Davidson College

L.A. Theatre works observes 50th Anniversary of MLK Assassination with radio drama “The Mountaintop”

Pictured: Gilbert Glenn Brown and Karen Malina White from the radio drama, The Mountaintop. Photo by Matt Petit.

This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, outside of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, only a few hours after his historic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. The radio drama, The Mountaintop, imagines what may have occurred in King’s hotel room just before his tragic death.

We spoke with The Mountaintop’s Producing Director Susan Loewenberg to get her insight on this important work.

 

Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from this performance of The Mountaintop?

A: My hope is that our audiences come away from seeing The Mountaintop with a deeper understanding of the complex and beautiful soul of one of our greatest leaders who was taken from us at the age of 39. Who knows how he would have evolved? We can only speculate. But his message, his doubts, his frailties, his convictions, his commitment to a crucial cause deserve our undying admiration, respect and understanding.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to highlight Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with this behind-the-scenes approach?

A: Good plays engage audiences both emotionally and intellectually. In order to accomplish emotional engagement, we need to be able see behind the façade. An audience wants more from a character than his/her public persona. When both the emotions and the intellect are engaged simultaneously you have “combustion,” and that is the mark of a good play.

Q: What’s unique about the “live-in-performance” radio drama experience? Why do you think radio is still an important medium today?

A: Live-in performance radio drama is our signature form for presenting our work. Interestingly, without elaborate sets and movement, you, the audience, are able to have a more intense experience focusing on terrific performances and indelible words. For the actors, it is a challenging feat to be able to communicate using only your voice. It requires intense concentration and an awareness that everything must be communicated vocally. I often say to actors, “It’s great to smile, but unless the smile is in your voice, no one listening will ever know that you are smiling.” Regarding the importance of radio today- yes, it is still important. But radio, like every media outlet, must adapt to the reality of digital technology. So radio now includes streaming and podcasting, all in the service of enabling the listener to avail themselves of the medium anywhere, anytime. 

The Davidson College Artist Series brings The Mountaintop to Charlotte-area audiences Friday, February 23, 2018. For more information about this performance, click here.

WDAV Spotlights Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. Throughout the month, WDAV highlighted classical musicians with disabilities who have left an indelible mark on the arts.

In addition to this on-air focus, we partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. We also turned to the community to discover what role music might play in serving individuals living with disabilities. We spoke with Meg Johnson, Music Therapy Clinical Coordinator for the Queens University of Charlotte, who provided insights into her use of music therapy.

Read full article on wdav.org

Music and Madness

By Nancy Pruett

Cultural stereotypes surrounding disabled figures run rampant through media and society, and opera is no exception. The ‘cure or kill’ paradigm is an unfortunate example of humanity’s inherent discomfort with difference.

The term ‘cure or kill’ was coined by Rosemarie Garland Thomson to describe the two most common paths presented to disabled characters in literature, art, music and media. Disabled characters are either cured of their disability, thereby allowing them to enter the normate (able bodied) group, or are killed, thereby curing society of disability and easing the tension in normates’ lives presented by disability.

Specifically, madness is a trope often used in opera to signify a break in a character’s story that is either corrected or leads to the character’s downfall.

In Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925), the title character is driven mad and commits suicide as a result. Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina (1789) features a woman who loses her senses at the supposed death of her lover, but regains her faculties immediately following his safe return.

In Handel’s Orlando (1733), the title character is driven mad with jealousy when his love marries another and this madness is the cause of most of the drama in the opera. Only after his mind is magically restored does the opera end in happiness for all characters.

These characters are not presented as capable of living with their mental illnesses and must be cured and brought back into the world of normalcy, or their disease must be eradicated and they with it.

These stigmatized portrayals of disabled characters infiltrate not only the way we as individuals view the very real, three dimensional disabled persons we interact with, but the way that we as a collective society believe they should be handled.

The ‘cure or kill’ paradigm in opera displays the roots of many stereotypes that continue to be prevalent today. The rock musical Next to Normal (2008) takes a close look at the effects of Diana’s struggle with manic depression on her family. Most of the show is spent presenting the interruptions to the lives of Diana’s normate family while trying to find a cure for her, and though Diana is neither cured nor killed, she leaves in the end for the good of her family.

In the clip below, Diana attempts to explain her feelings to her distressed husband while hallucinating the intervention of her dead son.

This recent work illustrates the way music has evolved, but media interpretations of disabled lives have not. Even the title demonstrates intense discomfort at the presence of difference in the lives of the characters and a desire achieve a state of normalcy, and the final moments of the show place much higher value on repairing the lives of normates than its disabled protagonist.

