Sacred Music: Historical, Musical, Economic, and Psychological Perspectives

In music history classes (or any history courses for that matter), it is pretty predictable that teachers are going to expect students to start reading the beginning of their textbooks regarding such periods as the “Dark Ages,” and move forward to be able to analyze how thoughts about education and technology have been reformed over time…and how these changes have contributed to a much more sanitary lifestyle. Because the Roman Catholic Church was the ruling political institution of the Holy Roman Empire (or modern-day Europe), it exercised dominion over several educational subject matters, one of which was music. As a result, it is safe to say that all forms of music began in the church. A lot of people would automatically assume that music has strayed far from its religious roots. But, there are still large religious and spiritual communities which listen to sacred music not only at church, but, also for leisure, though their purposes for doing so may have changed over time.

*DISCLAIMER: This article does not attempt to demonstrate bias toward or against particular faiths; it would be difficult to examine every religion’s music history in depth. That being said, this entry focuses on religions with extensively documented musical changes over time. Discussion is open to sacred/worship music of any sort, so please be respectful of other people’s belief systems!*

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Electronics and Electricity: The Fusion of Science and Art in Sound

“I’m more of an arts/humanities person than a math/science person,” say many high school students upon taking standardized tests or choosing their major before going to college (admittedly, I have been guilty of uttering this phrase). TV shows, such as The Big Bang Theory utilize scientific characters to poke fun at people in the humanities for their flowery language and inability to hold down a stable job. Laws, such as the COMPETES Act and the famous No Child Left Behind Act have been passed, determining which educational areas to make cuts in during economic crises, and one can’t help but notice the bitterness arts advocates and their scientific counterparts hold toward one another when the funding goes toward their opponent’s field. Yet, more recently, people have developed methods to bridge the gap between the two disciplines, making it questionable as to whether they are more interconnected than most people assume.

*DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A SCIENTIST, SO IF YOU ARE, PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR ANY GENERALIZATIONS/DEFICIENCIES YOU MAY NOTE IN MY EXPLANATIONS! THE INTENT OF THIS ENTRY IS TO PROVIDE AN OVERVIEW OF SCIENTIFIC/TECHNOLOGICAL WAYS OF CREATING MUSIC.*

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“Phantom of the Opera” or “Phantom of the Musical?”

The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite opera,” is a phrase that many of my friends in the music department at my school throw around when jokingly imitating people who aren’t too familiar with either opera or musical theater. Fans tend to think of Phantom as an opera primarily because of the more classical technique used by singers, emphasizing high notes and long runs requiring a lot of flexibility (or the ability of the voice to move easily), which are elements not traditionally seen in popular musicals, such as Wicked and Rent. Although it may seem obvious to opera connoisseurs that Phantom is a musical (as it opened on Broadway, uses pop instruments, has spoken dialogue, and allows for a contemporary musical theater vocal technique), the structure of the musical itself is, indeed, very similar to that of an opera, though in a satiric way. I actually happened to see Phantom a couple of weeks ago at the Pantages in L.A. (which I highly recommend, if you have the chance to see it), so this entry will combine my observations with the insights of music scholars who have completed research on the work.

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Why Can’t Fans Seem to Let Go of “Let It Go?” Analyzing the Success of Disney’s “Frozen”

It has been almost two years since Disney’s “Frozen” was released in theaters, and the movie’s title song, “Let It Go” is still blaring through the speakers found on children’s toys, looping non-stop on radio stations, and even playing on full blast at the gym. We may simply dismiss the film’s success as being part of Disney’s monopoly over the movie industry. Yet, this movie rivaled the ticket sales of such box office hits as “Up,” “The Incredibles,” and “The Lion King,” grossing in at approximately $400 million, whereas the other previously mentioned films, when averaged, made about $250 million. Even more shocking is the fact that Disney princess classics, such as “Beauty and the Beast” only obtained about $145 million in sales. So what makes “Frozen” and its musical hit so much more prosperous than the film’s other Disney princess predecessors?

One seemingly obvious factor is the difference in feminist depictions between Anna and Elsa and earlier princesses, such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. The latter three princesses have been categorized as “Voiceless Beauties,” according to one scholar. Read More »

“You Stole My Music!” Issues of Chords and Copyright Across Genres

In previous centuries, what was called “quotation” of musical material (or using excerpts of another composer’s works within one’s own works) was not something to be ashamed of. The idea of musical quotation actually demonstrated musical prowess of the person who created his or her artwork to be referenced by later composers. For example, scholars argue that they can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which was composed about 40 years later. Yet, in the twenty-first century, attitudes toward musical ownership have radically changed. A recent example  is a court case that was ruled on in March of this year involving Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. against the estate of Marvin Gaye. Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines” is allegedly a take-off of Marvin Gaye’s song, “Got to Give It Up,” which was released in 1977. The “Blurred Lines” team lost the case, ultimately owing over $7 million to the Gaye estate.

There are, predictably, two sides to this issue: the musical side and the legal side. Read More »

Sight and Sound: The Effects of Media and Shock Value on Music

The 1980s produced more than just the first Mac computer, which clearly made a lot of people happy, if its successors, such as the iPhone may be spotted at least once while walking down any street today. With the advent of modern technology in this decade, reforms were made in all categories, including that of popular music. The equivalent to the computer in music was MTV, a network which acted to integrate the sounds one hears while listening to a song with the images one sees while watching a movie, as implied by the name behind the acronym, “Music Television.”

While it is true that music videos existed prior to the 1980s, the motives that producers and artists had in creating these videos differed in earlier decades. In the 1960s, for example, videos were simply used for promotional purposes to get audiences to listen to the particular song being advertised, as was the case with the “Twist and Shout” video made for The Beatles. Yet, in the 1980s, the visual element of the video served more of a storytelling purpose, setting the precedence for almost all music videos produced today, with the exception of those that are recorded live in concert settings. How did artists and producers choose to tell the stories behind their music? Two simple words: shock value. Read More »

Love and Chivalry in Music: Analyzing the Meaning Behind Lyrics Over Time

Love. It’s talked about everywhere: in the hallways, in novels, on TV, on Facebook, and on Instagram. But, little do people realize that love, especially that which is unrequited, has a deeply rooted history in all genres and time periods of music.

It began in France in the Middle Ages. Individuals who composed music (orally and aurally, of course, as people of this time period did not yet have the means to write music down graphically) commonly came up with the lyrics for the pieces they wrote. These poet-musicians were known as troubadours (in the case of Southern France) and trouvères (in the case of Northern France). Troubadours and trouvères infused the concept of fine amour, or courtly love, into the poetry of their compositions. Courtly love, as we think of it today, usually involves chivalry, or the idea of a knight in shining armor sweeping a princess off of her feet and lifting her up onto his horse only to ride off with her into the sunset. Yet, courtly love in this era had more to it than just manners and respect for women. Read More »