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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 24, 2012

Learning to love Dutch Hawaii music - or The Great Mystery of Music.

When long ago I started to study at the conservatoire in order to become a music teacher, I had to do teaching practice as part of my study. My teaching practice started in a primary school. I remember some things vividly - my mentor, Ed Silanoe, for example, a great guy, a living example of what it means to be a teacher; or me writing songs for the children at school; or the feeling at 7.30 in the winter morning when you knew that in an hour you had to start teaching - not an idea cherished automatically by a 19-year old student.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Music makes you smarter - but so what?

My newspaper featured an article on the closing down of municipal music schools. It also featured, on the same page and meant as a 'besides', the opinion of its classical music critic with the speaking name 'Mischa Spel' (Mischa Play) on the present-day problems of music education. I sympathize with many of his ideas (especially with the idea that singing by ordinary classroom teachers is one of the key factors of music education in primary schools), but as usual in those cases, Spel's 'besides' also contained quite some sweeping statements on the general benefits of music education. In this case, Spel referred to research showing that  "when  more music lessons are given, certain parts of the brain (the auditory cortex) develop better, and the scores on IQ, social behavior and concentration become higher and better".

"Higher and better". Yes.

 The Brain Craze, revisited. Indeed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bob Dylan; on judging and liking

As I said earlier, I love music but I am not a connoisseur in any way. Even of my favorite group, The Beatles, there are many songs I hardly know. The same counts for classical music - I love Beethoven symphonies but play me a random movement and I will probably not be able to tell you from which symphony it comes; and he only wrote nine, so basically that is not even 40 ditties to store in memory.  Fandom is for some reasons  not attractive to me. I am, maybe, a lazy listener.

That is the reason why I continuously make new discoveries by which many people are astonished -  not because of the discovery, but because of the fact that I only discover it just now, and not thirty years ago. So recently I started to listen to Bob Dylan. Of course I know many of his songs, often second-, third- or fourth-hand, because he wrote so many classics. But hearing them from the man himself now is my recent discovery. I find him a great singer, a great songwriter, and quite a good guitarist as well. But it is especially the singing I like. Seldom you hear someone sing with such confidence and dedication.

If I would be a reviewer it would be my task to find the right wordings to express the impression Dylan's singing makes on me; to try to express my taste in order to convince others to take over my judgment. To be precise: that could be one of two of my reviewer's tasks; to convey the reasons why I like this music. The other one would be to convey my judgments about the music. 'Liking' in terms of - probably - beauty (unless you think beauty is a judgment), 'judging' probably in terms of quality. Nice/not nice; and good/not so good.

In an earlier blog entry I stated that, whereas you can disscuss judging - good/not so good - endlessly (matters of taste which may be 'good' or 'bad'), discussing liking - nice/not nice - (matters of personal taste) makes little sense; and liking is therefore probably also something you cannot teach.

Nevertheless, nothing human is alien to me. So I said to one of my cherished bandmates that I listened to the "Essential Bob Dylan" (the sampler cd I bought) but before I could start stating how much I liked it, assuming - as it goes - that my bandmate would share my 'taste', he said: "The essential Dylan? That must have been incredibly short." I weakly attempted to say something about why I thought Dylan so good, but then realized the point was not so much talking about 'good', about judging, but about 'nice', about liking.

So I decided to shut up. There is nothing wrong with showing who you are by stating what you like. But there is no sense in trying to teach others to become you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Music As Medicine

For work reasons I have to read quite some music psychology and music sociology these days. Yes, I understand you envy me. After having read quite some of the stuff, one of the main topics turns out to be the way people use music as a "technology of the self"(say the sociologists, referring to French philosopher Michel Foucault) or - which basically is the same - as a "regulatory device" (say the psychologists, referring to the human being as a machine with buttons you can turn).

I am not sure if this analysis - music is a regulatory device, a technology of the self - is right. Yes, I often use music to match my mood, playing Bach on the stereo if I am feeling reconciliatory towards the world, and sometimes I even use music to change my mood, playing Simeon ten Holt on the stereo to fall asleep. (By the way, recently a psychologist has found out that people use music to fall asleep, and that most of this music is slow, easy-going, and without much dynamics - may I express my congratulations to science and humanity in general with this major breakthrough in knowledge?) And yes, I often use music to express myself, reason why I am learning to play the 5-string banjo by internet these days (prizes awarded to those of you who can explain which part of Me is expressed there), and sometimes use music to change the expression I want to convey to others, for example by occasionally wearing a black AC/DC-t-shirt while playing the bluegrass fiddle (which shows that wearing an AC/DC-t-shirt is considered by me as a form of musical behavior, a topic I will come back to soon) .

