Andrew Flory and Marian Wilson Kimber
Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0]
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are the northernmost industrial area on the mighty Mississippi River. Once dominated by flour production and trade with native Dakota and Ojibwe people, the Cities (as they’re called by locals) are now home to a thriving and incredibly diverse population that creates and enjoys a wide variety of music. Scandinavian populations are still dominant in the area, which is apparent in a number of ways, ranging from the repertoire and current conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra—Finnish-born Osmo Vänskä—to a strong Hardanger fiddle community. But the modern Twin Cities area is also home to substantial groups of first-generation Hmong and Somali immigrants, a thriving LGBT community, and a small, but extremely active African-American population. And evidence for all of these groups can be found in the music of the area.
Our 2020 conference will be held March 25–29 in downtown Minneapolis, at the chic Radisson Blu hotel and meeting center. It is located in the center of the business district, just a few blocks from many of the city’s most important cultural institutions. Orchestra Hall, the Dakota jazz club, the rock-and-pop-oriented First Avenue and dozens of other theaters and organizations are all a walk or short cab-ride away. This regional culture is on full display in the program of papers and poster presentations, with nearly twenty program slots focusing on topics relating to composers and music from Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. This work uses a variety of methodological approaches, considering periods from the late nineteenth century to the present, and investigating styles ranging from opera and musical theater to water ballet and a variety of popular styles. Prince enthusiasts will find an especially generous amount of Purple prose throughout the meeting.
2019 SAM Honorary Member
The Society is pleased to present an honorary membership to Philip Brunelle, one of the most influential and stalwart choral conductors in the United States. Brunelle has spent his entire career among a crowded field of conductors in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul who specialize in choral music. He has commissioned hundreds of works and been a champion for a variety of American composers, conducted on six continents (for orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra, among others), and is an active church musician. Many SAM members will also know Brunelle’s work as guest conductor and pianist on American Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” He appeared on the very first and final broadcasts—and many in between—for more than 40 years. We are especially happy that Brunelle will perform for the Society’s annual Perlis Concert, which will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church—where he has served as Organist and Choirmaster for more than fifty years. He will play a small portion of the program on organ and then lead a chamber group in a program of American choral music, featuring the work of composers like Dominick Argento, Jocelyn Hagen, Moses Hogan, Libby Larsen, and Deirdre Robinson.
The Local Arrangements Committee has planned four guided excursions for SAM members on Friday afternoon. We carefully considered things like cost, subject, and physical accessibility, hoping to provide a range of opportunities for Society members. One group will have the opportunity to visit the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota and view a series of highlights selected by one of the library’s archivists. A second will visit the Walker Art Center, receive a preview of the institution’s archival holdings related to people like David Tudor, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage, and then have the opportunity to walk through the galleries. We have also arranged for a private tour of an unmodified Frank Lloyd Wright house in St. Paul, the Malcolm Willey House, which is an example of his “organic” style. Finally, a lucky group will have the opportunity to tour Prince’s Paisley Park studio complex in Chanhassen, a western suburb about 45 minutes from the conference hotel. There are many, many other activities that members may choose to explore while in town, including galleries, theater, opera, museums, and a wide variety of worship music.
The Paisley Park Studios complex. Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0]
The meeting has been generously sponsored by my home institution, Carleton College, which is about 45 miles south of the Cities in Northfield, MN. The Local Arrangements committee includes Ron Rodman (Carleton), Melinda Russell (Carleton), Peter Mercer-Taylor (U of Minn.), Louis Epstein (St. Olaf), Sarah Schmalenberger (U of St. Thomas) and Jonas Westberger (U of St. Thomas). They have been very active, with each taking on important roles in the planning process. We still seek volunteers to work at the meeting. If you are interested in helping for several hours in exchange for a registration waiver, please contact me.
On behalf of Carleton College and the Local Arrangements Committee, we look forward to welcoming you to Minneapolis. See you in March!
Chair, Local Arrangements Committee
The 2020 program committee is pleased to be able to welcome the Society to the Twin Cities and to offer a wide-ranging conference program of research by its members. In addition to a full session and several other papers related to Prince and Paisley Park, presentations on topics of local interest treat Minnesota Opera, nineteenth-century Minnesota musicians, Julius Eastman in Minneapolis, mermaids of the Aquatennial water ballet held in “the land of ten thousand lakes,” and more. This year’s seminar session consists of four papers about revivals of classic musicals, which can be read in advance of discussion at the meeting. SAM will host panel sessions on performing arts centers and urban gentrification, nationalism in Latin American music, community and black music making, music and immigrants, musical mapping, and bands associated with commercial enterprises.
Attendees can participate in workshops that address current issues in the field, exploring strategies for inclusion and equity in public musicology, care pedagogy, and digitization efforts. Interest group sessions will consider diversity in the American wind band world and teaching musicals in times of crisis. SAM members can also learn about the new Career Connections resource available from the Committee on Contingent Workers and Independent Scholars. During lunchtime lecture recitals, they can enjoy performances of Howard Hanson’s Symphonic Rhapsody for piano, trap drumming from the silent film era, and sailors’ work songs. The Committee is pleased with the continuing richness and vitality of the Society’s activities, which will provide an engaging and stimulating conference.
Marian Wilson Kimber
Chair, Program Committee
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Finding David Geppert: A Forgotten American Neoromantic
On November 18, 1941, David Geppert, a 20-year-old student at the Northwestern University School of Music, had his composition Pastoral performed by the University Chamber Orchestra in the first of a series of dedicatory concerts for the new Lutkin Auditorium. An 18-year-old Ned Rorem, also a Northwestern student, reviewed the event. In Rorem’s estimation, Pastoral was one of “four richly scored pieces performed” that day “with fullness and expression.” Pastoral had been inspired by a trip Geppert took through Switzerland four years earlier, the review noted. “Novel in the afternoon was the presentation of Pastorale [sic]…,” proclaimed Rorem; “Geppert’s work is pleasing, more or less strict and unemotional, being for the most part more military than pastorale.”1
The concert, and Rorem’s review, made for a moment of music-historical serendipity. Rorem would become a prolific writer of art song, collaborate with J. D. McClatchy on the opera Our Town, and receive the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his orchestral suite, Air Music. Arthur Berger—appropriating the political label—placed Rorem among a “well-established line of moderates,” which included “composers like [William] Schuman, David Diamond.”2 Geppert would go on to attend the Eastman School of Music. There he would earn a Ph.D. in theory and composition under Howard Hanson, whom Berger called a “Romanticist” and part of that “moderate” line. Though their paths crossed only briefly, Geppert and Rorem shared a commitment to tonal composition. But Geppert’s output has gone largely unknown—until now. His collection, 122 opus numbers in various genres (orchestral music, instrumental ensemble, piano works, vocal works and arrangements), has been acquired by Eastman’s Sibley Music Library.
David Geppert in 2015, at age 93.
Geppert was born in Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Northwestern in 1942. He served in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1946, he assumed his first academic post, in the Music Department of Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. Geppert moved to Rochester, New York in 1951, receiving his Ph.D. from Eastman in 1958. From 1955 to 1970, he was a faculty member in the Theory Department at Eastman.
