Six Soundings of
Musical Depths...
Mini-Music 200





Mini-Music  Q & A

Riots in the Concert Hall: Musical Controversies
Prof. Lloyd Whitesell

1 – What does improvisation of music mean?

Improvisation refers to spontaneous, off-the-cuff music-making—making things up as you go along. This is common in jazz and some popular music. It used to be more common in certain types of classical music (in concerto cadenzas, organ music for church, Baroque keyboard accompaniment, vocal ornamentation, etc.). For most improvisational activity, the musicians agree ahead of time on an underlying framework (a well-known tune, a set of chords, taking turns with solos, etc.). At the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Jimi Hendrix improvised on the Star Spangled Banner, turning the anthem into an anti-war statement.

2 – As an expert on the music of Joni Mitchell, can you explain why her work calls for serious scholarly study?

I have been a long time fan of Joni's music. Over time I realized that the complexity and artistic ambition of her harmony, form, lyrics, etc., warranted close analysis. No one else in musicology was really taking her seriously, which was astonishing, given her influence and her large body of work. I also find it exciting to be a part of the relatively new field of pop music studies, where the practical methods and theoretical concepts are still being mapped out. This means one can actually shape the future of the field to a greater degree than in an established scholarly area.

3 – With the advances in technology and its impact on music today, do you feel that music will be less melodic and harmonious in the future?

There have always been more progressive, as well as more conservative, strands of musical creation. Some progressive musicians feel the need to challenge current notions of melody, harmony, and beauty. Sometimes their challenges have widespread cultural influence (think of Beethoven); at other times they affect only a small group of listeners (think of Pierre Boulez). If one compares Western music from different historical periods, one can hear that people’s idea of what makes a good melody has changed greatly over time. So it’s really impossible to predict what will happen down the road. The only thing we know is that people will disagree about what music should be used for, and even about what sounds good.


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