Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Theater empowers Palestinians

Christian Science Monitor
From the February 28, 2007 edition -

Theater empowers Palestinians
Within the West Bank's impovershed Jenin camp, the Freedom Theater provides troubled youths with a grounding in performing arts.
By Amelia Thomas | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor


It's early morning in the troubled Jenin refugee camp, an isolated, impoverished stronghold for Palestinian resistance movements in the West Bank. Deep within the camp, a lively meeting is in progress in a freshly painted backroom. Its participants, however, are armed neither with Kalashnikovs nor hand grenades, but solely with the power of theater.

Presiding is Juliano Mer-Khamis, a well-known actor in Israel, the son of an Israeli mother and Palestinian father. His mother, Arna Mer, began working with the children of Jenin camp in 1988, eventually earning the Alternative Nobel Prize – the Right Livelihood Award, bestowed annually by Sweden's Parliament – for her work in 1993. The prize money was put toward financing a children's theater named "Arna's House." But when Arna died in 1995, the theater was shut down.

Later, during the violent 2002 "Battle of Jenin" – when Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian militants for several days – the camp was left in ruins and with it, the building containing "Arna's House." But in 2006, Mr. Mer-Khamis returned to Jenin to follow in his mother's footsteps. He launched the Freedom Theater to provide Jenin camp's troubled youths with a grounding in the performing arts.

"This is just the prologue," says the charismatic Mer-Khamis. "There has never been any theater in this area. There is no culture of theater or even art in general. So our most important work is not theatrical performance in the traditional sense, but to create a ground for future generations, so that they can one day speak in a clear theatrical language."

Most children here don't even know what a theatrical performance is, Mer-Khamis continues. They have "never seen a clown or been a member of an audience." Moreover, he says, theater has a negative, almost Victorian image within the traditional, sometimes reactionary, camp population. "It's thought of as something dark, unsavory, and for the lower ranks of society," he says. "We want to turn this prejudice upside down."

This morning's meeting is to welcome Israeli-Arab actress and director Valentina Abu Oqsa, who hopes to run a summer theater workshop that will culminate in a performance. It is illegal for Israeli citizens to enter the Jenin camp, and both Mer-Khamis and Ms. Abu Oqsa, along with many other Israeli visitors to the theater, are risking weighty fines, even imprisonment, simply by being here. But this, says Mer-Khamis, is "one way of opposing the occupation, by disregarding the physical barriers constraining us, as well as the psychological ones."

As the meeting ends and Abu Oqsa prepares to meet her rehearsal group in the newly completed theater space, she considers what lies ahead. "I think it's going to be very difficult," she says. "I don't know how easy it will be to get boys to open up or work together with the girls. And I must be very careful with the ideas we talk about onstage; we can't be very free in this society. My job is to accept the children as they are, because theater comes from the inside. I really hope that I can do it....

"Theater has healing power," she adds. "And it's important that the kids feel what it's like to be on stage. It's what we live for as actors, to stand up under the lights and communicate with an audience. It gives us space to dream."

Dreams, for the children of Jenin, are thin. The camp is subject to Israeli army incursions almost nightly. Poverty, unemployment, and isolation are at high levels. Many children have witnessed violence of one kind or another: homes destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers during the Battle of Jenin, the death of parents or siblings during hostilities. Except for the Freedom Theatre, there is little to do and barely even a place to play.

"We take in the broken people," says Mer-Khamis, "the neglected, the outsiders, those with nothing to lose. The intelligent 'upper class' is not here yet; the group of boys we have here now are car thieves, bandits, and petty criminals."

This group, about 15 boys between the ages of 12 and 18, are the ones Abu Oqsa now welcomes into the theater. Slowly, she takes them through a series of warm-up exercises. The boys, at first rowdy and laughing, eventually simmer down and listen to her instructions, concentrating and becoming increasingly cooperative.

"These boys," says Mer-Khamis proudly, watching from the sidelines, "were the ones everyone said we shouldn't take in. Members of the camp's committee itself told me to refuse them, that they were bad news. I've been working with them for a month now, and the difference is astonishing. They're learning about respect, cooperation, togetherness. Even I was surprised by their progress; this is the magic of the stage."

But theater projects in Jenin have not always managed to make a lasting, positive impact on participants' lives. Many of the boys of Arna Mer's original theater group – featured in Mer-Khamis's 2003 documentary, "Arna's Children" – are now dead. One, Ashraf Abu el-Haje, was killed in fighting in 2002; a second, Ala'a Sabagh, joined the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, before also being killed in battle. A third, Yussef Swetty, died during a 2001 suicide mission in Israel when he opened fire on civilians in the town of Hadera, killing four women. His brother, Nidal Swetty, became a member of the Islamic Jihad group and died fighting Israeli troops in the Battle of Jenin.

Today, one of the boys participating in Abu Oqsa's workshop is 18-year-old Yasin Swetty, brother of Yussef and Nidal. Not long after the deaths of his two elder brothers, Yasin's home was demolished by the Israeli army. Mr. Swetty is unemployed, and has been attending the theater for the last month. It has changed his life, he says.

"I feel empowered on stage," he says, "It's given my life some sort of meaning. I have a goal to become something, and suddenly I'm part of a group. Since I stepped on stage, my only dream is to become a great actor. I want to play Romeo."

His brothers, too, both dreamed of becoming professional actors. "But they ended up dead, defending our people. If I will be forced to defend my people, I will do the same – by acting."

Faris Juradat, also 18, was initially identified by Mer-Khamis as "the biggest bandit of them all." Now, he says, he wants to become a professional actor and travel to Europe to perform. "Before, I spent a lot of time on the street," he explains, "but now I feel my future is here. Through theater, I can cross walls; I see there's more to life than soldiers shooting at Palestinians."

After a long day on stage, the theater workshop draws to a close. Abu Oqsa emerges, exhilarated, as dusk settles in and a melancholy call to prayer begins to trill out from the camp's central mosque.

"It was wonderful," she exclaims. "At first they were a bit hard to control, but they're only boys, after all. I got through to them eventually, and they were responding very well. I now feel very positive about the future of my project; really, this is excellent!"

Onstage, the boys now rig up a microphone and launch into an impromptu musical performance, leaping joyfully around, arms linked, in a traditional Palestinian dabke dance.

But is Mer-Khamis concerned that these boys, in just a few years, might be armed fighters or suicide bombers? "The boys will be exposed to theater, art, and culture, and will learn more about the outside world, so it's very natural that in the future, they'll become leaders, perhaps locally, or in Palestine as a whole. What kind of leadership – with a gun or a guitar – is their choice. I really hope it's a guitar. But in the end," he adds, "this is the Freedom Theatre."
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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Confession in the Joyce Hatto Scandal

New York Times
February 27, 2007
Pianist’s Widower Admits Fraud in Recordings Issued as His Wife’s

PARIS, Feb. 26 — The widower of a much-praised but little-known British pianist has admitted passing off recordings by other pianists as those of his ailing wife to win her the recognition that poor health had denied her, according to Gramophone, a British magazine.

Ten days ago, the magazine’s Web site,, presented evidence that several recordings attributed to Joyce Hatto, who died in June at 77, were the works of other pianists. Soon afterward, her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, insisted that she was the sole pianist on the records issued by his small label, Concert Artist.

Gramophone now reports that in a letter to Robert von Bahr, the head of BIS Records, Mr. Barrington-Coupe confessed to using other people’s recordings as his wife’s and said he regretted his actions. “He feels that he has acted stupidly, dishonestly and unlawfully,” Gramophone reported on its Web site.

James Inverne, the editor of Gramophone, said Mr. Barrington-Coupe had confirmed the contents of the letter in a telephone interview. Mr. Inverne said Mr. von Bahr had earlier shared the contents of the letter with him.

Mr. von Bahr’s label, based in Sweden, had issued Laszlo Simon’s recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Études, the first of several recordings that were later reportedly reissued under Ms. Hatto’s name. In a statement on Friday, Mr. von Bahr said that he did not plan to take legal action against Concert Artist.

“Given the circumstances surrounding Ms. Hatto’s sickness and fate, there may be deeply felt — if misguided — personal reasons for it,” Mr. von Bahr said.

Ms. Hatto’s career as a concert pianist was cut short in 1976 when she fell ill with ovarian cancer. She moved to the countryside with her husband, a sound engineer, and continued to record well-known works from the piano repertory. Barely two years ago, music critics began praising those recordings, with one critic heralding Ms. Hatto as “the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of.”

On its Web site on Monday, Gramophone said that in his letter to BIS Records, Mr. Barrington-Coupe said he had used other pianists’ recordings to give his wife “the illusion of a great end to an unfairly (as he terms it) overlooked career.”

Mr. Barrington-Coupe is quoted as saying that after CD technology arrived in the early 1980s, his attempts to transfer her cassette recordings to CDs proved unsuccessful. He and his wife therefore decided to re-record her repertory.

“Although she kept up a rigorous practice regime, Barrington-Coupe says that Hatto was suffering more than she admitted, even to herself,” Mr. Inverne wrote. “Recording session after recording session was marred by her many grunts of pain as she played, and her husband was at a loss to know how to cover the problem passages.”

It was then that Mr. Barrington-Coupe began inserting small patches from other recordings to cover his wife’s grunts, Mr. Inverne said. Subsequently, he used longer passages and discovered how to stretch the time of the original recordings digitally to disguise their origin. “However, he maintains that his wife knew nothing of the deception,” Mr. Inverne added.

Mr. Inverne said he pressed Mr. Barrington-Coupe to provide a full list of the recordings used on behalf of Ms. Hatto. “Only then will we know how good she actually was,” he said, “and only then can at least some of her reputation be salvaged.”

But Mr. Barrington-Coupe, 76, apparently declined to provide more information in his conversation with Mr. Inverne on Monday. “I’m tired,” Mr. Inverne quoted him as saying. “I’m not very well. I’ve closed the operation down. I’ve had the stock completely destroyed, and I’m not producing more. Now I just want a little bit of peace.”

In the music recording world, though, the search to find the pianists behind other recordings carrying Ms. Hatto’s name continues. Andrew Rose, a British sound engineer who first confirmed that Ms. Hatto’s recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Études was copied, noted on Monday on his Web site ( that “we have yet to investigate a Hatto recording that has not proved to be a hoax.”

Op-ed on the Joyce Hatto scandal

New York Times
February 26, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
Shoot the Piano Player

Christchurch, New Zealand

IT seemed almost too good to be true, and in the end it was. A conscientious pianist who had enjoyed an active if undistinguished career in London falls ill and retreats to a small town. Here she undertakes a project to record virtually the entire standard classical repertoire. Her recordings, CDs made when she was in her late 60s and 70s, are staggering, showing a masterful technique, a preternatural ability to adapt to different styles and a depth of musical insight hardly seen elsewhere.

Born in 1928, the pianist, Joyce Hatto, was the daughter of a music-loving London antiques dealer. As a teenager, she said, she kept practicing during the Blitz, hiding under the piano when the bombs were falling. She claimed later to have known the composers Ralph Vaughn Williams, Benjamin Britten and Carl Orff, to have studied Chopin with the French virtuoso Alfred Cortot and taken advice from the pianist Clara Haskil. She was Arnold Bax’s favored interpreter for his “Symphonic Variations.”

Ms. Hatto made recordings from the 1950s until 1970 — some Mozart and Rachmaninoff — but tending toward light-music potboilers: Hubert Bath’s “Cornish Rhapsody” and Richard Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto.” Her career was already in decline when she was given a cancer diagnosis in the early 1970s. She retired to a village near Cambridge with her husband, a recording engineer named William Barrington-Coupe, and a fine old Steinway that Rachmaninoff himself had used for prewar recitals in Britain.

