Category Archives: Concepts

Open Goldberg

Those studying composing/arranging and listening in SQA Music exams pretty soon come upon variation form. If you’re lucky enough to have an iPhone or iPad you can download a free app containing a recording by Kimiko Ishizaka along with a score (with moving cursor) of one of the best sets of variations of all time, Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

You can get the iPhone app here  http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/soundsnips-free-iphone-app-featuring-open-goldberg-variations

and the iPad version here:

http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/musescore-releases-free-ipad-app-open-goldberg-variations

The Art of Fugue

I always look forward to notification of a new YouTube upload by Smalin aka Stephen Malinowski. I’ve linked to several here before but this one is a cracker and features: 

  • his uniquely colourful system for portraying pitch and duration
  • the option to watch in 3D – with the right specs
  • mention of the following musical concepts:
  • augmentation – doubling the length of notes in the theme
  • diminution – halving the length of notes in the theme
  • inversion – turning the theme upside-down; as he explains the M-shape becomes a W-shape
  • if you watch the hands closely you’ll also see ‘finger substitution’ – where a finger, which is keeping a note down, is ‘relieved’ by another so that it can move on to its next job; the complexity of the music comes through here as many of the notes are effectively being played twice

Nominal Fallacy

There’s nothing as refreshing to one’s professionalism as a challenging shot across the bows, particularly if it comes from a distant field. The admiral of thought in this case was neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, (chair of the Dept of Biological Sciences, Columbia University). His excellent contributory chapter to This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (edited by John Brockman of Edge fame) is entitled The Name Game. Early in the short chapter he cites a phenomenon which he and others call nominal fallicy – namely (pun intended) that being able to put a name to something equates to, increases or is the beginning of understanding. Often, in science, this can mean the end of investigation or, at least, a postponement in favour of nameless phenomena.

This caused me some alarm as, to say that naming is a big thing in my daily round, is an understatement. I always stress to pupils – and the younger the pupil, the more so – that without names things cannot be discussed. To offer young minds some context I ask if they would respect a teacher who knew all their names more than one who had to rely on descriptions like ‘the boy with the fair hair beside the window’. Without exception they unhesitatingly express a preference for the former.

Why am I so keen on names? Apart from belief in Wittgenstein’s assertion that “what can be said at all can be said clearly,” there are simply too many areas in music to survive otherwise. Pitches, durations and techniques cross the paths of new pupils from the outset. Later, myriad musical concepts – often in Italian appear. These feature heavily in SQA exams and it part of our job to support our classroom colleagues in this endeavour.

Soon, I began to relax as I realised that Firestein was referring solely to the naming and taming of unknowns. The elements of music which crop up in lessons have, in most cases, been established for centuries. So, crisis of confidence over – for the meantime. However, it was enlivening to experience a mirage of a fundamental shake-up.

 

Postscript: numeracy in music has its own taxonomy. We use the following:

Arabic numerals – fingering (left hand – as right hand uses initials for Spanish finger names)

Roman numerals – position e.g. 1st finger based at fret 5 = V

Circled numbers – string number

The above three are internationally used. We also use numbers written in a square to represent ‘phrase number’. To help pupils see and hear connections and variations we use, for example, 1, 2, 1, 2a.

Discovering Music

Have you ever listened to Radio 3′s Discovering Music? One nice touch on the web page is the expression, “over a year left to listen.” Anyway, there is to be a recording made in Glasgow’s City Halls on at 18:15 on Wednesday 30 May. The title of the event is, The Second Viennese School: Introductory Talk.

This will be followed by a concert featuring:

Schubert (orch. Webern) Six German Dances
Schoenberg Violin Concerto
Berg 3 pieces from the Lyric Suite
Schoenberg 5 orchestral pieces (2nd version of 1949)

Ilya Gringolts violin
Ilan Volkov conductor
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

These works, still considered by many to be new music, are around 100 years old (with the obvious exception of the original Schubert…)

Entry to both events is free but tickets are limited to 4 per individual.

There is another free concert the following evening.

A few tasters

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQrMRPXXDVQ

Afro Cuban Rhythm

Bouncing from one YouTube video to another, I recently came across a great series of films on Afro Cuban Rhythm – with very clear explanations of how the rhythms are layered. The central protagonist is maestro of Cuban rhythm, drummer Ignacio Berroa. There are some very good musicians involved, but I’ll let him introduce them to you.

Key to understanding the whole thing are the two main rhythms of the clave (although the qutoed graphic below from Wikipedia includes three – the extra one begin in 6/8). Note the interesting etymology of the word clave:

cla·ve [klah-vey]
noun - one of a pair of wooden sticks or blocks that are held one in each hand and are struck together to accompany music and dancing. Origin: 1925–30; American Spanish, Spanish: keystone < Latin clāvis key

This little graphic from Wikipedia may help to outline the key rhythms:

At the end of the 5th video (and running well into the 6th) there is a chance to see if you can keep the clave part going once they temporarily drop out of the music. Now there’s a challenge for you.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)

In October 2011 I applied to participate in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Under the mantle of Creative Learning Networks, the idea was to enhance creative learning in the (public sector) workplace – school, community etc. One spin-off would be that silos who have neither time not opportunity to communicate would have reason to come together, in the interest of learning. This very much appealed to my cross-curricular mind-set.

Under the leadership of Ruthanne Baxter – then Arts Education Officer and Manager for Creative Learning Network in East Lothian – I was paired with Caroline Mathers at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, soon to be moving into its new premises in Lodge Street. Various ideas were discussed and two projects were agreed:

  1. a short series of videos where working composers would give tips to pupils to help with the composing/arranging component of the SQA Music courses
  2. an online course in the basics of sound editing – using the free program, Audacity and aimed at oral historians

The latter idea seemed especially fitting for two reasons:

  1. the John Gray Centre is, among other things, a museum devoted to local history and community
  2. this seemed, to me, to fit the cross-sector brief

Five composers were initially scheduled to be involved in the video interviews but, due to various commitments, two were unable to take part. Nevertheless, I feel that the three videos we have will be invaluable to students of composition.

I shall post each of the two outcomes individually.