Monday, July 2, 2007

Music, Setting, and Grass Clippings

It's about 6:00 AM and I just got in from hauling 20 or so bags of grass clippings from our shed to the curb. This involved rebagging about half of them because the bio-degradable brown paper bags were a bit over-enthusiastic. Sigh. Anyway, nothing like some mindless yard work to get my mind wandering.

What I was mulling was a section of the Hava Nashira (see yesterday's post) 'Guide to Songleaders'
First and foremost, the songleader is to fulfill this title precisely. Songleaders at [OSRUI] function in order to facilitate the musical preparation of the community. Anything less or more than that is an abrogation of the role. Therefore, a first conclusion is that the songleader never functions as a performer during sessions. Some good clues as to how you are being perceived are whether or not your [campers] are singing with you or just watching you. Secondly, regular applause is typically due of a performer, not an effective songleader.

I'm sure there is proper musical terminology for 'the place or context where a peice of music is expected to be performed' but I don't know what it is (yes, I'll look it up. It's 6:00am, bear with me). For the moment, call it the 'expected setting.' So, to the degree that the musician's associated with Hava Nashira consider themselves 'songleaders,' you (by you I mean 'I', you probably know this already) have to listen to them as though they were songleaders. That means you can't listen to a recording of one of them as if it was a popular record meant to be listened away from a sing-along crowd.

This is clearly a message I was being given by Beth Schafer's fans when I panned her record. A number of them described how meaningful the album was and the place where they sang along to it. And I fessed up that I had never sung along and only listened in isolation. I didn't realize, though, how big an issue that probably is. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not about to revise my review of the Schafer album. But it does give me some insight into it and some of the other Reform Jewish / 'Contemporary Jewish Music' performers to whom I've been lukewarm.

I'm familiar with this distinction about 'expected setting' from the klezmer community. There is frequent discussion about how klezmer, originally a simcha (party, wedding) music that was played live and danced to, is now as often played in concert halls to a seated, clapping, audience. The performers seem to be divided about whether that matters or not. Some performers suggest that the performances lose some of their vitality because of their disconnection from the dancing, others seem more comfortable with it.

The Orthodox / Chassidic music scence is also a simcha scence, but seems (by the posters and video's I've seen) to have a lot of sit down and clap concerts too. Liturgical music, including cantorial and niggunim recordings, are pretty linked to shul and home in the context of religious practice.

I'm not going to try to map out this whole space right now. I've got to go shower and get these stinky clippings of me and wake everyone else up. But I've got to think about this more.


Julie said...

that is a really intersting point - i never thought about that...

Jack said...

Yeah. It was kind of an illuminating moment for me that has helped me organize a lot of random thoughts. I need to think about it more.