An Artist is Not Without Honor, Except in His Own Culture

While home teaching the other day, I got into a discussion of how single LDS Church members passed on apartments from member to member, so that some apartments have been held by Church members for a decade or more. As an example of this, I was able to cite the case of Keene Curtis and Jon Beck Shank, both LDS Church members (at least nominally), who shared an apartment here in New York City in the 1960s. I then explained that Curtis went on to become a very successful actor, playing most famously the part of John Allen Hill, the upstairs restaurant owner in the sitcom “Cheers” and the part of “Daddy Warbucks” in the musical “Annie” on stage (not in the film version).

“Daddy Warbucks” was Mormon?!! was the incredulous reaction I got.

Continue reading “An Artist is Not Without Honor, Except in His Own Culture”

Ideas for the field: Online creative rights database

One of my early frustrations with trying to get up-to-speed with the world of Mormon narrative fiction was the lack of published plays. If one has access to an academic library (which I did for the first 9 years of my engagement with the field), it’s easy to get novels and short story collections through InterLibrary Loan. And oftentimes you could even get photocopies of individual short stories. However, other than Sunstone, no one really publishes Mormon plays.

My next idea for the field, then, is the creation of a Mormon-themed creative rights database. This is content that isn’t easy to acquire from libraries and that could reasonably expect some sort of usage fee to use and/or view the work. Continue reading “Ideas for the field: Online creative rights database”

Why we need Mormon Culture

A week ago the Washington Post took the unusual step of writing about the LDS Church in Nigeria, and in the process made a very interesting characterization of the Church there:

Many scholars say the Mormons’ decision not to adopt more local customs — such as incorporating African drumming or dancing into Sunday services — is one reason the church has not experienced the same remarkable growth as other denominations. Pentecostals, a lively evangelical Christian movement, can draw half a million worshipers to their all-night services here.

Like many LDS Church members, I’m not bothered by the lack of dancing and drumming in Sunday services — quite to the contrary, I suspect I would roll my eyes at such affectations, or feel uncomfortable somehow. It doesn’t seem worshipful to me, but then its not my culture.

But I am curious about what the decision means about our doctrine and culture. Continue reading “Why we need Mormon Culture”

A Clockwork Orange Revisited, or Doh! Now I Get It!

Very serious warning: this post discusses a book that some readers might find — I take it back, that they will find — offensive.  In no way am I recommending everybody read this book, nor am I endorsing the movie, which for years sported an X rating and now wears proudly a very hard R.  I’ve never seen the movie and never will.  The book, however, has method in its madness and has been part of a personal journey I’ve undertaken. Also, it has prompted me to rethink some of my ideas about art.  But gentle-minded souls might want to skip this post.  Really.   

I’ve experienced very litte actual violence.  Oppression: I know it exists, but what of it I’ve faced is hardly worth mentioning.  My attitude toward works of art that set up violence and oppression as centerpieces of their design has always run along these lines: We know violence and oppression exist — enough about them already!  O Artist, bring us, in image, word, or music, your most finely spun yarn to guide us through labyrinths in whose passages prowl those twin Minotaurs.  Don’t distract us by describing the monsters or their unpleasant acts, though. Continue reading “A Clockwork Orange Revisited, or Doh! Now I Get It!”

Mormon vocalist Wendy Lane Bailey performs in NYC May 23, June 6

Russell Arben Fox sent Wendy my way, and after reading about how she describes herself and her music, I had to do an AMV Q&A. Here is Wendy’s bio and details on her upcoming shows; the Q&A follows:

Wendy Lane Bailey is known to be a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, and a little bit Meshugeh (that’s crazy, y’all). Born in Louisiana, the tall redhead’s performances combine pop, country, standards, emerging composers, folk, classic jazz, and even a bit of musical theatre, all seasoned with her quick wit, and her eye for the absurd. She has appeared in a wide variety of venues across the country including New York City’s Town Hall, Symphony Space, Washington, DC’s famed Blues Alley, The Kennedy Center, Odette’s in New Hope, PA, and the Blue Room at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans. She has also lent her voice in the studio to support other artists including pop legend Lesley Gore, Broadway’s Susan Egan, and on demos for several up and coming song writers.

