Saturday, 3 January 2015

I have a hankering to write, which is a good thing, because it's time to start thinking about the big "D" word: "Dissertation." Last year—a barren wasteland as far as blog posts go—I conquered "Comps" or "comprehensive exams." And yes, we do refer to it as the "C" word, from time to time.

I should have been delighted to finish the coursework part of my studies and plunge into dissertation-land, but apart from the basic exhaustion to be expected after absorbing information on 6 topics (actually 8, but I took a risk and abandoned two before reaching "expert" level), there was something about comps which took a while to get over, i.e., becoming so involved in something that I didn't have any time for myself.

Those of you with kids can stop snickering.

With music-making it's more comfortable: you try to become immersed in your rehearsal, concert, practice session etc. for concentrated stints. In comps preparation, you get the feeling that if you step back for a moment, you'll never recover your momentum. Thinking about stuff starts early in the morning and continues into the night, and any time not reading or reviewing is laced with anxiety. I think a lot of academics feel this way, and am glad I became a musician first. I find the idea of being enthralled by anything rather terrifying, and at least with music it comes with an end-time and a lot of dopamine along the way. After a resistance I did not imagine I possessed, I finally let myself get sucked into my comps for the last two and a half weeks or so, when I finally decided not to treat it as a loop I had to jump through, but as an immersion in the study of writings on music that actually, when I stepped back for a moment, I loved.

If the lack of posts over the past years missed documenting anything, it would have been the slow transition to accepting that I can be a scholar as well as a musician. There is still a lot of BS in academia—a lot of politics, navel-gazing, buzzwords, and sadly a lot of dashing to publish material when it is still too green to know how it may ripen—but there is also a lot of honest delight in scholarship. I am trying to remind myself that this is what has to carry me through—and to a certain extent it's working, I think.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Discovering Canada

Since I've moved back to Canada, It's been an absolute delight to explore my own country for a change. Here are some pictures from my North American travels of the last two years:

After so many trips to Scotland,
at last I went to Nova Scotia.
As you can see, the weather is
exactly the same.

This is in the Bay of Fundy. There be dragons.

Clams are very rich, and I cannot recommend
eating more than forty in one sitting.

Quebec and Ontario are too close to home
to be interesting in landscape,
but it has been a treat to rediscover them
from a "Terroir" perspective. Quebec cidre
is particularly good.

Ontario wine.

For the first time in ages I have
participated in my country's local 

I've seized a few opportunities to head south of the border. 
Here is Philly, with old and new very much side by side.

At last I made it here! 

Visiting friends from the Old World are an excellent excuse to head to Quebec City,
Canada's "see, we are old too."

Also a chance to introduce friends to the cultural baggage that is our bread and butter.

Ontario's beauty is small-scale.

No room in the family canoe,
but I was pretty happy to be the
odd one out (Georgian Bay).

Ontario also holds the gateway to Narnia, by the way.
Not telling where.
Let's play "find the lamppost."

The West Coast is over-the-top stunnery.
This is the ferry coming through
Action Pass at dusk.
The US border is everywhere
when you're Canadian.
Mount Baker looms in the US Cascades.

Impressive as a thousand year old church
is a thousand year old tree.



I always though "Crazy Canuck" was a ä
British term of endearment.
Only in Canada would we embrace it
to such a level.

British Columbia is gorgeous, and it knows it.

And this is home.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

100th Blog Post!

I mustn't let a year go by without posting on my blog, so here it is, and not a moment too soon.

It's been a chaotic and highly-themed year, the main theme being trying to find a balance between many different things. Music and academia are at the top of the list of crisis-inducing imbalances (my frustration with the latter are apparent in my last posts of 2011 I think), while being in a relationship now (a year already) after many years alone has been wonderful and quite new, but has of course taken time away from certain solitary activities like, say, blogging. Add to these daily chores, trying to stay fit and healthy, making and keeping friends, plotting world domination and having a few adventures and soon I wonder, Is there a time and place for everything?

Let's see. As it happens, now is not the time or place to blog, but that this post is here anyhow bodes well for my loyal followers. Let's see what the coming days bring...

In the meantime some pictures of the edgier side of Vienna, all from the last few days:

Molly in—Oh goodness, what a liberal toilet stall!
(at the famous Café Diglas)

The wonders of electrochromism.

This one scared me off completely.

