Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” is interesting in that it is performed solely by Joplin on the piano. The song has a fast tempo that starts from the beginning of the song, foregoing any buildup in favor of establishing the tempo and meter. What stood out to me the most was the use of syncopation to shift accents from the strong beat to weaker or off beats. This syncopation adds character to the piece and allows easier recognition of the shifts in melody throughout the song. These melody shifts occur after the primary melody and rhythm are established at the beginning of the song and are more easily distinguished thanks to the accompanying syncopation. The pitch and key help to distinguish these melodies further, and Joplin ends the song on the original key he begins with. The contour of the song seems to dip at the end of each phrase only to rise with the shift in melody, contributing to the song’s wide range of notes. Maple Leaf Rag was a huge hit and quickly gained popularity at the end of the 1890s. Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag is now considered an iconic masterpiece of the ragtime genre, and Joplin is revered as the decisive ragtime composer.
“Maple Leaf Rag” was the first song I listened to in this course, and it was the subject of my first listening log. Now that I have completed the content of the class and have gained more insight into music, I can appreciate this ragtime piece more as I listen to it again. The musical element of syncopation stands out to me more clearly now; it was always evident in the song, but I feel that I now have a better grasp on the concept. Ragtime is considered a precursor to jazz, but it is also connected to dance music, especially the “march” and “two-step.” This genre of music intersects with many streams of music, and a piece as iconic as “Maple Leaf Rag” influences an even wider pool of music. As I listened to songs from the jazz era, I could hear aspects of ragtime music influencing various jazz songs. For example, “If Dreams Come True” by James P. Johnson also has a fast tempo and syncopated melody over a driving beat. Both songs offer a similar refined yet carefree emotion, and “If Dreams Come True” reminds me of Joplin’s work on “Maple Leaf Rag.”
“Las Abajeñas” is a traditional mariachi style song and was first recorded by Cuarteto Coculense in 1908, making it one of the original examples of mariachi music. The song has a brisk tempo, alternating between duple and triple meters. There are several instruments played, including trumpets and multiple guitar styles. Following the instrumental introduction, the lyrics are harmonized for the entirety of the song and peppered with short instrumental interludes. In addition, the song contains ample shouting, whistling, whooping, and hollering — called “gritos”. The song has a rather abrupt ending, with a short musical break before the end of the song. The lyrics speak of lowland women and their love, and each stanza is repeated twice. The lyrics describe beautiful women who love many before returning to their husbands, but I could thoroughly enjoy the music without understanding Spanish. The Spanish language compliments mariachi style music perfectly, and I was completely entranced. The voices harmonize lovely over the instruments, and the quick tempo and upbeat tune of the song contribute to its appeal. Mariachi music is meant for movement, and I couldn’t keep myself from shimmying along with the music while creating this log. The soul of the song longs for dance, making for a very lively atmosphere.
As I listen to this song again, the alternation between duple and triple meters sounds more clear to me, and the stock ending stands out much more. I notice the alternation of meters most clearly in the plucked notes of the guitarrón and the strummed guitar and vihuela. The stock ending, precluded by a brief halt of all music, is very unique and reserved for the son jalisciense genre. A kind of folk music, mariachi has a distinct style that is not easily replicated and has heavy roots in dance music. While some aspects, such as gritos — shouting or hollering during a song — can be found in other genres, mariachi is very distinctive. “Para los Rumberos” by Tito Puente is a song that uses an instrument called the clave, and this song reminds me of “Las Abajeñas” due to its fast-paced tempo and harmonization. Both songs encourage movement and evoke lively emotions.
“Wondrous Love” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard and remains one of my favorite songs included in this course. I was not previously familiar with Shape-Note or Sacred Harp singing, but this was a wonderful introduction. This song has no musical accompaniment, placing all focus on the lyrics and vocals. The song begins with the singing of syllables, and the song has a simple texture. The high-pitched voices lilt lower and higher with open consonances. The harmony is incredible, and the song has a haunting feel that makes me think of a choir of angels. The lyrics sing of the wondrous love of God, causing Him to lay aside His crown and bear the curse for our souls. It sings of filling eternity with the news of God’s sacrifice for us, joyfully singing through eternity of God’s wondrous love. Both the lyrics and voices are beautiful and otherworldly, prompting chills when I listen to it.
