Local Archives, Global History: Post 4 by Chandler Hall
Many famed musicians have passed through the music program at the University of North Texas (UNT), but has anyone ever heard of UNT’s accountant-to-organist pipeline? One alumnus who came down it was Robert R. Miller, who graduated from what was then the North Texas State College (NTSC) in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Boxes in UNT Library’s small Robert R. Miller Collection reveal his unique career path: accountant by day and organ consultant and substitute organist by night—or by Sunday. Miller may have been the only accountant-organist in the area at the time, but he was far from the only organ consultant in the Metroplex. For instance, famed musicologist and organist Helen Hewitt supervised the renovation of the Möller Organ in the UNT Main Auditorium, and Robert Anderson, Chair of Organ Studies at Southern Methodist University, acted as consultant on several organs, including St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Mesquite and First Presbyterian Church in Dallas. How could Miller hope to compete with these pedigreed, well-known, and highly credentialed figures? His archival traces offer some clues.
In an urban area chock-full of professional musicians with enough degrees to fill a stadium, Miller spun his amateur status as an asset. By positioning himself outside of institutions, he demonstrated to his clients that he was above the politics of the organ world, independent and unable to be bought. His integrity became his selling-point. By focusing on his character, Miller was able to skirt around the subject of his credentials (see figures 1-4).
Figures 1-4: 1986 Recital program for the dedication of the restored 1925 Kimball Organ at Grace United Methodist Church, Dallas. Miller was the organ consultant for this project (box 1, folder 11).
Take, for instance, this response to a 1951 letter in which a woman asked for advice about her church’s organ. In the letter, Miller reaffirms that if he were hired as a consultant, he would ensure that the church receives a well-designed organ. He goes on to cite his non-musical career and his independence from builders as assets:
“Yes, I am an Organ Consultant. This type of work is in addition to my regular work at the Magnolia Petroleum Company. As you can well realize, one could not hope to make alliving [sic] at this sort of thing since the calls are few and far between. The reason I do it is that as an organist and a great lover of the organ, I want to help churches obtain the most and best for the money they have to spend… I know of several instances where a church might of [sic] had a better organ if someone that knew about such matters had been called in to go over the plans, rather than just let an organ man or company rebuild the organ as it was.”
In this letter, Miller glosses over his qualifications. By claiming to know of “several instances” in which a church would have benefitted from a consultant, he comes across as knowledgeable without needing to acknowledge his relative lack of formal training. Additionally, by mentioning that consulting is not his main career, Miller implies that he is not in the pockets of any business that would incentivize him to deliver an inferior product. According to Miller, his supposed interest was the church, not the industry.
Of course, one does not need certain formal credentials to be proficient in an area of expertise; earning a music degree is not the only way to learn music. Although Miller did take some organ coursework at NTSC, he also took lessons before college, played substitute organ at various churches around the Dallas area, and had a (possibly brief) stint as the Southwest Representative for the Tellers Organ Company based in Erie, Pennsylvania.
These experiences certainly helped Miller gain expertise regarding how various organs function and sound. Another 1951 letter to Rabbi Pierce Annes of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, offers further insights into how Miller may have trained as an amateur consultant. In the letter, Miller writes that part of his service as a consultant includes creating tonal schemes (the list of pipe sounds to be used in the organ) and sending them to several organ companies to obtain quotes. Some of these tonal schemes and quotes survive in the collection. In some, a company representative offers Miller suggestions to improve his submission. Other documents in the archive, such as catalogs, design guides, marketing materials, and tonal schemes from hundreds of organs, likely served as reference materials for Miller as he planned projects for his clients. Even as Miller professed his independence from builders in his private correspondence, he clearly relied on them as part of his training.
Miller’s attitude toward institutions was quite different when his audience was public facing. For instance, a worship bulletin at First Presbyterian Church, McKeesport, Pennsylvania, includes a brief biography of Miller’s organ career. This is the church where Miller grew up, and he played substitute organ there just before Christmas 1962, perhaps while visiting family for the holidays. Although it is unclear whether the biography of Miller was written by him or by someone on his behalf, it emphasizes his accreditation as tied to institutions, including NTSU and the American Guild of Organists (AGO). It is not unusual for biographies such as this to list a performer’s musical pedigree and awards, but Miller’s sole accolade by 1962, a “Service Playing Certificate” issued by AGO, is neither particularly impressive nor necessary, considering that the congregation could judge his skill. Rather, the biography is a testament to Miller’s status as a professional on the periphery. By engaging with rhetorical conventions of the profession, Miller attempted to “fit in” as a bona fide musician despite struggling to fill the template. This is not to suggest that a musician needs a music degree or prestigious awards. Rather, the biography highlights the disparity between Miller’s training and what the field and the public expected.
