A Fresh Look at a French Composer and Virtuoso – Camille Saint-Saëns

The Bard Music Festival’s second weekend featuring Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) starts on August 17th.  The concerts, lectures, and panel discussions of the festival are complemented by a book of related articles, essays, and letters edited by a prominent music scholar.  Princeton University Press is pleased to announce:

Camille Saint-Saëns and His World
Edited by Jann Pasler

Camille Saint-Saëns–perhaps the foremost French musical figure of the late nineteenth century and a composer who wrote in nearly every musical genre, from opera and the symphony to film music–is now being rediscovered after a century of modernism overshadowed his earlier importance. In a wide-ranging and trenchant series of essays, articles, and documents, Camille Saint-Saëns and His World deconstructs the multiple realities behind the man and his music. Topics range from intimate glimpses of the private and playful Saint-Saëns, to the composer’s interest in astronomy and republican politics, his performances of Mozart and Rameau over eight decades, and his extensive travels around the world. This collection also analyzes the role he played in various musical societies and his complicated relationship with such composers as Liszt, Massenet, Wagner, and Ravel. Featuring the best contemporary scholarship on this crucial, formative period in French music, Camille Saint-Saëns and His World restores the composer to his vital role as innovator and curator of Western music.


You can find more information about the Bard Music Festival and activities this weekend at:

For more information on the Bard Music Festival Book Series, check out:


FACT: “The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of telecom law since 1934. Most of the Telecom Act is about promoting competition between cable and phone companies in the markets for voice communications, television entertainment, and broadband Internet service. In a provision that was little noted at the time, the act also eliminated the cap of 20 AM and 20 FM stations at the national level and considerably relaxed ownership caps at the local level.”

Climbing the Charts: What Radio Airplay Tells Us about the Diffusion of Innovation
by Gabriel Rossman

Despite the growth of digital media, traditional FM radio airplay still remains the essential way for musicians to achieve commercial success. Climbing the Charts examines how songs rise, or fail to rise, up the radio airplay charts. Looking at the relationships between record labels, tastemakers, and the public, Gabriel Rossman develops a clear picture of the roles of key players and the gatekeeping mechanisms in the commercial music industry. Along the way, he explores its massive inequalities, debunks many popular misconceptions about radio stations’ abilities to dictate hits, and shows how a song diffuses throughout the nation to become a massive success.

Climbing the Charts provides a fresh take on the music industry and a model for understanding the diffusion of innovation.

Climbing the Charts gives an eye-opening view of the front and back of radio broadcasting. It shows that the music industry has even more influence on radio airplay than we might imagine, but broadcasters and listeners also matter. Surprisingly, the greatest role of broadcasters is in their choice of radio formats, which structure the market for the music industry and the listeners. The important topic, careful analysis, and clear writing make this book broadly appealing.”—Henrich Greve, INSEAD

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9740.pdf


FACT: “Frédéric Chopin was a freelance artist throughout his career. After being provided an excellent musical education by his upper middle-class Warsaw family, he presented a series of freelance concert performances in Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Munich, and Stuttgart between 1828 and 1831. Continuing on to Paris, he achieved only limited financial success performing his compositions at public concerts. But his introduction by a Warsaw acquaintance into the salons of wealthy Parisians provided a network of contacts, through which he became the most sought-after and best-paid independent piano teacher in Paris. His earnings were augmented through honoraria from music publishers. When his health deteriorated, he could no longer continue his strenuous teaching schedule. A concert trip to England failed to solve his financial problems, and he died in poverty at age thirty-nine.”

Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
by F. M. Scherer

In 1700, most composers were employees of noble courts or the church. But by the nineteenth century, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi, and many others functioned as freelance artists teaching, performing, and selling their compositions in the private marketplace. While some believe that Mozart’s career marks a clean break between these two periods, this book tells the story of a more complex and interesting transition.

F. M. Scherer first examines the political, intellectual, and economic roots of the shift from patronage to a freelance market. He describes the eighteenth-century cultural “arms race” among noble courts, the spread of private concert halls and opera houses, the increasing attendance of middle-class music lovers, and the founding of conservatories. He analyzes changing trends in how composers acquired their skills and earned their living, examining such impacts as demographic developments and new modes of transportation. The book offers insight into the diversity of composers’ economic aspirations, the strategies through which they pursued success, the burgeoning music publishing industry, and the emergence of copyright protection. Scherer concludes by drawing some parallels to the economic state of music composition in our own times.

