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Ten facts about the bass guitar

The bass guitar is often thought to be a poor musician’s double bass or a poor musician’s guitar. Nonetheless, luthiers and performers have explored its expressive possibilities within a wide range of musical styles and performance traditions, some of which we chart below.

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Musical Prodigies

Is musical success written in the stars?

When we look at the so-called “miraculous gifts” of musical prodigies, it is easy to get caught up in the nature vs. nurture debate: are these prodigies born or made? But we won’t be entering here into the discussion as to whether genetics or education plays the greater role. Instead, there may be a secondary element to this debate that is often overlooked, an element that intrinsically ties together these two conflicting sides.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

When Shakespeare’s plays call for music, what kind of sound should we imagine?

Music at that time was special— magical even— and its effect would have been diminished by constant presence even if that were possible for the musicians, which it was not. David Lindley, indeed, points out that, in contrast to the modern use of filmic underscoring, music in Shakespearean theatre was ‘always part of the world of the play itself, heard and responded to by the characters on- stage’.

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The new jazz films (and their old models)

Recent months have seen the release of two movies about great jazz trumpeters from the 1950s and 60s: Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, 2015) focusing on Miles Davis, and Born to Be Blue (Robert Budreau, 2015) focusing on Chet Baker (although Miles plays an important role in the latter too: his second cinematic revival in one year). The similarities don’t end there: both films are semi-fictional, homing in on a moment of crisis in their respective protagonists’ real lives and spinning a mostly fictional story around it.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespearian opera in the shadow of war

Over the past few years, Britain has commemorated Shakespeare’s life, works, and death in parallel with an extensive remembrance of the First World War and those who served in it. The elision of Shakespeare’s work with this particular conflict is not a new trend: 100 years ago, similar celebrations of Shakespeare were occurring in the midst of wartime, and both Britain and Germany were employing his image and plays for propaganda and recruitment purposes.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s dramatic music

Whenever a public event requires a speech from Shakespeare to articulate the profundity of human experience, or to illustrate the cultural achievements of humankind (or perhaps Britain), there is a very good chance that someone will turn to Caliban.

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Songs of exile: a playlist for Psalm 137

Psalm 137 begins with one of the more lyrical lines in the Hebrew Bible: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” It ends eight lines later with one of the thorniest: “Happy shall he be, who taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Partly because it deals with music—another famous verse asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”—the psalm has been like poetic catnip, a siren song luring musicians and composers.

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Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics

The Broadway song that nominated a president

The astounding success of Hamilton, its capacity to engage audiences from third graders to the president and first lady, reminds us that Broadway musicals have a healthy tradition of mining political history. From 1776 to Evita, songwriters have been fascinated by political power. What drives people to become leaders? How do they rally supporters around them? What reservations do they have about their failures and successes?

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10 facts about the maracas

The simple design and intuitive process of the maracas have made it a familiar favorite around the world, but may often lead to an underestimation of its value in creating variety of rhythmic expression.

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What Jane heard

Music is everywhere and nowhere in Jane Austen’s fiction. Everywhere, in that pivotal scenes in every novel unfurl to the sound of music; nowhere, in that she almost never specifies exactly what music is being performed. For film adaptations this absence of detail can be a source of welcome freedoms, since the imaginative gap can be variously filled by choosing more or less appropriate historical repertoire

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From “O Fortuna” to “Anaconda”: A playlist of musical profanity

Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two-year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. Whether they express anger or exhilaration, are meant to insult or to commend, swear words perform a crucial role in language. But swearing is also a uniquely well-suited lens through which to look at history

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Music parents’ tips for summertime music-making

The lazy days of summer pose a special challenge for music parents. With school and regular music lessons on hiatus until the fall, it can be hard to persuade youngsters to continue to practice their instruments without the prod of needing to prepare for a lesson or a school ensemble rehearsal. If there isn’t a certain amount of vacation practicing, however, some of the musical gains children made during the school year may begin to melt away.

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Hamilton and the theatrical legacy of Leonard Bernstein

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical is a runaway success on Broadway—enough so that just about everyone reading this post, regardless of personal demographics or geographic location, will likely have heard about it. They might also be listening obsessively to the original-cast CD. Perhaps they’ve even memorized it. Hamilton has already won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it earned a record 16 Tony Award nominations, with high expectations for a sweep at the awards ceremony on Sunday, June 12th.

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Prodigy or savant: two sides of the same coin?

As adults, we remain fascinated with images of young children performing extraordinary feats, with platforms such as YouTube offering us an unending wealth of mini Mozarts and baby Einsteins for us to feast our eyes and ears on, and providing the perfect fodder for our daily Facebook feeds. We are filled with awe at the sight of such small individuals undertaking tasks that most adults only dream of undertaking.

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Conjuring 18th-century affekt with Alberti bass on the modern piano

Affekt (the ability of music to stir emotions) is the foundational pillar for eighteenth-century style. It was achieved through attention to detail and proper execution. And done in good taste, which implies a deep understanding of proper practices of the time. Nearly every notational and performance decision was based on affekt—everything from formal structure to note values, dynamics to articulation, and accompaniment patterns such as Alberti bass.

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Joey Alexander: call me a ‘musician’, not a ‘prodigy’

If you tuned in to this year’s Grammy awards, you would not have failed to witness the extraordinary performance of 12-year-old jazz pianist Joey Alexander. The short solo performance, which earned him a standing ovation, was without doubt the cherry on the cake of this young musician’s short but remarkable career thus far.

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