But it all sounds a bit cheap to me. I can't help having the same feeeling as the opera-lover I read about in one of those sociological articles. The sociologist in question wanted to do research about opera lovers, but the opera fan was - rather than being honored to be the object of study of a sociologist - reluctant and distrustful, and at some point asked the sociologist straight away if it would be possible for him that the opera fan was not a fan of opera to express his social status but because he liked opera, for reasons unknown even to himself?

Psychologists and sociologists are right: music may be used as a tool, a medicine for anything, by many people and very often. But that doesn't mean music ís a medicine. Rather, music is music; a human product of which we don't understand where it comes from, which has (despite all wild speculations to the contrary) no evolutionary benefits, but has so many characteristics that makes it usable for (there I go again) a million household uses (psychologist Eric Clarke and sociologist Tia DeNora would speak of the 'affordances' of music) that it pervades human life as little else.

Music is only able to work as a medicine because it is, in essence, so much more than a medicine.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

St. Martin's Blues

Last week it was St. Martin's Day. In my region (the tradition is not common in all parts of the Netherlands), kids visit the neighbourhood houses in the evenings with lanterns and special St Martin songs; in return they get sweets. My son toured the neighbourhood with a friend. They sang a special version (their own?) of a well-known song:

St Maarten, St Maarten
Er liepen twee tomaten
De ene had een teddybeer
De ander had een schietgeweer

St Martin, St Martin
Two tomatoes were walking
One had a teddybear
The other had a shooting gun

This rather than the original: St Martin, St Martin / the cows have tails / the girls wear skirts / St Martin's coming.

Although I was not particularly fond of their invention (I don't like violence, being the wimp I am), the people who had to part with their sweets in return for the song did like it - they thought it highly original.

Now there is another St Martin's song I can't get used to. It is a modern invention, probably by someone who thinks that kids these days only like singing if what they sing is 'modern', and therefore he or she invented 'St Martin's Blues'. As much of the modern repertoire composed for kids, the song is problematic in many ways. To start with, a blues is not 'modern'. On top of that, the song only sounds reasonably well if it is sung with an acccompanying band, but as those bands usually don't like to walk around to play for sweets on St. Martin's day (what with the rain and the amplifiers and all...) children have to sing the blues without the band. And then the most horrible thing of the song: because the composer is completely nuts the melody is a blues bass line. Which means the melody of the second line is a sequence of the first line a fourth up, which (given that the ambitus of the line is nearly an octave) brings 90% of the 5 to 9-year old kids in big trouble, song-wise.

So when I had to sit waiting at the beginning of the evening of St Martin's Day in the library annex music school and groups of kids came round to sing their songs there for the caretaker to rob him of his sweets, I could make a detailed study of the devastating effects of kids trying to wrestle their way through St Martin's Blues. And I could compare it with kids singing the good old 'cows-have-tails'-songs.

And after twenty minutes I was sure: I am getting old.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Music as fireworks

I was at a conference on Healthy Ageing. Healthy Ageing is one of the main themes of the university I work for and the region I work in, and hence one of the three research strands our research group concentrates on. So I presented some of our projects on music and elderly people to an audience of people not working in music.

I started my presentation with a very short video made by an art student in one of our projects. The project was about learning to play an instrument at an advanced age. We asked the art student to make independent work which would show his interpretation of our work. He came up with short video's, close-ups of faces of elderly music learners while they were listening to a recording of their own playing. Nothing much happens: you hear the music, you see the face reacting. Great work, to me.

Afterwards I spoke with a man deep into the healthy ageing-topic. He told me he often showed the trailer of "Young at Heart", the documentary about a senior rock choir, in presentations. Man, that worked well! Actually, he thought, I should have done that rather than showing a video in which nothing happened.

I saw his point. I love "Young at Heart", and indeed the trailer is gripping stuff. But when, somewhat later, he explained that Young at Heart was so great because one of the singers could, since the time he was singing in the chooir, cut back on the amount of oxygene bottles needed to live his life - now there's an effective intervention for you - I decided to keep using the video I used.

Fireworks are great, on occasion, and music sometimes is like firework. But I prefer to convey the idea that  for many people most of the time music is rather like a bit of candlelight.

Monday, November 5, 2012

For all the gypsies of this world

I am rereading, bit by bit, The Natural History of Selborne by the reverend Gilbert White (as rumour has it, the fourth most published book in English after Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Oxford Dictionary). Published in 1789, it looks at nature with the eye of a curious nature lover who, with the knowledge of his time, tries to find out about plants, birds and the universe.