Written by a leading economist with an unusually broad knowledge of music, this fascinating account is directed toward individuals intrigued by the world of classical composers as well as those interested in economic history or the role of money in art.

“In a bold interdisciplinary foray, Dr. Scherer has used his highly regarded economist’s skills to explore how leading European composers managed to support themselves during the 18th and 19th centuries. The result is an absorbing study of how creative artists adapted to the vast economic and social changes that occurred around them during the greatest era of musical composition.”—Derek Bok, Harvard University

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7612.pdf

The Ancient Problem of Unruly Music–more from Jenn Lena on music and the election

This week, sociologist Jennifer Lena was kind enough to provide Election 101 with a third and final installment to her series of posts on music in presidential campaigns. Check out her new book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music and her conversation with the philosopher and expert on both music and law, Jonathan Neufeld, on why the relationship between musicians and politicians is so fraught with difficulty:


The Ancient Problem of Unruly Music

Jennifer Lena


In my last two posts, I’ve detailed the ways in which politicians (and campaign staff) secure music for use on the campaign trail, and some of the controversies that have resulted when they did not secure permission to use those songs. Along the way, I’ve illuminated two other pathways for the match of politicians and musicians. First, political parties could make greater efforts to include musicians as active participants and contributors. It should particularly be the case that political actors working outside the mainstream—in small districts, in local politics, in radical or third party politics—should share many things in common with local musicians, including a point of view. Second, I’ve suggested that politicians engage in smarter strategic action around issues of intellectual property, by seeking approval for using copyrighted works, and finding fair use opportunities (like Obama’s Spotify playlist) to employ the power of music in their campaigns. In this final post, I sought out a colleague whom I thought might be able to shed some light on why the relationship between musicians and politicians is so fraught with difficulty.


Jonathan A. Neufeld is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at College of Charleston and an expert in both music and law. In his forthcoming book, Music in Public: How Performances Shape Democracy (Oxford UP), Neufeld tackles the connections between musical and political deliberation. Here is an excerpt from our conversation about politics and music:


JL: Are the questions I’m asking at all relevant to philosophers of aesthetics?


JN: Yes, your posts touch on an ancient problem. “[T]he modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions,” Plato writes in the Republic. Aristotle devotes a hefty chunk of his Politics to a discussion of music education; the conflict about what music is appropriately played in church was a hot topic of debate and political maneuvering in the Catholic church stretching back to Augustine. It is easy to multiply examples of music and politics colliding, and philosophers trying to find some way of making sense of it. In most of these cases, philosophers end up focusing on the emotional and sensuous potential of music–we are moved by music. You would think this would be good news for politics! “We are in the business of moving people, too!” But toward what exactly, does music move us? In the ancient controversies, a lot of ink was spilled over the untrustworthiness of music and musicians. Music can make us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do (dance like idiots, sing lyrics joyously that we might completely disagree with, etc.), and musicians seem to revel in this. Artists were seen to be without a moral core, rudderless.


JL: This seems to differ from how we think about artists in contemporary society: I can think of a number of examples when we revere musical artists as the most principled people. In sociology, we often describe these artists as “disinterested” or “autonomous,” meaning that they do not allow other people (politicians, audiences, producers) to dictate the art (or music) they create.


JN: That’s right. We often characterize artists as being interested in art for art’s sake. Insofar as they focus on particular political messages, they are often accused of doing something other than art. The thought that a consistent message would dictate artistic expression (Plato’s dream!) sits uncomfortably with a modern picture of artistic creativity.  The political demand to stay on message, then, seems to be a violation of the artistic autonomy at the heart of the art for art’s sake norm. Staying on political message is to allow a preset message to dictate what goes into the work. Moreover, when it comes to a campaign, it is to allow the campaign’s message to dictate the work. [And] even if the artist shaped the message, the demand to stay on message seems to be an imposition on the artist’s autonomous creativity. That the artist imposes it on herself doesn’t matter. What matters is the imposition of the wrong kind of norm–an extra-artistic norm–on artistic creativity.


JL: So, do you see an inevitable conflict between the logic of music (the value placed on autonomy) and the logic of democracy?


JN: No. The opposition is not between democracy and music, or even between music with messages and music without. Take Woody Guthrie, the Asian Dub Foundation, or Public Enemy, for example. Here we have artists whose songs are shaped by a message. But is this what it is to be on message in a way that would be compatible with the branding of a campaign? It seems to me not. There is an unruliness at the heart of artistic creation (or, if you prefer, there is a systematic expectation that artistic creation be unruly) that would make any disciplined campaigner nervous.  So the problem for artists is not the politics or the democracy, it’s the on-message requirement of contemporary campaigns. While obeying this requirement might not be an in-principle problem for contemporary politicians, I wonder if it shouldn’t be. Democratic discourse just is unruly–this was Plato’s deep worry about it. I wonder if the artist’s unruly resistance to staying on message could be seen as democratic impulse we might wish contemporary candidates shared.


