SMTD Mixtapes: Faculty Curate Playlists for Social Distancing
In this time of social distancing, faculty at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance are finding new and creative ways to keep the performing arts alive and accessible to everyone. Their most recent project is a series of music playlists called SMTD Mixtapes. Faculty members from across the School will curate new playlists each week that showcase facets of the fields of music, theatre, and dance in 10-15 tracks on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Check back each week to listen and to learn more about the genesis of each playlist.
August 8: Erik Santos
Erik Santos is the Director of Electronic Music Studio and Associate Professor Of Composition And Performing Arts & Technology
The last official class of my studenthood was “Music and Ritual,” taught by University of Michigan Professor Emeritus Judith Becker. She began the term by examining the magical properties of music: music goes through walls, it attunes us to the invisible world, interfuses spirit and body, weaves dreams and consciousness, it opens our heart and lifts us, again and again, kills us and heals us, helps us remember who we are, and from whence we’ve come. It activates our most primal shout and our deepest listening, joins us in massive resonance and solitude – I’m sure that there are many more transcendental qualities we can all speak of, though explanatory words always fall short. Yet, the artists I’m presenting here, through their own magnificent metaphysical language, tell it. Their musical devotion and unique style have been foundational in my mind and heart, and history, I find this music endlessly fascinating, and it has never failed to keep me falling in love with life. The music tells me, compels me, to keep ongoing. I hope you might find something here that speaks to you!
I was asked to share a playlist of special music, to inspire the community of musicians to which I belong. Difficult to narrow the list! I found myself wanting to share music that expresses diversity, relationship, awakens enthusiasm, and pieces that take their time to work through and unfold, since we all need to stay still for a while – we’re all quarantined, asynchronous, and full of restless creativity and unanswered questions, but this need not stop an adventurous imagination; we must continue to tend our own vital creative fire. So, hopefully, this list gives you some inspirational fuel, of many kinds, and that each selection gives you a lot of time to steep deeply in the transcendental moment to which we all belong.
But under all that, I hope it just gets you groovin and movin with the universe, alone or with a partner, til nothing really matters except this exciting this!
May the force be with you,
Best wishes dear friends,
Til we meet again
August 1: Krisilyn Tony Frazier
Krisilyn Tony Frazier is a Lecturer of Dance (hip hop)
Here is my playlist! This project inspired me to create more of an activist, dance, and soulful playlist. It is my way of sharing my journey on the front lines of the BLM movement and revolution for the past 3 months.
July 20: Alvin Hill
Alvin Hill is a Lecturer of Performing Arts Technology
I have been a professional club dj most of my life – not the kind that scratches, but the kind that “beatmatches” and blends music together, takes you on a journey, and makes the entire evening sound like one uninterrupted song. Unfortunately, Spotify does not have the capacity to allow me to do that for you here, but I have spent my entire career as a dj stretching people’s ears and helping them enjoy hearing things that they may never have come to on their own. Part of that means shining light on artists who are out of the “mainstream.” In this playlist, I’m shining some light on a couple of veterans (on the bookends), but the others are some of the young black artists that I am excited to share with you. I hope you will trust me to take you on a journey.
July 11: George Shirley
George Shirley is the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice
The music I have selected for my playlist reflects my concerns for the present challenges we are facing in America in particular. Song has always afforded a penetrating view into the inner sanctum of the human soul. These utterances resound with vibrations that awaken the psyche in a manner unlike any other, embedding an imprint difficult, if not impossible, to erase.
You may find the playlist wanting in “feel good” music. I am not giving up on the possibility, however remote, that one day the human-animal will rid itself of what I term “species feces,” that “us” and “them” chasm we seem unable to bridge effectively for longer than the blink of an eye. Thus, I want to highlight the urgency that our present state of affairs demands for bridging that chasm, a rictus requiring not the trickle that for eternity has deepened its maw, but a flood to fill it once and for all before we find ourselves consumed in its unforgiving gullet.
