Category Archives: Radio Links

ngram

What better way to relax before a concert (Musselburgh Grammar New Year Concert – a neologism brought upon us by adverse weather at Christmas) than messing about with words. Driving home from school, I heard an article on Radio 4’s Open Book about Google’s Ngram software. Basically, this allows you to chart the popularity of a word between 1800 and now in books – approx 15 million of them.

It’s interesting to discover how words grow legs of their own, independent of their original coinage. For a bit of fun, try to predict (before clicking) which of the following words is the only one to enjoy a rise in popularity in last 200 years: heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory.

Can it be used to spot societal trends? Naomi Alderman pointed out, during the programme, the decline of “I must” compared to the rise of “I want.” Chart, though, the counter-intuitive progress of the word celebrity.

I wonder if one day an equivalent will appear for monitoring historical trends in music. What do you think the unit should be? Note? Chord? Voicing? And the method of input?

The use of the word music is interesting. It rose during WW2, peaking sharply around the late 1950s before falling sharply.

p.s. I suspect that neologism is not really a suitable term for a phrase, as opposed to a word. What should one use?

p.p.s I also realise that falling sharply is a musical contradiction – he said, voice rising flatly

What are conductors for?

What are conductors for? This is a question often asked by those outside the world of music – and sometimes by those in it.

In the following three videos, Semyon Bychkov explains very articulately the collaborative and personal business of preparing for performance. There are some very interesting examples of his forensic research and some interesting points about a subject dear to my heart – the connections between music and language.

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If I’m entirely honest, I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Bychkov until this morning when I heard him in a fascinating interview with Tom Service on approaching the music of Wagner – and the associated difficulties. A sucker for a nicely turned phrase, I noticed his gift for aphorism e.g. “in the end, the beauty of life is infinitely greater than the weaknesses of those who go through it.”

You can hear that interview here.

What is music for?

An interesting discussion topic, surely: today on Radio 3 at 12:15 and on listen again for 7 days.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vf567

The discussion takes place as part of Free Thinking – A Festival of Ideas 2010, the theme of which this year is, The Pursuit of Happiness.

An earlier discussion in the festival asked the question, is the book dead?

Free Will & Sight-Reading

Catching up with a podcast of Start The Week, I was delighted to be pointed in the direction of The Mysteries of the Brain – a series of programmes on BBC World Service by Professor Barry Smith.* In his discussions with Andrew Marr, he referred to experiments carried out by John-Dylan Haynes, which pointed to the illusory nature of free will. Volunteers were asked, repeatedly, to decided whether to press a button with their left or right hand while in an fMRI scanner. Evidence of brain activity, which enabled those reading output to predict with 100% accuracy which hand would be used, appeared up to 7 seconds before the volunteer was aware of their conscious choice. John-Dylan Haynes describes the situation as follows:

Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done.
I couldn’t help wondering what kind of activity would be produced by someone sight-reading this:
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I wonder if, one day, we’ll have much more of a handle on what helps us turn a skill, with which we are not born, into a learned reflex and of ways in which this can be done more effectively. Perhaps until then we’ll need to content ourselves with the following equation:
10,000 hours = expert

You can listen again to Professor Smith’s series here.
You can see John-Dylan Haynes lecture on this material here.

* I first came across Professor Smith in an excellent episode of In Our Time on Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Alpha & Omega

A bit of a diversion from music/teaching here, but fascinating nonetheless. I caught today’s episode of Radio 4’s Case Notes en route home today where I heard, for the first time, a clear explanation of why Omega 3 fats are essential for the brain – for learning, memory, concentration and behaviour; how evolution played its part in our requiring them; what, if anything, supplements can do for us once we are formed. This topic begins at 11:00 in the broadcast which you can find here.

Resonance

It’s funny how the occasional phrase has such a resonance that it immediately outgrows its context and makes you consider its application in your own life. Listening to Radio 4’s Case Notes en route home today, I heard the phrase (coined by Ajit Abraham of Royal London Hospital) “it’s only as good as the spirit in which it’s done.” What was being referred to were safety procedures in hospitals but immediately a raft of associations occurred to me about school life: practice; procedures; routine; curriculum; repertoire; rehearsal; performance….

Instrumental Instruction

Most people studying an instrument seriously at some point look into the evolution of their instrument: physics; ergonomics; manufacturing; technological innovation, national differences etc. Strangely, I’ve never once considered the origins, adaptations and alternatives to an instrument that millions of us use on a daily basis – the QWERTY keyboard.
Stephen Fry looks into the history here (2 days left to listen).
Here is an example of one of many rival systems featured in the programme. Interestingly, the notion of rhythm comes up, when a user of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard takes down some dictation.

Music Matters

Are you concerned about the future of classical music and the arts as the elections approaches and in the current climate? Why not listen to (or participate in) Saturday’s live phone-in on Radio 3’s Music Matters at 12:15? Emailed questions are also invited. The panel features Secretary of State for Culture, Ben Bradshaw, and his Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts, Ed Vaizey and Don Foster.