I really like Jonathan’s last point—that the “unruliness” of musicians might be a better model for democracy than the slavish fidelity to a brand message. It was Benjamin Disraeli who claimed that “The world is wearied of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.” Let me add more to the arsenal of reasons that politicians and musicians should take long-term collaborations more seriously:


1.Given the enormously large number of un- and under-employed artists in America, and rallying cries for job-creators on both sides of the aisle, why don’t presidential campaigns hire or contract with more artists? A recent survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (full disclosure: I am a Research Fellow on the project) reveals that 51% of art school graduates who intended to become an artist did not do so because work was not available.


2. Furthermore, given the enormous need for paid work, why aren’t more musicians approaching campaigns to write original material? Billboard Magazine reports that Obama’s 10-second performance of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” sent sales of the singer’s album through the roof (a 490% weekly sales increase). Logic dictates that many struggling artists would benefit from the national attention garnered through association with a candidate, so why isn’t it more common?


3. Democrats and Republicans rely on an extremely small set of performers to provide campaign songs. What would presidential candidates do without Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty? Why aren’t we seeing more pandering to the large and growing Hispanic vote, or to women? And most shocking of all: why are Republican candidates overlooking the massive market power of contemporary Christian rock? According to Neilsen, Christian/Gospel accounted for 9.5 million album sales in 2011, a nearly 7% increase from the year before. The Republican base, particularly the younger generation, consumes a lot of Christian rock, and the songs are on-issue for most of the GOP candidates.


I hope I’ve convinced you that long-term collaborations between musicians and politicians are possible, potentially mutually beneficial and could potentially spark a more vibrant and diverse set of arguments in the public sphere.


Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.

Campaign Songs and Campaign Wrongs

Sociologist Jennifer Lena was kind enough to provide Election 101 with another fascinating installment to what will ultimately be a  three part series of posts on music in presidential campaigns. Check out her new book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music and her post on the uses and abuses of music by politicians after the jump:



Campaign Songs and Campaign Wrongs

Jennifer Lena


In my previous post on presidential campaigns and music, I discussed the ways in which candidates obtain songs for use during their campaign, including commissioning songs and licensing them for adaptation or use of the original. Seemingly in spite of themselves, campaign staffers keep neglecting to obtain licenses for the songs they use, and so recent campaign history is punctuated by controversies over the unauthorized use of pop music in these races. I previously mentioned one case in which Bob Dole used an unauthorized parody of Sam and Dave’s hit song “Soul Man,” and the song’s copyright holders threatened to sue. The song’s use was not only unauthorized, but unwelcome by its owners. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Isaac Hayes (one of the song’s authors) explained, “Nobody gave any permission here” and, “As a U.S. Senator, he ought to know that you can’t do that.  It also bothers me because people may get the impression that David [Porter] and I endorse Bob Dole, which we don’t.”

Perhaps the best-known case where unauthorized music was used by a campaign was Ronald Reagan’s 1984 use of Bruce Springsteen’s single “Born in the U.S.A.” Although the song’s lyrics clearly focus on the deleterious effects of the Vietnam War on Americans, Conservative columnist George Will heard a nationalistic cry in the song, and dubbed the singer “A Yankee Doodle Springsteen.” Will got word to Reagan advisor Michael Deavers, who had his staffers seek an endorsement from Springsteen, which he immediately declined. Nevertheless, on September 19, 1984, Reagan mentioned the rocker favorably in a New Jersey stump speech, and Springsteen countered by invoking Reagan’s name right before playing “Johnny 99” (a song about an unemployed steelworker) at a concert in Philadelphia. The entire episode was covered closely by the media, and proved to be an embarrassment to the Reagan campaign, although patriotic interpretations of the song’s lyrics are still commonplace.

Four presidential cycles later, another Republican candidate made a similar error with similar consequences. George W. Bush used Tom Petty’s anthem “I Won’t Back Down” on the 2000 campaign trail until Petty threatened to sue. Bush pulled the song (and added “We the People” by Billy Ray Cyrus and “Right Now” by Van Halen). In a bittersweet turn, Petty is said to have played his song at the Gore’s house minutes after he conceded the election.