This disparity is at the fore in a 1977 report on the NTSU Möller Organ. Miller compiled the report but concluded it with a reflection on his own qualifications: “Some may wonder why a B.B.A. graduate of N.T.S.U. is writing the survey of the organ instead of a music student or graduate.” Indeed, Miller’s path is curious. His parallel work in accounting, organ consulting, and organ performance forms an unlikely combination, and he capitalized on thwarted professional expectations to brand his identity.
Local Archives, Global History: Post 3 by Robbie Segars
By the early 1960s, the Country Music Association decided to shed its negative “hillbilly” image and market country music to a sophisticated blue-collared audience (Pecknold 2007, 135). This initiative caused a cultural shift in the genre aimed at promoting a clean-cut image. By the early 1970s, however, a subculture emerged that opposed this polished and commercialized Nashville sound (Cobb 1982, 87). This style of country music went by the prefix “outlaw” in reference to song themes based on criminal activities such as lying, stealing, cheating, and substance abuse. Among the leaders to spearhead this movement were songwriters Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Willie Nelson, to name just a few. During this era, Willie Nelson’s image underwent a drastic change starting with the release of his first “outlaw” album, Shotgun Willie (1973). As his fame skyrocketed, Nelson became known for his outlaw compilation albums and annual music festivals, including the ongoing summer concert, Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic. During these years, Willie Nelson hired Steve Brooks as his primary artist for promotional works. The Steve Brooks collection housed at the UNT Special Collections archives provides a glimpse into an extraordinary historical moment in country music. This collection offers a unique perspective on how one outlaw country artist both drew from and resisted country music tropes.
The basis for my archival project was to explore the artwork done by UNT alum Steve Brooks. This collection contains a broad assortment of art ranging from sketches, handbills, posters, t-shirts, and a few miscellaneous items like plastic cups, matchbooks, and an odd-looking cardboard shoe. While I consulted a diverse selection from Brook’s other clients, I focused specifically on his Willie Nelson art. I wondered what these archives could tell us about the state of country music at the specific historical moment in which Brooks worked. Who was the intended audience? By trying to understand the purpose of these artifacts, I hoped to glean a few possible motivations that guided their creation. Over the last several weeks, I searched through the Steve Brooks collection to see whether I could detect reoccurring themes with the hope that I might start a conversation about their historical relevance.
The first box I opened from the archives contained approximately fifty manila folders, roughly 12 x 10 inches in size, with sketches that ranged from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. Based on the drawings from this box, which were consistent throughout this collection, Brooks could best be classified as a cartoonist with a few pieces that resembled realistic portraits. The first folder had a Willie Nelson caricature holding his famous nylon-stringed guitar wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, as seen in figure 1.
He sported a thick bushy beard, long shaggy hair, beady eyes, and a wide, friendly grin. Next to his name read “Cowboy Willie” in a cursive font designed to look like a cactus. A few folders later, another Nelson cartoon appeared (figure 2) with a similarly bearded smile, but with the addition of a headband holding back his braided hair.
The “Willie” logo in this picture was written with a lasso and presumably two Texas stars to dot the lowercase I’s. The first themes I noticed appeared to be based on wild west cowboy tropes such as lassos, cactuses, cow skulls, and boot spurs.
While these associations with country music were somewhat common, there were apparent differences that clashed with previous generations’ straight-laced style worn by Buck Owens, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and even Willie Nelson himself.
By the 1970s, Nelson’s identity had more in common with the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. The outlaw country version that Brooks captured in his caricatures emphasized Nelson’s rejection of clean-cut country values (figure 3). His long braided, scruffy beard, worn-out t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes contrasted starkly with the crewcut, freshly shaven, collared-shirt cowboy image he had formerly sported. His carefree facial expressions were another feature that struck me as thematic. Indeed, early country music stars almost always smiled. It occurred to me that Willie Nelson’s smile in the Brooks caricatures might be drug-induced (see figure 4).
By the 1970s, Nelson made his affection for drugs, especially marijuana, well known to his fans—a reputation he still carries today (Patoski, 2008). It is plausible that Brooks emphasized this side of Nelson’s personality to appeal to his outlaw country audience. Even his choice to use cartoons undercuts the sophisticated image that mainstream country aimed to instill. Aside from one or two still-life drawings—among the select few where Nelson is not smiling—cartoons dominated this collection, like in figure 5.
For comparison purposes, I consulted a few boxes with flyers for Brooks’ other high-profile clients including the Allman Brothers, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and the Eagles. From these samples, I was surprised that none of them had cartoon depictions of the musicians. Some had only band logos with a photograph, while others contained a few life-like drawings similar to those from the Willie Nelson collection (figures 6-8).
The date on the outside of the folders showed that these pieces originated from 1972 to 1975, the same time period when Brooks worked with Willie Nelson. This detail reaffirmed my suspicion that the Willie Nelson art expressed cultural values and ideologies meant for a specific audience.
