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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Golden Oldies

A colleague of mine, whom I asked if he would be interested to take part in one of our projects in the field of music and the elderly, mentioned the television series 'Golden Oldies'. I had completely missed it (not much of a television man, me) but it was a series about how a rock choir consisting of elderly people was formed and how they prepared for a (yet to come) performance in Amsterdam's Carré, one of the most respected concert venues in the Netherlands.

I googled the programme (which is inspired, of course, by the American documentary 'Young at Heart'), and found  some news items on it. One mentioned that this programme would finally draw the elderly out of their old-fashioned repertoire they use to sing (old children's songs, folk songs, popular songs from the 50s, cabaret and musical repertoire, classical music) and into the exciting world of pop and rock. So I prepared to write a blog about that - about the idea, again, that some repertoires are inherently better than other repertoires. I would write that I am, of course, in favour of elderly rock choirs, but that the main point is not to dismiss elderly people singing 'old-fashioned' repertoire. The question is not about replacing a 'bad' repertoire by a 'good' repertoire, the question is inclusivity. The question is about acknowledging any repertoire that is sung by people as inherently useful. Maybe not for you, no - but most of the world is not about you anyway.

However, when preparing to write the blog I watched the first episode of the series, and that changed my mind. Yes, it is a slightly clumsy copy of 'Young at Heart'. Yes, there is a certain undertone in the series of dismissal of what 'the elderly' 'usually' do - but that undertone is far from dominant and is often replaced by a visible sympathy of the young presenter and the even younger choir director for the elderly people they meet. And yes, of course it is a televised series and therefore it sometimes is a bit over-dramatised. There is the 'personal interest'/'emotion tv'-thing coming into it,where the presenter tries to reconcile one of the older participants with her son, a completely unnecessary and distracting addition to the series (why do television presenters think they are allowed to perform therapy on - and by - tv?). And the working towards a great concert on the CarrĂ© stage to my mind is too much in line with what Bruno Nettl so rightly calls our 'ahletic view on music' - music is only worthwhile if it is fast, loud, high, long, great; there is no place for the mediocre in our minds. Which is a pity because it makes that many people refrain from the joy of making music because thy think they are 'not good enough' or 'too old' or whatever.

But what I like is that much of the documentary does convey, in between the little prejudices and the grand expectations we cherish so much, something else: that elderly people are just people; that when they sing, they are just singing; when they have joy, they simply have joy; and when they have high hopes, those hopes are the same as yours and mine. And that made the first episode eventually quite pleasurable to watch.

Now may I ask you: if you are a musician and have time and energy for something new, start a Golden Oldies choir or seopmthing similar. I know - although the television series stresses the novelty of it - that there are many of them around already; my own town has a very succesful one. But there is room for at least ten more in my town, and for hundreds of them in the country. A great way to earn your money, and a great way to discover new places to work as a musician - outside of the domain of the athletics of music, outside of most of your grand expectations, but (maybe: therefore?) enormously rewarding.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Tyranny of Playing an Instrument

Christopher Small once invented - or at least reinvented - the word 'musicking' to indicate musical behavior,  stressing the fact that music is not so much a thing but rather an activity. A good idea.

However, at the same time he implicitly stressed that some sorts of musical behavior - some sorts of musicking - are more musical than others. He tied the word musicking to the performance as the musical situation in optima forma: musicking is playing; or listening to people playing; or helping people to play, or to listen to playing. A hierarchy of musicking thus is present in his description of musicking.

This hierarchy however is not at all 'logical' or 'evident'. It is a choice. A choice ubiquitous in western music culture, and maybe in all music cultures - but a choice, still. "It could have been otherwise", Anthony Giddens whispers in our ears.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Alan Lomax revisited - or Who the Dutchie Was (aka: Pieter de Rooij Wins the Prize)

This blog entry will reveal who the Dutchie was who accompanied Alan Lomax on a trip to Spain just after the second world war - see my earlier writing on the topic. But it will do so with a detour. Have a little patience, be brave, have faith that this story will finally end and the question will be answered, just read on and you will be rewarded. And allow me to take the opportunity to make some more or less related points while detouring.

So let me start with announcing that this summer I will go to Shanghai for a week.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Schizophonia - or: Against Amplification

Although I love pop, rock, jazz, world music at least just as much as classical music, there is one thing that classical music does better than most other musics: in general, it does not work with microphones and amplifiers.

I know, there are examples where they are used in classical music - when you use a bass guitar or a keyboard in the orchestra you can't do without amps, really (unless performing Cage's 4'33''); and I remember sitting in an old amphitheatre somewhere in Turkey where a symphony orchestra accompanied an opera singer who used a microphone to make himself audible. But I consider these occasions as exceptions to the rule.