Several Republicans in the current race have received cease and desist letters for using music on the campaign trail without permission. Michele Bachman allegedly got one letter from Tom Petty’s music publisher for her use of “American Girl.” Katrina and the Waves also asked Bachman to stop using their single, “Walking on Sunshine.” Newt Gingrich was asked to stop using “How Do You Like Me Now?” by Third Side Music, the publisher that owns the right to this 2009 song by rock group the Heavy.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. In recent years, John Mellencamp and the Foo Fighters both asked John McCain to stop using their music during his 2008 campaign, and McCain settled out of court with Jackson Browne after the unauthorized use of his hit single “Running on Empty.” When Charlie Crist ran for a senate seat in Florida last year, he used “Road to Nowhere,” a song by rock group The Talking Heads, in one of his ads without seeking authorization from the group. Frontman David Byrne slapped him with a $1 million lawsuit, which was settled out of court; Crist also issued this apology via YouTube:


It could be, as  FoxNews claims in this report, that GOP candidates are less likely to get permission to use music during their campaigns. The news service attributes responsibility to the liberal bias of the entertainment industry, and preferential treatment of Democrats by musicians (and “Hollywood” donors). In recent memory, the only high-profile Dem to be hit with a cease and desist letter was Barack Obama, who used Sam & Dave’s hit single “Hold On, I’m Comin’” without permission.

Fox News may be right that entertainers are more likely to be liberal, and thus more likely to give Democrats access to their music catalogue. It could also be that Republican candidates are more likely to use music without first seeking permission or licensing the work. In either case, the surprising thing is that campaign staffers don’t secure celebrity endorsements, and tend to mis-manage them when they arrive uninvited.

Consider, for example, Kelly Clarkson’s recent statement of support for Ron Paul’s campaign, and almost immediate retraction. Clarkson, a past winner of American Idol and chart-topping country-pop artist, posted a tweet claiming that she would vote for Ron Paul if he won the nomination for the Republican ticket—a statement many interpreted as an endorsement of his campaign. But as news spread of the racist and homophobic content in Ron Paul newsletters, critics declaimed her support for the candidate as an endorsement of hate speech. In December, Clarkson released an apology in a tweet, voicing support for “white/black/purple/orange rights” and stepping back from the controversy by claiming she wasn’t a “hardcore Republican” and disclosing that she voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise that Paul’s campaign mis-managed Clarkson’s statement of support, failing to rush to her side and help her type on-brand messages into her smart phone. After all, Ron Paul often takes the campaign stage to the tune of “The Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme song from Star Wars, a song that conjures up both space aliens and fascism.

Rick Santorum also had the uniquely strange problem of receiving a statement of support from heavy metal guitarist Dave Mustaine, only to have him claim it wasn’t an endorsement. Mustaine said in an interview with Music Radar that he hopes “if it does come down to it, we’ll see a Republican in the White House… and that it’s Rick Santorum,” but then released a statement to the press disputing the characterization of his remarks as an “official endorsement.”

How can we make sense out of the evergreen problem GOP candidates have securing endorsements from musicians? Strangely enough, the answer might lie in a satirical column at on-line gossip magazine Gawker.com, inspired by Mustaine’s support for Santorum. The column, titled, “Big Running List of 2012 Metal Endorsements,”  is updated as Gawker staffers contact and secure political platform statements from former and current members of major metal groups. Next to Mustaine’s name, Santorum’s appears, followed by a question mark. Other presidential office-seekers appear on the list, and there are also a number of write-in candidates including Gwar’s Oderus Urungus, who votes for “Murdering every presidential candidate on a gigantic wheel of over-sized knives.”

The conceit behind the list, and Gwar’s “vote,” is that musical communities have their own political platforms, not unlike parties, candidates, and social movements. These are the genre ideals of a group; they reflect the community’s sensitivity to some problem or goal (sometimes strictly musical, and sometimes social), and a developed consensus about both its causes and how it should be addressed. One example I give in the book is Seattle’s grunge rock community, within which members shared an anti-macho and anti-mainstream genre ideal; this was a reaction against both “fluffy” pop (both Madonna and Paula Abdul were popular at the time) and against the big hair and “beef cake posturing” of hair metal groups like Motley Crue, Poison and Bon Jovi. As Gwar’s “vote” for President illuminates, metal’s genre ideal—antimainstream, dystopian—abjures the values you’d find in almost every candidate running for a national office in the U.S. No surprise that we don’t see natural alliances developing there.

