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Welcome to my weblog!
The place where I will regularly 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, December 26, 2011

"I have a theory, which is my theory, which is mine"

A linguist called Dicky Gilbers became news last week. It is always interesting to find out why someone becomes news. Gilbers became news because he accused all songwriters in the yearly Top 2000 from plagiarism – apart from Queen. “Artists think they create their work themselves, but they all sing the same song”, Gilbers is reputed to have said.
I read various reports on his – yes, on his what? His theory? Right, his theory (Monty Python: “I have a theory, which is this theory, which is mine, which is my theory…” et cetera).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Personalised evangelisation?

I show quite some YouTube clips in my lessons on world music. Yesterday I was talking about Arab music (I must confess to adherents of modern education that those lessons consist for a big part of me talking and playing musical examples) and I showed some Arab and Turkish YouTube videoclips. As you know, often those clips have either an advertisement before the clip begins or an advertisement is shown at the bottom of the screen. In the case of my Egyptian, Moroccan and Turkish clips, the same advertisement popped up all the time: our Dutch evangelical broadcast corporation called EO wanted to convince me and my students to listen to their Christian music.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Defining World Music

The term “world music” has always been hotly debated, even contested. People struggle with a definition. They often refer to the fact that it is a term of slightly dubious origin – it was invented in the commercial sector, as a label in record shops for the growing amount of…. yes, of what? Of world music cd’s needing a fitting label.
But actually defining world music is not difficult at all. Let me propose you my definition. World music is the kind of music that, due to statements on the possibility to identify its sound as connected to a certain specific geographic origin, offers itself as being referred to as exotic and sold as such in some part of the western(ized) world.
Yes, some work has to be done on a clearer phrasing, I agree. But let me point out some of the major points in my definition:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Coding an Interview

I am looking at a pile of interviews on my desk. The phase of conducting interviews is nearly over, I have to start analyzing them. After some postponing (a grant proposal had to be written, a book had to be read) I finally take a deep breath and start.
I take the first part of the first interview, which I transcribed in full. Line by line I read it and attach codes to lines, to alineas, and sometimes to single words – codes being words, concepts, short phrases that capture what is being said in the interview on a slightly more abstract level. The idea is that through coding and recoding, constant comparison of passages, writing memos on the process during the process, eventually a picture arises of a possible interpretation of the interviews - or of several possible interpretations. Codes get more and more abstract during the process, and eventually you end up with some sort of theoretical model.

Quote of the Week

"I can understand German as well as the maniac that invented it but I talk it best through an interpreter."
Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Invention of Tradition

If you thought that the Scottish tartan (you know, the striped cloth of which the pattern indicates the clan you’re from) is a tradition going back to times immemorial, you should read the chapter on it in the book The Invention of Tradition, edited by Hobsbawm and Ranger. The chapter describes beautifully how at some point in time there was no such thing as a tartan-tradition, and that ten years later it was an age-old tradition.
I liked the story – I even thought, and still think, it is hilariously funny in some ways. Read it, when you can. When I first read it, a long time ago, it also showed to me the capacity of us, human beings, to invent our past in ways that are fitting to our present. I was gripped, at the time, by the idea of showing the inventedness of many traditions, and even wrote an article on an evident invention of tradition: the invention of a Frisian folk song tradition by the group Irolt, a tradition which they then, although it was fake, could revive in order to create a Frisian folk revival analogous to the “second English folk revival”, specifically of groups like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Free Music and Beer

“I never ask to be paid for my music,” said the Frisian singer-songwriter. “I ask for beer. As long as there is a crate of beer and they compensate my travel costs, I am fine.”

