Tag Archives: Music Matters

Radio Links

What will the fate of classical music (and the arts in general) if Scotland becomes an independent nation? There is a short discussion on the topic at 1:30 of this edition of Radio 3’s Music Matters. I wouldn’t describe it as conclusive, but it does get the topic on air and shows that, already, there are some entrenched positions – including intended emigration in the event of independence.

What does the idea of key in music mean to you? Do you think keys have identifying colours? Ivan Hewett (Telegraph music critic) explores the business of keys in the first of a new series of Key Matters. Here, in episode 1 of 5, he concentrates on A major. There is also a short article about the programme here.

The story behind the song – interesting account of the late Gerry Rafferty’s massive 1978 hit, Baker Street. I met Hugh Burns (of the iconic guitar solo) a couple of times and he is every bit the gentleman he comes across as in this programme.

Deferred Gratification

A piano piece by Brahms received its premier 158 years after its composition. Albumblatt (sheet from an album) was discovered by musicologist, Christopher Hogwood in Göttingen, Germany. It was tucked in the pages of a guest book which also contained signature fragments of other composers. Leaving a complete piece was exceptional. Like many composers, Brahms was a recycler and the theme also appears in his Horn Trio.

András Schiff performed the piece on Radio 3’s Music Matters on Saturday. I was merely going to provide a link to the radio programme on iPlayer when I chanced upon this far more visually exciting presentation by David Allen on his blog.

p.s. Christopher Hogwood came to the then Huddersfield Polytechnic to give a talk on early music when I was in First Year (1979/80). I’d been asked to wait outside the entrance to the hall to direct any visitors uncertain of where exactly to go. Along strolled a very relaxed man, casually dressed in the kind of rainbow jumpers which were all the rage at the time. He looked through the glass into the hall and said cheerfully, “not a bad crowd.” He then wandered off and, a few moments later, was introduced to us as Christopher Hogwood – a natural communicator and a fantastic player.

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.

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.

Music Matters

Increasingly, differences between some aspects of the real and virtual worlds feel virtually negligible – with one notable exception. Walking past the bookshelves in the hall, my eye is frequently caught by the spines of books I hope soon to read or re-read. Undeservedly neglected blogs seem to reach out less and I often return to one to find a treasure trove of fascinating reading/watching/listening/testing matter. One such is Music Matters* – a music cognition blog put together by Henkjan Honing of the University of Amsterdam.

This morning’s visit threw up the following topics:

How well would you do as an expert?

Can music cognition save your life?

Gene for music?

Although apparently published last week, this study was thrown my way by Hilery Williams last term!

Can you point at it?

Is beat induction special? (Part 5)

Does rhythm make our bodies move?

Infant-direct speech

* somewhat confusingly, this is also the name of weekly podcast in my feed-reader from the Radio 3 programme of the same name.


Music Matters

The title of this post comes not, as you might imagine from a stirring manifesto, but from a radio programme of the same name. Music Matters, which goes out on Radio 3 at 12:15 on a Saturday, is a magazine programme. Tomorrow’s sole theme is music education. Below is the content of the email newsletter which, if you are involved in education as pupil, parent, teacher, manager or concerned citizen, might encourage you to listen in or catch up on iPlayer. (the emboldening is my own).

We’ve a special edition this week: Music Matters is at MusicLearningLive!2009, the national festival of music education. We put together a panel of key policy makers and thinkers – National Music Participation Director, Dick Hallam, Katherine Zeserson, Director of Learning and Participation at The Sage Gateshead, Christina Coker, Chief Executive of Youth Music, Richard Morrison of The Times, and cellist and educator Zoë Martlew – to debate the present and future of music education, from primary school to conservatoire, in Britain. And there is no better place to chew over the issues than on stage in the theatre of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, with contributions from festival delegates.

There is a lot to discuss: the government’s £332 million settlement for music education, announced at the end of 2007, is being rolled out across the country, and there are schemes and enterprises galore: Wider Opportunities, the Music Manifesto, and most visibly, Sing Up, a £40 million scheme that aims to have every child in primary education involved in singing before 2012. So everything looks good, right? Well, no: there are looming crises in music education, revealed in two recent reports on primary education from the government’s own inspectorate, Ofsted, and in an independent Cambridge review, both published last month. Their conclusions are strikingly similar: teachers are dispirited by having to reach targets and get kids through exams, with the twin behemoths of numeracy and literacy objectives squeezing everything else out of the classroom. The arts and humanities are suffering, and music in particular.