Bailey will be performing at New York City’s Metropolitan Room at 9:30 p.m. on May 23 and June 6. She will be joined by Rick Jensen on piano, and Lisa Poulos on back up vocals. There is a $20 cover and a two drink minimum, the Metropolitan room is at 34 West 22nd St. New York, NY. Reservations may be made by calling (212) 206-0440. For more information visit www.wendylanebailey.com

Continue reading “Mormon vocalist Wendy Lane Bailey performs in NYC May 23, June 6”

Music: New Info on Where to Find Stan Bronson’s Music

Stan Bronson’s folk music and stories may be ordered by contacting him directly at ProudEarth@msn.com. He’ll provide interested parties with pricing and ordering information. He requests payment through check or money order. His CDs may also be purchased in Blanding UT (for anyone happening through the area) at Cedar Mesa Pottery, The Purple Sage, San Juan Pharmacy, Connected Technologies, and in Monticello at Hondaland.

Music: Fun CD Tunes Regional Heritage

I flunked out of first year piano. By no means, shape, or shading could I be considered an authority on music. But recently I happened upon a disc I enjoy thoroughly and I thought many AMV readers might enjoy it as well–if they can find it.

Stan Bronson’s two-volume single disc Storysinger (2000) contains songs from his recordings Down from the Mountain and Cowboys and Indians. The disc’s folksongs are set in the Four Corners area–particularly in San Juan County, Utah–and tell in engaging manner stories about the settling of the region. Stan Bronson possesses a classic cowboy singing voice–expressive, sincere and clear–the kind of sound that settles restless cows and tired children. Adults interested in folk music and pioneer heritage will find it an enjoyable listen, too.

Stan Bronson lived in the Four Corners region of the U.S. until recently when he moved to Salt Lake City. He has worked as a record producer, an actor, a songwriter and a folk musician. Among his credits as record producer is the album Proud Earth, which in 1976 received a Grammy Award Nomination in the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” category. Chief Dan George narrated this recording of traditional and contemporary Native American music. Bronson also appears in The Touch, an LDS Motion Picture Studio student film grant project, which premiered during BYU’s annual student film festival Final Cut in the mid-nineties. The Touch won several awards from BYU’s film department, including Audience Choice for Best Film and Judges’ Award for Best Narrative. Bronson, who plays Christ in the film, was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Acting. He has also served as president of an LDS branch on the White Mesa Ute Reservation south of Blanding, Utah.

In his CD Storysinger, Bronson’s lends his melodious and sympathetic voice to three groups of residents in the Four Corners area: Native Americans, cowboys, and Mormon settlers. Some songs tell stories from the perspective of a single member of one of the groups yet usually chronicle the interactions between the three. To my knowledge, most if not all the names spoken in these songs are those of authentic historical Mormon, cowboy, and Native American figures.

The songs in general have that classic cowboy flavor one associates with cowboy poetry and include the anticipated cowboy laments, ballads, and above-average cowboy humor, but Mormon references abound and one hears many LDS-themed surprises. For instance, “Aunt Jody’s Hands … [bring] the touch of Heavenly Mother’s love.” Several tracks chronicle the life, trials, faith, and visions of Blanding’s and Bluff’s founding fathers. For instance, “Bishop of Old San Juan” tells the story of Jens Nielsen who converted to the LDS church in Denmark then migrated to the U.S. and was shortly after sent to help found the Mormon San Juan Mission in Bluff, Utah. My nine-year-old daughter likes the song, “Man to Man,” a poignant ballad about Blanding founding father Albert Lyman.

Bronson’s Native American-themed tracks pay equal homage to important historical Native American figures. His sensitivity to and respect for Native American culture rings through in such songs as “Friendship Fire,” “Posey,” and “Victory Trail.”

In one of my favorite songs from the CD, “Cowboys and Indians and Mormons,” Bronson sings matter-of-factly about each of the aforementioned groups’ influence in settling the region, granting each one a verse outlining its vital historical presence and closing each verse with a chorus. For the cowboys, the chorus runs:

Well, most of those cowboys were friendly,
Most of those cowboys were fine.
But some of those cowboys were up to no good
Makin’ trouble all the time.

The same for the verse about the local Native Americans. The unexpected chorus for the verse characterizing the Mormon presence might give listeners a chuckle–or not, depending on one’s sense of humor:

Well, most of those Mormons were friendly,
Most of those Mormons were fine.
But some of those Mormons were up to no good
Makin’ trouble all the time.

Stan Bronson wrote all the songs on this CD with the exception of “Adios Amigo,” “Blue Mountain,” and “Song of White Mesa.” Unfortunately, the website address on the disc doesn’t work and I have no information for where one may go to purchase this disc. I have seen Bronson’s CDs for sale in shops around Blanding, Utah. Occasionally a record or disc comes up for sale on eBay. If anyone has any information about where Bronson’s music may be purchased, please email me, patriciagk at mindspring dot com, and I will post the information here in an update.

