Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Free Mp3s for Heritage Day

My parents sent me this link to a News 24 site featuring free downloadable mp3s. Not all of them are of South African music, but all are African, and there are some really super ones there. The links are up as part of the newsgroup's Heritage Day celebrations, because South Africa's heritage day was on Monday.
Thanks, mom and dad!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

South African Music Day

In the midst of a crazy busy new term, I spent a little time in South African space on Sunday. Kathy Tagg put together a wonderful day's activities revolving around South African music at the Manhattan School of Music, and while I didn't get to attend everything, or even as much as I would have liked to, the two concerts I saw were fabulous! Around lunch time, there was a program of South African vocal music, with two soloists performing song cycles (one in English and one in Afrikaans) a third soloist singing an arrangement of a Xhosa bow song (The cello made an amazing substitute for a gourd-resonated bow), and an ensemble singing traditional choral music. You can guess what my favourite was! I was really impressed with the vocal sound this group, in particular achieved, even with a very thin bass section. The soprano sound was wonderfully full.
The evening concert was of chamber music, and as a fan of, in particular, Peter Klatzow, and more tentatively, Kevin Volans, I really enjoyed this. The performers were not universally capable during this concert, and one of the string ensembles reminded of how critical it is that the instruments are properly in tune when the music is not conventionally tonal (!), but the absolute highlight of the evening, Kevin Volans' percussion composition Chakra, performed with great flair by three percussionists (one of whom was not listed in the program) from the MSM, swept away any lingering doubts some of the earlier pieces may have raised about my devotion to this type of music.
Well done on a resoundingly successful event, Kathy, and thank you for googling this blog!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Street performance, and the Drakensberg Boys' Choir

I had the craziest day today, running around town from one end to the other (literally: Brooklyn, Harlem, NYU, Harlem, Union Square, NYU, and finally, Harlem again), but quite abruptly earlier this evening I was stopped in my tracks by one of the best street performances I have yet seen in NYC. Three guys were playing drums using a combination of two upturned buckets, a barrel lid, and two of the plastic containers that hold newspapers on street corners around NYC. They were doing some pretty elaborate stuff, and it was really nice to have an excuse to stand still and just listen for a bit.

Also, one quick note. I noticed through my blog stats this week that someone has been searching repeatedly for "Drakensberg Boys' Choir lyrics "I wish I were"". This is one of my absolute favourite of their recently programed pieces, and can be heard at their website or via this link (the recording quality isn't great, and doesn't do them justice, but it should at least give you an idea of what they and the piece sound like. The full title of the song is "I Wish I Were a Punkrocker", and the lyrics are available here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York South African Music Day

Kathy Tagg commented on my blog yesterday to point out a fabulous event happening at the Manhattan School of Music next Sunday, the 23rd of September. It is called the New York South African music day, and is a whole day of conversations about and performances of South African music, held on the day before South Africa's Heritage Day public holiday next Monday. I am very excited about what is planned, and about the people scheduled to participate, so if you are around, come on down.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ubuntu, individualism and crime in South Africa

I have yet to read the full text of Mbeki's speech yesterday on Steve Biko, as the transcript is not yet up on the ANC website, but I must admit an ambivalence to the current reports on it. The Mail and Guardian headlines "Mbeki: Crime a symptom of 'rapacious individualism'", a sentiment that I agree with in spirit if not letter, but the calls it thereafter reports for "moral regeneration" trouble me. Morality is such a slippery space, bounded as it is by essentially individualist religious constructs and conceptions of the "normal". A clash of moral sensibilities led to several acts of voilence against women during the time I was back in South Africa, and debates about morality are heavily implicated in almost all terrorist and geanocidal actions. Even the current war in Iraq is justified on a moral premise, despite the various ecomonic issues implicated.
And I don't want to get into word games about the difference between morality and ethics, either. I do think that is a useful way of framing this, but really it's just too abstract for the current circumstances.
Crime is, I believe, more about an inability or unwillingness to see the humanity in others than about a lack of moral compass, because when you can't see how your actions hurt someone else, you can't see the immorality in them. I always have believed that everyone wants to be good, or at least to feel good about themselves, and that knowing that you are hurting someone else doesn't feel very good. That is why child molesters tell themselves that the children they interact with actually want, or enjoy, what is done to them. And the idea of "for the good of the community" becomes an excuse to ignore individuals who are hurting. The apartheid government believed that it was acting for the good of the country, but it had to ignore the humanity of black people to do that.
I'll read the speech fully before I comment more on this, but I just wanted to put that out there, as my initial response to the reports I've been reading.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I feel like I'm glowing from the inside out at the moment, and while my teaching isn't entirely responsible, it has at least contributed to the feeling. I really get a kick out of that work. Everything, but everything seems to make perfect sense when I'm in that classroom with those students. I don't mean that the details of the work always make sense (they don't always, and I admitted to one group yesterday that I don't really understand phenomenology, even if I can talk a bit about it in the context of class readings), but the broader reasons behind things do. I know why singing is so important to me when I see my students faces as they open their own mouths to sing. They giggle and demure and fain embarrasment, but there is something terribly intimate, and immensely satisfying about making noise together. I have this exercise I used to do with my choir where we pick a note, and then gently swoop down to the bottom of our range from there, and I did that with my classes on Friday and Monday. And I played music to them, and listened to them talk about it, and read what they had written. I watched the expressions on their faces as I told them about South Africa, and about how I got into music in the first place, and the expression of utter relief and delight on one girl's face when I explained that we would be talking about synaesthesia with one of my favourite composers. She has synaesthesia too, and so badly wants to know more. It is an immense privilege to be in New York to do this, because there are so many people around, and so many resources and opportunities for these things. But really, I think wherever I was, at this moment in my life, teaching would feel like this.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti died earlier today of cancer. I'm going to play some of his recordings to my undergraduate class this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day one, year two

After a really fun long weekend, the new semester starts today. I'm not actually teaching today, technically, but I do have the first lecture of the course that I'm running a couple of recitations for, so today will be the first opportunity I will have to see the new students and get a sense of the classroom situation. I have been excited about this for a really long time (one of the first things I said to my advisor when I arrived in New York was "I'm really looking forward to teaching"), but I'm also beginning to feel both more clear about the course, and a little nervous. Most of these students are not music majors, and while only very few of them are freshmen, I feel like this is a really important opportunity to open up their academic experience. I am TAing for a course called "Expressive Cultures: Sounds", and the topic of the class is "Contemplating Voice". This course is part of a general academic program that students have to take a certain number of courses from during their degree. For many people, this is a course they don't especially want to do. They are taking it because they have to, and they are taking this class in particular because they think it will be an easy A. For some of these students, this is the only liberal arts course they will take during their entire course of study, and for others, it is the only music class. So I'm invested not just in selling them on the university experience, but also of giving these students a little bit of a sense of the value of something outside of their usual experience. The course lecturer has decided that we will be seeking out opportunities to use our voices during this course, and we will be doing some vocal exercises during every lecture, which is a great place from which to start, but I also want to find ways for students to think about and use their voices that are not necessarily expressly musical. Singing is such an important part of my own life, because of the level of physical engagement it gives me, but speaking is also becoming more and more important, and I hope to use this class as an opportunity for the students and I to think more about how we use our voices in mundane and also creative ways. I want to teach students about what it means to communicate in a classroom so that they have a skill that they can take beyond this course, and I want to teach them about the type of learning that happens when you act or perform or use your body to engage with the things around you. But if the only thing students come away from this course with is the knowledge that they spoke in recitation every week, and were listened to, that will be a pretty good start.