Preface

I took piano lessons from Ken Ard for eight years so he is a very important and very present figure in my life. This past weekend, when I returned home to San Diego, I was lucky enough to watch him and his band perform live on Sunday night at Centifonti’s Bar and Grill (I don’t know why it is named such; it is essentially a cafe). Centifonti’s is a cultural center in La Mesa, San Diego. It is an Italian cafe that has been family-owned since the 1950s and offers an array of live music. Ken’s band, which plays at Centifonti’s once a month, performs under a very specific niche: New Orleans music. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz — from Jelly Roll Morton to Louis Armstrong — but New Orleans music is not that simple. Known as Dixieland jazz, New Orleans jazz is polyphonic and influenced by ragtime, blues, gospel, and military brass bands. Ken and his band are fantastic musicians and entertainers and were able to capture the feel of Dixieland music at Centifonti’s. Customers of the cafe were clapping and dancing to the music, creating a cheery and almost rowdy environment that would be hard to duplicate. The multivocality present at Centifonti’s is something I am very glad to have been a part of. The performers were in constant interaction with the audience through their music and through direct conversation. The influences of culture at the cafe were very apparent and emblematic of the many different forms that voice can take on.

Observations: Sunday, February 16, 5:30-7:30 PM

To start with, I will identify several voices that were present at Centifonti’s. The first is the voice of the keyboard player (Ken), a 65-year-old man. He had the ability to sing very deep but also light. At times, he manipulated his voice to become scratchy, which intensified the music. Second, the trombonist, a 65-year-old woman, had a very calm and reassuring voice that was able to reach very high registers. Next, the percussionist, a 70-year-old man, was the only member of the band that didn’t sing. However, he did interact with the audience and his voice was extremely deep but cheery at the same time. The last performer was the stand-up bassist, a 75-year-old man. His voice was also deep but much more powerful than the other band members. Another voice that I identified was that of the waitress. She had a very warm voice that was made lively and personable by voice inflections and body movements.

There was one non-traditional voice that made its presence known during the concert. At one point, a man approached the stage to talk to the band, introducing himself as being from Mississippi (this is notable because all of the band members are from New Orleans). His voice was very deep and lively. He talked with Ken for a little bit and they exchanged stories from growing up in the South. The openness and looseness of each of their voices represented the environment at the cafe as well as the environment they were each born into.

All four of the performers’ voices were presented in live performance. In the middle of each song, one performer improvised for an extended period. The impact of this cannot be overstated because these improvisational solos were live and being played for the first time ever. The energy of the performers was tremendous and as I listened, I thought of Isabel Bayrakdarian’s assertion to “never underestimate the power of the soul when singing” (Lecture Notes, Feb. 5, 2020, 2). While the songs the band played were partly composed and curated, the improvisation sections were raw and improvised and the blurriness between these two styles that we studied during Week 7 was definitely apparent (Lecture Notes, Feb 19, 2020, 1). 

Next, many of the voices present at the cafe were mediated in some form. Ken’s husband was at the cafe and he and Ken made comments to each other between songs. Ken’s husband’s voice was mediated because he has a very intimate relationship with Ken. The waitress’ voice was also mediated because she is essentially a spokesperson for the restaurant. When someone asks her what she thinks of a dish, it is doubtful that she is going to tell the customer that a dish is poor. Lastly, Ken’s voice was also mediated. At one point, he told the audience, “The more you drink the better we sound, the more we drink the better you look.” Since Ken performs at the cafe monthly, he is sort of a plug for the cafe.

While many of the voices at the cafe were mediated, the voices of the performers were also stylized to be musical and theatrical. Ken’s voice was especially stylized. He is a natural entertainer and was able to relate with the audience throughout, telling jokes between songs and connecting themes in songs with life today. Another example of the theatricality of the performance occurred when the trombonist played one song on the trombone with her feet. This moment was emblematic of Cartesian dualism, the idea that the immaterial mind and the material body can sometimes interact (Lecture Notes, Jan. 27, 2020, 1).

The voices at the cafe that I have identified were communicating many different messages. The four performers communicated stories and emotion. All four performers are from New Orleans and the music and culture clearly means a lot to them. The emphasis that Ken and his band place on people, their stories, and how they feel is reminiscent of the practice of digital storytelling that we studied in Week 4 (Lecture Notes, Jan. 29, 2020, 2). At some points, members of the band were speaking to the music rather than singing. This style is similar to the recitative style in opera music that we learned about in Week 5 (Lecture Notes, Feb. 3, 2020, 1). Next, the waitress basically only communicated words, answering the customers’ questions and taking down their orders. However, she also displayed emotion in efforts to make the customers feel welcome and comfortable. She definitely succeeded at this through the warmth and genuinity of her voice; as we learned in lecture during Week 6, often it is less about what is being said but how it is said (Lecture Notes, Feb. 10, 2020, 1). Lastly, Ken’s husband communicated lots of emotion with his voice through his appreciation of each song.

