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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 What we especially liked was that the university, although it had withdrawn the PhD title, did not accuse the president of plagiarism, but rather accused itself: the university had not made clear to the future president that this form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 √©ver 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.