Then came one of the strangest turns in the history of classical music. Starting in 1989, Joyce Hatto began recording CDs for a small record label run by her husband. She began with Liszt, went back to cover Bach and all of the Mozart sonatas and continued with a complete Beethoven sonata set. Then on to Schubert and Schumann, Chopin and more Liszt. She played Messiaen. Her Prokofiev sonatas (all nine) were tossed off with incredible virtuosity. In total she recorded more than 120 CDs — including many of the most difficult piano pieces ever written, played with breathtaking speed and accuracy.

Intriguingly, she gave to the music a developed although oddly malleable personality. She could do Schubert in one style, and then Prokofiev almost as though she was a new person playing a different piano — an astonishing, chameleon-like artistic ability.

We normally think of prodigies as children who exhibit some kind of miraculous ability in music. Joyce Hatto became something unheard of in the annals of classical music: a prodigy of old age — the very latest of late bloomers, “the greatest living pianist that almost no one has heard of,” as the critic Richard Dyer put it for himself and many other piano aficionados in The Boston Globe.

Little wonder that when she at last succumbed to her cancer last year at age 77 — recording Beethoven’s Sonata No. 26, “Les Adieux,” from a wheelchair in her last days — The Guardian called her “one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced.” Nice touch, that, playing Beethoven’s farewell sonata from a wheelchair. It went along with her image in the press as an indomitable spirit with a charming personality — always ready with a quote from Shakespeare, Arthur Rubinstein or Muhammad Ali. She also had a clear vision of the mission of musical interpreters, telling The Boston Globe: “Our job is to communicate the spiritual content of life as it is presented in the music. Nothing belongs to us; all you can do is pass it along.”

Now it has become brutally clear that “passing along” is exactly what she was up to. Earlier this month, a reader of the British music magazine Gramophone told one of its critics, Jed Distler, that something odd happened when he slid Ms. Hatto’s CD of Liszt’s “Transcendental Études” into his computer. His iTunes library, linked to a catalogue of about four million CDs, immediately identified it as a recording by the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. Mr. Distler then listened to both recordings, and found them identical.

Since then, analysis by professional sound engineers and piano enthusiasts across the globe has pushed toward the same conclusion: the entire Joyce Hatto oeuvre recorded after 1989 appears to be stolen from the CDs of other pianists. It is a scandal unparalleled in the annals of classical music.

Ms. Hatto usually stole from younger artists who were not household names, although on the basis of the reviews she received, they richly deserved to be. Her recording of Chopin mazurkas seems to be by Eugen Indjic; the fiendishly difficult transcription of Chopin studies by Leopold Godowsky are actually recordings by Carlo Grante and Marc-André Hamelin; her Messiaen recordings were by Paul S. Kim; her version of the “Goldberg” Variations of Bach at least in part by Pi-Hsien Chen; the complete Ravel piano music by Roger Muraro. As reports come in, the rip-off list grows daily.

Her concerto recordings are even more brazen. The CD labels say they were made with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, always conducted by one René Köhler. Mr. Barrington-Coupe told a reporter that this was his name for a pick-up orchestra of Polish émigrés whom, he said, came out from London to record at a venue he now refuses to reveal. He declined to further discuss the orchestra on the grounds that they were employed “below union rates.” No one has yet been able to find a single reference to this René Köhler outside of the Joyce Hatto recordings, nor have any members of the orchestra come forward to confirm Mr. Barrington-Coupe’s story.

In a rapturous review of Ms. Hatto’s playing of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, one critic said of the orchestra musicians: “It doesn’t matter who they are, their playing is tight and hot.” Actually, it did matter, since they have turned out to be the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, performing with the formidable Yefim Bronfman. Her version of the Brahms Second Concerto is Vladimir Ashkenazy’s, with the Vienna Philharmonic under Bernard Haitink laboring in the name of René Köhler and his non-union Poles.

Since the news broke, some have likened the exploits of Joyce Hatto to the notorious 20th-century Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren. But the differences are significant. Van Meegeren’s success was based as much on presentation — stories of old Italian families impoverished before World War II and needing quick cash — as on artistic plausibility. After he confessed, it was not hard for anyone to see that his dreadful fakes had more in common with each other than with any original Vermeers.

Joyce Hatto, however, was not a pianistic forger. In order to forge a piano performance, she would have had to record Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” herself and sell it to the world as a lost recording by, say, William Kapell. She was instead a plagiarist: she stole other pianists’ work and, with only a few electronic alterations, sold it as her own.

Although the critics who praised Van Meegerens’s “Vermeers” as masterpieces were in the end rightly humiliated, the same should not be true of those who praised Ms. Hatto’s recordings. They may have been fooled, but their opinions were not foolish, because the artists she ripped off played beautifully.

Yet the Joyce Hatto episode is a stern reminder of the importance of framing and background in criticism. Music isn’t just about sound; it is about achievement in a larger human sense. If you think an interpretation is by a 74-year-old pianist at the end of her life, it won’t sound quite the same to you as if you think it’s by a 24-year-old piano-competition winner who is just starting out. Beyond all the pretty notes, we want creative engagement and communication from music, we want music to be a bridge to another personality. Otherwise, we might as well feed Chopin scores into a computer.

This makes instrumental criticism a tricky business. I’m personally convinced that there is an authentic, objective maturity that I can hear in the later recordings of Rubinstein. This special quality of his is actually in the music, and is not just subjectively derived from seeing the wrinkles in the old man’s face. But the Joyce Hatto episode shows that our expectations, our knowledge of a back story, can subtly, or perhaps even crudely, affect our aesthetic response.

The greatest lesson for us all ought to be, however, that there are more fine young pianists out there than most of us realize. If it wasn’t Joyce Hatto, then who did perform those dazzlingly powerful Prokofiev sonatas? Having been so moved by hearing “her” Schubert on the radio, I’ve vowed to honor the real pianist by ordering the proper CD, as soon as I find out who it is. Backhanded credit to Joyce Hatto for having introduced us to some fine new talent.

Denis Dutton, who teaches aesthetics at the University of Canterbury, is the author of the forthcoming book “The Art Instinct.”

Song Wakens Injured Pride of Afrikaners

New York Times
February 27, 2007
Song Wakens Injured Pride of Afrikaners

JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 26 — “Proudly South African” is this nation’s E Pluribus Unum, a slogan stamped on products, echoed in radio commercials and inculcated into the new South African DNA. Much as America’s motto celebrates melding many into one, South Africa’s says that it doesn’t matter what you look like — we can all be proud of our young country.

Enter Louis Pepler, who, perhaps inadvertently, has cast the notion of South African pride in a whole new light. He and two friends penned an unlikely rock ballad about an Afrikaner general named De la Rey who battled British forces a century ago, and it instantly became an Afrikaner anthem.

Mr. Pepler calls the song, “De la Rey,” a testament to Afrikaner pride. “I’m part of this rainbow country of ours,” he said. “But I’m one of the colors, and I’m sticking up for who I am. I’m proud of who I am.”

Which would be fine, except that nobody, not even Afrikaners themselves, agrees on what an Afrikaner is these days.

A dozen years after the end of an Afrikaner government that invented apartheid, the mere concept of Afrikaner pride remains an exquisitely sensitive issue among whites and blacks alike. Are Afrikaners the feared Dutch descendants who built an empire based on a belief in their God-ordained racial superiority? Are they just another ethnic group, like the Zulu and Sotho and Xhosa, with a distinct place in the new democracy? Or are they South Africans first and foremost— 2.5 million whites in a stewpot of 4.5 million whites among 47.5 million people — and Afrikaners second, or third?

“De la Rey” has become a vessel for those aspirations and fears and, for the last month, the object of a caustic, often racially tinged national debate.

The seeds of the debate were planted late last year, when “De la Rey” first saturated Afrikaner radio airwaves and catapulted Mr. Pepler from middling success on the bar and restaurant circuit into an ethnic rock icon. Suddenly, at some of his concerts, a small knot of fans began to wave the old orange-and-green flag of apartheid South Africa as “De la Rey” was sung.

Mr. Pepler repudiated them. But the Ministry of Arts and Culture was unpersuaded. Two weeks ago it issued a brusque warning that “De la Rey” was “in danger of being hijacked by a minority of right wingers,” and that “those who incite treason, whatever methods they might employ, might well find themselves in difficulty with the law.”

That drew a barbed retort from the Democratic Alliance, the second largest and mostly white political party. If the government was looking for subversion in a song, the party said, it might well examine “Bring Me My Machine Gun,” the personal anthem of Jacob Zuma, the deputy president of the governing African National Congress and an aspirant to succeed President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. Zuma and a business adviser faced bribery and corruption charges last year. Throngs of his supporters chanted the song outside their courtrooms, an act some critics called an attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Since the dispute over “De la Rey” began, a ban on singing it has been issued and revoked at Loftus Stadium in Johannesburg, the nation’s most hallowed rugby pitch; the culture minister affirmed his support in Parliament for Mr. Pepler’s freedom of expression; and Nelson R. Mandela’s personal assistant has defended the song as a youthful cry for direction. Newspapers and blogs have resounded with competing takes on the meaning of its lyrics and its larger significance.

Taken literally, the lyrics are clear: “De la Rey” is a song about Afrikaner history. In the Second Boer War, from 1899 to 1902, a much larger British force overwhelmed the Boers, or Afrikaners, in a scramble for gold and land — but only after Gen. Koos de la Rey inflicted punishing defeats on the British. Nearly 28,000 Afrikaners and perhaps 20,000 black Africans died in British concentration camps during the war, many of them women and children. Their suffering is a central theme in Afrikaner lore.

Mr. Pepler’s song is set in the trenches of that war. In the music video, a blooded and beleaguered Afrikaner soldier sings of “a handful of us against a whole big force” and “a nation that will rise again” — as the Afrikaners later did, winning control of South Africa in an election in 1948.

“De la Rey, de la Rey,” the refrain pleads, “will you come and lead the Boers?”

But while the lyrics as a whole refer to the Boer War, some see in those phrases, and in the soldier’s hopeless plight, a metaphor for Afrikaners’ reduced place in post-apartheid society. His plea for a leader is viewed as a call for resistance to South Africa’s government, which is based on universal suffrage.

Not only blacks have raised those interpretations. “I understand Afrikaans, and I’ve listened to the song,” said Steven Friedman, an independent white political analyst. “It says that ‘we need to follow some sort of general like you,’ which could be interpreted by literal-minded people to be a call to arms.”

Mr. Pepler, 28, a construction engineer from Pretoria, calls that interpretation “totally ridiculous.”

“I’m not clever enough to read coded language in a song,” he said after a concert in Orania, a village of 600 on the fringes of the Great Karoo desert. “It’s such a sensitive subject. You say ‘Boer,’ and everyone is ‘What is this now?’ It’s directly connected to people getting ideas and pictures in their heads — that a Boer is a right-wing person with khaki clothes who wants to murder black people.”

Such people undoubtedly exist; a few far-right Afrikaners were recently tried on charges of antigovernment terrorism. But many more seem to be searching for a comfortable place in a black-majority society and still have not found it.

The Sunday Independent, perhaps South Africa’s most renowned newspaper, says the song “answers a deep sadness” in Afrikaners’ souls, a feeling that they have not merely fallen from power but have been marginalized in South African society — tossed into history’s dustbin, as Ronald Reagan once said of the Soviets.

In its comment on “De la Rey,” the government raised those fears, then dismissed them as nonsense. In fact, better than one in seven South Africans speaks or understands Afrikaans, including many blacks.

But many Afrikaners are not convinced. Students at Stellenbosch University, once the Harvard of Afrikaner enlightenment, have formed a society to preserve Afrikaans-language teaching there. Eastward, in the Indian Ocean province of Mpumalanga, government officials this month decertified an Afrikaans school that refused to teach courses in English.

