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In praise of Pandora.

ONE FRIDAY EVENING, we were lounging around with hot cocoa listening to the recording of the performance of the Catholic Mass, "To Hope," written, arranged, and performed by Dave Burbeck and a host of vocalists and musicians. The fact that we were listening to this, and not to some other form of music, may be traced back to the Music Genome Project and Pandora.

Begun in 2000, the Music Genome Project is an ongoing exercise in analyzing music, both old and new, according to a complex taxonomy, including up to 450 different factors. Specialists analyze each piece of music and assign it values within these factors. Pandora is the end-user's website that depends on the Music Genome Project. Its sophisticated programming allows you to pick an artist with whom you are familiar-Vince Guaraldi, in this case--and enter his or her name into Pandora to create a customized radio station that links that musician with others based on similarity across the hundreds of characteristics. You can give each piece a thumbs-up or -down; I recommend against going with the latter because the reaction is extreme (along the lines of, we' re sorry and we'll never play anything like that for you again). Of course, I might want something like that played again. I learned the hard way that indicating I did not like a particular song inadvertently might cut me out of an entire family of music.

That Pandora exists is a miracle of intelligent analysis, modern computing, and dedication. It is an antidote to the dearth of variety in radio. It seems there really are only about 10 music stations in this country, with the exception of small, widely scattered indie outlets. The few major broadcasting corporations have swallowed the market; the playlists are constricted; and the opportunity to discover new, or new-to-you, music, was fading. Enter Pandora, stage right.

Presently I am listening to my custom station "Chris Comell Radio"-the former and once-again lead singer for Soundgarden, solo artist, and lead for the former band AudioSlave. The song playing right now has been identified by the Music Genome Project as having, among other characteristics, melodic songwriting, an emotional male lead vocal, and subtle vocal harmonies. For those of you thinking, "Soundgarden?" this variety in the artist's work explains why the next song may be by Nell Young, or the Beatles--or, conversely, by a heavy metal band connected to Mr. Cornell in the Music Genome via his work with Temple of the Dog and Soundgarden. I await their playing his rendition of "Ave Maria," from "Very Special Christmas III," but that has not happened thus far.

I am fairly confident that I would walt a long, long time for a "regular" radio station to play Cornell solo, much less to link his vocal strengths, including a four-octave range, with Young, the Fab Four, or other artists. The best we can hope for is for the local classic rock station to play "Black Hole Sun." Variety is not welcome on the airwaves. Brubeck's musical oeuvre is singularly complex. He died on December 5, 2012, the day before his 92nd birthday. If it had not been for Pandora, his obituary would not have caught our attention. As it was, we had "met" Brubeck as a brilliant jazz musician only because we plugged in Guaraldi, due primarily to our love of the Peanuts holiday special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Yes, my familiarity with music is limited and immature. Pandora is helping.

Pandora introduced us to a wide range of Guaraldi's work, as well as brilliant artists like Oscar Peterson, Start Getz, and Brubeck. We met South American musicians because of the collaborations between them and U.S. jazz musicians, and this led us on an adventure in instrumental-only Bossa Nova music. That journey has included a lecture series on CD from The Teaching Company on the history of jazz, and still more artists to learn about, probably including Pandora in our source material. This has afforded me the opportunity to pass this knowledge along; each semester my undergraduate students are offered topics for papers in which they apply psychology concepts to famous people. Driven in desperation to ban any further papers on Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Kurt Cobain, I have taken to giving a list of famous people and positive psychology concepts from which to choose. These individuals are not all musicians; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Georges LeMaitre, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have made the list in past semesters. Many students who thought all African-American music comprises only hip-hop and rap have discovered Oscar Peterson. This spring, they met the legendary Bert Williams.

Just so, we met Brubeck via our acquaintance with Guaraldi. We immersed ourselves, listening and learning. Then Brubeck died. His obituary was unusually robust for our regional paper, and it mentioned in passing that he "even" had written a Catholic Mass. This caught our attention, and investigation followed. We learned that he was commissioned for this by the Our Sunday Visitor publishing company, a Catholic news publisher, and that he failed to include the "Our Father" in his arrangements. An argument ensued, and he initially refused to add the piece. Instead, he went on vacation with his family. The arrangement for the Lord's Prayer came to him in his sleep on vacation, and he wrote it down immediately upon waking. He saw the combination of events as a sign, and converted to Catholicism soon after. The Mass, however, was not his first foray into ecclesiastical music; he first wrote sacred music in response to his nephew's untimely passing. His experience as a soldier in Europe during World War II, including the Normandy invasion, led him to be very reflective about violence, peace, and purpose. A culmination of his work in this area was the Mass arrangement. "To Hope" was a great undertaking, with multiple settings for the prayers of the Mass, arrangements for male and female soloists, chorale, and multiple insertions of improvisational work in his performance at the Washington National Cathedral.

So, on a chilly Friday evening, we sat down with hot cocoa and anticipation to hear a holy hybrid of jazz and classical music. Thank you, Dave. Thank you, Pandora, for arranging the introduction.

Dolores T. Puterbaugh, American Thought Editor of USA Today, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Largo, Fla., and an adjunct instructor in psychology for St. Petersburg (Fla.) College; Troy University, Tampa, Fla.; and University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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Title Annotation:PARTING THOUGHTS; Music Genome Project
Author:Puterbaugh, Dolores T.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:May 1, 2013
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