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By 1935, he [Charles Seeger] was writing for a small Marxist journal called Music Vanguard that "fine art" music was the property of the dominant classes, for which it was made. Pop music was a bastardization of the "fine art" tradition; it was "crumbs from the table of the rich and powerful . . . combined with various story elements". But folk music was the music of the proletariat and, therefore, inherently progressive - from Woody Guthrie - A Life, by Joe Klein

Author Topic: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?  (Read 6053 times)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« on: January 19, 2009, 10:49:26 AM »
Almost every kind of instruction for every field of endeavour can be found on youtube. A friend of mine going in for cataract surgery was able to view the entire procedure on line first. It did not help to allay her fears. My wife found a video on how to make a perfect inside out California roll, and of course you can find, Ernie Hawkins, Woody Mann, John Miller, Stephan Grossman, and Maxim Vengarov teaching Guitar and Violin respectively.
Back in MY day (by cracky) the Blues was esoterica of the highest order. If you wanted to learn how to play something you either went to the source or sat long hours with a record and learned by ear as best you could.
Getting up and repositioning a stylus on a hard to find LP every five minutes was not exactly conducive to a lot of repetition. Audio quality, personal predispositions to favor some sounds or series of notes over others, previously learned picking and fingering techniques made for eclectic results.
But now we have in essence codified learning a particular version of a song by enshrining certain interpretations in polycarbonate. What does this portend for future generations of players? Will these, sometimes highly personalized performances become the necessary score for a particular piece?
Will the personalized touches some instructors add come to be seen as part of the CORRECT version?
Its an interesting question, not so much for those of us who are second generation players, but for those interested in this music a hundred years from now. True they will still have the original source recordings, and film footage of the original musicians but they will also be learning after several generations of DVD and online instructed players. I've seen some results already. First is the sheer number of Blues songs circulating these days. There are many, many more songs commonly known now than in 1968 for example. Part of this is certainly due to Yazoo's superlative reissue series, followed by Document's, but the difference is that people can actually play this stuff now whereas back then you could count the good players on your hands and feet. That I believe is directly attributable to DVDs, online and guitar camp instruction. So that's a good thing right?
I mean do you have to suffer to sing the Blues? Should it be this easy? Is something essential being lost in this process? Would it inevitably be lost anyway with the passage of time?
Just musing. What do you think?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline dj

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2009, 11:47:58 AM »
I think all music gets ossified as it recedes into the past.  It's inevitable.  What survives, be it sheet music, recordings, annotations of an oral tradition, whatever, becomes the standard that everyone in later generations is held to.

Offline waxwing

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2009, 12:11:34 PM »
Should it be this easy? Well, I think finding the music, in whatever form you prefer, whether split screen slo-mo instruction, or just the straight recordings or whatever, can be as easy as you want it. Playing the music well enough to move or entertain a discerning audience on the other hand, especially while also singing with commitment, will never be easy. Those lucky enough to have heard the music and then to have found themselves at the foot of a rediscovered artist (or even one discovered for the first time) during the folk scare era may have felt that they somehow deserved to be where they were more than others, but along with esoteria often comes elitism, eh?

And why should the music be esoteric/elitist? As I have said many times, the more I play out, the more I find people who have never heard this music before and now are dying to hear more. What an encouraging feeling, not for me, but for the music. The internet has been instrumental in reviving the careers of many of those artists from the '60s whose careers have been languishing for a few decades. It has also brought more artists to the music, and I think, in the long run, may have a tendency to create more of a market for live performance, counteracting the decades of mind numbing TV pap, by creating a viable way for niche artists to market themselves on a more personal level. And why shouldn't every town have their own country blues artist, who develops the market and creates more venues for the touring artists to come by once a year. You would deny these people the live experience, because they can see it on TV? (I doubt it) Because they can listen to the original recordings in mp3 format? (Soon with the pops and scratches removed, no doubt) Because they don't deserve a chance to appreciate the music?!?! I don't find any of these reasons to be compelling as a reason to stop the proliferation of live performance of country blues through, well, "Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology" to quote our mission statement.

