Quick hit: Acoustic ecology slideshow

Check out this slideshow of natural sounds over at Seed Magazine (and it’s named after this blog, obviously…).  H/t Wayne Marshall via the SEM Sound Studies listserv.  Pretty cool!

Stereotyping people by their favorite indie bands

Based on this list, I:

  • have considered becoming a squirrel
  • am “everyone”
  • am a feminist
  • am self-actualized, a bro, and grow pot
  • believe in Jesus and/or Juno
  • don’t understand politics or boys
  • drink shitty beer without ironic intentions
  • and like too many toppings on my pizza

How many amusingly-specific and generally-unflattering ways can you describe yourself off this list?  And what does the alarming ease with which it can be mocked say about the pretentiousness that is endemic to indie-rock culture?  More thoughts on how this dovetails with our collective quest for the nebulous concept of authenticity in a while, if I have time and/or remember to write it up.

Another reason to love Lady Gaga

Apparently, according to Fred Phelps (of Westboro Baptist Church/”G-d hates fags” fame), the deity himself hates Lady Gaga.  Watch out kids, the “hussy’s pretentious prancing” could lead you into moral ruin.  Consider yourselves warned.

This is pretty predictable, given the intense social-conservatism-cum-insanity of Phelps and his followers (who, incidentally, protested at Penn Hillel a few weeks back!).  What I find more interesting is his choice of Lady Gaga to hate on, as opposed to other singers.

There are certainly other prominent artists who could conceivably raise his hackles: people like Adam Lambert, who’s unapologetically out and caused a stir in November with his homoerotically-tinged AMA’s performance (good for him!), or perhaps better yet, Katy Perry, who used to be a conservative Christian but now a) kisses girls and likes it, and b) dates skinny guys with long hair (!).  Or, you know, any pop artists who have overtly sexual lyrics.

Lady Gaga, however, is adamantly pro-empowered female sexuality, often explicitly assuming sexual control in her videos, evangelizing about masturbation, openly identifying as feminist, and doing a lot to challenge the normative male gaze/crazy amount of cookie-cutter sexualization that young female celebrities (and women, period) have to deal with.

I’m not sure how much her message comes through–I feel like a lot of people put her in the “crazy antics” box and don’t pay much attention after that–but I certainly appreciate what she’s trying to do, which is pretty unique and quite important.  And it seems to me that her ideas about female sexual power, more than the fact that she doesn’t often wear much beyond tights below the necessary bits (not that the two aren’t related), is what’s ticking off the good Rev. Phelps.

Announcing the Philadelphia Sher Project

After a long hiatus while I finished up my semester (my second-last at Penn!) I’m back at eartotheground.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of playing in my synagogue’s klezmer band for the début performance of the Philadelphia sher at our annual Chanukah party.  The sher is a traditional Eastern European/Ashkenazi Jewish social dance in 2/4 time for four couples, with an accompanying set of tunes. Eastern European Jews who came to the United States brought it with them, and by the early twentieth century, Philadelphia had its own characteristic sher medley, as did New York and other major cities.

The sher was hugely popular at weddings and other social events and quickly became beloved by the Philadelphia Jewish community and beyond, eventually becoming the preeminent American sher medley. Unfortunately, widespread performance of the sher died out by the 1960s due to the pressures of Israeli music and dance, assimilation and suburbanization. It is kept alive in klezmer circles at events like KlezKamp, but not often performed at everyday parties and events.

Over the last few months, the Simcha Band, Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann and the Religious Life Committee of Kol Tzedek, and I put together a grant application to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Kehillah of Center City to fund an exciting community-based project built around the sher–and we received $2200 from them for this project and a concurrent prayer leader training program!

Sherri Cohen, the Simcha Band’s trombonist, and I have been taking lessons with the eminent klezmer trumpeter Susan Watts, whose family has deep roots in Philadelphia’s Jewish music scene, and learning the sher.  Naomi Segal, a member of Kol Tzedek, re-learned the sher (which she danced as a kid growing up in Philly) and taught it to the congregation on Sunday.  People had a great time dancing it and the band (featuring Susan and her mom, fantastic drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts) certainly had a great time playing it.

Right now we’re recruiting volunteers from Kol Tzedek, the Philly Jewish community, and beyond to help with this project.  Community members can get involved in any number of ways:

  • Coming to Kol Tzedek events where we will be performing the sher (TBA here, or if you get in touch with me)
  • Learning how to perform it with the Simcha Band
  • Volunteering to learn the dance and teach it to others in the area
  • Getting involved in the historical and archival research on the sher and on klezmer in Philly that I’ll be conducting beginning next month
  • Conducting oral interviews about Philly’s Jewish music scene with members of the Philly Jewish community
  • Designing the final web archive, where we will be storing educational materials, video, audio, sheet music and historical and ethnographic information about the sher

By April, we hope to have:

  • Published (online and in hard copy) the sher music, recordings, performance notes, video of events at which it was performed, instructional video, and a history/ethnography of the Philadelphia sher.
  • Performed and taught the Philadelphia sher medley at area Jewish events and simchas, along with a short historical presentation.
  • Established a foothold for the Philly sher as a meaningful, living, breathing part of Philadelphia Jewish life, and self-sustaining methods for its transmission to future generations of musicians, dancers and partygoers.

There might also be a documentary film somewhere in there, depending on how things go.  Stay tuned for the launch of the official Philadelphia Sher Project blog within the next week or so, with photos, video and audio of this year’s Chanukah festivities!  Drop me an email or comment here if you want to get involved with this project at any level.

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