Making Musical Connections: Hip Hop and Russian Folk Music

This particular musical connection was brought to my attention by a student of mine. My students had to prepare a melody for our end of semester playing exam, and she chose a section of Brian Balmages’ Moscow 1941, which is based on the Russian folk song Meadowlands.

Turn up your speakers, it’s a little quiet.

Anyway, this student walked into class one morning after practicing the piece, and asked if I was a fan of a group called Jedi Mind Tricks. Turns out her brother was listening to her practice, and noticed that the hook of a Jedi Mind Tricks song entitled Design In Malice also used this melody.

Check it out (some NSFW language):


Making Musical Connections: It’s Football Season!

College football season is one of my favorite parts of the year. Hours upon hours of great games every weekend, spectacular highlights, sacred gameday traditions, etc. As enjoyable as all those things are, I’d be remiss not to mention college marching bands, an integral part of the gameday experience for many of us.

As an undergraduate student, I was fortunate enough to spend a year with the Michigan State Spartan Marching Band. It was my first marching experience, as my high school did not field a football team or a marching band. My time in the SMB ended up being one of my favorite college experiences, and I regretted waiting until my junior year to give it a chance.

During my time at MSU, I became aware of this particular musical connection. First, here is the MSU Alma Mater, performed by the Spartan Marching Band.

Now, here’s the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor, by Donizetti.

The similarities are not exactly subtle, are they? In the mid-1920s, Bernard Traynor, a football coach at Michigan State College, composed new lyrics to accompany the melody from the Lucia sextet. Following a vote by the student body in 1949, Traynor’s text paired with Donizetti’s melody was officially adopted as MSU’s Alma Mater.

Making Musical Connections: Beethoven to Bonerama

Today’s entry in the Musical Connections series will be a lot more obvious than in the first entry. That’s impressive, because the link between Dies Irae and Juelz Santana was not at all subtle.

First, we have one of Beethoven’s lesser known works, a trombone quartet entitled Drei Equali. In musical terms, ‘equali’ was a piece of music for a homogenous group of instruments.

There you have the faculty of the Southeast Trombone Symposium performing Drei Equali. Musically, it’s a fairly simple piece from the performer’s point of view. There aren’t any demanding rhythms. The performers do have to take great care when addressing dynamics and intonation, and there are some upper register demands on the first part, especially if that trombonist is using a tenor trombone and not an alto. But, it’s not nearly as technically demanding as some of the other famous trombone quartet literature.

These musical characteristics allow the listener to sit back and soak in the gorgeous harmonies, and simple-but-effective counterpoint. Drei Equali is a beautiful piece of music, one that really displays the trombone timbre at its best. Beethoven composed this piece in 1812, for a performance at the Linz Cathedral, which looks like a beautiful place to take in a trombone performance.

New Orleans-based musicians Bonerama (comprised of the Harry Connick, Jr. Big Band trombone section, and some friends) have a decidedly different take on Beethoven’s work. For roughly the first 40 seconds, we’re led to believe that we are going to hear a fairly traditional interpretation. And then, well, I’ll let you take a listen.

Drums join us first, followed by some brilliant work on the sousaphone by Matt Perrine. The bass line he lays down is infectious, though not at all Beethoven-esque. And at first listen, you might think that Bonerama has abandoned Beethoven entirely. But then, at about 2:05…

And again at 3:13…

And finally at 4:46…

This is a brilliant merger of old trombone literature and the new school. Bonerama is paying homage to the roots of their instrument while pushing it forward at the same time. How many other bands could so seamlessly blend Nawlins brass band, funk, rock and Romantic-era music?

Making Musical Connections: An Introduction

Welcome to the first post in what (I hope) is a series of posts exploring interesting musical connections. In each entry, I’ll be taking a look at a couple of different pieces of music and exploring their relationship. Up first…

This is the Dies Irae, a piece of 13th century Gregorian Chant. You can explore the notation here (WARNING! NEUMES!) It’s just simple chant, in the Dorian mode.

Now, I could share quotations of the Dies Irae by Holst, Mahler, or Berlioz. But we can find something a little more…unexpected.

In 2007, Nike put out a commercial for their special 25th Anniversary Edition Air Force One shoes. For music, they went with a tune by New York-based rapper Juelz Santana. Just listen to the opening hook.

Yep, that’s a note for note Dies Irae quotation. By a 21st century hip-hop artist. And you know what? It fits the song perfectly. The string/brass/chime timbre combined with the Dorian mode lends the song a certain amount of grittiness, and the repetitive ostinato effect really propels the music forward.

I love that this piece of hip-hop can trace its musical roots back 700 years. It’s probably safe to say that Gregorian Chant-inspired hip-hop songs are few and far between, which makes this find that much more enjoyable.
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The Trombonist’s Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License