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Stephanie Conn

writer, researcher, producer

Drinking in “Lemonade”

beyonce-lemonade-laolu-senbanjo-sacred-art-of-the-ori-artI’ve been spending time with Beyoncé’s Lemonade album and film this week. It has been much-discussed in the months since its launch, and with good reasons apart from Beyoncé herself’s place as in the current pop culture pantheon. Primarily, this album and “Formation” in particular speak to the position of black women in America, drawing on history as far back as the Civil War and as iconic as speeches by Malcolm X, and also the need to stand up (in formation) as individuals and together (as with Black Lives Matter). But for anyone interested in the interrelationship between music and culture, the album and film present an overflowing storehouse of rich references to historical and current black (and specifically female) culture in the US.
Continue reading “Drinking in “Lemonade””

Singing Heroines

Movie musicals demand a certain suspension of disbelief. We accept that characters will break out of everyday behaviour to sing a song, perhaps even accompanied by full orchestra. I’ve noticed, however, that there are also many dramatic films in which a character disrupts  the convention of spoken prose and instead, sings. Continue reading “Singing Heroines”

The mystery of musical affect (and effect)

I once found myself unexpectedly moved to tears by the singing of a Flemish folk song. I do not speak Flemish and I don’t have any particular connection to the subject matter, that of a woman whose seven sons immigrate to Canada from Belgium. Later that day I could not even fully remember the melody. But the very visceral effect it had on me ­­— and as I later learned, on others who were in the audience that day — has me thinking about why it is that a musical performance can have more or less impact than expected. Continue reading “The mystery of musical affect (and effect)”

One of my favourite photography tricks is to shoot the same thing repeatedly — on different days, in different weather, and over a period of years. Somehow repeated attempts to photograph very familiar things forces one to see them differently, or in new way. Continue reading “Seeing things anew”

Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music

I’m fascinated by memory and the many ways it comforts, shapes, or confounds us. Maybe this was one of the reasons I became involved with Gaelic singing in Cape Breton — I was drawn in not just by the songs themselves but the way they refer to the collective memory of that culture, and are enmeshed with the memories of individuals. But memory plays a vital role in many, if not all, kinds of music; at the most basic level, this is why we are tickled by references to other works. Snippets of one song mentioned in another or quotes from a poem in a novel (‘signifying’ in jazz, and intertextuality in literature) spark associations and call upon our memories of past experiences.

While working at CBC Radio I became familiar with Gavin Bryars and his music, and noticed that memory seemed to be a key feature of many of his works. Back in 1993, he saw his composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” climb the pop charts, and he has boxes of letters from listeners telling him how this piece touched them. Continue reading “Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music”

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