One of his duties at Eastman was teaching the Acoustics course, which was required of doctoral students.3 Geppert was committed to making music theory relevant and accessible for conservatory students whose main focus was performance. A cornerstone of Geppert’s pedagogy was what John Buccheri, a student of Geppert at Eastman and now Associate Professor of Music Theory Emeritus at Northwestern, refers to as the “arch map.”4 The maps were graphic representations of musical forms, and of movements of compositions, that Geppert would create using arcs running along a common baseline. The size of the arc is relative to the number of measures in the section. It is likely not a coincidence that Geppert found analytical potential in a kind of mapmaking. Geppert’s father, Otto, was one of the heads of a distinguished map and globe-making company in Chicago (Denoyer-Geppert, formed in 1916). Otto wrote in 1942, “Global war calls for global minds – and they, in turn, call for global maps.”5 Geppert turned outward in a different way. Together with teaching, he cultivated a musical voice and artistic ideals that were humanistic, non-punitive, rational, celebratory. He was drawn to Unitarianism, delighting in the “independence of mind” and “imagination” it made possible, as Buccheri puts it. What stayed with Buccheri from the Eastman years was how Geppert acted on his “faith in what music could provide as sustenance for the soul.”6
During his time at Eastman, Geppert also served as Music Director of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester. In 1970, at age 49, Geppert took an early retirement from Eastman and resettled in La Veta, Colorado. There, behind his piano, he kept a large file cabinet full of drafts and compositions. By the time typesetting scores had become easier thanks to the proliferation of music notation software, Geppert had lost faith that an audience could exist for music composed in his style. Geppert maintained an active compositional life until 2016, but his music stayed within the confines of his family, Unitarian church, and local communities where it was performed, mostly in the last decade of the 20th century and early years of the 21st. When Geppert died in May 2017, his family invited Boris Wolfson, a professor at Amherst and the typesetter of Geppert’s scores from 2012 to 2016, to inventory and examine the contents of the cabinet. This was accomplished by Wolfson and Geppert’s daughter, Caryl Emerson. Simon Morrison and Richard Taruskin, as well as Walter Simmons, suggested placing the archive at the Sibley Library.
Geppert’s residence in La Veta, Colorado.
Geppert’s output offers a new resource for thinking about American neoromanticism. He developed as a composer at an auspicious time, when the profile of United States concert music grew concurrently with the efflorescence of American conservatory education. Perhaps the greatest mark this context left on Geppert—or, to give him more agency, the American musical strain to which he most strongly adhered—was a commitment to tonal composition. Hanson at Eastman and William Schuman at Juilliard were prime movers behind this project of creating an American sound with a strong tonal bent. Geppert rejected serialism and embraced tonality; thus, he joins this line of what could be named—in the mid-century musical parlance seemingly transposed (and transmuted) from the political sphere—conservative.
The notion of musical conservatism was in the air when Geppert was a young composer and teacher. In 1946, Virgil Thomson wrote of Hanson’s programming an all-American concert at Carnegie Hall as “conservative;” Thomson also used a war metaphor to describe Hanson’s advocacy of American composition: “lead[ing] the home-front forces.”7 Through Hanson’s doing, Rochester became a hub for the performance and promotion of American music. Geppert learned and worked in this environment. Hanson considered a composer with a “conservative” approach someone who used ideas, textures, and forms closer to ones of the past, but who also incorporated vernacular elements, appealing to public tastes. In 1999, Geppert used this term in reference to himself: “Can you imagine anyone living now who is more conservative than Howard Hanson?! Well, here I am!”8
In Geppert’s compositional voice, 20th-century American musical flavors mingled: Ivesian piano-vocal exchange, Copland-esque chords, Gershwin’s blend of the romantic with jazz. And while firmly grounded in this American context, Geppert embraced European formalism: sonata convention, thematic contours, Romantic harmonic syntax. True to Rorem’s observation, Pastoral has a classicizing feel, with symmetry and restraint. It employs clear and limited harmonic vocabulary; a more adventurous side comes through in modulations.
David Geppert in 2015, at age 93.
Already in his college years, Geppert was embracing Romantic styling. Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, op. 22 (1939, 2015) is an early highlight in his output, written when he was eighteen years old. The trio shows nascent signs of Geppert’s love for the music of Brahms—a love he would nurture throughout his life. The use of a slow opening movement is unusual, although it can be seen to reflect the influence of Mahler. Another Romantic aspect of the trio is its use of form in the first movement. It is written in sonata form, although it does not follow conventional treatment; instead, Geppert adopts a modified presentation. A double gaze between America and Europe (doubleness that is itself the original, transnational condition of American concert music) would come to shape Geppert’s music.
His String Quartet in C Major, op. 63 (1942–1950, 2015) shows a heightened interest in an American tonal style that could encompass Romantic form. The composition was begun in his year of graduation from Northwestern and exhibits some parallels with the lush writing of Samuel Barber. Barber’s adherence to the musical language of the Romantic era might well have captured Geppert’s imagination. The particular emotional fiber of Barber’s sound also could be a reference point for what would become Geppert’s robust sense of music as a space for feeling and connection. Geppert, then, channeled and personalized contemporary modes of neo-Romanticism.
In his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, op. 72 (1949, 2002), Geppert opened up to new harmonic possibilities, including infusions of chromaticism; his approach in the piece holds evidence of modernizing American influence. With its blend of Romantic elements and jazz idioms and the featured role held by the clarinet, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue appears a point of departure for Geppert in the Sonata. This modern-Romantic connection was an active node of musical modernity. As John Adams put it, “the harmonic essence of the early popular American composers like Gershwin…was not all that different from the chromaticism of the late Romantic composers.”9 The Sonata was recently recorded (on September 18 and 19, 2019, in Berlin) by clarinetist Miguel Pérez Iñesta and pianist Mathias Halvorsen, and will feature on a disc alongside Alban Berg’s Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano and Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.
Written in 1958, Geppert’s Symphony No. 1, op. 77, his dissertation piece, is a landmark in his output—one of the most expansive views of his brand of American composition and of what he internalized from the musical culture around him. Perhaps the most significant trace in the symphony is Copland, in the forms of his concert music and film music. The descending half-step motive in the opening measures, and its elaboration, lend a sudden cinematic drama, even suspense. The orchestral bustle and the ensuing rolling and swinging figures feel familiar from the opening expressions of, say, Copland’s score to Of Mice and Men or The Red Pony; Geppert’s symphony has a similar initial vigor. The first movement is distinguished by robust orchestration with an emphasis on string melody supported by sustained figures in the winds. Here, Geppert retains the essence of late-Romantic orchestral writing.
The view from Geppert’s front window,
looking toward town.
The other pillar of Geppert’s musical practice and thought was his engagement with Unitarian principles. Perhaps the clearest sign of his spiritual interests comes in the form of texts in his compositions, primarily the poetry and prose of figures associated with Unitarianism. For example, Geppert used texts by Israel Zangwill, Kahlil Gibran, Arthur Davison Ficke, Walt Whitman, and Reverend Robert West (Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester from 1963 to 1969, then President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations from 1969 to 1977).10 Opus numbers 79–97 in Geppert’s output were composed in a spirit deeply compatible with the Unitarian worldview.
