Tag Archives: John Connell

Leonard Bernstein

A post of John Connell‘s some time ago about polymaths encouraged me to wonder if I regarded anyone in such a light. I immediately thought of pianist, conductor, composer, linguist, educator, broadcaster Leonard Bernstein. Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon his appearance in Radio 4’s biographical programme Great Lives. He’d been chosen as this week’s subject by Charles Hazlewood – in many ways a similar character – who, within a few moments, described Bernstein as a polymath!

If you are interested in connections between music and language, I can think of no better place to explore than Bernstein’s Norton Lectures.

You can hear the programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010626p.

Generation Gap

If increased understanding is facilitated by coming across the same idea(s) in contrasting contexts then the old have an advantage over the young in simply having come across more contexts. Another advantage is gaining time for these contexts through needing less sleep. I found myself up earlier than reasonable today and decided to catch up with a burgeoning archive of radio recordings. By an amazing coincidence, one of these was a Night Waves special from the Free Thinking Festival on the increasing gap between the generations. The introductory statistics gave pause for thought:

  • half of Britons questioned by Barnardos held the view that our young people are “feral and dangerous creatures.” I had come across this recently thanks to Derek Robertson (via John Connell)

  • 1/3 of young rarely people spend time with adult relations but 90% of those who do report that they enjoy it

This prompted a leap of the mind to something I read yesterday on Neurons Firing. The post in question contained the following sentence:

Kosik also pointed out some very salient features to keep in mind. Perhaps the most protective factor against Alzheimer’s is having friends, social networks, and being connected.”

In conjunction with the above points, the solution for all ages seems obvious – the implementation, less so.


I suspect that many readers of blogs are also writers of blogs. That could explain why John Connell’s post on English usage and pedantry attracted so much attention – apart from the obvious quality of the writing, of course. I would imagine that most people would like to believe that they can write English proper when required, but stop short of the zealous, Canutesque protectionism to which we refer affectionately as pedantry.

If you remain unsure of your status as a grammarian, why not try Broadcasting House‘s short Grammar Quiz. The correct answers will appear on this Sunday’s programme (Sunday 30th November). As for the pedantry – you’ll have to ask your friends.

May I offer this little warm-up question?

Insert apostrophes, where required, in this sentence:

Is is indicative of Englands medias attitude, to air the answers to Broadcasting Houses quiz on English grammars trickiness on St. Andrews day?

Seasick Steve

The appeal of music can take many forms depending on the circumstances of the listener, the moment and the music itself. Variously, music can satisfy on a a cerebral level; dazzle with technique; surprise through invention and originality; envelope us in its serenity; rejuvenate with its energy etc.

There are two genres which (and this is purely a personal opinion) always feel as though they enter through the gut as opposed to the ears – traditional music (of whatever country) and blues. Some might argue that blues is a subset of traditional music. The appeal of both seems to be as instant as it is ubiquitous. Borders melt away. I have particularly fond memories, for example, of ceilidhs in the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh where Antipodeans, Scandinavians, Latin Americans, Arabs and Scots all Stripped The Willow like family.

The same feels true of blues and I experienced the freshness of this last night at a long sold-out gig in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh by Seasick Steve. Biographical details are sketchy and, in our myth-making media age, this vacuum can quickly be filled with legend. For what it’s worth, it felt completely authentic to me. Allegedly 66 years of age, this breakthrough performer energised a jubilant audience – some of whom were ¼ of his age. This is unusual as, thanks to the rarity of the extended family, the generations tend to keep to themselves.

I first heard of Seasick Steve from a pupil (1/3 of my age) – one of the perks of the job. If you have not yet come across his music, there are a couple of videos on his website which will give you some idea of the flavour.

One of my favourite bloggers, John Connell, writes impressively here on authenticity in music.


The Write Stuff

Imagine if there were a University of Your Favourite Stuff in your street and you walked past it for weeks without noticing it. That’s how I felt when I finally stumbled upon the Guardian’s huge series, How To Write. In all there are 62 articles offering advice from writers of every imaginable genre.

I think it’s a sign of confidence when people give away advice on their trade, in a limited marketplace. That’s why I was particularly impressed with Writing Sketches by Richard Herring, David Mitchell & Robert Webb and Honing a Joke by Richard Herring. This latter one, and it’s insistence of mastery of language, struck me as particularly relevant to recent thoughts, as I’ve been captivated to the point of a couple of thousand words of participation in a debate on literacy, in the widest sense, on John Connell’s excellent blog.

Other interesting pieces in this Guardian series include Wendy Cope on poetry, Simon Jenkins on journalism and Ronald Harwood on stage and screenplay.