As to the concern about this or that performance becoming crystalized as the correct version, I think that's sure an oversimplification of the process. The original recordings will always exist, variances will always be self evident, for those who wish so to do with as they please. There will always be those who derive their artistic pleasure from changing things around and others who actually are so creative they write entirely new songs on a virtually blank page, and I still hold that the art of performance, in the moment, is still the major essence of the audiences experience of live performance, and the actual composition or arrangement is the vehicle (some are much better than others), lifeless without the artistry of the performer.

But that is an ongoing dialogue that has nothing to do with the technology of the internet. What I think is important to bear in mind with the internet is that for artists who create any sort of art that is capable of being digitally portrayed, even if not to its fullest extent, the internet can provide a means of direct artist to audience contact, of a far more personal nature than any of the mass market products such as TV, movies, even hard copy recordings like LPs and CDs, and this can be a powerful tool in creating a greater market for live performances.

And I think that's a good thing. Hopefully I'm not too old to benefit somewhat from this myself.

Just my musings, too.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline waxwing

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2009, 12:32:50 PM »
I don't know if I would use the term ossified, dj. I mean, country blues has grown into many modern genre, electric blues, rock, some would even say hip hop. Still alive, still mutating (perhaps beyond recognition), within the pop world. Then there are some of us who wish to maintain live performance of the old blues in the forms that it existed in the era it was recorded. This may put some limitations on how far one may change an arrangement or limit choices of those who wish to write new songs within the old genre, but none-the-less, there may be a viable audience for these performances. And of course, the envelope may be pushed a bit without breaking (see This Old Hammer). I think what is key is continuing to foster live performance, which I don't really think can be called ossified except as a subjective judgement of a bad performer's work? But there will always be artists who can create a great performance.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline dj

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2009, 01:44:41 PM »
What I mean by ossified is this:  I had a friend in high school who was a beginning blues guitar player, like me.  We'd learn Mississippi John Hurt songs.  When we were figuring out "Got The Blues, Can't Be Satisfied" (I think - it's been 40 years!), there's a part where Hurt slides up to the fifth (second string) and third (first string)  on the top two strings while alternating on A and D in the bass.  On the recording we had - can't remember if it was from 1928 or the 60s - John misses the 5th string once in the first verse and plays the open 6th instead.  He plays the alternating 5th and 4th strings in every other verse.  To me, it was an obvious "mistake", but my friend played that open E in the bass on the first verse every time, because "that's the way it is on the record".  thus any type of recording, whether a sound recording or musical notation, tends to "freeze" what was not necessarily frozen before it was recorded.  And the farther the original recording recedes into the past, the more frozen it becomes.  In my humble opinion.   

Offline Rivers

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2009, 02:24:33 PM »
I think that's just a learning / maturity thing. Most people evolve to being able to change things up and toss in the odd fossilized lick here and there as a tip of the hat, or to drag it back to the feel the recording had after a lapse of taste and / or inspiration. DVDs etc can also get your playing out of a rut or lull.

I like to learn to play the original licks but never play the same thing twice. Probably because I don't record myself my trad. arr.'s are all over the place.

I agree with Wax, it's shocking me, in a supposedly musical town like Austin, or in Wax's case, the Bat Area :), how few people play this music or recognize it when I do it (resisting obvious self-deprecating joke here). Everyone here is slightly on the make, and that does not involve country blues. Generalization.

