Sunday 24 March 2013

Music Teachers' Expo: Review

My orchestra is a member of the umbrella organisation, Making Music, and through this I learnt about a major "expo" for music teachers at the London Barbican, which happened during a couple of days last week. This was a major event of workshops and an exhibition sponsored by Rhinegold Publications and I decided to toddle along for a look round. I'm glad I made the effort. When I arrived, I thought it could be a waste of time for me, but that was not the case. I'm primarily a musician and although I teach music, the expo was really for full time teachers from schools and colleges, so I felt at first that I was intruding. However, I found a vibrant hall full of businesses and organisations madly promoting their musical offerings, all aimed at assisting the teaching fraternity. I just felt it was all worth a mention here as there is clearly much energy and enthusiasm going on, particularly in the field that most interests me, namely music technology. I was a bit alarmed at being asked on more than one occasion what my departmental budget is, but I soon realised that much of what was on offer was of direct relevance to loose-cannon teachers, such as myself. So, just a note of congratulation is in order to the organisers - thanks from me.  Oh, yes, and I discovered the Musical Ear software, which I can't wait to try out...

Sunday 17 March 2013

Climbing Music

It's all Cornelius Cardew's fault that I wrote a piece of music in my head on the way home on the bus from Gloucester today. You heard it here first. It stems from his scratch orchestra for making contemporary music accessible to amateur musicians. The piece I heard about is called "The Great Learning" and I thought to myself, I could do that with variations. My original bit is to play an orchestra as if it was a single musical instrument. A "soloist" stands in front of the orchestra-as-instrument like a conductor, but instead of conducting a score he/she improvises on the orchestral instrument within the compass of some set rules. Those set rules turn this experiment into a particular piece of music but one which will sound different every time it is played.  OK, this is how it works for what I'll call "Climbing Music". Every member of the orchestra waits until the soloist points at them and then they begin to play the key note of a scale, e.g., a low G in the key of G major. They continue to play it until the soloist points at them again and then they move to the next note in the scale, A, etc. When each player reaches the leading note, F sharp, their next one will be back to the low G.

The effect should be of a gradual musical hill climb with shifting harmonics, harmonies and dischords partially under the soloists control but largely open to chance. To make it more interesting (and this is what Cardew did), another rule is that if a player gets bored playing a note, they can move on to the next one without being "triggered" by the soloist, but they can only do this if they are moving in unison with another player. I'm going to try this out on some unsuspecting group of musicians. Hopefully, the musical hill climb will end naturally and spontaneously at some point. Anyone like to be there at the premiere?

Tuesday 12 March 2013

So, What's New?

I have a feeling that things in contemporary music are changing.  A great chunk of what was written and published in the last 100 years has been somewhat difficult to get to grips with, either because composers weren't necessarily writing with the desire to captivate an audience or were pushing the barriers of convention to the extent that the music became incomprehensible. It seems to me that attitudes to all this are shifting. I may be wrong and my objectivity may be somewhat clouded but I detect that contemporary music is gaining ground and it is surely an inevitable process that what is new and shocking becomes at some point accepted and conventional. There are three particular events that have prompted this and all are to do with the way that the BBC is able only now to look back and make clear sense of - and present clearly - music's progress through the 20th century and into our own.