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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How hip hop and diplomacy made an unlikely partnership

Google “hip hop” and “diplomacy” and what images come up? Black men wearing gold chains and baggy clothes, holding microphones. White men in suits shaking hands, flanked by flags. The contrast is stark: informal/formal, loud/quiet, the resistance/the establishment, black/white. These images reflect common perceptions but also misconceptions about diplomacy and hip hop. Both are, in fact, more […]

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The Kingmaker is a movie about Imelda Marcos that snubs earlier documentary

My thrill in seeing Ramona Diaz’s film Imelda (2004), streaming for free online this month, was dampened by the hype surrounding a new film about the former first lady of the Philippines. I was puzzled to read about The Kingmaker (2019) by Lauren Greenfield, touted for its “unprecedented access” (Showtime) by a filmmaker “perfect” for the subject (Variety). Frankly […]

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Originality in Arabic music

How artists express individual style and creativity within the context of a cultural tradition is one of the central questions of Aesthetics. This is applicable to an extraordinary range of artistic practices across different cultures, although its answers and solutions differ widely. Our views on the problem can be easily distorted by the particular solution adopted in Europe and America in the modern period: to abandon traditions as much as possible and strive for total originality.

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Seven things you don’t know about Johnny Hodges

Over the course of four decades, Cornelius “Johnny” Hodges became the most famous soloist in the Duke Ellington orchestra, and the highest-paid. His pure tone on the alto saxophone was his calling card, and he used it both on lush, romantic ballads and on bluesier numbers that kept the band grounded in the music of […]

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Five fascinating facts about Leonard Bernstein and Japan

On 25 August 2019, which would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 101st birthday, the busy centenary year filled with performances, exhibitions, publications, and events comes to a close. Much of Bernstein’s status as a world maestro tends to be discussed in terms of his relationship to Israel and Europe, but once we turn our attention eastward […]

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Eighty years of The Wizard of Oz

The summer of 1939 was busy for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, one of Hollywood’s major studios, as it rolled out The Wizard of Oz, a movie musical almost two years in preparation. The budget for production and promotion was almost $3 million, making it MGM’s most expensive effort up to that time. A June radio broadcast introduced the songs and characters to the public.

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How the Eurovision Song Contest has been depoliticized

When Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands briefly acknowledged his victory in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with the dedication, “this is to music first, always,” he was making a claim that most viewers would have found unobjectionable. Laurence’s hopefulness notwithstanding, the real position of music in the 2019 Eurovision Grand Finale on 18 May 2019 in Tel Aviv was more troubling than secure.

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Summer music camps aren’t just for kids anymore

Kids aren’t the only ones about to head off to sleep-away summer camps. Scores of adults are packing bags—and musical instruments—to spend a week at summer programs that let them experience “camp food, lumpy beds, and music from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.—what could be better? I return to work energized, inspired, and at peace. […]

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Five attitudes of mindfulness for the performing musician

Mindfulness is the mental skill that can help musicians practice the more abstract philosophies of this performance mindset. A trendy synonym for awareness, mindfulness is simply the deliberate and nonjudgmental focus of attention on the thoughts and events of the present moment.

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9 forgotten facts about Leonardo da Vinci

For over 500 years, the masterful works of Leonardo da Vinci have awed artists, connoisseurs, and laypeople alike. Often considered the first High Renaissance artist, Leonardo worked extensively in Florence, Milan, and Rome before ending his career in France, and his techniques and writings influenced artists for centuries after his death. However, to refer to Leonardo da Vinci as just an artist minimizes his role in numerous areas of study; in addition to painting, sculpture, and drawing, the quintessential “Renaissance Man” left an indelible mark on architecture, engineering, science, philosophy, and even music.

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Exploring the Da Vinci Requiem

Wimbledon Choral Society and conductor, Neil Ferris, commissioned me to write the Da Vinci Requiem to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Leonardo died on 2 May 1519 at the Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise, France; Wimbledon Choral Society will premiere the work in the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 7 May 2019.

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Writing about jazz in the post-modern gig era

How should music reference works deal with jazz in the era of multi-genre freelancing? Back in November 1983, when I asked Stanley Sadie, series editor for Grove Dictionaries of Music, if he’d ever thought of having a New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, jazz seemed to be a reasonably coherent genre with a connected succession of styles. Maybe I was just being young, naive, ignorant. Or maybe the notion of jazz as something coherent hadn’t yet started to completely unravel, even though all sorts of challenges were nipping at it, especially as the fusions emerged (jazz-rock, jazz-funk, and so forth).

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At least in Green Book, jazz is high art

I’m anxiously awaiting the release of Bolden, a film about the New Orleans cornettist Buddy Bolden (1888 – 1933) who may actually have invented jazz. But since Bolden will not be released until May, and since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, now is a good time to talk about the cultural capital that jazz has recently acquired, at least in that […]

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What Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel tells us about women’s music

Everyone loves a good plot twist. And what better plot twist than finding out that a work of art, scientific discovery, or other creation was the achievement not of a well-known man, but rather a woman? Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was a talented composer of the early 19th century who worked mostly in private. As an upper-class woman with […]

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