But it does seem that one means by which candidates could prevent controversy over their use of music (other than securing permission in advance, of course) would be to encourage musicians to get involved in their campaigns, and to remain invested over longer periods of time. This shouldn’t be too difficult, particularly if these alliances begin at the local level, in small communities, where politicians and local artists are likely to share interests and dispositions. Politicians have resources that could benefit artists—access to audiences, performance opportunities, and the press prime among them—and musicians, as I have been at pains to argue, offer resources that are important to politicians.

Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.


Political (Dis)chord? Jennifer Lena talks political branding through song

Who can forget Sarah Palin joining John McCain on the RNC stage to the thrumming guitar chords of Heart’s 1977 hit song “Barracuda?” Equally well remembered was the group’s request that she stop using the song on the campaign trail. When did the trend of using popular music for the sake of political branding start? Recently I asked sociologist Jennifer Lena, author of Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music to offer her thoughts on how music is used in in political campaigns. Read her Election 101 post here:



Political (Dis)chord?

Jennifer Lena


There’s a long history of political music, including both highs (“We Shall Overcome” issued from the Highlander School), and lows (from National Socialist Black Metal to the stridently ethnocentrist turbofolk popular in Serbia). Given the synergies between music and politics we should find it perplexing that American politicians are so atrociously bad at picking good music for their campaigns. I won’t be able to answer this puzzle in one blog post, but I can begin with a brief history of the campaign song, organized around a discussion of how candidates and tunes are matched. I have picked illustrative examples of each type from the 2012 Republican race to highlight the chasm that separates political and musical communities in the United States, at least in these national contests.

Presidential campaign staffers often commission a jingle, either novel compositions or simply new lyrics written to accompany an existing tune. The practice of commissioning songs has a long history in American politics, which includes the famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (for candidate William Henry Harrison), a song that celebrated the triumph of Harrison’s Indiana militia against Native Americans. You might also remember the songs that Irving Berlin wrote to support candidate Dwight Eisenhower, including “They Like Ike,” then “I Still Like Ike,” and finally “Ike For Four More Years.”

Here’s a performance of “I Like Ike” by The Promenade Band:



Campaign songs are sometimes manufactured from existing songs, with only the lyrics changed to include campaign-specific content. The practice of adapting songs for campaigns stretches back to the birth of our nation, when “God Save the King” was transformed to substitute Washington’s name for the monarch’s. In more recent memory, JFK’s 1960 campaign was buoyed by Frank Sinatra’s performance of an altered “High Hopes:”


Everyone is voting for Jack

Cause he’s got what all the rest lack

Everyone wants to back, Jack

Jack is on the right track.

‘Cause he’s got high hopes

He’s got high hopes.


When song lyrics are adapted, or when songs are used as they were originally written and recorded, intellectual property law requires that candidates obtain permission to use the song. This is true even when the lyrics are altered from the original. For example, Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign received a “cease and desist” letter from the copyright holders for Sam & Moore’s 1967 hit song “Soul Man,” which they had altered to “Dole Man.” Rondor Music (one of the copyright owners) threatened to sue the campaign $100,000 each time the song was played because it was an “unauthorized derivative work.” The practice of licensing existing music for presidential campaign use may have started with FDR’s 1932 contest against Herbert Hoover, for which he licensed the use of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

What has the 2012 Republican primary race contributed to this storied history of campaign songs? Among the jingles written expressly for candidates, we find a few spectacularly odd tunes. Early in the race, when Herman Cain was still running, we all saw the ad featuring his Chief of Staff Mark Block, who endorsed his boss, while smoking and accompanied by an 80s-style pop-synth song (“I Am America” by Krista Branch).




A few months later, Santorum supporters First Love released “Game On,”:


Here is the chorus, transcribed by Slate:

Oh, there is Hope for our Nation again
Maybe the First time Since we Had Ronald Reagan
There will be Justice for the Unborn
Factories back on our Shores
Where the Constitution rules our land
Yes, I Believe… Rick Santorum is our Man!


The Ron Paul campaign devotes a whole page on their website to citizen-generated original songs and videos. Some of these are adapted from known works, like the following (novel lyrics sung over The Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Bratton and Kennedy):


2012 GOP candidates mostly rely on licensed works; for example, Mitt Romney is using Kid Rock’s single “Born Free” on the campaign trail; Rock has even appeared at several events to perform the song, including a well-timed February rally outside Detroit, Michigan.