After learning about country music’s history in conjunction with events from Willie Nelson’s life, I began to see Brooks’ art in a new light. My goal was never to discover a missing piece of popular music history; rather, I wanted to provide some insight into how country music’s cultural values started to change in the 1970s. More importantly, I wanted to learn how Steve Brooks reflected these changes with art that would still resonate with Willie Nelson fans as they gather for his annual Fourth of July Picnic each year. While working with the Steve Brooks archives, I was unable to glean how much artistic freedom he had for these commissions. However, the sheer size of this collection convinced me that his clients must have felt he had an innate gift for accurately capturing their musical identity with his drawings.
Cobb, James C. 1982. “From Muskogee to Luckenbach: Country Music and the ‘Southernization’ of America.” Journal of Popular Culture (16-3): 81-91.
Nelson, Willie. 2015. It’s a Long Story: My Life. New York City: Little, Brown, and Company.
Patoski, Joe Nick. 2008. Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. New York City: Little, Brown, and Company.
Pecknold, Diane. 2007. “Masses to Classes: The Country Music Association and the Development of Country Format Radio, 1958-1972.” in The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry, 133-167. Durham: Duke University Press.
Local Archives, Global History: Post 2 by Camila Zimmerman
Music boxes are charming devices that play some of our favorite tunes. Perhaps they remind us of an event in our past or recall the person who gave it to us. But music boxes are more than just entertainment or a vessel for personal memories. Each box has its own special origin story and history, which inspire many different types of questions, even scholarly ones. My first question for the UNT Regina Music box was simple: how do I make it play?! After extensive research and multiple correspondences with Alan Bies from the Musical Box Society International (MBSI), I finally heard a full, rich sound emanate from the box unlike any other music box I had ever experienced. Once I overcame this basic obstacle, I began to make more inquiries. My focus soon turned to the listening cultures surrounding these instruments, concentrating on the people to whom the Regina Music Box Company sold their products. To whom was the Regina Music Box Company catering? How did those consumers relate (if at all!) to the types of song discs that the company sold? Regina music boxes originated in Europe and later came to America, so their discs offer a rare glimpse into the changing listening cultures of domestic audiences in Europe and America at the turn of the twentieth century.
Music boxes and other mechanical instruments have existed for centuries, but the disc musical box did not come to prominence until Paul Lochmann began selling them in Germany in 1886. Soon thereafter many rivaling companies emerged throughout Europe (Tallis 1971, 52-53). An employee of the Symphonion Company in Leipzig, Gustave Brackhausen, saw how successful the disc musical boxes were and decided to bring them to the American market. In 1892, Brackhausen left Germany to start the Regina Company in Jersey City, New Jersey. Once there, he first produced the 15 ½ inch Regina music box which was based on the Polyphon model so that the 15 ½ inch Polyphon tune discs could be used for the Reginas. However, he no longer wanted to rely on European companies for his disc supply. His solution was to have his company make their own discs. He brought Octave Chaillet, a Swiss disc master, to the States to create new discs that featured popular American styles like spirituals and Souza marches to add onto the preexistent European repertoire (Tallis 1971, 52-55). The company was successful, holding 80-90% of the American market from 1892 until 1919 (Gallo 2001, 4). They ultimately created many different types of musical boxes such as the Reginaphone, Regina piano player, Regina Corona, and the Regina Automatic Concerto.
Regina music box advertisements from 1895 to 1905 reveal that the company catered to wealthy white people who either had a family or liked to entertain in their homes. Figure 9 through 11 depict well-dressed men and women socializing. Figure 9 contains many men in tuxedos and women in ball gowns dancing to the sounds of a Regina music box in a lavish salon. The image on the right of figure 10 also depicts a similar scene although in a simpler imagery with the short text of “plays for Afternoon Reception or for Evening Dancing.” The image on the left implies wealth in a different sort of way. A couple lounges on their boat as they listen to their Regina. Figure 11 portrays multiple scenes, some similar to figure 9 and 10 and some different. In the top right corner is once again an image of a well-dressed man and woman dancing and in the bottom left corner is a couple on their boat. This advertisement, however, features more familial images as well. The middle image on the left specifically references Christmas time offering the Regina as the perfect Christmas gift. On the bottom right, children appear in the image dancing to the music of the Regina music box while adults in fine clothing sit by and watch. The middle left image features a woman holding a baby reaching towards the music box with the heading, “even the baby finds entertainment in the Regina music box.” These advertisements indicate the Regina Company’s aspirational customers and anticipated the types of environments and events in which their customers might use the Regina.