Afrikaners complain that the government has excised their history, including General de la Rey’s exploits, from official textbooks.

“It’s a continual process of assimilating Afrikaners into the larger population,” said Corel Boshoff, who represents Orania in the Parliament of Northern Cape Province. Mr. Boshoff says his great-grandfather was born in a British concentration camp. Yet Afrikaner history, including the Boer War, has been sidelined to a few sentences in South African history texts, he says. He argues that the language and culture of Afrikaners may be next.

Mr. Boshoff is hardly the exemplar of his cause. He is a relative of Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African leader who institutionalized apartheid as national policy in the 1950s.

Orania itself, a privately owned compound, was founded in 1990 as an all-Afrikaner enclave, a place where Boer culture could flourish free of black, mixed-race or even white English influence. A bust of Mr. Verwoerd dominates its entrance. The town’s 600 residents even have their own currency. Most people would call Orania’s very premise racist.

Moreover, hardly all Afrikaners share Mr. Boshoff’s views. Among intellectuals a school of thought argues that Afrikaners should sublimate their ethnic identities in favor of the larger purpose of forging an integrated South African society, a model for the world.

Yet it is still possible to recognize that it is not easy to be a proud Afrikaner these days. “Not everything we did in our history was wrong and bad and despicable,” Mr. Boshoff said as Mr. Pepler’s band clamored in the background. “There’s also a history of a hundred years ago, which is represented by this song.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Theraputic Choir for the Suffering and Dying

Compassion fills a choir's repertoire

Bedside singers soothe the sick and the dying
By Steve Schmidt

February 26, 2007

SANTA CRUZ – An ardent band of women in the seaside city of Santa Cruz is on a heavenly mission – they sing for the dying.

They call themselves the Threshold Choir, and they perform at the bedsides of the terminally ill, singing in intimate tones, like a mother soothing a newborn.

“We think of these as lullabies for ... on the way out,” said choir founder Kate Munger.

Munger, a minister's daughter, started the singing group several years ago. Today, the Marin County woman oversees 35 Threshold Choirs in a dozen states.

They sing a cappella in homes, hospitals and hospices, at the request of the dying and their families.

The choir members believe singing calms the fear and pain at the end of life.

“I've been in a lot of choirs and I've done a lot of singing over the years, but there's nothing like the power of this,” said Amrita Cottrell, with the Santa Cruz choir. “It brings people back to a place of tranquillity and healing.”

To avoid overwhelming the dying or their family, no more than two or three choir members sing at a bedside at a time. Each choir has a roster of 60 to 80 members.

The choirs draw on a 300-song repertoire of hymns, gospel tunes and other pieces assembled by Munger – from “Ave Maria” to “I'll Fly Away” to “Calling All Angels” by Canadian songwriter Jane Siberry.

At a recent rehearsal of the Santa Cruz group, staged in a chapel at the city's Dominican Hospital, a dozen singers practiced a brief melody penned by a friend of the choir.

Sitting in a circle within the dimly lit chapel, they sounded a muted, contemplative tone:

“I'm sending you light

To heal you, to hold you.

I'm sending you light

To hold you in love.”

A hospital patient entered, gripping a walker and wearing a thin gown.

Hearing the song, Brent Ellis, 48, swayed his frail head.

“I was just going to find a silent place to pray and instead I found this chapel full of wonderful angel choir music,” Ellis said later. “I cried at one point. I cried because it was so beautiful.”

He is dealing with pneumonia and chronic pancreatitis, a disease that he said will claim his life someday.

Song, like prayer, can act as a balm, said John Fanestil of La Mesa. A Methodist clergyman, Fanestil wrote the 2006 book “Mrs. Hunter's Happy Death: Lessons on Living from People Preparing to Die.”

“Music helps people go back in their memories, to favorite times in their lives, to particular people and particular events,” he said. “The idea of music at the death bed is consistent with everything I know about good practices of dying.”

Fanestil brings a hymnal when he visits the terminally ill.

Sometimes, he quietly sings in their ear. Other times, he encourages family and friends to try a favorite song.

Not just to help the person, but to comfort themselves, he said.

At San Diego Hospice in Hillcrest, volunteer harpists play for patients, with their permission. A hospice official said community choirs have also performed in the facility.

She had spent a day with him, doing his laundry and other household chores. He was comatose and in bed.

She wound up singing to him for two hours.

“What was really profound was how serene I got. I knew that as I calmed ... my inner calm was contagious to him,” she said. “At the end of the afternoon, I felt like I had really stumbled onto something extraordinary.”

There are a dozen Threshold Choirs today in the Bay Area, including in Oakland, Concord and San Anselmo. Munger directs nearly all of the groups.

She has also overseen the formation of choirs in Chico and Davis, along with groups in Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, Alaska and other states.

Munger said a San Diego group may form this spring.

The Threshold singers are all women. Some arrive with years of choir experience. Others come without training, inspired by the group's unusual mission.

“Most of them are people who have had really amazing things happen to them – miraculous and tragic,” Munger said. “And sometimes a combination of those two.”

Khalila Alldis joined the Santa Cruz group three years ago. She is a 60-year-old massage therapist. She struggles with back problems and chronic headaches.

Singing, she said, provides a kind of tonic.

Her choir practices in the Dominican Hospital chapel. It also sings in the hospital's sun-lit lobby two mornings a month.

“I can be having a terrible day and come in and sing for 10 or 15 minutes and my whole perspective changes,” Alldis said. “It's just the best, quickest, most transformative high.”

It also helps ease the pain of her husband's death. She said he was murdered 14 years ago. Even talking about it today, she tears up.

“Twenty-two years we were together,” she said. “I don't think I would have made it beyond that at all without being able to sing.”

Joanne Lamb, 56, sings with the Palo Alto chapter. At a recent rehearsal, she volunteered to sit in a reclining chair surrounded by the singers.

It gave the choir a chance to practice in a setting resembling a bedroom. It also proved therapeutic to Lamb.

Pained by the breakup of her marriage, Lamb lay in the chair and quietly wept.

“I've never felt so surrounded and protected and safe,” she said later. “We're all healed by doing this. We're all healed by singing.”

Laura Devine joined the Santa Cruz choir in June, when her mother was in the hospital. Learning that doctors didn't expect her mother to live, Devine rushed to her mother's bedside, badly shaken. She sang a slow gospel-inspired song she had just learned in the choir:

“I'm gonna lift my mother up

She is not heavy

If I don't lift her up

I will fall down.”

Devine, 50, believes her singing played a role in her mother's unexpected recovery – she was home within a week – saying the incident taught her “the power of the voice.”

Munger said it takes courage to stand over a dying stranger's bed and sing. It's so intimate, and some choir members take months or years before trying it.

Most requests for a choir visit come from the elderly who are spending their final days at home.

Once the first note sounds, Munger said, the singers often witness a series of changes.

The ailing person's heartbeat frequently steadies. The face softens. Relatives in the room breathe more deeply, or join in and sing.

It's a comforting moment, Munger said, as when a mother softly croons a lullaby at the end of the day.

Or, in this case, “at the end of a lovely, long life.”

For more information about the organization, go to

Monteverde's pioneering opera "L'Orfeo" turns 400

February 26, 2007
How Can Opera Carry On? For Some Clues, Look to Where It Started Out

MANTUA, Italy, Feb. 25 — The world of culture loves anniversaries, but rare is the occasion when an entire art form can celebrate a major birthday as opera did this weekend, exactly four centuries after Monteverdi’s pioneering work, “L’Orfeo,” was performed in this medieval Italian city.

Naturally enough “L’Orfeo” was again presented here, albeit not in the Palace of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga, where it had its premiere on Feb. 24, 1607, but in the 18th-century Teatro Bibiena. Further, compared with the premiere’s hand-painted décor and daring “flying” machines, this was a more modest semi-staged affair.

Still, for opera sentimentalists, it was a moment to reflect on the origins of this genre of music theater — one later described by Samuel Johnson as “exotick and irrational entertainment” — which soon spread from Mantua to Venice and by the end of the 17th century had conquered much of Europe.

The “Orfeo” anniversary has also been an occasion for more topical debate about the present and future of an art form that to many, both inside and outside this cultish world, is seemingly constantly in crisis. Ten days ago European opera managers and directors gathered in Paris to address the central question: What is opera’s place in the 21st century?

The crowds attending two performances of “L’Orfeo” here this weekend suggested that opera’s appeal is far from waning. And, thinking of the future as well as the past, the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana, which organized this production, picked the cast of “L’Orfeo” from among 245 international singers under the age of 40 who competed for the 17 roles.

With Roberto Gini conducting the Ensemble Concerto and Concerto Palatino, the director Gianfranco de Bosio compensated for the lack of décor and costumes with lively dancing and some persuasive acting, notably from the young Portuguese tenor Fernando Guimarães as Orfeo. The Spanish soprano Eva Juárez sang Euridice, Pretty Yende from South Africa was Musica, and Yang Shen of China was an impressive Caronte.

Given the way Mantuans welcomed back Monteverdi on Saturday evening, it was easy to forget that this city’s relationship with opera more or less ended with “L’Orfeo.”

The true cradle of opera was Florence, where in the 1580s and 1590s a group of poets, artists and musicians known as the camerata sought to recreate “authentic” Greek theater. Convinced that this theater had included singing, they borrowed from Greek mythology and began composing vocal roles designed to imitate speech. The result was “a work in music,” an “opera in musica.”

The first composer to finesse this new hybrid of music, drama and ballet was Jacopo Peri, whose “Dafne” premiered in Florence a decade before “L’Orfeo.” This was followed in 1600 by “Euridice,” with competing scores by Peri and Emilio Caccini. But while the score of “Dafne” is lost, and “Euridice” had little influence beyond Florence, Monteverdi’s masterpiece served as a template for future operas.

Thus it is as the composer of the oldest opera in today’s repertory that Monteverdi has earned the title of father of opera — and this weekend the symbolic anniversary of opera’s birth.

Mantua’s role in all this, however, was somewhat accidental. When Monteverdi joined Duke Vincenzo’s court musicians as a string player in 1590, Mantua was a quintessential Renaissance city, one where artists (Rubens was hired by the duke in 1600), composers, poets and scientists rubbed shoulders. As music director to the court from 1602, Monteverdi was expected to compose.

Yet in its day “L’Orfeo” was not significant enough for surviving records to show how it was received or even where in the sprawling Palazzo Ducale it was performed. Even after extensive research Paola Besutti, a Monteverdi expert, still mentions several grand halls — the Manto, Specchi, Fiumi and Imperiale — as possible sites.

In 1613, apparently tired of life in Mantua, Monteverdi became music director at St. Mark’s in Venice. There he concentrated on religious music before returning to opera with two final masterpieces, “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” in 1540 and “L’incoronazione di Poppea” in 1543.

Meanwhile Mantua appears to have forgotten him until now. This city’s considerable claim to fame lies in literature (Virgil was born nearby), painting (Mantegna, Pisanello and Giulio Romano all worked here) and Renaissance architecture. A statue of Dante Alighieri stands beside the Teatro Bibiena, but no bust or statue of Monteverdi can be found here.

Yet it is from “L’Orfeo” in Mantua four centuries ago that a line can be drawn — through the monumental works of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner — to the operas being composed today. How to bridge that past and the present was one topic worrying European opera managers in Paris earlier this month.

If opera is not to become a “museum art,” it must renew its repertory. Yet while new works are routinely commissioned, many opera lovers resist experimental contemporary scores, preferring the evergreens of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. The principal novelty of recent seasons has been the revival of Baroque composers, notably Handel.

