Friday, January 27, 2006
Mozart is one of my all time favourite composers. The Marriage of Figaro gives me enormous pleasure every time I hear it, and the only CD I have ever worn out was a collection of Tanze and Lendlers by Mozart that I used to study to. I have never found another like it, that I can work with. Without that one, I have to study in silence. It's really easy to celebrate a person like Mozart.
On the other hand, Alex Ross posted this, suggesting that spending so much time and energy on Mozart birthday celebrations may be wasting an opportunity. Mozart may have been the first free-lance composer. Unlike other musicians of his generation, he did not spend his entire life working for a patron, but earned a (often meagre) living independently. The amount of money that has been spent on Mozart since his death seems obscene when one considers that he died in a poor-house. Ross suggests that the best way to honour Mozart is to spend time and energy on living composers. A dear composer friend of mine would appreciate that. Greg Sandow seems to agree, though he is a little more pessimistic in this post. I certainly understand the concern that classical music culture may be under threat, but I also think that high-quality contemporary musicians are automatically drawing on the music that forms their cultural background. It is impossible for a musician to exist in a musical vaccuum, where no exposure to other music has happened, and no matter how much one aims for innovation, previous influence always comes into play. And thank goodness for that! wouldn't it be aweful if every person had to reinvent the wheel in their life-time. We as a species would get nowhere.
This link (found via Colleen Doran's blog, thank you, Colleen) addresses a recent documentary that suggests that Mozart's supposed 'genius' may have had more to do with hard work than tallent. While such a suggestion would undoubtedly cause some purists to object, I can't help feeling that thinking about the composer in this way affords him more dignity and consideration that the conventional suggestion that he was "tallented." Tallent suggests that it comes easy. Well, if it does, it's because there is a lot of hard work in the background. I have never liked the idea of tallent, because it suggests restriction. Thinking of ability as the product of hard work makes it a possibility open to anyone. Not that we could all become Mozarts, mind, but rather that we can achieve what we set our minds to, so long as we are really prepared to make the effort. And the effort involves exposure to the best of what else is out there.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I have never been anti-evolutionist; my upbringing exposed me to both evolutionist and creationist ideas, and I found a happy medium at some point that I still pretty much consider useful. I have, however, had a big deal for many years with the way that evolutionary theories have been used to justify prejudice against race, gender, sexuality, and myriad other things. thing is, I am rapidly realizing that the way that people's writing is used by non-specialists does not necessarily reflect what is actually written. I have, therefore, decided to read Darwin's Origin of the Species in order to (hopefully) make up my own mind about what he had to say, and how it has been used. Exploring the natural environment around my parents home, the whole idea of evolution makes so much sense. Ah well, we'll just have to see if it continues to, particularly in relation to the Franz Boaz/Ruth Benedict/Margaret Mead literature I read a lot of last year which rebuts evolutionist justified primitivism.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Sunday, January 22, 2006
The Society for Ethnomusicology Statement of Ethical Considerations is a pretty good place to start when considering more official matters of ethics, while the American Anthropological Association Ethics Resources page gives a more in-depth analysis of considerations that, while confusingly dense in places, is pretty practically helpful. And yet neither really deals with the emotional aspects. My mentor has been working on and off for a while on a paper related to the ethical considerations of her PhD project, which deals with the stresses of working with informants with whom one has an unequal power relationship. One point which she made very clearly, and which I am about to over-simplify terribly, was the difficulty of the researcher/informant relationship where gender inequality is a consideration. I cited her paper when challenging a male collegue's positioning in a paper dealing with female initiation rituals, and received a very defensive response. It is so easy to get caught up in fears of ineffectuality when working with real people, knowledge, power, and real lives. This life is so confusingly real, so impossible to comprehend from the lived perspective. How are we as outsiders in other's lives supposed to offer considered commentary and understanding.
A commentator on my mentor's paper suggested that the main issue for consideration in such matters should be expertise. For one reason or another, we have decided to devote time and energy to the study of specific topics, and that gives us a knowledge advantage over those who have to live the lives we study in more dimensions. We have (or should have) the advantage of a financial buffer in the form of our institutions and our careers that give us the liberty that the people living the lives we study don't have. We can afford a certain level of distance.
It sound's cold, but It is also the only way I can understand this. I don't have to live through what my informants do, so I can study them. Participant observation always involves some distance, and that is what makes it an effective method.
Ok, I'm all blogged out now.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
I just learned that while I was seeing my moment of eternity, the unfortunate whale in the Thames died.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
In the 2004 budget speech, Trevor Manuel said:
there have been representations for the abolition of VAT on books. Some time ago, I requested a report on this matter, which I have considered. There are several problems. The definition of a ‘book’ for tax purposes raises challenges – the case for reducing tax on, say, magazines or coffee-table publications, is not compelling. As it happens, the tax loss would be large, and would very largely go to higher income households. With some personal regret, I cannot see how we could justify this change. I hope it will be appreciated that recent revisions to the tax status of public benefit organisations involved in promoting literacy and reading provide a more efficient and equitable fiscal contribution to this purpose.
Of course, no where in that speech does he deal with the real issue. Reducing, or abolishing, tax on books is intended to promote reading. I don't know about the rest of you, but the first publications I ever read were magazines. I tought myself to read with gardening magazines and the jokes sections of Reader's Digest. Not deep literature, admitedly, but it started a love-affair with the written word that endures, and led me to greater things. When I was twelve years old, I discovered that the classics, Jane Austen, the Bronte's, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, among others, were available in paper back for around R8. It was a dream come true. I plowed my way through them, buying one a week, though often reading them in a matter of hours, and feeling desperately deprived because I couldn't have a new one every day.
A little over a month ago, I tried to buy Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for my little sister. A new copy cost R114. I finally settled on a second hand hard cover copy (admittedly in beautiful shape) for R48. Now if I was in my dotage, and talking about inflation, such a difference would be understandable. But I'm not. I was twelve years old eleven years ago. Inflation alone does not have such a mamoth effect. How are children expected to develop a passion for reading when books are so prohibitively expensive. How are we, as academics and intellectuals, entitled to only occasional, and shockingly small amounts of money to assist with our research supposed to afford the literature we need? Varsity library? I beg you to search the archives at the Wits library, particularly the music section, to see the impracticality of that. And while interlibrary loans, or visits to other libraries are catered for, as an undergraduate student, I was not entitled to any of this. It was a distinct disadvantage, particluarly when conducting my honours research, when many of my primary reference resources were unavailable. I had the resources (through my long-suffering parents) to purchase some of the texts I needed, but I am one of the lucky few. I turned to the internet for resources, and found much of value, but again, I am one of the lucky few. South Africa has notoriously high phone charges. I, at present, pay R2 a meg for my connection, and that is one of the cheapest options available. And as any academic making extensive use of online resources knows, the widespread suspicion with which the academy in general regards the internet makes it difficult to gain serious consideration for work which both makes extensive use of these resources, and which is distributed online. The world of conventional print maintains a strangle-hold on the academy, with the result that we are at the mercy of book publishers, distributors, and government. I take Mr. Manuel's point that publishers and distributers have some responsibility, but these people do, after all, have to make a living. Where, on the other hand, does the tax we pay on books go?
So how are South Africans supposed to deal with the huge cost of knowledge in this country? Perhaps it is time we started our own serious letter-writing campaign to get tax on books abolished. I, for one, am writing to suggest just such a strategy to all those magazines that goot me reading in the first place. And several more besides. Watch this space.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I understand the motivation for discouraging excessive applause, but I really believe that where such is considered necessary, either no break between movements should be taken, or the audience should be instructed before the section of the concert in question how they will be expected to respond. I did a performance of Seiber's Yugoslav Folk Songs with my chamber choir, and had them sing all movements without a break. It was an exhausting exercise, but so worth it, as the build in energy and atmosphere throughout the work was delightful. On the other hand, a french horn player friend of mine couldn't possibly play a whole symphony without a break. His lips would fall off! He did, however, have someone announce before his final recital for his BMus how the concert was to work.
The issue for me is that in a country like South Africa, where audiences are limited, and as classical performers we share audiences with the world of Jazz, or folk, or popular music, we can't afford to alienate audiences.
Monday, January 16, 2006
I never liked his music as a child, and disliked it more when, as a self-conscious, confused pre-teen facing issues of a more adult nature than I should have had to at that age, a want-to-be beau who pursued me relentlessly and exhaustingly declared Annie's Song 'our song'. Nonetheless, my oppinion shifted somewhat when I encountered some of his later music, memorably, in a London underground on my first trip to the city. The work of a skilled musician shines, by moments, through the melancholy, and there is a real beauty to some of it.