The texts of these advertisements emphasize the quality of the music box: it plays over 1,000 tunes, has indestructible discs and a brilliance and richness of tone, is easy to use, and does not require tuning. One other element that is pointed out is the tunes themselves. Some mention a few popular titles or composers, but most of the advertisements say something like “plays all your favorite music both classic and popular,” or “all the latest music.” Figure 12 provides more detail than the others assuring listeners that, “The Regina Music Box makers keep right abreast of the composers who are continuously writing all kinds of popular music— ‘rag time’ if you want it. And they have provided tune-discs…of all the best music of all composers of all times—the great master-pieces of the Masters.”
As is evident in the advertisements, popular music and the most recent tunes were emphasized, meaning these were the types of tune discs people in America were buying. A comparison between the genres found in the UNT tune disc Collection and those housed in the National Museum of American History’s collection1 and музея cобрание (Russian Museum Collection)2 shows a clear trend. In the collections from the United States, the number of discs based on American musical genres outnumbers the disc with European musical genres, while in the European collection, European derived music appears much more numerous than American music.
However, the divide between European and American genres in both of the American collections (a two disc difference in the first and a six disc difference in the second) do not have the same disparity as the European collection which has an 86-disc gap. Breaking down these numbers further into specific genres provides a better idea of what exactly constitutes part of these American4 and European5 genres. In the American collections, American folk and popular songs outnumber the other categories. European dance music, however, far exceeds all other genre categories in the Russian collection. From this data, I speculate that American consumers very much enjoyed and potentially preferred new American popular genres even as they clung to the fashion and tradition of their European ancestry, while European music box customers preferred their own genres to the American ones.
While these findings are based on a very limited pool of data, they offer a preliminary look at trends in the types of music consumed through this medium from the 1890s-1920s. Music boxes have a long and complex history that can offer us a glimpse into listening practices of the past, the technical aspects of mechanical instruments, musical preferences, the art of arrangement, and much more. Perhaps this will inspire you to pull out an old music box and see what types of stories it can tell!
Special thanks to the Musical Box Society International (MBSI) for all of their help.
Al Meekins Collection. Photos. The Meekins Antique Regina Music Box Company. Zephyrhillis, FL. Accessed April 9, 2021. https://antiquemusicboxes.com/wood.html.
Metal Discs Collection. Music box discs. музея cобрание, Moscow, Russia.
Music and Musical Instruments Collection. Music box discs. National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “The Regina music box.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 9, 2021. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-1d71-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.
Regina Music Box Records Collection. Regina music box and discs. University of North Texas Library, Denton, TX.
Music Trade Review. Magazine. The International Arcade Museum. Accessed April 9, 2021. https://mtr.arcade-museum.com.
Birch, John. “Reginaphone & Regina Hall Clock.” Mechanical Music 53, no. 1 (January 2007): 17–18.
Boehck, Steve. “The Rare and Elusive Regina Musical Savings Bank.” Mechanical Music 53, no. 4 (July 2007): 12–25.
Boehck, Steve. “The Regina Musical Salesman.” Mechanical Music 58, no. 6 (November 2012): 8–23.
Carli, Philip C. “”You Will Certainly Have Something that Will Give Great Pleasure, and Be a Marvel in Pittsburgh”: Henry Clay Frick and American Millionaires Living with Mechanical Music, 1872-1919.” American Music 32, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 377-399.
Chapuis, Alfred. History of the Musical Box and of Mechanical Music. Summit, N.J.: Musical Box Society International, 1980.
Clark, John E. T. Musical Boxes; A History and an Appreciation. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1961.
Gallo, Denise P. “Verdi’s Music on Mechanical Boxes.” Verdi Forum, no. 28–29 (2001-2002): 4–7.
Karp, Larry. “Regina and Ragtime.” Mechanical Music 59, no. 2 (March 2013): 28–35.
Tallis, David. Musical Boxes. London: Muller, 1971.
Local Archives, Global History: Post 1 by Dr. Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden
As pandemic lockdowns settled into place during the spring of 2020 many scholars felt profound disappointment as their summer research plans disintegrated amidst the stressors of illness, upended family life, and disrupted work routines. Historians in particular grieved the personal loss of a favorite job-related activity, archival research, and faced the anxiety that came along with a year-long archival exile, which threatened to set back publications and possibly even hiring and promotion opportunities for years to come. Sitting in my backyard day in and day out last summer called to mind one of my favorite essays, “History in a Backyard,” authored by late 19th- and early 20th-century historian Lucy Maynard Salmon. Confined to my home in North Texas due to global pandemic, her words took on new meaning for me and eventually inspired the course that generated the blog posts in this series.