Letter XXIV to the honourable Daines Barrington is about the "wonderful spirit of sociality" as observed between animals such as birds, horses, and even as observed between a particular horse and a particular hen. Letter XXVI is about a "very simple piece of domestic economy": how to make torches of the rush plant, a cheap replacement of candles. The intermediate Letter XXV  is written on October 2, 1775, and is about gypsies. It starts thus: "Dear Sir, We have two gangs or hordes of gypsies which infest the south and west of England, and come round in their circuit two or three times a year".

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Motorcycle String Quartet

Yesterday I watched a classical music programme on television. I hardly watch tv, so this one was rather new for me - which will probably mean you know the programme for years.

Anyway. It was one of those programmes which tries to sell classical music as hip. A young presenter, not necessarily with a classical music background, presents young musicians playing classical music. As the programme itself says, "Virus is about classical music, but for once in a completely different manner. Virus is free, moving, exciting and refreshing. Not the historical dates but pleasure and experience will be central. The audience can immerse itself, glass in hand, in beautiful, fascinating and spectacular live performances."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Real Thing.

So there we were, in the studio. We were going to record some of the songs we have played for years now, in our bi-weekly rehearsals and our scarce concerts. Record them in order to have a demo in the unlikely case that someone would want to hear us in advance before booking us. Of course, booking us is a big word (two, actually); I must confess that it is more the case that we book an opportunity to play in public rather than that we are booked to play in public. However, all of us - some more than others - hope to play a bit more in public in the future, and hence the demo idea.

Monday, October 15, 2012

No Talent, Please!

Two weeks ago I played with both my little bands at the Tsjoch festival. Tsjoch is a festival organised by a society called the Frisian Society of Folk Musicians. That sounds like a society with a restricted membership - one would expect that, in order to become a member, one has to prove one's Frisianness (last name ending on -sma or -stra; fluent in Frisian; living in a Frisian village; hating Groningen) as well as one's musicianship (playing in tune, rhythmic, with articulation, with expression, et cetera et cetera et cetera - the usual list  basically aimed at ruling out as musicians the Sex Pistols, Tom Waits and your neighbour singing in the choir of the local operetta society). Or maybe one has to prove one's Frisian musicanship - singing songs in Frisian accompanying oneself on the Noardske Balke.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Metaphorical Singing

Two weeks ago I visited the American  'past, present and upcoming' music festival Take Root. As usual, it was a pleasure to be there. On four stages, a variety of bands and singers presented themselves. The festival seems to get louder every year - more rock bands, less folk and country; more Fenders, Gibsons and Rickenbackers, less fiddles and banjos - I actually heard the first banjo in the last act, and no fiddle at all all evening.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Musicking in Haren's Project X

So here I am, the day after the night before, sitting and typing. The kids were up early, and I went to bed late - we had to be sure that the riots which were part of the nonsensical Project X in Haren would not come our way. They didn't; instead of moving a couple of hundred meters to our front door, they moved a couple of hundred meters the other direction to centre village, making carefully sure that in the process  hundreds of inhabitants were sent into absolute fright and disgust and hundreds of thousands of community euros were wasted.

Monday, September 17, 2012


In order to describe the astonishment I often feel the following quote, from a book I would recommend to anyone apart from those who think religion is, like history, bunk:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Singing for the community

In an earlier entry I reflected on the concept of the `acoustic community': a community that is defined by the fact that it shares hearing the same sounds. The church bell outlining community borders, was the idea. And I wrote: `A house can be seen as a means of constructing the family as an acoustic community: the walls of the house keep the family sounds inside and the sounds of the world outside, thus making a difference in “our” sounds and “their” sounds'.

I was reminded of that idea when we were camping with the family in Denmark. Huge tent, little fridge, beds - the camping experience was rather limited compared to earlier camping experiences in the Pyrénées at 2000 metres in a little tent. But so it goes: you get older, kids come in, and gradually trampolines and indoor swimming pools replace mountain treks and nature's silence as the necessities of life.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rob Bijlsma, Honey Buzzards and Music

I am reading the book "My Birds of Prey" ("Mijn roofvogels") by Rob Bijlsma. Rob Bijlsma is famous in our family - I tell the children stories about his adventures with birds of prey (especially honey buzzards - Dutch: Wespendief), hunters, foresters and his famous friend Theunis Piersma who knows Everything About the Knot (Dutch: Kanoetstrandloper). How surprised they were to learn that Rob Bijlsma as well as Theunis Piersma were not inventions of my mind but actually existing persons, who indeed know everything about honey buzzards and knots, respectively. Add to that that Bijlsma is photographed usually while sitting in the top of a tree, looking like a sorcerer or wizard with his long hair, and you can imagine their fascination.

Bijlsma's book is a great book. Bijlsma is a born researcher with the tendency to start adding up or subtracting anything he stumbles across and wants to know more about: the number of wasps per summer, the number of mice in his garden, the growth per day of young honey buzzards; if he falls out of a tree he can't resist to figure out with which speed he touched the ground, given his weight, the height of the tree and gravity in general (about 50 km/hr, it turns out to be). The nice thing is that he counts and describes, but resists the tendency of much researchers to interpret correlations as causal correlations, basically because he knows by experience that nature is far more complex than you think it is - actually he warns that when a correlation seems causal you almost certainly may dismiss the possibility of causality.

I wrote earlier on music and birds, quoting the reverend Gilbert White writing about the tonality of the hooting of owls. Bijlsma is not that kind of man, but music occasionally figures in his book. Fittingly, he mentions John Lee Hooker with Alan `Blind Owl' Wilson as well as Jefferson Airplane's 'High Flyin' Bird'. But the nicest quote on music is his explanation of why the honey buzzard reminds him of Lou Reed: he once took care of a young honey buzzard of which he was sure it was a male, until it turned out to be female: "he was a she" (`Take a Walk on the Wild Side'). And he ends with the notice that even the sound to make contact with a honey buzzard fits the song: "doo do do do do doo do do".

Rob Bijlsma. Mijn roofvogels. Amsterdam: Atlas, 2012. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Love You, and Wittgenstein

`I love you', said the man.
`But why?` asked the woman.
`I can't tell you. I just simply love you', said the man.
If you ask people which music they really like, or even love, they often come up with an answer but find it hard to explain why. 

Mind you: I am not talking about the question which music they think is good.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Experience of Being Sung To

Some time ago we had a party in the house. Many friends came along, including an old friend from West Papua.

People drank and chatted. I played with one of my little bands a couple of songs. My son drummed along with one of the songs.

Just before our Papuan friend had to leave, he asked for attention. He announced that he would sing a song, especially for my drumming son. Then he sang the song. I can't remember the melody, nor the meaning of the words. I think it was a song which had something to do with the old and the new generation. When the song finished, everybody applauded and cheered.

Next day I remarked to my wife that this was a remarkable event - how many people are sung to in Papuan during their lifetime? My wife, wiser then me as usual, answered that maybe the event was not thát remarkable, as she suspected that our Papuan friend simply did what he would do at any party as any other West Papuan: sing a song for the hosts.

She was right, of course. And I wonder: at what time have I begun to see the occasion of being sung a song to as remarkable?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Music and Power

I was on the conference Research in Arts Education last week. A yearly gathering of people doing all kinds of research in the education of music, dance, drama, the visual arts, literature. Or even on arts education in general - although there exists no such thing as `arts education in general' (and if it does exist, it is nonsense).

One of the papers presented was about an investigation on the effects of using computer feedback in learning  to play an instrument. The paper was well written, well thought out, and with loads and loads of statistics in it - Crombach's alpha till you drop. The paper showed, after a lot  of calculation, that four of the five hypotheses that the computer programme helped in learning to play music were confirmed; it also showed that actually the music pupils had hardly used the computer programme. I thus learned that the pure statistical confirmation of a hypothesis doesn't mean that the hypothesis refers to anything at all in reality.

Anywway. What set me thinking was the way we look at learning to play an instrument. The idea behind the paper was that we know what effective learning is, and that we can make learning more effective. We do that by trying to get a grip on the motivational and self-regulational aspects of learning, by making feedback a scientific endeavour. By filming pupils while they are learning, by interviewing them rigorously and analysing the interviews (and sometimes, but mostly not, the interviewing), by hooking the pupils up to computers which beep and blink when mistakes are made and which store all information in order, again, to be analysed.

All for the best, of course. This is what the author of the paper stressed when I asked an unpleasant question. She explained that for pupils, the joy in music often starts when they suddenly know how to play a major third together wiith another pupil in tune - that is an experience which fosters motivation like no other experience.

And she is completely right. You can not be against learning to do something better; and even I am not saying that playing lousy is a goal in itself - or at least I am not always saying that.

But still. Anyone who has read anything from, or about (he is a hard read mostly),Foucault will have no trouble in recognising `disciplining' and `normalisation' in the activities above -and will also recognise that disciplining and normalising is always carried out for the benefit of the good of all, while there is another side to it too: the side of powerplay.

