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Friday, April 11, 2014

Dolly Parton - A Review

The music critic has always fascinated me. He is the professional variant of something many people do continuously: talking about their musical experiences in an evaluating way.

I guess the music critic uses three ingredients: descriptions, judgments, and emotions. He describes what has happened: who was where when with whom, why, with which backgrounds, which history, et cetera. Then there are the judgments and the emotions. They are the equivalents of what I elsewhere called "judging talk" and "liking talk". Together they make up the discourse in which we describe our personal relationship to music. Music touches us - hence the "liking talk" with which we describe our emotions. And on that basis we pick the music we like to listen to - which leads to enormous amounts of "judging talk", in which we try to rationalize our musical choices. Of course that rational story is never convincing, precisely because it is the rational counterpart of the emotional process of liking music, a process which remains inexplicable and only expressible through - mostly material (often bodily) - metaphors: "It really entered"; "It touched my heart"; "It shook me"; et cetera.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Music Generations Groningen

After some years of making plans, (not) convincing possible partners and (not) finding money, finally this afternoon the first Groningen version of the Music Generations programme started after all. I was there to take a look, and I was proud.

Music Generations is a programme which aims at making an intergenerational production with amateur singers from the categories "25-" and "50+" (which makes me feel discriminated, but because that feeling will end in a few months I am not too worried).

It calls itself a talent development programme, and maybe it is. As you may know, I am not too big a fan of the Talent-buzzword; but politicians, policy-makers and money-investors are attracted by it, so talent development it is. But what I liked most about the first audition I saw this afternoon was not the talent-thing; it was the fact that people were allowed to do their own musical thing in public. People were allowed to present themselves as the musical persons they are, all their idiosyncrasies included.

They all deserve the workshops and masterclasses offered by the programme; and they all deserve to grow musically and to become even better than they already are. But what I really hope is, that in all that growing and becoming better they do not lose themselves. I hope they grow mainly in becoming even more of the  themselves they already are.

Because that is the great attraction of sessions like the one I witnessed this afternoon: it shows how music potentially is, in the words of my beloved Clifford Geertz, a meeting place to "enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other’s way".

Monday, March 10, 2014

What It Really Is About

I am working ´in´ music. I teach about it. I talk about it. I write about it. I talk about teaching it. I write about teaching it. I teach about writing about it. I talk about writing about it. I teach about talking to write about it. Et cetera, ad infinitum, and sometimes ad nauseam (all this Latin to show that I am ´not from the street´, as we say in Dutch, or, ´reversely´, that I have ´street credibility´ in doing it).

And then, of course - talking about street credibility - I play it and I sing it.

But the secret of music lies not in the hands that move the pen or pluck the strings, nor in the mouth that sings the songs or speaks the words.

The secret lies in the ears that hear, and in the soul being moved.

At times, I become so tired with those hands and this mouth. It is all so haphazard, so unfruitful, so futile. I might as well do something else - I might be better off, and so might the rest of the world.

But then I return from a rehearsal of my beloved shanty choir. I sit in the car, I put on the stereo and I listen to Dave Rawlings' 'Bells of Harlem'. And I am dumbstruck with what the sounds of music continue to do to me. They uplift me, up to the point of annihilation.

And I realize that after all, there is probably nothing else I am supposed to do than to play it, sing it, speak about it, write about it, teach about it; if only to honor the listening to it.

So, let the dance continue.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thank you, Dino

So here I am in Sarajevo, again. It has been quite some time - three years, to be precise. I wondered if again it would snow and I would spot a Dipper, but no. But the lovely smell of the charcoal fires needed to make cevabcici was there, as was the lovely sound of the muezzins of all the mosques; the Bosnian football team still plays in lovely blue, and Music Academy Sarajevo - which hosted me so kindly - was as filled with its lovely students and as hot as ever. So although I missed my wife and kids, I felt at home, in a way.

