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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Drive My Car - or: R.I.P., HSB

For a long time now I have been thinking I should write a blog entry on listening to music in the car. So here I go.

In the conversations I had in the past few years about music, one of the most musical places turned out to be the car. In the car people listen to their music; they copy CDs to do so, or have their favorite radio stations programmed in the presets of their car stereo. When they go on holiday by car, they sometimes sample a collection of 'holiday music' for the occasion - and that CD (or cassette, in earlier days) often stays a favorite for many years.

Et cetera.

With me it's the same: the car is an important place. When I am in the car with my complete family I don't often play music these days. But when I am in the car with one of the kids I often do, and we sometimes have a little chat about the music. (My youngest daughter used to ask for some time: "The Weatles?" whenever I played music in the car.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Waste of Talent?

Some time ago I was chairing a little symposium dedicated to the development of musical talent. It was organized by a well-known youth string orchestra from the region in honor of its 25th birthday.

The symposium was nice. We invited as a key note speaker the principal of a municipal music school which still manages to play a role in talent development, which is not straightforward. Many of those schools, traditionally considered as the key providers of instrumental music tuition in The Netherlands, are going through rough times. That is: if they manage to stay alive, because many of them close due to severe budget cuts by their municipalities. Many of them are funded by the local governement but less and less those governments consider it as a given that they should keep doing that. I am not going into that debate, apart from saying that the questions posed to music schools are sometimes not unrealistic, and the answers offered by music schools are sometimes not realistic. Having said that, I notice each and every music school that dies with regret.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Musical Other

For my inauguration as professor ('lector') New Audiences at the Prince Claus Conservatoire, Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, a small video (about 6 minutes) was made on the theme 'The Musical Other'. If you haven't seen it, you may check it out here!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Art - A Possibility of Music

I seem to have made myself not completely clear.

That counts for most topics, I guess (a sociologist called Harold Garfinkel - brother of Simon N. Garfinkel, indeed - claims that social order is possible only because people are never completely clear in their intentions and their communications. The world exists because it is messy. I will explain this another time; after I have understood  Garfinkel's claim, that is). But especially for my frantic dislike of the idea that music is art; or even Art.

So let me try to be a bit more precise on that. I do not deny that music can be an artistic phenomenon. On the contrary; dependent on what exactly 'artistic' is (has it something to do with the realm of the beautiful? with the unattainable ideal? with the creative domain?) I would probably acknowledge that music for me is an artistic phenomenon.

I must say: music for me is also, sometimes, an artistic phenomenon. Because when I say music is not Art, I only mean to say that music is not exclusively, mainly, or essentially Art. Music, as I said in my inauguration speech (check the video belonging to that happening here, including a musical saw, an opera singer and a shanty choir) a couple of days ago, is never one thing. It is always many things at the same time. It is different things for different people in different places and in different times. It is always a lot of things at the same time, in an ever changing constellation. Its character changes over time. It is everything, always, and for everyone.

And being Art is just one of its many possibilities.

So please don't try to convince me that music may have a deeply artistic effect. Because I know that; it sometimes has that effect on me. And I love it for that.

But also don't try to convince me that saying that music may have a deeply artistic effect is a convincing description of what music is. Because music is so much more than that; and that 'more' is not essentially less musical, or less important to people. The fact that our dominant culture teaches us to look at music as Art is no excuse, really, but just a question of powerplay. And probably a form of powerplay which is not on the winning side, these days. We better get used to that.

Music is so much more than Art. That is why it is such a powerful humanizing medium. Let's try and see the beauty (or Beauty?) in that.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Goodbye, Musicscape Groningen

A couple of years ago, when I started my PhD research, I decided it would be nice - me being an ethnomusicologist - to at least sketch the context of the persons I was interviewing for my dissertation. One of the things I wanted to outline was which opportunities they had to listen to live music. I thought such a description would be easy: just use some existing literature, some statistical data sets used in the world of culture policy.

To my surprise, I found out that actually no-one knew what was really going on in the province of Groningen - or in the city of Groningen - or in any other city in the Netherlands, for that matter. At least not in the broad sense I wanted to know it. Yes, there were figures about how the subsidized stages programmed music; but for the less- or not-at-all-subsidized stages there was only scattered and anecdotal information, if there was any information at all.

So I decided to gather the material myself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer is in the air - you can tell it by the booming basses

Last weekend there were two big open air concerts in the city of Groningen. A Dance Party, and a live music show which will be broadcast on television later. Both attracted a lot of listeners, who had great fun. Both attracted quite some officials with Decibel measuring equipment, to check whether the festivals stayed within the official norms. Both led to complaints from people living nearby. Both led to people living nearby fleeing their home for a night - something I would probably want to do.

Party for one, a nightmare for the other - music showing both its faces at once.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I am reading about ethnomethodology these days. Ethnomethodology is a sociological theory originating in the 1960s, and I read about it with a colleague for whom using ethnomethodology as a theoretical background to her doctoral study might be useful. I remember I was totally gripped by ethnomethodology when it was first explained to me, so I am looking forward to meeting it again.

I am not going to give you an introduction into the theory, because I can't. But as I understand it, ethnomethodology shows that the basis of society - of people like you and me sharing a space and a time amongst us - lies not in 'norms and values' which bind us together, nor does it lie in the individual rational choices we make continuously in order to maximize our (material or immaterial) profits.

Society has a much deeper source. Before you can even think of norms and values binding groups of people together, before you can even act strategic in a group of people, there is a basic 'grammar of everyday life' at work which makes communication between people - be it verbal or non-verbal - possible in the first place. This 'grammar' is hidden deep down in us, and the only way we know our way around in it is by living our everyday lives. Therefore, living life is not so much a question of following laws, but rather we grope around our way in life, looking for shared understandings with our fellow members of society (Harold Garfinkel, the inventor of ethnomethodology, insists on calling human beings 'members'), and using all kinds of backwards interpretations to make that incomprehensible life comprehensible (Garfinkel: 'accountable') in hindsight, for example by saying that our social life rests on norms and values or on individual profit maximalisation.

I guess I love ethnomethodology because I feel it captures essentially the way my life is lived by me, as I see it. (Which is an ex-post-facto accountability judgement, of course).

What I like best, however, is that deep in the heart of ethnomethodology lies an idea of Trust. We live our lives Trusting that we can share our lives with others because we try to grope around life as best as we can and assume that others do the same. Because we are groping around, we don't always succeed; but because we Trust, there may be hope. It is Trust on a deep level, deeper than 'norms and values'; it is a sort of existential Trust, I guess, without which society - living together - would be impossible at all. Hence the capital T.

But although it is Trust on a deep and existential level, it is for me a sort of excuse to also believe in trust - lower case t - at the 'superficial' level of everyday life. I like to think that I can trust others; and I guess I hope that others may have some trust in me.

Has this anything to do with music? I don't know. I guess that musicking, as any form of human behavior, is social in essence and based on Trust, helping us groping our way around life. And I guess I see how music, here and now, acts not only as a thing of beauty but also - and often at the same time - as an instrument of power, and I sometimes feel that goes directly counter the idea of trust.

But in the end, sociological theory is just like music: it may touch you, but you will never be able to explain precisely why it does so.