Tuesday, June 19, 2018

šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl'a7shn!

This is not directly about music, though I suppose it is music-adjacent. The CBC reports that two prominent plazas in Vancouver, the one on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the one adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, are going to be renamed. The former will now be known as šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl'e7énḵ Square and the latter as šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl'a7shn. Say it with me! Well, ok, they have a little video clip showing how each is pronounced:


Best of luck with the voiceless velar fricatives! This is just another in a long line of examples of multicultural virtue-signalling, but a particularly striking example. These names are from the Indigenous languages of the region from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Indigenous groups are no longer referred to as "tribes" but as "nations." It always seems to come down to labels, names, designations. Perhaps we can next look forward to the theatre also being re-named. A while back they re-named the Queen Charlotte Islands "Haida Gwaii." Rather hilariously, Wikipedia says that the "nickname" for the islands is the Queen Charlottes. Perhaps the whole province of British Columbia needs to be re-named, referring as it does to the hated imperialist oppressors, the British, and that other hated oppressor Christopher Columbus.

I think that this kind of thing is just a symptom of the hollowing out of culture. First history and culture are either emptied of meaning or reinterpreted according to cultural Marxist theory. Then the fragments are re-labeled giving place to designated oppressed groups. I'm beyond being surprised at how long this can go on before everyone rises up en masse and says "hell, no!" But I hope it is soon. As a small act of personal rebellion I will not be using the designated names for the two public spaces. Instead I will just refer to them as "Plaza of the Hated Oppressor Number One" and "Plaza of the Hated Oppressor Number Two."

As suitable envoi, let's have some music of the Indigenous peoples of the region. This is "Victory Song" from the album Nootka: Indian Music of the Pacific North-West Coast, collected by Ida Halpern.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reflections on Education

I think I posted this clip by Jordan Peterson a while back. It is really short, just four minutes, so have a look. Just ignore the little bit towards the beginning where they are trying to decide where his "rubric for essay writing" was posted. He gets right to the basic issue, which is, how to teach people to think:


I was reflecting on my fairly long (about thirty years) career teaching music and I realized that what I typically did was something quite similar to what he is talking about. Most of my time was spent giving individual instrumental instruction--guitar lessons in other words. I remember once being asked by a fairly bright student what it was I taught exactly. My answer "whatever you need." He found that a bit unsatisfying! But it was quite correct. Every time a student walked in the door I was presented with a variation on a single problem: what does this student need? For many it was simple technical instruction: how to hold the guitar, the best hand position, how the fingers should approach the strings, how to make a good tone, how to make different tones, and so on. Slurs, arpeggios and scales. But immediately following these issues were the musical ones: how to make a phrase, how to balance a chord, how to handle different tempos and how to do accelerandi and ritardandi. Then there is repertoire which brings with it questions of style and performance practice. Really, there are an almost infinite number of things to know and to know how to do. But each lesson was simply a response to what the student needed at the time. And yes, extremely labor intensive since the instrumental instruction model in music involves one professor and one student in a small room for one hour each week.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Peterson is talking about, I think. Sure, there are differences. For one thing, I rarely encountered a performance in the studio where there was nothing to say except, "A, good job." Every lesson was basically a taking apart of the performance and examination of the details with an eye to correcting faults and improving things. Apparently, while we still do this in music lessons, we, that is, universities (and before them public schools) have given up entirely on the idea of teaching people how to write. Peterson subtly implies that this might be a kind of conspiracy to rob people of the ability to think critically. He might be right. Or, on the other hand, maybe it is just incompetence and laziness.

I think that I have some writing skills. Where did I get them? Not from a classroom, at least, not that I recall. When I arrived at school for Grade One (there was no kindergarten where we lived) I already knew how to read. I don't recall how I learned, but I guess it was my parents. The basic idea of how to write I just picked up from reading. About the only thing I remember from all those years of English classes was in Grade Five or Six, I wrote a little thing in which I was using quotation marks to show dialogue and the teacher said something about how I was doing it wrong.

When I got to university there was an entrance exam where you had to sit in a big room and write an essay for an hour. Those who were bad were assigned to a remedial course. I passed and was put into an English literature class. They did assign a research essay, so I guess that was teaching us how to write. But I honestly don't recall the critiques I received.

I think I taught myself how to write by writing letters to the editor of the Globe and Mail when I lived in Canada and was under-employed for a year or so. You had to come in under 800 words, the subject had to be topical and you had to make an interesting point. I got so I could get about 40 to 50% accepted.

And, of course, writing this blog is another extended course in how to write.

Jordan Peterson's grim conclusion about universities is that, since they charge you a great deal of money and fail to actually teach you the most important things, like how to write, they are really instances of "indentured servitude" with students graduating $100,000 in debt. He doesn't use that phrase in this video, but it is in another one.

In the music department, I suppose we are more honest and do actually try to teach people how to play, performance majors at least. We just kind of gloss over that part where, when you go to the audition, there are two hundred other people auditioning for the same position.

After all that blather we really need an envoi. I just watched the new video, shot in the Louvre, by Beyoncé and Jay-Z called "Apeshit," but it is so astonishingly pretentious and narcissistic and so uninteresting musically that I think we should just ignore it. Instead let's have something by a really first rate musician. Mozart is the only composer I know of who wrote virtuoso concertos for himself to play on two different instruments, the piano and the violin. That guy was just way too talented. This is Ayako Uehara accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Fabio Luisi playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 22 E flat major K 482:


Only 580 views on YouTube!

Iceland, AI, and Music

There is an interesting article in the Globe and Mail about an upcoming concert in their Luminato Festival: Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds brings a techy twist on the classic concert to Toronto’s Luminato Festival. I continue to be astonished at the number and variety of musicians that keep coming out of Iceland which is a country about the size of a small city: population around 350,000!
Icelandic composer and musician Olafur Arnalds is bringing a small ensemble to the Luminato Festival in Toronto on June 24 for a concert with a conceptual and technological twist. Arnalds, who is best known for TV and movie scores (notably for the British series Broadchurch), makes melodic, melancholic, simple and repetitive music that’s on the line between classical and pop. It owes a debt to both the rhythmic minimalism of the classical tradition (think Arvo Part) and ambient electronica. The twist on his recent stuff is that he is using a couple of player pianos (mechanically operated) that are controlled by a computer algorithm.
That could be either really interesting or really, really dull. There is probably no shortage of composers out there taking inspiration from both Arvo Pärt and ambient electronica. What is interesting in the article, by writer Russell Smith, is that about halfway through, having run out of things to say about the upcoming concert, he skews into a discussion of artificial intelligence and art:
One thing AI does while attempting to create art is analyze it – often large quantities of it – in the most inhuman of ways. This in itself is useful to scholars. The recent field of “digital humanities” uses computers to speedily “read” (i.e., scan) and prepare complicated concordances of large bodies of work. You can get computers to digest all of Shakespeare, for example, and tell you not only how often he uses adjectives but in conjunction with what nouns or what genders or what dramatic situations. You can do the same for whole genres. Such analysis can tell you what characters are most likely to say in what situations in Western novels or in young adult novels about illness. It’s a quick way of seeing trends and themes that emotional readings might not give.
This is the analysis that AI art-creating is based on, and often the resulting statistics are more interesting than the machine-art itself.
Not too surprising that artificial intelligence is better at analysis than creativity, is it?

There are some clips of Ólafur Arnalds' music on YouTube. This is titled "re:member"

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tricky Mr. Haydn

I'm still working my way through the Haydn box (up to CD 122!) and, indeed, still in the baryton trios. I was just listening to No. 28 in D and heard a minuet I have to share. Haydn delighted in putting both players and listeners off-balance and sometimes he would even do it in the usually very staid context of a minuet. Here is the third movement of the Baryton Trio No. 28 in D:


Now doesn't that sound weird? Sounds like they just stop and add a beat every now and then. Haydn creates this illusion by fooling you as to where the downbeat is:

Click to enlarge

If you notice, the first note is tied over from the third beat to the first so that you think that it is a half note on the downbeat. But no. You aren't quite sure where the downbeat us until the eighth measure. And then it starts all over again. 

For Shame!

The Harvard Medical School, obviously at the forefront of, well, every good thing, has just admitted to a long-standing bias: Harvard Medical School ashamed of white male department heads.
The Harvard University Medical School has removed portraits of former department chairs from a lecture hall because the individuals pictured are not sufficiently diverse.
School officials confirmed Friday afternoon that the portraits of 31 medical school deans—which formerly hung in the school’s Bornstein Family Amphitheater—have been “dispersed” to various lobbies and conference rooms. 
All 31 individuals depicted in the portraits are men, and while one is Chinese, the other 30 are also white.
Good god! Now, grammatical errors aside, individuals cannot be "diverse" or "not sufficiently diverse" only groups, they obviously caught this just in time. This particular group of individuals certainly seems to lean male and white. Obviously, since this is 2018, this has to be an error. Now the solution for Harvard was relatively simple: just take them down, or rather "disperse" them (probably a prelude to immolation).

Alas, for we in the classical music community, the solution won't be so easy. After all, it is 2018 for us as well and just look at this representation of the top ten composers, according to the New York Times:


Again, good god! Not only no women, but not even an Asian! People of color? Hah! Obviously we have to take this down immediately. But then what? Do we replace it with something? What? And who?

Well, I'm stumped. All I can think of is more White Males: Haydn, Shostakovich...

Help me out in the comments, would you?

Music in the 21st Century

This could become a series, maybe. Despite the growth of wireless connectivity, there are still a lot of cables in the world of music. Hence, this article: How to Tell a Loved One They’re Coiling Cables Wrong. Satire or not?
Coiling cables is an everyday part of live shows. When done incorrectly, however, it can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one, or often time a band mate, make the same mistakes over and over again. Know that you are not alone and help is available.
Hmm, sounds like satire.
Suggest ways to improve. It takes about three minutes to teach someone how to properly wrap up a 1/4″, but you are certainly not going to do it; you’ve got to spend 20 minutes later unknotting and correcting this person’s work. Instead, refer them to youtube where there are a plethora of instructional videos with more being added every 5 seconds.
Intervene if necessary. “No! Ugh, c’mon! Gimme that, just go take some more drums out to the van.”
Or, maybe not...


Let's have some music! From the idyllic, cable-free world of the 18th century, another of Haydn's baryton trios. Blogger doesn't want to embed, so just follow the link:

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

I don't get over to Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog as often as I might, but I just visited and she has an interesting post on a new opera by Emily Howard about surveillance and invisibility and authoritarian societies. Gosh, I wonder what connection that could have to life in the UK? The work is called To See the Invisible.
My first full-length chamber opera To See The Invisible premieres this week on the opening night of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival, and we’re nearing the end of the production period. In the next few days we’ll have stage and orchestra rehearsals followed by the dress rehearsal and I can honestly say that these last few weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. Before now, I actually had no idea that there would be so many people involved in making an opera work. I’ve enjoyed working closely with librettist Selma Dimitrijevic, director Dan Ayling and music director Richard Baker for some time now, and in addition to this, collaborating with a wonderful cast of singers, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, a full opera production team as well the Aldeburgh staff over the last few weeks has been an amazing experience. That’s a lot of people and I’m delighted to have learnt a whole lot of new information.
Here is a brief trailer for the opera:


I had an experience of this myself in high school when one day, purely as a callous psychological experiment my "friends" suddenly decided to shun me. Rather an unpleasant experience!

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 I've been posting about Sofia Gubaidulina lately, and yes, I do mean to get back to that! Another fascinating Soviet composer was her older contemporary Galina Ustvolskaya. Alex Ross alerts us to a remarkable concert at this year's Ojai Festival with Markus Hinterhaüser playing her six sonatas for piano.


Shostakovich thought very highly of her work.

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Ludwig van Toronto has a piece about an interesting attempt to generate revenue for Canadian musicians. It's complicated so you should read the whole thing. But here are some figures on earnings from streaming:
In 2017, SOCAN collected $49.3 million in streaming royalties for rightsholders, a record high. But, while the three largest (Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon,) raked in about $14.2 million USD per day globally in 2017, the rates that artists receive are still low. Spotify, for example, pays artists a per-stream rate of $0.0038, and YouTube only $0.0006 per play. To put that into perspective, an artist on Apple Music would have to get about 200,000 plays per month to earn $1472USD per month. An unsigned artist on Spotify, the service with the largest market share worldwide, needs about 380,000 plays to make the same amount.
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Over at Nautilus, composer Philip Glass has some interesting reflections on music, dance and time:
 There are many strange things about music and time. When I’m on a tour with the dance company we work in a different-sized theater every night. The first thing the dance company does when we arrive is to measure the stage. They have to reset the dance to fit that stage. So you also have to reset the time of the music: In a larger theater, you must play slower. In a smaller theater, you have to play faster. The relation of time and space in music is dynamic. I have a range of speed in mind. If the players don’t pay attention to that, it will look really funny. You can see the stage fill up with dancers because they are playing at the wrong speed.
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The Daily Courier in Arizona reprints a hoary old tale about musicians and efficiency. Under the guise of a time and motion study I saw this same anecdote taped on the wall of the music department when I was an undergraduate! But never mind, it's still funny:
A managed care company president was given a ticket for a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Since she was unable to attend, she passed the invitation to one of her managed care reviewers. The next morning the president asked him if he enjoyed it. Instead of a few plausible observations, she was handed a memorandum which read as follows:
1) For a considerable period the oboe players had nothing to do. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
2) All twelve violins were playing identical notes. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
3) Much effort was required in playing the sixteenth notes. This seems as excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to use paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
4) No useful purpose is served by repeating the passage that has already been handled by the strings with horns. If all such redundant passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to 20 minutes.
5) This symphony had two movements. If Schubert didn’t achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut.
In light of the above, one can only conclude that had Schubert given attention to these matters, he probably would have had time to finish his symphony.
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From the annals of the truly bizarre (and from my alma mater): McGill music student awarded $350,000 after girlfriend stalls career. You need to read the whole thing, but this gives you an idea:
In late 2013, Abramovitz applied for a full two-year scholarship to complete his bachelor’s degree at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Every student at Colburn receives a full scholarship, including tuition, room and board as well as money for meals and other expenses, worth roughly $50,000 a year.
If accepted, he would study under Yehuda Gilad, considered one of the best clarinet teachers on the planet. Gilad accepts two students a year out of dozens of applicants. To be chosen is virtually a guarantee of a high-paying symphony career directly out of college. After an exhaustive pre-screening process, Abramovitz flew to Los Angeles in February 2014 with his parents to do a live audition before Gilad and a committee of faculty members.
A month later, Colburn sent an email to Abramovitz. He had been chosen.
Except Abramovitz never got the email. Jennifer Lee, a fellow McGill music student and Abramovitz’s girlfriend at the time, did. They had started dating in September 2013, and within a month he was staying at her apartment almost full time. He trusted her. He let her use his laptop. He gave her his passwords.
Scared he would move away and perhaps no longer be in a relationship with her, Lee deleted the email. She sent the Colburn Conservatory of Music an email, pretending to be Abramovitz, refusing the offer because he would “be elsewhere.”
She also torpedoed his successful application to the Julliard School in New York! Years later, when Abramovitz did finally sudy with Gilad, the whole thing came out. Astonishing, and very, very sad...

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I feel we should hear some clarinet music now. Here is Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Clarinet Trio: