Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Didjeridoo

The didjeridoo has been used for 1,500 years by the indigenous peoples of Australia, although the instrument's exact age is unknown. It is made of wood, but anyone would classifying this as a 'brass' instrument, requiring a buzz to play. Today's didjeridoo's are 1 - 4 ft. long, some made from cheap plastic pipe.

The didjeridoo, during typical play, is meant to sustain a drone for long amounts of time, up to 30-40 minutes. Players of the instrument use circular breathing to sustain for this long. One recording (Mark Atkins playing the Didjeridoo Concerto) has the didjerido playing continuously for 50 minutes. The instrument can achieve also timbral effects by use of multiphonics.

The Mariachi Tradition

Mariachi bands have been a mainstay in Mexican culture for hundreds of years. It has become emblematic of Mexican music by being some of the first music on Mexican radio and film, and by creating some of the regional song forms of the country. Typically a Mariachi band uses violins, trumpets, and guitars (including a low-pitched guitar, a guitarron, and a high-pitched one, a vihuela).

The mariachi style actually has many stylized song forms, analogous to Baroque and Renaissance dance forms. 2/4 song forms include Cancion ranchera, Corrido, Polka, and Pasodoble, and 3/4 forms include Valses mexicanos, Son Jaliscience, and Huapango.

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is certainly worth mentioning as far as ethnic brass ensembles. Using a New Orleans-style instrumentation, hip-hop/funk influence, and colorful, jazz-influenced harmonies, this band has risen to international fame. It is a 9-piece ensemble, eight of them brothers of the same father, coming out of the south side of Chicago.

The HBE started out playing small gigs in Chicago, including at subway stations. They decided on their name when a man in a suit at the subway watched them for hours, missing train after train. Afterwards he came up to them and said "You guys just hypnotized me."

The British-style Brass Band

Another type of ensemble is the British brass band, whose instrumentation and style has been used and elaborated upon by many nations (including Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Australia, Canada, the U.S., and even Latin America). The modern form of this brass band type in England dates back to the 19th century. The Stalybridge Old Band is of this style, and was founded in 1803 (may be the oldest civilian band).

The instrumentation of such groups is: a soprano cornet, 9 cornets, a flugelhorn, 3 tenor horns, 2 baritones, 2 tenor trombones, a bass trombone, 2 euphoniums, 2-4 tubas, and percussion.

Many big-name composers have written pieces for this instrumentation, including Malcolm Arnold, Artur Bliss, Elgar, Holst, Joseph Horovitz, and Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Mehter - oldest type of marching band

When looking into Balkan brass bands, I read of their original influences from Mehter, an old ensemble type and musical genre from the Ottoman Empire. First appearing in the 13th century, these large ensembles of brass and percussion were military musicians (soldiers called janissaries) who entertained sultans and royalty in what is today Turkey and the upper middle-east. These ensembles and their musical style continued to be played for centuries, and actually influenced Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart during the Turkish music fad of the Classical era (ex. Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca).

Today, the country of Turkey still has a military brass band that plays music of the Mehter as a matter of ceremony. It is regarded as a reminder of Turkey's historical past.

(representation of a Mehter band, called a mehterân)

Balkan Brass Bands

This is a style originating from Eastern Europe, when trumpeters in the Serbian military in the 19th century transcribed folk songs to boost morale. It's key regions of popularity and influence are Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. It was common for a town to have a band in these areas to play at gatherings, ceremonies, and festivals such as births, baptisms, weddings, state and church festivals, funerals, and even harvesting, reaping crops.

Many of the brass instruments used today in these bands are off the beaten path, such as flugelhorn, alto horns, helicons, and tenor horns. Included are also trumpets, euphoniums, baritones, tubas, and sometimes trombones.

Some notable groups include the Kocani Orkestar I spoke of in a previous blog, and the Boban Marković Orkestar, founded and led by the greatest trumpeter to come out of the Balkans.

The Dance Forms

During my listening presentation we heard some old dance forms from the Baroque and Renaissance. It would be important to know which forms are which, for they each have their own meters, tempi, and affects. Many of us are familiar with the Baroque forms like the sarabande or the gigue, but what about the stylized dances of the Renaissance? Both eras today.

Bassadance - slow, stately dance, in a combination of 6/4 and 3/2 time (allowing for hemiola).
Pavane - slow processional dance, duple meter.

Allemande - duple meter and moderate tempo. Grave and ceremonious.

Galliarde - lively dance in 6/4. The dance itself is characterized by leaps and hops.

Courante - lively dance in 3/2 or 6/4. Courante literaly means 'running.'

Canario - fast in tempo, in 3/8 or 6/8. Named after the Canary Islands from the dance's origin.

Bouree - quick dance, duple meter. The Bouree starts on the last beat of the bar, giving the music an off-set feel for performers.

Gavotte - 4/4 or 2/2, moderate tempo. Phrases begin in the middle of the bar (instead of the last beat like the Bouree).

Gigue - lively dance in compound meter, originating from the English jig.

Minuet - in 3/4 time. Style and tempo may vary.

Passapied - fast tempo, triple meter. Phrases begin on the upbeat to the bar.

Rigaudon - a lively folk dance for couples in duple meter, uses hopping steps.

Sarabande - slow, serious dance in triple meter.

Additional style terms:
Passamezzo - not actually a dance per se, but a particular chord progression used in Renaissance music. There are two 'passamezzo' chord progressions, one antico (i-VII-i-V) and one moderno (I-IV-I-V).

Scherzo - thought I'd throw this one in here. This style began as Beethoven's version of the Classical minuet. Fast triple meter, often energetic, comedic, or rambunctious.