Friday, November 15, 2013

Michael Hodge: My Musical Progression

         What does it mean to be a musician? Most people would classify a musician as someone who devotes their time to music and earns a living as such. Individuals who enjoy music making are reluctant to label themselves as “musicians” because of this stereotype. However, there are a select few, who would proudly say, “I’m a musician” even if it’s not their sole devotion. I’m lucky enough to know such an individual. His name is Michael Hodge, and he was born and raised in Dallas, TX.
          For Michael, music has always been an integral part of his life so it only seems natural that he would have an affinity towards it. His musical influence began with his parents. He even recalled as a child how music was one of the mediums his mother would use to rouse him and his siblings from bed saying, “Every Saturday my Mom would wake us kids up by pulling open the blinds and turning on music at 8:00am. It is something I have memories of every weekend.” From sunrise to sundown, Michael was surrounded by the sounds of music growing up. His philosophy on music is best described according to himself—“music has always been a part of my life like sports…without music, I don’t know where I would be.”
            This philosophy became vital in 2001 when Michael, unfortunately, lost his mother to a battle with cancer. Making music became the only way for Michael to remain levelheaded. He is generally an individual who withholds his feelings, but music provided him the opportunity to vent his feelings. “Music was a way for…my thoughts to be vented to myself,” Michael said. He used music to not only voice his emotions about the passing of his mother but also to express his joys and happiness.
            Michael doesn’t just take his feelings and/or emotions and write them down on paper. He formulates his own beats and mixes in addition to the lyrics he comprises—“When I make a beat or lyric, I just write it. I turn my thoughts into words and sounds.” For him, music making is very much a “feeling” that he must have. Having had the privilege of listening to a number of Michael’s recordings, I can attest to the fact that his songs depict his emotions at the time of their creation. Michael is proud of the versatility he feels he can offer as a musician. Laughing and smiling, he said, “I think that’s why a lot of people have liked my music. I can give you sad, happy, depression, excitement, gangster stuff, etc.”
            Since 2005, Michael has been recording and letting people listen to his music. In the last eight years, his music has evolved substantially. In part, by the artists he drew his influences from as well as his life experiences. These artists included Prince, Tupac, Z-Ro, and Drake. And when he was asked what he draws on from these artists, he said, “From Prince, I took his swagger, Tupac his poetry—how he put all his feelings on paper, Z-Ro from Houston—everything he raps about is something I went through on a daily basis, and Drake’s ability to be flexible.” He also notes that in order for a musician to be successful, they need to be open to change. According to Michael, “It has to evolve…you have to switch it up.”
Additionally, Michael has a goal for his songs: to resonate with the individuals who listen to it. He describes his music as a combination between participatory and high fidelity. “I want you to participate in what I’m saying. I want you to be in a trance whenever you hear it.” For Michael, his music is much more than beats and sounds. He tries to reach his audience and have them listen to what the lyrics are by singing about his experiences that are relevant to their own experiences. “I have stuff that a lot of people can relate to—women and men,” Michael said.
            Despite his lifelong association with music, Michael never wanted to take music as a profession seriously. Like many other artists, he did try to make it major. He’s produced and recorded some of his own songs (see video below), but for him, the music industry was a cult. There were too many grey areas and “a lot of shady stuff,” according to Michael that deterred him from further pursuing his talents. Had he wanted to go professional, an earlier start (age 12) would have been more suitable. Even though Michael may still have some wishes now and then to make it big, he has his future to think about. He was recently engaged and will be getting married and starting a family soon. For Michael, that’s huge! “I will never put anything over my family,” Michael said.
               Music will continue to surround his life, but he will never take it seriously. For him, music has always been an outlet—a way for him to formulate his thoughts and feelings into words and a beat. Michael’s music represents who he is as a person. He never tried or wanted to be something he was not. “I wanted to show the realness in me,” Michael said. And if you listen to his music, you will understand the “realness” that is Michael Hodge of Dallas, TX.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tibetan Exiles in Dharamsala

Of all the readings, we've read thus far in class. I have been most intrigued by the ones regarding the Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala, India. The Tibetans seem to have a rather different viewpoint on their culture and how it can evolve amid other cultures in the modern world. From our previous class readings, we've learned about music-making being either presentational, participatory, high fidelity or studio audio art. Additionally, we've learned about how different symbolisms, icons, and indices are found in music in order to relate and speak to the listeners experiences and background. All these relations to music have been utilized in various ways. Some of them in religious or celebratory festivals, political movements and/or everyday life.