Stereotypes such as this encourage a societal hierarchy in which persons with disabilities are relegated to lower rungs and must therefore work that much harder to be viewed as equal citizens of a normate world.

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Nancy Pruett is a senior at Davidson College

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

 

 

OCD and Repetition in Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8

By Bayne Brannen

Disability Studies scholars consider how a cognitive disability may have affected a composer’s work just as they may study how a physical disability affects a performer. Music theorist and Disability Studies scholar Joseph Straus has written about how disability presents itself as abnormalities at the level of pitch relationships in music that resolve themselves to something more conventional. However, the music of Anton Bruckner provides another way to think about music and disability.

H.F. Redlich’s Bruckner and Mahler documents Bruckner’s compulsion to count relatively arbitrary objects and repeat certain phrases several times for no reason. While these behaviors may seem harmless, his disorder eventually led to a three-month stay in a sanitarium where he recovered enough to continue his work.

Some posit that Bruckner’s disorder had a distinct effect on his music. Julian Horton, in Bruckner’s Symphonies, describes the composer’s routine of counting the measures of his compositions and organizing them into different “numerical groups.” Additionally, Redlich ascribes the composer’s frenetic recurrence of short motives in his work to his disorder. Essentially, the regularity of Bruckner’s music constitutes its irregularity. A great example of this repetition lies in the scherzo of his Symphony No. 8:

Clearly this piece contains a highly repetitive motive. But repetition occurs in music beyond the symphonic repertoire of the nineteenth century. Just take a listen to this disco hit from the seventies:

So what can we make of this? Simply because the composers of “Get Up and Boogie” utilized repetition may not mean they have obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the repetition of both Symphony No. 8 and “Get Up and Boogie” were probably incorporated for entirely different reasons, we could have a similar response when listening to either—whether that be a response of interest or boredom. In the end, our reactions are what constitute the experience of the music rather than the known intentions or habits of the composer.

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Bayne Brannen is a senior at Davidson College

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

Django Reinhardt: Accommodating Ingenuity

By Ellis Coan

In 1928 French guitarist Django Reinhardt suffered severe burns during a fire, resulting in the loss of function in two of his left fingers. Consequently, he devised new techniques and idiosyncrasies that allowed him to continue playing.

A confluence of factors, the foremost being his own commitment and talent, led to Reinhardt’s continuation as a musical performer. But Reinhardt’s preference for jazz over classical music also played a role in his success. As classical guitarists require extensive use of the ring finger, Reinhardt would have faced greater obstacles had he not been a jazz artist.

The existing classical repertoire did no favors for Reinhardt. According to jazz scholar Benjamin Givan, Reinhardt’s impairment prevented him “playing chords which require considerable wrist supination” and “precludes many fingerings which are merely run-of-the-mill for non-disabled guitarists.” Classical music and its strict adherence to prescribed fingerings, chord voicing, and other technical aspects would have been unfeasible.

Jazz, however, was far more accommodating of Reinhardt’s impairment both in terms of technique and repertoire.

Alex Lubet explains Reinhardt’s achievement in Music, Disability, and Society:

“The interpretive latitudes of jazz – to arrange, improvise, and compose one’s one parts – enabled a technical and stylistic transformation that gave Reinhardt access to the entire repertoire, played in his unique and idiosyncratic style.”

Limited in playing close intervals, Reinhardt would instead employ alternate chord voicings that could result in unique sonorities. Rapid runs up the guitar neck, often associated with Reinhardt, were likely resultant from his difficulty with shifting strings.

These idiosyncrasies, among others, borne from Reinhardt’s disability help form his distinctive style. Reinhardt’s success in jazz exposes the extent to which disability in music is constructed. Instead of framing his success as solely an individual feat we should hone in on the factors that necessitated Reinhardt’s invention and how they may influence or limit other disabled persons.

A Little Love, A Little Kiss by Django Reinhardt:

A Little Love, A Little Kiss (Original) by Eddie Lang:

Featured Above: Two versions of the same song, “A Little Love, A Little Kiss.” The first performed by Reinhardt, the second by Eddie Lang. Note the two different uses of chords — Reinhardt’s consists of two notes, spanning large intervals, while Lang uses many notes and close intervals.
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Ellis Coan is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

Deafness: Rethinking Music

By Austin Bowley

Despite the common belief that experiencing music is a privilege only for people with fully functioning hearing faculties, we use more than just our ears in the musical experience. We dance; we feel the beat within us. In my voice lessons at Davidson, I am told repeatedly to let my body convey the meaning and stop worrying about the sound I produce!

