Intimate Music: A History of the Idea of Chamber Music

By Neil Minturn; Micheal J. Budds | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Musical Personalities and Theoretical Investigations

The teenage dance creates a social context in which, traditionally, girls meet boys and both sexes strut and preen. Rock music in this setting usually facilitates and serves the social interaction. Strutting and preening takes place at the rock concert, too, but now musical performance is the central focus of the event. Rock as dance accompaniment must maneuver within a narrower musical space than rock as concert music. Dance music demands a certain type of good beat—a metronomic beat, for example. In an almost ritualistic manner, The Last Waltz’s three pairs of professional ballroom dancers exorcise rock’s terpsichorean obligations and open the space for the ensuing concert. Ironically, in both concert and film formats, The Last Waltz, named for a traditional dance at a traditional dance, is nothing if not primarily spectacle.

Alan Freed sensed the potential of the rock concert as spectacle, and his shows quickly became so successful and so well attended that dancing simply was not possible. There was no room: the audience overwhelmed the dance’s traditional social function. But unlike the music of Freed’s shows, The Band’s music—although physically moving and rocking—was not conceived primarily as dance music. As pointed out earlier, The Band originally imagined itself as a recording ensemble primarily and a touring ensemble secondarily. At The Last Waltz, spectacle overwhelms the audience, effectively squeezing it out of the picture, both literally and figuratively.

The Band’s music is not constrained by the metrical regularity demanded by dance. For example, “Just Another Whistle Stop” from Stage Fright (1970) contains a passage in heptuple meter—the aspiring dancer no doubt feels tripped or tippled every two measures. Many compositions, such as “Stage Fright,” to be studied in this chapter, contain five-bar phrases, a distinctive metrical feature in a predominantly four-bar setting.

I will show how The Band’s music derives from, yet expands the rock tradition that it continues. While recognizing that The Band at its best achieves a collective voice, one can nevertheless summarize salient characteristics of the individual musicians. Part of the musical language shared by them is the blues, an infinitely variable and inexhaustible musical source whose genealogy reaches far back into the AfricanAmerican folk tradition. The blues has nourished country, folk, rock, jazz, and, of course, blues. I will show how “The Weight” and “Stage

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