Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Every Friday I put up a post of shorter items that I have run across during the week, but did not seem sufficient to be the basis for a full-blown post.

* * *

I've often been skeptical of claims like the "Mozart Effect", but the Wall Street Journal has an article that summarizes a number of recent studies that show some real, positive results from providing music lessons to children. Here is an excerpt from "A Musical Fix for American Schools":
Another Canadian study, this one of 48 preschoolers and published in 2011, found that verbal IQ increased after only 20 days of music training. In fact, the increase was five times that of a control group of preschoolers, who were given visual art lessons, says lead researcher Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He found that music training enhanced the children’s “executive function”—that is, their brains’ ability to plan, organize, strategize and solve problems. And he found the effect in 90% of the children, an unusually high rate.
Let me emphasize that this exposure was to classical music. I'm pretty sure that hip-hop would lower your IQ considerably.

* * *

Smoking is dangerous. Even the depiction of smoking in a 19th century opera can be dangerous. What is that, 42nd-hand smoke? Here's the article: "West Australian Opera Scraps Carmen Over Fears it Promotes Smoking". The title character works in a cigarette factory. In keeping with current trends in opera production, couldn't they have just moved the setting to a bordello or CIA interrogation center? Somewhere not connected directly with smoking?

* * *

I wish I could have seen this production of a Rameau opera-ballet.
Dancing is as important as singing in French opera-ballets, and for “Les Fêtes,” Opera Lafayette not only embraced that challenge but made dance the central thematic element. Originally mounted at Versailles as part of the wedding festivities of the Dauphin (son of Louis XV) and Maria-Josepha of Saxony, the work is a celebratory piece about reconciliation, so the company enlisted three dance companies of different genres, whose leaders each directed one act and created the choreography for their own ensembles throughout. When the companies appeared together within the acts, the contrast and complementarity of their styles underscored the theme while making for an enchanting evening.
Sounds absolutely fascinating! Hey, the whole opera is on YouTube, though, sadly, in a concert version with no dancing. The music is lovely, though:

* * *

Iggy Pop has been around a long time and has a lot of advice for young musicians:
Stay away from drugs and talent judges.
 When I was a boy, I used to sit for hours suffering through the entire US radio top 40 waiting for that one song by The Beatles and the other one by The Kinks. 
To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge one unimportant detail. But, a good LP is a being, it's not a product. It has a life-force, a personality, and a history, just like you and me. It can be your friend. Try explaining that to a weasel.

* * *

The St. Lawrence String Quartet do a terrific lecture recital on Joseph Haydn--and I do mean terrific in both the playing and the talking. Watch the whole thing. I think that this guy is as big a Haydn nut as I am! YouTube won't embed, so follow the link for the clip:

* * *

Scott Bradlee is the leader of the group Postmodern Jukebox who specialize in doing covers of popular songs in vintage styles. Here's an example of a Beyoncé tune in vintage big band style:

This is an old parlor trick of course, where a pianist sits down and does variations in the style of different composers on a familiar tune like "Happy Birthday" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". Dudley Moore used to do a terrific skit where he played something that sounded like a Beethoven piano sonata using the theme "Colonel Bogey's March":

But in these postmodern times, apparently what Scott Bradlee is doing is not supposed to be funny it is supposed to be... what? Touching?

* * *

And that's it for this week's light-hearted edition of the Friday Miscellanea. Let's end with the habanera from Carmen:

UPDATE: After I put this up I ran across a very interesting essay by David Byrne (late of Talking Heads) about the contemporary art scene titled "I Don't Care About Contemporary Art Anymore?" The question mark is really rhetorical because he doesn't care anymore. Here's why:
That’s the part that worries me—the economics now affect how I see the art. I realize that I have begun to view the work itself as being either intentionally or unconsciously produced expressly to cater to the 1%. I go into a gallery now and—rightly or wrongly—immediately think, “inoffensive tchotchkes for billionaires and the museums they fund.” I can’t see the work or any ideas behind most of it anymore—if there even are any. The ideas might be there. The artists might be holding on to their integrity and be maintaining their distance from the dirty business of buying and selling, but I can no longer see it. The money and our distance from it is so much in the forefront now. I have to admit, abstract art suffers the most in this view, as it is so easy for it to be viewed as giant decorative objects—objects that carry high status and bear brand names as well. I know: some of these artists were making the work before all this happened; some struggled for years in relative obscurity, but all of that gets swept away in the tsunami of cash.
It’s sad—I used to be able to convince myself that contemporary art was some kind of forum for ideas and feelings about the world we live in. But hang on! It is! Those ideas and feelings are now about money and sucking up to those that have it and will part with a little bit of it. That is the world we live in! The work is indeed a commentary on our world, but the work is part of that swirl of luxury as well. The intention of the artist might be ironic, but when their creations mimic the things and the world being criticized so perfectly, then the irony gets lost. A skull made of diamonds might be a comment on the over-the-top luxury mode of the art world, but it is more definitely of that world as well. The irony is sort of lost, if it was ever there. Now abstract art can safely be said to be about nothing but how big it is, where it can be placed and how much it costs.
Of course this is not a problem contemporary composers have to face! 


Rickard Dahl said...

- I haven't really answered a question in a comment you replied to my comment regarding music and intellectual improvement. Anyways, there was one study that showed that playing an instrument does have long term positive effects on the brain (higher IQ) but activities like dance, painting etc. do not. In general it is a good idea to keep your brain in shape because it minimizes the risk of Alzheimer (and obviously no one wants Alzheimer to ruin their last years). One thing I thought about recently is that people either tend to mostly do things where they sit a lot or where they mostly move. The body however needs both movement and intellectual activities. So, a good balance is needed for people to stay in both physical and mental health.

- Smoking is bad obviously but the opera house is stupid. So what that it might promote smoking? They should stop the censorship madness.

- In the art world: many are selling, some are buying. In the classical music world: many are selling, (almost) no one is buying.

Bryan Townsend said...

This Wall Street Journal article seems to cite studies that are a lot more credible than others I have seen. Maybe someday we will be able to read some research that really does uncover some of the ways the brain/mind works with music. Because there is definitely a lot going on...

It seemed, when I was growing up, that the musical world was not the monoculture it has become. There were no billionaire hip-hop artists. Pop stars were certainly big, but they had not erased all other forms of music from public consciousness. You could see classical and folk musicians on television on a regular basis.