I did identify one influence on my voice that was affected by proximity to other voices. My mom, my grandparents, and I were influenced by the people we were sitting with because we were sitting right next to Ken’s husband and some of their friends. If we had anything critical to say of the performance (which we didn’t), we would have been influenced by the proximity of these other voices to not speak critically.

Observations: Monday, February 17, 10-10:45 AM

The next morning, my mother, sister, and I went to breakfast at Centifonti’s.The environment and the voices present were in great contrast to the night before. There was no concert or live entertainment and the people there were very different. The night before, the crowd was mainly there for the concert. However, the following morning, the voices present mostly consisted of regulars at the cafe. Each table that was occupied was filled with several friends, all of whom seemed to spend a lot of time at the cafe. The voices were loud and upbeat and were most definitely familiar with the voices around them. On top of this, the workers and the customers were also friends. 

Analysis

While there were many voices present at Centifonti’s, there was also a collective “voice” that had a pronounced effect. The collective voice at the cafe on Sunday night was dominated by the band. They know each other very well, they like each other, and they know how to perform together at a high level. The audience loved the band and each group fed off of the other. Sometimes, members of the band would point at or shout at the audience, beckoning them to clap or dance. This multivocal authenticity took on a very different shape the next morning when I went to breakfast at the cafe. Whereas Sunday night, the collective voice was a mixture of the band and the audience, on Monday morning, the collective voice was a mixture of the workers and regular customers. The majority of the customers on Monday morning were friends and seemed to know the cafe pretty well. The workers and these customers were also friends and the cafe was almost buzzing with a sense of familiarity and intimacy.

Next, some of the voices present on Sunday night seemed more privileged than others. The waitress’ voice was privileged by her customers because of her great knowledge of the workings of the cafe and of the menu. The voices of the band were privileged because of how amazing the band was. The audience was aware of the level the band was playing at and their reactions gave the voices of the band a special status. Meanwhile, on Monday morning, I did not notice any power disparities at all between voices. The workers and the customers seemed to have a mutual respect for one another. There was no hierarchy; rather, all of the people present were just friends.

On Sunday night, there was one instance when a person’s voice was deprioritized. At one point, a very old (and probably drunk) woman slowly walked up to the band and began dancing with the trombonist. Her daughter, probably embarrassed, pulled her mother away and back to their table, essentially deprioritizing her mother’s voice. However, the trombonist then walked over to their table and danced with the senior woman for the rest of the song, ensuring that the woman’s voice did not lose its power. This was a very cool moment for everyone in the cafe. On Monday morning, there was another instance in which a person’s voice easily could have been deprioritized but was not. An old man walked into the cafe that was probably homeless. He was begging for money to buy something to eat. While most restaurants would have kicked the man out without any thought or care, Centifonti’s did not. One of the workers brought the man a muffin and politely asked him to not ask for money in front of their business. From the short amount of time I have spent at Centifonti’s, it seems to me that the cafe workers make a point to value each and every voice that presents itself at the cafe.

Analysis: Comparing my experience with Joo Yeon Yoo’s experience

Joo Yeon Yoo and I both attended cafes, but our experiences were very different. In my opinion, the biggest difference is that I went to Centifonti’s during a live concert on Sunday night while Joo listened to recorded music during both of her trips to her cafe (Joo’s Assignment Notes, Feb. 16, 2020, 1). I was also startled by the contrast between the non-traditional voices that we identified. While I observed the voice of a man from Mississippi, Joo observed a coffee machine! (Joo’s Assignment Notes, Feb. 16, 2020, 2) She described the sounds that the coffee machine made to be very unpleasant and shocking. Another difference that I noticed between Joo’s experience and mine is the mediated voices that we identified. While I studied live mediated voices, Joo studied the sound of the TV playing MSNBC (Joo’s Assignment Notes, Feb. 16, 2020, 2). Joo noted that Claremont (where her cafe is located) is a very liberal community — hence the liberal news channel. While the two of us noticed many different elements at our cafes, there are also similarities between our analyses. The biggest similarity is the differences that we both picked up on between the two times we went to each cafe. I observed very different crowds with very different purposes on Sunday night and Monday morning. I also observed a power disparity on Sunday night and not on Monday morning. Meanwhile, Joo’s cafe transformed from a quiet, calm cafe in the morning to a louder almost-bar at night (Joo’s Assignment Notes, Feb. 16, 2020, 3). Being able to compare my experience with Joo’s experience allowed me to think about what I observed at Centifonti’s from a broader scope and this added a new dimension to this exercise that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Works Cited

Joo’s Assignment Notes, Feb. 16, 2020

Lecture Notes, Jan. 27, 2020, 1

Lecture Notes, Jan. 29, 2020, 2

Lecture Notes, Feb. 3, 2020

Lecture Notes, Feb. 5, 2020, 2

Lecture Notes, Feb. 10, 2020, 1

Lecture Notes, Feb 19, 2020, 1