Offline Johnm

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2009, 04:52:14 PM »
Hi all,
I think the questions O'Muck raises in the initial post are provocative--thanks, O'Muck!  As to whether the way the music is taught, learned and disseminated now is changing the music, from my own point of view, the answer would be yes, definitely, and it is changing it quite a lot, in a variety of ways, such as:
   1) Whether music survives into posterity and how it is valued or rated over the passage of time has already changed, and continues to change.  A couple of examples may suffice to demonstrate this effect.  Think of Mississippi John Hurt and Rev. Gary Davis.  Based on the initial popularity of their 78 recordings, each would probably be a tiny footnote in the history of the Country Blues, except for the rediscovery recordings and attendant performances in the '60s.  Because their guitar playing (for the most part) appealed to a generation of people introduced to the music in the '60s, the amount of instructional material devoted to these players far surpasses the amount of instructional material devoted to the music of such hitmakers as Leroy Carr, Bumble Bee Slim, Little Bill Gaithers, and Peetie Wheatstraw.  I wouldn't be surprised if the hitmakers had individual records that sold more than the entire combined sales of John Hurt and Gary Davis.  Yet, who is seeking out the music of the hitmakers to play nowadays?  In this way, the choices as to what is being instructed affect what portion of the Country Blues survives into the future as music that is still performed.
   2) The current emphasis on accuracy in transcriptions is not something that appeared to occur to the generation of musicians that initially purchased records of Country Blues.  It was assumed that someone recording a song previously played by someone else would be putting their own twist on the material, inserting their own pet instrumental and vocal licks, and the like.  Thus, even when playing material originally played by another musician, the players back then translated the song into their own personal way of singing and playing, expressing it in their own musical language.  Nowadays, the aesthetic norm is to play like Blake (as best one can) when playing a tune Blake recorded, like Gary Davis (ditto) when playing a tune Gary Davis recorded, etc., yet each one of these players played only like himself, unless imitating another player to prove some point.  The expectation that a song will be reproduced in the style, right down to touch, of the person who originally recorded it changes the music.
   3) To the extent that we have some accurate transcriptions of Country Blues performances now, we have a resource that never existed prior to the very recent past.  What the past had, though, that we do not, is diversity, tons of players doing their own versions of commonly encountered Blues progressions and forms and even instrumental archetypes.  Just as in a biological or evolutionary sense, diversity is an indicator of robust good health for an Art form.  To the extent that what is out there is narrower and shows less variety, the music is less vital, and is less likely to continue to evolve in ways that grab people's ears.
   4) I believe in imitation as a way of beginning to learn anything, that one should listen and study it all and then. . . just say what you have to say, and not worry too much about idiomatic correctness.  There was so much remarkable music made in this style that we will never be able to take it all in, let alone play it all.  By all means, copy as exactly as you possibly can the artists and performances you most admire, when you want to experience the feeling of playing that favorite rendition, but remember that fetishizing exactitude in reproduction is necessarily at the expense of expressing one's own ideas of how music should be made.
All best,
Johnm
   
« Last Edit: January 19, 2009, 09:45:04 PM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2009, 05:25:52 PM »
Speaking as a player of some years(!) who is currently engaged in exploring a whole new world opened up by the acquisition of a 12 string that actually plays, I would like to comment. I've been pinging off some Blind Willie McTell tunes, first off the ones in the exact same tuned-downess as my guitar, four frets. That means Warm It up To Me and Brokedown Engine initially.

McTell is so much more creative than me, or maybe he just played the song a thousand times before recording it. So when I get the basics and play them for a while I go back to the recordings and voila! McTell is doing v.cool stuff I hadn't heard the first time around. It's not particularly difficult to play, it's just a very creative arrangement that would take me months, if ever, to find left to my own devices.

That's just the 21st century folk process, IMO. Plus I'm runnin' out of time here... I intend to be reincarnated with a thumbpick.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2009, 09:21:07 PM »
Quote
3) To the extent that we have some accurate transcriptions of Country Blues performances now, we have a resource that never existed prior to the very recent past.  What the past had, though, that we do not, is diversity, tons of players doing their own versions of commonly encountered Blues progressions and forms and even instrumental archetypes.  Just as in a biological or evolutionary sense, diversity is an indicator of robust good health for an Art form.  To the extent that what is out there is narrower and shows less variety, the music is less vital, and is less likely to continue to evolve in ways that grab people's ears.

I think you put your finger on the essential itch that got me cogitating on this subject John. The possible loss of a certain degree of anarchic lurching around. Paul Geremia is a good example of a player who's approach manages to be studied yet highly individual sounding. When he plays a Blake piece you definitely hear the Blake, but it doesn't sound like Blake. yet it does manage to satisfy one's Blake cravings for the duration of the piece. Go figure.
I guess its that ineffable & Inevitable synthesis that occurs when things find their way unpredictably into our consciousness?

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline Stuart

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2009, 10:03:05 PM »
I guess its that ineffable & Inevitable synthesis that occurs when things find their way unpredictably into our consciousness?