On May 12, 1963, Geppert delivered a guest sermon, “The Value of Music,” at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, in his capacity as Music Director of the Church. He propounded that music “helps draw certain energies of the universe into a person.”11 His thesis distilled: This energy comes as a heightened vibration or oscillation, which is especially powerful in the “doctored reality” of art, ceremony, and games.12 Geppert noticed that hymn-singing during non-creedal worship services cannot match the energy and emotional involvement of evangelical gatherings. He wondered, in the sermon, if there are ways to increase participation and a sense of communal celebration, with a non-rehearsing congregation.13 He worked at this dilemma in his quasi-sacred—pantheistic or non-creedal—compositions.
Geppert sought out music-philosophical solutions to the question of how to facilitate people’s spiritual elevation. This elevation comes by way of “universal energy,” as he called it. “Live performance,” he felt, promised such transfers of energy. In the Unitarian church setting, “the realization that [sounds] come from live human beings” might send a member of the congregation “into oscillation.” Ultimately, he believed, listeners “can only rejoice” if they “find a song” that speaks to them, that leads them to “vibrancy.” “That is the real value” of music, he wrote, “and paradoxically it is known only to ourselves.”14 Geppert’s musical thought balanced the quotidian with the cosmic. His ideas were ventured from a perspective of fundamental belief in the communicative and absorptive possibilities of art, and his analytical proposals from a place of palpable curiosity and humility.
1 Ned Rorem, “Music group gives concert in Lutkin hall,” Daily Northwestern, November 18, 1941.
2 Arthur Berger, Reflections of An American Composer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 101.
3 John Buccheri, conversation with the author, August 13, 2019.
4 John Buccheri, “Learning Through Analysis: Mozart Symphonies, Table of Contents,” Society for Music Theory, accessed July 22, 2019, https://societymusictheory.org/files/2017_handouts/pedagogy_ig/buccheri-toc-course.pdf.
5 Otto E. Geppert, “You Need a New Map!” The Rotarian, December 1942.
6 Buccheri, conversation with the author.
7 Virgil Thomson, Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles 1940–1954 (New York: Library of America, 2014).
8 David Geppert, “Occasional Commentary on Music,” July 2018, 6.
9 John Adams, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), 105.
10 Unitarians identify with Whitman, as seen in the frequent references to him in Unitarian literature. “Whitman did not subscribe to any particular philosophical school or religion but forged what David Reynolds calls ‘a broadly ecumenical outlook that embraced all religions.’” Regina Schober, “Transcendentalism,” in Walt Whitman in Context, eds. Joanna Levin and Edward Whitley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 189. In “Song of Myself,” “the speaker affirms a pantheistic worldview.” Ibid, 192.
11David Geppert, “The Value of Music,” sermon delivered May 12, 1963, 1.
12 Ibid., 2.
13 Ibid., 4.
14 Ibid., 5.
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From the President
Happy New Year! The beginning of a new year is always filled with hope, intention, and resolutions of change. As I’ve grown older, I have moved away from making resolutions. I now spend the transitional period between Christmas and New Year’s Day in a mode of quiet reflection that involves the stoppage of work and abstinence from social media and email. I use this time to take inventory of what the last 11 months have encompassed personally and professionally. In closing this year as President, I’ve taken note of what SAM has accomplished. With this being not only the end of a year, but also the end of a decade, I believe we should reflect on the progression of SAM as a professional organization.
The last nine years mark an active and vibrant chapter in our history. Under the leadership of Presidents Kitty Preston, Judy Tsou, Charles Garrett, and Sandra Graham, we experienced a considerable growth in membership and the implementation of initiatives that support our members in their navigation of the shifting professional terrain. The work of our development committee and the SAM 2.0 campaign greatly increased organizational support of new scholarship through the formation of new awards and fellowships. In sum, we have done a lot over the course of the last decade, but there’s still much more to be done. I hope that our current organizational vision can be expanded to include initiatives that more strongly connect underrepresented populations with the field of musicology, creating a pipeline to the field that begins prior to the undergraduate experience. I hope we as an organization can continue to support and promote professional pathways that extend beyond the academy and most importantly that we move toward truly exemplifying our mission in promoting the music of the Americas by expanding our engagement with scholars from Central and South America and the Caribbean and developing a conference program that can support multi-lingual presentations.
Partnership with Gateways Music Festival
One of the ways in which SAM is poised to increase its professional footprint is through a new partnership with the Gateways Music Festival. In 1993 pianist Armenta (Hummings) Dumisani founded the Gateways Music Festival in order to increase the visibility of concert artists of African descent. Two years later, the event moved from North Carolina to Rochester, NY to begin a collaborative relationship with the Eastman School of Music. Gateways, now held biennially during the summer, brings young professional and established musicians together for a series of community-based concerts that take place in schools, houses of worship, senior citizen homes, homeless shelters, and concert halls. During the fall of 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting Lee Koonce, the Executive Director of the Gateways Festival during a visit to Rochester. He expressed a desire to expand the scope of the festival and to connect with different professional music societies. As a result of that conversation, SAM, AMS, and the Gateways Festival are entering into a partnership that will engage members of our organizations with the existing Festival infrastructure in an effort to widen the musicological thrust of the event. This activity will include, but not be limited to, the presentation of public lectures, production of liner notes and essays, and implementation of an oral history project. More details on this will come soon, but I believe this collaborative relationship will allow us to engage with new constituents and provide opportunities that will expand SAM’s professional profile.
I am delighted to welcome Daniel Goldmark (president-elect) and Birgitta Johnson and Kristen Turner (members-at-large) to the board, beginning on the Sunday of the 2020 conference. Their arrival also means departures, and I’d like to take the opportunity to express deep appreciation to our outgoing board members. Rotating off the board as members-at-large in Minneapolis are Glenda Goodman and Eduardo Herrera. Glenda has served the board as liaison to the Honors, Awards, and Subventions Council; Eduardo served as board liaison to the Development Committee and will continue his work with Sandy Graham to grow the Latinx Fellowship. Both Glenda and Eduardo have been unwavering in their dedication to the Board, collegial and wise with their input. I am very grateful for their service and support! The board also bids farewell to past president Sandra Graham. SAM members are well aware of her leadership through a significant period of change. Personally, I am deeply grateful to her for her guidance and ear as I have navigated these last nine months. I also want to profoundly thank the nominating committee chaired by Douglas Bomberger for the last two years, and committee members Will Gibbons, Tracey Laird, Stephanie Jenson-Moulton, and John Spilker. This committee has worked diligently to provide the membership with diverse and exciting slates of candidates. Thank you to every member who agreed to stand for office over the course of the last year, and to all those who voted in this election. I will hold off on thanking the Program and Local Arrangement Committees associated with the Minneapolis meeting until the Spring edition because I want to provide our membership a full picture of the extraordinary work these committees have done over the past few months. Lastly, I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to all outgoing committee chairs and committee members. SAM’s contribution to the promotion of American music is marked significantly by the number of fellowships and awards we give yearly. None of this is possible without the service of our members, who tirelessly work through applications and proposals! This value of this labor cannot be fully quantified! For me, it is priceless!