I met him at a concert I played in a small pub, somewhere in Friesland. It was a joint concert: the singer-songwriter and one of my bands played, and because the singer-songwriter had a new band (he played with an accordionist and a drummer – acoustic, that is) he was lacking enough repertoire to fill half the evening so we invited my other band as a guest. An interesting evening: the singer-songwriter started off with Frisian-language ego-documentary songs, then my one band played Irish, Scottish and Bluegrass repertoire, than my other band played Frisian-language covers of well-known songs by Kylie Minogue, Tom Waits, REM and some others, and then we finished with the Irish etcetera repertoire. Explaining why precisely this repertoire at precisely this place and this moment in time with precisely this audience held together, no actually made up a fine evening, is something I will try to do another time. Although many of those present will not be aware, part of the explanation is a certain definition of “Frisianness” – or, broader, Dutch (West-European? Western?) “regionalness” or “localness”.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Refined begging"

When I was 15 I started to play music on the streets. I did it for a long time; first in the near vicinity, but after a year I hitch-hiked to France with a friend (who is now, by the way, a very successful professional musician) to play in the streets. I fiddled, he played a small accordion, we both sang; we played Irish folk, French folk, Dutch folk, Beatles, tangos from Malando, Greek ditties, some gypsy tunes. And we earned our own holiday – also because we slept in clochard hostels or at people’s homes; they would invite us to come and play at their party in exchange for food, drink and a bed. So we continued with it for years. Our most successful year was when we joined with two girls, one a blonde flute player, the other one a cute bellydancer. The French loved it. Life was great: sleeping on the beach in Antibes, and earning lots of money – at least for the four of us, happy with nothing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Arab Music - and Cricket

“Quelle monotonie intolérable à nos oreilles! dira-t-on. Soit; mais il ne s’agit point de nous”. That is what the famous French musicologist Alexis Chottin wrote in 1939 about Moroccan music. Translated a bit freely: “One would say: `What an intolerable monotony for our ears!” So be it; but this music is not about us.”
I use his quote as he motto for my lessons on non-western music. Yes, music may sound strange to us, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe it makes sense for other people, and often, through finding out why it makes sense for others, it starts making sense for us also. And not necessarily the same sense, I add hastily, but that is also what music is not about – it is not about a particular kind of sense, it is about sense; as it is not about good taste but about taste, as I wrote earlier on this blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mark Twain on the Fremersberg

"There was a vast crowd in the public grounds that night to hear the band play the "Fremersberg." This piece tells one of the old legends of the region; how a great noble of the Middle Ages got lost in the mountains, and wandered about with his dogs in a violent storm, until at last the faint tones of a monastery bell, calling the monks to a midnight service, caught his ear, and he followed the direction the sounds came from and was saved. A beautiful air ran through the music, without ceasing, sometimes loud and strong, sometimes so soft that it could hardly be distinguished--but it was always there;

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Kaseko

Last week I wrote about the Bolivian Saya, and how I fell in love with it. The story was connected to the lesson I taught about indigenous Latin-American music . This week I will teach a lesson on EurAfrican Latin-American music – or is it AfrOpean?
We have quite a lot of all that going on in the Netherlands. Latin-American music is enormously popular here; salsa and comparable genres are danced and listened to by hordes, and the same counts for tango; and then reggae is not to be missed, including white Dutchies with rasta-hair hoping to return to Ethiopia some day (I am not making anything up here; nor am I judging this as foolishness or trying to get a cheap laugh out of it – I am just stating some facts).

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Saya

I started teaching my course “Introduction non-western music” again. In nine lessons I skim the world map on music. I work form left to right, as long as you use a Europe-centered map at least – but just for fun I use an Australian-centered upside-down world map in my lessons, to make clear that Europe-centeredness is just a bias. So the next nine weeks or so I will in this blog follow the outline of my lessons and will write a little personal story about the musics I teach about that week. Today: Bolivia.
I went to Bolivia something like 15 years ago for about five weeks. Friends of mine were living there, so that gave me the opportunity and the pretext to go. I asked them how safe it was, their answer was “Safer than Oegstgeest on Sunday morning” (I don’t know the Dinglish equivalent of Oegstgeest – but think of Midsummer without the Murders).  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Bird Called i-Pod

I was biking to my work and passed two people on bikes cycling next to each other. To my surprise I heard the sound of an iPod’s ear-phone coming from one of them. I thought: “How impolite to cycle next to someone while listening to your own music on your earphones.”

Looking a little better I noticed neither of them actually was wearing headphones. Then I realized  the sound I heard was not from an i-Pod but from a small bird in the shrubbery alongside the road.