July 4: Mark Clague
Mark Clague is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Musicology and Entrepreneurship & Leadership
2020 brings us a Fourth of July that celebrates the birth of the American experiment in democracy at a time of multiple intersecting crises—racism, economic disruption, a global pandemic, and political division. It’s a difficult time to think of what brings Americans together, but these bonds are also the commitments that can help us to address our challenges. Patriotism is often defined as “love of country,” but we can think about it as a devotion to the whole over the self, a vision of community that transcends family and friends to embrace a nation of people we will never know personally but who we care for. The music I’ve chosen here reflects my research interest in music and American life, focusing on the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” For me, the music of the United States is the sonic result of artists claiming their voice while confronting the challenges of democracy. Often these works are simple cries for recognition. Claims for respect and rights. Democracy is no less an art than music itself and the two amplify one another.
The tracks in my 2020 July 4 playlist are four versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” including renditions by Jose Feliciano from the 1968 World Series in Detroit, Igor Stravinsky’s strangely controversial but to my ears gorgeous harmonization, and Jimi Hendrix’s iconic realization at Woodstock — what for me remains the anthem’s single most powerful performance to date. The fourth is an anti-slavery lyric from 1844, first published in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the abolitionist newspaper The Signal of Liberty. It may well be the most powerful lyric ever sung to the tune as it questions the celebration of a “land of the free” in which four million are enslaved. Its question remains relevant. The dissonance between America’s ideals and our day-to-day practice of democracy remains a challenge for the nation today.
I’ve also featured works by black musicians and other musicians of color, starting with the “Black National Anthem” “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1900). The civil rights ballad “Strange Fruit,” famously introduced by Billie Holiday is here performed by Nina Simone. “Soul for Sale” by Wynton Marsalis from his cantata “Blood on the Fields” likewise addresses the legacy of racism. Holiday’s “Swing! Brother, Swing!” is one of my favorite jazz tracks and I wanted to feature two amazing works for piano by black artists—”The Battle of Manassas” by Thomas Bethune (an enslaved man) and George Walker’s Second Piano Sonata. Walker was the first African American artist to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. El Vez is a Chicano musical activist who adapts rock to offer a message of political empowerment, in this case, “I’m Brown and I’m Proud!” Finally, I wanted to share a little known work by one of the best known Black classical composers, William Grant Still. His “In Memoriam, ‘The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy'” is a powerful work that should be performed more often by orchestras.
The list also includes a bit of Sacred Harp, which is one of America’s earliest home-grown musical traditions in the form of “Alleluia” by William Walker. Meredith Monk’s vocal creativity sings through in “Falling” and I included Michael Daugherty’s powerful setting of The Gettysburg Address as a reminder of the challenges the nation has faced and is still struggling to solve.
June 27: E.J. Westlake
E.J. Westlake is a Professor of Theatre Studies.
These are songs of protest from here and around the world. I begin with songs from my childhood. My mother was active in the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s, and with the anti-imperialist movements of the 80s (how I became interested in studying Nicaragua). She introduced me to Holly Near, who sang about the Kent State students shot in 1970 by guardsmen deployed by our governor Rhodes. We lived in an African American community, and at school, we often sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which is a poem by James Wheldon Johnson. During my youth, I spent time in Nicaragua and was fortunate to hear Guardabarranco, a duo who sings here about the young people fighting the Contra. A few other favorites: “Bread and Roses,” originally a poem written in 1911 and appropriated by striking women millworkers in 1912, and “El derecho de Vivir en Paz,” a song of protest against Pinochet. Later, I was introduced to 酒干倘卖无, which was part of a Taiwanese film Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing? (1983). It includes the Taiwanese dialect in the refrain of the bottle recycler, which had been banned by the KMZ. I included the song from Les Mis because, interestingly, it is now often used in protests all over the world, including the recent protests in Hong Kong.
June 20: Marc Hannaford
Marc Hannaford is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory.