Salmon begins her essay bemoaning how a nine-month teaching commitment at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, which typically granted three months of blissful summer research leave, had stretched into twenty-one long months without a single trip to European archives. Reflecting on this situation, she stares into her yard, the only primary source available. She describes its fence, the hedges, an orchard just beyond, dangling electrical wires, and a passing garbage truck. Salmon comes to realize that these sights, much like archival texts, testify to rich histories of everything from property to agriculture and technology. “Our back yard,” she writes, “has the records of all the ages within its narrow enclosure” (19). Although in the past I sympathized with Salmon’s European archive withdrawal, staying still for one year has compelled me to consider the unique interconnected histories that every place holds, especially the University of North Texas and the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Wondering what “records of all the ages” might be found in our own backyard, this spring doctoral students in the graduate seminar on Music and Archival Practice in the 21st Century developed research projects using UNT’s Music Library and Special Collections.
Our course began with practical skills in archival research and an introduction to archival theory through the lens of recent music scholarship. Musicologists have long relied on archives for sources like compositional sketches, personal letters, and legal records related to musical production. The institutional history of archives began in earnest with the French Revolution, implicating archives in a nineteenth-century positivistic drive to categorize knowledge toward imperial and colonial ends. Recent work in music, however, has changed that state of affairs. We consulted scholarship by historians and musicologists including Glenda Goodman, Maria Ryan, Sarah Eyerly, Mary Caton Lingold, Jillian C. Rogers, Lisa Barg, Tammy Kernodle, Dianthe Spencer, Sherrie Tucker, and others to consider how our methods and methodology might inform the music histories that we write from archival materials. Olivia Bloechl shared the possibilities of “Doing Music History Where We Are” in her keynote address for UNT’s Graduate Association of Musicologists und Theorists virtual conference in February. As the students began their own archival research, they learned to question the provenance of collections and how they are catalogued. Like Salmon, we engaged cultural and social histories that went far beyond the “great figures” of history allowing us to tell the stories of local people whose influence extended in some cases around the globe.
This series of blog posts presents the results of our research. You’ll find a diverse collection of stories from pioneering women professors and librarians at UNT, to white jazz collectors who shaped the reception of jazz, listening cultures transferred via music boxes, the social meaning drawn into 1970s Willie Nelson ads, and DFW citizens who moonlighted as organ technicians and contributed to the LGBTQ movement of the early 1990s. There’s even more to this research than what is written here. Other projects in the course revealed the ethnic biases of Chinese music historiography, the values built into the materials of UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center, and the influences of a UNT composer in 1970s experimental music. Indeed, our backyard contains “records of all the ages.”
With these blog posts we invite you to consider the history in your own backyard and to use the vast archival collections of public and university libraries to help us add to the rich histories that connect your backyard to our shared global history.
Note from the Editor
The door to the Edna Mae Sandborn Music Reading Room had remained closed since mid-March of 2020 due to the ongoing global pandemic. The fourth floor of the Willis Library, where the Music Library and Special Collections reside, was generally sleepy but still visited by avid researchers. Much to our excitement, Dr. Geoffroy-Schwinden arranged with Maristella Feustle to retrieve materials from the music archives for study in “The Sandborn,” as we endearingly refer to this research space. The doors to The Sandborn opened, and the students diligently visited weekly—at minimum—and oftentimes more. The Music Library staff had the pleasure of observing their discoveries (students occasionally leapt from their seats after finding something unexpected). After students synthesized their findings, we now have the pleasure of learning about what they uncovered while musicking in the Sandborn in this monthly series aptly titled by Dr. Geoffroy-Schwinden, “Local Archives, Global History.” We hope you enjoy.
–Kristin Wolski, Music Information Literacy and Outreach Librarian
At the Music Library, we are incredibly grateful for our student employees! They keep everything running behind the scenes, as well as assisting visitors at the service desk. Learn about some of our many amazing students in this Music Library Student Spotlight series.
Trumpet Performance / Graduate
What are you looking forward to at the music library? I look forward to cataloging all the new acquisitions & finding cool stuff to investigate in my free time.
If you were in a movie, what song plays during your character introduction? If I were in a movie, I would definitely want “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson to play!
Cello Performance and Spanish / Sophomore Undergraduate
What are you looking forward to at the music library? Working with and being surrounded by music, as well as the opportunity to learn some new skills and work with others!
If you were in a movie, what song plays during your character introduction? The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”
Classical Trumpet Performance / Junior Undergraduate
What are you looking forward to at the music library? Learning more about music, and how it is shared or kept!
If you were in a movie, what song plays during your character introduction? I think I would like “Concerning Hobbits” from the Lord of the Rings or “You are the Sunshine of my Life” by Stevie Wonder to be my theme song, but more likely be “It’s Nice to See You” by Louie Zong.
Freshman Music Education and Tuba Performance / Freshman Undergraduate
What are you looking forward to at the music library? The discovery of new music and upcoming projects.
If you were in a movie, what song plays during your character introduction? Anna Karenina (2012), “She is of the Heavens,” when Princess Kitty is introduced.
DMA Saxophone Performance / Freshman Undergraduate
What are you looking forward to at the music library? I want to see some really awesome, really old records. Also, video game music!