Individual musical imagination and creativity?

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2009, 10:53:52 PM »
Quote
And why should the music be esoteric/elitist?

It was and is esoteric by default, because as you've discovered not many people know, care, recognize, or wanna knowabout it, in spite of all the converts (good job!) you've been able to garner. Why? I mean there was a major multi part docu-something by a major household name director, on TV with a ton of promo, a RJ grammy winning box set etc, etc and soforth so why isn't this music as ubiquitous as whatever the hell is ubiquitous these days?
My theory is that they know very well what it is but just won't admit it!  ;)
Music is a status indicator along with everything else that it is.
The whole psychological reason d'?tre behind manufactured, corporate Pop music is that it is made to appear to confer a certain stamp of normalcy on its listeners. It provides an unchallenging shared experience for people who want to belong to what they perceive as a healthy, happy society. The music itself is incidental in this context and only serves as a sort of signal of belonging to the acceptable caste.
Then there's Blues. Not the music of the successful and aspired to caste, quite the opposite in fact. This is the music of the VICTIMS of that caste. Why would any sane person identify with that? Why would you want to listen to something OLD? Something with annoying surface noise? Something where you can barely make out the dialect of the singer? So that IMHO is why the term esoteric fits and why this music tends to appeal to the socially alienated rather than to the social elite who for the most part sit uncomprehendingly through subscription series of the warhorses of the classical repertory performed by suicidal orchestra players who lost their passion for music in the face of status seeking vapid audiences. Warning! The preceding statement has fallen victim to social commentary ranting and must therefore be immediately dismissed as the pathetic mewling of a malcontented, social misfit, or elitist Blues loving commie, pinko, bastard. Bwaaahhh hhhaaaa haaaa!
« Last Edit: January 20, 2009, 12:46:17 AM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline oddenda

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2009, 06:30:26 AM »
Technology has always been a part of the development and spread of musical styles/approaches, since there was technology - beginning at the least with sheet music. Musical culture is a maleable thing that is effected and affected by its surroundings; and people like what people like, generally speaking, as long as it "speaks" to/for them in a meaningful way. When that ceases, then change occurs, and the only constant in life is change. Thus always.

Peter B.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2009, 06:34:58 AM »
For me the only constant in life is soup. ;)
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2009, 08:08:58 AM »
I agree with O'Muck, the music is esoteric by default, and will remain so. I don't think elitism follows from that. Having good taste isn't elitism.  :P

As to the codification of the music through DVDs and other learning material. I have these experiences now where I go to the Port Townsend Country Blues Workshop and I can hear which participants are working through Stefan Grossman DVDs, or hear how so-and-so has learned this or that song from Paul Rishell or Ernie Hawkins. I can hear it because I've done it too, and perhaps even play some stuff in such a recognizable way. It used to be one person here, two there, but now it's more like a dozen here, a dozen there. In many ways, this is great, since it means more and more people are actually learning to play the music. In other ways, it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I can imagine a young blues guitarist clutching a Stella and running up to the camera screaming "You're next!"

But one could also imagine a room sometime in the 1960s, crammed with a gang of Rev. Davis' students all playing Rev. Davis material. There's Ernie Hawkins, Andy Cohen, Roy Book Binder, Stefan Grossman, Rick Ruskin, perhaps O'Muck hizzelf -- all playing very familiar Davis tunes like Samson and Delilah, or Candy Man, or Twelve Gates to the City. At some point, despite my love of the music and respect for the players, I think I run screaming from the room.  :P
« Last Edit: January 20, 2009, 08:28:51 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What will DVD and online instruction do to the Blues?
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2009, 10:05:57 AM »
Quote
But one could also imagine a room sometime in the 1960s, crammed with a gang of Rev. Davis' students all playing Rev. Davis material. There's Ernie Hawkins, Andy Cohen, Roy Book Binder, Stefan Grossman, Rick Ruskin, perhaps O'Muck hizzelf -- all playing very familiar Davis tunes like Samson and Delilah, or Candy Man, or Twelve Gates to the City

It was a small room. I only saw Larry Johnson and Roy once or twice.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

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