Sarah Suhadolnik’s work with colleague Monica Hershberger is featured in the new, open-access collection Sounding Together: Collaborative Perspectives on U.S. Music in the 21st Century (eds. Charles Hiroshi Garrett and Carol Oja). Digital access to the entire book is free, and you can check out Sarah and Monica’s chapter, “Music, Travel, and Circuitous Reflections of Community,” here.
Iowa’s spring semester concluded in mid-May, just in time for students and faculty to share recent projects at three different conferences.
Iowa Musicology Day (May 22) brought together a coalition of Iowa students from several disciplines. John Tappen (MA, American Studies) presented a paper titled “The US Army’s Sonic Campaign for Neoliberal Militainment.” Anastasia Scholze (BA, Voice, incoming MA in Musicology) shared her research on the art and ethics of vocal dubbing in West Side Story (1961). Rebekah Erdman (PhD, Musicology) spoke on Rutland Boughton’s opera The Immortal Hour and the legacy of the English Choral Drama. Michael Pekel (DMA, Choral Conducting) introduced audiences to the spiritual philosophies underpinning Jonathan Harvey’s choral works. Cody Norling (PhD, Musicology) and Dr. Nathan Platte participated in a pedagogy session, where they shared course projects that gave students opportunities to engage with historical musical practices through archives and composition.
The IASPM-US Conference was a 5-day program for almost 200 participants that ran from 5/18-5/22. As acting secretary for the organization, Dr. Sarah Suhadolnik helped to organize and host the event. She also participated as panel chair and presenter. Entitled “WHO DAT? Music, Media and the (Re)defined Spirit Nation,” Dr. Suhadolnik’s paper was drawn from her overlapping research on popular music, place, fandom, and digital media.
Finally, at the Midwestern History Conference (May 26-27), Cody Norling presented “Opera Evangelism: Creating a Musical Metropole in 1920s Chicago.”
Whew. I think we’re ready for a little summer rest and recreation now. Congratulations to all of the presenters!
Dr. Wilson Kimber recently joined Stephen Rodgers (University of Oregon) and Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis) for a conversation on American women’s song of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The discussion draws from Dr. Wilson Kimber’s recent work on Women’s Song Forum and her book (and related performances) from The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Thanks to IDAGIO and the Hampsong Foundation for hosting the gathering and posting the discussion!
We are thrilled that Iowa is hosting the first joint meeting of the Midwest Chapters of the American Musicological Society and Society for Ethnomusicology (April 10-11).
The conference keynote (Saturday, 3:30) features a presentation from Dwandalyn Reece, music curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
To learn more about Iowa City’s indie music scene, be sure to check out Ross Clowser’s presentation on Karen Meat at 11:00 on Saturday.
All events are hosted over Zoom and are free. We invite you to check out the full schedule and register here: https://sites.google.com/site/amsmidwest/chapter-meetings/past-meetings/spring-2021-meeting
Marian Wilson Kimber’s “Hymnody, Dance and the Sacred in the Illustrated Song” has recently appeared in the volume Musicology and Dance: Historical and Critical Perspectives published by Cambridge University Press. Wilson Kimber’s chapter delves into women’s practice of posing to hymn tunes, an offshoot of the Delsarte movement in the early twentieth century. It draws on pedagogical materials, press reports of women’s performances, and contemporary understandings of hymnody to explain how musical accompaniments in the “illustrated song” helped to mediate its potentially precarious position within American culture, given its deep suspicion of dance.
Wilson Kimber has also recently joined a team of musicologists writing for the Women’s Song Forum, a new blog devoted to women’s songs and women’s voices. Her first essay explores the American Song Composers’ Festival founded by composer Grace Porterfield Polk in Greenwood, Indiana, in the 1920s in order to encourage American songwriters. Her most recent post considers the reception of Mary Turner Salter’s song, “The Cry of Rachel,” and the songs of peace activist Elisabeth Johnson.
Using media to share research is not new here. Trevor Harvey’s podcast, Ethnomusicology Today, has been doing just that since 2015. Since then, more students and faculty are exploring different formats to study and share work on a range of musical topics. Here are some recent highlights…
Jon Eldridge II (MA in Jazz Studies) has released expansive video essays on scoring, songs, and sound design in the games Death Stranding and Doom Eternal. In addition to scripting and editing the films, Jon also provided original music and cover art. The project was developed in one of Sarah Suhadolnik’s fall 2020 courses.
Dr. Trevor Harvey has recently released a new episode of Ethnomusicology Today that features a discussion with Dr. Emaeyak Sylvanus (University of Nigeria) about songs in Nollywood film. A pioneering researcher on Nollywood film music, Emaeyak explores localized musical concepts that dominate Nigerian film narratives. Grounded in his understanding of a narrative technique he terms “prefiguring,” Emaeyak discusses the 2014 film “Ekaette Goes to School” as a case study for exploring how indigenous meanings are negotiated within the global cinema landscape from which the contemporary Nigerian film industry has emerged.