Nonetheless, boosted in the 1990s by stadium-filling shows by the so-called Three Tenors (Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras), opera continues to grow in popularity, so much so that its traditional 19th-century homes have now been joined by new opera houses in Copenhagen, Valencia, the Canary Islands, Tokyo, Shanghai and, in 2008, Beijing.

On the other hand, with opera by far the most expensive performing art to produce, even with houses receiving enormous subsidies from governments in Europe and private sponsors in the United States, the high cost of opera seats in most cities tends to put off young music lovers and inevitably reinforces the image of opera as somehow elitist.

At the center of the Paris debate, then, was the need to win over younger audiences.

Peter Gelb, the new general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, was invited to share his strategy, which has so far included offering reduced-price tickets on weekends, adding glamour to the season’s opening night and organizing high-definition transmissions of live performances to movie theaters around the United States.

But to survive opera also needs exciting singers and, encouragingly, a generational change is already well underway. Appropriately, then, the fine young singers performing “L’Orfeo” here this weekend were celebrating opera’s past just as they were representing its future.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

History Dept. Bans Wikipedia Citations

New York Times
February 21, 2007
A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”

With the move, Middlebury, in Vermont, jumped into a growing debate within journalism, the law and academia over what respect, if any, to give Wikipedia articles, written by hundreds of volunteers and subject to mistakes and sometimes deliberate falsehoods. Wikipedia itself has restricted the editing of some subjects, mostly because of repeated vandalism or disputes over what should be said.

Although Middlebury’s history department has banned Wikipedia in citations, it has not banned its use. Don Wyatt, the chairman of the department, said a total ban on Wikipedia would have been impractical, not to mention close-minded, because Wikipedia is simply too handy to expect students never to consult it.

At Middlebury, a discussion about the new policy is scheduled on campus on Monday, with speakers poised to defend and criticize using the site in research.

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and chairman emeritus of its foundation, said of the Middlebury policy, “I don’t consider it as a negative thing at all.”

He continued: “Basically, they are recommending exactly what we suggested — students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias. I would hope they wouldn’t be citing Encyclopaedia Britannica, either.

“If they had put out a statement not to read Wikipedia at all, I would be laughing. They might as well say don’t listen to rock ’n’ roll either.”

Indeed, the English-language version of the site had an estimated 38 million users in the United States in December, and can be hard to avoid while on the Internet. Google searches on such diverse subjects as historical figures like Confucius and concepts like torture give the Wikipedia entry the first listing.

In some colleges, it has become common for professors to assign students to create work that appears on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia’s list of school and university projects, this spring the University of East Anglia in England and Oberlin College in Ohio will have students edit articles on topics being taught in courses on the Middle East and ancient Rome.

In December 2005, a Columbia professor, Henry Smith, had the graduate students in his seminar create a Japanese bibliography project, posted on Wikipedia, to describe and analyze resources like libraries, reference books and newspapers. With 16 contributors, including the professor, the project comprises dozens of articles, including 13 on different Japanese dictionaries and encyclopedias.

In evaluations after the class, the students said that creating an encyclopedia taught them discipline in writing and put them in contact with experts who improved their work and whom, in some cases, they were later able to interview.

“Most were positive about the experience, especially the training in writing encyclopedia articles, which all of them came to realize is not an easy matter,” Professor Smith wrote in an e-mail message. “Many also retained their initial ambivalence about Wikipedia itself.”

The discussion raised by the Middlebury policy has been covered by student newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts, among others. The Middlebury Campus, the student weekly, included an opinion article last week by Chandler Koglmeier that accused the history department of introducing “the beginnings of censorship.”

Other students call the move unnecessary. Keith Williams, a senior majoring in economics, said students “understand that Wikipedia is not a responsible source, that it hasn’t been thoroughly vetted.” Yet he said, “I personally use it all the time.”

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”

For his course “Media Technology and Cultural Change,” which began this month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and produce a blog for the course.

Another Middlebury professor, Thomas Beyer, of the Russian department, said, “I guess I am not terribly impressed by anyone citing an encyclopedia as a reference point, but I am not against using it as a starting point.”

And yes, back at Wikipedia, the Jesuits are still credited as supporting the Shimabara Rebellion.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Classical music sales biggest increase in 2006

number 1
Is Classical Making a Comeback?
The hottest musical genre of 2006.
By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Friday, Feb. 23, 2007, at 12:18 PM ET

Is classical music—a genre that has spent a seeming eternity on the commercial skids—staging a comeback? That's the buzz on Nielsen SoundScan's 2006 report card, which listed classical as the year's fastest-growing musical genre. In an otherwise dreary year, sales of classical albums—a figure that includes CDs, LPs, and downloaded albums—increased by 22.5 percent, or 3.57 million units. That put the genre way ahead of such laggards as jazz (down 8.3 percent), alternative (down 9.2 percent), and rap (down 20.7 percent).

Accustomed to dismal stories about the graying of classical's audience, aficionados were elated by the Nielsen numbers. "Who killed the death of classical music?" blogged New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, taking a verbal jab at an ominously titled 1997 book. Some industry observers, notably Wired editor Chris Anderson (a boss and friend of mine), opined that classical's rise was due mostly to increasing online sales—in other words, yet another validation of the Long Tail, his theory that the Internet will help niche media find bigger audiences. Since brick-and-mortar music stores have largely shrunk or mothballed their classical sections, Anderson wrote, fans have turned to the Web, where they've discovered a cornucopia of previously hard-to-find albums.

It's certainly true that classical labels and artists have become savvier about the Internet—last February, for example, the New York Philharmonic agreed to release four concert albums annually on iTunes, after several years of releasing virtually none. And leading independent label Naxos, known for its budget CDs, enjoyed a banner year in 2006, thanks in large part to digital distribution via iTunes and other digital services. But by far the biggest reason for 2006's uptick in classical sales was the success of three artists whom highbrow fans often view with disdain: Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, and Il Divo.

Bocelli, an Italian tenor, and Groban, an American baritone, have long ruled Billboard's classical crossover chart, which is distinct from the regular classical chart. At year's end, however, Nielsen SoundScan, which provides Billboard's data, lumps all classical sales together when coming up with its annual genre figures.

Billboard's chart managers are solely responsible for determining which chart an album appears on, and there's a fair amount of subjectivity to their verdicts. But when trying to distinguish classical from classical crossover, a good rule of thumb is this: If the music sounds more appropriate for a feel-good Disney movie than Avery Fisher Hall, it's a safe bet it qualifies as crossover. Think honeyed voices singing about love or inspiration, backed by lush string sections and synthesizers. Think singers who look like J. Crew models.

Self-styled classical purists dislike the crossover stars, just as rock snobs scoff at Nickelback. There's no surer way to aggravate a philharmonic subscriber than to mention that you really, really like Bocelli's treacly "Because We Believe." (Sample lyric: "Once in every life/ There comes a time/ We walk out all alone/ And into the light.") But Bocelli, Groban, and their tousled haircuts have won the hearts of classical crossover's core demographic—females in the 36-to-50 age group.

Neither Bocelli nor Groban released an album in 2005. Not coincidentally, sales of classical albums declined by 15 percent that year, from 18.69 million units to 15.88 million. But the two singers bounced back with major releases in 2006—first Bocelli's Amore in late January, then Groban's Awake in early November.

Buoyed by televised appearances at the Winter Olympics and the NBA's All-Star Weekend, as well as special promotional deals with JCPenney and Starbucks, Bocelli had a particularly prosperous 2006. Amore, which features a duet with Christina Aguilera and a guest appearance from Stevie Wonder, sold 1.4 million units, while a late-year live album (Under the Desert Sky) moved another 460,000 copies. There also seemed to be a renewed interest in Bocelli's earlier works; two of his older albums made the year-end crossover chart, too.

Awake, meanwhile, did nearly as well as Amore. Groban hadn't released a studio album since 2003's Closer, and his fans were eager for new product. In just two months on shelves, Awake sold 1.3 million units. Taken together, then, Groban and Bocelli's new albums accounted for combined sales of 3.16 million units.

The third crossover titan is Il Divo, an Italian operatic pop group. Il Divo's self-titled debut came out in 2005 and ended up being that year's biggest-selling classical album. The group followed with two new albums last year, Siempre and Ancora, which sold about 1.5 million units combined; the double-platinum Il Divo also sold another 400,000 copies.

The biggest-selling noncrossover classical album of 2006, meanwhile, was Sting's Songs From the Labyrinth, an album of 17th-century lute music. A blockbuster by traditional classical standards, it sold 23,518 copies in its first week—about 246,000 fewer copies than Awake moved in its first week. The first iTunes concert album from the New York Philharmonic, meanwhile, was proclaimed a roaring success after it sold around 2,300 units during its first month.

Classical's renaissance may not be quite as robust as fans might hope, but it's not wholly an illusion, either. The bottom line is that last year's classical-album sales were the highest since 2002, and the Internet surely played a role in expanding the genre's reach—just not as big a role as was first conjectured. If nothing else, classical lovers should count themselves fortunate that they're not into New Age. The genre of nature sounds and sonic pudding endured last year's steepest album sales decline—22.7 percent.
Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for the New York Times and Gizmodo. His first book, about a 1940s murder case, will be published by Penguin Press in 2008.

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NYT on Oberlin Conservatory

New York Times
February 22, 2007
Far From Music Capitals, an Ohio Conservatory Fosters Contemporary Sounds

“It’s a little like Haydn must have felt at Esterhazy,” said Lewis Nielson, a professor of composition at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, explaining some of the factors that make the institution a hotbed for new music. “We aren’t isolated any more than he was, but just isolated enough to focus our energies.”

In recent years Oberlin has produced some of the top names in contemporary music, including the innovative ensembles International Contemporary Ensemble and Eighth Blackbird and soloists, like the violinist Jennifer Koh, who champions new repertory. Oberlin students are encouraged to experiment by Timothy Weiss, director of the conservatory’s respected Contemporary Music Ensemble.

The ensemble will perform the high-tech American premiere production of “Lost Highway,” the opera that Olga Neuwirth, the Austrian modernist composer, based on David Lynch’s film of the same name, at Columbia University’s Miller Theater tomorrow and Saturday.

It’s a risky production, said David H. Stull, dean of the conservatory, but Oberlin fosters the idealism essential to encourage risk taking in an industry where the prevailing wisdom is often that music students are teetering on the precipice of a jobless abyss, or even a classical music Armageddon. But because the school is primarily an undergraduate institution, students can freely experiment without the job worries facing musicians doing graduate degree work elsewhere.

Ms. Koh, who received a degree in English from Oberlin College while taking violin lessons at the conservatory (the two institutions share a campus), said that the conservatory gave her “the freedom to explore different things.”

“I was so naïve and idealistic,” she said, “that I didn’t even think about making a living, and maybe that was due to the incredibly low rent out there. In that sense it is a protected place.”

Dan Lippel, a guitarist and member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and Flexible Music, a quartet focusing on new repertory, studied at Oberlin for two years and attributed the culture of contemporary music to the “overall vibe of the school.”

“It’s very activist and encourages entrepreneurial attitudes,” he said, “in contrast to other conservatories, which teach you how to fit into the orchestral box.”

That spirit of adventure pervades the programming at the conservatory, which was founded in 1865. For instance Lisa Kaplan, a pianist and member of Eighth Blackbird, said that although she loves Bach and Beethoven, for her senior recital she played an all-contemporary program that might have met with resistance at other schools. She added that at other schools often the contemporary music ensemble is “the lowest on the totem pole,” and that students all want to be concertmaster in the orchestra. At Oberlin, meanwhile, the highest honor is to be asked to play in Mr. Weiss’s ensemble. (The conservatory also has an excellent orchestra, which gave a successful concert at Carnegie Hall last month.)

