Monday, January 31, 2011

Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic Turn Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ Into A Classical Battle -


The video opens with up-close shots of the cellos that fade in and out. Soon we are thrown into a story of images set in a bar: a woman exhaling the smoke of a cigarette, drinking a glass of wine, and laughing. We see a man in obvious discomfort, with his head down and running his fingers through his hair. As a wine glass falls off the table, the man gets up and runs towards the woman, who is sitting with another man. We see the brief beginnings of a fight as the two men meet and start pushing while the underpinnings of staccato cellos crescendo to accompany the transition into the next scene.

The scene changes to a concert hall and the physical battle becomes a musical one. The two men sit in the centre of the hall, with red chairs strewn around them in a rough circle and face off using their weapon of choice: the cello. What’s interesting is how this is supposed to be a battle, a competition, but these two musicians use similar body positions and movements, including bowing patterns. More importantly, their musical lines are dependent upon one another, making this a seamless dance between the two parties rather than the aggressive battle it is presented as.

As the camera moves from up-close shots of their faces and hands to circling them from a distance, the two performers bring the dynamic of their playing down in unison, only to further emphasize the songs chours played in harmony between the two cellos. We see this connectivity even more as the melody lines begin to overlap one another. Instead of an echo, the repetition of the line encroaches on the previous phrase in an aural representation of the decreasing physical space between the fighters.

The players become more aggressive with the hairs from their bows flying around and their heads bent over the cellos, but the one performer pauses to spin his cello around before continuing, suggesting an element of dance and theatrics. Finally the chorus is repeated in a higher octave, with more intensity, and ends with the performers releasing the tension from the phrase.

The video returns to the bar scene where the performers are physically fighting. Only now the music underscoring their fighting is subdued: an anti-climactic pizzicato, as if the musical performance representing the fight was more interesting then the real fight. When the main theme returns, the performers are back in the hall with one playing the melody and the other a descant over top. The video finally ends at the bar where the woman intervenes and the fights ceases. The woman leaves the bar on her own, not interested in either men due to their behaviour.


So what implications does this type of video have for us as music educators? I think it takes out the idea of “genre” in music; that classical instruments can play non-traditional or pop tunes. Students may see what they do in music class and not make the connection to the music they experience in their own lives. Music that blurs the line of distinction can help educators create meaningful lessons that encourage students to see the value of music appreciation outside of the classroom.

I also think it shows how music can be more than a passive concept of “notes on a page”. Here music, along with pictures, tells a story, and that story can be understood without the limitations of language. This video can open up a whole idea of concepts for music as well as cross-curricular subjects like Media Literacy and Character Education. There are many relationships in this video, between the performers, the woman, and the music itself. It would be interesting to see how students observe, interpret, and connect to these relationships. I think anything we can do as educators to facilitate those connections for our students helps to create enriching, meaningful experiences in our music classrooms.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Music therapy in context: music, meaning and relationship (A Summary)

In the text written by Mercédès Pavlicevic, Music Therapy in context: music, meaning and relationship- Chapter 3, Music Therapy and Universals: Between Culture and Compromise, the author explores the meaning of music therapy as a universal and as a cultural specific phenomenon in an attempt to address a basic premise in support of music therapy: “that humans are susceptible to the power of music since it exists in all human beings” (Pavlicevic, 1997). Within this chapter, Pavlicevic explores the application of cultural music in music therapy practice and music therapy in cross-cultural contexts, as well as examining music universals from the perspective of music therapy.

The concept of the ‘universality’ of music is described as music which has existed in all human cultures and continues to do so, whether the cultures are remote, rural, or tribal or whether they are urban or industrial. Pavlicevic states that music is also universal because it exists in all cultures and that all “world” music has traits which transcend culture specificity because they all have a beat, a melody, and most use instruments which are either plucked, beaten, strummed, “blowed” or bowed.

Pavlicevic first conceptualizes the discipline of music therapy within the cultural concepts of music/illness/health/healing, and the theoretical discourse of ethnomusicology and social psychology, in order to create a clear understanding of how the concept of music universals relate to music therapists. As a music therapist who is interested in the research and application of the concept of the ‘cultural arts’ in practice, I feel that it is important to approach music therapy from a holistic cultural perspective when working with clients; what might be relevant to your understanding of healing and culture as a therapist, might have another representation to the given population in which you are servicing. For example, she defines cultures today as the following: 1) stable cultures which refer to social class, people who have lived in a particular area for generations, or those who subscribe to a particular religious ritual and 2) temporary cultures, such as migrant workers, people who support a political cause during one time or another in their lives or music therapists who are enthusiastic about research or burnt-out. She says that each of these cultures and sub-cultures are specific, which may be identified by the manner of dressing, or a particular style of music.

For music therapists who use improvisation as part of their practice, Pavlicevic suggests that they familiarise themselves with the music of different cultures. She says this is not as to distinguish between clients who are from different cultures but to rather become more familiar, as music therapists, with the different musical energies that diverse “world” musics possess. The energy is culture-specific in that it may be portrayed by particular musical styles and idioms. Also, the therapist, in an improvisation session, might choose to introduce certain music in order to elicit or trigger a quality that she senses is concealed in the client’s playing.

The application of other musical idioms is also suggested to music therapists, instead of being confined to the western-style norm. In Nordoff and Robins (1971) publication, Pavlicevic references how they express the existence of inherent therapeutic qualities which are generated by the distinctive emotional-melodic characteristics of different “world” musics, such as Latin American, Arabian or Slavonic. They approach this from the concept of archetypes in music which enables us to tap into music that transcends our own culture and geography, because of the natural qualities of these genres.

In closing, Pavlicevic (1997) says that the critical feature of improvisation is not to perfect the use of the introduced “cultural” genre (such as Latin American music) but to rather explore its musical energy and quality, which will propel the client towards a broader, more complex, experience of himself; an applicable statement that should be noted by music therapists who utilize cultural arts in their practice.