Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

I have mentioned before that one of the biggest problems confronting classical music is the decline of the audiences. Here is an interesting read on that topic titled: "Anti-Intellectualism and the 'Dumbing Down' of America." I hate to break it to the folks at Psychology Today, but it ain't just America! Sample quote:
There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.
In many cultures, not just the US, there seems to be a trend away from the substantial to the trivial.

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Now here is a project that I just can't get behind: "Creativity and the Brain: What We Still Don't Know." Here's what they propose:
It is time for a large-scale, multidisciplinary study into the nature of creativity—one that would integrate the insights of neurobiologists, psychologists, artists, and educators.
What's wrong with this? First of all, why? What benefit could possibly come from this sort of study? I profoundly doubt that neurobiologists, psychologists or educators have any insights into creativity and I think that artists would better spend their time creating than trying to "study" creativity. The argument seems to be:
"Imagine the potential for our nation's health, education, culture, and productivity if we were able to truly understand the anatomy of our 'aha' moments, and how they can be nurtured, optimized, and deployed"
 I think that you always have to deconstruct the passive constructions in statements like these. Who, for example, is going to do all this nurturing, optimising and deploying? Well, government, of course. Just between you and me I think that all too many of our current problems come from exactly that: government going around willy-nilly nurturing, optimising and deploying, or pretending to do so while in actuality simply paying off their constituencies. All that is really needed is for there be incentives for creativity and, in most areas, they are already there. Just ask Mark Zukerberg. In some areas, like music for example, there seem to be perverse incentives and we might want to look into that. Is there any way of discouraging people from creating formulaic, derivative, generic pop music?

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Here is a pretty good review of Philip Glass' recent autobiography. Sample quote:
Glass is either oblivious to conventions or fond of ignoring them. He mentions a few times that he was born with an “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” gene. There’s often reason to distrust these proclamations, but I did enjoying cataloguing his contrarianism. Other performers may look down on amplifiers, but he adapted them no less to the opera house. Other musicians may revere figures like Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger, but he rebelled and talked back to them. Other composers may scoff off film soundtrack commissions, but he tried them out and with success. Other music students may spend their Juilliard prize monies to practice and compose, but he bought a motorcycle so that he can ride around the country. When people made fun of him for appearing in a whiskey ad, he retorted: “It seemed to me that people who didn’t have to sell out… must have had rich parents.”
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Here is an interesting little article with photos of experimental women musicians called by Maggie Shannon, who photographed them, "Noise Girls." Somehow, I doubt you really want to live in the apartment below. Here is Camilla Padgitt-Coles:

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Here is some awfully good news: a Stradivarius violin, stolen in 1980, has been recovered and will be returned to the family of the owner. The Ames Stradivarius was recovered by the FBI in June:

Here's a tip for prospective violin thieves: don't steal famous violins. Sure, they are easy to run away with, but you won't be able to sell it. As soon as you take it to anyone with any connection to the classical music world, if there is no credible provenance, they will call the cops. These are famous instruments.

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The Guardian has a nice essay by John Eliot Gardiner on Monteverdi's Orfeo, the origin of opera (if not the very first one written, certainly the first one that remains in the repertoire).
The Orpheus legend is utterly central to how opera emerged at the close of the Italian Renaissance and to the way its first pioneers tried to justify its existence as a revival of ancient Greek sung drama (a slightly spurious claim). Orpheus, its first definitive hero, is present at every intersection in opera’s 400-year story as it continued to evolve and then, after a few wrong turnings, attempted to reform itself thanks largely to Gluck.
When Claudio Monteverdi came to compose L’Orfeo in 1607 he seems to have had a particular empathy with Orpheus. As a court musician working in claustrophobic, mosquito-ridden Mantua, Monteverdi was in effect a feudal vassal of the Gonzaga dukes. There his moods seesawed between elation and dejection: intense bouts of audacious creativity were followed by moments of self-doubt - very much like the Orpheus of Greek mythology (as transmitted by Ovid and Virgil), who suffers, loves, exults, mourns, goes on a heroic rescue mission, stumbles at the last hurdle and finally reaches a new and deeper understanding of himself.
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From Leonard Slatkin comes this list of ten forgotten American masterpieces. I would quibble with a few. Ruggles' Sun-Treader is not so forgotten and neither is Crumb's Echoes of Time and the River.

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Now here is a great idea that didn't quite come off: take details from some great paintings featuring musicians and give them funny captions. That was the idea at Sinfini Music. But whoever wrote the captions just. didn't. quite. manage. it... Could I suggest:

(I swear, next time we are going to pick a composer who knows the range of the soprano voice...)

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Which brings us to our envoi for today. What else but the Possente spirto aria from Orfeo by Monteverdi. This is Anthony Rolfe Johnson singing Orfeo with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir:


Rickard Dahl said...

I took my time to actually read the first article about Anti-Intellectualism. Well, there's a paragraph I certainly don't agree with. It's the one about how universities main purpose today is for people to get jobs. It's true to a certain extent with things like STEM, economics, medicine etc. but it's not true for more humanity/social oriented things. The problem is that there is rarely work available after these sort of educations, especially when there is an overflow of people going to college. The problem has several sides to it: The first side is that universities dumb down the educations, especially in humanities or social sciences. More people completing the courses means more money for the universities. The second aspect is that people get into lots of student debt without being able to have a decent job that can pay it off. Sure, you can do humanities for 3, 4 or 5 years but then what? Even if you're lucky to find a job in the field and don't end up working at Starbucks you still have lots of student debt to pay off. The work doesn't pay that well unless you're a doctor, engineer, economist or something similar. The third aspect is that universities (especially in humanities and social sciences) have become a political correct mess infested with SJWs. Professors have to watch what they say or otherwise they might offend the wrong student and end up losing their job or career. Male students have to be on the lookout against false rape accusations (just take a look at a few big cases that proved to be false: UVA rape case, mattress girl case, duke la cross team case) that can ruin their lives, especially with laws such as "Yes means yes". In universities it's the hyper-entitled easily offended progressive social justice warriors that run the show. Thankfully these problems are less prevalent in STEM for instance. Either way, universities and education in general needs an overhaul. If grade schools and high schools did a better job at teaching then there wouldn't be that many ignorant university students. Of course somehow the problem with massive student debts has to be solved. One benefit of universities in Europe is that they tend to be cheaper and in some cases entirely tax paid, which probably allows for a higher quality of education. In a sense universities need to teach for people to get a job but of course they should "educate" also, whatever it means in this context. Oh and I almost forgot: Universities are very biased against men. There are quotas for women and there are A LOT of female only grants but (almost) NO male only grants. It is viewed as a victory that universities are female dominated but males are the ones (far) more likely to go into STEM (which is probably the most important collection of fields for maintaining and developing/growing a society). The points listed in the article are pretty disturbing. Yes, being intellectual (or geek/nerd/dork) is often seen as an easy target by bullies and it is indeed often portrayed as "not cool" in movies or TV series. Yet they belong to the most important group of people for a society (the other group is the people (mostly men) who do the hard/demanding work such as oil drilling, construction, mining, building infrastructure, water cleaning, truck driving etc.).

Rickard Dahl said...

Another thing I disagree with is viewing Japan as a good example. The problem with countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore is that they focus TOO MUCH on education (and also far too little on creativity/thinking for yourself (in South Korea at least)) and work. These are very tight cultures where kids have to study all days pretty much and then the work is in many cases 60h, 70h or even 80h per week. There is also a very tight social cohesion (especially in South Korea) and if you deviate from the norm it will be viewed as shameful. I can't imagine living that way, having basically no time to pursue your interests or even to relax and to die an early death at work. Well, at least it's changing for the better in Japan. There is a growing group of men in Japan called the herbivore men who reject these norms and instead focus on doing what they enjoy. Sure, it's bad for the economy and either Japan will have to adapt or Japan will fall.

There are some paragraphs in the last part of the article that beautifully describe the social justice warriors and their mob/herd mentality.

Well, we already know some things that are good for creativity (some understanding can be very useful) but I don't think there is a need to really understand it on a deep level. I guess it's very anti-intellectual for me to say it but I would prefer if some things remain a mystery, at least in the ultimate level. There's no doubt that the answers will be found eventually if possible to find but yeah. A real danger with too much scientific knowledge about creativity is that we could theoretically get robots that do creative things such as music better than humans (scary thought, scary indeed). As for disincentives for pop music? I think the best way is simply to fight the disease (pop music) with the medicine (classical music (or more generally art music (I guess a broader term including things like jazz, ragtime, video game music, film music, folk music))). Much can be done to get things in the right direction (as is often discussed here). Anyways, I think one of the ways to get more creative in music is to listen to a wide variety of music. For instance I'm listening to various renaissance genres currently to get more a understanding (especially of what makes various dance types unique, what distinguishes pavanes or branles for instance). Here's a lovely branle I found for instance: Maybe I will eventually be able to compose in some dance forms (tricky to get the correct feel for the rhythms and stick to them).

Marc Puckett said...

I wish Nina Totenberg could always write about happy music-related events instead of what she does in her day job!

Rickard, I agree with you that universities altogether are not all about job-placement but I believe that a certain large number of university administrators are all about it.

Bryan Townsend said...

There have been a few books recently talking about reforming higher education. One of the most interesting aspects is that the government subsidization of tuition through student loans has led to the gross inflation of tuition costs. The universities simply kept raising their tuition to absorb the subsidy. Then they built luxurious student residences and sports facilities and hired a lot of administrations. The per capita number of teaching professors stayed much the same. Talk about unintended consequences.

I was just listening to some branles on lute the other day!

Rickard Dahl said...

Bryan, do you know any good books about renaissance and/or baroque dances? Sometimes it's quite tricky to find the information needed (mainly the rhythmic aspects). I guess the best way is studying the music (along with the scores). It would help with more solid information though.

Bryan Townsend said...

One of the authorities that I used a lot when I was a student was Robert Donington and I see that Amazon has a book by him at a pretty reasonable price:

This is a more expensive and much longer volume designed more for scholars:

Here are a couple of books on Renaissance performance that look good, but I haven't personally consulted either of them:

But these books, while very useful, might not give as much guidance as listening to accomplished performers! There are lots of people out there who exhibit a real gift for making Renaissance and Baroque music come alive in a convincing way.

Rickard Dahl said...

Thanks! I will check them out.