Mr. Weiss, who agreed that his ensemble has a certain “sex appeal” on campus, encouraged his students to help with programming. “In an orchestra you play what you’re told, when you’re told and how you’re told,” he said. “But in new-music groups the choices are made by the players.”

He also pointed out that new music requires extraordinary technical skills, the development of which are an important part of Oberlin’s training. “New music is almost elitist in that the technical demands prevent every player from getting involved. You have to have chops, especially in area of new complexity,” he said.

Composition, Mr. Nielson said, is an integral part of Oberlin’s music scene, “instead of just cranking out soloists for 19th-century repertoire.” And composers have plenty of willing students to try out their pieces, said Huang Ruo, a New York composer and founding member of International Contemporary Ensemble.

“It’s a great place with a lot of experimental ideas and a free environment to do whatever you want, he said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, and no one cares what you are doing. You can be as noisy as possible.” He added that because there are fewer professional concerts at Oberlin than in major cities, students frequently get together to create their own events, often focusing on new music.

Given the number of young musicians applying annually to conservatories around the country, warnings about the purported demise of classical music seem to be exaggerated. Oberlin’s rural experimental haven has resulted in successful music careers in a cutthroat marketplace.

But perhaps it’s not so surprising. In any industry the best way to penetrate a saturated market is to offer a high-quality product. Mr. Stull aims to train musicians to take risks professionally. “Previous to Eighth Blackbird’s success,” he said, “if we had said that we thought a small group of students would make a living commissioning new works and performing nationally, people would have laughed. But we let students dream.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Interview w/Mardi Gras Indian Monk Boudreaux

BackTalk with Monk Boudreaux

By Geraldine Wyckoff

Joseph “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles has been masking Indian since he was a teenager. His father, Raymond, was a member of the Creoles and the Wild Squatoolas Black Indian gangs, so even before Monk built his first suit, he was deeply entrenched in the culture. “I wouldn’t know what to do on Mardi Gras Day if I didn’t run with the Indians,” says the chief.

Boudreaux’s deep roots in the tradition have allowed him to step out into the entertainment world as a noted vocalist. The chief and the Golden Eagles released their first album, Lightning and Thunder in 1988, and he has gone on to record as a leader and with a wide variety of other artists and has performed around the world.

Widely respected among the Indian nation, the social aid and pleasure club community and the music world, Big Chief Monk stands as a link between people of many walks of life. Last year it was Boudreaux, along with Festival Production’s Quint Davis, who spearheaded the initiative to provide Mardi Gras Indians with much-needed materials to make new suits. With money from the Norman Dixon, Sr. Fund, he is at it again this year, making calls and organizing orders of feathers and plumes so that the Indians, who lost so much to Hurricane Katrina, can carry on the tradition.

So are you sewing?

Right now I’m doing some stuff for the second line on Sunday (January 7). I’m designing streamers and fans for the Perfect Gentlemen (Social Aid and Pleasure Club)—they come out this Sunday.

Do you often work for other clubs?

Oh, yeah, for various groups. I did the Young Men Olympian—the first division with the brown and orange. And I did two guys in the Young Men Olympian by themselves; they had light blue and beige.

I know other Mardi Gras Indians are involved with designing for the social aid and pleasure cubs. Big Chief Tootie Montana worked with the Sudan and the Black Men of Labor clubs. Have you done this throughout the years?

I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I used to parade with the Young Men Olympian about 30 years ago. I think I paraded with them for five years, and then I came back and paraded with them again about seven years ago.

So do you just design, or do you actually make the accessories?

They come to me and give me an idea and I sketch it up and they say, “Yeah, that’s what we want.” Some come to me and they don’t have an idea what they want. Sometimes they bring me the materials and I make the pieces, too.

Do you approach this any differently than when you’re creating an Indian suit?

It’s the same, they just don’t use the rhinestones and the beads, but they use the same material. You could take the bottom part of the streamers and use it as an apron. [Streamers are the sashes that drape across the front of the body—think Miss America sashes. At the bottom, they often widen and include the name of the club. An apron is the front flap of a Mardi Gras Indian suit.]

Do you make the baskets too?

Yeah, I’m making baskets for the Young Men Olympian for this year coming up. They don’t require baskets too much. It’s kind of expensive. Every time I came out, I came out with a basket and a fan.

What brass bands were parading when you were with the Young Men Olympian?

I remember Doc Paulin and the Olympia Brass Band.

How do you see the connection between the Mardi Gras Indians and the second line clubs? I think of it sort of as a shared street culture.

A lot of guys that parade mask Indian also, and a lot of them who parade have masked Indians. It’s the same people, you know, most of them. It’s the same followers. The people that follow Indians follow the second lines, too. They’ve both been out here about the same amount of time. My grandfather used to parade every third Sunday, but they didn’t have a band. They just marched down the street. This was probably in the late 1940s. I was a little kid. They used to march through the city. They had some ladies that dressed out in white and they, too, paraded without a band.

So let’s talk about the Mardi Gras Indians. Are you sewing on your suit?

Yeah, I’m beading on a patch. I’m adding to my suit from last year. I work on it during breaks at work—I parade with the second line band at Harrah’s.

You said something at last year’s Indian Sunday parade that stuck in my head. I mentioned to you that you always look comfortable in your suits and you said, “That’s because I tailor them.”

Yeah, I do. I measure myself across. And I always cut the material too big so I can take some off. If I want a jacket, I just cut it up and then pin it up and I try it on. I keep pinning it and trying it on until it fits and then I sew it up.

Do you think the apparent comfort level has something to do with your personal style of suits—the shorts and jacket? You always look great, but you also look like you can move.

That’s just my style; that’s the way I see it. You’re supposed to be able to move. Why make something you can’t walk in? You make an Indian suit to wear, right? If you can’t wear it, why make it?

You don’t go in for huge crowns either.

No, but I used to like on the Wild Magnolia album cover. You don’t need all of that. I don’t.

I know last year you were very involved with getting feathers to the Indians and that you’re doing it again this year. How is that going, and are there more Indians?

We’ve got our order in. We’re just waiting on them to come in.

There’s a lot more Indians, a lot more. We now have 159 Indians (that have signed up for feathers) and we would have had more except a lot of them didn’t know about it. Some of them are in Texas and I didn’t have any way to contact them. They’ve been calling and they’re still calling. Last year we had maybe close to 100.

I have to call the Indians up and find out their color. All of the plumes come from Africa but we really get them from New York—they have dye houses in New York—and then they’re shipped to Jefferson Variety, where we pick them up.

How many will be in your gang, the Golden Eagles?

Well, that’s something you never can tell. All the kids are going to be there. They’re my grandchildren, there’s six… seven of them. Their mama sews the suits.

I’m coming in gray and leaving from my house on Valence and Magnolia—you never know about the time. About 9 a.m. By the time I get down to Second and Dryades, Zulu will have passed already.

What is your biggest concern about the future of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition particularly with so many people now scattered across the country?

It don’t worry me because I know they’re going to be here. They’re going to come regardless of where they are. They’re going to be here for that day and they’re going to come with their Indians suits, too.

How about in the long run? It’s always been such a neighborhood activity and family activity.

It’s been going on for over 100 years, so they’re not going to stop no matter where they are. They’re going to go back to their neighborhoods regardless whether they’re living there or not. That’s where they’ll be leaving from. Somebody’s going to be in the neighborhood.

How long can they keep it going? I’m concerned about the future with kids growing up elsewhere and not having the tradition as a part of their daily lives.

That time has to come or might not come. We’ll have to wait and see. Everybody I talk to out of town is sewing. They can get the same materials out of town as we get here—and maybe cheaper.

Considering the financial burden it takes to make a suit, I thought that maybe some Indians might opt for smaller, less elaborate suits but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

See, the thing is you don’t do it all the time. You have a whole year to prepare. You just put a little bit on the side—and you pay your bills. Now, when it gets close to Mardi Gras you may not pay your light bill. A long time ago, Indians’ lights used to get cut off and we used to go help them get their lights back on. It’s a thing that has to be done. It’s not like you’re coming out of your pocket with $4,000 or $5,000 right off the bat. That’s why you start right after Mardi Gras. You spend as much money as you can afford. We don’t sit down and figure out how much we spent because that’s gone. No sense worrying about it because it’s gone. I don’t keep receipts.

I haven’t seen you listed much performing in the clubs with your group.

It’s been kind of slow. I have a gig next Saturday and I was out for New Year’s with Papa Mali and Galactic at Tip’s. I have a CD that’s supposed to be coming out that I recorded last year in California—I think it will be released at Jazz Fest. It’s with John Lisi and Delta Funk. I wrote almost all of the material for that. I’m creative—when I get into the studio, it just comes naturally for me.

A lot of Indians are singing about the storm in their chants.

They tell the stories of what they see and that’s what Indians songs are about—what goes on. So Hurricane Katrina came along and there they go; they’ve got a song. They pick up whatever and they go with it.

Music is music. I do Indian songs and other songs and it’s all how I feel. It’s still just a feeling.

What keeps the Indians going so strong despite all the hardships they are facing right now?

They were born with it—most of them. Like my dad did it before me and I followed his footsteps. My dad stopped masking after about 20 years and a man stayed across the street and I used to go watch him. It was already in me. His name was William Bell and he was with the White Eagles. The White Eagles was a big gang. I started out with the White Eagles with Big Chief Fletcher when I was a little boy.

You are always so optimistic. How do you account for that especially these days?

I guess I was just born that way. I don’t let nothing worry me. Because if people worry, they’re always going to take it out on somebody else. Worrying ain’t good for you.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TN Company Still Making Vinyl LPs

Vinyl remains relevant at Nashville record pressing plant

By John Gerome
via the San Diego Union Tribune

9:34 a.m. February 21, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – That dusty stack of records in your parents' basement? They're not as retro as you might think.

Many record collectors, DJs and music junkies still consider vinyl to be the gold standard of recorded music – scratches, pops and all.

That enduring appeal has helped Nashville's United Record Pressing, which cranks out 20,000 to 40,000 records a day, making it one of the largest – and last – vinyl record manufacturers in the country.

“Folks thought we had disappeared,” owner and CEO Cris Ashworth said.

Started in 1962, the plant is as much a throwback as the shiny black discs it produces. The interior is dingy, the '70s decor looks like a vintage garage sale and the air is a stale blend of ink and cigarette smoke.

Ashworth, 56, sat down for a recent interview with an ashtray and pack of Merits by his side. He hardly looked the part of dance music guru, but 60 percent of his company's records are by rap, hip-hop and R&B artists such as Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera, Ludacris and Krayzie Bone.

Most of the discs are 12-inch singles destined for professional DJs at radio stations and dance clubs who still use vinyl records and turntables to mix, scratch and blend music.

“The record labels use us as a marketing tool to get that new track out there,” Ashworth explained. “They'll come to me on a Monday, want it out on Wednesday and played Friday or Saturday night at a club or radio station.”

Typically, the company will press four versions of the same song: a radio and club mix, as well as an instrumental and a cappella version so DJs can mix and manipulate the sound.

Another portion of United's product goes to retail stores, where vinyl is preferred by amateur DJs, collectors and purists convinced that the sound is superior to CDs.

“Vinyl has a distinct sound,” said Doyle Davis, co-owner of Grimey's New & Preloved Music, a Nashville store where 15 percent to 20 percent of sales are vinyl. “You hear people use adjectives like 'warmer' and 'more round.'

“And there are other things beside sound quality. People know what the song titles are. It's not like, 'I like track 5.' You put the needle on and let it play through – not jump around. You have more of an intimate relationship with the music.”

