy even after 47 years.

Video of the Week: Hymn of the Cherubim

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For your listening pleasure.

Video of the Week: Joni Mitchell’s Amelia, Broken Down

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Song of the Day

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We often sing “Canticle of the Turning” at our church, but I never knew until today (when Pastor Andrea mentioned it in her sermon) that it’s based on Mary’s song (also known as the Magnificat). Here is the passage from Luke, Chapter 1 (NIV):

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Video of the Week: Dinner with Joni Mitchell

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Both Sides Now—Joni Mitchell, Then and Now

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Roberta Joan “Joni” Anderson was born in Alberta, Canada, on November 7, 1943. She is almost exactly 9 years older than me, and her music was a soundtrack of my high school and college years. Her light, incredibly high soprano voice was always impeccably in tune, though she wasn’t afraid to bend a note when she wanted to. She didn’t need scores of musicians backing her up; on many of her songs, she accompanied herself on guitar or piano–that’s it, so simple, so lush, so perfect. She was a gifted songwriter from an early age, and other major performers recorded her songs before she became a star in her own right.

At age nine, Joni contracted polio and was hospitalized for several weeks. The polio permanently weakened the muscles in her left hand. (A few years later, when she taught herself how to play guitar, she compensated for her fingering challenges by using alternate tunings for the strings. These tunings contributed to untraditional harmonies in her compositions.)

Chelsea Morning, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, NYC, February 1, 1969:

In school, Joni struggled with academics. She was more interested in art. (After high school, she went to art school for one year and didn’t really like the focus on technical skill, abstraction, and commercial art. Though she dropped out, painting has always been a major part of her life. She did the artwork for many or all of her album covers.)

By the time she was eleven, she loved singing and dancing and writing poetry, and thought maybe she could be a performer. In October, 1962, just before she turned 19, she started performing folk music in small clubs and coffeehouses.

Big Yellow Taxi:

In 1964, she discovered she was pregnant. Her boyfriend bailed on her, and after she gave birth to her daughter, she placed her in an adoption, because she didn’t have the financial resources to raise her. She needed to go back to performing. (Joni reunited with her daughter in 1997.)

In 1965, Joni met the American folk singer Chuck Mitchell, and they began performing together. They went on tour in the US, and soon married; Joni Anderson officially became Joni Mitchell. The marriage only lasted a couple of years. In 1982, she married bassist Larry Klein. They divorced in 1994.

Help Me:

The Circle Game:

Joni has always had a lot of support from other musicians. Her friendships are a veritable Who’s Who of the folk, rock, pop, and jazz artists from the 1960s through today. She was linked romantically with the likes of Leonard Cohen, David Crosby, Graham Nash, James Taylor, and Jackson Brown, among others.

Woodstock:

River:

Around 2000, Joni’s voice began to deepen. Although she was a smoker all her life (she started when she was 9), she believes that the loss of the top of her range is due to nodules on her vocal cords, changes in her larynx, and lingering effects of polio.

Coyote, recorded live at Gordon Lightfoot’s house, with Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn:

Below is an interview from 2013. It is worth your time to watch. One thing she says that really got to me is, “If you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it’ll probably make you cry, and you’ll learn something about yourself, and now you’re getting something out of it.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve listened to Joni Mitchell’s music with tears streaming down my cheeks. The combination of her pure voice, simple accompaniment, and poignant lyrics touches me deeply. These days, when I listen to her, I long for the bright, vivacious young woman she was (and for the bright, vivacious young woman I was).

In 2015, Joni suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. Her injury caused a great deal of damage, and she worked very hard at her physical therapy to regain her mobility.

When Joni Mitchell was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2021, I was heartbroken to see how frail she was, and I wondered if she’d ever perform again.

But you can’t keep Joni down. She recently appeared at the Newport Folk Festival with Brandy Carlile.

Both Sides Now, 2022 Newport Folk Festival: