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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Who sang it best?: a Chicago mixtape

Chicago is arguably one of the most famous Broadway musicals of the 20th century, if not the most famous. Based off Maurine Dallas Watkins’ satiric 1926 play, it has spawned a Tony Award-winning revival and Academy Award-winning movie version. Songs like “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango” have become household tunes and were recorded as singles by jazz and pop singers alike. So many versions of the same song can lead to contention: was Chita Rivera’s original “All That Jazz” the most varied interpretation, or does one prefer the breathiness of Renée Zellweger’s raw (if underdeveloped) take on it? How “jazzy” should the song be? (It is a show tune, after all).

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The life of an activist-musician: Japanese rapper ECD

When the family of the Japanese rap pioneer and activist ECD aka Ishida Yoshinori announced on 24 January 2018 that he had passed away, the music and activist worlds let out a collective sigh of mourning. Zeebra, Japan’s most commercially successful rapper, cried audibly while honoring him on his radio show. Meanwhile, political theorist Ikuo Gonoi credited his constant presence in demonstrations with creating a “liberal moment” mixing culture and politics. But who was ECD, and what were his contributions to Japanese culture?

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Being Church as Christian hardcore punk

What is church? In the social sciences, church is ordinarily conceptualized as a physical gathering place where religious people go for worship and fellowship. Church is sacred; it is not secular. With this idea of church in mind, sociologists find that U.S. Christian youth (particularly young white men) are dropping out of church. Some are dropping out because they have lost faith in God. Others, however, are leaving church because they feel alienated from organized religion, not because they stopped being Christians. This rise in “unchurched believers” raises a question: how are Christian youth creating and expressing church beyond the confines of a religious institution?

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Musician or entrepreneur? My journey began with popcorn

“Entrepreneurship.” It’s such a troublesome word, partly because it’s been overused and misapplied such that it’s become a buzz-word – which is never conducive to clarity of meaning or purpose. But it’s also a difficult word to get our hands around because it has many different meanings and can play out in so many ways. So what is it about entrepreneurship that I feel is so important for us in classical music to embrace? I can remember quite clearly the moment when I began the path towards entrepreneurship: that moment when you realize you have to change the way you’ve been thinking about things and the way you’ve been approaching a problem.

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How Atari and Amiga computers shaped the design of rave culture

I can still recall the trip to Bournemouth to get the Atari ST “Discovery Pack.” The Atari ST was a major leap forward from our previous computer, the ZX Spectrum, offering superior graphics and sound capabilities. It also had a floppy disk drive, which meant it was no-longer necessary to listen to extended sequences of noise and coloured bars while the game loaded (this was an exercise in patience at the time, though retrospectively these loading sequences seem more interesting due to the similarities with experimental noise music!)

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Arranging the music of J. S. Bach

If composers and arrangers have long reworked the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, they have followed the lead of none other than the composer himself, for Bach was an inveterate transcriber of his own music and the music of others. For solo organ Bach transcribed Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins Op. 3 No. 8, while his G major Concerto BWV 592 acknowledged the musical efforts of Prince Johann Ernst, nephew of his employer at Weimar, discreetly tidying and improving details in the process. Bach’s great Mass in B minor is a compilation of his earlier compositions, while the exuberant opening sinfonia of Cantata No. 29 is an expansion of the Prelude from his E major Partita for solo violin.

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Opportunity recognition: the heart of entrepreneurial thinking

With the 2018 Winter Olympics over, I’m reminded of one of the key traits all entrepreneurs possess and all would-be entrepreneurs must develop: the ability to recognize opportunities. You see, one of my favorite Olympic sports is bobsledding. I love the speed and excitement, the precision with which the sleds must be steered to gain the most speed—but also avoid disaster. I’m also fascinated by the tracks themselves.

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Is Debussy an Impressionist?

From the start, audiences liked Claude Debussy’s music. Critics, perplexed by its originality, were less enthusiastic. It seemed so non-traditional that they found it difficult to grasp, and a challenge to categorize. That’s what eventually led to the term Impressionism being applied to it. It became an easy way both to classify it and make it seem less unusual. Prior to linking Debussy to it, Impressionism was solely associated with the visual arts.

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Arranging The Lark Ascending for small string ensembles

I discovered the violin and piano version of The Lark Ascending in my youth, and I still remember how much I loved playing the violin part, unaccompanied. I was impressed by the programmatic transformation of the underlying poem as well as the liberating setting of the pentatonic scale and transcendent cadenza. Even then, I was already thinking of adapting this wonderful work for a different instrumentation.

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Ten virtual reality games that simulate altered states

The recent resurgence of virtual reality (VR) has seen an exciting period of innovation in the format, as developers explore the fresh new possibilities that it brings. VR differs from the video games you might play on a standard television in that the head-mounted display engulfs the visual field, producing a more immersive sensory experience. In VR, not only can you see a virtual environment, but you can also turn your head to look around it.

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Seven women you may not know from music history

The historical record of women making music extends back as far as the earliest histories and artifacts of musical performance. For example, artwork from Ancient Greece and Rome suggest that women’s choruses were featured in rituals and festivals. And throughout Chinese imperial history the courts, civil and military officials and wealthy households employed women to sing, dance, and play musical instruments.

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Engaging African music in music theory

The most recent publication by leading theorists Michael Tenzer and Pieter van den Toorn brings to the fore issues relating to the analysis of African music. Well known for work on Balinese music and for championing the new movement towards analysis of world music, Tenzer here indulges a long-standing interest in African music by exploring deep parallels between two compositions: a beautifully elusive flute-and-voice piece recorded in 1966 by Simha Arom and Genevieve Taurelle and given the title Hindehu; and Nhemamusasa, a standard item from the Shona mbira repertoire recorded by Paul Berliner in 1977.

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Voice classification: system or art?

The process of ‘creating order’ through categorisation has always constituted an essential part of our social progress because of its measurable functionality. Vocal categorisation has been no exception, but given that all singing voices are unique – the musical equivalent of fingerprints – any attempt at fitting them neatly into categories ought to generate a clear justification for how this might benefit the art as well as the performer.

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Putting George Enescu back on the musical map

Even by the standards of musical genius, George Enescu (1881–1955) was quite an extraordinary figure. A musician of a precocity that rivals Mozart or Mendelssohn, Enescu was equally proficient as a composer, performer, and teacher. Remembered nowadays primarily as a violinist, he numbers securely among the foremost instrumentalists of the twentieth century and a very capable cellist besides.

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A Q&A with composer David Bednall — part 2

We like to get an insight into the musical lives of Oxford composers by asking them questions about their artistic likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges.. In part 1 we spoke to composer David Bednall in August 2017 about what motivates him, and how he approaches a new commission. Here he tells us why he wanted to be a composer, the challenges he faces, and his musical guilty pleasures.

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Composer Alan Bullard in 10 questions

Occasionally, we ask Oxford composers questions about their musical likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges. We spoke to Alan Bullard about who or what inspires him, his writing habits, and what he likes to do when he’s not composing.

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