I am reminded why I adore this song so much as I listen to it again. The simple texture of “Wondrous Love” allows the harmony to shine, and the layering of voices produces a beautiful effect. I also paid more attention to the initial vocalization on syllables, a nod to the songs shape-note roots. This song intersects with folk, hymn, and shape-note or sacred harp singing, touching on several cultures. I was reminded of “Wondrous Love” when I listened to “Amity” by Daniel Read. “Amity” has four sets of voices of varying pitch, entering the song one after the other to create a kind of rolling melody. In addition, there is no musical accompaniment, placing the focus on the harmonies and fuging tune. I enjoy how both songs are performed with no instrumental background, emphasizing the lyrics and intricate layering of voices and pitch. The voices complement each other well, creating a joyous atmosphere.
I am fascinated by the culture surrounding jazz, particularly black brass bands and the cultural reach of jazz even into funeral processions. The march music that became so common in New Orleans is very distinctive, and I love the sound of multiple brass instruments played together. While funeral marches leading to the graveyard were slow and somber, the marches leading away from the graveyard were upbeat and full of life. After the burial, the first block or two away from the graveyard was led by the beat of a snare drum. Once a respectable distance from the graveyard, the brass band would break out into cheery, ragtime versions of hymns and spirituals. The band would be joined by crowds of dancing fans and bystanders. “Just a Little While to Stay Here” by Eureka Brass Band has a strong drum beat and fast tempo. This quick beat and high-pitched melody contributes to the ragged, upbeat feel of the song. The trumpets are very distinctive, and each of the brass instruments seem to complement each other throughout the song. I can feel the enthusiasm behind the music, and I love the culture surrounding funeral marches in New Orleans. I think this kind of music serves to celebrate the life of the deceased, bringing joy to the lives of the living.
Listening to this song again, the trumpets and drum backbeat stand out to me the most clearly. After completing the content of this course, I can hear the ragtime and march influences more distinctly, as various characteristics of those genres are included in this song. Performed by a black brass band, songs like “Just a Little While to Stay Here” were important precursors to jazz, similarly to ragtime music. These songs were also very important culturally, becoming an essential part of many aspects of society, including funeral processions. Strangely, this song made me think of “Para los Rumberos” by Tito Puente. Some similarities in the songs include the prominent role of percussion and use of the horns. The songs evoke similar emotions for me, possibly because they are both heavily influenced by “march” dance music.
“The Murder” by Bernard Herrmann is an iconic bone-chilling, goosebumps-inducing song. Composed for a string orchestra, there are no percussion, horn, or woodwind instruments in “The Murder”. Herrmann creating the “screaming strings” effect that makes this song so creepy by using glissando on violins. This “screaming” effect is accomplished by gliding fingers directly over the string of the instrument, moving from a low pitch to a higher one. Additionally, the instrument is played with short bow strokes and the instruments are layered over each other to create a dissonant effect. The song is composed of short melodic fragments that are repeated throughout the song. Having a more “modernist” aesthetic, this song will go down in history as one of the best horror movie soundtracks of all time.
When I originally listened to “The Murder,” most of my focus was placed on the glissando effect of the “screaming strings.” Listening to is again, I paid more attention to the short, repeated melodic fragments that are played over and over almost obsessively through the song. Combining the obsessive repetition with the glissando effect really drives home the emotion of the song, creating a creepy, modernist piece. Written for a string orchestra, this song falls into classical, modernist, and film streams of music. This song became one of the most iconic soundtracks of its generation and is a significant representation of culture at the time. I think this song slightly intersects with “Piano Phase” by Steve Reich. While these songs are performed in very different ways and evoke different emotions, both songs have a minimalistic approach and obsessive repetition of melody. Both songs were released in the 1960s, a time when musicians focused on pushing the limits of music and its expression.
The songs I chose to re-examine come from vastly different genres and focus on different themes, all with various influences and cultural significance. Yet, if there is one thing I have learned through this course, it is that music always seems to find a way to intersect within itself. Similarities in instrumental technique, harmony, melody, tempo, and other elements can be found across genres and musical styles. Music’s power lies in its universal nature, and I think these songs are good examples of how even music considered particularly unique and vastly different than others can find ways of weaving itself into the larger musical web.