Category Archives: Community

Guitar Group Midis

New play-along midi files for NBHS PTA Burns Supper (Fri 4 Feb at 19:00) have been posted on the Guitar Group Midis page.

Next Tuesday’s lunchtime rehearsal (18 Jan) will be entirely devoted to this and, perhaps, the latter part of the full Guitar Ensemble rehearsal on Tue 25 Jan. We may also have an opportunity to practise after the next East Lothian Guitar Group rehearsal on Fri 21 Jan. Don’t forget, you can always get together without me any other day of the week 🙂

Ideas are one thing and what happens another (John Cage 1912-92)

I must be getting younger and here’s what draws me to this unlikely conclusion. Have you ever had the experience where, relating an event and estimating its vintage, you discover that it took place, say, eleven years ago and not five? Does the tempo of life’s passing seem to hit home at such moments? Well, this morning I had the opposite experience. I heard that today marks the five-year anniversary of the official launch of YouTube – the Beta version having emerged some seven months earlier. I couldn’t believe it! Youtube – the third most visited website, after Google and Facebook – seems to have been part of my life for longer than I can remember. I can recall who first told me about Google and Facebook, but I don’t recall being led to YouTube – it just seemed always to be there.

What better way to mark this occasion than to stumble upon (if our networked world still permits such electronic happenstance) a video of the recording of a version of John Cage‘s 4′ 33′ by Cage Against The Machine (CATM). I’ll let The Guardian explain the provenance.

This much misunderstood and maligned piece is thought to be about silence – and only that. However, Cage’s intention was to allow listeners the time and space to notice and enjoy life’s everyday sounds, which we often take for granted, undervalue and ignore.

This film has some nice touches: introductory remarks to the musicians; performances phoned in by artists not available on the day of recording (4:00 into film); a variety of responses to the situation – some having fun, others perhaps a little self-conscious and some looking reflective/reverential. I’m no authority, but I suspect that John Cage would have been happy at recent events and would have smiled at those in the film, smiling and swaying, arm in arm and in time.[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/GYedTIMAf7E?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

p.s. Re the title of this post – have a look at the story of CATM (the text on grey background) here.

Instrumental Tuition in Aberdeen in danger

Although this is a grim and worrying situation, it is encouraging to read that pupils are taking action. In addition to the threat to their learning, it is interesting to see social consequences highlighted by one pupil:

“The bands, choirs and orchestras we attend are a big part of our social life and are where we meet our friends from different schools across the city.”

Unsurprisingly, the students are using a social networking site to organise.

A petition – which articulately outlines many the extra-music benefits of instrumental tuition –  can be found here.

A question of tone

One of the themes of this blog, if such a thing could be said to exist, is the endeavour to see music in its wider setting (society, culture), through exploring links with other disciplines (language, science). In that regard, I’m always grateful to receive invitations to talks in Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD).

On Tuesday 2nd November, I attended a talk by Professor Bob Ladd entitled Suprasegmantel phonemic distinctions in Dinka speech and song. The Dinka people form the largest ethnic grouping of Southern Sudan. Allow me to quote Professor Ladd’s own summary of Dinka song tradition:
Making and singing songs is an integral part of Dinka culture. Songs are used to chronicle all aspects of individual and communal experience: to tell stories, to insult rivals or enemies, to praise family or cattle, and so on. Songs are typically sung solo or in unison, accompanied (if at all) by clapping or simple drumming. Rhythm is generally a simple regular pulse, and song segments or phrases may be of different lengths with no overarching metrical structure. Scale is uniformly pentatonic.

For those who, like me, are interested in languages but are a little vague about the vocabulary of the science of linguistics, permit me to attempt to unpack the title of the talk – Suprasegmental phonemic distinctions in Dinka speech and song:
  • Segment – the individual sounds which make up speech
  • Phoneme – the smallest segment is known as a phoneme e.g. the word bad has one only syllable, but three phonemes: b – a – d
  • Suprasegmental – a phenomenon can be described as suprasegmental when it takes place over two or more segments e.g. prosody, tone, stress.
Professor Ladd described to us his work as part of a wider project – Metre and melody in Dinka speech and song . Specifically, he and his colleagues are exploring how a language which relies on musical phenomena (pitch, duration, timbre) for meaning is set to music. Do the two languages intuitively come together? Is there a clash of pitch and duration imperatives? If so, which one yields and when?
Three musical components of Dinka prosody (a Nilotic language) were featured:
  • Tone – there are four tone phonemes – high, low, rising, falling
  • Quantity – there are three lengths of vowel – short, medium & long
  • Voice Quality – there are two voice qualities – modal (normal voice) and breathy (somewhere along the journey from whispering to normal speaking)
The combination of these sound options, when mixed with seven possible vowel sounds, allows for 168 possibilities, most of which occur in regular usage. At first glance, it would be impossible to believe that such a spectrum could be reduced in any way without meaning being compromised.
One further feature essential to understanding the rhythmic aspect of setting of words to music is that most stems are monosyllabic – consonant-vowel-consonant or consonant-glide-vowel-consonant.
Here is some example of such singing:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/lz6aPMsdY5I?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Despite the many musical features of this language, it would seem that linguistic constraints are over-ridden by musical ones, without any obvious loss of understanding. Professor Ladd’s own parallel with this was that we can easily understand people when they whisper, despite the loss of pitch and timbre involved.
I found myself wondering whether – given the monosyllabic nature of the language, and the prevalence of the pentatonic scale – there was a tendency to align important words e.g. verbs with structural notes of the scale (do-mi-so) and less important words e.g. prepositions with the less important ones (re-la). It seems that this hasn’t (yet) been explored.
I found this a thoroughly engaging talk, not least because it made me realise how much we take for granted in the field of word setting. Possibly, this is because our culture is one which leaves word setting to experts. I look forward to discovering more about the project.

Pathways to Music

Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative and Young Scot have teamed up to consult with young people across Scotland, aged 16 to 26, to find out what it is they really want and need to know to help them engage with the music industry in Scotland.

If you fit into this age bracket, then completing this survey could result in winning £50 of iTunes vouchers.

Malcolm MacFarlane Masterclass

The Haddington Bridge Centre Music Project is offering a unique and free opportunity for young people, aged 12-25, to take part in a guitar master class on Sunday 26 September, 2.30-4.45.  The class will be run by acclaimed guitarist Malcolm MacFarlane.  A seasoned performer and recording artist, Malcolm also teaches at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama.

Here is a poster which you could pass on to those you feel might benefit from this opportunity: Malcolm MacFarlane Masterclass