You can read an interview with Stan Bronson here.

Soapbox: Mark Hansen on the market for LDS music

Note: This is part II of Mark Hansen’s thoughts on the LDS music scene. Read part I.

The Chicken and the Egg
by Mark Hansen

Here’s another take on the LDS music scene, and why it struggles to find itself. The biggest problem that LDS music faces is that it operates under a dark cloud of obscurity. A while ago, at the FCMA workshop (kind of a gathering of LDS musicians), I heard an interesting statistic. An LDS CD that finds a successful audience will sell about 5,000 copies.

I was astonished at that. We have a world-wide church membership of 11+ million, and we’re only getting market penetration of several thousand? Even Utah church membership is over a million and a half. That’s 0.3%!

Now, I can hear debates of all sorts that would impact those statistics. But the bottom line to me is that it points out a significant problem impacting LDS music. By and large, our audience doesn’t know we’re even out there. If I were to sit at temple square, interrupt people and ask then if they recognized certain names, I’d bet there would be only one or two names that most members of the church on the street would be able to name.

Well, that’s assuming I didn’t get thrown off temple square, or they didn’t presume I was an anti-mormon street preacher, but that’s another blog post altogether …

So, the biggest challenge for LDS musicians and the artists is: How to educate an audience that doesn’t even know it exists. The Internet is already playing a big role in that. Members from all over the country, all over the world are reaching out to find other members, and discovering that there’s a vast network out there connecting members of the church. Even still, the numbers, when compared to 11 million, seem small. It’s gonna take time.

So, which comes first, the art or the audience? Is there no audience because there is relatively little art for them to participate in? Or is there little art because there is no audience to appreciate it? And as you began to bring in other sub-genres of art, that narrows things even more. For example, in the music scene, there’s very little rock music being made. Ask the labels why not, and they’ll tell you that there’s no market for it. Nobody wants it. But maybe the people who want it don’t know it’s there. The Singles Ward and the RM soundtracks sat at the top of the Deseret Book bestseller shelves for several months. Doesn’t that imply a burgeoning market? For the most part, those that like rock (particularly harder rock) don’t shop for CD’s at Deseret Book.

Other sub-genres face the same fate. People who like styles that haven’t been represented in LDS music, generally don’t shop for music at traditional LDS outlets because their music isn’t there. And musicians who want to make that kind of music for the LDS audience either don’t make their CD’s or don’t make them available in traditional outlets because their audience isn’t there.

So, is it the chicken or the egg?

The solution is simply time. Both ends of the equation have to come together. Gradually, more and more artists will make divergent music. More and more audience members will hear about it or seek it out.

Editor’s Note: I agree with Mark’s thoughts and only add that the same analysis could be applied to the markets for Mormon fiction and film (with very little modification).

Soapbox: Mark Hansen on the LDS music scene

Note: I asked Mark Hansen, LDS musician and Mo’ Boy Blog author, to write a guest commentary/primer for A Motley Vision on LDS music. His response is below. He has also written a second commentary that speaks to the dilemma of artists finding an audience and the audience finding artists which will appear tomorrow.

—–

The State of the Art
By Mark Hansen

William, of A Motley Vision, e-mailed me and asked for a guest blog, a commentary on what’s happening on the LDS music scene. One of his first questions to me was “Why do I think the Mormon music scene is worth checking out?” His second was, “Why do I think it’s getting better?”

The funny part about those two questions is that it reveals an underlying dissatisfaction that we Mormons have had with our music for close to two decades, now. Ever since Papa Lex brought us “Saturday’s Warrior”, and the CES seminary program released, “Like Unto Us”, we’ve been slowly developing a scene. A place (virtual, not necessarily physical), where we can hear music made by us, for us. Music that expresses our unique vision of cristianity, our unique lifestyle. So, what’s wrong with that? What’s there to be dissatisfied of?

Well, up until just recently, there wasn’t much diversity. There still isn’t the kind of diversity that CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) has, nor mainstream popular music, but there is certainly more than there was ten, or even five years ago.

In its infancy, LDS pop music was limited to pretty much one style, all encompassed by the sounds of Afterglow, Michael McLean, and Janice Kapp Perry. There were a few albums and early CD’s that attempted to break out of that mold, but they failed, by and large, to draw much attention.

In the mid-90’s or so, things started to change a bit, and the singer/songwriter/troubadour type began to bring a bit more diversity. A couple of the bigger LDS labels started to put more and more emphasis on the quality of the writing, so that the songs were more like the radio, less like a Sunday school lesson that rhymed. A major leap forward, in my opinion. The quality of the productions increased as well.