Whether campaigns commission jingles or license existing songs, the relationships between musicians and presidential hopefuls seems to be limited to these intermittent, strategic negotiations over a single song. Why don’t campaigners and parties seem to have long-term strategies to create synergies between themselves and sympathetic artists? As I’ve shown in my work on music genres, communities that create and consume music resemble communities that create and participate in social movements. In fact, they are often the very same group, as I illustrate in my discussions of early Chinese rock, Chilean nueva cancion, and Nigerian afrobeat. Our American history is replete with moments when social movements reach within themselves to harness the musical talents of members who are also artists—as I mentioned above, the Civil Rights Movement’s soundtrack included songs written by staff and students at the Highlander School. There is really no sociological reason that politicians shouldn’t cultivate musicians (or the reverse) over long periods of time, only to “cash in” (if you’ll forgive the phrase) when it comes time to pick campaign songs.

I’ll leave this as a puzzle for us to discuss. If you’re tempted to attribute this disjuncture between musicians and politicians on the specific characteristics of one or another party and its politics, you should tune in to my next post, where I explore the power of that explanation.

One final note on an emerging means by which politicians might use music in their campaigns. This year, Barack Obama has released a Spotify playlist for his campaign. His list includes 28 songs chosen both by the President and staffers, including those by alt country band Wilco, Bruce Springsteen, and an instrumental tune, “Green Onions” by Booker T & The MGs. Using this free music service, Obama can select a potentially huge number of songs and group them under his name without needing to seek approval or permission from any of the copyright holders. A curated list of songs may provide politicians with an opportunity to craft a multi-dimensional identity for public consideration, and to reach out to multiple constituencies in a way that can be difficult when limited to only one or two campaign songs. The danger, of course, is that the more songs a candidate selects, the more interpretive complexity they invite, and a poorly selected song could quickly lead a campaign off-message.

Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.

* Helpful suggestions on this and the other posts in this series provided by the following: Kieran Healy, Jonathan Neufeld, Shamus Khan, Dustin Tittle, Molly Foran Yurchak, Betsy Wissinger.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

Banding Together:
How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music

by Jennifer C. Lena

Why do some music styles gain mass popularity while others thrive in small niches? Banding Together explores this question and reveals the attributes that together explain the growth of twentieth-century American popular music. Drawing on a vast array of examples from sixty musical styles—ranging from rap and bluegrass to death metal and South Texas polka, and including several created outside the United States—Jennifer Lena uncovers the shared grammar that allows us to understand the cultural language and evolution of popular music.

What are the common economic, organizational, ideological, and aesthetic traits among contemporary genres? Do genres follow patterns in their development? Lena discovers four dominant forms—Avant-garde, Scene-based, Industry-based, and Traditionalist—and two dominant trajectories that describe how American pop music genres develop. Outside the United States there exists a fifth form: the Government-purposed genre, which she examines in the music of China, Serbia, Nigeria, and Chile. Offering a rare analysis of how music communities operate, she looks at the shared obstacles and opportunities creative people face and reveals the ways in which people collaborate around ideas, artworks, individuals, and organizations that support their work.

“Jennifer Lena’s Banding Together unleashes a fierce and exacting take on the scattered and freewheeling territory of music, offering a soothing order to the wild scufflings of performers and fans alike, and inspiring a smarter, more forthright think on a crazy untrammeled scene. In other words, it has a beat and you can dance to it.”—Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket and accordionist with The Magnetic Fields

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9617.pdf

The random draw for this book with be Friday 2/3 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

So, what kind of music do you like?

It’s the question teenagers have been asking each other for decades to size up each others’ style, philosophy, and  even politics. There’s no doubt about it, music communities matter. But how much credit should we give to musical geniuses like George Clinton, or James Brown? Which musical failures should we blame on greedy record labels, or jealous spouses? And how much did spectacular events change musical history? What about Dylan going electric in Newport, or Hendrix playing Woodstock? In Banding Together, Jennifer Lena argues no genius, no accident, and no event matters as much to American popular musics as the everyday activities of the communities that support them. But Jenn not only offers a sociological explanation for the growth of 20th century American popular music, she also made us a mix tape! She was kind enough to share with me a “Spotify playlist for Banding Together”, along with some thoughts on her choices, which range from “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” to “Me so Horny.” You can check out her playlist here:

The Banding Together Spotify playlist

Anyone that wants to hear the playlist needs to join Spotify (by creating a login ID and password), and downloading the free software. Then you can find the playlist for “Banding Together” by typing “spotify:user:lenajc” into the search box, or clicking on the link, above. Read on for some great music trivia after the jump:

I love that my friend Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) claims that my book “has a beat and you can dance to it,” but it just isn’t true. I begged Princeton University Press to make the world’s first musical book—I imagined something like those greeting cards—but it wasn’t to be. Thank goodness for Spotify. This free service will allow you access to an amazing repository of recorded music (including the stuff in your existing digital library). You can create playlists, share them with others, and even collaborate in their creation! It really is a terrific resource.