April is Jazz Appreciation Month and the UNT Music Library is celebrating by highlighting one of our many, wonderful student assistants: Joshua Cossette. Cossette is a current master’s student in Jazz with a specialization in Arranging and Composition; he also helps run the Music Library service desk by assisting patrons and keeping the music stacks in top condition.
The One O’Clock Lab Band, UNT’s premier jazz ensemble, featured one of Cossette’s recent compositions ‘Under Pressure’ (2020) on their recent April 8th concert. Led by director Alan Baylock, the One O’Clock recently appeared on PBS in a Doc Severinsen documentary and produces annual studio albums, which have garnered an impressive seven GRAMMY award nominations. When asked to elaborate on his composition and the experience working with the One O’Clock, Cossette had this to say:
“As a pianist, one of my main influences is McCoy Tyner, who I remember hearing when I was about 5-6 years old. One of his compositions, ‘Passion Dance,’ which is on the album The Real McCoy, was and still is a favorite song of mine.
On my tune ‘Under Pressure,’ I’ve taken many influences from Tyner, but I also took influence from another source, a pianist, educator and friend of mine, Bill Peterson ( Professor of Music in Jazz Studies and Music Theory/Composition, Florida State University). We had sent original compositions back and forth to each other and he just so happened to write something that was based in modal harmony and was also up-tempo.
For a long while, I’ve wanted to write an up-tempo tune that fit within these guidelines that I had admired for so long. After hearing Bill’s piece, it sparked a creative interest for me to compose something like it but also drawing the influences of my favorite players like McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson, a saxophonist who was on the recording session for The Real McCoy. So was born my composition, ‘Under Pressure.’
Hearing your compositions performed in a rehearsal is one thing. Hearing them played live is a totally different experience…there was a certain energy that [felt different from] rehearsals that excited me. The musicians seemed to enjoy themselves and it was a great time had by everybody!”
Current UNT students and faculty can access the archived version of this concert through the College of Music Recording Archives.
In addition to his studies, Joshua Cossette is a founding member of the JAS trio. Formed in 2017, the group recently debuted their album Solace earlier this year. The album features original works by Cossette and bassist Anthony Casolari (B.M. Jazz Studies, UNT) in addition to standards by jazz greats such as Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson.
“I formed my trio, the JAS Trio, after collaborating with these two musicians on separate occasions for years. I’ve known Anthony Casolari, bassist, since my undergraduate studies at Florida State University and now we’re both students at the University of North Texas. The drummer, Shay Eischen, is a working musician in the South Florida area who I’ve known for about 6-7 years at this point. I knew that there was a special chemistry when I would work with these musicians on their own so I decided to see what would happen if all three of us got together.
We’ve been working together, as a trio, since 2017. Our debut album, Solace, was recorded between 2018-2019. The inspiration for our album was to record some really great music and just have fun with the record. The product is something that we’re proud of and we’ve gotten a great response so far from it. As a trio, we never settle for anything less than exceptional quality in the music, no matter what. We’re now in the process of planning a follow up recording, Hold up Your Legacies, which will be an album with more original compositions. These compositions are a homage to the important people in our lives, both personal and musical. Heroes, educators, and family members.
Did you know that listening to certain types of music can enhance focus and improve information retention? Your brain generates a certain amount of electricity that is displayed in the form of brain waves. The four different types of brainwaves are:
Beta waves are characteristic of a strongly engaged mind, this is the fastest or most active wave at 15-40 cycles per second. (e.g., a person engaged in active conversation).
These waves are slightly slower with a higher amplitude at 9-14 cycles per second. This state of mind allows you to be more open or receptive, and is usually associated with imagination, memory, or intuition. (e.g., taking a break from a task to walk outside).
Theta is even slower waves with a higher amplitude than the alpha state at 5-8 cycles per second. This is the daydreaming state where a task becomes repetitive or monotonous enough that you can mentally disengage. (e.g., knitting, running, or even brushing your hair).
Delta is the slowest brain waves, down to 1.4 cycles a second, indicate sleep. You can read Ned Hermann’s explanation in more depth the Scientific American.
Studies have shown that the “alpha state,” or brainwaves at 9-14 cycles per second, is most effective for studying and understanding ideas. Music that meets certain parameters can help your brain settle into this state of mind, particularly music that you are familiar with and enjoy that is set between 50 and 80 beats per minute. Here are some examples of popular tunes that might meet these criteria, some of which are found in article by Deep Patel (2019):
- ‘Mirrors’ by Justin Timberlake
- ‘The Lazy Song’ by Bruno Mars
- ‘Chasing Pavements’ by Adele
…and some classical tunes:
- Symphony No.6 in F Major, II, Pastoral by L. Beethoven
- Etudes no. 1, Op. 25 by F. Chopin
- 13 Preludes, Op. 32: No. 12 in G Sharp Minor by S. Rachmaninoff
- Opening by P. Glass
There is also music specifically designed to blend into the background, serving as an unobtrusive yet atmospheric setting for conversation, mediation, or mental focus. Written partially out of distaste for “Muzak,” Brian Eno’s album Ambient 1: Music for Airports contains music designed to enhance the listener’s environment and give the listener space to think. In the liner notes Eno states, “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular, it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” (Eno, 1978). Try Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.
