Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Big news from Apple this week and they tarted up their presentation with a live performance by U2 in conjunction with the announcement that their new album "Songs of Innocence" would be given away for free on iTunes. [William Blake's lawyer will be calling in the morning.]

Now I'm a big fan of Apple products, but if they wanted to seem cooler they should have picked someone like Lorde to associate themselves with instead of, shudder, U2, who in my books were never cool.

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I don't know if we are quite ready for a sequel to Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, which was itself a sequel to Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but this surely must be a sign:
Music teachers employed by Cornwall Council have been axed and forced to become self employed as the authority struggles to make deep financial cuts.
Members of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet have confirmed that music teachers would move from being directly employed by the Council to being self employed and registered with the Council as approved to provide music tuition.
The council says that the music tuition service, one of three strands of the wider Cornwall Music Service, does not generate enough income to meet its costs, resulting in the Council being forced to provide an annual subsidy of between £200,000 and £300,000.
And I'm sure that the math classes don't generate enough income to meet their costs either! So, obviously the school district was charging their students for the music lessons, which were probably subsidized (as I think they should be) and now, they just can't find the money. Now why do I suspect that those funds are not available because of a generous pension plan for the teachers?

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Well, I'm sorry I missed this when it first came out. I enjoy satires, especially regarding jazz.
What can it mean for jazz as a living art when the most hotly debated genre event of 2014 was a satirical post on a humor blog? Only Charlie Haden's death earlier that month can rival theNew Yorker's awkward July 31 unveiling of writer Django Gold's "Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words," a 480-word goof later appended with a "work of satire" tag after bewildered readers fell for the gag. A gloss on Esquire's "What I've Learned" series, the piece offered reflections alongside a mournful portrait of the saxophone colossus, all of which deflated, mocked, and undercut the usual self-help mantras. "The saxophone sounds horrible," this ersatz Sonny groused, adding that "Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with." His conclusion: "I wasted my life."
Heh. I really should do something similar for Beethoven...

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Here is an interesting article about the virtues of a college teaching job to a creative classical musician. He covers a lot of ground in the article, so I recommend reading the whole thing. This is an interesting little snippet:
One thing I’ve noticed after thirteen years of professional work with the best contemporary classical and jazz musicians in America is that without exception, the most creative players have a thorough grounding in the classics. A handful of them got it outside of school, but almost all of them procured it during their high school and university years. Indeed, I frequently hear “new music” by young composers who have eschewed the classic studies of counterpoint, orchestration, and harmony because it’s too “conformist” or some other such response. The results are dreadful and predictable: poorly orchestrated tunes that lack coherence. Even worse is the performer who has refused to grapple with the standard repertoire and has developed their “own thing.” Sloppy tuning, bad rhythm, and lousy tone are the primary results.
I think I would probably agree with this. The underlying principle would be that if you are ignoring the canon of the greatest musical artworks in favor of whatever fashionable tidbits you have heard recently, you are certainly short-changing yourself and limiting your musical development.

As for the other issue, of how best to support your musical activities, working at a low-level job is not a good alternative to teaching at a college or university, but one he doesn't mention is working at a higher-level job, which might be. Think of Charles Ives and the insurance business.

The author makes a lot of good points, but I would just like to add that one of the problems of teaching music is, at least in my experience, that you end up spending most of your life trapped in small rooms telling indifferently talented students the same thing over and over again. I think this tends to dull your own mind and creativity.

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And finally a Brief History of Hold Music, that stuff they force you to listen to while waiting for someone to talk to you. Down here the hold music tends to be synthesized versions of either a Scott Joplin rag or that G major minuet from the Anna Magdalena Bach book. One thing I like about Charles Schwab is that they don't force you to listen to music, but instead you hear market news. Generally preferable. The article mentions Handel's Water Music as being popular hold music so let's have a listen:


Shantanu said...

If you don't like U2, you probably don't like a lot of alternative rock. Or maybe you just like the artsy stuff like Talking Heads. Do you ever find yourself listening to Minutemen, The Cure, The Replacements, Patti Smith, Television, etc? IMO, the late 70s and early 80s produced some great overlooked music - maybe the whole punk and new wave scene has been somewhat forgotten today.

Maybe you could do a review of a punk song some day - something like "Answering Machine" by the Replacements. Could be fun.

Anonymous said...

U2 is musically boring and dated. It's entirely predictable and, fundamentally, trivial.

Jazz is comatose. Maybe it had to die. But it's a pity because it's the best art America has produced. Musically, I'll take Duke Ellington any day over a constipated Elliott Carter or a mathematical Milton Babbitt. Steve Reich is pretty good but lifeless. At the end of the day, I'll go with West End Blues or Koko as the supreme embodiment of American art. For classical music, there are the Europeans and, sadly, no one else.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have sort of an off-and-on relationship with the whole field of pop music (in which I include most commercial music). After completely ignoring it during the 70s I got interested again in the first half of the 80s where I listened to a lot of The Police, the Talking Heads, David Bowie and the English Beat. But I didn't come across the groups you mention, Shantanu. Tell you what, I will have a listen to "Answering Machine" by the Replacements and see if it inspires me to anything.

I have written about U2 before--unfavorably! Is jazz better than some of the great blues? Or than Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives, or Philip Glass? I like Steve Reich myself.

Anonymous said...

Jazz and blues are inseparable. But Bernstein, Copland, Ives, Glass, Reich? I have my preferences (i.e., Reich) but the point is that they all worked in a European idiom. In fact Europe has produced better 20th c musicians than all of them.

Jazz is quintessentially American. Armstrong, Bird, and Coltrane borrowed heavily from European harmony but they produced something sui generis. Jazz is the only original contribution of American to music: everything else is derivative from European art.

Bryan Townsend said...

Anonymous, you raise a host of aesthetic and historic issues. Some problems that come to mind: You say that the composers mentioned all "worked in a European idiom." Yes, there are elements of European musical traditions in all of them. But in Bernstein there is also jazz and blues influence, in Copland there are clear American folksong elements, in Ives there is an enormously original approach that is far from anything we find in Europe, in Philip Glass there is considerable Indian influence and in Steve Reich considerable influence from African and Asian music. In both blues and jazz there are also strong elements from both Europe and Africa. My point is that there is a considerable mixture of influences from all sorts of places in ALL these musicians and composers. Which means that your point is neither clear nor obvious.