Modern times: recognizing a sound first as electronic and only then as natural…

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Meeting the Authentic Musician

One of the many dimensions of a concert is that you meet the musician as a person – or at least pretending that that is the case seems to me to be one of the many pillars of musicking in our society. For many listeners, including myself, imagining that they know the musician, that they understand him, is an important aspect of listening to someone. Of course, the beauty of his music, the power of his lyrics, his incredible technical skills, the fact that he produces more decibels than a Boeing take-off, his outrageous outfit and the fact that you like him because he organizes an event where you can show off muscles, wealth and good taste are also incredible important, but still, being touched by another person (“the other”, as some philosophers would maybe claim, but I am but a humble ethnomusicologist) through music is for many an important reason to listen to music at all (I will substantiate this claim at some point in the future, for now just believe me).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shanty choirs

I think I have mentioned choirs singing sea shanties already several times in this blog. I am fascinated by shanty choirs. Singing in one is hugely popular in the Netherlands today, and I would like to know why.
Several things come to mind. One of them is that, whereas village brass bands as well as church choirs are disappearing rapidly – the village where I live had two brass bands (as it goes in late-pillarized Dutch society: one Christian, one general) five years ago, and both of them have stopped existing by now – shanty choirs pop up everywhere. And not only at the sea- or lakeside; every village, also those with no shipping background whatsoever, seems to have at least one shanty choir nowadays. If we would have mountains, even the Dutch mountain villages would have them. As a spokesman told me: after Germany there is no country with so many shanty choirs as the Netherlands.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On (Not) Using the Microphone

I play in two bands. In one of them, I have put a ban on two things: using instruments that cannot simply be carried (like drum sets or pianos), and using amplification. Or maybe a ban is too big a word; I continuously make it clear to my mates that I am radically opposed to both.

And in a way I am. One of the reasons is that the singer in this band is a great communicator with any audience. But using a microphone would, I am convinced, put up a barrier between him and his audience. Using a microphone, one is often tied to a cable; but even when wireless, microphones make that one has to start thinking about singing-through-a-microphone-technique. Also, one can’t sing and wave both hands at the same time (very important), or grab a member of the audience by both shoulders if necessary.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Beautiful, the Ugly, The Good … ánd the Bad

I promised to write a blog on “dialogic research” and “advocacy” in ethnomusicology. So there we go.
In ethnomusicology, the main concern seems of old to be the music of “the other” – music of non-western cultures rather than western, folk music rather than classical music. Understanding the other, and taking care of the world’s diversity of “others”, are main points on the agenda of ethnomusicology.
With understanding the other comes a connected move: trying to acknowledge that other music may seem strange but is in reality beautiful – as long as you know how to listen. And with taking care of the diversity the world’s musics also comes a connected move: a tendency to protect other musics from abuse, or even extinction. Hence the attention for advocacy (in favor of endangered musics) and of dialogue (with the musickers of the endangered participants, in order to make advocacy a shared – and not a paternalistic-colonial – undertaking).

Friday, July 15, 2011

"What's your music?"

I write this while I am attending a big conference. Several hundreds (!) of ethnomusicologists from all over the world are meeting in Newfoundland, Canada, these days, to present their research to each other, to meet and have fun.
I like ethnomusicologists. I am one myself, but that is not the reason. The reason is that most of them are passionately in love with music. That many of them are not passionately in love with their own  music, but with someone else’s music which has become theirs after some time, makes them even more adorable.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What is it with music in schools

Oh, the endless amazement music leads to.
Last week, on Thursdays, I had organized a workshop on Indian music for our students. Teachers were Ludwig Pesch and Yoga Manickam Yogeswaran (for both of them, see www.aiume.org). For 3 hours they entertained us on high level – explaining how to fill an 8-beat cycle with fixed patterns of 1 to 7 semi-quavers, adding up to a total of 32 semi-quavers; “some percussion players are living computers”, Ludwig said. More important for me were the raga-improvisations Yoga sang – and especially how he sat there, just doing what he had to do, I imagined. And me being kind of part of that.

