On Sept. 23, two students from the Music Department kicked off the 2020–21 Wesleyan Music Graduate Series, which is being hosted on YouTube this semester. Hosted by Wesleyan’s Music graduate students, this series showcases the performance, compositional, and research capabilities of Wesleyan graduate music students, alumni, and other Wesleyan affiliates. Panels will be streamed in six weekly installments on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. during September and October 2020.
Stuart Wheeler, a second-year MA student, presented a talk and performance of his composition “Mr. Bernard Shaw from On Vivisection.” The song, which can be performed by 1–13 singers, is based on a poem Wheeler wrote using source text from On Vivisection. The content focuses on Shaw’s political opposition to the practice of vivisection in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Wheeler’s construction of the text is drawn heavily from the composer, performance artist, and poet Jackson Mac Low. “There are specific methods of selection and rearrangement of words in the text, and these methods are both nonintentional and completely predetermined,” Wheeler said. “I’m making no intentional decisions on the granular level, I’m simply developing my own system for selecting and rearranging words from the source text.” Wheeler also explained that his piece is built around a single chord that forms the harmonic architecture for the piece.
Bianca Iannitti MA ’19, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology, presented an an autoethnographic case study of the 2018 song Italiana by Fedez and J-Ax. Iannitti, who is fluent in Italian, recalled overhearing the song during a trip to Italy in 2018. “Italiana became an immediate success and is considered Italy’s top summer hit of 2018,” she said. “It was an integral part of my local surroundings. I would hear it in passing on the radio, in retail stores, local bars, or even watching MTV with my cousins.”
“Italiana’s chorus serves as a double entendre, to highlight the tourism, and popularity, and beauty of the Italian summer, while also revealing the cracks within this often romanticized portrayal of the country,” Iannitti said. “Although there are references to the summer weather, the Italian beachside, and the beautiful people, there also lies this double meaning, or added layer, which serves as a political critique against the country’s immigration policy as well as the treatment toward undocumented citizens.”
Iannitti pointed out several pop cultural references and cultural stereotypes in the song and video, including the use of hand gestures, the love of pizza and spaghetti, and a laid-back mindset. “The song’s Italian music style, lyrical content, and music video ultimately exemplifies the complexity of the Italian culture and its identity on a local, national, and international scale,” she said. (Image: Italiana by Fedez and J-Ax.)