Welcome to my weblog!
The place where I will occasionally post thoughts and comments on any aspect of music.
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(As you see, the blog is in DInglish - Dutch International English - but comments in Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Frisian are welcome.)

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And you might check my other blog, Evert Listens to Dylan, if you would be interested what listening to the complete recordings of Bob Dylan does with (or to, or for) me.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Are DJs Musicians?

Earlier I wrote about the question whether or not singers are musicians. The question is as pressing as ever - again and again I find snippets of language in daily life in which speakers equate 'music' with 'music played on an instrument'. Please understand me right: this is not 'wrong' - it is simply 'culture'; it is the way we ('we') think and speak about music. I guess the fact that Mischa Spel (about whom I wrote in my previous blog) is announced to write for her newspaper about 'classical music and opera' is connected to the same question. And the fact that the particular blog entry called "Are Singers Musicians" is the entry that has attracted the most readers of all 150+ entries of this my blog may show that the question makes people curious (or maybe it shows that there are many singers around longing for a positive answer?).

I can tell you that there is a related question: are DJs musicians? Again, the question revolves about ideas whether or not they produce sounds in the way instrumentalists do - "with their own bare hands", one might say. We are so used thinking in terms of the production of sound vs. the reproduction of sounds that it seems unthinkable that somebody 'just' reproducing music produced by others is a musician. And of course, while typing the sentence, I realize that for example classical musicians do precisely that: in their production they reproduce.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Erik Scherder, Mischa Spel, and why the New Lobby for Music Education desperately needs some opposition

Interesting times for music education in the Netherlands. A New Lobby for Music Education seems to be forming. It consists of journalists, researchers, opinion leaders, performing musicians, culture hotshots. They (claim they) base themselves on research showing why music is important in education. And they equate 'music' with 'playing an instrument', and 'music education' with 'learning to play an instrument'.

A possible - and rather black - interpretation of this New Lobby could be the one in which the argument runs thus: the guild of professional performing musicians, traditionally mainly classical musicians but today also jazz and even pop, were mainly found in government-sponsored orchestras and ensembles, they performed on government-sponsored stages and taught music lessons in government-sponsored music schools. Now that the gusto in governmental circles to keep on sponsoring seems to diminish, professional performing musicians and the enormous fringe of organisational professionals around them look into other governemnt-sponsored areas where they might work, and have cast their eye on schools. Hence the attention for the benefits of 'music' (read: playing an instrument) for 'the brain', 'creativity', and 'social skills' (all very important in educational discourse these days). And hence the call for money for music education, and for specialists in the classroom; a call with the mixed origins of wanting the best for our kids and wanting to secure work for professional musicians.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How many people sing shanties, really?

The Monitor Amateur Arts 2015 has appeared. Always interesting food for thought.

This year in particular, at least for me: one of the questions asked in the questionnaire on which the monitor is based is what kind of music people make - and this year 'shanty' was included in the list. My colleague dr. Teunis IJdens from LKCA kindly provided me with the precise question asked in the questionnaire. It is: "Which kind of music do you play or sing?", with the possibility to indicate one or more genres from a list of 10, including "shanty", and the possibility to add other genres.

The Monitor shows that shanty is actually quite popular. These are the figures:

6-11: 0% of people active in music are active in shanty
12-19: 0% etc.
20-34: 3%
35-49: 1%
50-64: 4%
65+: 7%
Overall: 2%

On a first glance I recognized my observation that shanty singing is done mainly by elderly people. But a second glance awoke lots of questions. Is really about one out of 15 active 65+ musicians a shanty musician? What about those 3% active shanty singers between 20 and 34? I never meet them (I am, at 51, mostly considered very much to be a youthful shanty singer).

And according to the Monitor, the percentages may be extrapolated from the survey sample to the total population - the claim is that 3 million Dutch people are active musicians. 2% of them would mean that we have 60.000 shanty singers in the Netherlands. And then I got really suspicious.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On the School Orchestra

The school orchestra has become fashionable lately in Dutch primary education. A thorough genealogy of the resurrection has still to be written, but elements that would figure in such a genealogy would be: the impetus of the 'Jedem kind ein Instrument'-initiative in Germany (which would require a genealogy of its own, of course); the dwindling municipal music schools in the Netherlands who see a new market here, a market in which their instrumental teachers may earn a living teaching groups of children a classical music instrument; the also dwindling amateur brass orchestras in the Netherlands, who have trouble surviving and see new possibilities of recruiting members; policy makers in music education who seek for new justifications of music education and in school orchestras find a means to combine arguments about the benefits of the beautiful, the ad nauseam reported beneficial effects of playing an instrument on school achievements and that 21st-century fetish 'the brain', and the supposed sociability of playing in an orchestra as an antidote to our so individualized times; and also the tendency of primary school teachers to think about themselves as 'unmusical' and that therefor the best thing to do is to give music education away to external 'specialists' such as instrumental teachers and conductors.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Feeling Known

I went to regional radio station Radio Westerwolde in the east of the province to be interviewed about music for an hour on Tuesday last week. I had visited the same programme on the radio station (entirely run by volunteers) a couple of years earlier, and was happy to find myself back again with Wilma and Herman in their programme for the 50+ listener - this time I just made it into the target group, so that already made me feel at home, as did warm and welcoming technician Peter

But what made me feel at home even more was the fact that Herman and Wilma had really taken the time to find out about me. They read my blog, my website, my other blog; they had devised a range of questions on topics they knew I would find interesting; and the music choice in their programme was entirely based upon the topics I wrote about. So they played the Beatles, Bob Dylan, shanty, Dolly Parton. And in the end they read a poem they had miraculously found somewhere which so precisely matched the interview that I asked innocently if they had written it themselves.

I felt recognized.

A couple of weeks earlier, we had a home concert featuring Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin. They sang two sets, and afterwards we had a homecooked meal with musicians and audience. Danny's song with the line "When I die, let them judge me by my company of friends" matched the occasion perfectly.

Before starting the concert, Danny asked if I had any songs I would like to hear. I asked him if it would be possible to play "This Too Shall Pass" (with its great first line "Things change fast, but this too shall pass - better carve it on your forehead or tattoo it on your ass") and "Stained Glass" (which is a great piece of poetry; and how I like lines such as "It was thirty days till Easter when the elm tree hit the church/Thank God it fell on Friday cause at least no one was hurt"). Which he did. And at the end of the concert they played a Bob Dylan song as an encore because, as Danny remarked, there were Dylan CDs and books about Dylan all over the place.

I felt recognized.

And I pondered how easy it is to make me feel recognized. Just connect, in some way or other, to my musical biography and I'll be happy.

Just to let you know what to do in order to count me in as your audience member.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Psychology of the Face

My newspaper provides me with breaking news: psychologists have found out that the preference for certain faces over other faces is not genetically determined, nor has it to do with the surroundings in which one grows up. Even twins - sharing genes as well as their childhood context - differ in face preference for some 50 percent. Some basic preferences are widely shared (big eyes, symmetrical face) but the researchers state that "probably very subtle, personal experiences" are crucial in differences in face preferences.

One wonders what made psychologists think in the first place that face preferences are determined by genes or context, or anything else than individual biography (which is, by nature, social, and is of course based on - but not explainable through - biology).

I can only explain it because psychology, in the end, tries to explain away the random - sociologists woud probably say 'contingent' - agency of individuals in favor of their mechanistic world view, hoping to become able to predict individual behavior in order to master it. A world view stemming from the natural sciences and leading to a continuous search in experimental research designs for cause-and-effect-chains, all of which eventually leads to the determinism so characteristic of our times: "It's not me, it's my context, my genes, my brain, my whatever - but not me."

The idea that if reality would repeat itself people would probably behave the same again. Which might be true, but it leaves out the basic fact that reality is about one zillion times too complex to repeat itself. It is not going to happen (unless God wants it to happen - which seems unlikely for many reasons). So here is nothing to predict, really - you may get insight in tendencies people have in certain contexts, but that's about it.

And it explains again why I am not a psychologist but rather, if anything, an ethnomusicologist, an anthropologist: because I believe the best we can do when it comes to real life matters is observing carefully, taking individuals seriously, aiming not for explanation but for careful description and tentative understanding.

Which is something totally different, and ambitious enough, really.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Confusion of Categories 1

Early September Ola Mafaalani, artistic leader of the North-Netherlands Theatre, opened the Dutch theatre season with a speech in which she asked attention for refugees worldwide. To stress the importance of her statement, some hundred refugees came with her on stage.

Sympathetic. I like it if people with some sort of public profile occasionally ask attention for ethical or other problems. You use your public privileges to foster the public good.

Of course there is one small 'but': we assume that the 'public good' worth asking attention for is unequivocal - above politics, as it were. And of course it is not. We wish we lived in a world where moral affairs are straightforward, but they never are, even if they seem so. So we equate our own moral predilections with the 'public good'.

And so it comes to be that Mafaalani, according to the newspapers I read, asks the theatre sector to become the 'consciousness of society'. As if there is one theatre sector, with one idea about what is moral and what is the 'public good'. As if there is only one possible 'consciousness of society'.

It is a confusion of categories: in this case the confusion of Art with Moral Consciousness. Why would Artists by nature and/or definition have more moral consciousness than other categories - say: politicians, or lumberjacks, or olympic athletes.

The same confusion of categories seems to have played a role when the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences decided to open an Academy of Arts, where famous artists are chosen to foster the relation between the different arts, between the arts and society, and the arts and the sciences.

So far so good, no problem there. But then members of the Academy of Arts are asked to write blogs on, for example, education. And so it comes to pass that a novelist I really like for her novels, Charlotte Mutsaers, writes a little blog entry on education which is not only stupid (which is fine, because others may find it wise) but also lousy written, inconsistent, and generally the kind of talk one would utter when one in a slightly drunk state tries to give a consciously malicious imitation of Charlotte Mutsaers giving an opinion on education.

Confusion of categories.

What makes us think that a novelist - being an Artist - should speak out publicly on public affairs rather than writing another novel? It's not that I don't want them to speak out - please, be our guest, we live in a free country. It is that I wonder why we expect them to do so with miraculous results.

Would we ask Louis Ferdinand CĂ©line or Richard Wagner as immigration policies advisors for our government? Or - if you are Dutch - the late Gerard Reve to speak out on the matter of refugees? All three great Artists.

Let Artists be Artists. Let scientists be scientists, researchers be researchers. Let individuals be individuals. Let anyone speak out his thoughts on public affairs.

But let's not confuse roles, and assume that Artists for some mysterious reason are here to Teach the Way.

Art is no TomTom.