At the end of the day, everyone has a different preference when it comes to study music! The more you like the music playing, the more positive benefits you might get by adding music to your studying habits.
Here are some more streaming music options from the UNT databases:
Capritto, A., (2020). The best music to listen to while ou work or study. CNET. https://www.cnet.com/health/the-best-music-to-listen-to-while-you-work-or-study/
Eno, B. (1978). Music for airports liner notes. http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/MFA-txt.html
Hermann, N. (1997). What is the function of the various brainwaves? Scientific America. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/
Patel, D. (2019). These 6 types of music are known to dramatically improve productivity. Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/325492
Thompson, W., Schellenberg, E., & Husain, G. (2001). Arousal, Mood, and the Mozart Effect. Psychological Science, 12(3), 248-251. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40063588
Edited by Kristin Wolski
What do you think of when you hear the name ‘Ludwig van Beethoven’?
Maybe it’s the iconic opening figure of his Symphony 5 (think: dundundunDUNNNNNN from a sample of these performances).
Or his famously thunderous countenance:
Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers in Western classical music. In his lifetime, Beethoven enjoyed a privileged lifestyle as the musical darling of Vienna’s aristocracy. Unlike many of his predecessors, such as Joseph Haydn, he was not tied to a royal court and still managed to be financially successful through the support of aristocratic patronage. His contributions to form and harmony across the genre directly inspired composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To this day, Beethoven remains one of the most frequently programmed composers in the United States. In a study of participating orchestras across America from 2000 to 2012, Beethoven was the most programmed composer in all but three seasons. And for the seasons he wasn’t first on the list, it was a close second to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (League of American Orchestras, 2020).
On the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, some scholars are examining the mythos surrounding Beethoven and have chosen to recognize Beethoven’s birthday in alternative ways, such as identifying lesser known works of Beethoven and unrecognized works of others (Wilson, 2020).
Regardless of how people are choosing to reflect on Beethoven at his 250th birthday, two and a half centuries later, Beethoven’s body of work still speaks to the concert-going public. What makes his music so impactful? Let’s explore some of his background and musical influences.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 to a musical family in the town of Bonn, Germany. Both his father and grandfather were musicians in the choir of the archbishop-elect of Cologne; so, like most of the working class at this time, Beethoven was born into his profession. Beethoven took violin and piano lessons from his father Johann, who hoped his son would be seen as a child prodigy a la Mozart. Johann even passed his son as younger to mirror Mozart’s debut age, a fact that Beethoven himself only found out as a young teen (Biography.com Editors, 2020).
Around 1780, political shifts and new appointments resulted in Bonn becoming a thriving city of culture with a newly established university and an influx of German renaissance literary minds like Goethe – widely considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era (Boyle, n.d.). It was in this environment that 12-year-old Beethoven became the assistant to Christian Neefe, the appointed court organist and Beethoven’s teacher (Knapp, 2020).
Over the next ten years, Beethoven was able to make important societal connections. The first important family in this network was the house of the late Joseph von Breuning, who hired Beethoven to teach two of their children piano and to perform for a variety of social events. Beethoven acquired a number of wealthy students and patrons through the Breunings, including the Count Waldstein (whose name you might recognize as the dedicatee to Beethoven’s famous Waldstein Sonata, opus 53). Beethoven even composed a ballet score for the Count to pass off as his own composition, although it was well-known to be Beethoven’s work. This ballet ended up being his ticket out of Bonn when, in 1790, London-based composer Josef Hadyn saw the score while staying with the arch-bishop. Haydn was impressed enough that he invited Beethoven to study with him in Vienna when Hadyn returned from his London residency (Budden, 2020).
Beethoven in Vienna
Beethoven received a warm welcome from the Viennese aristocracy, his reputation as a performer preceded him thanks in large part to Count Waldstein who heralded Beethoven as the successor to Mozart. With the support of wealthy patrons for food and lodging, Beethoven was able to fully cut ties with the Electorate in Cologne in 1794.
In his composition studies, Beethoven worked with Haydn on piano, Antonio Salieri for choral composition, and counterpoint with organist Johann Albrechtsberger. In 1795, he performed his public debut recital in Vienna with a program featuring his piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 19, as well as works by Mozart and Haydn. Around this time Beethoven was also able to publish a set of Trios to a long list of subscribers. Beethoven’s symphonic debut in Vienna occurred in 1800 and featured a performance of his Symphony No. 1, a piano concerto, and the Septet (Opus 20) alongside works by Mozart and Haydn (Biography.com Editors, 2020).