Today, however, I was reminded yet again of what bothered me about him as a child. I have two lines of a song, the name of which I can't recall, circling through my brain, and the lyrics and monotonous melody are making me miserable. Its not that I don't appreciate the therapeutic value of creative expressions of mysery - there is a healing power in the arts that carries much of their value - but rather than being cathartic, this particluar piece acts masochistically, removing the band-aid of functionality that keeps me moving and exposing the raw flesh of insufficiently healed wounds. I am wallowing, struggling and unnecessarily fragile. Somehow, this feels like a missed opportunity: music being used for a purpose other than that which gives it value, and I resent what I perceive as its misuse.
Carol Drinkwater, in The Olive Harvest writes "There is an eastern philosophy, Chinese Buddhism, I think, that speculates upon the engagement of responsibility. When a butterfly flutters its wing in China, they say, the impact resounds around the universe.
I have always been very taken by such a possibility and have most easily been able to comprehend it, relate to it, through the complexity of music. Of course, I have never seen it precisely as an isolated act, not as in one card that sends a pack of cards tumbling or one independent note or chord. No, rather more as woven or accumulated consequence. A wing lifts or a note is emitted, then comes a run of sounds, of movements, of notes; others are brought into play, from a variety of agents or instruments. many resonate at once and, before we know it, we are listening to a symphony. One single wing flutters and its consequences release symphonies or, equally, a cacophony of cachinnating, barbaric sounds. the music of the universe: mellifluous, elegant, lyrical, or grating, off-key and discourdant" (Drinkwater, Carol. 2004 The Olive Harvest. Orion books, London. pg. 341)
Sunday, January 15, 2006
On the other hand, I have had some letters submitted almost immediately they were requested, and two that I have read are lovely.
So wish me her luck. Grad-school, here I come (God willing).
Saturday, January 14, 2006
This link had some interesting/though-provoking commentary about the potential blessing of bee-stings.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Over teh last few weeks, I have also been reading, for my own pleasure, rather than work, a trillogy of memoires by Carol Drinkwater, an actress and whiter whose enigmatic half-smile has always entranced me. Her writing about self-discovery, aquisition, loss, heartache and stoic endurance, recovery, rebirth and creativity appeal to me. In particular, she writes in the second book about coming to terms with childlessness, the black void of mourning, and emotional recovery, a subject colse ot my naively maternal heart.
Someone told me years ago never to declare oneself incapable of anything. "If one human being is capable of it," she said "so is every other." There, but for the grace of God.... I wish I had recalled that when I declared myself "not the depressive type." I went through a very angry phase as a teenager, partly precipitated by a spate of depression afflicting several people close to me, a mallady which terrified me in the depth and brutality of its effect. But my eternal belief in human ability to master emotion helped me avoid a similar fate myself, and for a really long time, I was undeniably happy.
It hit me around April last year. Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation describes the onset and remission of depression as "little by little, then all at once." It's like swimming in a pool on a river, when an unexpected current catches hold of you, and pulls you over a rapid. All at once, you're out of your depth, floundering, turned this way and that by a force with no apparent source, nothing to fight against. And then, just when you think you'll black out from lack of oxygen, it throws you over another rapid, and you land on the pebbled bottom of a shallow puddle. The fall hurts, but at least you cdan lift yourself out.
I don't know what triggered it in my case; changes in my body over which I had little control, 'chemical imballances', the end of a life phase, and a period of uncertainty, the concurrent end of a relationship I never quite mastered, a not-quite love affair that haunts me with its possibilities, deceptively fragile blue eyes and a musical voice, stormy weather, a personal loss i never managed to mourn. Whatever it was, I am gradually moving on. So why do I post this to an academic blog? because I hope it may be useful to others in my position, perhaps, or just because I am seeking to understand it as I do my work. Perhaps its just about making excuses. Either way, I'll have to decide whether this post stays or not. For now, it can languish.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
The author of the post linked to, and I, are really lucky. We have a resource many never find in people who believe in us enough to devote the time to us it takes to make these things we call careers, happen. mentorprofs, I salute you, and will strive to honour your contribution to my life, by doing the same for others.