The Tibetans from my personal point of view don't really seem to fit the molds of what we've discussed in regards to music. It seems as though they solely are fixated on the fact that they have been exiled and their country placed under Chinese control. The traditional dances and music making discussed in the book provided no insight into whether it was primarily presentational or participatory. From what I could gather, I would assume it is primarily presentational. The author only talked about traditional dances or music being performed primarily by the TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts). There were some instances of participatory dance and music-making in the beginning chapters of the book with the revival of the chang ma at weddings and other festivals. Aside from this one discussion, I didn't feel that music making was highly involved in their lives.

They sought desperately to gain as much attention as possible to their cause to regain Tibet. They were able to do that through music to some extent, but most of the attention they received was a result of famous individuals outside of Tibet such as the Beastie Boys and Richard Gere learning of Tibetan culture and doing their own promotions of the cause. From the readings, if one was to talk to Tibetans in Dharamsala, you would hear mixed reviews on their own culture and the cultures surrounding them in Dharamsala. The disparity exists primarily between the youth and older generations of Tibetans in exile as well as newly exiled individuals from Tibet.

The youth feel stifled by older generations because according to them, allowing Western music or Hindi songs to accompany traditional Tibetan music is blasphemous. I feel, the youth see Western styles and Hindi music as a better means of relating and expressing their feelings of disparity than traditional music. It is hard for me to understand how literally the Tibetans have exiled themselves in Dharamsala. Despite even the Dalai Lama being receptive of broadening artistic expression, Tibetans cause an uproar whenever changes are proposed, and they quickly shoot the ideas down. It's almost as if they want to remain "isolated in the mountains" forever. As a result, Tibetans over the years have spread out from Dharamsala to other parts of India and other countries where they can more openly express their interest in other music types.

It's saddening to see those that have tried to incorporate rock 'n' roll and other music types into the Tibetan culture be met with such resistance. Audiences boo and ridicule those that try to make a name for themselves through music. According to most people, exuberant amounts of money should not be gained from the Tibetan cause. The Yak Band is a perfect example of the hardships that accompany being a non-Traditional musician in Tibet. The Yak Band traveled some for shows and even released a recording but sadly never made it big. The one glimmer of hope that I found in this book was the Yak Band performance that took place for the Dalai Lama's sixtieth birthday celebration. The audience was receptive to the rock 'n' roll song "Knocking on Heaven's Door" unlike other times when Western music is played in their presence. It makes me hopeful that one day Tibetans in exile will allow their music to be modernized. I would hope that the Tibetans would learn from history and the changes that can result from using music in a proactive manner. I'm fearful that if Tibetans don't become more open-minded, their fear of losing their cultural identity will actually come true.

Music & Political Movements

I really enjoyed the chapter in Thomas Turnio's Music as Social Life regarding music and political movements. We've talked so much about the various types of music-making as well as the different symbolism, indices, and icons that come forth in music as well. I felt this chapter in particular summarized everything that we had been reading about. I've always had an idea that music was a channel for change, but once you start delving into the history books, you really begin to gain a sense of the extent in which music has been used to cause change.

Looking further back than the Nazi regime (WWII) and the Civil Rights movement that we read about in the book, one can find many other examples of music being utilized as a conduit for change. In order to gain a thorough scope of the number of civilizations and cultures that have used music for change, I will briefly discuss the instances in which music was utilized for change and discuss how such events occur.

The Greeks were among the first known civilizations to realize the true potential of music. They realized it could be used to unite a people to rebel against their government. Plato was even quoted as saying, "Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited. When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them." Plato had a lot of foresight in this quote, unknowingly or not. I wonder what he would think today knowing the number of instances that music and politics have wandered hand-in-hand.  