I really love the idea of using a playlist to introduce myself to everyone at the University of Michigan and School for Music, Theatre, and Dance! There is an extraordinary amount of great music in the world, so my playlist is more a survey of artists and recordings within the musical realms that I occupy the most and less an overview of all of the music that I listen to. I also feel lucky to call some of the artists on this playlist friends! These tracks inspire me to learn, research, think, and create; I hope that they also pique your interest.
June 12: José Casas
José Casas is an Assistant Professor of Theatre & Drama in Playwriting.
For me, my love of musical theatre started late in life. I had been a playwright for a while and enjoyed a few musicals, but never felt an urgency to explore the genre. Then…I saw a production of Rent at the Wiltern Theatre in Hollywood, 2nd-row center. I was so overwhelmed, not only by the spectacle but by the story. What the characters were singing about and their stories resonated with me so much because I was living the exact life they were. It was definitely an “AHA” moment in my creative life. Ever since that evening, I began a true relationship for my love of musical theatre, so much so, that one of my desires is to create musicals, both for adult and youth audiences. This collection of songs epitomizes, to me, the best that musical theatre has to offer. The songs cover a wide range of emotions and truths. These songs make me think, make me, make me believe in love, make me cry at injustices, and allow me to imagine the world in a way that makes sense and fosters empathy.
May 29: Christian Matijas-Mecca
Christian Matijas-Mecca is an Associate Professor of Dance and Music and Chair of the Department of Dance.
Over the past five years I was fortunate to author two books, The Words and Music of Brian Wilson (2017) and Listen to Psychedelic Rock: The Music from the Beatles to Frank Zappa (2020). While my love for this repertory may be equal to my love for Schubert lieder, Pelleas et Melisande, or well…just about any music from the era of La Belle Époque, writing about it presented a couple of challenges that are unique to this repertory. A visit to any record show will demonstrate that ‘fanboys’ (an almost exclusive fraternity of Y-chromosome music fans) have, until recently, limited the scope where this music can be analyzed and framed equitably within our culture. I did not want to analyze these works using methods that never would have been considered by the people who created this music or would make little sense to the enthusiastic and casual listener. I instead set out to find the ‘feel’ behind each of the songs discussed and in order to do this I returned to a practice where I listened to each of these works dozens upon dozens of times. I listened in the foreground, the background, and at times, overnight, and chose to hitch my “listening wagon” to Pauline Oliveros’s practice of “Deep Listening.” By combining “sonic awareness” with “attention and awareness” I attempted to convey a sense both of the inside and outside of these songs.
For this playlist I have included fourteen ‘feels’ with seven songs composed by Brian Wilson and recorded by The Beach Boys, with seven works that capture some of psychedelia’s multiple faces with songs from Small Faces, Vanilla Fudge, Donovan, The Zombies, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, and Pink Floyd.
May 22: David Zerkel
David Zerkel will join SMTD in Fall 2020 as Professor of Music (Tuba and Euphonium).
I was very excited to be asked to make a contribution to the SMTD MixTapes campaign, as it is my first ‘official’ act as a new faculty member. I took a quick look at what some of my new colleagues (who I’ve yet to meet) have included on their lists and am impressed by how current they are in terms of their music consumption.
There will likely be a few things you’ll take away from my list:
- It’s a little bit like a mullet – business in the front and party in the back.
- The list represents formative influences rather than current interests. It represents what spins around most of the time in the big empty space inside my noggin. And,…
- …for a brass player, this is not a very muscular collection of music, especially on the classical side.
- It’s in two halves. After the Franck, feel free to grab a snack, use the potty, or let the dog out.
Glenn Gould will always be one of my favorite musicians, both for his unique voice and his musical clarity. While I’d love to put the entire 1981 Goldberg Variations on the MixTape, I’ve selected the da capo Aria for its sense of reminiscence of the magic that has occurred in the previous 45 minutes.
