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The place where I will regularly post thoughts and comments on any aspect of music.
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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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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nr. 100

I am sure it will not be of interest to many of you, but this is blog entry nr. 100. 2.5 years of writing an average of one entry every week, apart from holidays. Nearly 7300 page views from - in descending order - the Netherlands, the US, Germany, Russia, the UK, France, Latvia, the Ukraine, China, Sweden and many more countries.

I started this blog for a reason. I was writing a PhD dissertation and thought a form of 'public thinking' might help me to develop my ideas. And actually it has worked well. Not that my thinking became 'public' because of readers' reactions (it did happen, though - thank you), but rather because the public character of the blog kind of ordered me to write a bit about music every week, thus forcing me to put thoughts on paper. It kept me writing and thinking, and some of the thoughts have eventually ended up in the dissertation.

This morning I sent the dissertation to the committee which is going to judge whether the research I did is original  enough to grant me the title of doctor. We'll find out in due time. The rather new illustration of the parachute guy you find somewhere on my blog actually is an artistic  interpretation of the result of the PhD; study the illustration a bit and you know all you will have to know. In the meantime, there is the feeling of 'job done'. If they would ask me to write another dissertation I would accept immediately, but for now it's over. So it feels fitting this is a celebratory nr. 100.

I could therefore stop this blog. But I guess I'll continue. Because writing about music in this way has made me think, which I value. So let's see what happens next week on this place. After a remark of a friend I guess I could shift my attention away from the 'quality-critique' of the past few weeks, and find something new to write about. I'll do my best (although I have become rather fond of the idea of quality-critique).

At the same time, there is this feeling I described some weeks ago: a certain tiredness of all this argumentation going on in my blog, and my head. So I am thinking of starting yet another blog, in another place. A blog in which there will be no argumentation at all, just pure description. A blog unrelated to music, although music may figure in it.

A blog because, now that I know that writing can make you think, I am curious about the reverse: can you also write in order to stop the thinking?

Monday, June 24, 2013

With Music Education to the Top

When we came back from a visit to something we saw a huge van parked in the street. A colorful van, advertising itself as the 'Classic Express'.

The Classic Express is the van of the 'Prinses Christina Concours', a classical music (and jazz, nowadays - which shows that jazz has become classical music in many ways) contest for young musicians. The van is a mobile stage which drives around the country offering concerts  to primary schools.

Great. Why not give every child the possibility to regularly hear live classical music? And when played by young musicians the possibility of identification grows, of course, which is good too. I can imagine what goes on in the heads of the inventors of the van. An initiative, I think, to be picked up by the rap world, the pop world, the Dutch schlager world, the bluegrass world and the shanty world too. Wouldn't it be great to have dozens of vans cruising the country, providing primary schools with live music?

But there is that one little thing at the back of my mind, and that is the way this vanning around reinforces the general discourse about what music is supposed to be. All those vans whisper at you: music is meant to be a performance. It is done on a stage, by someone who is Really Good, and this someone is playing for an audience who are Slightly Less Good. Music is something to be performed on a stage by Those Who Can, to be listened to by Those Who Can't.

It's just a whisper, I know. There is nothing against listening to a great performance, and much in favor of it; I will be the first to acknowledge that. And of course everyone has the right to witness a concert of great quality if possible, rather than a mediocre one; yes, yes, I agree totally. And of course all this should be balanced by other musical activities in schools where children are encouraged to sing and play themselves - even if they will never be the prize winners of our musical competitions; and we do our best for that, too, I know.

But sometimes it's more than just a whisper, and then I notice my eyebrows raising themselves involuntarily. See the picture below, and see what it screams at you: "Classic Express, The mobile concert stage; with young top talent to the schools."


Sounds like a one-way street, doesn't it? And: "Young top talent", rather than "great music". What's the message here?

For sure, it will also be meant to please those who finance the van with grants - nowadays the only way to acquire grants is to mention the world 'talent' in every other sentence. But I guess it's not only that - it is also expressing what we, what 'our culture', thinks about music in general. Which is the same as what we think of everything else:

BIG IS BEAUTIFUL; BIGGER IS EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL.
EVERYTHING MUST ALWAYS BECOME EVEN BETTER.
INNOVATION FOR GROWTH.
WHO IS BEST GETS THE BIGGEST PART OF THE CAKE.
LIFE IS SPORTS, REALLY.

Having said all that, I also want you to know that my kids really liked the concert in the van.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Music makes you musical

"I don't teach music because it makes you smart. I teach music because it makes you into a human being." That's the way music teacher Jeroen Schipper ends a recent blog entry. It's a charming piece of prose, in which he explains that he understands why music teachers keep hammering on about music's contribution to our IQ (firmly seated in the brain and observable by means of a brain scanner, as we now all know) but that  he is actually fed up a bit with all that.

I agree with him. And I would like to add that I am also not a fan of the newest fad, which is an old fad really: the claim that music, as an art subject, makes you creative - and creativity is what our society (and especially our economy) needs. Apart from the fact that music is so much more than just creativity, and that there is a lot of uncreative but nevertheless very worthwhile musicking going on in most human lives, I dislike the ugliness of the arguments around creativity because they are so intensely tied to thoughts about being a winner and not a looser, about economic growth rather than modesty, about wanting to be better, newer, more advanced and more innovative rather than about being simply happy. (Remember the Lisbon-agenda of the EU? "The most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy of the world.")

Ach, I know, I'm old-fashioned. But music might be more than yet another instrument to be in one of the world top-3s.

What I liked best about Jeroen's blog is his question why we shouldn't turn the question around. Why do we expect music to contribute to mathematical or linguistic abilities? Why don't we ask mathematics to contribute to the rhythmical abilities of children? Why don't we ask from English to contribute to a better understanding of pop music? We know the answer: because mathematics and English have an intrinsic value. So if we want to justify why we should teach music in schools, let's not talk about how music contributes to something else. Let's talk about the intrinsic value of music, about how music makes you more musical.

Jeroen argues for precisely that. He does so by saying that music is a unique means of communication which can convey things that in no other way can be communicated. I am not so sure if that's a good argument - I'm not sure if it holds, and I would like to keep the possibility open that with music you teach something that also can be taught by other means; why would that make music less worthwhile?

But I like Jeroen's expression that music makes you human. In a way this is of course also an example of instrumental reasoning - music is good for something else. But by adding just a word it loses its instrumentality.

Music is worthwhile because it makes you into a musical human being.

Problem solved.

Monday, June 3, 2013

André Rieu - Respect.

We were watching a show on television - André Rieu and his orchestra playing in Sao Paolo (Brasil). Lots of Japanese in the audience, of course, as Sao Paolo hosts what I believe is the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. Lots of waltzes, lots of costumes, a bunch of sopranos, three tenors of course. Funny sketches in between and during the pieces. Lots of operetta tunes. Not really my music, but then again: the music was not really meant to be for me, so why bother about that?

The audience had fun, that was clear. So had the musicians. The audience came expecting a great show and they got it. Not only did Rieu play the repertoire he is famous for, he also played a couple of latin pieces and finished the show with Brasilian Michel Telo's world wide hit  'Mosa Asi Voce Me Mata'. He spoke to the audience in (a sort of) Portuguese. And he played 'Amazing Grace', complete with tin whistle and bagpipes - which moved the audience to tears. I was wondering why, but a bit of googling around gives a possible reason: a Brazilian kid gospel singer Jotta A. performed the song in 'Brazil's Got Talent' with enormous success.

'Smart guy, our André', I said to my wife when the show was finished and we talked about how he completely captured his audience. She replied: 'He shows respect.'

I guess we both were right. But I think my wife's remark was smarter than mine, as well as more respectful.