The playlist I created for the book (“Banding Together: The Spotify Playlist for the Book”) clocks in around 3 hours, and I’m still looking for more music to add. Each of the songs I chose is either specifically mentioned in my book, or stands as a representative of a musical style that I discuss in Banding Together. Here are a few of my favorites:


  • “Funky Butt” by Mississippi John Hurt. The Library of Congress did us a magnificent favor by funding the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress, which now contains over 3 million artifacts including recordings like this one. “Funky Butt” is King Buddy Bolden’s “signature tune” (and on page 79 I describe its link to other “funky” things), but I love Hurt’s version—a beautiful guitar tone, a strong and sweet vocal, and hilarious lyrics.
  • “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band. I included this song for two reasons: the first is that I discuss the politics around the crediting of this white band as “original Dixieland” in Chapter 3 (starting on page 98). The second is that Chicago Judge George A. Carpenter argued (while presiding over a copyright dispute) that “no living human being could listen to that result on the phonograph and discover anything musical on it” (see page 101). I wonder what you think about Carpenter’s taste?
  • “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Mahalia Jackson. If you’ve never heard black gospel, this is a great place to start. The song was penned by the “inventor” of gospel, the Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey, and later became a million-record seller for Elvis Presley (see pages 104 onward, and his version is in the playlist, too!). Here, one of Dorsey’s “discoveries,” the great Mahalia Jackson, shows incredible vocal control and spiritual inspiration. Jackson toured the “gospel highway” for five long years, but her hard labor was rewarded with a feature in Time Magazine, and the honor of performing at JFK’s 1961 inauguration and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.
  • “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” by Bill Monroe. Monroe, the “father of bluegrass,” performs this country and bluegrass standard, the lyrics of which are etched on the wall of the Country Music Hall of Fame, in Nashville, TN. Originally a hymn, adapted into country song, and performed by scores of musicians ranging from Johnny Cash to Moby, it is a true American original.
  • “Night in the City” by Judy Collins and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Still and Nash. These two songs, plus singles by Janis Joplin (also with Big Brother and the Holding Company), The Doors, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Leonard Cohen (singing one of my all-time favorite songs, about his brief romance with Joplin), represent the wild and wonderful years of the “Laurel Canyon” group on Ridpath Lane. Stephen Stills plays guitar on the Collins song, and his bandmate Graham Nash wrote and named the second tune after Judy. You can read more about their bohemian grove in Chapter 3.
  • “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke. Quite simply, one of the very best pop tunes ever written, but one of those nearly lost to history. Cooke originally recorded the tune while working under the name “Dale Cook.” After the weak sales of his first single, “Lovable,” Specialty Records released him from the contract leaving the rest of the session, including this song, on the cutting room floor. Thankfully, his producer kept the tape and it later was a hit for the singer recording under his own name.
  • “Chocolate City” by Parliament. The wild ways of George Clinton’s twin groups Parliament and Funkadelic are carefully detailed in Chapter 3 of Banding Together. The lyrics of this song figure in the text. Which of today’s black entertainers do you think Clinton would hire for cabinet posts?
  • Me So Horny” by 2 Live Crew. This song topped the charts at the very height of moral panics around the dysfunction wrought by popular music (in 1989). The song samples dialogue from two movies—do you know which they are?
  • “On & On” by Jesse Saunders. Alleged to be the first House music single, this song attracted attention at the 1986 New Music Seminar in New York, and led a generation of DJs to be signed by British record labels—a brain drain that arguably led to the end of “original” House music in Chicago.
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. This song represents the rapid rise and fall of Seattle’s Grunge music. This song’s chart success in 1991 propelled the rock group Nirvana to the top of the charts, although the band was said to quickly tire of its infamy. It is often cited as the greatest rock song ever recorded.
  • “Nothing to Lose” by Cui Jian. I was so glad to see this classic of Chinese rock included in the Spotify library. The title is a mistranslation of the song I refer to in the book as “I Have Nothing.” While we watched from afar, Jian’s music was the soundtrack to China’s Tiananmen Square revolution.
  • “La carta” by Violeta Parra. This is easily my favorite song to emerge from Chile’s nueva cancion movement of the 1970s. The title references a letter that brings Parra’s protagonist news of her brother’s imprisonment. She laments: “A letter comes to tell me/ There is no justice in my country/…/Luckily I have a guitar/ With which to lament my pain.” Heartbreaking.
  • “Water Get No Enemy” by Fela Kuti. Fela was and still is the king of African music (in as much as Elvis is American music’s king). I won’t spoil his amazing life story (see Chapter 4 in Banding Together!), but it is the only one in the book to include a defenestration.
  • “39.2” by Ceca. The wedding video of Serbian turbo-folk star Svetlana “Ceca” Veličković to paramilitary commander Željko Ražnatović Arkan was played outdoors for days, a technique designed to antagonize and terrorize the Croatian residents of Mostar during the terrible Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Her songs are a testament to the destructive power music can have when it falls into the wrong hands.