I am a sucker for great choral music, and the Lauridsen hits me right in the feels every single time. In spite of my ‘interesting’ singing voice, choral singing was a really important part of my musical upbringing.
In my mind, the Brahms Horn Trio is one of the greatest pieces of chamber music ever written. I fell in love with this LP featuring Ashkenazy, Perlman, and Tuckwell in the Peabody Record Library (how quaint!) when I was an undergrad. I live for the unison suspensions that take place in the horn and violin parts. The Franck Violin Sonata that you’ll hear later is from the same album.
The Shostakovich is on the list because I love his language, especially the symphonies. Alas, no symphonies are included for the sake of brevity. This music makes me smile, and places my mind squarely in the early part of the twentieth century, when I was just a figment of my parents’ imaginations, because, well, they were only six years old at the time.
The excerpt from the Red Violin soundtrack is a passage that nearly every one of my students has heard in a lesson over the past twenty years. It extols the virtue of slow practice, with the cautionary tale that taking things too fast just might kill you.
I had the pleasure of performing the Rouse Flute Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra, safely from the back row, with a tuba in my lap. The Elegia movement is exquisitely powerful, either with or without the programmatic references. Lovely and impactful.
Flip the record over to Side B– the party starts soon!
The musical group Hem is my jam. It is what the soundtrack of my life would probably sound like. They kind of defy description, but if they did have one it might be pop/chamber/Americana/folk/poetry. Their first CD, Rabbit Songs, is among my most prized musical possessions. The first tune, “Half Acre,” reminds me of great Michigan memories: Interlochen, the Falcone Competition at Blue Lake, and my time in the Brass Band of Battle Creek. I look forward to holding my very own half-acre, torn from the map of Michigan. The second tune, “Pacific Street,” is perhaps my favorite song in the history of songs.
I love the Zeppelin for its visceral energy and sense of rhythmic play. When I’m in the mood to rock out, this is what I want to hear.
“Give it One” pays homage to my high school days. For a young brass player growing up in the seventies without access to (or knowledge of) the great achievements in classical brass playing, Maynard was The Man.
“Tell me Something Good” is on this list simply because it grooves hard and makes me happy.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” will forever remind me of springtime and the sense of exhilaration one gets from being outside after being cooped up for the winter.
Even if I hadn’t spent the last twenty years driving down the Atlanta Highway, Love Shack would still make it on the list for being a tune that makes me want to dance. If you knew more about my dancing, you might be able to appreciate what a feat that is.
Finally, “Wild Wild Party” is the coarsest, most unvarnished thing on this list, but I love it for its genuine tone and its lack of intellectual or artistic veneer. That, and for the silly dance it makes my wife Kristin do.
May 16: Christianne Myers
Christianne Myers is an Associate Professor of Theatre (Costume Design) and Head of Design & Production.
May 6: Danielle Belen
Danielle Belen is an Associate Professor of Violin.
These are some of my favorite ‘desert island’ pieces if I had to select just a handful. It might seem a bit all over the place in terms of style, but that’s part of my nature, I suppose.
I chose Beethoven and Bach for their purity and other-worldness, but we can’t leave off Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody — because sometimes we just need to belt it out! Also, Wayne’s World, for those of you who remember….
Judy Garland has been my favorite since forever, and I try to perform with even an ounce of the heart that she sings with. (Also, fun fact — my daughter Frances Bee was partially named after Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy Garland’s real name) In another life, I’d train to be a jazz singer….
Meanwhile, Bartók has always spoken to me with its sophisticated twist on folk tunes and its off-kilter spin, while evoking the most intense emotions. The Concerto for Orchestra was one of the first large symphonic works I played back in the 90’s at my first serious summer camp. It left a deep impression on my taste forever after. In fact, I could probably make an entire playlist of works by Bartók.
The first movement from Ysaӱe’s Fifth Solo Sonata titled “The Sunrise” gives so much hope — we need that right now. I put it right after the Bach because those solo sonatas served as inspiration for Ysaӱe.
Golijov’s last round is a tango gone completely mad — I have great memories of performing this wild work alongside students at my summer festival Center Stage Strings.
This cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” is beautiful and satisfies my desire to sometimes indulge in nostalgia and a bit of sadness.
Brahms sextet — I first heard this in Fairbanks, Alaska when I was about 17 and it took another five years before I’d get to play it. The opening of the first movement is reason number #379 why Brahms is the bomb.
April 23: Shakespeare Day Playlist
In honor of William Shakespeare’s 456th birthday, Theatre & Drama faculty curated a playlist that features references and tributes to the Bard.
April 17: Michael Gurevich
Michael Gurevich is an associate professor and chair of performing arts technology.
“Protest music” has been on my mind lately because it is the theme I gave to my Electronic Chamber Music class this semester. Until the COVID-19 crisis hit, students were working in interdisciplinary chamber arts groups to create technologically-mediated performances of original pieces of protest music. (Those collaborations have since become virtual, and the outcomes will be fixed-media audiovisual pieces.)
Music and protest have probably been inextricably linked forever, so it would be futile to try to create an exhaustive or even a representative survey. In listening to the examples our class collectively generated, we were struck not only by how protest music transcends all styles, eras, and genres, but also by the range of rhetorical approaches musicians choose to adopt — confrontation, satire, personal testimony, rallying cries, reclamation, quotation, and many more. The pieces I’ve selected try to embody this diversity across multiple dimensions. I don’t see “protest” as a qualifier here — regardless of the messages, I think all are completely compelling to listen to in their own right. They are a mixture of ones that have been dear to me for some time as well as some more recent discoveries.
April 15: Andrew Bishop
Andrew Bishop is an associate professor and chair of jazz and contemporary improvisation.
On the morning of April 7, 2020 I was informed by my sister Diane of the peaceful passing of my mother Donna June Bishop, she was 89. While it may seem like an unusual time to be writing reflections on a listening list, my mother was a colossal music fan and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her life than through an aesthetic experience. She took me to so many concerts as a child and I am eternally grateful for her love and support. A fun memory I like to share about her connected to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance is how completely moved she was by the performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a U-M SMTD commencement. I remember her saying, “wow, that was the single greatest version I have ever heard and will cherish it forever.” Music and the arts a gift we get to share with the world and this one example of a simple way in which we bring joy.
I would like to dedicate this listening list to her memory and believe she would have enjoyed sharing this musical experience. Also, a note of solidarity to all of those graduates who will not get to experience commencement this year.
Listening list notes:
“After the Rain” by John Coltrane is one of my favorite pieces of music. Composed and performed by one of the giants of music, the piece traverses the darkness and light in a haunting rubato landscape.
“Wie Melodien zeight es mir” Op. 105/1 by Johannes Brahms with text by Klaus Groth is best appreciated in German but a translation by Richard Stokes can be found at this link https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/203. The song is ostensibly about the fragile nature of art and idea. This version of sung by Edith Wiens is among my favorite. \
I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing recording and band led by U-M SMTD Hall of Fame Alumnus Gerald Cleaver! Gerald Cleaver & The Violet Hour Live at Firehouse 12 (Sunnyside Records) was released earlier this year and this piece “Detroit” celebrates Cleaver’s hometown.
This version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is musical equivalent of what it might be like to hear William Blake read “Songs of Innocence and Experience” in his golden years. Her voice is so honest and fragile, and the orchestral arrangement by Vince Mendoza so beautifully frames her song and voice.
Geri Allen was not only jazz master of our age but also a former faculty member of the U-M SMTD. Her musical integrity was so inspiring, and this tune “Holdin’ Court” — a vernacular phrase about teaching jazz in a community setting — reflects the amazing tradition of teachers she blossomed out of in Detroit, such as Barry Harris and Marcus Belgrave. Marcus’ son Kasan is a graduate of our department.
“Viderunt Omnes” by Perotin is the oldest piece on the list and dates from around 1160. It is a deeply meditative piece with rich musical textures. So sophisticated, it sounds like it could have composed last month. During an afternoon off while performing in Paris with the afore mentioned Gerald Cleaver’s Violet Hour I went and sat at the Cathedral de Notre Dame where, by chance, this piece was being performed. I was truly unprepared for how spiritually overwhelming the experience was and I found a deep and lasting connection.
Tom Waits is one of my favorite contemporary song writers. This version of Waits’ “Train Song” sung by the Holmes Brothers works perfectly as gospel trio arrangement.
Duke Ellington is the one of the heroes of music. Although this work “Isfahan” was composed by his alter-ego Billy Strayhorn and features Johnny Hodges on Alto Saxophone. It became a pivotal piece of Ellington’s masterwork “The Far East Suite.” (I will never forget performing this with Geri Allen many years ago.)
I bought “Beethoven: Complete Sonatas and Concertos” by Alfred Brendel on vinyl used for $10 in 1987 — a bargain when you consider the price-per-play. The Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 “Waldstein” is my favorite. The piece architecturally brilliant and full of dramatic twists.
Jazz singer Betty Carter’s almost Sprechstimme (sing/speech) creates so much tension with her ability to stretch the beat, lyric, and phrase. This medley features three of the great songs from the American Popular Song Book: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, “All Things You Are” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, and “I Could Write a Book” also by Rodgers and Hart. My mother loved these songs and would always barge into my room when I was practicing a standard to sing along. Funny how an annoying moment my youth could become such a fond memory in adulthood.
I heard the wonderful pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin perform the Piano Etudes by Györgi Ligeti live a number of years ago and I’m still picking my jaw off the floor by the performance and piece. I also love this version of the Piano Etudes [Book One]: II. Corders à vide by Jeremy Denk.
The group Shakti is one I have always loved from the 1970s that mixed the musical traditions of Indian Classical music, jazz, and rock. This recording of “Joy” is one of the most amazing interactive moments in recorded history.
Michael Formanek is a good friend and one of the greatest living bassists and composers. I was looking forward to playing with his Ensemble Kolossus at the Jazz Gallery in New York City next week—which is of course cancelled. This recording featuring Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Craig Taborn (piano), Formanek (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) is a super group of the last 10 years. Pong is of course a tribute to great early video game of the same name. Michael’s son Peter is a graduate of the U-M SMTD, as is Cleaver. Taborn is a U-M LS&A alum. Go Blue!
Walter Mays is one of my most important mentors, a favorite composer, and one of the most brilliant musicians and thinkers I have ever met. His String Quartet No. 2, “Dreaming Butterfly” was composed for the wonderful Pro Arte String Quartet. Stunning textures and string writing.
We conclude with my humble composition “Hymn For Hank Williams (Farewell)”, the coda from my recording Hank Williams Project. This recording served as a love letter to my home state of Kansas. I dedicate this to my wonderful father-in-law Barry Stanley, a huge Hank Williams fans. I always imagined this track headed off into the sunset like an old western soundtrack.
Enjoy! Be Safe! Go Blue!
April 13: Tiffany Ng
Tiffany Ng is an Assistant Professor of Music.
There aren’t too many carillon tracks on Spotify, so I thought I’d share a “campanological” playlist of my favorite bell music, very broadly conceived. These eclectic selections range from LL Cool J to Augusta Read Thomas to my recording of a carillon piece with live electronic processing by SMTD’s own PAT graduate Matias Vilaplana.
April 10: Walter Everett
Walter Everett is a Professor of Music Theory.
No real theme here; I just took the 15 most recently played items in my iTunes and reordered them to create what seems like a satisfying hour.
- Cécile McLorin Salvant, “Fog” from For One to Love: This song features the artist’s expertly wide-ranging expressive vocal colorings. The band is excellent, including Aaron Diehl on piano and the late Lawrence Leathers on drums.