Monday, June 27, 2011

“Civilization” as a “universe-maintaining conceptual machinery”

Today is the day the “March of Civilization” reaches The Hague. The Hague, for those of you who do not know, is the residency of the Dutch Parliament. Today the budget cuts on culture as proposed by our government will be discussed. And “the cultural world” has organized the “March of Civilization” to protest against the cuts. Democracy at work. Government proposes cuts. Parliament discusses. Members from various societal backgrounds protest. Government decides, or dissolves itself if it has lost support in parliament.  People in many places in the world would love to be able to participate in such processes.
I have double feelings concerning this “March”. I do feel that a budget cut of about 20 percent (200 m€ from a budget of 900) on culture is overdone; I would prefer it if cuts were more evenly spread over the various sectors of our society. Culture seems to be a too easy target for the current government; and feelings of revenge and even of outright hate against the world of culture seem to possess some of the key players in the debate.
On the other hand:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taste

There is no such thing as good taste, only taste. That’s what I wrote last week. And actually I believe that is true. It is complicated, though. Let me see if I can make my point.
The idea of good taste to me seems to be based on the ability to discriminate between qualities of music: there is better, and there is worse. This discrimination of quality is everywhere in music: Beethoven is better than Delius, and Henryk Szeryng plays Beethoven’s violin sonatas better than I do. The Beatles are better than Herman’s Hermits; Linda Ronstadt is better than Tammy Wynette. Some evenings I play the mandolin better than other evenings. In tune is better than out of tune. Et cetera.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My World Top Ten

I have often been thinking about a Top Ten of artists world wide people should have listened to according to me. I even  started with one some months ago but simply couldn’t make it up. But now I talked with students in a lesson and actually my top ten kind of flipped out naturally. So something like this:
Fela Kuti
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Khaled
Bob Marley

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Beatles

I ask quite some people to tell me their musical biography, these days. It is my job to do so – I have the opportunity to work on a PhD thesis partly in my boss’s time (never will I be caught saying negative things about my boss), and part of the research project is to get people talking about their musical lives. Two names pop up often: Johnny Cash and the Beatles.

There is a striking difference between the two. Cash had a career lasting decades and decades. In his early times he performed together with the young Elvis, and he ended with recording on the label American Recordings a kind of multiple-cd Post Scriptum to his career that turns out to be – continuing in a Latin atmosphere - his Magnum Opus. It is this, “the late Cash” (there is always the possibility of a pun here), that people often mention in their stories as a recent discovery.

How different with the Beatles. When people mention them in their biography, it is often not as a recent discovery but as something that was played at home when they were young, either by themselves or, if they are younger, by a sister, a brother, or their parents. Not a recent discovery, but something that has stayed with many people throughout their life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts After Hearing an Accordion Being Played On a Boat

I was cycling home from work with a small detour, because I had done an interview for my research project in the west of town. So I decided to take the route along the waterside of the lake that lies between the town and the village where I live. Although the weather was great for sailing, there were not many boats – it is always rather quiet on this particular lake.

One boat was anchored not far from land. Three people were sitting on deck. When I passed the boat, I heard the sound of an accordion. Looking at the boat I saw that it came from one of the people on deck. I could not hear whether the guy in question was playing a song, and which one; I just noticed the to my ears always slightly melancholic accordion sound.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On Writing - Again

Okay, I will have to admit it. I have given it up. I have given up reading Aaron Fox’ Real Country (see my blog entry from April 3d 2011). I guess I have read about one third of the book but then started reading a book on the Bosnian War (My War Gone By, I Miss it So, by Anthony Loyd – well written thus far, horrible, and for me impossible to personify with the author because I cannot imagine why someone wants to see war with his own eyes) and have not yet re-opened Fox’ book.

Basically there are two reasons why I stopped reading Real Country. I already wrote about one of them: the horrible jargon written in much of the book. I recognize much of the jargon as coming from the direction of Cultural Studies, a field I am not specialized in and feel not attracted to although I am slightly curious about what they actually have to say. But whenever I read something from this field, I stumble on jargon – when they write about identity it is always about “negotiating identity” but in at least ninety percent of the cases it stays unclear what exactly this “negotiating” is: who negotiates? With whom? And about what exactly? What is the difference with “constructing” an identity? And why is that difference so important?