Monday, 21 November 2011

In one week I'll be flying back to Europe again, and I hope very much that I'll be able to partake a little bit in the slower pace of life over there. I have no regrets about coming back to Canada, but the sheer volume of interesting, urgent projects which fill the same mental and chronological spaces here is astounding. The musicologyology class which featured in the last post has had a few ups, in particular an article by Rob Wegman, writing that just because we've identified our own narcissism in music research doesn't mean we should just abandon it altogether. Amen. Most of my margin notes were batmanesque onomatopoiea: "Pow!" and "Wham!" annotations whenever he wrote something that poked a hole in new musicology's self righteousness. The next few presentations involved music that could be heard, too. Which reminds me that I mustn't write too long as I have to prepare a presentation on Schubert's homosexuality. I'm slightly offended by the idea that someone's sexual orientation necessary changes the meaning of someone's music --which is excellent I suppose since I tend to absorb a lot more information once I've begun situating my position in relation to it.

My other work at McGill, on the SIMSSA project, has been more and more interesting as I get more involved. I'm slowly getting used to being called "our resident musicologist" too.

Now I'm preparing editions for Saturday's concert, which is a bit of a shocker as I thought it would take me 10 hours and I think it'll be more like 30. I always forget that being a little myopic and not liking page turns is a recipe for endless tinkering layout perfectionism. I've also made a little page on Facebook for La Rose des Vents to tide us over until I can organize a proper website, which has the interesting effect of making having just founded a band seem much more real.

Among the many headaches involved in getting this concert together has been working out which organ to use and in which tuning. Instead of the ideal 466 organ at meantone, we'll have a 415 organ in Valotti, which sounds out of tune to me (because it is) and means making lot of transposed parts with lots of sharps in them. After losing some hours of sleep to being riled up about this I was reminded by a friend that letting myself be offended was in this case not very productive.

I went to Kitchener a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of admiring my nephew and my newborn niece Audrey, which was lovely. I was very happy to see that the government has finally pumped nearly a billion dollars into improving passenger rail. Still not enough to give us high speed nor, it would appear, to upgrade the luggage carts in Toronto Union station from disused Victorian farm equipment:

At least they've replaced the horses

One thing that I love about being back in Montreal is the sheer quantity of sushi available. There is good sushi in Kitchener too, but with small children it was better and more fun to make it at home.

Liam about to tuck in

I got distracted this afternoon from edition making and started looking up the easter eggs hidden in software and operating systems - beware! If you click, don't get carried away. But if you're on OSX, do hold down ctrl+option+command and press 8...

Now I've practised too and am feeling quite lightheaded. Lots to do in the next week before I go again, so please pardon if this spot continues to be sparsely populated... once I'm in Vienna I hope I'll have a bit more time to write!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hermeneutics, Ontology, Post-Structuralist, Semiotic Tri-Partition, Invagination (!), Commodification, Cultural Hegemony... still there?

It's all just a little bit too much, if I may say. These are all topics we're dealing with in Proseminar in Musicology, or as I like to call it, Musicologyology. After complaining to some colleagues that it's all quite absurd ("in the existential or the dadaist sense?"), I realize now that Musicology is just insecure. It's trying to validate itself by situating itself in the domains of literary theory, sociology, and linguistics, taking all their big words.

I realized yesterday that my problem is that, taking a look at the above domains, I don't have any background in any of them. I presume that at one point this was taught in school, I must have been ill that day. So all the musicologyology articles which explore the transposition of their concepts - each with as many contentious meanings as syllables - onto music, I can understand the mapping going on but I don't understand the original concept. They are slowly being taught (actually very well, from a professor who deals very diplomatically with our ignorance), but I have to admit that I find it depressing to be learning these concepts in a music class. I'd much much rather take a literary theory class first where all these concepts are at home, and then have a few sessions on how concepts like "reification" get mapped onto musical discourse (whatever "discourse" is). By learning all these concepts in a music class, we're learning them with all the baggage of musicologists trying to negotiate the awkwardness of making them fit music. I've been leaving every class and going up to the harpsichord rooms to bang around until I feel like living again.

I don't mind that musicological discourse exists on this level, of course people should get embroiled in clever philosophical discussions. What I don't like is that it so easily slips into being antimusical. There was a presentation this week on three articles pertaining to a short Chopin prelude. The presenter managed to talk for about half an hour about three views on this piece, while never once letting the class listen to it, despite every kind of audio-visual device being present in the room. She did affix a one-page photocopy to the back of the handout, though, cementing an implicit message that in the context of this class, music is like children: to be seen and not heard. But music can't be read off a page like a book, and even if I can imagine a great deal of what notated music sounds like (do I dare admit when I can't?) my physical and intuitive reactions are just as valid as anything I might be able to analyze visually, and I'm upset when they're brushed aside and ignored.