- Radiohead, “Knives Out” from Amnesiac: One of many Radiohead songs featuring original strings of harmonic colors.
- Lotus Hotel, “Icarus”: This was composed by my son Tim, recent Performing Arts Technology graduate, who sings and plays all parts except for trumpet and sax.
- The Beatles, “And Your Bird Can Sing”: A song about ignoring surface pleasures to appreciate a deeper meaning, it also suggests a Messiah complex on John Lennon’s part. The guitar duet gets me, though.
- Paul Simon, “I Do It for Your Live” from Still Crazy After All These Years: I love the contrast of warm and cold images that comes from the harmony, tone colors, and the phonemes of the lyrics.
- James Brown, “I Got the Feelin'”: The shifting ensemble arrangement, from united stabs and phrases through hockets to a stop-time vocal make for total funk.
- Lorraine Feather, “The Girl with the Lazy Eye”: This song is to be featured in a talk I’m scheduled to give in Moscow this fall, if the coronavirus permits. It’s about a young woman on the cusp of adolescence.
- Steely Dan, “Aja”: This is a mostly Western ode to Chinese music. When I heard this album, it made me want to learn more about music, so I applied for grad school. I ended up publishing an essay on Steely Dan which may have contributed to my getting tenure; thanks, Aja!
- Cream, “Sitting on Top of the World” from Wheels of Fire: Eric Clapton’s improvised guitar solo at 2:24 to 4:02 heats up in an inventive display in pitch, rhythm, and register.
- Fountains of Wayne, “A Dip in the Ocean”: Any summer I can’t get to a beach (youth hangout), I play this tune. I played it early this year, in honor of composer and performer Adam Schlesinger, who died young from complications of COVID-19.
- The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The subtle blends of vocal and instrumental timbres work with the song’s formal, metric and harmonic shifts to portray a search through the imagination.
- Amy Winehouse, “Wake Up Alone” from Back to BlackL The song’s tentative shifts of harmony, vocal phrasing, and articulation show the singer-composer’s vulnerability.
- The Supremes, “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone”: A mix of funky bass, pop vocals, and composers Holland-Dozier-Holland’s genius for expressive harmonic twists. Diana Ross gets extra points for her Baroque mordent on the cadential six-four ending the first verse.
- The Mothers of Invention, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” from Absolutely Free: Frank Zappa’s comic portrayal of a corrupt small-bit politician is a stylistic montage running from a Looney Tunes theme to a spooky twelve-tone fantasia.
- Paul McCartney, “Hope of Deliverance”: Looking for hope in the darkness.
April 8: Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is an Assistant Professor of Music.
I was delighted SMTD asked me to curate a list of video game music— an honor! I picked some of my favorites, tempered by what I could find on SoundCloud, mindful of diversity, and with a slight bias for more modern tracks.
First up, a classic from Castlevania, Kinoyu Yamashita’s “Vampire Killer,” that I love not just musically but also because it’s an 8-bit female composed piece from 1986 that has been rearranged for use even outside games, including the recent Netflix series.
ActRaiser was a favorite game from my childhood with exceptional music that I chose to represent the 16-bit era where the sound of game audio is simply iconic. Yuzo Koshiro’s track, “Fillmore,” accompanies the opening side-scrolling action sequence in the first town.
Matt Uelmen’s “Tristam” theme is the town music to Diablo: lengthy for a game audio track, uneasy, and with an unforgettable guitar echo intro. This track points to home computer gaming and the ability to have live recorded audio that compact discs allowed.
I had to include a piece by my all time favorite game audio composer, Nobuo Uematsu, sometimes called “the Beethoven of video game music.” With the recent remake of Final Fantasy VII, I chose the paradigmatic final boss music, “One Winged Angel,” for this list.
Game audio rockstar Marty O’Donnell and I have become friends over the years; I just made a world premiere recording of a solo piano piece he composed at U-M’s Duderstadt Center that will release soon (delayed by COVID). From his oeuvre, here is the “Main Theme” to Halo with its unforgettable Gregorian chant opening.
People often muse about using video game music to focus in work or study. I love weightlifting and when I’m going for a heavy deadlift, I pump myself up with the “Waterblight Ganon” theme from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before the pull.
It’s a bit unusual for game audio to have lyrics because the repetition of words can wear on the ear; however, “Jump Up, Super Star!,” is the theme song to Super Mario Odyssey and plays during “A Traditional Festival!,” the only repeatable mission in the game.
A mantra of mobile games is that they must be playable with the sound turned off, but there’s some incredible music being made for them these days. A more relaxing track than most on the list is the “Home” track from the match-3 puzzle game, Homescapes.
“Big Blue” from Mario Kart 8 was another tip of the hat to my treasured 16-bit era and an SNES launch title, F-Zero. Here it’s updated for live players with amazing saxophone improvisation by Kazuki Katsuta.
Kris Maddigan was recently a guest speaker in my popular Video Game Music class and discussed the Cuphead soundtrack, which he spent 4 years researching in order to create authentically. One of his personal favorites from the game is “Inkwell Isle One.”
Will Roget’s gorgeous soundtrack to Mortal Kombat 11 makes elaborate use of leitmotifs, some introduced in this “Main Theme.” Fun fact!— the face model for Scorpion in the thumbnail here is U-M alumnus, Nico Millado.
Christopher Tin’s “Baba Yetu,” the first piece of video game music to win a Grammy, is the “Lord’s Prayer” in Swahili; another fun fact!— the Civilization series was created by U-M alum, Sid Meier.
I ended the playlist with Yoko Shimomura’s “Dearly Beloved”, a theme/variations for solo piano as it appears in KH 2 that I often perform in concerts. This is the version from the latest game, Kingdom Hearts III, which is arranged for full orchestra and sounds much like a piano concerto.
April 4: Matt Albert
Matt Albert is an Assistant Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Chamber Music.
I’m really attracted to the mixtape (thanks partially to too many rewatches of High Fidelity in the early 2000’s). This playlist, creatively titled 1 April 2020, follows that model — pieces and songs that transition across genres in sometimes jarring, sometimes surprisingly connected ways.
I’m also inspired by individual moments of brilliance: Daniel Ching (first violinist of the Miró Quartet) shredding beginning at about 8:18 in the Beethoven; Michael Maccaferri (clarinetist for Eighth Blackbird) breaking my heart with his bass clarinet line from 8:38 in the Andres (supporting Yvonne Lam’s amazing violin playing throughout); and the synth perc going apesh*t (that’s the technical term) around 3:05 in the Exile. And you might hear a couple of your SMTD colleagues in one of these tunes, too!
I’ve enjoyed listening to these selections while walking around Ann Arbor, watching the trees just beginning to bloom, and I hope you all do as well. Stay safe, and take care of yourselves.
March 30: Ellen Rowe
Ellen Rowe is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation and the Chair of Conducting.
I went with a theme that revolves around my album, Momentum – Portraits of Women in Motion, in honor of the gig that isn’t happening tonight at Dizzy’s Club (but hopefully will in the future).
I wanted to feature women, and especially women from my band or women somehow related to the project, so there are four cuts from the album outright. Other cuts from members of my band include, Allison Miller’s “Congratulations and Condolences” from the album Glitter Wolf, Ingrid Jensen’s “At Sea” from her album At Sea, and Tia Fuller’s “In the Trenches” from her album Diamond Cut.
I celebrate Joni Mitchell on the album so I included her “Big Yellow Taxi,” which I love for the environmental message as much as the tune itself. I also chose “Part V-Anthem,” a dedication to Wayne Shorter. I included Marion Hayden’s “The Uncrowned King” as she is the amazing bassist in my band, and my U-M colleague Shirley Horn’s version of “Here’s to Life” is one of the most moving pieces of music I know and seemed like a good inclusion for these trying times.