I feel like I am encountering a problem the famous Dutch professor in Russian Literature Karel van het Reve describes when he talks about the people doing “Literature Studies” (“literatuurwetenschap”, in Dutch): it is not so much that he does not want to know what they write about, but it is kind of physically impossible for him to read their prose – he keeps losing track of, and interest in, their message. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Toying around

I had a rehearsal with my bluegrass/Irish folk band this week. We did it in broad daylight, because we needed some pictures for our website (yet to come) so that people who have heard our performances (yet to come) can check us out. Yes, it is quite a futurologic thing, this band, but nevertheless, there we were, on a Saturday afternoon, rehearsing in the private pub which is part of the house of one of the band members. And because the rehearsal was in the afternoon I took my wife and kids, and so did some of the other band members.

So while five musicians tried their best, five kids aged 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 were running around and occasionally some of them sat down in the pub (fun to write such a sentence as a father) and listened for a while. And when the rehearsal was finished, the boys aged 3 and 6 were building their own party in the pub, strumming their little guitars, while the girls aged 2 and 4 jumped around (indestructible gender conventions).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living the full 200 percent

[For Chris F.]

My bandmates put their instruments on the back-backseat of my outrageous Renault Espace (3 kids…) and settled in my car. M. carried a plastic box, which, on opening, smelled quite strong. “Restmeat”, he explained – you buy a bag of it at the butcher, not knowing what it is precisely, but apparently it is useful enough to bake it with anything you’d like.

So there we were, “on the road”.  Jack Kerouac, driving from Groningen to Heerenveen to play ten songs for an audience of approximately eighty people, aged eighty as well on average. But nevertheless, I felt suddenly like what I am: a member of a Band. Four boys (age 28-46, but still) on their way together to a small adventure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A dipper in Sarajevo

I was in Sarajevo again this week, and I always take my running shoes with me. To my surprise – and to the Sarajevans’ surprise, too – it was snowing. I ran up the hill behind Hotel Saray and had a beautiful view of the town and the mountains covered with snow. Beautiful, but also a “guilty landscape”, as painter/poet/musician Armando would put it – a landscape that has silently witnessed, and even facilitated, the shelling of Sarajevo for years on end. I can never look to the mountains of Sarajevo without a prejudice.

When I ran back along the river Miljacka something suddenly caught my attention from the corner of my eye. A rather small bird, brown with a white breast, was flying low over the river, landed on one of the stones, put his head in the water, then plunged into it, put his head above the water again a small distance away, then disappeared again under water. When it stood still, it bobbed up and down by bending and stretching his little legs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Gift of Music

Yesterday I gave a friend a book on music for his birthday. The book included a cd with music. Now he is a guy who is kind of advanced – at least to my standards – when it comes to the Digital Age. He is still buying (and receiving…) cds, but he immediately copies them to the hard disc of his computer which also acts as a server facilitating playing music and movies. The centre of his musical life probably is not the cd collection but the computer.

But he still likes the cd as an item. The fact that music is on “a thing” makes it “a thing” – you buy music as you buy other things, in a shop, and of course by buying the thing you basically buy the opportunity to listen to music, but you also buy the inlay booklet, the photographs, and the case. Which does not have to be the well-known plastic jewel case but can also be a nice cardboard box (Cash - Unearthed), a finely cut wooden box (Black Rhythms of Peru), or a book (Ernst Jansz – Molenbeekstraat; this turns the idea of a cd including a booklet upside down).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Writing

I am at present reading an ethnography, Real Country. Music and Language in Working-Class Culture” by Aaron A. Fox. I love ethnographies. It is a great genre – you write a book in which you try to make the life of other people understandable. “A plausible story” – that is what an ethnographer tries to write. It also is what I try to write when I’m writing, and actually I think it is the only goal a social scientist honestly can pursue. Of course, we are looking for The Truth, but only in so far as that we know The Truth does not exist but is only called into life when we write a plausible story. And that The Truth changes when someone else writes a more plausible story.

Writing in social science therefore is not just a thing – it is almost everything. Read Clifford Geertz’ book on the ways ethnographers render plausibility to their texts – you learn a lot, not only from what he tells about other authors but also from his own style. Reading one page of Geertz a week is enough to keep an ideal in writing. And read Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists – not only because of what he says, but again also because of the way he expresses himself. Crisp and clear.

