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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind

When I was about fourteen, I stopped taking violin lessons and switched to the guitar. At that time, I think there was no choice between classical or pop, or between Spanish or electric guitar; if you took guitar lessons, you bought a Spanish guitar and learned to play classical music. But I was lucky to have as my teacher Dries Lubach, who realized that, apart from playing the etudes of Emilio Pujol, it might be attractive for kids my age to also learn to read chord schemes and play basic finger-picking patterns by means of such songs as House of the Rising Sun and Blowin' in the Wind.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Raymond Firth on Objectivity

I would like to share here some of the final words of the anthropological classic "We, the Tikopia" by Raymond Firth, because, more than 75 years after its first publication, they still point to a concern any anthropologist shares in some way.

"Social anthropology should be concerned with how human beings behave in social groups, not with trying to make them behave in any particular way by assisting an administrative policy or a proselytizing campaign to achieve its aims more easily. The scientist gives generalizations regarding the nature of the working of institutions; it is not his duty to affix ethical values to them, nor by conniving at such an ethical evaluation to pave the way for their modification. Missionary, government officer and mine manager are free to use anthropological methods and results in their own interests, but they have no right to demand as a service that anthropology should become their handmaid. Nor can the standards which they invoke - "civilization", "humanity",  "justice", "the sanctity of human life", "Christianity", "freedom of the individual", "law and order" - be regarded as binding; the claim of absolute validity that is usually made for them too often springs from ignorance, from an emotional philanthropy, from the lack of any clear analysis of the implications of the course of action proposed, and from confusion with the universal of what is in reality a set of moral ideas produced by particular economic and social circumstances.

This is not to say that the scientist himself may not have his own personal predilections, based on his upbringing and social environment, his temperamental disposition, his aesthetic values. He may regard the culture of a primitive, half-naked set of people on an island of the Solomons as a pleasant way of life, giving expression to the individuality of its members in ways alien to western civilization; he may regard it as something he would like to see endure, and he may strive to preserve it in the face of ignorance and prejudice, pointing out the probable results of interference with ancient customs. This he does as a man; his attitude is part of his personal equation to life, but it is not implicit in his scientific study. The greatest need of the social sciences to-day is for a more refined methodology, as objective and dispassionate as possible, in which, while the assumptions due to the conditioning and the personal interest of the investigator must influence his findings, that bias shall be consciously faced, the possibility of other initial assumptions be realized and allowance be made for the implications of each in the course of the analysis."

What a way to end an ethnography, long before the "reflexive turn" in the social sciences took place.

And then the question: I add to the row of "missionary, government officer and mine manager" the music festival director, the orchestra manager, the conservatoire principal, the professional musician and the music teacher; and I add to "civilization", "humanity", "justice" et cetera "art", "the aesthetic", and "beauty" - and then I wonder what my position as a so-called "applied" researcher within a conservatoire might be, regarding all Firth said above.

Raymond Firth. We, the Tikopia. Kinship in Primitive Polynesia. Boston, Beacon Press: 1963 [1936].

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why Music Gives Us Pleasure, According To The Reverend Gilbert White

The Reverend Gilbert White (about whom I wrote before) explains in Letter XLVI to the honourable Daines Barrington (not dated, but written somewhere at the end of the 18th century) quite precisely why "the shrilling of the field-cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet marvelously delights some hearers". I think his argument is extendable to music, so read along with me:

"Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their melody and sweetness; nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which they promote, than with the notes themselves."

Short, precise, and true. Who needs a musicologist when a Reverend is available?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Will 2014 be the Year of the Third Dutch Folk-Revival?

Happy new year.

I have taken a sort of semi-sabbatical those past few months, I now realize. I wrote less regularly than I used to do, I simply did not find the time, the energy, or the right topic. But I'll get back to the normal once-a-week rhythm in 2014, I hope.

Let me start with an intriguing question: will 2014 become the year of the third Dutch folk revival in the guise of a revival of the shanty - the seafaring songs of our nautical forefathers? I ask this question because a group called Ancora (meaning 'anchor' in Latin) is - in certain circles - hugely successful. They released a CD plus DVD called "Vrij als de wind" ('Free as the wind') last September, which immediately became the number 1 in the Dutch-language CD album charts. I saw the documentary of the DVD just two days ago on the regional TV station TV Oost, and it has also been broadcast on national TV. There is a definite link to the Volendam music scene, Jan Keizer (from BZN) acting as a a sort of Godfather for the group - whose members were well-known in a previous musical life as "De Piratentoppers" (pirates not referring to sea pirates but to illegal radio stations playing Dutch-language music called 'pirate stations' in the Netherlands).