Musicking, seen from that angle, is always that struggle between the joy of individual and social expression and the necessary constraints of that mysterious structural powers exerted by no-one but shaping our lives in such big ways.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Music is Sport

I wrote in an earlier entry in this blog about why playing an instrument always seems to lead to the wish to become better at it. Why do you hardly ever meet anyone with the ambition to play House of the Rising Sun on his guitar who is satisfied when that ambition is fulfilled? Why do people always want to learn a sixth chord after the five they need?

It is just puzzling me. Why do we think that playing music is about playing better all the time? Is it a universal human trait or something western, connected to our `athletic view of music', as ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl calls it? I elsewhere suggested it may have to with the wish of the human being to dominate matter - with `instrumental rationality' as Habermas would say.

Nettl, Habermas - expensive names for a blog like this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Gideon

I went to the Gideon Festival last week, as I try to do every year. Last year I went for an afternoon with the family, and we repeated it this year because it is fun to be at Gideon with small kids. For those of you who don't know: Gideon is an alternative festival, taking place at a squatter's location (`city nomads') in an industrial area of Groningen. It consists of three days/evenings with a funny mixture of hardcore punk, alternative rock, reggae & roots, various dance music, urban, and what not. The audience consists of a just as funny mixture of old punks, new punks, outlaws, families, bikers, skaters, and what not. And me and my family.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Are Singers Musicians?

Are singers musicians? In my time as a conservatoire student (not much of a singer) the answer was, according to the community of conservatoire students - excluding the singers - a full-hearted `No'.

But that is not the direction I want to take in this blog. Neither do I want to go into the idea I expressed once, after a lot of Jenevers, that all music is essentially vocal music, and that the best vocal music is instrumental music.

No no, it's something else I want to point out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Buddhist Geese

No music today(?)

Now that I have been writing about birds quite a lot lately, one more little thing. I biked home the other day and was nearly run over by a car driving backwards. On the side of the car, a huge goose was pictured. And there were words, saying 'The Buddhist Geese Asylum'.

In the Dutch version, it is very clear that the word `Buddhist' refers to the asylum, not to the geese. But a Buddhist of course would say that the word `Buddhist' refers to Everything, including the geese - or to nothing, really, if he is a real Buddhist - or to nothing and everything at the same time, if he is a really real Buddhist - or, if he is a really really real Buddhist, he would prefer to say nothing, or something competely unrelated, or whistle a tune.

And he would say that this little blog entry is indeed not related to music, and/or it is, and/or would I like coffee, and or whistle the theme of the first movement of Beethoven's fiddle concerto.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Schiermonnikoog, Selborne and the States

I was sitting at a breakfast table in the renowned Hotel Van der Werf (nicknamed Fawlty Towers by some, which is not completely fair as it is a great place to stay) and had a chat with an American colleague and his wife. Van der Werf is located at Schiermonnikoog, one of the islands in the Wadden Sea, renowned for its calm (no visting cars allowed, 900 regular inhabitants) and its birds. The colleague's wife was in a state of happiness and excitement - she had just seen a pheasant!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Music, Partying and the Stopping of Time

I was thinking about the small subject of Music and Time. This thinking originated while contemplating the interviews I held with 30 more or less randomly chosen Dutch citizens about what music means for them and what it does with them.

One of the major things music does is connecting people with the past - and especially with their personal past. Yes, yes, listening to Beethoven symphonies connects people with "Beethoven's time" - sometimes; but mostly it connects them with memories about when they were a student and were eating hot apple pie on a frosty Sunday morning while listening to Beethoven with friends.

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Teaching in the Wireless Age, or: Dutch Folkmetal Exists and is Called Heidevolk

I was guest teacher in a neighbouring conservatoire last week. Three lectures of about three hours on `world music' for a bunch of about hundred music education and music therapy students. Just simple, old-fashioned, frontal lecturing - of course with invitations to students to participate, to make themselves heard, but still: my story. I tend to think that in these days, where self-directed learning, working groups, thinking in competencies have become mainstream it is not so bad that occasionally students are confronted with an old-fashioned teacher who thinks that he has something to tell them. An exercise in patience and in humbleness for them, as it were.

And I love talking to - and with - groups.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yes, Alan Lomax Was Also In Spain - But Who's the Dutchie?

I am reading the biography of Alan Lomax, the American folk-song collector, scholar, ethnomusicologist, radio-man, singer, social activist and what-not. Fascinating literature. He died only ten years ago - and in his early years he was among the first to record blues in the south, Leadbelly being "his" best-known discovery. Speaking of a lengthy life.

Lomax spent several years after the second world war in Europe. He stayed in England for quite some time, doing fieldwork recordings in Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and Spain. His biography mentions he also undertook several trips to the Netherlands and Belgium, looking for musicologists who could help him in compiling recordings of Dutch and Belgian folklore for a series of records he was producing.

His travel to Spain is an interesting episode (his recordings lead eventually to Miles Davis' "Sketches from Spain"-record). Going just after WWII to Franco-led Spain was hard, specifically if you had no money whatsoever, but eventually Alan Lomax díd go - as the driver of the Romanian ethnomusicologist Constantine Brailoiu who had to speak at a conference in Palma de Mallorca. Along with Lomax and Brailoiu went "a young Dutchman who specialized in Javanese gamelan music". I instantly thought: "That must have been Jaap Kunst", but then realised that Kunst (the inventor of the term "ethnomusicology", one of the founding fathers of my discipline, and someone sadly neglected in the Netherlands, this to the astonishment of the rest of the world) was not a "young Dutchman" any more, being born in 1891.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lovely Day 2 (Lou Reed revisited)

I wrote earlier about the chimes of Groningen's main church playing Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' on a sunny afternoon in february. Of course that was a lie. The chimes were not playing, the chime-player was.

I met him this week by coincidence. I had to teach a guest lesson to pupils of my old secondary school, and their music teacher happened to be the chime player of Groningen's chimes (and of many other chimes across the region). He decsribed himself - as being involved with huge sets of huge bronze bells - as the only real heavy metal fan of the school, and admitted he had played `Perfect Day' when hearing that Lou Reed would be in town accompanying his wife Laurie Anderson for a concert. I went to that concert, which I really liked; Lou Reed happened to sit on a chair right behind me, a nice discovery when you turn around for the first time just to check who's also there and look into Lou Reed's grin; he also sang a song, and the culmination point was a small solo played by Anderson on her violin which left the hall silenced - a solo which was solemnly described afterwards by one of the main music connoisseurs of the town as infantile and artistically worthless, one more reason for me to turn away from any form of music connoisseurship whatsoever.

But back to the chime player. He said that not only I had heard `Perfect Day' chimed all over town, but that within a couple of minutes Lou Reed's management was on the phone, and an hour or so later Reed was in the tower and spend some hours having the chimes explained and demonstrated to him.

Sometimes people wonder if chimes still have a reason for existence in our age. I think they have a-reason; it is called Lou.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Plagiarism revisited

My colleague and room-mate entered our office with a grin from ear to ear. He is married to a Hungarian woman who still lives there, so he visits the country a lot and keeps up with the Hungarian news. This morning the news was that the Hungarian president had been ripped of his PhD-title because he had committed plagiarism. According to the newspaper we read, 200 of the 215 pages of the thesis were somebody else's work.

My colleague did his PhD a long time ago and I am finishing mine, so this was news we liked. What we especially liked was that the university, although it had withdrawn the PhD title, did not accuse the president of plagiarism, but rather accused itself: the university had not made clear to the future president that this form of "unusual extensive copying" was not allowed when writing a PhD.

We imagined the conversation:
CEO of the university: "Sorry mr. President, but you have to hand in your degree."
Mr. President: "What?"
CEO: "You copied 200 of the 215 pages."
Mr. P.: "Is that not allowed? How could I know? Nobody éver told me! Next thing you're gonna tell me is that bribing the committee is also not admitted! I can't believe this!"

I wrote about plagiarism earlier here, but I hope the next time Dicky Gilbert accuses songwriters of plagiarism because they use C, F and G chords (and maybe even an Am7) he keeps in mind the Hungarian president - who did a bit more than inexcusably using the words "and", "but" and "is" in his thesis, thereby making it a case of plagiarism because my doctorated roommate used exactly those words in his thesis too.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Remedial Teaching for Conservatoire Graduates?

I was visiting the "Reflective Conservatoire"-conference in London last week. It had been a long time since I was in London, so that alone was a great joy. But the conference itself was fun to be, too. Basically, visitors to that conference are people working in conservatoires who try to look critically at what they are actually doing in order to make conservatoire tuition better.

If you have never been in a conservatoire: they are interesting places. They train, as their core business, young musicians to become professional musicians. And, as we always say, that training does not start when students enter the conservatoire. Before entering, they have mostly already spent an amazing amount of time studying their instrument, often from a very young age and with great determination. So within a conservatoire you find a club of very motivated and already very proficient musicians who want to become even better under the guidance of renowned teachers.

It is a great surrounding to be in. But it also has its backdrops, one of them being that conservatoire culture is one of extreme specialism, of entering into an often rigid tradition (be that classical, jazz, pop or world) guided by people who "know", and often of competition. That brings about not only joy & beauty, but also loads of stress and a lot of powerplay (thanks, Rosie!).

