Throughout the semester, “performance” has provided a link for us to connect music and literature. When we talk about performance literature, the phrase can pertain to a number of things: oral tradition (Gregorio Cortez, Ojiway), description of people performing (Chopin), staging of literary work (Carmen, Blood Wedding, Blind Witness News), an author reading or singing aloud (Pound, Troubadors, Hughes), a reader consuming a text, etc.
Please read the final selections in your packet, from Jack Kerouac’s _Book of Blues_ (414-421). In what ways does it seem appropriate to invoke “performance”? Why does Kerouac want to associate these poems with blues, jazz, or bebop? How does it inform the way he writes or the way we hear the oems? Do the themes, short lines, language, or voice back up the comparison? How do you imagine that they should be read aloud?
In this excerpt from Ken Burns’s PBS series on jazz, critic Gary Giddins suggests that Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording of West End Blues may be the most perfect three minutes of music anywhere. This is certainly high praise, especially for a work in a genre frequently described during the 1920s as low-down, unhealthy, and barely musical. One imagines that such perfect music would not require anything else — you’d just want to listen to it. And yet Burns creates a kind of music video for the song from a montage of old movie clips (beginning at 8:45 in the above-linked video). Keeping in mind that this montage has no actual connection to Armstrong (he was long since dead when the video was made), what are your impressions of the video? Why did Burns choose the images in the montage? Is there a particular message he was trying to convey? Also, what makes this music so “perfect,” if you agree with that characterization (you can disagree with or qualify that claim)?
(Since there was no Tuesday prompt this week, please post no matter which group you are in.)
This week you are reading two chapters from Ralph Ellison’s novel _Invisible Man_. The first introduces us to the narrator, who is essentially hiding underground following a series of misadventures; he gives a sense of his state of mind before promising to tell us how he got there; the rest of the novel retraces his history back up to this moment. Both chapters include examples of oral or musical performances — Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do,” a preacher visited in the trance/dream, and the narrator’s own graduation speech. Discuss how these performances are occasions for assertion of individual freedom (self-expression) or constraint (meeting audience demands).
Here are four tunes, all of which have a connection to the blues. Your job: identify that connection. What elements of their music and/or seem to relate to the blues? What elements do not seem part of the blues? If you need a reference point, here are two from the syllabus: Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues, Son House, Walking Blues).
2. Otha Turner and Corey Harris, Lay My Burden Down (YouTube)
3. Amy Winehouse, Rehab (YouTube)
4. Etta James, I’d Rather Go Blind (YouTube)
What makes a Blues?
Blues lyrics are often composed by singer/performers who may have mastered a hundred or more traditional blues songs composed by others. Internalizing elements of the form and tradition, they may be able to write a blues without a conscious or clearly articulated sense of what makes a blues really a “Blues.” Imagine, however, you want to teach young people to write a blues lyric, students perhaps who are not steeped in the tradition. What are some of the important rules, conventions, or features that you see as characteristic of the blues we have read? Write your response in the form of a “how to” or even a lesson plan for a class.
A very simple prompt: Choose one passage from the introduction to Slave Songs of the U.S.(coursepack p. 284) and one passage from the introduction to The Books of American Negro Spirituals (coursepack p. 307). Compare and contrast the two passages — bring out whatever issues you find interesting. Background: one is written by white Abolitionists who came into contact with freed slaves on what is now Hilton Head island, SC during the Civil War; the other is by the African American poet James Weldon Johnson about 50 years later.
Not many books of poems begin with a preface involving the history and politics that James Weldon Johnson invokes. Compose a blog post in which you discuss why language choice is such a vexed issue for the author. Why does he find it formally difficult or politically risky to write in a way that reflects vernacular (common speech of a group) language? What compels him to want to write in the mode of the “old time preacher” anyway? How successful is he in capturing “voice” on the page?
In a proto-feminist novel, one might expect that a character like Edna would be challenged to metamorphosis through the encounter with a radical figure, a dramatic social experience, or being exposed to new ideas through reading some forbidden text. To some extent we could consider if Mdm. Reisz is the inspiring figure. But Kate Chopin composes a number of scenes where other forces seem to inspire change in Edna. Choose two of the passages below to reread, then comment on your blog about the energy for change that it conveys.
- Chapter VI – the sea and the awakening: “a certain light had begun to dawn dimly”
- Chapter IV – moved by piano (187-188); Chopin’s “Solitude”
- Chapter X – suddenly swimming (188-89)
- Chapter XI – assertion of will (191)
- Chapter XIII – nap, and literal awakening at the island, Cheniere Caminada … native hospitality (194-5)
- Chapter XVII – “out” on reception day (204)
- Chapter XXXVII – Visiting Mdm. Reisz and the playing of the Chopin “Impromptu” (212)