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Music gifts: A music box by YOU

We interrupt your regularly scheduled LOL Friday/Monday Video/Tuesday Whatever The Hell I Want to bring you three more music gifts while there’s still time to get them delivered by Christmas. After that I will resume posting my usual ridiculousness, as opposed to this unusual ridiculousness.

Calling all composers and people who are part of a couple that have Our Song! This music gift is for you:


I know, it looks like a boring ol’ make-your-own-music-box kit. And if you want to just slap the included “Happy Birthday” sheet inside and call it a day, you can do that. BUT! It also comes with three blank sheets and a hole punch, so you can punch your own music!

Got your own personal composition? Include it. Want a music box that plays some of the more twelve-tone-y Schoenberg? You can have that too! Your giftee can hear any work your little heart desires; or leave it blank and let them create their own. And you even have the option to purchase a refill pack if you want to punch more pieces. The kit itself runs you $14.99 at ThinkGeek, with $4.99 for the refill packs.

Looking for something a little less labor-intensive? Why not investigate the Ain’t Baroque store? Trust me, you’ve never seen so many music-related puns and insults to violists in your entire life.

Music Gifts: For the sci fi score composer in all of us

It’s really tough to give an instrument, isn’t it? I mean, for starters, a good one is going to run you several thousand bucks, plus you have to try to take into account the personal preferences of the recipient. Do they like a bright sound or a darker tone? Who knows!

So why not give the gift of FUN sound? With no pressure – I mean, who plays theremin professionally? (Seriously, does someone play theremin professionally?) What’s a theremin, you ask? Why, this is!


And this is what it sounds like:

I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking two things: 1) Ohhhhh, so that’s where the soundtrack to every ’50s sci fi B movie came from! 2) I WANT TO PLAY ONE. So do we all. And so would anyone on your gift list, don’t you think? Especially a composer – who wouldn’t want to try adding some theremin to their score?

Mind you, this theremin runs you $420 at Urban Outfitters, but that’s still a fraction of the cost of a good violin. Trust me, I know.

A little too pricey for your taste? Why not investigate the Ain’t Baroque store? Tons of t-shirts, magnets, cards, and Beethovens wearing hats. Click here! You know you want to!

Someone put page turners back in the budget, please

I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask all the composers of the world to go ahead and write all their music so that every page ends with a suitably lengthy rest.

Ethnomusicology and other silly hobbies

Hey, you guys ever notice the “like this post” button at the bottom of my updates? Well, believe it or not, occasionally people click on it! And the other day I received just such an approval from an intriguing young man and fellow blogger named Derek Kortepeter who, in his profile, claimed to be an ethnomusicologist. I perked right up at that and immediately pounced, demanding an interview which he graciously consented to give. Read on as we attempt to answer the question, “What do you even DO with ethnomusicology?”

JENN GERMAN: So, first question – and please answer honestly, because this is VERY IMPORTANT. Beethoven or Mozart?

DEREK KORTEPETER: Beethoven, as a composer his melodies have impacted me greatly.

JG: That is the correct answer, Mr. Kortepeter. We shall do well here.

DK: Whew!

JG: Now, when I first proposed this interview, I mentioned something about my friend who is studying musicology at Peabody, and how all the performance majors blink at her and say, “What do you even DO?” Funny story – I posted to the AB Facebook page with “What would you ask an ethnomusicologist?” and the very first response I received was “What the heck do you do with that degree?”

DK: Haha, you know, you can do A LOT with it. At my school at the undergraduate level, you can choose either a research emphasis (leading in later years to fieldwork where you interact with various cultures and record their music and eventually publish your findings), a performance emphasis (many individuals who have studied at UCLA or teach at UCLA have very prolific performance careers), or composition (many professors have double or triple careers, not only being scholars professionally but also respected composer).

Ethnomusicology is a very unique field, some institutions classify it in the anthropology sections, whereas others put it in a more musical context. Much can be done with it; for instance, my old professor and mentor Dr. Wanda Bryant was the ethnomusicology consultant for James Horner when he composed the score for Avatar. She brought in audio samples of all different cultures, namely minority cultures, to help create the unique score for that film. I know of many people who have worked with Grammy winners, Academy Award winning films, etc., it is a very unique and diverse field.

JG: Ah! As much as I didn’t like Avatar (issues with the plot, not the music), I must say that’s a pretty darn nifty application. I bet it could apply to a lot film scores that need to evoke a specific period and/or setting. Now what exactly do YOU do with it?

DK: I am a composer, and as a composer I want to know at the deepest possible level all music that exists in this world. I chose UCLA over schools like UC Berkeley because as a composer, I am allowed to move in and out of various cultures with ease. I tend to be very critical of conservatories who teach only western classical music, as I feel that, especially for composition students, creativity is stifled. Especially in this postmodern 21st Century era, composers are now more than ever required to understand how to properly write music from cultures different than their own. You must write with knowledge, as Hollywood especially has been guilty of creating stereotypical, inaccurate portrayals of global music (such as the overuse of the Hijaz scale when a storyline is based around the Middle East and inaccurate drum beats and melodies for American Indian music, which is a personal issue for me as a man that is part Cherokee Indian).

JG: Is there a particular culture whose musical traditions you find yourself gravitating toward in your music?

DK: Hmmm, good question, I have influences ranging from Philip Glass and Hans Zimmer to the Thievery Corporation, but if we are talking specific cultures I would say three: Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian. There are others, but especially Chinese and Japanese as I find great musical depth in their ideas.

JG: Are those three your favorites, necessarily? For study?

DK: Um, not my only favorites. I love rock music – it is in my blood as a rock guitarist – so that is a huge part of my scholastic life as well (I actually wrote a paper on rock and metal music in the Arab world). I’m also interested in music theory (western and global), sociology of music, music and politics, electronic music etc. Also musical minimalism.

JG: So sort of American ethnomusicology too?

DK: Yeah, the philosophy of my school is that ethnomusicology is the world, so that means EVERY part of the world, not necessarily an East/West distinction which infers an Us vs. Them mentality. Ethnomusicology used to be very eurocentric, but it has come very far since then to be a very relative and open school of thought. Discussion is encouraged.

JG: What sorts of fusion have you encountered? Or has the blend not come so far yet?

DK: That’s a complex question because it depends on the situation you refer to. You see East meeting West in various compositions of students in the division, as well as a very diverse curriculum that looks to really stretch the music perspective of the student. The ensembles at the school are very purist, but that is only because they desire to teach the correct method of playing. Looking on a global scale there have been strides in East/West music. Philip Glass wrote the score to Martin Scorcese’s Kundun with a western orchestra, Tibetan gongs and horns, and an overall theoretical perspective that draws on Tibetan musical (namely from Tibetan Buddhist rituals). Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project consists of all different instruments, from the Pipa of China to the Santur of Persian culture. There are signs of cultural fusion everywhere, but as I’ve spoken about it on my blog, I believe music education has a long way to go before true cultural inclusion is complete.

JG: Is the curiosity about the “other” side mutual? Are there Tibetans holding their gongs while peering at Western scores and scratching their heads?

DK: I think so; in various cultures there has been integration of western styles. In Japan there is a group called Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra that is just what the name implies, it is a Japanese Ska band. You see in Indonesia the punk rock band Lolot, you see in Iraq (now in New York City) the metal band Acrassicauda. There is curiosity from both sides, I think. In the information age and with increased globalization I think this was inevitable.

JG: Here’s a submitted question I found interesting: do you think musical taste can be passed genetically?

DK: Hmmmm, I’m not sure if it is a question of genetics (i.e. chromosome-inherited traits) as opposed to environment. Children are exposed at a very young age to certain types of music, but that can change due to a number of factors, peers, the desire to be counter-cultural, etc. I know that my taste in music can in some ways be traced to my mom. Growing up she was playing the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen etc., so naturally later I am a huge fan of these bands.