Working in the Breuning’s household, Beethoven was introduced to the literary movement ‘Sturm und Drang’, which is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as a “German literary movement of the late 18th century that exalted nature, feeling, and human individualism and sought to overthrow the Enlightenment cult of Rationalism” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.).
In music, this movement translated to grand and sudden contrasts of tempo and dynamics aimed at expressing vast extremes of emotion. Beethoven’s affinity for improvisation is heavily reminiscent of his study of this movement, as well as the work of C.P.E. Bach.
Other early musical influences came from Bonn’s proximity to the city of Mannheim and the Mannheim Orchestra, the first orchestra comprised entirely of elite players, who had strong ties to Paris. Beethoven supported the French Revolution and greatly admired Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven’s Third Symphony was originally dedicated to the French military leader but, upon hearing that Bonaparte had declared himself Emperor of France, Beethoven changed the dedication to “for the memory of a great man”, and renamed the symphony “Eroica” (Budden, 2020).
Heiligenstadt and Beethoven’s Second Period
The turn of the 19th century marks a shift in Beethoven’s compositional style. Around 1800, his writing becomes more nuanced and widens in scope, using large musical forces in new and unconventional ways. Until this point, his works were mostly for solo piano and conformed to the musical forms and rules of the time (Budden, 2020). A major reason behind this shift is Beethoven’s growing realization that he was going deaf. As this illness progressed, his efforts moved from solo performances to composing. He began to avoid public gatherings, confessing in an 1801 letter that he “leads a miserable existence…because [he] find[s] it impossible to say to people: I am deaf.” (Biography.com Editors, 2020). This internal turmoil came to a head in the poignant note Beethoven penned in 1802 while taking a respite in the country village of Heiligenstadt titled “The Heiligenstadt Testament”. Addressed to his brothers, it also outlines a basic will and was kept in a private drawer to be discovered after Beethoven’s death. An excerpt from this unsent letter reads:
“O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you and I would have ended my life — it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me” (Beethoven; Thackara (Ed)., 1902; 1979).
Beethoven returned home from Heiligenstadt and continued to compose in a fervor. The next period of composition (~1802-1814) is considered his most productive era, producing six symphonies, his only opera (Fidelio), four solo concerti, five string quartets, six-string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs (Biography.com Editors, 2020).
Beethoven’s Private Life
Financially and artistically, Beethoven was extremely successful. However, in his personal life, Ludwig van Beethoven struggled to maintain relationships with his patrons, fellow musicians, and relatives. He was infamously temperamental, prone to being incredibly defensive, and thus constantly feuded with those around him. Beethoven never married, although he is rumored to have been in love with multiple female students. Upon his death, along with the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, secret letters addressed to the “Immortal Beloved” were found hidden away in Beethoven’s desk. The identity of the recipient is still unknown, and each letter is labeled only by month and day (Biography.com Editors, 2020).
More on Beethoven
We have so much information about Beethoven’s life and musical output thanks to the letters, journal entries, and notebooks left behind after his death in 1827. Want to read more? Here are some online resources from UNT’s online library catalogue:
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph: a biography by Jan Swafford
Beethoven the pianist by Tilman Skowroneck
Beethoven, L.V.; Thackara, W.T.S. (Ed.) (1802; 1979). The Heiligenstadt Testament of Ludwig Van Beethoven: Notes by W.T.S. Thackara. The Society. https://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/28-78-9/s28n07p244_the-heiligenstadt-testament.htm
Biography.com Editors, 2020. Ludwig van Beethoven: c. 1770-1827. Biography. https://www.biography.com/musician/ludwig-van-beethoven
Boyle, N, (n.d.). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johann-Wolfgang-von-Goethe/First-Weimar-period-1776-86
Budden, J.M., (2020). Ludwig van Beethoven: German Composer. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ludwig-van-Beethoven#ref21581
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, (n.d.). Sturm und Drang: German Literary Movement. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. https://www.britannica.com/event/Sturm-und-Drang
Knapp, Raymond. Ludwig van Beethoven: German Composer. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ludwig-van-Beethoven#ref21580
League of American Orchestras, (2020). ORR Archive. https://www.americanorchestras.org/knowledge-research-innovation/orr-survey/orr-archive.html
Wilson, J. (2020). Celebrate Beethoven by resisting ‘Beethoven’: how to programme concerts for the great composer’s 250th anniversary. Classical Music from BBC Music Magazine. https://www.classical-music.com/features/composers/celebrate-beethoven-by-resisting-beethoven-how-to-programme-concerts-for-the-great-composers-250th-anniversary/
Edited by Kristin Wolski