Musical Structure and Ideological Force: Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”

The Glenn Miller Story, the 1954 biopic starring James Stewart as Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong as himself, reveals a stark contrast between the men and their music. These contrasts can be mapped as a series of structuring binaries, though here I map the binaries associated with Miller and refer to the structuring elements as being either “used” or “unused.”f Charles Eckert’s structuralist Marxist and Freudian reading of the film Marked Woman represented a major breakthrough in cultural studies, showing how the deep structure of a text could reveal its ideological operations. The writing sample about Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” below, demonstrates how Eckert’s method can be used to study music.

“In the Mood” valorizes corporate technocratic values over modernist high art values. I found the following sets of structural oppositions in the song. The left side consists of materially verifiable data, with the used side on the left and the unused side on the right. The second set consists of inferences built from the first set.

Table One: Verifiable Data

Used || Unused

4/4 rhythm || 2/4 rhythm
riff-based composition || melody-based composition
repetitive arrangement || varied arrangement
simple 1-4-5 chord pattern || complex chord pattern
major key || minor key
fast tempo || slow tempo
ensemble featured || soloist featured
big band || small band
with leader || with no leader
instrumental || vocal
white band || black or integrated band
male band || female or mixed band
short song (but could go on) || long song
winds and brass separate roles || winds and brass together
scored || unscored
“clean” playing || “rough” playing

Table Two: Inferences derived from Table One

Used || Unused

secular || religious
for dance || for listening
for radio, jukebox, and record || for concert hall
for play and work || for sex
professional || amateur
machinic (train, telegraph, factory) || lyrical
not virtuosic || virtuosic
efficient || excessive, decorative

“In the Mood,” but for what?

Like the modern factory, the Miller Orchestra’s labor is divided, with winds and brass taking separate riffs. The entire organization of skilled laborers (professional musicians) is led by a “manager” (Glenn Miller) and played according to a “blueprint” (score). The efficient performance and riff-based structure of the piece gives it an “industrial” sound (like machines moving in perfect counter-rhythm: the sounds of train and telegraph). The effect is of an ensemble of machines and human workers performing well and at full capacity. Not surprisingly, the song was hugely successful on record, radio, and jukebox, modern machines in social spaces.

Although “In the Mood” features “black” musical traits (the 1-4-5 chord progression, swing rhythm, and riffs), and there is some “growling” and glissando playing in the solos, Miller “cleans” up the black forms by playing straight major chords (no “blue” notes, like flat fives and sevens), sweetening the sound with wind instruments played in unison, keeping the rhythm section and winds to mezzo-piano dynamics with mild crescendos while the brass “punctuates” with forté dynamics. The song appealed to the vogue among white youths for energy and vitality in music: it is uptempo, perfect for jitterbug dancing, designed for fun not contemplation, syncopated, and repetitive; there is no vocal part, no sheer virtuosity, and no artiness despite a surprisingly complex coda.

“In the Mood” feels overwhelmingly optimistic. The introduction swings, beginning with the winds in unison playing an ascending major arpeggio, then telegraphically repeating the high note five times before finishing the phrase. The brass takes over from the winds, playing a repeated riff with a strong emphasis on the one and four beats, which the rest of the band punctuates. Then the piece settles into its “in the mood” groove, with the brass punctuating the four and one beats of every second bar until the twelfth bar; then the brass plays the same note, in syncopated rhythm, eight times, ending on the four-one beats. When the piece hits full stride, the brass punctuates the four and one beats of every bar.

The arrangement clearly makes the ensemble the star. While “In the Mood” features soloists, none have the dazzling power of Louis Armstrong, whose playing heroically dramatizes the value of the individual. By contrast, the Glenn Miller Band is a perfectly functioning machine, with each solo player exercising a controlled exuberance within the context of a corporate arrangement.

The ideological force of “In the Mood” suppresses anxieties about emerging social pressures such as the increasing submission of the individual to the group and to authority, and the introduction of machines into every aspect of daily life. Instead, the song promises fun relations between individual, group, authority, and machine in which submission no longer poses a threat.

Edith Piaf- a Musical Icon

One of Nana Mouskouri’s biggest musical influences was French songstress Edith Piaf. By many fans and music critics alike, Edith Piaf is perceived as the “greatest singer” that France has ever known. Edith Piaf was born Edith Gassion, being named after a nurse from the first World War [Edith Cavell], who lost her life giving aid to the French soldiers in an effort to help them escape from German occupation. Piaf, which translates into “sparrow,” would receive her nickname approximately twenty years later by a nightclub manager, Louis Leplee.

Piaf’s mother was a cafe singer, meanwhile her father was an acrobat who performed in the streets of France. For a major part of her childhood, Piaf was raised by prostitutes, where in her early years ranging from three until seven, Piaf was blinded due to a condition called keratitis; however, with much faith and prayer to Saint Therese, she was able to be cured miraculously according to tradition. In her teen years, Piaf joined her father in his street performances, which marked her first public performance, where Piaf got noticed for her talent, especially for her rendition of France’s national anthem “La Marseillaise.”

At the age of seventeen, Piaf gave birth to her only child, Marcelle, a daughter, who passed away at the age of two from meningitis.