Now back to Fox’ book.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beethoven and the Smell of Apple Pie

We live in an era focused on the visual. At least, that is what I am told regularly. Some of my colleague music educators use this dominance of the visual in the modern world to make a plea for the importance of music in school. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if pupils would learn to use their so neglected ears next to their eyes? Wouldn’t they be more in balance? Wouldn’t the world become a better place? Continuing this line of thought, it is for some just a matter of time before the hemispheres of the brain enter the scene, shortly afterwards followed by the vices of Cartesian dualism and the beauty of quantum mechanics. But usually I have quit the audience long before that.

Personally, I think that the aural part of our culture is not the most neglected part when it comes to the senses. Basically, what we do continuously is talk, sing, play and write, draw and paint, and to take all that in we need to listen and look a lot. If we are looking for the losers amongst the senses, then the aural is not one of them - after the visual it actually holds a solid silver medal. Maybe the hierarchy is more like: the visual and the aural, then taste, smell and finally feel. And then, of course, the supernatural.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dolly Parton

I discovered this week that I like Dolly Parton. She made a couple of bluegrass cd’s. I have now heard the first one, ”The Grass is Blue” (1999), a couple of times. It is amazing: excellent musicians, great singing (Alison Krauss doing a bit of background harmonizing), and great songs. One by Billy Joel, one by Johnny Cash; and four by Dolly herself.

That opened my eyes. I hardly knew her, apart from the common knowledge we share in Holland about her, consisting mainly of (I’m not proud of it, but here it is:) Jolene and big boobs. So I read Wikipedia and listened to YouTube (the modern equivalent of “watching the radio”) and started to realize who she really is. The most successful female country music star by far. Someone on the same footing as Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, with who she made a cd. An enormously productive songwriter. A film star. A shrewd businesswoman. A philanthropist. And a funny woman, reported to have said: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap”.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Slightly Wobbly "Streets of London"

When I ride home on my bike in the afternoon, I pass a supermarket. There is always, regardless the weather, an accordionist playing near the entrance. He plays simple songs, in a straightforward way. I often greet him by waving a hand. He often nods back. At the entrance of the supermarket in the village where I live, another accordionist is playing on a daily basis. I tell my son those musicians are all our colleagues (my son is six and a drummer), and nearly always we give him a coin or two.

Between my 15th and my 25th, I played street music. In the village where I lived. In nearby bigger cities. All over the Netherlands, in Belgium, in Germany, and in summer holidays busking and hitchhiking all the way to the south of France (ever slept on the beach of Antibes, or in a clochard shelter?). We played with ten musicians, or with two. In sunshine, in rain, in anything in between. We had fun. We earned money. We learned to speak French. We were invited to play at parties because people heard us on the street – we even played on a 3-day cruise to Sweden which included the “Miss Panorama” election because the organizers heard us in a shopping centre. We were kicked out of streets, insulted, nearly arrested, nearly robbed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How Formal Do You Think You Are?


When you are working in music education there is a big chance that at some point you will find yourself entangled in a discussion on formal and informal learning - and maybe even on non-formal learning. And you will probably find out that definitions are mostly totally unclear (there is, however, a 2009-article by my highly estimated colleague Peter Mak that may shed some light in this darkness).

I do not intend to go into this definition question here (and hopefully not elsewhere, either; but I can’t make promises). But what interests me is that there appears to be a kind of good guy – bad guy atmosphere around the terms. Formal learning, which, according to many, is often the type of learning taking place in institutional settings such as schools, is definitely the bad guy: the learner has no command over what he learns and how he learns and therefore motivation dwindles. And informal learning is the good guy, because this is what people do when they learn something because they really want it, and they do so by asking the neighbor or the best friend to teach them the trick.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seaman Dan

Have you ever heard of Seaman Dan? I stumbled on him listening to a cd of Australian aboriginal music – the Rough Guide to Australian Aboriginal Music, to be exact. His song on this sample cd made me curious. It took me a bit of trouble to lay my hands on more of his music, as the guy is a big name in Australia but not really known anywhere else, I believe, but of course internet helps out eventually so now I listen to his cd’s on a daily basis.

What makes his music so charming? I cannot tell exactly but let me give it a try. It is very sweet music, very relaxed, very arranged (lots of horns), very sophisticated. The fact that a ukulele is strummed in at least every other song lifts my spirit, especially because in most of the other songs a mandolin is heard. There is drumming and multipart singing reminding you of Polynesia, hula & Hawaii, a melancholic mouth harp, occasional Malay lyrics as one would expect from a seaman from that region, and reggae – Seaman Dan’s grandfather came from Jamaica. A typical seafaring mish-mash. You get the idea?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Our" Music

Students asked me the other day if I could not teach a class on Dutch music. They will soon leave for a week in Portugal, doing an international project with students from all over Europe. And they felt a bit ashamed that they could not answer questions about “Dutch music” – the general opinion seems to be that there is no such thing as “Dutch music”, and that whatever there is is not presentable in public (old-fashioned, or second-rank, or “bad”). The painful question arises:  are we allowed to sing “Het kleine café in de haven” as expression of our Dutchness?

I agreed to teach the class willingly. I think the question is great. “What is Dutch music”? It reads to me as an interesting subspecies of the generic “What the hell is going on here?”-question (see the first entry of this weblog). And, contrary to popular belief, there is a lot to teach about the subject. Funnily enough, when I was in Sarajevo teaching a guest lecture ethnomusicology last year I asked the students over there what they would like to be taught about – and their answer was “Dutch music”.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Perfect Day

The month of December was filled with snow and ice. January was rather soft and now, early February, spring is in the air.

Don’t worry, this blog will not continue describing singing blackbirds and budding crocuses. But when I biked through the city center the other day, I cannot deny that the sun and the mild temperature made me feel “springy”.  Adding to this feeling was the fact that the chimes from the Martini tower, the town’s main church tower, were playing Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Will Volendam win the Eurovision Song Contest 2011?

Volendam is a small fishing town bordering the former Zuiderzee (the current IJsselmeer). It is known to tourists because of the nice old village and the traditional Volendam costumes.  It became tragic world news in 2001 when one of its cafés burned down, killing 14 and wounding 180.  For many Dutch people it is known because their football team, clad in orange, has in 55 years of professional football suffered degradation from the premier league nine times and came back to the premier league just as many times – hence their team is also called “the back and forth”.

And it is widely known for its music. Since the invention of the “Palingsound” (“Eel sound” - Volendam was, and still is, a fisherman’s village) at the end of the 1960s, represented by The Cats, BZN and numerous other groups, Volendam is a household name in Dutch pop music. Up till today – news items, docusoaps and concert registrations of Volendam singers like Jan Smit and Nick & Simon are regular items on Dutch television. And now another Volendam group, The 3J’s (Jan, Jaap and Jaap), will represent the Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Music is good for nothing

In these days of cuts on the national and local culture budgets, the cultural sector frantically tries to answer the question “What good is culture anyway?” And for good reasons. It is never straightforward that tax money paid by state citizens is spent on roads, hospitals, guns or music. We owe the tax payer a good story.

So, rephrased to music: what good is music anyway? Basically there are two types of answers. One is intrinsic: everybody needs, or deserves, music. Because music is beautiful, or relaxing, or energizing. Music is “good”. The other is extrinsic: music fosters social coherence, for example, or makes you more intelligent. Singing prevents fights. Mozart helps math. Music is “good for something”.

Both answers – “good” or “good for something” – are undoubtedly true. But the answers are problematic for two reasons. One is that it depends too much on a formulation of what is “good”. The other is that, as a consequence, the “bad” comes into play. Music is able to contribute to hypnotize a mass of people towards violence. It is able to distract pupils from their homework. If played long and loud enough, it is able to drive detained people crazy.

An alternative for the “good (for)” justification might be to look for a more neutral one - good for nothing, as it were. Recently, Henk Jan Honing, the Dutch professor in music cognition, started to argue along this path. He discusses the idea expressed by many that the existence of music must be explained in terms of evolutionary advantages. He dismisses all those ideas, and then makes a for me rather disappointing U-turn: because music is evolutionary meaningless, he says, it opens up a place where humans are able to play, to experiment without grave consequences. In making this U-turn, he actually re-introduces via the back door a strong idea of the “good (for)”-argument: music is good for harmless experimenting. Attributing evolutionary significance to that seems just one step down the road.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“What the hell is going on here?”


“What the hell is going on here?” The question, by many attributed to the famous American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, is at present one of my most beloved quotations. It represents a deep curiosity which I think is vital for anyone trying to understand anything of the world we live in.