Since then, we’ve developed our mainstream pop music into four current, basic sounds:

1. Traditional “Soft Sunday” ballads. The gentle, relaxing music that you hear on a couple of the Salt Lake City Sunday radio stations. Mostly keyboard and orchestra-driven, it’s very tranquil and inspirational. A lot of church members still love this stuff. Though there are individual songs that I love, by and large, it puts me to sleep!

2. The folk singer/songwriter troubadours. Acoustic instruments, intelligent writing, often not directly focused on gospel topics, frequently artistic! Peter Breinholt, Ryan Shupe, Sam Payne, and the celtic group Fiddlesticks have been champions of this style. There are many, many others.

3. A Capella and other vocal groups are quite popular. Mostly good-looking younger guys, they range from the silly (Moosebutter), to the temporarily hip (Jericho Road), to others with a bit more mileage under their belts (Eclipse).

4. Pianists are quite ubiquitous in the Mormon world. In the current scene there are several making CD’s of inspirational piano music. Some would call it “New Age” music, others don’t like the association with the “New Age” religions of recent years. Paul Cardall is a great example of this genre.

Now, there are others that are making CD’s that don’t fit into these categories. There are some categories that are just beginning to make a showing. Rock is a great example. For a long time, the only rock music was Greg Simpson (and he was sort of on the edge of folk and rock). Then, along came The Singles Ward and The RM soundtracks, and that showed us that rock can be cool, fun, and even safe for our testimonies. Still, I can count on one or two hands the CD’s that I’ve heard that are really LDS-oriented rock.

Country is also woefully underrepresented. Jazz is beginning to make some appearances as well. In my ‘net travels I have even encountered a handful of LDS rappers, though all but one were still too preachy.

To find much of the more diverse LDS music, you have to look and look deep. You have to find the underground, looking for the music beyond the Deseret Book shelf. You have to explore the ‘net and spend some time.

I have to give a few warnings. Much of the indie music within LDS Music is new stuff. It’s being produced and paid for by the artists themselves. As a result, it’s often not as technically polished as the music you’ll hear from Deseret Book/Excel. Many of these projects are DIY, with someone sitting at home recording their music in front of their computer. Still, I encounter some of the most innovative work while plowing through the depths of the Internet.

William also asked for some recommendations. Keep in mind that these are personal suggestions. I like them. A lot. Your mileage may vary. These are in no particular order.

1. Stephanie Smith — She’s a little on the edgier side of the troubadours. Great writing and a wonderful voice.

2. Cheri Magill ““- One of my newest favorites. he’s a singer/songwriter, but some of her tunes rock. Others are just good anyway!

3. Greg Simpson ““- I’ve been a hard-core fan of his since I heard “Seven Wonders”. Not very prolific, but I’ve found him to be worth the wait. His gravelly rock voice is, I think, one thing that keeps him from winning any of the many Pearl Awards he’s been nominated for, but that’s what draws me in. That, and his driving beats, virtuoso guitar work, and intelligent lyrics.

4. The RM Soundtrack ““- I love this one! The rock versions of the hymns and the Janice Kapp Perry songs are way too much fun. In addition, there are a few songs that cross over from novelty into full-on art.

5. Dave Edwards is one of the most innovative songwriters I’ve heard in years. He’s the greatest.

6. Sam Payne — Even though Sam is a singer/songwriter, his tunes are bit more jazz-based. Really fresh stuff.

7. Lastly, I can’t resist the shameless plug. My own brand of LDS-oriented rock, to be found at http://markhansenmusic.com. “One United Generation” is the only CD I know of aimed at an LDS audience with songs that rock this hard.

8. Well, except for Fast Sunday’s “SumsaykyasmuS.”

In addition, there are a few good hubs for finding independent LDS music out there on the net. Start with LDS Musician, and also check out LDS Audio and Latter Day Songs. Then just Google “LDS music” or “Mormon music,” and see what comes up.

Ultimately, I’d love to see the scene grow to the point where we have the kind of diversity that CCM has. Pop, punk, rock, country, jazz, fusion, classical, folk, techno… The fullness of that kind of variety is a number of years off. The audience needs to be more aware, the musicians need to step forward and produce (represent, yo!), and then it will truly “blossom as a rose.”

Thanks, Mark!

ALSO: Read the inaugural “Soapbox” commentary — my sermon/rant on Mormons and media consumption.