When students leave the conservatoire, they are often great specialists suffering under the constant stress of having to operate on what a very select group of connoisseurs considers to be the excellence level of music performing. So what you find in many places is that conservatoires have begun to worry about that, and have started to offer students activitiies next to their constant practising on their instruments in order to cope with that stress and to become more creative, more relaxed, more outgoing musicians.

On the conference some of these practices were demonstrated. I think it is a great thing that there are people in conservatoires who are concerned about the future life of their students and come up with those programmes. So there I was, looking at a great session where students were practising to look each other in the eye, touch each other, listen to each other, and improvise music in reaction to others.

And I couldn't help thinking: how come that we have to offer all those relatively straightforward things on conservatoire, and even post-graduate, level? How is it possible that we - western society as a whole, the music business in particular and conservatoires in the very particular - allow students for long years to neglect the looking, teaching, listening and improvising, then finally re-teaching them those aspects at a basically much-too-late point in their development?

Shame on us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teaching Respect (Rachid, we need you!)

Over the years I have given various reasons why conservatoire students should get an introductory course on world music. Because they will work in a multicultural/multimusical society when they have graduated. Because any citizen should know something about his social surroundings. Because it broadens their view on what music is. Because it makes their absolue ideas on Good Music a bit more relative. Et cetera.

All true. But nowadays I tend to think that the basic thing I teach them with a course on non-western music (I still prefer that label instead of the too cosy 'world music') is respect.

I know. Respect is one of the buzz-words of late modernity. Under the banner of respect, many people basically demand the right to do whatever they want to do without being bothered by other people reminding them of values which are not theirs. But it is not that kind of respect I mean.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Hearing Wilco Live

The first time I heard the group Wilco was when I, by some conincidence, stumbled on a cd they made together with Billy Bragg. At the time I had heard a bit of and about Billy Bragg, the leftist English singer-songwriter, but I had never heard of Wilco. They did a project together in which they put lyrics from the heritage of Woody Guthrie to music. Guthrie's legacy contains a lot of lyrics-without-music, and with consent of the family Bragg and Wilco recorded a cd with Guthrie put to music by themselves. I loved the cd (Mermaid Avenue) basically because Wilco is so great on it - I don't like Bragg's voice too much, but Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's singer, has one of the best voices I know.

So I became a fan of Wilco - of Tweedy's voice - and bought at some point one of their cd's, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and recently their newest cd, The Whole Love. It is hard to describe their music; it is essentially American roots music, Americana, but quite loud at times and sometimes rather experimental. But through all that you keep hearing basically Jeff Tweedy singing his songs.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Epiphenomenia - Teaching a Music Lesson

I taught some music lessons at the primary school of my children these days. It had been a long time since I stood in front of groups of small children, I normally teach students between 20 and 30 now. So I will not deny I was slightly nervous. Would I still be able to handle them? Would they pick up what I had thought out for them, or would my ideas be completely misdirected? Would I have lost touch with teaching children or still be able to do the trick?

I will be honest: I was kind of satisfied, but not because I gave them great tuition. I kind of still could do the trick; what I did was okay, but probably more in the sense of "okay" like many parents who can teach an "okay"  lesson when asked to teach children about their work. I could teach them the lesson not so much as a music pedagogue but as a musicologist having a fun talk and a nice song with a classroom of kids.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eine kleine Eismusik

There was ice, the last two weeks. That means several things. Apart from the fact that our country, traffic-wise, turns into a complete chaos - as I described earlier - many people are suddenly completely focused on outdoor skating. People who seldom go to skate on indoor ice rinks suddenly feel the urge to skate in the open, on `natural ice', as we say - either a rather limited round on a pond-like outdoor skating rink, or a proper tour over our canals and lakes.

I used to skate a lot (one year even up to three times a week - nothing else to do in the evenings) but fell out of that habit when starting a family 7 years ago. And this was about the first time in those 7 years I went out skating by myself. I had been on skates various times the past few years, but only on small ponds in order to help the kids getting used to being on ice. But now I could do an afternoon of skating by myself.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Marktzicht - Kylie Minogue on ice

When we arrived in café Marktzicht to play a gig, after a 45 minutes drive in the frost and with some fog, we heard that the weather conditions had led to a "code orange" from some authority. Meaning: stay at home if you do not necessarily have to go out. So we played for a small audience. But cosy.