After the time of the Greeks, music still played a prevalent role in the lives of various people looking for change. Prior to Turino's mention of the Civil Rights movement and music, American slaves in the South, centuries ago, used music to pass time in the fields and to voice their opinions of servitude and freedom. The songs that were sung in the fields resonated were known by slaves located states away. Despite this separation, there was a calming, uniting effect knowing so many others felt exactly as you did. These same songs from the slave days carried over to the Civil Rights movement, and just as Plato mentioned, they ushered in a drastic change in this nation. 

Additionally, in the 1970s, rock 'n' roll was used to protest the Vietnam War. Those that were opposed to it voiced their opinions through song lyrics. Hundreds of protests occurred across the nation during the Vietnam War, and music was a focal point of these gatherings. It was an efficient way of uniting individuals to the same cause. More recently, in the 1980s, rap artists used music as a social movement to raise awareness about the poverty and violence plaguing low socioeconomic neighborhoods in major cities. 

An interesting aspect about music is that it is much more than instruments creating a beat and random words making lyrics. The music speaks to not only the individuals directly involved in the cause but those who may have compassion towards the particular efforts. The music evokes a sense of duty to the individuals who listen to it. Music alone is not what causes change; it just initiates it. The actions that result from the music is what drives the meaning home. Even though music and political movements have been studied, the relationship between music and people is still unclear. It could be a biological process for survival that makes music such a relevant force for change, or it could merely be a social part of our culture used to bind individuals together. Music for many years has been regarded as "the universal language." No matter one's language or ethnicity, music will speak to you. And I think that this is the reason music has been so successful in bringing about change in the world. Individuals, who have the ability to harness music for various causes, can be quite powerful. From readings and history, music has played a vital role in supporting or opposing the following movements: Jewish genocide, slavery, Vietnam War, violence, drugs and freedom. I don't foresee the elimination of music in political and social movements of the future. If anything, they may become more widespread since many more individuals have access to technology, which helps propagate its power and reach.    

Saturday, November 9, 2013


After an entire summer of attending Salsa nights at a local Manhattan club, I finally began to recognize both the music and dance moves associated with bachata. Needless to say, bachata become one of my favorite dance styles. The basic steps are not complicated, and once you master them, you have the ability to add your own flair.

Bachata is a style of dance and music that originated in the Dominican Republic. The dance is generally performed in a simple side-stepping motion now rather than a small square when it was first created in the 1960s. The dance consists of 3 steps and a tap step that is normally accompanied by a "pop" of the hips and can be danced in an open or closed position.

Just like many other dance forms, bachata has evolved over time. The style that is performed in the Dominican Republic is often referred to as "Dominican bachata." Bachata has gone through various fusions with other dances such as tango, salsa, and ballroom. The music that accompanies the dance has not really changed over the years. It still has the obvious "accent" (the bass)in the rhythm that falls on the fourth count. The only changes that may have occurred in the music is the tempo. Bachata started out as a slower, social dance but has since evolved into a quicker, flamboyant dance.

I really enjoy dancing bachata. It reminds me of contra dancing in some aspects because it is simple enough that beginners can quickly pick up the basic step yet allows those that have more experience to add their own flair. Bachata, can even be danced solo, although it is much more fun to perform with a partner. I, like many others that enjoy bachata, can't escape the urge to dance once I hear the musical "accent" of bachata come across the radio.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Russian Ballet Controversy

Fired Bolshoi dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze gets controversial new job

Nikolai Tsiskaridze was fired from the Bolshoi ballet company in Russia. He was said to be associated with an acid attack on a fellow dancer, Sergei Filin. Although he had announced his retirement amidst his firing, he has not disappeared from the Russian ballet scene. He has recently been appointed to the prestigious position of rector of the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg. The Vaganova Academy originated from the ballet school funded by Empress Anna Ivanova in 1738. Thousands of children audition every year for entrance into the program and many of the graduates feed into the Mariinsky Ballet company. The training received at this academy is seen as the gold standard around the world.

Tsiskaridze's appointment to the position has been controversial because he doesn't have the extensive coaching experience nor the "legal education" that the academy ministry desired or his predecessors possessed. Vaganova likely appointed Tsiskaridze as rector because of the growing tension between the academy and Valery Gergiev. Gergiev, the general director of Mariinsky company, has been trying to place Vaganova Academy under the umbrella of the Mariinsky company.

