JSM Book Notes: Great Quotes and Other Musical Matters


JustsSheetMusic Book Notes

At irregular intervals here at JustSheetMusic, we let our readers know about some of the new books on a range of musical subjects that are always falling off the presses, or downloading themselves into email in-boxes. Today is another of those days.

Hell Yeah! The best quotes in rock ‘n’ roll history By Ryan Birdland

Triple L Publishing, Sacramento, CA, 2013

eBook, 52 pages, $2.99.

Hell Yeah! The best quotes in rock ‘n’ roll history

Hell Yeah! The best quotes in rock ‘n’ roll history

We start with a new eBook from Ryan Birdland, a long-time music critic who is also known for in-depth interviews he did with David Byrne and Tina Weymouth, both of Talking Heads, back in the mid-1980s. Birdland, then, has been around for decades, covering this beat.

Talking HeadsThose of our readers with good memories for such things will remember that Talking Heads, a new-wave band formed in 1975, performed such songs as Psycho Killer and Life During Wartime. They remained active as a band until 1991, and received an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Anyway, the eBook under review here is Hell Yeah. And it consists, as the subtitle suggests, of a list of some of the funnier and/or most thought-provoking things rock or rock-and-roll musicians have had to say for or about themselves over forty years. Some of them, as Birdland says in his foreword, are inspiring. Others are just crazy.

e-street-bandSomewhere in between crazy and inspiring there are commonsensical observations such as the following from Clarence Clemons, the sax player with the E Street Band: “To do it the way that I must do it, I must be in good condition. The better shape you’re in, the harder you can rock.” You can perhaps judge his physical condition for yourself from the photo of Clarence wailing by the side of The Boss here.

And there was a (to me) unexpected bit of musical history in this book from Keith Moon of The Who: “I’ve been sitting in for the past 15 years. They never actually told me I was part of the band.”

Not Without Madness: Perspectives on Opera

not-without-madnessBy Fabrizio Della Seta, trans. Mark Weir

University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2012

320 pages, $55.

This book is not the place to start if you are new to opera as an art form. Della Seta – an associate professor of the history of music at the University of Siena and a member of the Academia Europaea – assumes some familiarity with the form, and for that matter with aesthetic theories, in this collection of essays. Further, the essays, which he first wrote in Italian, sometimes have a rather clunky sound to them in their English incarnation.

Della Seta explains his title in his introduction. The phrase comes from Goethe’s Faust. In a prelude, Goethe has a jester and a poet debate how they should tell this tale. The poet wants nothing to do with the “motley crowd” and contemporary favor. He wants this poem written in a quiet corner of heaven, and for the benefit of posterity.

joker2The Jester is more practical (or commercial, if you like). He wants to entertain, and he tells the poet that while you can include “reason, intellect, sentiment, passion,” you must never produce a work for the stage “without madness.”

Goethe’s jester is right, Della Seta adds, “You cannot have theatre without ‘Madness,’ from the primordial Dionysian frenzy to the exhibitionism of the diva and the spit and sawdust of the proscenium.”

Perhaps the finest essay in this collection is Della Seta’s careful interpretation of the Verdi aria “D’amor sull’ali rosee.” Yet instead of summarizing that essay, I think I’ll just show you a couple of Team Diva all-timers performing that aria. Here is Maria Callas.

And here is Anna Netrebko.

Does either of those performances give you the chills? Goosebumps? Hold that thought. Today’s final book note is for you.

Evolution of Emotional Communication: From Sounds in Nonhuman Mammals to Speech and Music in Man

emotional-communicationEd. By Eckhart Altenmuller et al.

Oxford University Press US, New York, 2013

376 pages, $95.

This is an anthology of works by a variety of scholars interested in different aspects of the very broad subject matter indicated by that title and subtitle.

At JustSheetMusic, we were naturally interested in chapter 17, “Toward a neurobiology of musical emotions” and in chapter 19, “A contribution to the evolutionary basis of music: Lessons from the chill response.”

Is it only an expression or do you really get “chills” at specific moments when listening to music? And, if the latter, what does that mean?

In their physiological significance, “chills” are the reactions of our skin to cold temperature, a reflex presumably with some survival/adaptive value. With that thought in mind, what can we say about the chill response in music?

The authors of the essay on that subject in this book are to their credit more interested in empirical data than in speculation. They cite data indicating that 70% of the general population reports positive “chill” responses to music, and that such direct physiological response is “usually elicited by highly complex acoustic patterns.”

But the reaction isn’t a very predictable one, it cannot be reproduced reliably “when playing the same musical passages on different days,” the authors tell us, “even in individuals with high ‘chill susceptibility’.”

Their work involved measuring skin conduction response, skin conduction level, the heart rate, the breathing rate, etc.

In the authors’ study, only 29 to 35% of the subjects got chills from the tested works of Mozart, Chopin, or Max Bruch.

Eckhart-AltenmullerFurther, the authors — Eckhart Altenmuller (pictured right), Reinhard Kopiez, and Oliver Grewe – had a tough time identifying any specific acoustic events that would trigger chills. There was one exception: they found you need to defy expectations to get a chill response.

If you are a composer, remember this. Not every surprise will get chills from your audience; but if you don’t surprise them you’ll surely get none. Set up the expectations, and then violate them.


Let’s go back, for our final clip, to Keith Moon and The Who, as mentioned in the first of our three notes. I think it safe to say that at some point he was definitely “part of the band.”

See for yourself


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