JG: Oh, sure, but there are also kids who come to hate the music their parents “force” on them. You think that has anything to do with musical taste, or is it all in the nature to rebel – or not?

DK: Probably both, you know? Maybe the desire to listen to heavy metal as a counter-cultural statement is merely fulfilling a psychological trait of rebellion.

JG: I hear ya. Anything else you’d like to tell the future ethnomusicologists of America?

DK: If you want to do this, people may not understand it. Believe in your career, though – you really do not know what may happen. I truly believe this field is the field of the future, so why not write the future yourself?

JG: Nicely put. And where does one find your ethnomusicology blog?

DK: www.mixolydianblog.wordpress.com and my music page is www.facebook.com/DerekKortepeter.

JG: Good times. Well, thank you very much!

DK: Hey thanks for entertaining my ideas! You are very welcome.

Thanks so much, Derek! I think we single-handedly advanced the field of ethnomusicology tenfold, don’t you? And Ain’t Baroccos, you can look forward to another interview with the intrepid Stephen P. Brown coming soon! Know anyone else you think deserves to come under my steely journalistic gaze? Let me know!

Music Gifts: More wearable options

We interrupt your usual Thursday viola joke/Friday LOL/Monday video schedule for a few additional music gifts so that you can order anything you like in time for the holidays. I’ll make it up to you next week, I promise.

Didn’t like Thursday’s Kanye Bach t-shirt? Well, if you were offended by that, you probably won’t like these that much either.

Exhibit A: Chopin! His hands are on FIRE! Also comes in a girl-cut and a hoodie! Perfect for the pianist or Chopin enthusiast in your life! Currently $10 in its shirt form!

Exhibit B: This is also a t-shirt! But the t-shirt shots obscured the message! Being that the typewriter isn’t typing letters, it’s typing notes! Perfect for the theory student in your life! Same deal as the other one!

Whew! We’re in the home stretch. One more music gift to go and then we can get back to videos and jokes and LOLs and other fluffy holiday spirit stuff. Or if you’re not done shopping, check out the AB store — lots of nifty stuff and ways to insult violists there, I promise!

Today’s tip for music teachers

How to defend yourself against a classroom of students armed only with pencils: Oh, oh, oh, we want to learn how to defend ourselves against pencils, do we? Getting all high and mighty, eh? First, you must reenact the below “writing music” visual pun, aha, which will force the students to throw their pencils at you and… wait, that won’t work. Better just attack them with a pointed stick.

funny puns - Punposing My Sympuny
see more So Much Pun

Listening with your skin

DUDE. Check out this article from Fast Company. Right now! Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, in case you cheated, here’s the gist:

Most of us assume deaf people can’t register sound, let alone enjoy Rachmaninoff. Wrong. A conceptual device from German designer Frederik Podzuweit taps into the deaf’s ability to feel music.

Music for Deaf People is a collar that converts auditory input into vibrations, triggering the same sound-processing brain regions in those with full hearing. So instead of listening through your ears, you effectively listen through your skin. The collar has a special membrane substance, which responds to electricity, dispatching the vibrations of whatever you’re playing – be it Sinatra or Sepultura – to your neck, shoulders, and collarbone.

Everyone has that iconic image of Beethoven with his four legless pianos, plumb on the floor so that he could sit in front of them and feel the vibrations as he played. What do you think that collar would have done for him? Tripled his output? I mean, it’s not like he could have possibly improved, but composing might have been easier. Then again, given that so much of Beethoven is fueled by the sturm und drang of his setbacks, would his music have been the same?

Does this even really count as listening to music? Or is it too far removed? Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be a perfectly legitimate way for a deaf person to enjoy music, but it could require its own designation. Composers might even go so far as to create music designed specifically for electrical vibrations, spawning a brand new genre: felt music. Thoughts?

Also, my mother never enjoys Rachmaninoff, and she can hear just fine. ZING!