The ballet companies in Russia have been rather troubled. Gergiev, some say, rule Mariinsky with an iron fist. The dancers work long hours, perform repetitious shows, and have extensive touring schedules to support the projects that Gergiev is most interested in. Not even those at the top-rated Vaganova Academy are free from scrutiny. A former lustrous Russian ballerina was removed from her positions with Vaganova as their artistic director. The Bolshoi are likely glad to no longer have Tsiskaridze in their portfolio, but it is still difficult to tell what impact he will have on Vaganova.

For me, music and dance have always been a fun past time. I would never imagine either being a channel for politics and scandal. I think one of the most important things the author mentions in the article is "Whoever prove to be the winners in this story, chances are it won't be Russian ballet. Once again the art form finds itself at the mercy of people's agendas, batted around by forces that have little to do with its own health and future." This is one of the issues that I have with presentational performances. When music and dance begin to formulate as presentational performances, I feel the originality and natural progressiveness of the art form is stifled. In Turino's readings, he mentioned that presentational performances allowed for artists to have ingenuity and showcase their individual talents. I think that sometimes the opposite can happen; performers will get "stuck in a rut." If they're having success in a certain performance type, they won't go outside the box because it could go horribly wrong for them. I think performances (especially presentational) need to be more about the music/dance and its progression rather than the individuals that perform it. 

Ponderosa Stomp--Music Revival

The Ponderosa Stomp celebrates 'unsung heroes' of American music this weekend

The Ponderosa Stomp hosted it's 11th annual festival (with the exception of 2012) the first weekend of October in New Orleans. The festival was started to pay tribute to the 'unsung heroes' of American music. All types of music styles are represented at the festival including rock 'n' roll, swamp pop, soul and garage rock. The festival tries to showcase the 'best music you've never heard of.' Many of the artists are from the 1960s-era as well as numerous other 'originators, innovators, and/or trouble-makers.'

The festivities surrounding Ponderosa Stomp last for a few days. Activities start on Thursday, but the main action is the concerts on Friday that play through the night from 8pm-3am. The Ponderosa stomp was actually created by Dr. Ike, who was an avid collector of unknown rhythm and blues, garage rock, swamp pop, soul, blues, and rockabilly records. He gathered other like-minded individuals and started the festivities as a way to bring their collections to life through multi-night concerts.

Through the years, the festival has expanded to include films festivals, record sales, and scholarly conferences with the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation was even formed, as a result of the festivities, to promote educational activities related to 'The Stomp.' This has resulted in 'Stomp-themed' concerts in New York and at the South by Southwest festival in Austin.

I think that it's really cool that this festival came out as the result of a few people wanting to showcase their interest in 'unconventional' music. Reading this article reminded me of "old-time" music revivals that occurred in the Appalachian Mountains that eventually led to the development of bluegrass. In that instance, people in the Appalachians started the "old-time" music revival to gain a sense of belonging and unity in their lives. For those involved in Ponderosa Stomp, they started the festival to unite those that had similar interests in the 'unsung heroes' of American music. Just like the "old-time" music revival, Ponderosa Stomp has taken off in popularity and is being welcomed by many different people.


For many years, I thought clogging was the same thing as tap dancing. However, as I grew older I started to learn there is a distinct difference between the two dances. My Mom helped me in understanding this difference because in her youth, she had participated in clogging while growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.

Clogging is a type of folk dancing that involves percussive strikings of the heel, toe, or both. It has its origins in Wales and England and was brought to the U.S. with European immigration. Clogging is the state dance of both Kentucky and North Carolina. Clogging is often associated with "old-time" music that  takes from Irish and Scottish fiddling; while, the dance movements are tied to German, English, Irish, Cherokee and African dances, rhythms and movements. Tap dancing actually developed out of clogging, but with different musical accompaniments and movements.

Even though clogging started as a social dance for the people living in the Appalachian regions of the U.S., it has not remained that way. In recent years, clogging competitions have sprung up across the nation; they have become a recent phenomenon. The competitions are extremely competitive, and there have even been reality TV series depicting the lives of those on clogging teams. It's is immensely fascinating to me how a social, joyous dance that was highly participatory in its origins has moved to become a presentational, competitive dance.