Vinyl records use analog technology, whereby a physical groove is etched into the record mimicking the sound wave. CDs, on the other hand, transform sound into digital packets of information.

“No one ever doubts the quality of vinyl over any other format that's ever existed,” said George Sulmers, a Nashville-based club DJ who spins classic funk and soul discs under the name Geezus. “I understand why change happened, but I don't think there was a valid need for the change.”

The means of music delivery continues to evolve. Digital downloading has eroded CD sales. Some artists are skipping CDs entirely and releasing new music online for the casual listener and on vinyl for DJs and hardcore fans.

But vinyl still accounts for a small percentage of total music sales. Last year 858,000 LPs were sold compared with 553.4 million CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan. While the 2006 figure was up slightly from 2005, the overall trend has been down from 1.5 million in 2000.

Ashworth believes the data is skewed, though, because a lot of vinyl is sold in mom and pop stores not reflected in the SoundScan numbers.

His company has managed to thrive by picking up business from competitors in a shrinking market. Today, he has only 13 competitors compared to several dozen before CDs took over in the '90s. Revenues hit $5 million in 2004 and grew to $7 million in 2005. Last year saw significant growth over 2005, Ashworth said.

And yet the plant remains a timepiece with its rumbling presses that jar the floor, noisy blasts of compressed air and vats of blue nickel solution used to create the master discs.

Ashworth regards it a relic of Nashville's past, every bit as important as the old RCA studio where Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers recorded, or the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry enjoyed its heyday.

“We want to be the last vinyl plant standing, no matter what,” he said. “There is no other plant that looks like this in the country. This is an antique.”

Indeed, it still has the furnished apartment where Motown Records executives stayed when they came down from Detroit during segregation. The apartment adjoins a party room where Wayne Newton celebrated his 16th birthday.

Most of the major labels and many of the independents contract with United. Elvis Presley's reissues are pressed here, as well as recordings by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Alan Jackson, John Mayer and many others.

“If you look at the Hot 100 singles, we represent about 80 percent of what's on the chart,” Ashworth said.

Ashworth himself is something of an oddity. A longtime corporate executive and former chief financial officer at Nashville Gas Co., he bought this place in 1999 with no experience or knowledge of the industry. At the time, the vinyl record business seemed doomed.

“My son was very worried about whether he was going to be able to go to college,” he said with a laugh, adding, “Thank the Lord for a trusting wife.”

But Ashworth made a go of it and then some, boosting employment at United from 10 to 60 people and fulfilling his own need to create something.

“A lot of people spend their lives doing something as opposed to making something, and I wanted to make something,” he said. “I wanted something tangible in my hands at the end of the day.”

Here is the link to United Record Pressing:

Los Tigres del Norte Reviewed

Photographs by Julien Jourdes for The New York Times
New York Times
February 19, 2007
Music Review | 'Los Tigres del Norte'
Singing Stories From Lives Lived Far Away From Home

Los Tigres del Norte, together for almost 40 years, have perfected a ground-level symbiosis with their fans. They’re in a constant feedback loop with their mostly Mexican audience above and below the border, whose stories of immigrant life — or poeticized versions of them, anyway — end up as songs. These stories are parables, but they’re not told through oblique references; they’re laid out on the table as straight rhyming narratives. The songs don’t glorify the band, they glorify the audience.

Their show on Saturday night at the Bedford Armory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was mega-size: music all night and far into the morning hours, support acts as warm-ups and during an intermission, and Los Tigres playing 42 songs over two 90-minute segments that finally ended at 3 a.m. At this length — and with the impossible reverberations of sound that come from playing in a huge, open, concrete-floored space — the crowd doesn’t just need to be entertained: it needs sustenance to keep going. And each time Los Tigres, in white spangled suits with tiger-striped instruments, bit into the groove of a two-beat ranchera, sustenance was served in jolts.

The music drifted into bolero and pop-ballad territory from time to time, but the meat of the show was the uptempo corridos, story-songs that became impossibly sad or righteously angry and above all, sympathetic: about scattered families (“Sr. Locutor”), a son murdered for a car (“Le Compre la Muerte a Mi Hijo”), an immigrant fed up with being condescended to who finally earns enough money to return to Mexico (“El Mojado Acaudalado”). They were nonjudgmental first-person stories, including the notorious narcocorrido “Pacas de a Kilo,” (“One-Kilo Packets”) told from the point of view of a proud marijuana grower. The heavily Mexican crowd knew the words, often singing along for a verse; just as often it turned away for the rest of a song, secure in the knowledge that a new one would start up within three and a half minutes.

But sustenance also came through the crush of bodies and couples dancing in a clinch, through the marketplace atmosphere of taco stands and circulating flower vendors, through the ritual of the fans throwing messages to the band — read back in rapid-fire by the band’s singer and accordionist Jorge Hernández — and through screens at the side of the stage that bore text messages from the crowd: “Saludos a Matamoros Puebla.” “Monterrey in tha house.” “Kika te amo.”

Brothers or cousins except for its drummer, Oscar Lara, the band originally comes from Sinaloa, Mexico, but has lived in San Jose, Calif., for nearly 40 years. Its setup is the norteño music standard: two accordions, six-string acoustic bajo sexto, electric bass and drums. All the front line members sing, but Mr. Hernández is the most charismatic.

Singing with a headset microphone and adding stabs of accordion chords, he kept working through his battery of gestures of respect or supplication or triumph: doffing his cowboy hat and holding it out with arm fully extended, then putting it back in place, raising his fingers to his lips or his heart, putting forth a fist and shaking it once to signify firmness. He moved entirely in slow motion as the beat pumped behind him, and he was mesmerizing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The (Updated) Portuguese Fado

Michael Barrientos for The New York Times

José de Oliveira, left, singing fado tunes in A Baiuca, accompanied by Jorge Mata on Portuguese guitar and Carlos Lopes on classical guitar.

New York Times
February 21, 2007
Lisbon Journal
A Song Form Is Updated, but Not in the Alleys of Its Origin

LISBON — José de Oliveira bellows, occasionally off key, the melancholic songs known as fado.

But questionable talent does not inhibit the 70-year-old retired welder from taking over the floor at A Baiuca, a tiny tavern and restaurant, and keeping the two dozen diners captive — or perhaps prisoner — past midnight.

When he sings a well-known song of love, longing and loss, the diners put down their knives and forks and join in. When one couple dare to whisper during the song, a woman shushes them with the classic retort: “Silence! Fado is being sung.”

This is the ritual of fado, performed night after night with various degrees of authenticity, quality, kitsch and tourist appeal in the dinner clubs of Lisbon.

Reviled by some as backward-looking and morose, fado, which means fate, has been reinvented to become Portugal’s most successful cultural export. But here, in the twisting alleyways of Alfama, one of the working-class districts where fado was born, the songs are the classics, the message unadorned.

Mr. de Oliveira, dressed in a somber vest and trousers, his tie tightly knotted, is a neighborhood fixture.

“José doesn’t have a good voice, but he loves fado, he breathes fado,” said Henrique Gascon, the owner of A Baiuca. “Sometimes people cry when he sings.”

There is no stage, no microphone, no spotlight, not even candles here. It is the kind of place that hangs a “no smoking” sign on the door, then puts ashtrays on the tables. When Mr. de Oliveira’s voice cracks one time too many, João de Jesus, 33, owner of a fire extinguisher company, steps in to take his place.

Inspired, it is believed, by African slave and Moorish songs, fado was transformed by Portuguese sailors in the early 19th century into a vehicle to express the pain of loneliness and danger of a life at sea.

During the 40-year era of dictatorship that gripped Portugal until 1974, fado was associated with the government’s rigid values and was used to promote nationalism.

As prime minister in the 1980s, Mário Soares once took American journalists traveling with President Ronald Reagan to a famous casa de fado. But having been in exile during the dictatorship, Mr. Soares was said to have hated the genre.

Even now some Portuguese consider it fatalistic, a reminder that Portugal remains the worst-performing economy among the 13 countries that use the euro. “Saudade,” a concept essential to fado that blends the nostalgia and yearning associated with the Portuguese character, is also seen by some as the main obstacle to progress.

Prime Minister José Sócrates, who was overwhelmingly elected on a pledge to modernize Portugal, has mixed feelings about fado.

“Fado is about nostalgia, a sadness that is very intimate,” Mr. Sócrates said in an interview. “I’m not a huge fan.” But as fado is a purely Portuguese product, he does not renounce it. “Fado,” he said, “must have the right environment, and the singers must be very special, to give it both beauty and a high standing.”

Certainly, there is a lot of bad fado singing in Portugal, as there is a lot of bad flamenco dancing and singing in Spain, and it sometimes seems more popular among outsiders.

When President Bill Clinton visited Portugal in 2000 he confessed to having fallen in love with fado. “I’m going to promote fado music all over the world!” he exclaimed.

The legendary queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues, defined the genre. She wore the traditional black dress and shawl and was accompanied by a pear-shaped 12-string Portuguese guitar. When she died in 1999, Portugal declared three days of mourning.

More than a decade ago a younger generation of singers began to take over and revolutionize fado.

Mariza, a Mozambique-born fado diva who sang a duet with Sting for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens at 30, has added cellos, pianos, trumpets, a positive attitude and designer gowns to her performances.

Another fado singer, Kátia Guerreiro, used her voice to campaign as a youth leader for Aníbal Cavaco Silva during his successful campaign for president in 2006 and to protest a referendum to liberalize abortion laws in February.

Mísia uses a violin and poetic interpretations to inspire her work. “When I decided to devote myself to fado my friends were horrified,” she said before a performance in Paris, where she now lives. “It had the stigma of the dictatorship that used fado as propaganda for Portugal as a place that was happy in its poverty.”

She keeps her performances simple and has disdain for the prettified productions of other fado singers. “You have to have a voice with texture, with scars, close to life,” she said. “This is not the Virgin Mary singing. It’s Mary Magdelene.”

A museum in Lisbon called the House of Fado and Portuguese Guitar offers the uninitiated a history of fado, with old photographs, sheet music and television and film excerpts.

In the 1930s the government created fado houses to professionalize and control the movement. Fado lyrics had to be approved by a censor, and the museum, in a modernistic building, displays original typewritten lyrics with red X’s and stamps of “proibida” indicating disapproval.

On the streets today, everyone in the older generation seems to know a fado song or two. It does not taking much urging to persuade a Lisbon taxi driver — like a Venetian gondolier — to sing.

Not Prime Minister Sócrates. “I promised myself when I entered politics never to sing and never to dance,” he said. “I respect fado too much to imitate it.”

Music Industry Battles mixtapes

February 18, 2007
Hip-Hop Outlaw (Industry Version)

Late in the afternoon of Jan. 16, a SWAT team from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, backed up by officers from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and the local police department, along with a few drug-sniffing dogs, burst into a unmarked recording studio on a short, quiet street in an industrial neighborhood near the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The officers entered with their guns drawn; the local police chief said later that they were “prepared for the worst.” They had come to serve a warrant for the arrest of the studio’s owners on the grounds that they had violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, or RICO, a charge often used to lock up people who make a business of selling drugs or breaking people’s arms to extort money. The officers confiscated recording equipment, cars, computers and bank statements along with more than 25,000 music CDs. Two of the three owners of the studio, Tyree Simmons, who is 28, and Donald Cannon, who is 27, were arrested and held overnight in the Fulton County jail. Eight employees, mostly interns from local colleges, were briefly detained as well.

Later that night, a reporter for the local Fox TV station, Stacey Elgin, delivered a report on the raid from the darkened street in front of the studio. She announced that the owners of the studio, known professionally as DJ Drama and DJ Don Cannon, were arrested for making “illegal CDs.” The report cut to an interview with Matthew Kilgo, an official with the Recording Industry Association of America, who was involved in the raid. The R.I.A.A., a trade and lobbying group that represents the major American record labels, works closely with the Department of Justice and local police departments to crack down on illegal downloading and music piracy, which most record-company executives see as a dire threat to their business.

