Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Paul McCartney

Music History Monday: Is There Something Strange in the Air?

As readers of this blog and/or listeners to this podcast are aware, some Mondays present us with a plethora, a Mother’s Day buffet of musical topics from which to choose, while others are as dry as a perfect martini. During such days of topical feast or famine, coming up with a topic is equally challenging: in the case of feast, the challenge is choosing one topic over the others and in the case of famine, manufacturing a post out of topical crumbs, dust motes, and bed mites.

Having said that, December 23 presents us with a situation I have never before faced in the 3½ years I’ve been writing this post. Yes, there are a couple of events – a birth and a death – that we will mark in a moment. But in doing my research, I have discovered a gaggle of strange, even horrific musical events associated with December 23, making me wonder whether there is some genuine weirdness in the air on this date. Is it the proximity of December 23 to Christmas Eve Day (the 24th) or the Winter Solstice (the 21st)? Is it a reflection of “The Night of the Radishes”, an annual celebration held on December 23 in Oaxaca, Mexico dedicated to carving oversized radishes? Perhaps it is a function of “Operational Servicemen Day”, a military holiday observed by all service personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine? Or maybe it’s all a result of the spirit of Festivus (“Festivus for the rest of us”), a secular holiday presumably “celebrated” on December 23 as an antidote to the materialism and commercialism of Christmas? (Festivus was invented in 1966 by the writer Daniel O’Keefe, though it gained prominence thanks to a 1997 Seinfeld episode called The Strike, which featured a Festivus dinner and such “traditional” Festivus activities as “The Airing of Grievances”, “Feats of Strength”, the labeling of commonplace events as “Festivus miracles”, and the display of a “Festivus pole”: a plain aluminum pole mounted on a wooden stand.

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Music History Monday: Microphones

On April 30th, 1977 – 41 years ago today – the English rock band Led Zeppelin set a new attendance record for a single-act, non-festival ticketed concert, when it played to an audience of 77,229 in Pontiac, Michigan at the Pontiac Silverdome, the capacity of which was a bit over 82,000. That information got me to thinking about the impact of amplification on the performance of music, particularly the amplification of music performed by the human voice. While the first microphones were developed independently by David Edward Hughes, Emile Berliner, and Thomas Edison in the 1870s, they were not employed in ballrooms and theaters to actually amplify a human voice performing live music until the very early 1930s. Up to that time, the largest possible performance venue for a trained singer was an opera house, and for most pop singers, spaces considerably smaller. Microphones and amplification rendered venue size moot; miked and amplified, anyone could be heard anywhere. Microphones and amplification also had a tremendous impact on voice type as well. You see, until the advent of amplification, the primary male voice type in popular music was the tenor voice. With its natural intensity and relatively high tessitura (vocal range), […]

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