After being discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee in 1935, he was able to help Piaf overcome her stage fright and advised her to wear a black dress, which would later become her signature in all her performances. Thanks to Leplee’s efforts, Piaf landed a record contract, where her first two records were produced on the same year, and France took notice of Piaf’s exquisite voice.

Piaf helped discover yet another influential French singer, Yves Montand, and formed an intimate relationship with him. They broke up when Piaf realized that Montand was approaching the same level of success as hers.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Piaf became an international phenomenon, where she would tour Europe, as well as North and South America. At one point in her career, Piaf was the highest paid female vocalist in the world. Her greatest composition was writing and recording “La Vie En Rose,” a popular song which would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame fifty three years later in 1998.

Her greatest love interest was Marcel Cerdan, a married middleweight boxing champion, whom she had an affair with. Cerdan died tragically in a plane crash in 1949, a loss which would leave Piaf devastated.

Piaf married singer Jacques Pills in 1952 and divorced four years later; acclaimed German singer and actress Marlene Dietrich, a close friend of Piaf’s, was the matron of honor at their wedding. In 1962, Piaf married for the final time a Greek actor and singer Theophanis “Theo” Lamboukas, who was twenty years her junior; Piaf would later rename him Theo Sarapo, a surname which translates into “I love you.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Piaf would be a regular performer at the Paris Olympia Theater, a venue she would later save from bankruptcy in 1961, upon debuting her signature song, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” This tune sums up everything in Piaf’s life where despite all the multiple hardships and successes she’s endured, she has absolutely no regrets.

Although Edith Piaf passed away on October of 1963, at the age of 47, after losing the battle with liver cancer, her vocals will live on forever. The theme conveyed in all of Piaf’s recordings showcases the significance and ability to love. Her funeral procession was massive, where a plethora of her peers and fans gathered in the streets of Paris, to pay their tributes and respects to one of the greatest French musicians the world had ever known.

In contemporary media, Edith Piaf has been depicted in many films and theater productions. French actress Marion Cotillard was honored with the Best Actress Academy Award for her stellar performance as Piaf in the Olivier Dahan film, La Vie En Rose, which depicts Piaf’s life from her early years until her death; Cotillard transforms in this performance and plays Piaf in three stages of her life: her teen years, adult life and dying days. In theater, Naomi Emmerson portrayed Edith Piaf in “Piaf: Love Conquers All,” in an Off-Broadway run at the Soho Playhouse Theater in 2008, in a solo performance that was well-received by the New York audience and garnered rave reviews from theater critics.

American Folk Music: The Origins of Appalachian Folk Music

Appalachian Folk Music is the folk music of the Appalachian mountain people of the United States. Appalachia is a region around the Appalachian Mountain range in the United States, which stretches from Mississippi to New York State. Culturally speaking, however, Appalachian culture is located in the central part of this area and southward, namely West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, though the specific region called the Appalachians is debatable and has changed throughout American history. (1)

Appalachia was settled primarily by people from the borderlands of England and Scotland, specifically from the English counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and the Scottish counties of Ayrshire, Dumfries shire, Roxburghshire, Berwick shire, and Wigtownshire. This migration occurred during the 1700s. So, as one can well imagine, English and Scottish folk music traditions were brought to America from these countries and became enmeshed with American folk music styles. (1) A few examples of the influence of the English ballad on Appalachian music are the songs “Barbara Allen,” House Carpenter” and “Cuckoo Bird.” (2) And the Scottish tune “Bonnie George Campbell” may have influenced the Appalachian dance tune “Cumberland Gap.” (2)

The Appalachian people also brought Protestantism and Catholicism with them from their countries of origin. These religious concepts also influenced Appalachian folk music. Some of the religious characteristics that influenced Appalachian music were baptism in natural water, chanted preaching with rhythm, congregational shouting and foot washing. (1) Because the economy of the Appalachian region was based on agriculture and mining, early settlers did not always see the need for formal education. Appalachian education consisted primarily of moral teachings from the Bible during non-farming months. (1) After the Civil War, more schools and more educational opportunities became available in the area.

In the final years of World War I, folklorists Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles travelled throughout Southern Appalachia collecting over 200 ballads that they collected in the region. Sharp and Karpeles discovered that the Appalachian region was a haven of ballads as from as long ago as medieval times. They found such songs as “The Demon Lover” (also known as “House Carpenter”, and “The Elfin Knight.” Both of these ballads are from medieval times.

Traditional Appalachian music is one of the most important aspects of Appalachian culture. This distinctive style of American folk music was influenced by English and Scottish ballads, Irish and Scottish fiddle music, and African-American blues music. The Europeans who settled in the Appalachian region brought their violins (aka fiddles) with them across the ocean to the new world. The banjo became one of the most recognized instruments in Appalachian style folk music, and was an instrument of African-American influence. African-American banjo players were documented in Knoxville, Tennessee as early 1798. In the early 1900s guitars, mandolins and autoharps were made available to the people of the Appalachians via mail order catalogues. So autoharps, mandolins, and guitars joined banjos and fiddles in local Appalachian string bands. Different variations of the dulcimer also became popular because they were taught in settlement schools in the early 1900s. Jean Ritchie increased the popularity of these instruments in her performances and recordings of songs and dulcimer music in the American folk music performed in the 1950s.