Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Answers! (Part One)

OK, the time has come to start answering the questions posed in Ask Me Anything! version 2.0.

I'm answering these in Order By My Whim, which means, in whatever order I want to. So there!

:: Someone going by the handle "Opus" asks this technical film music question:

I just found your blog via google, as I was searching for some comment on James Horner's Apollo 13 score. So as long as you're entertaining questions, here's mine: Have you ever noticed that, in the last moments of the last scene of the movie (on the Iwo Jima), Horner moves chromatically away from the tonic, thus ending on a chord that bears no relation to the tonality he's been working on for at least the last 20 minutes of the film? If you haven't noticed it, do you know where I can find fellow fanatics who would be driven as crazy as I by this nonsense?

No, I hadn't noticed that. Next!

Actually, though, there's a more serious point to be made here. When I listen to music, I'm quite good at hearing melodic motifs and the relationships between them, as in leitmotif-based scores like Lord of the Rings; I'm also very keen on instrumentations and rhythms.

But with tonalities? Not so much.

I can hear that the chords that begin Tristan and Isolde are dissonant, and I can hear the dissonances at work in lots of Percy Grainger's music. But I've never been good at being able to tell by ear when a work modulates into a subdominant key, to name one example. I can tell that a modulation has occurred, but I've never been good at identifying the destination key or at identifying the new key's relation to the old key.

I'm honestly not sure why this is (other than that I probably didn't put enough effort into my ear-training classes in college). Has this level of listening ever been the norm?

(And for a suggestion as to where to go on the Web to meet listeners who are equally attuned to keys, I'd probably pose either the Filmus-L mailing list or the FilmScoreMonthly message boards, where a number of fairly astute listeners hang out. I like to think of myself as an astute music listener, but in this case, I'm pretty much impotent.)

:: Chris Byrd from IndaBuff asks:

Why does Jimmy crack corn?


Why don't people care that he does?

Well, I have no idea, either. And that means, to the Google-cave, Batman! It turns out that "Jimmy Crack Corn" was originally a slave song from the pre-Civil War days.

Via Wikipedia:

There has been much conjecture over the meaning of "Jimmy Crack Corn and I don't care." One possibility is "gimcrack corn," cheap corn whiskey; another related theory is that it refers to "cracking" open a jug of corn whisky; another is that "crack-corn" is related to the (still-current) slang "cracker" for a rural Southern white.[7] Another, and possibly the most popular, is that the chorus refers to an overseer who, without the master, has only his bullwhip to keep the slaves in line. Most etymologists support the first interpretation, as the term "cracker" appears to predate "corncracking", and "whipcracker" has no historical backing.[8] This suggests that the chorus means the slaves are making whiskey and celebrating. Pete Seeger himself was said to explain the true lyric was "Gimmie cracked corn--I don't care",[9] a reference to a form of punishment for something very bad, in which a slave's rations were reduced to cracked corn and nothing else. In this case, the author seems to have decided that even this punishment is worth it, since the master is now dead and gone.

Another explanation:

Most of the theories about who Jimmy is and what he's really doing agree that whatever he's doing, the slave doesn't care about it because his master is gone. Whether he's gleefully carefree or woefully despondent is a point of dispute, depending a bit on which of the two main theories you subscribe to:

1."Cracking corn" is opening a bottle of corn liquor; the phrase is self-referential and means "I'm Jimmy, I'm upset, I'm drinking, and I don't care." Well, that sense of crack is certainly old enough, but I can't find any evidence of "corn" being used independently of the phrases "corn liquor" or "corn juice." And if Jimmy is really talking, why use "I" in the second part of the sentence, but be Bob Dole-like in the first part?

2."Cracking corn" really is crushing corn, and it means that someone named Jimmy, presumably a fellow slave, had to start grinding corn for food because of the penury visited on him after the master's death. This is as plausible as any other piece of speculation, but it's not a satisfactory answer to who Jimmy is and why he suddenly turns up in the refrain.

I found a lot more along that vein.

Basically, "Jimmy Crack Corn" is a very old folk song that arose from the plantation life of the antebellum South. As such, it'll probably never be conclusively established just "jimmy crack corn" means, but apparently he doesn't care because his master's gone. What's interesting is that depending on interpretation, he may be happy that his master is dead, or he may be sad.

More answers to come!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's most interesting is that Cingular dropped the line "Jimmy cracked corn" form their dropped call commercial.