Furthermore, we have examples of deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH) musicians throughout history and the present. Beethoven composed with a hearing impairment that worsened through his life, and Evelyn Glennie is a well-known and highly successful contemporary Deaf percussionist.

These examples demonstrate that the DHOH community does not have to be excluded from experiencing music or being musical. So how, then, do DHOH people experience music and become musicians? It turns out that in order to become a musician, whether someone is DHOH or not, practice is key.

Music educator Robert Fulford, in “The Formation and Development of Musical Identities with a Hearing Impairment,” shows that as opposed to learning by sound, DHOH pupils may learn note names through visual puzzles or pictures, pitches by feeling the speeds of vibrations, or musical technique through metaphors such as tone color.

Pulling evidence from his interviews with DHOH musicians, Fulford comments on the power of visual cues and gestures to learn, for instance, how long to hold a particular note on a violin or find the beat from a conductor.

While the DHOH community continues to find ways to participate in music, their inclusion demands that we revisit the definition of music. Does music require sound?

Apparently so, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which includes “sound” as a central part of its definition of “music,” but a Deaf musician like Evelyn Glennie complicates the dictionary definition.

Perhaps a more inclusive definition should focus on physical vibrations, emotions, and the abstract form of music instead of the sound produced.

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Austin Bowley is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

La Mer and Depression

By Hannah Thigpen

Claude Debussy wanted to be a sailor. He was only a few years from his compositional triumphs when he wrote, “I have been smitten not with sea-sickness, but with sea-seeing-sickness.” I see connections between the symptoms of depression as an expression of this disability in the complex composition that is Debussy’s La Mer.

The third sketch of La Mer is entitled Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea, and it is rife with upheaval. Dialogue is more ominous and aggressive in comparison to the first two sketches. From the relentless timpani to the sharply articulated bursts of rhythmic density, this sketch conveys fitful unrest.

Listen to the third sketch from a performance of La Mer by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra:

The “call of the deep” theme from Dialogue evokes in its cyclic, rumbling quality the depressive symptoms enumerated by The National Institute of Mental Health: persistent sad or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness.

La Mer became one of the few Debussy compositions to deal so personally in despair, expressed in the undertow of the sea. The agitation in the strings especially speaks to irritability. Cycling themes reinforce feeling lost or hopeless. Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea contains immense, conflicting forces within itself. Depression, in parallel, dwells as conflict contained within people.

By applying the disability studies framework to La Mer, I seek not to deal in certainty or posthumously diagnose the man behind the work; furthermore, the medical model of depression is only one lens through which to view human disability.

The sea unleashed in La Mer reveals more than nature. Art, and Debussy’s La Mer in this case, complements and expands our medical understanding of depression through sound, sensation, and metaphor.

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Hannah Thigpen is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

Doc Watson And The Blues

by Dylan Morris

Arthel “Doc” Watson (1923-2012) was a blind guitar player best known for his pioneering role in the flat-picking tradition. Watson lost his sight as a child due to infection and thus had to learn by ear. Despite this disability, he began learning banjo and harmonica at a young age according to UNC professor Phillip Gerard. His willingness to expand from the Appalachian ballad tradition he grew up in to the finger-picking Blues genre was remarkable.

Watson admired country blues guitarist “Mississippi” John Hurt, and musician Tom Paxton recalled from a gig where they were both booked at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village that “Doc had his tape recorder out and was recording song after song as Hurt dug deep into his repertoire.” John hurt was known for his rhythm-driven style that relied heavily on the bass-thumb pattern, often putting emphasis on the offbeat. Here is a video recording of his “Spike Driver Blues”:

The influences of Hurt’s version can be easily heard in Watson’s recording:

In numerous other online videos, Watson credits Hurt’s version with the tune. The version Watson plays here is much different than his usual, fast-paced and melodically driven style. Like Hurt, he puts emphasis on maintaining the alternating bass-thumb rhythm as opposed to the melody. Though we can clearly see Hurt’s finger-picking pattern in the first video, Watson could not and so he had to learn this tune by ear alone (Watson did not read Braille).

According to Gerard, Watson discussed his disability in a 1999 interview: “I think the handicap made me realize I have to depend on others…There was a time when I had a persecution complex because of the handicap… when I was much younger… But what brought me out of feeling sorry for myself was life itself… Life is the best teacher of all.”

Dylan Morris is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.