Of course, anywhere else in the world people will laugh their heads off. A bit of fog at -8 Celsius, what's the big deal? Life is dangerous because eventually you'll die. But the fact is that in this country a bit of snow inevitably leads to a complete grinding halt of pubic life, mainly because so many people inhabit so few square kilometres. One incident on any railway line leads to a chain reaction with enormous consequences because the train schedule is so busy; and one accident at a slightly snowy highway leads to a national traffic jam because too many people drive in too many cars on too few highways. And in order to prevent complaints on all that - for the Dutch love to complain - authorities sometimes give "codes orange" at the slightest breeze. Which leads to complaints, of course - and also nót giving code orange leads to complaints, by the way.

So there we were, in café Marktzicht, feeling as if we were a chosen lot put together by rough weather circumstances and making the best of it. Snowed in for weeks, that feeling. And the fact that the audience spoke Frisian and we sang our songs in Frisian felt fitting. Friesland is connected with winters - it is the most northern part of the country, it boasts a great skating history, and its name is Freezeland after all.

Adding to that was the fact that our singer only two days ago disappeared in an ice hole on a skating tour on a far too thin layer of ice on one of the lakes near Groningen. Some people need to skate as soon as there is some ice somewhere. When his wife complained, our singer said rather grumpily that he had done nothing wrong. After all, hadn't he stopped his skating tour and went home after climbing out of the ice hole, where normally he would have skated on in wet clothes as he always did in his youth ("I'd put my skating cap in my trousers to prevent the freezing of vital parts, though")? Frisian guy, him.

So when we sang our version of Kylie Minogue's great "Can't Get You Out of My Head", which we turned into a song about nostalgia for the days when Friesland's monster 200-kilometre skating tour was organised regularly (days that have never existed but are a favorite nostalgia-target nevertheless), a song with lots of rain and ice holes in it, it added to the pleasure of an imagined winter's night in a pub in Friesland.

And basically, that's what we do when we play with the band - imagining. We go somewhere and change the place into something else for a couple of hours. I never know in what we change the place precisely, because that's different for every individual present. But when we succeed in changing the place for enough people in the audience, then the place changes also for us.

Or at least for me.

That's why I'm in it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


It is rumored that a very deep humming sound permeates the soundscape of western life. Where it comes from nobody knows. Some people point at the sewerage system under our streets. I don't hear the sound, luckily. Because people say that once you have noticed it, you never get rid of it. The rest of your life, you hear a maddening hum.

Learning theorists might be tempted to call the point where on starts hearing the hum a transformative learning experience. Never again will life be as it was. Your frame of reference - in this case your auditory frame of reference - has switched fundamentally.

I think I recently went through something like it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Voice of Holland

The Voice of Holland is over. Iris Kroes has won – a 19-year old harp-playing communication student of the university I happen to work for.  I hope the university will be proud of her and will congratulate her officially and publicly. Someone who has won a national competition with so many voters deserves that.
I have been watching the Voice of Holland on and off. And I liked it. It is, of course, a hugely orchestrated media event.  And the negative messages about the contracts the participants had to sign are serious, I think (although I think people over 18 should realize the value of their signature before they sign anything – that is the reason why I will not look at the children-version of the Voice of Holland, knowing that there is a huge psychological difference between people signing for themselves or parents signing on behalf of their children). And then some people think it a problem that this is a hugely commercial event. Yes, money is earned by some people, of course.
But I liked it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Amazing Invisibility of Dutch Indigenous Music

I owe you a sequel to an entry of some time ago.In that entry, "Defining World Music", I defined World music as "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". (I already admitted it was a definition that needed some tidying up, yes, thank you.) And I stressed the exoticizing element in the definition, which makes it possible to for instance sell the English folk revival as World music in the rest of the world - and as a consequence in England as well.

As I wrote earlier, I am a reader of the World music magazine Songlines. I remember that in one of the editorials some time ago, the editor was amazed that there was no such thing as a noticeable Dutch folk music revival within the World music scene, whereas in England the third folk music revival is well on its way by now. Someone specialized in the English folk scene whom I asked whence this difference suggested that it might be explained by the different situations in the Netherlands and the UK - in the UK the English feel kind of marginalised, with the recent installment of Scottish parliament and things like that, so they badly need their proper music. The Dutch don't have comparable problems. Dutch music is ideologically useless, therefor it doesn't exist (the same used to be true of "Dutch identity", by the way, but Geert Wilders is capitalizing on that by now).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why do we want to become ever better?

One of the questions on my mind those days: as soon as people start to play an instrument they enter a domain in which it is taken for granted that they want to become better, and better, and better at it - better mainly meaning "higher, faster, louder". And they often start to judge the music they listen to in that terms. The power of music as a craft.

But why? Why is it so "natural" that people enter in this very specific relationship with music? Is it "natural"? Is it "cultural"? Is it both?

Tell me if you know an answer that says more than "that's the way human beings are".