And that means children aren’t getting the rounded education they should be, despite the fact that there’s a statutory requirement for schoolchildren to have regular access to music lessons until they’re 14. The irony is that, by marginalising music, schools are missing a trick: there’s overwhelming evidence that children who do receive music education are more likely to do better in Maths and English. There was real evidence of this at the RNCM from Abbott Community Primary School, one of many ‘Singing Schools’ in the Manchester area which use music throughout the curriculum: the kids sang songs about fractions, times tables, parsing words into syllables, even an ironic lyric on SATs, showing how music can help achieve those apparently all-important targets.


But that’s not the real point of music in schools. Music is important because it’s music, not just because it can help achieve academic or social outcomes The question is, what happens when children with talent come through the system? How are they supported once they get to secondary school? Is there any hope for a gifted child to progress in music, who isn’t lucky enough to have parents rich enough to afford instruments or expensive private lessons? The panel, with questions from the audience, reveal their hopes and fears for secondary schools and what they think will happen after 2011, when the £332 million has been spent. All that, and we discuss what students can expect as they emerge blinking from the hothouse of a conservatoire education into the harsh world of trying to make it as a professional musician; why teachers need more training in music education, the significance of projects like the Scottish and English versions of Venezuela’s El Sistema, and orchestral outreach work. Also, why western notation matters, even if you can get a GCSE without being able to read music. I’m not saying we come up with the answers, but there’s fuel for more debate, and real passion about why music, er, matters. Enjoy! As always, 12.15 tomorrow.

Score and Pärt’s

Members of the public rarely see the orchestral score of a symphony – certainly not before its premier. In what must be a first, Universal Edition have published an e-score of Symphony No. 4 by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, which receives its premier by the LA Philharmonic next month.

The score contains no audio facility and is tricky to navigate but that is to look a gift horse in the mouth. To see on e-paper the inner-workings of the distinctive sound of Pärt’s music feels like some kind of privilege.

Chasing the links for this post turned into a joyous example of what I earlier referred to as pinball reading. I first came across the story on the blog of Alex Ross – winner of the Guardian First Book Award for The Rest Is Noise. He rightly cites Tom Service of Radio 3’s Music Matters as his source. In my search for a link to the LA Philharmonic I came across this 13-minute video from CBS News (the only news site to advertise Viagra??) on the orchestra’s new conductor Gustavo Dudamel. In the film he describes his gratitude for El Sistema in which he was tutored, along with plans for a similar programme in LA.  Will El Sistema continue to grow beyond Caracas, Los Angeles & Stirling?


Something in the air?

I’m in the midst of revisiting and transcribing mp3 recordings I made at last Saturday’s fantastic event – Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind at the Wellcome Collection . I switched on my computer to pursue this task and noticed an email newsletter from Radio 3’s Music Matters. Once again the music and the brain is the topic. The programme goes out at 12:15 tomorrow (Saturday 15 Nov) and will be available in podcast and listen again formats for 7 days. Here’s the description of the content from the email:

It’s not every week that someone rubs an egg-like solution to your scalp, plugs you into a handful of electrodes, and reads your brainwaves. But in the name of research, that’s exactly what’s been happening to me this week. The whole programme this week looks at the science, psychology, and creativity of the relationship between music and our brains. That’s why I found myself at Goldsmith’s College in London with Mick Grierson. Mick has designed a piece of software that allows you to make music just from the power of your thought waves. It’s the most amazing feeling when it works: how I imagine telekinesis would feel. Mick performs in public with his musical mind-trick; even if my brain isn’t quite up to that yet, it was an astonishing experience.

But it’s not just experimental electronics: I’ll be finding out that the simplest and most instinctive of our reactions to music are also the ones that are the hardest for neuroscience to fathom. Just how is it that we experience emotion through music? Why is it that so music seems to involve so much of our minds and our bodies; our feet tapping, hearts beating, and millions of neurons firing in our brains? In the company of Ian Cross, Director of the Centre for Music and Science at the University of Cambridge, I’ll be exploring the gamut of neurological and musico-scientific enquiry.

From Edinburgh, Professor Colwyn Trevarthen tells me how we are all born with an innate ‘communicative musicality’; that even in the interactions between weeks-old babies and their mothers, there is musical activity as sophisticated as improvised jazz, which is crucial for the development of our brains and our bodies. Composer Nigel Osborne explains how music can heal trauma, in his work with traumatised children around the world, and there’s the latest from research into music and emotion from Stefan Koelsch. Violinist and music and medicine specialist Paul Robertson tells me how his brain is hard-wired for music – and neurologist and author Oliver Sacks reveals that musicians’ brains literally look different to those of non-musicians: musical practice develops the brain, physically, in ways that no other discipline does.

Yet it seems that however far we go down the path of scientific enquiry, there will always be limits. We know that we feel emotion when we listen to music, and we know that music activates so many of our neural networks, but the mechanics of how and why that happens are still a mystery.

Sound promising?