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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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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bookshelves and Biographicity

Yesterday I was at Groningen's 'Night of Art & Science' to give a presentation on the functions of music in everyday life.

After the presentation, a man asked me a good question. He said: "There is a saying that in order to know who someone is, you just have to study his bookshelf. Could you say the same about someone's music collection?"

The answer is clear: no. (I gave it so quickly that he remarked that I did not sound as a researcher at all...)

The secret of the meaning of music lies not in the music collection. It lies in the stories behind the music collection. It is possible to find two people with exact the same collection who attach a completely different meaning to that same collection because of their completely different experiences with the same music.

Simple and straightforward. But at the same time the bookshelf-idea shows one of the most persistent ideas about the value of music: that the value of music resides in 'the music' - and with 'the music' we mean the idea that music is a thing, a 'work'; and that there is something inherently valuable in that work. Eventually the discourse behind it in our culture becomes the discourse of artistic exclusivity: Beethoven in the collection: great! Alban Berg: even better! Rieu: no need at all to even think about taking thát seriously...

But, as I mentioned many times before, music is not a thing. It is human behavior. It is the relationship between the individual and the 'humanly organized sounds' the individual meets on his way through life. And the value of music lies in that relationship; not in 'the music' (as the musical connoisseur seems to think), and not in 'the individual' (as some psychologists seem to think), but precisely in the in-between.

And because this relationship is essentially biographical, music is a matter of what my Doktorvater (I love that word) Peter Alheit calls 'biographicity': the way in which we, on the basis of our biographical experiences, take in the world and try to make sense of it.

Music is the process of making sense of 'music'. Nothing more, nothing less.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Music and Care

I was in a symposium some time ago on the use of music in care settings: in settings where music is used by professional musicians, music therapists or others to ameliorate the quality of life of people with dementia, for example, or mentally handicapped people.

Two movies were shown about the work of John Hoban, made by Willem Blok. In one of the movies, John as well as his wife Isabella Basombrio philosophized at length about the rationale behind their work. Much of what John said completely coincided with my own feelings: for example that every individual is essentially musical and that anybody has the right to be who s/he is, musically; that the essential contribution of working with music in care settings is 'to let them be' and to honor other people by listening to them; and that therefore being a musician means being and giving yourself,

"There is nothing easier than this work", said John - which may be true for him but maybe less so for those I work with, those trained as professional musicians in the exclusivity - rather than the inclusivity - of a conservatoire setting.

Monday, May 4, 2015

FC Groningen Wins the Cup Final

You may think: so what?

But the level of so-what-ness is quite low if you happen to live where I live, a village up-North bordering the city of Groningen. I had to drive to Amsterdam and back yesterday, and already at the end of the morning all fly-overs for the first 60 or so kilometers of my trip (yes, way into Frisian territory) were occupied by those FC Groningen fans staying at home greeting those FC Groningen fans on their way in cars and buses to the Rotterdam stadium where the Cup Final would be played at 6 pm. I had a festive trip.

It so happened that a couple of week ago I visited a game by FC Groningen with my ten years old son. I bought a ticket behind one of the goals, not realizing that this is the domain of the hardcore fans. A domain with its own rules, which became clear immediately; in the stadium you buy fixed seats but when we found our seats two guys had occupied them. So I said they were on our seats, whereupon they explained to me that in this particular part of the stadium seat numbers had no meaning whatsoever - you could sit anywhere you liked provided the seat was empty on your arrival. So we sat down beside them, me expecting at some point to be told that we were on the seats of others, but of course that never happened.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I was in Sarajevo. I asked a music student to describe what he did with music. He said: “I practice. Then I play a concert where other students and teachers come to listen, hoping they can find a mistake or two. Then I practice again.”

A succinct description. I felt at home immediately.

Exclusive Inclusivity

I am connected to many projects in which professional musicians try to work in participatory and inclusive settings. They invite people to join with them in their playing, to influence their decisons; they want to know what their audiences want from them, what their needs are, their opinions; they want to make music which fits them like a glove or which poses them the questions they never thought of but need to answer urgently.

And that is great.

But deep down – and sometimes not deep down but right at the surface and even blatantly open - there stays that other tendency in professional musicians: the need to feel special, to be the best and the biggest, to be exclusive, to stand out.

And so it comes that I talk with a former student about a project she was involved in, some years ago. The project was about participation and inclusion, about sharing and about empowering; the students – our future professional musicians – worked, together with teachers, in a circle with the participants, reacted to their ideas, built something together.

And the former students tells me: “I was sitting in the circle and I knew I was not appreciated. I knew the teachers felt I was not delivering enough quality, that the other students were much better. I knew that the other students felt that. I knew it all, and I felt I had no real place in the circle.”

Not exclusive enough to be included.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


You may check out my new blog entry on Bob Dylan's third album on that other blog, Evert Listens To Dylan.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Sing-Alonger

Sometimes new insights come about because two experiences collide.

Experience 1.

I was reading an essay about André Hazes. André Hazes, for the non-Dutch amongst us, is - was - a phenomenon. He sang the 'levenslied', the Dutch schlager as it were, and became the larger-than-life representation of it. When he died, there was a burial ceremony in the Amsterdam Arena (you know, Ajax) which was televised and attracted six million viewers.

The essay is written by an anthropologist from the Meertens Institute for Dutch ethnology, Irene Stengs. I like the essay; at points it is too much sociology of culture and too little ethnography to my taste, but it makes an important distinction that I had not consciously thought about too much: that between singing culture and sing-along culture. Singing culture is about the way we sing songs. Sing-along culture is about the way we sing songs together with a singer. In a sense, sing-along culture unites what ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino would call presentational and participatory forms of singing. Singing is presentational when it is done by a singer for an audience. Singing is participatory when everybody joins in and there is no distinction between a singer and an audience, Sing-along means there is a distinction, but not between the singer and his audience but between the singer and the sing-alongers.