by Bill Clifford
In the heady days after the WTO meeting in Seattle (11/30/99, or N30 as we noted it then, when we had the neoliberals on the run) and before George W. Bush learned to swing the 9/11 cudgel, the Anti Fascist Marching Band travelled from Seattle to the Canadian border with a horde of unionists and lefties to commemorate Paul Robeson’s 1952 performance there. The afternoon was alive with music and hope for the future as we appreciated the struggles of 50 years earlier and savored our recent successes. The afternoon became more beautiful when we serendipitously met with members of Vancouver, BC’s Carnival Band coming from the opposite direction for the identical purpose. After 18 years of the AFMB doing our thing in isolation, finding that CB founder Dan Vie had the same idea 100 miles north of Seattle was a revelation.
Among the nuggets he shared with the AFMB were the existence of Charlie Keil and Gregg Moore, two of the strongest advocates for street band music, each with a large and widely respected body of work behind them. Now, with several collaborations between the AFMB and the CB, and with the self-demolition of the Right (let’s hope they limit it to themselves) underway, we more than ever want to liven the present with music as we work for peace, social justice and community empowerment. Charlie and Gregg are generous with resources, insights, and experiences. Gregg’s influence may be felt elsewhere in these pages, but Charlie is trying to wean himself from his computer, so this is an overview of his recent activity.
An Appreciation of Charlie Keil
Charlie retired in 2000 as a professor of American studies at the State University of New York in Buffalo. His first big splash was his master’s thesis, Urban Blues, originally published in 1966. More recent books and collaborations include:
Polka Happiness (1992)
My Music (1993)
Music Grooves (1994/2005)
Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia (2002)
His latest book is Born to Groove (2006), with Dr. Patricia Campbell, professor of music at the University of Washington School of Music. Keil’s association with Dr. Campbell, along with friends and family in the Northwest, often brings him to the area. He was here in May 2009 to participate in her seminar on community music.
At the seminar, Charlie began by settling into his congas, chanting, “Who would teach rhythm to a world of machines and guns?” The students in the crowded seminar squirmed and looked for a way out: What does this crazy old beatnik want? Is this a rhetorical question? Do I have to personally volunteer? Aren’t machines rhythmic on their own? The chant and rhythm held steady for several awkward minutes before the first tentative answer ventured out. The reward was a glance of acknowledgement from Charlie, but he held the chant steady. A few more surmises crept out of students’ mouths. A few more glances and the continuing chant. Finally, a bold student burst out with “the students of this seminar.” The chanting stopped.
Was this an experiment? Did it succeed? Was this the right technique to use on young adults embarking on a career in music education? You would think that a man who taught for 30 years in a university and has written innumerable articles on music education would know all the right buttons to push. I think that, at 70 years old, Charlie Keil is still experimenting and not about to stop.
Born to Groove
CASE 1: The New York Path to Peace: Give Peace Some Chants is a CD of simple arrangements and chants that Keil produced, despite his long opposition to the Apollonian (his term) exercise of recording music, in hopes that other bands will pick them up and spread the peace virus. He’ll send you a couple; see his contact info at the end of this article.
CASE 2: Hatto Potato and Caracas Maracas (see Hatto Potato, Caracas Maracas article) are part of Keil’s case that we have been stumbling over the rotten corpse of European classical music for many years. Since the ’50s, “Barry” Barrington-Coupe sold recordings of classical music under the names of made-up or unknown musicians. This practice was winked at by the recording industry due to the difficulty of collecting any royalties on music that was no longer selling in its original packaging. In about 1985, he started repackaging known pianists under the name of his wife, Joyce Hatto. This fraud went on at a low level for about 10 years before it surfaced in the mainstream, where it was exposed within two years, largely on the evidence of a computer program at the Center for History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM). Caracas Maracas (see http://tinyurl.com/6h7bf8) involves providing barrio children in Venezuela with classical instruments and instruction. Their kinetic interpretations of classical music turns it on its head, while at the same time honoring it. For Keil, these two episodes together equal the demise of European through-composed (song structure that is composed from beginning to end, without repetitions of large sections) music and undermine the foundations of music criticism and traditional music schools. It’s a big leap.
CASE 3: www.borntogroove.com is, despite Keil’s professed dislike for computers and the Internet, his latest website, which combines his passion for early childhood music education with interactive computing. He aims to promote healthier children and stronger family ties through grooving and dandling. The site has dozens of recordings teaching the underlying grooves behind many styles of folk music. Ideally, parents and their toddlers sit together in front of the computer and learn to tap out the rhythms while bonding. Especially if you have young kids around, take a look at this site. Keil deeply appreciates any help he can get in publicizing this project.
Keeping the Groove
Back in the seminar, after the drums and chants, I could see that he was demonstrating one of his early childhood education techniques: Don’t criticize and don’t stroke (see pg. 6). A stroke of one student is an implied criticism of another, which serves to stifle expression. Keep the groove going until everyone has a piece of it. He has lots of advice and techniques for teaching music on his websites—and he is involved in lots of websites.
As the seminar progressed, Keil demonstrated http://www.borntogroove.com. Lamenting the lack of hits to his newest website, he asked for help in sending it viral and international. Students had a lot of ideas about linking, mommy blogs, and so forth, but some of the more interesting suggestions came from foreign students who were trying to envision translating this site into Japanese or Korean, for instance. Will current American ideas on early childhood education even translate into different cultures?
After the seminar ended, the rump session lasted at least two more hours as a steady stream of non-seminar students slipped in and out. Charlie knew most of these UW students by name, and he knew the nature of their projects. He could readily envision the obstacles they faced (such as getting a video camera into Angola Prison in Louisiana) and delighted in their flexibility in overcoming such obstacles. He is about fieldwork and building musical community one project, one contact, at a time.
The growth of the street band movement pleases Keil. Summarizing his experiences at the first few Honk Fests, he said: “The politics of it all are way better than what I was imagining and calling for back in 1982 (“Applied Ethnomusicology and a Rebirth of Music from the Spirit of Tragedy” in Ethnomusicology 26, no. 3, pp. 407–411), and I think this is because reviving the “spirit of music” is really the point. Don’t need a lot of signage. Don’t need megaphone voice shouting correct slogans. We make our own music. We make it in the street, outdoors, for everyone; we give it away, we collaborate and get better and better as an ensemble; we want you to dance with us, party with us, come alive, get active–and that is the political message. We exist, therefore we honk. We can’t be shut up. We won’t go away. We are getting stronger. We represent the peaceful and “echologically” sustainable future of joy and pleasure. We are becoming the world. Without war. “
Sometimes he writes like that, sometimes in impenetrable academese and sometimes in freely associated verse. Any dialogue with Keil is a wild ride. You can find a lot of information about Keil on the Internet, but here are some of his own websites and his contact info:
email: charliekeil at sbcglobal.net
Also see the “Untune Nobody” article on pg. 6 of this issue for a taste of Keil’s philosophy of education and his wide-ranging inspirations. He has helped my educational projects enormously with his advice, contacts, and generosity.
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