Library offers an exotic musical journey

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Music educator and opera buff Diane Mitchell’s six-week musical journey will be an international smorgasbord.

As previously reported in the Crier, this free course will examine the exotic influences on non-Western music and how they have permeated and profoundly changed Western music, from classical to jazz and everything in between. As Mitchell notes, “Where armies and explorers go, musicians and other artists also go, and those who come home often bring wondrous stories and songs with them.”

Here’s a peek at Mitchell’s syllabus.

Week one is called “Mediterranean Coexistence.” Mitchell writes, “During the Middle Ages, the boundaries between east and west were blurred as Mediterranean Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in relative harmony and their music reflects that.” Mitchell promises to explore the music of Sephardic Jews, Arab-Andalusian dances, Gregorian chant and Spanish court songs of the period.

Week two is called “From the Alhambra.” Historically, the northern African Moors had conquered and held most of southern Spain for about 700 years until the late 1400s. Arab music and poetry had a profound influence on the dance and music of Spain. Go to a flamenco show in Spain and you hear the Moorish bases of the songs and the way the singers articulate them. So much of what we consider Spanish music was originally Moorish, especially flamenco. This also can be heard in the music of classical composers like Albéniz, De Falla, Granados and Rodrigo.

Week three is called “Invasions from the East” and will survey the period in the 17th and 18th centuries when Ottoman conquerors got to the gates of Vienna before being stopped. Cultural influences, especially in music, seeped into Western music. Classical composers from Rameau to Beethoven were intrigued by exotic Turkish Janissaries and the gypsy music of Hungary and Poland.

Week four is “On the Steppes of Central Asia,” and traces the influence of the many cultures composing the Russian Empire of the 19th century — the results are heard in famous Russian composers’ music such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Borodin’s “Prince Igor” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”

Week five, “Pagodas in Paris,” traces how, with the opening of Japan to the West in the 1800s, all things Japanese and Chinese became the rage in Europe. Notes Mitchell, “At the Paris Exhibition of 1889, European composers such as Ravel and Debussy heard Indonesian gamelan and Japanese kotos for the first time, opening their ears to new harmonic and melodic sounds. “

Finally, in week six, Mitchell concludes her musical journey in the Americas, examining how the flood of immigrants in the 1800s, with their own musical traditions, began to create a new “American” sound. That sound showed up in odd rhythms from Turkey in Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” In the second half of the 20th century, classical composers like Phillip Glass were inspired by Asian philosophies and sounds that transformed their musical language and our musical lexicon.

Handouts from Mitchell will include lists of examples used in class and recommended reading. “People will be surprised at how great the Eastern influence is in art and music,” she said. “It’s everywhere, and I’m doing this because it’s the music I love. I’ll be supplementing the presentation with historic and modern videos which I hope will encourage people to go out and hear live music.”

Mitchell’s journey is free to the public and is held from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursdays from Sept. 21 to Oct. 26 in the community room of the Idyllwild Public Library.

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