Dr. Nathan Platte and Anastasia Scholze (BA Music) have released the trailer and first episode of Sounding Cinema, a new podcast that explores how music, dialogue, and sound effects shape our relationship with film. Their first episode surveys the career of sound editor/director Robert Wise and dives deeply into the extraordinary sounds of West Side Story. Visit soundingcinema.com to listen and follow on Instagram at @soundingcinema.
In bidding 2020 adieu, we take a moment to celebrate a smattering of the work we’ve shared during a very unusual fall term.
Dr. Christine Getz’s chapter “Milan: Imperial City and Theater of the World,” was published in A Companion to Music at the Hapsburg Courts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (ed. Andrew Weaver).
Ph.D. candidate Cody Norling’s chapter, “’To improve the musical taste, capacity and voices of our people’: The Rise of Public Art-Music Interests Amidst the Rise and Fall of the Iowa State Normal Academy of Music, 1867–1871,” appears in The Making of the Midwest: Essays on the Formation of Midwestern Identity, 1787-1900 (ed. Jon Lauck).
Dr. Anabel Maler presented a paper titled “The Signing Voice” at the Society for Ethnomusicology, Drs. Maler and Robert Komaniecki presented “Rhythmic Techniques in Signed Rap” for the American Musicological Society, and Dr. Getz presented on Fabrizio Dentice’s Lamentations at the Convegno Annuale della Società Italiana di Musicologia.
FilmScene, Iowa City’s independent cinema, recognized Dr. Nathan Platte as its 2020 Visionary Advocate for cohosting and producing FilmCastPodScene. The podcast, which includes interviews with filmmakers and conversations with local moviegoers, is a local partnership that seeks to sustain community among film enthusiasts while theaters remain mostly closed.
Colloquium thrived over Zoom throughout the fall term, and we were especially thrilled to host guest scholar Matthew Mugmon (University of Arizona) and an alt-academic career panel featuring Leslie Finer (U of Iowa, Office of Community Engagement), Hang Nguyen (Iowa State Historical Society), and Amanda Sewell (Interlochen Public Radio). Drs. Matthew Arndt, Marian Wilson Kimber, Trevor Harvey, Robert Komaniecki, and Nathan Platte also led discussions on professional development topics and hosted weekly social hours where students and faculty met remotely to share experiences and connect.
As we prepare for spring term, please check out our Spring colloquium schedule and save the weekend of April 10-11, when Iowa will host a virtual joint conference between AMS Midwest and MIDSEM! For those interested in submitting proposals for the conference, more information is available here.
Written in 2011 and recorded this year by Ligament—Anika Kildegaard (voice) and Will Yager (bass)—University of Iowa Assistant Professor Jean-François Charles’s “Benedictus” is a fitting song to listen to at a time when we are nearing the midnight of the year, to say nothing of midnight on the Doomsday Clock, which has been on the verge of twelve o’clock for so long that crisis seems to be a permanent state of affairs. Perpetual night seems like day, the forever war is the closest thing we have to peace, and constant gaslighting supplants truth. A fitting song, and a welcome song at a time when so much is coming into 20/20 focus that obliges us as individuals and as communities to examine our conscience.
I have certain thing for dark nights of the soul, and of the mind. I have been reviving evening viewings of Twin Peaks with my beautiful wife and discussing how it is a dark soap opera, a sort of cinematic mashup of film noir and soap opera. Charles’s song is similarly a mashup, and it is similarly almost cinematic in its cutting between a setting of text from the Roman Sanctus and a spliced-together setting of Charles Baudelaire’s “L’examen de minuit” from Les fleurs du mal—or, as rendered in William Aggeler’s translation, “Examination of Conscience at Midnight” from Flowers of Evil.
“Benedictus” begins with a single-second sample of a clock, which is referenced in the first line of the poem—an allusion perhaps to Pink Floyd’s “Time” (1973), which begins with a quiet ticking sound, and which is wrapped up in another sort of dark cinematic mashup (i.e., The Dark Side of Oz, about which I have written). Charles’s song further proceeds with a Pink-Floyd-like block of space music to clear the air and set the dark tone. The space is colored with an electric string bass, electroacoustic instruments being Charles’s specialty. The bass sounds intermittently through the song, as a kind of Greek chorus taking in the ironic display (irony is referenced in the second line of the poem). I will say a word about both display and irony.