About the sounds of the muezzins - it is music to my ears. But I know that for some muslims, reciting the qur'an and music are two very very different things; we hear the same but it feels different and listens to a different name. Related to this: one of the ethnomusicologists with whom I worked these days told me that people in a village where she did fieldwork answered in the negative when she asked whether there was any music going on in processions; of course they were singing, she discovered much later, but they did not call it music.Thank you for the story, dear colleague - and oh, the power of words and feelings

Never take a word on its word.

And speaking about words: the wisest words these days came from a composer. In a reflective conversation he remarked that what we, human beings, do need amongst us is not so much that European buzz-word 'tolerance' - we need 'acceptance'. I couldn't agree more; I told him that his words would stick with me the rest of my life, and - pathetic as it may have sounded - I meant it.

Thank you, Dino.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind

When I was about fourteen, I stopped taking violin lessons and switched to the guitar. At that time, I think there was no choice between classical or pop, or between Spanish or electric guitar; if you took guitar lessons, you bought a Spanish guitar and learned to play classical music. But I was lucky to have as my teacher Dries Lubach, who realized that, apart from playing the etudes of Emilio Pujol, it might be attractive for kids my age to also learn to read chord schemes and play basic finger-picking patterns by means of such songs as House of the Rising Sun and Blowin' in the Wind.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Raymond Firth on Objectivity

I would like to share here some of the final words of the anthropological classic "We, the Tikopia" by Raymond Firth, because, more than 75 years after its first publication, they still point to a concern any anthropologist shares in some way.

"Social anthropology should be concerned with how human beings behave in social groups, not with trying to make them behave in any particular way by assisting an administrative policy or a proselytizing campaign to achieve its aims more easily. The scientist gives generalizations regarding the nature of the working of institutions; it is not his duty to affix ethical values to them, nor by conniving at such an ethical evaluation to pave the way for their modification. Missionary, government officer and mine manager are free to use anthropological methods and results in their own interests, but they have no right to demand as a service that anthropology should become their handmaid. Nor can the standards which they invoke - "civilization", "humanity",  "justice", "the sanctity of human life", "Christianity", "freedom of the individual", "law and order" - be regarded as binding; the claim of absolute validity that is usually made for them too often springs from ignorance, from an emotional philanthropy, from the lack of any clear analysis of the implications of the course of action proposed, and from confusion with the universal of what is in reality a set of moral ideas produced by particular economic and social circumstances.

This is not to say that the scientist himself may not have his own personal predilections, based on his upbringing and social environment, his temperamental disposition, his aesthetic values. He may regard the culture of a primitive, half-naked set of people on an island of the Solomons as a pleasant way of life, giving expression to the individuality of its members in ways alien to western civilization; he may regard it as something he would like to see endure, and he may strive to preserve it in the face of ignorance and prejudice, pointing out the probable results of interference with ancient customs. This he does as a man; his attitude is part of his personal equation to life, but it is not implicit in his scientific study. The greatest need of the social sciences to-day is for a more refined methodology, as objective and dispassionate as possible, in which, while the assumptions due to the conditioning and the personal interest of the investigator must influence his findings, that bias shall be consciously faced, the possibility of other initial assumptions be realized and allowance be made for the implications of each in the course of the analysis."

What a way to end an ethnography, long before the "reflexive turn" in the social sciences took place.

And then the question: I add to the row of "missionary, government officer and mine manager" the music festival director, the orchestra manager, the conservatoire principal, the professional musician and the music teacher; and I add to "civilization", "humanity", "justice" et cetera "art", "the aesthetic", and "beauty" - and then I wonder what my position as a so-called "applied" researcher within a conservatoire might be, regarding all Firth said above.

Raymond Firth. We, the Tikopia. Kinship in Primitive Polynesia. Boston, Beacon Press: 1963 [1936].

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why Music Gives Us Pleasure, According To The Reverend Gilbert White

The Reverend Gilbert White (about whom I wrote before) explains in Letter XLVI to the honourable Daines Barrington (not dated, but written somewhere at the end of the 18th century) quite precisely why "the shrilling of the field-cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet marvelously delights some hearers". I think his argument is extendable to music, so read along with me:

"Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their melody and sweetness; nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which they promote, than with the notes themselves."

Short, precise, and true. Who needs a musicologist when a Reverend is available?