Kilgo works in the R.I.A.A.’s Atlanta office, and in the weeks before the raid, the local police chief said, R.I.A.A. investigators helped the police collect evidence and conduct surveillance at the studio. Kilgo consulted with the R.I.A.A.’s national headquarters in advance of the raid, and after the raid, a team of men wearing R.I.A.A. jackets was responsible for boxing the CDs and carting them to a warehouse for examination.

If anyone involved with the raid knew that the men they had arrested were two of the most famous D.J.’s in the country, they didn’t let on while the cameras were rolling. For local law enforcement, the raid on Drama and Cannon’s studio was no different from a raid they executed in October on an Atlanta factory where a team of illegal immigrants was found making thousands of copies of popular DVDs and CDs to sell on the street. Along with the bootlegged CDs, the police found weapons and a stash of drugs in the factory. (The Fox report on the DJ Drama raid included a shot of a grave-looking police officer saying, “In this case we didn’t find drugs or weapons, but it’s not uncommon for us to find other contraband.”)

But Drama and Cannon’s studio was not a bootlegging plant; it was a place where successful new hip-hop CDs were regularly produced and distributed. Drama and Cannon are part of a well-regarded D.J. collective called the Aphilliates. Although their business almost certainly violated federal copyright law, as well as a Georgia state law that requires CDs to be labeled with the name and address of the producers, they were not simply stealing from the major labels; they were part of an alternative distribution system that the mainstream record industry uses to promote and market hip-hop artists. Drama and Cannon have in recent years been paid by the same companies that paid Kilgo to help arrest them.

The CDs made in the Aphilliates’ studio are called mixtapes — album-length compilations of 20 or so songs, often connected by a theme; they are produced and mixed by a D.J. and usually “hosted” by a rapper, well known or up-and-coming, who peppers the disc with short boasts, shout-outs or promotions for an upcoming album. Some mixtapes are part of an ongoing series — in the last few years, the Aphilliates have produced 16 numbered installments of “Gangsta Grillz,” an award-winning series that focuses on Southern hip-hop; others represent a one-time deal, a quick way for a rapper to respond to an insult or to remind fans he exists between album releases. The CDs are packaged in thin plastic jewel cases with low-quality covers and are sold at flea markets and independent record stores and through online clearinghouses like A mixtape can consist of remixes of hit songs — for instance, the Aphilliates offered a CD of classic Michael Jackson songs doctored by a Detroit D.J. Or it can feature a rapper “freestyling,” or improvising raps, over the beat from another artist’s song; so, on one mixtape, LL Cool J’s “Love You Better” became 50 Cent’s “After My Cheddar.” In most cases, the D.J. modifies the original song without acquiring the rights to it, and if he wants to throw in a sample of Ray Charles singing or a line from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, he doesn’t worry about copyright. The language on mixtapes is raw and uncensored; rappers sometimes devote a whole CD to insulting another rapper by name. Mixtapes also feature unreleased songs, often “leaked” to the D.J. by a record label that wants to test an artist’s popularity or build hype for a coming album release. Record labels regularly hire mixtape D.J.’s to produce CDs featuring a specific artist. In many cases, these arrangements are conducted with a wink and a nod rather than with a contract; the label doesn’t officially grant the D.J. the right to distribute the artist’s songs or formally allow the artist to record work outside of his contract.

In December, not long before the bust, I spent a week with DJ Drama and the Aphilliates in Atlanta. The D.J.’s are true celebrities in the city’s vibrant hip-hop community. They were seated at the V.I.P. tables at nightclubs and parties and surrounded by fans at strip clubs, which in Atlanta are considered crucial venues for new hip-hop; tracks are often given their first spins while strippers frantically shake their behinds.

Although the music that the Aphilliates promote glorifies violence and drug dealing — one of their trademark Gangsta Grillz sound effects is a few shots fired by a gun with a silencer, followed by the thud of a body dropping — they did not live a gangster lifestyle. (Drama often rose at 8 a.m. to take his oldest daughter to kindergarten at a private school.) Instead, they seemed to be aspiring young music executives with a long-term business plan who had figured out a faster and more lucrative way to make it big than an internship at a record label.

The success of “Gangsta Grillz” had secured for the Aphilliates their own radio shows and record contracts, as well as endorsement deals with Pepsi and clothing companies. When I visited, the Aphilliates were working on an “official” Gangsta Grillz release, to be distributed by Grand Hustle, part of Atlantic Records; Drama said it would use only licensed songs and cleared samples. In September, the Aphilliates signed a partnership deal with Asylum Records, part of Warner Music Group, to distribute albums that Drama and Cannon would produce.

DJ Drama knew that aspects of his business were in what he described to me as “a legal gray area,” and he was secretive about even the most basic facts of how the Aphilliates ran their business. He allowed that he had “got rich” because of his reputation as a mixtape D.J., though he would not even admit to me that he actually sold mixtapes. The line between self-promotion and secrecy was sometimes an awkward one for him to walk, especially as his underground CDs moved further into the mainstream. Several small distributors had begun selling Drama’s CDs, repackaged with scannable barcodes, to major retailers like Best Buy.

One of the CDs confiscated by R.I.A.A. investigators during the Atlanta raid was “Dedication 2,” a mixtape that DJ Drama made with Lil Wayne, a New Orleans rapper; it appeared on the Billboard hip-hop and R&B charts and was widely reviewed in the mainstream press. (Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times chose “Dedication 2” as one of the 10 best recordings of 2006.) As the R.I.A.A. agents boxed up Drama’s stash of “Dedication 2,” the CD continued to sell well at major retailers like Best Buy and FYE (a national chain of record stores) and also at the iTunes Store online.

The local Fox report of the bust was posted on the Internet and widely viewed. The spectacle of men who were known to every hip-hop fan as players in the mainstream music industry being arrested with the aid of the enforcement arm of that same industry was so bizarre and unexpected that a handful of conspiracy theories quickly arose to explain what had happened. Some fans speculated on message boards that the D.J.’s must have been running other illegal businesses on the side. There were others who thought that the bust was payback from a small distributor who had recently sued DJ Drama for violating a contract. But most fans simply thought the men were victims of a music industry that didn’t understand hip-hop. The day after Drama’s arrest, fans circulated on the Internet a stylized image of Drama’s face over a caption that said “Free Drama and Cannon.”, the biggest Web distributor of mixtapes, removed its entire stock from the site and posted pictures of Drama and Cannon on its main page with the message, “Free the D.J.’s.” A member of the Diplomats, a Harlem hip-hop group, told MTV News that Jan. 16 was “D-day in hip-hop.” Some fans said that in protest they’d never buy another label release; a New York City radio D.J. called record labels the ultimate “snitches.”

Lil Wayne, who made “Dedication 2” with Drama, said in an interview that Drama would have to “play the game fair,” adding that he thought it was unfortunate that sometimes mixtapes outsell an artist’s official label releases, cutting into the artist’s royalties. Soon after,, one of the most prominent mixtape Web sites, posted an image of Wayne on its home page over the words: “Is Wayne a traitor? Did he side with the suits? We didn’t abandon Drama — will you? Who’s next to jump ship?”

Drama is the public face of the Aphilliates, but he, Cannon and their third partner, DJ Sense (a k a Brandon Douglas, 26) function as a team; all three are the hosts of a weekly radio show broadcast on WHTA, an Atlanta hip-hop and R&B station, and another Gangsta Grillz show on Sirius satellite radio, and they jointly own the Aphilliates Music Group. The men have been friends since they met at college a decade ago, and they have an easy rhythm with one another, like teammates who play pickup basketball every week and can pass or negotiate a pick without making eye contact. All three wear the collective’s signature neck chain with a diamond-encrusted pendant in the shape of the letter A.

Drama, whose mother is a white education professor and whose father is a black civil rights activist, has expressive brown eyes and a closely trimmed beard. He usually wears a baseball cap backward or propped loosely atop his light brown hair, cocked to the side. Although his workday rarely starts before noon, he comes across as a savvy businessman. Most of the time he doesn’t say much, but it’s clear he is always paying close attention to what is going on around him. When he is in the studio, about to lay down a Gangsta Grillz “drop” (a phrase that is repeated throughout a mixtape), or when he has to tell a bouncer that no, he won’t stand behind that velvet rope, he rocks back and forth, building his energy, then barks out a torrent of speech, after which he seems to retreat back into himself again. He has a quiet, focused energy that can seem gruff; around Sense and Cannon, though, he gets goofy.

Cannon is a huge guy — 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds — with a lumbering gait and a sweet, unguarded smile. He sometimes spends 24 hours at a stretch in the studio, hunched over a mixing board and a computer running Pro Tools, taking breaks to play video games. He loves to shop, and he especially likes to visit high-end Atlanta malls to buy Prada cologne and examine the jewelry. His enormous sneaker collection takes up the bulk of his apartment’s walk-in closet, as well as the trunk of his Chevy Tahoe S.U.V. and most of a storage space he rents by the month.

Sense is known as the visionary with the business ideas, the one who operates mostly behind the scenes. He is short and just a little bit nerdy. Once when we were in the studio at WHTA, a D.J. named Mami Chula wandered in while a song was playing. She gave Sense a look, shook her head and mused aloud, “I just never saw someone with such a small head.” Sense didn’t say anything, just gave her an indignant look. It seemed as if he was accustomed to being teased.

The day after the raid, when Drama and Cannon were each released from jail on $100,000 bonds, they drove straight to the WHTA studios, went on the air and promoted their coming label releases. There’s a video on YouTube that shows the scene: Drama swaggers into the studio in a white T-shirt and a gray zip-up track-suit jacket, his diamond “A” chain swinging across his chest.

The D.J.’s on air were known as the Durrty Boyz, and one of them announced that they had an “exclusive interview to find out what the hell is going on with Gangsta Grillz.” He asked the accused felons to get close to the microphone.

Cannon murmured: “It’s Don Cannon. Holla at me.”

DJ Sense, who also goes by the name Trendsetter, said: “Yeah, yeah, you know what it is. The boy T-t-t-t-t-t-trendsetta! Holla at your boy!”

Drama, who sometimes calls himself “Mr. Thanksgiving” because, he says, he “feeds the whole industry,” said: “Thanksgiving is every year, man. It doesn’t go nowhere. Do you understand what that means? It’s a holiday, it’s every year. . . . It’s not going nowhere. DJ Drama! I am in full effect.”

After the Durrty Boyz spun a Ying Yang Twins song, Drama took calls at a rapid clip, and he responded to nearly every question or message of support with a reminder of the Aphilliates’ coming Gangsta Grillz release on Atlantic.

One female caller, particularly incensed, demanded, “Can I speak to Drama?”

“What’s up?” Drama asked. “What’s good?”

“Drama, what happened? . . . I mean, come on now, you went to jail?”

“I mean, for a quick minute,” Drama replied. “I am home, though.”

“Uh-uh! We ain’t having that. Don Cannon, Trendsetter, do I need to fight somebody?”

“We’re gonna need you,” Drama said. “We’re gonna start a whole campaign. . . . You know the Gangsta Grillz album is coming out, right?”

“Oh, for real?”

In 1996, Sense and Drama, then both freshmen majoring in mass communications, met in Brawley Hall, their dorm at Clark Atlanta University. C.A.U. is part of the country’s largest consortium of historically black colleges, directly abutting Morehouse and Spelman. Drama and Sense were both aspiring D.J.’s, and they were both from Philadelphia. After they met, they competed in a local D.J. battle and became friends. The following year they met Cannon, also a D.J. from Philadelphia (“Aphilliates” combines the Phil of Philadelphia with an A for Atlanta), and the three became inseparable. Each D.J. found his own niche: Sense interned at WHTA, Cannon spun records at college parties and Drama started selling his own mixtapes. Every night in his apartment, Drama made 10 copies of his latest cassette, and the next day he brought them to campus. Between classes, he would set up a cheap yellow boom box on a major promenade at C.A.U. known as the Strip and offer tapes for sale. He also sold tapes at Georgia State, where he would tell customers that the identity of DJ Drama was a mystery. “I’d tell them I never met Drama, I don’t know the guy, I just work for him,” he told me.

In his junior year, in 1998, Drama put together a compilation of Southern hip-hop, which was beginning to emerge nationally as a distinct sound and style. Often called dirty South, it was more dance-oriented and melodic and raunchier than hip-hop from either coast. That mixtape, “Jim Crow Laws,” sold well, and Drama decided to start a Southern series, which he named Gangsta Grillz. Amateur mistakes were made early on — “we actually spelled ‘Grillz’ with an S,” Drama recalled — but the series quickly took off. Through Sense, Drama met a young local rapper named Lil Jon, who had helped invent a frenetic new style of hip-hop known as crunk. Drama asked Lil Jon to be the host of a mixtape, and Jon did a manic series of drops throughout Gangsta Grillz No. 4. It was the first CD that Drama was able to get into stores.

Around the time Drama was hitting his stride, a young entrepreneur named Jason Geter was working as a manager for T.I., then a little-known artist from Atlanta’s Bankhead housing projects signed to an imprint of Arista. Geter wasn’t happy with the label’s marketing of T.I.’s first album, so he undertook his own promotions, independently shooting a video and printing up T-shirts. Geter said that he started seeing Drama’s mixtapes everywhere — in barbershops and record stores. (“Drama was the most consistent guy doing mixtapes in Atlanta,” he told me. “Some of the other people didn’t even have covers for the CDs, but Drama stood out.”) One night Geter called Drama and asked if he could bring T.I. by Drama’s home studio to do some drops and freestyles on a mixtape.

Drama was ecstatic. “At that point, no one was really checking for me,” he told me. “I hadn’t had a call in three months.” After the impromptu recording session, Geter started giving Drama unreleased T.I. songs and eventually asked him to produce and release a whole CD of T.I.’s work. When T.I.’s mixtape “Down With the King” sold well, other managers started taking their artists to Drama’s studio. The first mixtape Drama was paid by a label to produce was “Tha Streetz Iz Watchin,” which Def Jam’s CTE label hired him to make with Young Jeezy in 2004, in order to build up hype for a coming CD. When Jeezy’s official release, “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101,” came out in 2005, bearing a bonus track from the Drama mixtape, it sold two million copies.

At least once a week last fall, Jason Brown, the 30-year-old promotions director for the Aphilliates, could be found making a circuit of Atlanta with boxes of Drama’s new releases stacked in the back of his Chevy Tahoe. The trip often took as long as nine hours. The Thursday I rode with Brown, he was carrying copies of two mixtapes Drama had recently recorded in the studio with Lil Keke and Lil Boosie, who are popular in their home regions — Louisiana and South Texas, respectively — but have not yet broken out nationally. Brown drove down the parkways and roads of Atlanta’s low-income black suburbs, past a landscape of Waffle Houses, custom rim shops and halal meat stores, stopping in with his wares at flea markets and little mom-and-pop record shops.

At around 3 p.m., we pulled into the parking lot of Backstage Records, a small, tidy shop across the street from the Greenbriar Mall, a locale frequently mentioned in hip-hop lyrics. (Ludacris: “Any charges set against me, chunk it up and stand tall/Next year I’m lookin’ into buyin’ Greenbriar Mall.”) Brown tucked a stack of CDs under each arm and headed into the store. He greeted the owner, a short broad man in his late 20s named Vic XL.

“How many you want?” Brown asked XL, holding out the Keke and Boosie CDs.

“Whoa!” XL said, excited. “Boosie is overdue for a mixtape.” XL told me that Boosie’s major-label release, “Bad Azz,” on Asylum Records, was not selling well, but, he explained, “he’s a hood artist,” so that wasn’t a big surprise.

XL inspected both discs and placed his order: “I’m gonna take five.” As Brown started to count CDs off his pile, XL looked again at the liner notes and reconsidered: “No, 10 each.”

A small record store like Backstage rarely orders more than 10 copies of any CD, and Drama’s distribution system meets XL’s needs better than the mainstream distribution system does. If XL wants just 10 copies of the new Lil Scrappy CD, he can’t buy them directly from the label’s distributors as chains like Best Buy do. Instead, he has to go through a middleman called a one-stop, which charges XL $10.75 for a CD that retails at Best Buy for $9.99.

The economics of mixtapes appeal to XL, and so do their politics; as he sees it, mixtapes undermine the power of major record labels and radio stations. “Most artists can’t afford to get their music on the radio, but an artist has the right to let his fan base hear what he’s done,” XL said. “Who is the label to dictate how to feed the fan base?”

Mixtapes have long played an important role in hip-hop. In the late 1970s, before rap music was ever recorded onto vinyl or played on a radio station, people found out about hip-hop acts through live recordings of D.J. sets from block parties or clubs. Those cassette recordings were duplicated by hand and sold on the street or in record stores, and given free to gypsy-cab drivers in the Bronx as promotional tools. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, mixtapes remained an important subculture. In the last five years, though, they have risen to a more prominent place in the industry and made the most successful D.J.’s rich.

Mixtapes fill a void left by the consolidation of record labels and radio stations. In the mid-1990s, sales of independent hip-hop albums exceeded those from major releases. But those smaller independent labels were bought out by major labels, and in the late ’90s, the last major independent distributor collapsed. This left few routes for unknown hip-hop artists to enter the market; it also made the stakes higher for major labels, which wanted a better return on their investment. As Jeff Chang, author of “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” a history of hip-hop, told me recently, “The whole industry shifted to massive economies of scale, and mixtapes are a natural outgrowth and response to that.”

Mixtape D.J.’s came to be seen as the first tier of promotions for hip-hop artists, a stepping stone to radio play. Labels began aiding and abetting mixtape D.J.’s, sending them separate digital tracks of vocals and beats from songs so they could be easily remixed. They also started sending copies of an artist’s mixtape out to journalists and reviewers along with the official label release. DJ Chuck T, a mixtape D.J. in South Carolina, told me that when label employees send him tracks to include on his mixtapes, they request a copy of the mixtape so that they can show their bosses the track is “getting spin from the street.” He also said record-label promoters want sales figures for his mixtapes so they can chart sales patterns, which they use in marketing their own releases.

Mixtape D.J.’s have effectively absorbed many of the functions of an A&R department, the branch of a record label that traditionally discovers and develops new talent. Ron Stewart, a promotions coordinator at Jive Records, a subsidiary of Sony BMG Music, told me he prefers to test new artists out on mixtapes. “Budget permitting,” he said, “we’d do a few mixtapes with a few D.J.’s, because they have different audiences in different regions.” Labels prefer to use established mixtape D.J.’s like Drama, rather than produce promotional CDs themselves, Stewart said, because “the best D.J.’s have a better brand than the average label does.”

Although the deals are informal and often secret, labels typically pay a prominent D.J. like Drama $10,000 to $15,000 to produce a mixtape for an artist. The label’s representatives, Stewart explained, adopt what amounts to a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about the D.J.’s plans to sell the work; what the D.J. does with his copy of the master, Stewart said, “is his own business.” For successful D.J.’s, mixtape sales can bring considerable revenue. Mixtapes sell for anywhere from $5 to $10 on the street or on a Web site like Mixunit, and overhead is low, since the CDs cost only about 50 cents to manufacture and D.J.’s rarely pay royalties or licensing fees.

Although many hip-hop artists view mixtapes as an essential way to build their careers, some are critical of aspects of the system. One editor of a hip-hop magazine, who would comment only anonymously, told me: “In the aftermath of the raid, talking to artists, the stuff they say when Drama’s not around — there is a little bit of animosity, because he is clearly making money off these artists. They all saw his car being towed off on TV. What was it? A Maserati?”

Killer Mike, an Atlanta rapper who is signed to Sony and who has been featured on a number of DJ Drama’s mixtapes, told me he is not really a “supporter” of mixtapes. “That doesn’t mean I don’t play mixtapes in my car and listen to other peoples’ mixtapes, but as an artist, I feel the amount of rhymes you have to write to put out a mixtape is the same amount you have to for an album,” he said. “I’d rather put out albums over my own beats than use other people’s beats and have a problem later.”

Pimp C, a Texas rapper who is half of the popular underground hip-hop duo UGK, has repeatedly refused to participate in a UGK mixtape despite requests by his record label and, he said, from countless mixtape D.J.’s. Pimp C told me that because there is no paper trail, mixtape D.J.’s are able to invent sales figures, and they routinely claim that, after their overhead, they just break even. But based on his experience producing two of his own mixtapes, Pimp C suspects D.J.’s make plenty; they just don’t want to give artist a cut. “Every time I was approached by a mixtape D.J., they tried to sell me the dream there was no money in it, and it was something artists need to do to help their album sales,” he said. “But I know how much bread can be made. . . . If you’re making money, chop it up with me.”

Before DJ Drama went to jail, no mixtape D.J. had been the target of a major raid; busts had been directed at small retailers, like Mondo Kim’s in New York’s East Village. Jonathan Lamy, a spokesperson for the R.I.A.A., said the raid on Drama’s studio represented no official change in policy and had been undertaken only at the behest of Atlanta law enforcement. But for many in the industry, the focus on a single prominent figure seemed like no accident. “Arresting them criminally under RICO was firing a warning shot at anyone who has mixtapes,” said Walter McDonough, a copyright lawyer who has negotiated with the R.I.A.A. on behalf of Jay-Z.

Others pointed to the selective nature of the crackdown as evidence that the raid was a deliberate effort — major retailers like Best Buy were not raided, even though they carry many of the same CDs Drama was arrested for selling. The R.I.A.A. “would have to know nothing about the industry they are monitoring not to realize this stuff is all over Best Buy and FYE,” says Eric Steuer, the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit that works to develop more flexible copyright arrangements for artists and producers. “Maybe they leave them alone because the major chains have promotion deals with record labels.”

Ted Cohen, a former executive at EMI Records who now runs a music-consulting business, told me that the raid was typical of the music industry’s “schizophrenic” approach to promotions; a label’s marketing department wants to get its artists’ songs in front of as many people as possible, even if it means allowing or ignoring free downloads or unlicensed videos on YouTube. But the business department wants to collect royalties. “It is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing,” Cohen said.

Drama’s arrest shook up mixtape D.J.’s and promoters across the country. But even in the days immediately following the raid, D.J.’s continued to release tapes — some with hastily added tracks on which rappers cursed the R.I.A.A. — and major labels continued to e-mail them new tracks. Some in the industry speculated that things would have to change, that mixtapes would either move further underground or become legitimate licensed products. But no one I spoke with thought the arrest would permanently damage Drama’s career. In fact, Julia Beverly, the editor of Ozone, a Southern hip-hop magazine, suggested that it was more likely to improve his image and album sales. “Really, this takes him to a gangsta level,” she said. “It gives him a little something extra. It’s messed up, but if someone goes to jail or dies, it elevates his status and just makes him more of a star than he was before. That’s the way the entertainment industry works in general. So, having cops at your door with M-16’s at your head, and MTV News reporting on the raid, calling you the biggest D.J. in the world? You can’t pay for that type of look.”

Samantha M. Shapiro is a contributing writer.