Both songs (“Benedictus” and “Time”) put wasted, defiled time on display in a way that can shock the listener awake (the ticking in “Time” is followed by an alarm clock going off). The same, incidentally, is true of Swoope’s “Schizo / Hollow Dreams Interlude,” from the album Wake Up (2012). For exposure, hopefully, is what can overcome vice, within and without. As the poet acknowledges at the end of Baudelaire’s poem, in the voice of a conspirator, “Quickly let us snuff out the lamp, / So we may hide in the darkness!” (Vite soufflons la lampe, afin / De nous cacher dans les ténèbres).
The irony consists in the juxtapositions of the mashup in Charles’s song. The text from the Sanctus is a blessing of he who comes in the name of the Lord (benedictus qui venit in nomine domini)—i.e., Jesus, as the second stanza of Baudelaire’s poem explains. The first sounding of the benedictus music concludes not with the expected note but with a note just adjacent, which segues into Baudelaire’s poet’s confession of sins—sins that prevent as it were a complete sounding of the benedictus music with a clear conscience.
There is more to confession than just words, though, for even the demons name the “Son of the Most High God.” Confession is repentance, turning toward compunction instead of cynicism. Appropriately, then, the poem is set schizophrenically with two voices, so to speak, the one harsh and the other mournful, even wailing. And confession is recurrent, because there is always another layer to expose in the soul. Appropriately, then, the two voices alternate. And it is the mournful, repentant voice that is able, as it were, to lead back to the benedictus music, through the word “light” (lumière). These two voices together with that of the benedictus music may be likened to the proverbial devil and angel on our shoulders as we pray to God in our heads in between, or they may be likened to the foolish thief and the wise thief, who give contrasting responses to Jesus crucified between them.
Through their juxtaposition, these two voices draw sharp almost visual lines between the bright light of repentance and the “wan light of putrefaction” (de la putrefaction… la blafarde lumière). The latter phrase is reminiscent of Emanuel Swedenborg’s discussion of people who think they are wise and good from themselves, rather than the opposite, being themselves from wisdom and goodness. He describes this mistake as that the people “close the higher regions of their mind…. Since the higher regions of their mind are closed, where the true light of life makes its home, a lower region of their mind opens up that is attuned only to the glimmer of the world. That glimmer, devoid of light from the higher regions, is faint and deceptive.” This attunement focuses purely on, as the poem says, “stupid and unfeeling Matter” (la stupide Matière).
The song brings out this material focus especially through its highlighting of two words: “baisé” and “l’ivresse.” “Baisé,” delicately translated by Aggeler as “kissed,” reveals its double entendre through its harsh, mechanistic repetition. “L’ivresse” (drunkenness) receives a similar treatment. The bass joins this mechanistic groove, now much more agitated, and this groove is then mashed up with the opening space music, leaving its meaning open.
Every listener will take something different from the song, depending as they may identify in different ways at different moments with the three voices or the bass. It is a remarkable statement, and I look forward to hearing more songs from Charles.
The Fall meeting of the Midwest Chapter of the American Musicological Society took place virtually during the last weekend of September. Meeting over Zoom came with some benefits, including a significantly larger number of attendees. Planning, managing, and hosting the conference brought together colleagues from across many Midwest institutions.
Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from Iowa attended and contributed in various roles. Anabel Maler served on the program committee. Cody Norling shared a research presentation titled “Creating a ‘Haven for Culture’: Fortnightly Clubwomen and Advocacy for Opera in Interwar Chicago.” As chapter president, Nathan Platte helped emcee the conference and joined the keynote panel, “Musicology and Antiracism,” where he shared reflections alongside Naomi André (University of Michigan), Johann Buis (Wheaton College), and Maya Gibson (University of Missouri). The panelists’ remarks were recorded and may be viewed here.
The AMS Midwest chapter will gather again in spring 2021 in a first-ever joint meeting with MIDSEM, the Midwestern chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology. That meeting, also held virtually, will be hosted by the University of Iowa.
During the summer of 2020, Cody Norling served as an intern with Hancher Auditorium. The partnership was supported through the Humanities for the Public Good program hosted by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. Cody shared reflections on the collaboration at last week’s Obermann showcase. Here are some highlights from his remarks:
Over the course of the summer, I applied both my research skills and broad humanities training to the public-engagement efforts of Hancher Auditorium. My primary duties included locating possible university and community partners for scheduled events, researching best practices for operating during an extended COVID-19 era, recording and editing a weekly podcast, and creating a series a connected program essays for the coming season’s scheduled dance acts.
The internship experience added to my academic training a greater sense of working flexibility and an emphasis on continued group efforts. Whereas the routine expectations of a doctoral program (and professional career) necessitate an emphasis on individual contributions to the field in the form of single-author publications, my work with Hancher was built on teamwork toward shared goals. This was achieved through weekly meetings and the divvying of key tasks among the entire public-engagement team. In general, I have been most impressed by my ability to apply musicological practices to public-facing work within a group-work setting while also maintaining a careful balance between work time and personal time.