Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Country music and the press

At least a decade prior to the recording of the first “hillbilly” records in the 1920s, journalists were writing about rural music-making in the United States, often treating the music heard at barn dances, quilting bees, and other rural social events as curious markers of local color. Since the emergence of country music as a recorded popular music in the 1920s, though, the press’s fascination with the genre has not waned.

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An A – Z guide to Nicolas Nabokov

Who was Nicolas Nabokov? The Russian-born American composer had a huge impact on music and culture globally, but his name remains relatively unknown. He had friends and acquaintances in a variety of circles, whether his cousin the writer Vladimir, the poet Auden, or the choreographer Balanchine.

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Rebel Girl: Lesley Gore’s voice

In 2005, Ms magazine published a conversation between pop singer Lesley Gore and Kathleen Hanna of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Hanna opened with a striking statement: “First time I heard your voice,” she said, “I went and bought everything of yours – trying to imitate you but find my own style.”

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Iggy (Azalea) pop: Is cultural appropriation inappropriate?

Popular music is much more than mere entertainment—it helps us make sense of who we are or who we hope to be. Although music is but one of pop culture’s media outlets, our tendency to embody and take ownership of sound—whether through our headphones, MP3 downloads, dancing, or singing—often makes it difficult to separate our personal connection to popular music from the cultural context in which it was created.

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The art of musical arrangements

‘I write arrangements, I’m sort of a wannabe composer’ – consciously or otherwise, these words from violinist Joshua Bell seem to give voice to the tension between these two interlocking musical activities. For arrangement and composition are interlocked, as composers throughout the ages have arranged, adapted, revised, and generally played free with musical compositions of all kinds (their own and other people’s) for reasons artistic, practical, or downright commercial.

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Great man drumming: Birdman, Whiplash, and myth of the male artist

Among this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture were two films with drum scores: Whiplash, in which a highly regarded but abusive conductor molds an aspiring young jazz musician into the genius he was meant to be, and Birdman, in which an aging film actor who was never a genius at all stars in a play and possibly flies. In spite of their innovative soundtracks, neither film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.

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Another side of Yoko Ono

The scraps of an archive often speak in ways that standard histories cannot. In 2005, I spent my days at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, a leading archive for twentieth-century concert music, where I transcribed the papers of the German-Jewish émigré composer Stefan Wolpe (1902-1971).

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The 10 best shows for music directors, in no particular order, for several reasons

Listing the ten best shows for a music director to work on is as subjective as choosing the ten greatest composers, or painters, or novelists, so it’s worthwhile to stipulate some qualities the winners must have, subjectively speaking. Yet these qualities can only reveal themselves by working through the reasoning of what makes a show a music director’s favorite.

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10 fun facts about the harp

The Harp is a string instrument of very ancient lineage that is synonymous with classical music and cupid’s lyre. Over the years, the harp has morphed from its primitive hunting bow shape to its modern day use in corporate branding. Across the globe, each culture has its own variation of this whimsical soft-sounding instrument. Check out these ten fun facts about the harp.

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5,000 years of the music of romance, courtship, and sex

How do you approach the history of love? Is it through psychology and the understanding of emotion? Is it through the great works of literature? Or is it through sound — from the chord that pulls the heart strings to the lyric that melts your heart? But this music has a strange history of its own. We can trace our ‘saccharine’ comments to Ancient Rome and the language of servitude to the Convivencia.

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The love song and its complex gender history

A recent study of commercial recordings finds that 90% are attributed to men—and most often men in their peak years of sexual activity. Perhaps this discrepancy is the result of bias in the music industry or among audiences, or maybe a little of both. Or perhaps we can conclude that Darwin was right about music.

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We’ll have Manhattan: 10 hits from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

With the catchy melodies of Richard Rodgers’ music, and the cheeky wit of Lorenz Hart’s lyrics, the early collaborative songs of Rodgers-and-Hart are characteristic of 1920s jazz at its finest — and some of the best examples of early classics from the Great American Songbook. Most of the shows from this period have sunk into obscurity, but the songs have stood the test of time. You won’t be able to resist tapping your feet along to these ten great hits!

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Breath is the basis of good singing

Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1839 – 1910), one of the first great vocal pedagogues, is quoted as saying in his Maxims that the breath is the basis of good singing. ”What is your approach to breath?” is a simple question, but the answers to this question are anything but simple. Master singers have varying ideas about breath control

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Salamone Rossi and the pressure to convert

Near to Salamone Rossi’s time, and working at the Mantuan court, is the harpist Abramino dall’Arpa. His story illustrates the unrelenting pressure brought on Jews to convert and, at the same time, Abramino’s refusal to do so.

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Pussy Riot’s real crime was feminism

In February 2012 a group of young women wearing balaclavas went into Moscow’s most grandiose Russian Orthodox cathedral and sang about 40 seconds of an anti-Putin song they’d written, before being bodily removed from the premises. Pussy Riot quickly became a household name. The chorus of their “Punk Prayer” prevailed upon the Virgin Mary to kick Putin out of power, and included the line: “Shit, shit, holy shit.”

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Ballet in black and white: the ‘piano reduction’

For ballet rehearsals in theatres around the world the piano has long been the musical instrument of choice. To engage orchestras to do the detailed, volatile work required in routine rehearsals would be impractical and prohibitively costly, and only at the dress rehearsal will dancers and the orchestra finally come together. The music at all earlier rehearsals is provided through a specially written version of the score called a ‘piano reduction’.

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