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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

King's Day - 'Koningslied' Revisited; or: on quality and taste.

It is the evening of the first King's Day - or is it the last Queen's day? Or both? In the morning the kids watched the television to see Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses; and in the afternoon we went to buy other people's junk. I hoped for a 4th-hand working Hoffner bass guitar, violin model, but the only thing I managed to buy was a Beatles record  which I hadn't collected yet.

And this evening, we watched the live emission of the newly composed (?) song for the King, 'Koningslied' - it was sung in Rotterdam, the King and Queen listened in Amsterdam. And that will be the end of the Koningslied-craze. The craze already had waned a bit, thanks to Joop van den Ende, our musical-tycoon and the only real Statesman we have left nowadays.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Koningslied" - Song for our new king

As you may know, our current Queen steps down in two weeks time, and we will have a new king, Willem-Alexander.

When the Chinese emperor died and a new emperor gained power, long ago, the reference pitch of the fundamental tone of Chinese music was changed because basically a new emperor meant a new cosmological order. Willem-Alexander's rise to the throne is generally not seen as a cosmological change in the Netherlands; instead of a new musical system we therefore satisfy ourselves with a new song.

We are a modest people.

This new song, called "Koningslied" ("The King's  Song"), has put the country in turmoil. It is writtten by one of the most prolific popular songwriters in the Netherlands; it is sung by a whole horde of national (semi-)celebrities; all revenues will be donated to a charity. No news there, one would say. The musical style is popular and bombastic; there is a sing-along chorus and there is rap in it as well; the lyrics are full of pathos. No news there, again. It is rumoured that the song was not written for the occasion but was lying on the desk of the composer waiting for a good occasion to be used. No news there, either (Bach recycled his music extensively).

So, everything that could be expected has happened. But the curious thing is that, in certain circles (I don't know which circles, I must admit), an enormous movement against the song has started, including a Facebook page which allows people to apologize to our future king for the song - over 32,000 likes as I write, whereas the official Koningslied-Facebookpage has 767 likes. And over 19,000 people signed a petition against the Koningslied.

Those of you who know me a little by now will not be surprised that I am not going to sign the petition or like the anti-Koningslied Facebook page. Or the pro-page, for that matter; the question whether or not I like this song is a personal question of little consequence. There is, actually, only one question to be asked, as usual: What the hell is going on here?

I invite you to send me your interpretations of all this. I will start with two options. It may have to do with the feeling of many people that the King is given a  present in their name but that they would never have chosen this particular present themselves. Or, in other words: there is a lot of talk about 'us' and 'our country' surrounding the song, and many people seem to think that that means by definition 'me' and 'my country'. Option nr. 2: it may have to do with the feeling that the song is just another commercial product written by a serial song writer, whereas the new King deserves more 'quality' - whatever that may be (read composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven's well-meant reaction suggesting that the song should have been 'new' and 'fresh' rather than commercial and without quality - his words, not mine).

So, what the hell is going on? Is the argument that it's not my taste? Or rather that it's not my quality? Or something else? Help me out.

Meanwhile, to remind you of the fact that all this will pass, listen to Danny Schmidt's 'This too shall pass' ('better carve it on your forehead or tattoo it on your ass'), a song where a King plays a role in the final verse.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mathieu Weggeman and The Indecent Musician


It's old news, sorry, but I remember I wanted to react on it when I read it last year but forgot to do so. And now one of my Facebook friends re-posted it: a column by professor Mathieu Weggeman, well-known in management circles and a member of the National Arts Council.

Weggeman announces that the Dutch  grow more and more stupid and more and more impolite. To make us smarter again he proposes to do away with managers who are managers; instead we need managers who know about the subject they are managing because that prevents 'stupid mistakes'. I leave that argument for what it is, although I must say I don't see a one to one relationship between stupid mistakes at work and being stupid in general.

Now about impoliteness, or maybe indecency ('onfatsoen', in Dutch). The remedy is education in 'arts & culture'. I quote Weggeman: "The declamation by heart of William Blake's 'The Tyger' (within the English lesson) is just as relevant as having a Socratic conversation together about the value of Marina Abramovic's performance 'The artist is present' (for example in the biology lesson)." And all that can be paid for by lowering the budget for physical education in schools, argues Weggeman - kids spend lots of money on sports gear anyway so let the market do its job.

Yes, he really wrote it. No kidding. Professor Weggeman, yes. Speaking of dumbing down.

But the best part are the final two sentences: "Especially from reflection within a frame of reference formed by arts & culture we may expect that the need for indecent behavior will decline. Isn't it so that there are few violinists, poets and sculptors in jail (other than for political reasons)?".

There is too much ignorance in and behind these sentences to even try to argue against it. The usual confusion between a relationship and a causal chain. The uncontrollability of the assertion about the number of imprisoned violinists. The unproved assumption about the effects of reflection. The usual unreflective ‘arts & culture’-thing popping up. Et cetera.

But two things annoy me specifically. One: the equation of ‘arts & culture’ with ‘high arts & culture’. He doesn’t say it. But he implies it. Blake. Abramovic. The violin. Rather than IceT, PSY, or the scratcher’s turntable. No no; it’s not about arts & culture, it’s about 'our' arts & culture. (May I point out, as a side remark, that even in this specific realm of ‘our’ high arts & culture there’s a lot of indecency going on? And, especially in the visual arts, a lot of reflections on indecency which I think are sometimes very indecent themselves? Think of Jonas Staal’s ‘New World Summit’ and you’ll know what I mean.)

Two: the use, as always, of the ‘the arts are inherently good’- argument. I wrote about it before, and before – it is a claim loved by arts educators, and a claim which is refuted as soon as you simply open your eyes and look around. As I argued earlier: the arts do not consist of beautiful things; they consist of human behavior. And we know what that means.