Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Russian Music

Mention Richard Taruskin, and music lovers' eyes will roll and heads will nod approvingly in response to his over four decades of redefining the field of Russian music study. This volume gathers thirty-six essays on composers ranging from Bortnyansky in the eighteenth to Tarnpolsky in the twenty-first, as well as all the famous names in between. In addition, the reader is treated to Taruskin's thoughts on the history and historiography of Russian music. As Taruskin observes, this book picks up the banner from its namesake: Gerald Abraham's On Russian Music: Critical and Historical Studies of Glinka's Operas, Balakriev's Works, etc., with chapters dealing with Compositions by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaiksky, Mussorgsky, Glazunov, and various other aspects of Russian Music (published in 1939). Impressive. Rating: five out of five stars.

Living with Fire

Fires seem to to be raging around the United States all the time, with horrific consequences, so it's difficult, though necessary, to accept the premise that fire "plays a crucial role in North American forest ecosystems. Still, Sara E. Jensen and Guy R. McPherson, in their book, Living with Fire: Fire Ecology and Policy for the Twenty-First Century, support just that premise with "abundant and historical and analytic information. In sum, Jensen and McPherson argue that more research will enhance "increasingly nuanced and accurate" perceptions of fire ecology. This difficult and possibly bitter position (for those whose homes are burning up) is still helpful in understanding the wider context of these catastrophes. Rating: four of five stars.

When the Church Becomes Your Party

As Horace Clarence Boyer, author of The Golden Age of Gospel, says, "There is no doubt that 'today's gospel is not your mother's gospel,' so we should be thankful that we have Deborah Smith Pollard's When the Church Becomes Your Party to serve as our interpreter." That is indeed true, although Pollard also says her goal is "to reflect the sacred yet celebratory intentions that exist throughout the gospel music community despite the wide variety of sounds, performance styles, and controversies that often surround them." Indeed, Pollard fulfills that goal as she explores "what's going on right under our (upturned) noses," with "muscle t-shirts, tight jeans, cleavage" and "preachers in disguise" (holy hip hop artists). Rating: four out of five stars.