Popular Music

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Popular Music

Popular music, or ‘pop music', means ‘music of the populace'. The term embraces all kinds of folk music which, originally made by illiterate people, were not written down.

The creation of a popular music that aims simply at entertaining large numbers of people is a product of industrialisation, in which music became a commodity to be bought and sold. It is in the rapid industrialised nations, notably Britain and USA, that we first encounter composers who have devoted themselves to fulfilling a demand for popular, entertainment music.

·Foster
Stephen Foster (Born Lawrenceville in 1826; died in New York in 1864)

Foster was an American composer, mainly self-taught in music. He wrote over 200 songs, several of which have come to be regarded almost as American folk-songs. Though a Northerner, several of his songs capture the Southern plantation spirit in an authentic and eloquent manner. His songs are considered as ‘escapist', through nostalgia. All of Foster's songs yearn for the ‘good old days', but their yearning is not innocent, as real folk music is.

·Sousa
John Philip Sousa (Born in Washington DC in 1854; died in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932)

Sousa was an American composer and bandmaster. As a youth he played the violin in an orchestra. He conducted the US Marine Corps band in 1880-92. He formed his own military band in 1892, which became very popular and toured Europe four times between 1900 and 1905, and toured the world in 1910-11. Unfortunately it was victim of the 1931 Depression. Sousa was best known for his superb marches, of which he composed nearly 100. His music is also considered ‘escapist', by means of hedonism.

·Gottschalk
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (Born in New Orleans in 1829; died in Brazil in 1969)

Gottschalk was an American pianist, conductor and composer. He went to Paris to study in 1842. His pianoforte debut was in 1844 was praised by Chopin. On return to the USA he toured widely, playing and conducting his own sentimental and naïve music for unsophisticated audiences who enjoyed his virtuoso panache and his arrangements of national aires. He wrote two operas, two symphonies and many piano pieces.

·Blues and Ragtime
Though jazz is a twentieth century phenomenon, mainly associated with cities, its origins were in Africa. The black man's music, transmuted into the white mans world. In his new, white American world, the black man, enslaved, inevitably used the musical techniques he had been reared on. As an outcast, he no longer sings a tribal song but calls on ancient vocal formulas of the pentatonic scale and a tumbling descent from a high note, and on traditional techniques of vocal production - modified because he sings in the American, rather than in African language. Inevitably it came into contact with the musical manifestations of the New World, especially the march and hymn. The hymn followed a pattern of tonic, dominant and subdominant harmony, while the march provided a four-square beat. When the American black, responding to these types of music, took over the white man's guitar, the blues was born, and with it the heart of jazz.

·Blues
There was no decisive break between the folk holler and the blues. Pete Williams, a black man in the Southern prison, uses the guitar to accompany himself in what he calls ‘Prisoner's talkin' blues' and ‘Levee camp blues', but these are still hollers in which speed is heightened, with the guitar providing a repeated figure. The words of vocal blues often concern the agony of desertion, betrayal and unrequited love and sexual references are frequent. Blues ‘form', as it evolved, tends to fall into a pattern, as shown:

Bars1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Chords I----------------IV-----I--------V--------I-------

But the form is not static. It provided a harmonic framework against which the black singer could interpret his words or the instrumentalist could...
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