This Banding Together Spotify playlist demonstrates the varied influences, instruments, and personality of several musical idioms, while the book emphasizes the things they share in common. Within each genre, fans, club owners, journalists, merchandizers, musicians, and other community members must band together to make music, and the book is a study of how and when that happens. You will only hear traces of those communities in these songs: in the featured performers, borrowed lines, and references to people and places in the lyrics. I hope you’ll read Banding Together to learn more about how genres create communities in popular music, and I hope you’ll have fun with my musical book, even if you can’t dance to it (without Spotify).


Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.

New Perspectives on the Greatest Finnish Composer of All Time

The Bard Music Festival is featuring composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) this year.  Perhaps no twentieth-century composer has provoked a more varied reaction among the music-loving public than Jean Sibelius. Originally hailed as a new Beethoven by much of the Anglo-Saxon world, he was also widely disparaged by critics more receptive to newer trends in music.

The concerts, lectures, and panel discussions of the festival are complemented by a book of related articles, essays, and letters edited by a prominent music scholar.  Princeton University Press is pleased to announce:

Jean Sibelius and His World
Edited by Daniel M. Grimley


You can find more information about the Bard Music Festival and activities this weekend at:

UCLA Today features Bill Roy, author of Reds, Whites, and Blues

Over at UCLA Today they are featuring the work of one of their own — Bill Roy, author of Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States. If you click through, you will be able to listen to exclusive music from their archives and view some archival material.

Here a quick sampling from the interview that captures the early days and looks to the future:

UCLA Today: What was the first progressive cause in America to use what you’d consider to be folk music?

Roy: That was probably the American Revolution with “Yankee Doodle” and other songs spread by revolutionary soldiers. But the abolitionists were the first to use music that was embraced as authentic and moving because it came from common people. Abolitionists would bring slaves up from the South and have them sing spirituals at big meetings in the North. Many northerners had never met African Americans. Abolitionists were trying to vividly demonstrate the humanity of slaves, who had been compared to animals in the race-baiting imagery of the day.

These concerts featured such classics as “I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” But even though slaves had sung these songs in church, in the fields and in their homes, the abolitionists didn’t call them “folk music.” That recognition didn’t come until later.

UCLA Today: What is the prognosis today for folk music and social movements?

Roy: Folk music today is just a niche market that has a handful of followers — mostly singer- songwriters. The music contains a fairly mild critique of modern life and a certain amount of nostalgia about how life was before cities, big industry and big corporations, but it’s pretty tame. Music plays a different role now that’s much less powerful. I don’t see that there’s much potential to return to anything like the civil rights movement. One reason is we no longer grow up singing together. We grow up with Ipods.


The Bard Music Festival concert series starts tonight featuring composer Alban Berg (1885–1935). Each year the Bard Music Festival undertakes the exploration of a single composer’s life, work, and times. The concerts, lectures, and panel discussions of the festival are complemented by a book of related articles, essays, and letters edited by a prominent music scholar.  Princeton University Press is pleased to announce:

Alban Berg and His World
Edited by Christopher Hailey

Alban Berg and His World is a collection of essays and source material that repositions Berg as the pivotal figure of Viennese musical modernism. His allegiance to the austere rigor of Arnold Schoenberg’s musical revolution was balanced by a lifelong devotion to the warm sensuousness of Viennese musical tradition and a love of lyric utterance, the emotional intensity of opera, and the expressive nuance of late-Romantic tonal practice.

Read chapter one online: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9319.pdf

For more books in the Bard Music Festival Series, please visit:

You can find more information about the Bard Music Festival at: