Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Once an artist has passed away, the critical evaluations really begin to roll out and this week saw a well-written one on the legacy of David Bowie in acculturated: David Bowie: Last of the Literate Rock Stars.
Bowie’s music will last not because it was groundbreaking, iconic, or any of the other lazy clichés the media are using to describe it. It will last because David Bowie built his music on a canon of modern Western art and literature. The music’s richness can’t be separated from Bowie’s hard (and joyful) work of absorbing and mastering these sources.

Gee, that sounds like something I might have written.

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There are few things more satisfying than reading a really good criticism--even moreso these days when criticism of any kind is deemed inappropriate. I have been perplexed lately reading fulsome reviews of The Tragically Hip's final tour. Who, you ask? Yes, exactly. Tragically Hip appear to be Canada's Official and Much-Loved Rock Band, the Essence of Who We Are! The Globe and Mail lately has had almost nothing but articles about how really, horribly, terribly awful Donald Trump is and how wonderfully, magically, tragically awesome Tragically Hip are. The one time I tried to listen to them they sounded like U2 only duller if that is even possible. So it was with anticipation that I read David Solway's magnum force takedown of them: Canada: A Tragically Hip Nation.
In order to understand Canada—its tepid mores and self-important culture, its assumption of election and ingrained narcissism—one could do worse than listen to the music of The Tragically Hip and observe the adulation that greets its lackluster songs and mannered performances. My American readers may have never heard of the group; Canadians have scarcely heard anything but—especially of late. The group, which has a street named after them in their native Kingston, Ontario (Tragically Hip Way that runs beside the Rogers K-Rock Centre), is symptomatic of a self-inflated country, the sort of country where one of its major newspapers, The National Post, can proudly devote an entire page to congratulating an Olympic athlete who brought home—a bronze.
The rest of the article is hard to summarize, so I recommend you follow the link and read the whole thing.

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There is always something fascinating about unusual musical instruments and this has got to be one of the most unusual.
"The American Fotoplayer is a type of instrument that was specially designed to make music and sound effects for silent films. Here, Joe Rinaudo shows off all the (literal) bells and whistles that make this such an impressive piece of machinery."

This is kind of the apotheosis of the One-Man Band. Isn't watching this a tad more entertaining than the latest Nicki Minaj video?

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While we are in the realms of the weird, here is a North Korean guitar ensemble:

You can tell it is a Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship because they are not allowed to play on half-size guitars, which would suit their anatomy better.

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After that last item and purely by chance I ran across a little essay that I think everyone should read. Oddly enough it is in the New York Times. The author is Dierdre N. McCloskey, professor emerita of economics, history, English and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I put this up to balance out some remarks I have made recently about the French Revolution and its consequences for the arts. The article is titled The Formula for a Richer World? Equality, Liberty, Justice.
The Great Enrichment began in 17th-century Holland. By the 18th century, it had moved to England, Scotland and the American colonies, and now it has spread to much of the rest of the world.
Economists and historians agree on its startling magnitude: By 2010, the average daily income in a wide range of countries, including Japan, the United States, Botswana and Brazil, had soared 1,000 to 3,000 percent over the levels of 1800. People moved from tents and mud huts to split-levels and city condominiums, from waterborne diseases to 80-year life spans, from ignorance to literacy.
The root cause of enrichment was and is the liberal idea, spawning the university, the railway, the high-rise, the internet and, most important, our liberties. What original accumulation of capital inflamed the minds of William Lloyd Garrison and Sojourner Truth? What institutions, except the recent liberal ones of university education and uncensored book publishing, caused feminism or the antiwar movement? Since Karl Marx, we have made a habit of seeking material causes for human progress. But the modern world came from treating more and more people with respect.
Read the whole thing!
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Oops, Wells Fargo ran some ads suggesting that arts types really should give up on that stuff and start doing something useful like become engineers:

The arts community was not amused.

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From the looks of this article in The Violin Channel, bias was a big factor in the recent Shanghai Violin Competition. Is the violin world so small that it is necessary to accept judges that have students competing?

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Here is a real blast from the past! My past, that is. Way back in 1968 I was playing in a rock band and at this point I'm not sure what name were were going by at the time. In any case, we competed in a Battle of the Bands! Here is a photo one of the other members just sent me. I'm the guy on the far left, playing the f-hole bass guitar. Ron Boffy is in the middle and on the right is the lead guitarist and singer, Dave Keld. The name of the dancer in front is unknown. The location of this musical event was Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada.

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Here is an interesting problem with a musical theme. The Globe and Mail publishes a commentary titled No, your kids shouldn't be exempted from music class on religious grounds. The dispute is an awkward one:
A Toronto father crossed the line when he demanded that his kids be exempted from music class because, under his interpretation of Islam, all music is haram – forbidden.
When The Globe and Mail investigated what happened at Donwood Park elementary school, it found that education authorities had been grappling with the issue since 2013. In the name of reasonable accommodation, they bent over backward to placate parents who wanted their kids let out of music. They even suggested that students could clap their hands instead of playing instruments, or just listen to O Canada being sung. It wasn’t enough. Even listening to music being played was out. The father, who said his views are representative of other parents at the school, wanted his kids to be allowed to stay away from music class altogether.
Authorities said no. Though they were willing to compromise, they could not exempt students from a mandatory part of the curriculum.
The commentary begins by lauding Canada's multicultural policies to the skies and then ends by saying that the educational authorities were correct:
Music rooms have echoed to the singing of scales and bowing of violins for generations. Music is taught in Canadian schools. Everyone learns it. That is something fathers such as this one must simply come to accept.
These two things are not reconcilable. As recounted in another story, the father did not accept the ruling, but will come to school each time there is a scheduled music class and take his children home. The problem with feel-good multiculturalism is that not all cultures nor all aspects of some cultures are compatible. If one culture says we respect your religious teachings and the other culture says that we need to cut the heads off of unbelievers, then I don't see how there is any room for compromise. Plus, how could any culture not see how great music is?

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Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948 - 1997), a Muslim Pakistani musician, is considered by some to be one of the greatest voices ever recorded. He is primarily a singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. I first heard his work on the double LP released after the 1982 World of Music, Art and Dance festival. This is a performance filmed in 1993:


Marc Puckett said...

1968, what a terrible and ridiculous year! I cannot tell if those are what were (or are, for all I know) called 'Nehru jackets'? You had the remarkable prescience to partially conceal your face, at any rate.

In an hour of weakness I watched an old television episode the other day, the plot founded on the conceit that the poor Amish boy, become an adult and away from the family home where 'music' had been forbidden from his experience, discovered classical music (illustrated by Chopin's Nocturne in B flat op 9 no 1, "which everyone knows") at the performance of which he became prodigiously successful, before alas being murdered. I suppose the questions include, how expansive is the civil power's right to impose curricula in the state schools? does this power extend also to non-state schools? so many interests at issue! (and I believe Canada deals with these questions differently than many states do in the US &c &c) but using 'multiculturalism' as the standard by which everything else is ordered is a dangerously silly practice, isn't it.

That Wells Fargo campaign was badly thought through, ha, and some of the tweets were amusing enough, but if part of their point was that not every teen is going to find a lucrative career doing what she best loves to do, well, that is, after all, just realistic and not 'anti-aspirational'. There are only so many Josh Grobans and lead Vampire Diaries actors the world can support....

Happened to run across this earlier on Facebook. Scottish island evacuated in 18whatever, a child learned island folk songs from a itinerant piano teacher on mainland, record company exec meets now-aged child and voilà a new CD. I found it amusing because where else are you going to see Sir James MacMillan and Decca execs being seasick? (that's a bit of exaggeration). The songs themselves, eh, Celtic folk songs. []

Bryan Townsend said...

I think that we were just wearing turtlenecks. Just be glad you can't hear what we were playing!

David said...

Tragically, I feel compelled to weigh in on the Hip item. (Apparently, the truly hip just call the band in question the Hip.) A contributing factor to the lofty status of the band from Kingston might be found in the Canadian predisposition to champion an underdog: The TH are not one of Canada's successful music exports. Having given the world Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Drake, Rush, Bare Naked Ladies, Glenn Gould and James Ehnes, the denizens north of the 49th parallel may just feel the need to love the Hip underdog. Personally, if forced to chose, my love would go to the band from Winnipeg that gave the world "American Woman". Released in 1970, I guess your band wasn't playing that one Bryan.

This "under dog" thing is probably also why we celebrate the bronze Olympian. Penny O, the Canadian 4 medal-er threw the first pitch at the Blue Jays vs. Bosox game last night!

Bryan Townsend said...

David, thanks for your gracious and corrective comment!

I don't recall if we had "American Woman" by The Guess Who in our playlist or not--certainly not in 68. 1970 was right when I was switching over from rock to classical. We were probably playing either Erik Burden and the Animals or the Stones.

David said...

Bryan, I will confess that a small element of "jump first, look second" crept into my comment above that tried to explain (rationalize) the Hip's status in Canadians' minds. I have now read all of the David Soloway article. I confess that I completely agree with his assessment of the band and its product. It is kind of fun that he identifies BTO as a Canuck band he prefers. Randy Bachman was a key member of The Guess Who, (my choice of band as noted in my first comment).

I am not sure that Soloway's logic actually holds up. That is, does it really follow that he can conclude that Canada is a "bronze medal nation" on the basis of (1) his opinion that a band is not good and (2) the fact that the CBC broadcasted the band's final concerts (3) the broadcast drew a large Canadian audience?

In fact, it is telling that analysis of the TV viewing numbers for the concert broadcast show that 11.7 million viewers tuned in for "some part of the broadcast". That large number (1/3 of the total population) actually resolved to an "average" audience of 4.04 million (closer to 10% of the population). The Canadian viewership record is held by the Canadian men's gold medal hockey game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: an average of 16.6 viewers! Soloway should note that the team came away with a Gold medal.

I think it may say more about Canadians that the reader comments seem to be dominated by opinions of the

Bryan Townsend said...

David, thanks again for the expansion of your thoughts. I think that that line about Canada being a "bronze medal nation" are an overshoot. When you are writing a Philippic there is a tendency to go just that bit too far. I think that you hit "publish" too soon as it cuts off right in the middle of a very interesting remark about comments!

David said...

Bryan, I was going to "snark" about the fact that when I scrolled to the comments on Solway's article, sorted by oldest first, the entire first page was back and forth not about music, the Hip or Canadian mediocrity, but rather about Trudeau (Senior) PET and the love or hate Canadians still have for the man from the sixties who had the audacity to pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth's back. Then I thought I would stay on the high road, or at least the musical one.

I guess there was some truth in my old mentors' focus on proofreading!!

Bryan Townsend said...

You just made me realise that I never even looked at the comments to the Solway article!

One thing I have noticed lately is that when the Globe and Mail publishes something particularly silly, the commentators do a really good job of setting them straight.