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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.