We’re Going to Party like it’s 1999: The Road to Minneapolis
In 1982 Prince released his fifth studio album, entitled 1999. It was the first to feature the band The Revolution and it catapulted the relatively unknown musician into the mainstream. I was 13 years old the year the album and song 1999 were released, and I played both incessantly. Prince Rogers Nelson and the collective of musicians that surrounded him—The Time, Vanity 6, Jessie Johnson—were a major part of my life soundtrack. I’m so excited to welcome you all in March. Andy Flory and the Local Arrangements Committee have been working feverishly to make sure we experience all of the cultural, musical, and culinary diversity the city has to offer. The Friday excursions offer something for everyone—from Paisley Park and the Mall of America to the Walker Art Center and the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota. The Program Committee chaired by Marian Wilson Kimber has organized an exciting array of papers and sessions. I want to highlight a few things as it relates to the conference:
Issues of Accessibility and Conference Engagement
As an organization we are committed to making sure that the needs of our members are met during the conference. In addition to ensuring the accessibility of meeting spaces, this year we are also making a concerted effort to ensure visual and sonic accessibility during paper sessions. Conference spaces will be equipped with stands and microphones to ensure that all can have a high-quality visual and sonic experience. I’m asking in particular that each presenter consider accessibility in constructing materials that you will use during your presentation.
Pre-conference Training for Session Chairs
During the conference in NOLA last year, it became clear that there is still work that needs to be done as it relates to open and respectful engagement during conference sessions. Having attended a number of conferences and symposia over the past year, I’ve discovered that what occurred in NOLA is not uncommon and is representative of a culture that unfortunately is pervasive in academic and other professional environments. In order to try to counter such interactions, we will for this year implement pre-conference training and guidelines for all session chairs. This virtual training session will commence two weeks before the Minneapolis conference and will be required for all session chairs. Session chairs will have a variety of dates and times to select from to complete the training. More information will be sent directly to each of them.
Honorary Membership Ceremony and the Vivian Perlis Concert
This year’s honorary membership is being awarded to the highly celebrated choral director Philip Brunelle during the Vivian Perlis Concert on Friday night. We are so happy that he and his choral group will be joining us as the featured performers for the concert. I am asking that each of you seriously consider attending the concert and award ceremony. Brunelle has planned an exciting concert that should not be missed.
President’s Roundtable, co-sponsored by the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion
On Saturday the President and Committee on Diversity and Inclusion will jointly sponsor a 90-minute interactive workshop that focuses on best practices for working with diverse students and audiences in educational settings. Through group discussion, Dr. Nimisha Barton will facilitate a discussion of how to navigate identity and difference in diverse settings. Please put this on your calendar and join us for this important discussion.
Continuing the Saturday Night “Un-banquet”
We have decided to revisit the “un-banquet” that was experimented with during the New Orleans meeting. The Saturday night “un-banquet” will be a hearty appetizer buffet. If you attended the “un-banquet” in NOLA you know the food, fellowship, and music were absolutely wonderful! There will be tables for sitting (more than last year), and the appetizers should fulfill your desire for an evening meal. Entertainment will be provided by the Mark Kreitzer Band, so plan to join us for food, conversation, dancing, and good music!
Thank you for all of your continued support!
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So You Want to Tweet at a Conference:
Some Dos and Don’ts of Academic Social Media
Imani Danielle Mosley
It’s 2020 and you find yourself attending an academic conference. You might have heard that the conference has a “hashtag” where people can contribute, follow along, and discourse with conference participants both present and abroad. This might be new to you, whether it is because your own personal experience with social media is limited or because you’ve never thought to engage on social media in a professional way. Twitter as a platform has been around now for over a decade, but only within the last few years have academics seen the value of the medium (along with YouTube and Instagram, primarily) at conferences. It seems inevitable that every year there is a discussion over what conference hashtag will be used, where to digitally find information, or just how to seem present and engaged while attached to one’s phone. In the early days of conference social media, I found myself somewhat ostracized as my constant typing on my phone was misconstrued as a lack of interest or—even worse—disrespect toward my fellow colleagues. I had to assure some conference attendees that I was engaging in my own way: chronicling the event and creating larger conversations about topics and ideas with a large audience. (With over 5,000 Twitter followers, I have a considerable reach.) We have, for the most part, moved past the strange looks and bizarre questions. But that does not mean that there are not good and bad ways to use social media while at conferences. Please note that the following are suggestions—social media is personal and is most effective when used in that way—and are offered as ways in which one can be considerate and thoughtful of others and their scholarship.
Display your social media handles.
DO put your social media handles on your nametags, slides, and handouts!
Let those you meet and those listening to your papers have the opportunity to engage with you via social media. Seeing your handles encourages ongoing conversation about your work (“Oh, they put their Twitter username, which is great because I really want to mention that great point they made!”) and it serves as a wonderful and helpful way to see the ways in which people are discussing your scholarship (post-conference, of course).
DO NOT share a person’s work online if they have expressly asked you not to.
It can be so very tempting to do this, especially when you hear something really fascinating. But work at conferences exists in various stages: part of a book or dissertation, work from a soon-to-be-published article, etc. This is not only to be respectful of the author’s wishes, but to protect their work from plagiarism.
A DO and DO NOT subset of the previous suggestions:
DO take video, audio, and photographs!
DO NOT take them or share them without people’s consent!
DO use the conference hashtag!
Hashtags may seem like silly things, especially in 2020 when the term has lost almost all of its meaning, but it is important to remember that hashtags were created to be aggregators. All of the information about one event is meant to be found through this one word or phrase and when it is used properly, it is beyond effective. And hashtags live on so they can serve as a great chronicle of a conference’s events and ideas.
DO NOT spam the hashtag.
Okay, so this is a tricky one. I say this knowing how guilty of this faux pas I have been in the past. There is always a desire to drive traffic by tweeting or instagramming a lot using a particular hashtag. It’s well-meaning, I know, but it can make it incredibly difficult to get to actual information if you’re always tweeting about the different coffee shops you find around the conference venue.
(But that was a terrible example, please always tweet about coffee shops and tag those tweets, we know what’s important.)
DO use power apps like TweetDeck!
This might be a little more advanced, but if you find that you actually want to keep up with a conference’s social media, using apps such as TweetDeck and Station make following and posting content much easier and make for a more enjoyable experience.
DO NOT spend all of your time on social media.
This might seem contrary, but bear with me. If everyone is doing their “job” and contributing, great ideas will be captured, even if it’s not by you. Remember what you’ve come to the conference for and allow yourself time to enjoy hearing new and interesting scholarship, catching up with colleagues, checking out book displays. Conferences are hectic and fleeting; try to savor them.
DO have conversations with others!
Try to think of the conference as happening online as well as physically. But, you can’t go to everything, so people posting about sessions, papers, and panels that you are unable to attend are your gateway into other parts of the conference. Encourage cross-panel discussion and definitely encourage discussion with those, for example, who are following the hashtag but who are not physically present.
Use hashtags. Engage in discussions online.
DO follow others!
I invariably follow more people and pick up more followers at conferences because, as hard as I might try, I don’t know every musicologist, theorist, etc. on social media (a surprise, I’m sure). Scroll through the conference hashtag, find people you don’t know, and follow them. Talk to them online, find out more about them and their work, especially if it seems like they might be at that conference for the first time. More often than not, nowadays, people find it easier to engage online at their first conference, so befriend them virtually and meet new people.
DO meet your followers and people you follow in person!
Conferences may be the only opportunity you have to meet up with all of the brilliant people you have been chatting with on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Informal and formal tweetups are being held more often at conferences and they’re great opportunities to network and to put faces to handles. This is another reason why it is a great idea to put your social media information on your name tag (I, for one, had a pin made)—it can be a great conversation starter and allows people to find you and introduce themselves to you, and vice versa.
You’ll notice that there are more dos than don’ts in this list. That is intentional. While there are important etiquette points that one should consider when deciding to use social media at a conference, mostly it is a free space to experiment, network, and explore. Social media can be an amazing complement to the conference experience: a way to meet new people, hear new ideas, and get feedback on your own work. And it is one of those tools that works best when multiple people are using it. So if you are new to social media or new to using it at a conference, I hope that this list encourages you to try it at your next meeting. You don’t have to do much to start, but even that little bit strengthens our academic community in the best of ways.
Imani Danielle Mosley
(Twitter: @imanimosley; Instagram: @idm)
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JSAM Editorial Transitions
As incoming editor of JSAM I would like to congratulate Loren Kajikawa for completing his term as editor of JSAM and thank both Loren and Charles Cevallos, assistant editor, on behalf of JSAM readers for their excellent work. Hearty thanks also go to outgoing media review editors William Gibbons and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak. Finally, I am pleased to announce and welcome our newest appointees to JSAM’s Editorial Board: Mark Burford (Reed College), Justin Burton (Rider University), Gillian Rodger (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), and Elizabeth Wollman (CUNY, Baruch College). On behalf of Stephen Stacks, assistant editor; Travis Stimeling, book review editor; and Gina Bombola and Jessica Getman, media review editors; we look forward to providing JSAM’s readers with new and exciting scholarship on music of the Americas. (A list of the current editorial board can be found below.)
Editor, Journal of the Society for American Music
David Garcia (University of North Carolina, USA)
Loren Kajikawa (The George Washington University, USA)
Stephen Stacks (University of North Carolina, USA)
Book Review Editor
Travis Stimeling (West Virginia University, USA)
Media Reviews Editors
Gina Bombola (Texas Christian University, USA)
Jessica Getman (University of Michigan, USA)
Mark A. Davidson (Bob Dylan Archive, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA)
Jessica Bissett Perea (University of California Davis, USA)
Mark Burford (Reed College, USA)
Justin Burton (Rider University, USA)
Theo Cateforis (Syracuse University, USA)
William Cheng (Dartmouth College, USA)
Todd Decker (Washington University, USA)
Daniel Goldmark (Case Western Reserve University, USA)
Glenda Goodman (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Nadine Hubbs (University of Michigan, USA)
Beth Levy (University of California Davis, USA)
Kay Norton (Arizona State University, USA)
Gillian Rodger (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA)
Leonora Saavedra (University of California Riverside, USA)
Douglas Shadle (Vanderbilt University, USA)
Gabriel Solis (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA)
Amy Wlodarski (Dickinson College, USA)
Elizabeth Wollman (CUNY, Baruch College, USA)
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Upcoming JSAM Contents
Journal of the Society for American Music
Volume 14, Number 1 (February 2020)
Special Issue on Music Festivals
Festivals and Musical Life
Grant Park Music Festival and Music in Chicago’s “Front Yard”
Pitching Opera: Innovating New Music Theatre at Banff and Stratford, 1970–1990
Music Festivals, Ephemeral Places, and Scenes: Interdependence at Cornerstone Festival
Music, Politics, and the Liminality of the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival in the Obama Era
Lee Bidgood, Czech Bluegrass: Notes from the Heart of Europe
Paul Steinbeck, Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago
Nicholas Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies: Popular Musicians and Mass Entertainment in American Culture, 1870–1929
Gillian M. Rodger
Bill Alves and Brett Campbell, Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick
Thomas Hampson, baritone and Kuang Hao-Huang, piano. Songs from Chicago. Recorded October 2017, January 2018, and June 2018. Cedille Records CDR 90000 180, 2018, CD.
Chicago Sinfonietta. Project W: Works by Diverse Women Composers. Recorded September 19, 2017 and March 13–14, 2018 at Wentz Hall, Naperville, IL. Cedille Records CDR 90000 1835, 2019, CD.
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All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music. Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press, 2017. 309pp. ISBN: 9781574416688. Hardcover.
Emily Ruth Allen, Florida State University
Michael Corcoran uses an underdog framework in All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music, organizing the book into geographical regions from which underappreciated musicians have come. He explains that a song is Texan if “it was recorded by a native or has the state, or a location therein, as a subject” (288). The regions of Texas that Corcoran explores include East Texas, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley, and West Texas. Within each of these sections are chapters dedicated to specific artists, producers, or others in the recording industry. Corcoran provides biographical information in each chapter, including background on each person’s upbringing, ups and downs of their career, and their legacy. Corcoran enhances this information with descriptions of his own experiences interviewing the musicians or people who knew them.
The book is a medley of Texas musician biographies. As Corcoran says, “The general focus here is on underappreciated artists, pioneers who haven’t fully received their due” (6). This statement raises a question: who hasn’t appreciated these musicians or given them their due? The text gives concise bios of some artists not yet well-discussed in academic circles (Barbara Lynn, Milt Larkin Orchestra, Archie Bell and the Drells, Nick Curran, Bobby Ramirez), so Corcoran’s point could be for fellow Texas music scholars (e.g., Gary Hartman, Kathleen Hudson) to expand their research and include these little-known musicians. Knowing of Corcoran’s work as a music journalist, I would also venture that this critique is for people in the recording industry or Texans not fully aware of their state’s music history.
All Over the Map should be further considered within the context of Corcoran’s music criticism background. Its style is clearly informed by his experience in writing for mass readership—the prose is clear, concise, and devoid of jargon. He keeps the chapters short enough to be engaging, rather than overwhelming, for the reader. Based on this writing style, the book is geared toward a general audience. If one is looking for more in-depth context, supplemental reading or listening would be necessary. Additional listening would especially be needed, as there is little to no musical analysis in the chapters. However, enough songs are mentioned that a reader could listen to them alongside to engage with the text sonically.
In the core chapters Corcoran describes circumstances that, in his view, kept these Texas musicians from achieving full-on stardom (e.g., Rerbert Harris), while also explaining how they did shine, often through local fame in Texas and/or their influence on bigger-name pop artists. He does include some well-known artists, however, as Corcoran states that “even big names are underrated” (6). For example, Floyd Tillman is described as “little more than a footnote in country music history” (46) despite his influence on Willie Nelson and others. Similar language is used in presenting T-Bone Walker, who “was the first to fully exploit the possibilities [of electric guitar]” and “laid the full-band framework that would rule R&B in the post-war decade” (68). Yet, Corcoran says that Walker has remained “woefully overlooked” in history for “being ahead of his time” (70). Both the Tillman and Walker examples indicate a lack of clarification on Corcoran’s part as to who has not appreciated these artists.
Corcoran’s case studies follow certain themes typical in pop music historiography. For example, some artists are characterized as child prodigies. Billy Joe Shaver is described as an “ex-prodigy who started playing professionally with his dad at age 12” (120). Bobbie Nelson and her brother Willie are described as having “learned the power and magic of making music together” as kids (134). Another through line is tragic death; Corcoran opens many chapters with descriptions of the circumstances in which the musician under discussion passed away. Townes Van Zandt’s section opens with a statement from his daughter, “Daddy’s having a fight with his heart,” in reference to the heart attack that killed him (74). Death is even evident in chapter titles, including Blaze Foley’s (“Killing of a Songwriter”) and Selena’s (“Frozen in Perfection”). A third theme is the idea of the “struggling” artist. Corcoran often highlights artists’ failed relationships, addictions, and/or financial hardship. He discusses Janis Joplin as a “misfit” (“Her things were booze and heroin, two things not approved by the counterculture” ). DJ Screw’s drug use is credited for his success in attaining “the full sluggishly hallucinogenic effect of the music” (40). Corcoran uses the themes of death and struggle to explain how these artists, from his perspective, didn’t reach long-term stardom. On the other hand, Corcoran also strives to highlight these musicians’ successes. For example, Van Zandt wrote hits and became “a songwriter’s songwriter,” and DJ Screw developed a distinctive bass-heavy, slowed-down performance technique.
Supplemental information follows these core chapters. The first section is called “Just Kids” and includes chapters about two people: Nick Curran and Bobby Ramirez. Curran, an Austin-Dallas rockabilly musician, and Ramirez, drummer for Edgar Winter’s White Trash, are both “stars without being famous” (254). Following this section is the “Behind-the-Scenes Heroes” chapter, in which Corcoran attempts to balance the scales by discussing less front-facing figures of the Texas music industry such as Burton Wilson, a major music photographer, and Clifford Antone, an Austin blues venue owner. The book closes with an annotated discography and suggested additional sources.
Corcoran has spent many years studying the music of Texas as a journalist, demonstrating his investment in the state’s music. The fact that he presents so many Texas “heroes” is a testament to his research skills—he’s spent decades in these communities talking with Texans about music. It is perhaps because of these personal ties that he is adamant about showing that these musicians are “heroes” of Texas, as many artists in the book expressed to Corcoran that they haven’t been given their full due. For example, in one of Corcoran’s interviews, Archie Bell wondered what his career would have been like if he hadn’t been drafted into the Army (56).
Overall, the book is strongest in terms of its accessibility. Anyone from or interested in Texas would like All Over the Map. I, a displaced Texan, enjoyed Corcoran’s musical tour of the state. All in all, this is an approachable text that presents multiple voices from Texas pop music history, which I appreciate for my Lone Star state.
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The Politics of Punk: Protest and Revolt from the Streets. David A. Ensminger. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. 260pp. ISBN: 9781442254442. Hardcover.
Isaac Maupin, University of Kentucky
To be political is to participate in the polis or the public sphere.1 It is to have a voice which is heard and can be asserted in decision-making. Politics, then, must be understood as a large umbrella-like category that allows for the debate of many different things. Although the subtitle of David A. Ensminger’s book, The Politics of Punk: Protest and Revolt from the Streets, suggests a more singular understanding of politics (i.e., people marching and carrying signs), the real focus is the political tension within the punk community. That is not to say that the book avoids addressing more outwardly political issues, but Ensminger’s crowning achievement with this monograph is the charting of different ideologies held by punks. His aim, as he notes in the introduction, is “to map out the allure of punk’s allegiances, to trace its capacity to engage civic debates, to show how it tries to tear down the boxes thrown around the human condition” (ix).
Eyes set on this lofty goal, Ensminger organizes the book into seven chapters which address different facets of punk’s inner machinations as well as its public engagement. “To speak of punk politics offering a single, cogent perspective is problematic at best, given that punk contained a wide political spectrum sweeping left to right” (1). This powerful first sentence leads into a well-researched genealogy of punk which spans from its roots in the mid-1970s with artists like Patti Smith, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols to more contemporary artists (e.g., Anti-Flag and NOFX). Supported by rich primary source research from musicians, academics, and critics, the author describes a robust tradition of political awareness within the chronology of punk. While Ensminger purports to deal with punks whose views range from leftist to conservative, his collected data mainly focus on a diverse cross-section of leftist causes (i.e., human rights, anti-capitalism, women’s rights, etc.). For more information on right-wing punk, consult Jonathan Pieslak’s Radicalism & Music, which contains several chapters devoted to white supremacist hardcore music.2
Chapter two, “Know Your Enemy,” continues in much the same vein as its predecessor, with the exception that the focus has turned to the causes which punks were fighting against. In the subheading, “Class War on 45,” Ensminger shows how punks could be pro-union—meaning pro-working-class—but not necessarily in alliance with either leftists or right-wingers. He quotes the organizers of the 1988 tour Rock Against the Rich: “As far as we were concerned, the left were every bit as bad as the right, politically and culturally” (49). Furthermore, Ensminger does well to elucidate different sects of skinheads. Not all skinheads are racists or nazis; in fact, many skinheads are radical socialists, anarchists, or communists. The 4-Skins, for example, were partially aligned with the Socialist Workers Party and entirely anti-nazi (62). Next, Ensminger presents the Dead Kennedys from several different perspectives. Jello Biafra, the Dead Kennedys’ frontman, is quoted at length discussing his anti-rich and anti-racist beliefs, “I think market fundamentalism is fucking up this country and the world even more…put the fucking market in jail.” He later compares the conservative Tea Party to the Klu Klux Klan (66). Other hardcore bands, contemporaries of the Dead Kennedys, were skeptical of the Kennedys’ politics. “Eugene Robinson, singer of the Whipping Boys and Oxbow” presents the Dead Kennedys as “largely apolitical…Except for Jello” (70–1). Wrapping up the chapter, Ensminger speaks of punk as praxis, concluding that punk is “a mobilizing medium, a soapbox and critical thinking tool kit, not just identikit. It allows participants a way to interact on behalf of not just discourse but action politics and humanitarian aims” (87).
The third chapter is devoted to the politically active punks in Washington, DC and San Francisco. As home to the United States’ federal government, the former is a natural hotbed for politically motivated artists. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi plays a central role in Ensminger’s description of the DC scene. Quoted from interviews, MacKaye’s voice describes the DC underground scene which birthed Minor Threat’s iconic song “Straight Edge” as “a reaction to a tired sort of nihilism that was not going to serve me/us well. Drinking cheap beer and fighting over nothing was too time consuming, at the very least” (92). Ensminger gives adequate attention to the musical influences of DC punks but ultimately looks outside of their art to access their social and political impact. Fugazi, for instance, is known for playing benefit concerts whose entire proceeds went to various causes (e.g., “soup kitchens” and “AIDS hospices”). Ultimately, Ensminger concludes that in the DC scene “punk praxis was far more important than punk rhetoric” (101).
Next, Ensminger turns to the San Francisco punk scene, which he places, along with the beat poets and the hippies, in a teleology of counter-cultures that found homes in the Bay Area. San Francisco became the hub for punk zine MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, which has since become one of the major national voices of punk culture. Ensminger’s work truly shines—and this is perhaps the most important part of the whole book—in his descriptions of the San Francisco deaf clubs and their alliances with the local punks. According to Ensminger, “deaf punks represent an unheard, invisible minority testing punk’s sense of diversity.” In the 1970s the San Francisco deaf club was a space that was rented to punk bands for shows. “It offered a betwixt and between space, invoking liminality. The space became…transformed beyond its common function, if only during the temporary anarchy and autonomy when punk promoters rented the venue and bands chased dissident dreams” (128). This liminal space is brought to life through rich interviews describing interactions between hearing-abled punk musicians and deaf attendees at the club’s shows.
The final four chapters home in on more specific cases within the punk community. First is a chapter devoted to MDC—a band whose name has stood for Millions of Dead Cops as well as many other things—with descriptions of the punk scene in Austin, Texas. This is followed by a short chapter, the bulk of which is quoted text, about punk poet Jennifer Blowdryer. These are Ensminger’s two weakest chapters and could have been tightened and incorporated into the preceding material. In contrast, the final two chapters are well-crafted and feature some of Ensminger’s strongest writing. In the penultimate chapter, “Slam Dance in the No Time Zone: Punk as a Repertoire for Liminality,” he argues that “Punk…offers a two-way liminal door, allowing practitioners and listeners to slip away from normative habits and roles into their own surging physicality” (158). This thesis is supported through analysis of punk shows, which Ensminger presents as participatory, as opposed to the typical understanding of punk shows as theater (performative). The audience is responsible for blurring the proscenium boundaries by jumping on stage and becoming part of the performance (160).3 Additionally, these liminal spaces align with the work of anthropologist Victor Turner in their “antistructure;” “liminars” can become suspended between full participation and observation (ibid.). In the final chapter, Ensminger chronicles the history of punk and its relation to the sex work industry, namely through pornography, stripping, and prostitution. He demonstrates that the punk community was torn by this issue, explaining that at the core of punk, there is a rift between “codes of political righteousness” and a “stubborn Dionysian impulse” (165). Some punks felt that porn and other types of sex work were exploitative of women and should be banned, while other punks felt that sex work empowered women, allowing them to publicly exist as sexual beings. Through an in-depth analysis of the relationships of punk and sex work, the author ultimately shows—especially through the case of Wendy O. Williams, whose stage performances often included sexually explicit acts—that the line between punk performance and sex work is difficult to distinguish.
Ensminger has accomplished the task of documenting the politics, internal and external, of punk music. His research is meticulous and impressive. The text brims with wonderful primary source descriptions that give the reader a sense of the insider’s perspective and alone make the book worth its asking price. When compared to other work on punk, especially to Steven Taylor’s False Prophets (2003), Ensminger’s writing lacks first-hand experience and thus situates punk more objectively. While there are some wonderfully written poetic descriptions, much of Ensminger’s prose is dedicated to uncritical lists of bands and events, which, at times, distract from and distort his argument. Furthermore, The Politics of Punk desperately needs a concluding chapter to tie all of the author’s arguments into something neat to leave the reader satisfied. Besides these minor inadequacies, Ensminger’s book is an important addition to the corpus of works on punk music.
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Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes: Jim Walsh on Music from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits. Jim Walsh. University of Minnesota Press, 2016. 295pp. ISBN 978-1-5179-0181. Hardcover.
Sarah Gilbert Pickett, Florida State University
Curating a mixtape is a deeply personal experience, something many of us have done in our youth (and hopefully, according to author Jim Walsh, something we all still do), perhaps while falling in love. A mixtape can be a painfully vulnerable yet effective way of expressing emotions that could not otherwise be put into words; an intimate form of communication between creator and listener. Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes: Jim Walsh on Music from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits is truly a mixtape in literary form, as the author acknowledges in his own words: “On paper it looks scattershot. But the beauty of the mixtape is that no matter how eclectic the mix, in the end it all makes perfect sense…” (62). This thoughtful collection of previously published concert and album reviews, personal recollections, artist interviews, and reflections on Minneapolis spans nearly three decades, from Walsh’s 1987 visit with Rosanne Cash to the day the world lost Prince in 2016. Ostensibly a book of music criticism, together these writings tell a richer and more complex story. In this book, Walsh aims to celebrate the music of Minneapolis and the people and places that make the scene what it is.
These essays are culled from Walsh’s long career publishing in outlets such as City Pages, Southwest Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Minnpost.com. His affection for Minneapolis also shines through in his two previous books: The Replacements: All Over but the Shouting: An Oral History (2007) and The Replacements: Waxed Up Hair and Painted Shoes: The Photographic History (2013), both about one of the city’s most beloved alternative rock bands (they also make a few appearances in this third book). Most recently, he has published Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ’90s (2017), which he considers an extension of Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes, saying in an interview with Paul Patane of twincitiesgeek.com, “I do think they’re companion pieces because they’re kind of a summary of what I’ve been listening to hard, and therefore covering—Prince especially.” But Walsh does not just write about music; he is a musician himself, leading the bands REMs, the Mad Ripple, and Laughing Stock, as well as bringing together local singer/songwriters at his Mad Ripple Hootenanny.
Organized thematically and interspersed with five “mixtapes” reflecting on specific songs or albums, some chapters reminisce on transformational listening experiences, others tell the story of his family relationships, and many are almost anthropological observations of audiences in bars and clubs. In a chapter that serves as a metaphor for how Walsh experiences music, one of the earliest dated essays tells of unbridled teenage nights on Lake Nokomis, where metal blares from boomboxes and speeding cars. Music here is the background of life lived. In this book are stories about smoking marijuana with Peter Tosh in the front row of a performance, listening to U2’s “Peace on Earth” on September 11th, and his young daughter getting a blue eraser stuck up her nose all while Evan Dando’s lyrics repeat in his head: “All my life I thought I needed all the things I didn’t need at all / All my life I thought I wanted all the things I didn’t want at all.” For Walsh, musical experience is about humor, pain, ecstasy, nostalgia, and most of all, love. “I believe it [rock ‘n’ roll] to be the sound of freedom, liberation, and the human spirit unshackled,” (165) he writes in Mix #3, titled “Heart and Soul.”
The intimate communities that form, however temporarily, in bars, clubs, and stadiums are central to this book. Walsh spins yarns about bars from Nye’s Polonaise Room, Uptown Bar, 331 Club, Driftwood Char Bar, Sam’s, Glam Slam, and First Avenue to the Met Center, among others. In each of these venues we meet rowdy characters often referred to simply by their first names as though we already know them, and soon they feel like old friends. In chapter four, Walsh mourns the closing of the Uptown Bar (which, he notes, did not charge a cover) on Hennepin in a play-by-play of its closing night, up until last call. Music is not the focus here; instead we get to know this small community that has gathered in their shared love for music. He often speaks of music and its venues in religious language: “That was why the Uptown was important. It was a nondenominational church, where life itself was worshipped” (93).
Although music criticism can fall prey to cold analysis, Walsh’s writings maintain a warm humanity. Throughout both the joy and pain of the musical experience, these manic-depressive turns, he remains hopeful and always loving of the music and people who form the many musical communities of Minneapolis. This is displayed most clearly in chapter five, “Showman’s Rest,” a collection of remembrances for Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Joey Ramone, and Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Though Walsh’s genuine sorrow bleeds through the pages, these are not obituaries but earnest declarations of thanks and hope. Walsh defends Presley against the idea that he was an artistic puppet. He pens a letter of condolence to Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean, writing, “Even though I never met him, I felt like I knew him” (120). And in remembrance of Clemons, he meditates on love as the reason why people make music.
Prince, the beloved funk father of the Twin Cities (“he was ours”), carries the most weight in Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes. Having spent a considerable amount of time with the elusive artist, and even more time attending his concerts, Walsh provides a unique perspective on Prince and his work at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen. Chapter seven includes an interview with Prince on his reinvention with the Gold Experience (for which Walsh also wrote the liner notes), and Prince later receives his own chapter packed with interviews, recollections of live performances, and a final heartbreaking eulogy for the artist. A particularly entertaining section of this chapter, titled “Give Up the Funk,” features an interview conducted through fax, showcasing Prince’s eccentricities. “Where are you doing this interview? What time is it?” Walsh asks. “N’m in my skin. It’s ten minutes 2 Armageddon,” Prince replies. Prince speaks candidly about his departure from Warner Bros., reflected in his 1996 album Emancipation, and about spirituality and the future of the recording industry. In an interview with Larry Graham, “the Man Who Invented Funk,” Walsh again probes beyond the music and seeks to understand how music fits into the dynamics of Graham’s family. The chapter ends with “I Wish U Heaven,” in which Walsh recalls a spry Prince performing solo just twelve weeks before his death. Walsh has a captivating way of shaping time in his essays, and here he brings us along in his nostalgia and pain.
A book that would work equally well for anyone interested in rock music and the local communities it fosters or for courses on popular music or journalism, Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes is a fresh and personal take on music criticism. Though I disagree with his dismissal of more commercially oriented pop music, and especially his sarcastic review of a Britney Spears concert, Jim Walsh speaks of music in visceral and evocative prose: he writes of “music spraying out of the deck tape” (43), of the “crush of flesh” at a Ramones show (124), and of “love that crackled from the stage, unregulated and unmistakable” (138). Growing up in the upper Midwest myself, I know that there is a reason why “Minnesota Nice” has its own Wikipedia page. Jim Walsh writes of the local scene with love and compassion. A patron of the hole-in-the-wall Driftwood Char Bar observed, “It’s like Chicago or New York,” to which Walsh replies, “Better: it’s South Minneapolis” (104).
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Call for Bulletin Contributions
The Bulletin editorial board invites members to contribute feature articles, reviews, and news, as well as ideas for future Bulletin segments or series. We welcome essays and opinion pieces on current issues in American music (broadly conceived) and music scholarship; reports on concerts and conferences of interest to our membership; transcriptions of interviews with prominent persons in American musical life; reviews of recent books, online resources, media (including albums and documentaries) pertaining to American music; and updates on our members’ scholarly, creative, and professional activities. You can contact members of the editorial board via the SAM website (https://www.american-music.org/page/SAMBulletin) or via the email addresses listed at the bottom of the Bulletin issue.
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A Remembrance of Vivian Perlis
This past summer we lost a visionary and inspirational friend and colleague, Vivian Perlis, an active participant in the Society from its inception. Her family announced her death, on July 4, 2019, at her home in Weston, CT, at the age of 91. She pioneered and advocated for oral history, often against strident opposition from other musicologists. In so doing, she opened a new array of resources for documenting, studying, and celebrating American musicians. In addition to recording musician’s ideas and careers, she created highly acclaimed books and films, and assembled one of the most significant resources for studying twentieth-century American composers, the Oral History of American Music archives at Yale University.
Vivian Perlis (née Goldberger) had studied piano, harp, and music history and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan before studying musicology in the graduate program at Columbia University. Living in New Haven, CT, in 1967 and working as a reference librarian for the Yale, she was sent to collect materials for Yale’s Charles Ives collection donated by his insurance-business partner Julian Myrick. The experience inspired her to interview others of Ives’s friends and family members, recorded on reel-to-reel magnetic tapes. In 1969 she launched what she titled the “Oral History, American Music” project on her own resources, branched out to other composers, and began seeking out oral historians in other fields to share best practices for interview techniques, equipment, transcription, and preservation. She persevered against a wall of academic indifference and lack of funding: music historians were accustomed to working with paper source materials, not aural ones. Her award-winning books and films gradually won over skeptics, and the techniques she championed are now standard across an array of disciplines in the humanities.
In 1976 on behalf of a group of musical Americanists, Raoul Camus was able to get some funds from the New York Bicentennial Commission to hold a conference celebrating the 200 years of our nation’s music. The group called itself the Sonneck Society, in honor of the founding father of bibliographical research for this subject, Oscar Sonneck, who from 1902 to 1917 served as head of the newly formed Music Division of the Library of Congress. Raoul recalls that in planning the conference, Irving Lowens—who had been assistant head of the Music Division and led the new Sonneck Society—handed him “a list of major American scholars to call and see if they would present papers” (personal email, 7/23/2019). “When I called Vivian, I asked to speak with Dr. Perlis. She responded right away that she would get her husband, until I was able to convince her that it was she with whom I wanted to speak. She could not believe that she was being asked to contribute a scholarly paper to a new society…I found her modesty charming, and it took me a while to convince her I was serious.”
Her reflections on some of the obstacles she had to overcome—as a young mother trying to pursue a graduate degree, as a pioneer in a field (oral history) that had not yet been established, and convincing a major research library to collect tape recordings—are to a small degree reflected in her respectful obituary by Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times. Those of us who visited with her and attended her talks at the annual Sonneck (later Society for American Music) gatherings followed those struggles over the years, commiserating and discussing potential solutions for such pressing needs as shelving, preservation, trained staff, protection from leaky pipes, and climate control. We also marveled at the insights she shared about the lives of a pantheon of twentieth-century musicians.
For decades, Vivian Perlis built and managed OHAM without the direct financial support of an academic institution, and the collections only formally became part of Yale’s library in 2010 upon her retirement. She was not only the chief oral historian, but also the chief researcher in the collections, as well as the librarian and archivist, preservationist, fundraiser, and publicist. Assistance most often came in the form of Yale students and alumni who helped organize and preserve the materials.
One of those former students, Libby Van Cleve, worked most closely with Vivian beginning in 1992. Upon Vivian’s retirement, Yale created two part-time positions: Libby became Director, and an Archivist handles most interactions with users. Libby credits Vivian with the scholarly insights to have made good decisions on whom to interview, what and how to collect, how to structure the holdings, and the strategy for creating a living collection. Vivian also laid the groundwork for stable financing for the collection with endowment support from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
Vivian Perlis served the society as a Vice President (1975–77) and Member-at-Large on its board (2004–7), and on four of its committees: Honors and Awards (1990–95), Irving Lowens Book Award (Chair, 1991), H. Earle Johnson Subvention (1993–4, 1996–99), and Wiley L. Housewright Dissertation Award (Chair, 2002). She won the Lowens award for her work with Aaron Copland on the second volume of his autobiography (1989), and was bestowed the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Beginning in 2016 she has been honored with an annual concert of 20th-century and living American composers, which has become a highlight of each SAM Conference. We miss her warm and sparkling presence, and are grateful for her unprecedented gifts to our field.
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The Bulletin of the Society for American Music
The Bulletin is published in the Winter (January), Spring (May), and Fall (September) by the Society for American Music. Copyright 2020 by the Society for American Music, ISSN 0196-7967.
Editor: Ryan Ebright
Reviews Editor: Katie Hollenbach
Media Editor: Alfredo Colman
Design and Layout: Jessica Getman
Items for submission should be submitted via the Bulletin's information page. Photographs or other graphic materials should be accompanied by captions and desired location in the text. Deadlines for submission of materials are 15 December, 15 April, and 15 August.
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