It was early in my university career that I figured out that I wasn't going to make it as a professional musician unless I let go of being cerebral all the time and gave some clout to my intuition too. A scary concept back then, and it still is, because it means not being a control freak about the passage of every moment in time. As David McGuinness once helpfully reminded me, we can't dictate everything that's going to happen in performance, the only thing we can guarantee is that Something will happen. This kind of letting go seems a rather obvious pre-requisite to performing, but I think that for academic study it's just as necessary. And just as scary. After all, you can control the words and notes that someone reads, but once you let people listen to music and intuit a response, you lose control over what is going through their heads. In jargon you'd say you're letting your audience collect its own empirical data, which is necessarily different from yours. (But I do like "you lose control over what is going through their head" better.) It's not necessary to have that level of control, fortunately. A musical analysis is about teaching new ways of listening and understanding, and its success is not dependent at all on whether it's the best possible way (though perhaps it was in Theodor Adorno's time) but on whether it could be convincing to someone, that is to say, if it wins its audience over by presenting an idea in such a way that it rings true with what their intuition tells them. (All a question of hermeneutics - someone make it stop). It means that the presenter should have played a recording of the piece in order to awake my intuition and bring it into the conversation. By not doing that she had no hope of winning me over to any single one of the points of view she was presenting.

Fortunately this quote of Albert Einstein is all over Facebook this week to show me I'm not alone in my desire for intuition to be granted validity:

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

(You can decide for yourself if the fallacy of an authoritative appeal makes any difference for you in the force or validity of the statement.)

I apologize profusely for the degree of jargon that has gone into this blog post. I hope it convinces you at least that I'll be an effective spy, infiltrating academia, learning their language if anything in order to stand up convincingly for music to be both seen AND heard. After all, as Frank Zappa said, Music is the Best.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

This is a post about why I haven't been blogging. That is, by the time I'm done telling you, you'll know all the things that have been going on to prevent me from curling up on my cozy couch and telling you before.

I think I left off in the middle of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra tour. It got better and better even as it was extremely grueling. Our 3-hour bus rides in Romania turned into 6-hour bus rides, but I got to get to know some nice people and got a lot of work done besides so I can't complain too much. Early in the tour, Claire said she found herself less nervous when she stopped looking at the music during the Tuba Mirum solo and just looked at the conductor. I started experimenting with this idea on my own: revelation. The more I looked up from my music, the more fun I had, the more I trusted myself, the more musical I was, the more I reacted to what was going on around me. And most of all, the less room there was for negative self-talk and nerves. Of course it helped a lot that there wasn't a millisecond that Ton Koopman (the most obvious person to look at at the time) wasn't completely engaged in the music, and his enthusiasm for it was extremely contagious. I left the tour in a very good mood indeed.

The last night, the bars of Timisoara had closed, so to continue our post-tour festivities we all brought down the contents of our mini bars and enjoyed a nightcap.

What can I get you?

On the way home, I met up with Ann Allen in Heathrow Terminal 3, and we enjoyed my traditional Heathrow sushi together before boarding a plane to Montreal. Ann was coming for the first concert ever of my new band, La Rose des Vents (who will have a website, um, soon). We played as the invited guests of one of Montreal's professional choirs, VivaVoce, in a programme called "Dinner with the Dukes of Bavaria," in a 16th-century wind band setup much like I Fedeli. In fact, thanks to Ann, we were 1/3 I Fedeli. The concert went rather well, if I may say, and we're looking forward to working with them again.

The next week was a mix of hanging out with Ann, who had become successfully enamoured of Montreal (what's not to like?), and being jolted back into the real world of, oh yeah, doing a Ph.D. While I tend to absorb information if it's taken in at a good time (i.e. mornings), I'm a pretty slow reader, which means that the 150 or so pages of dense musicology per week take me ages to get through. Thank goodness for twitter. Just as things were getting bad (Bourdieu's "structured structures" and "structuring structures, are" as David McGuinness replied, "a crime against language and clarity of thought"), I stumbled across @YourMomAdorno, which takes quotes of musicology's champion of privileged pedantry, Theodor Adorno, and replaces "music" with "your mom." "Your mom has abolished the rubbish of former times by imposing her own perfection, by prohibiting and domesticating dilettantism." That's better.

Just the reading would be ok, I think, now that I have a printer and don't have to read the scanned articles from the screen and go blind in three weeks. But I also have a research assistantship which I must admit to being in denial about. Don't get me wrong, it's a very cool project indeed, teaching computers to read early notation, and we have a very beautiful manuscript to work with, it's just time that would otherwise go into nesting in my lovely new apartment, so I'm in denial. Part of my duties includes blogging about the project, so one of the reasons I haven't been blogging here is that I've been paid to blog there. What a sell-out. It's not nearly as therapeutic if that makes it any better.

Besides reading and getting my feet wet in the music technology lab, there was a little bit of time to explore Montreal with Ann. Among other activities, we went to the Jean-Talon market, and you wouldn't know that it's supposed to be a bad year for pumpkins.


I've been back to my puffball spot a couple of times to find that while my three mycelia (mushroom "plants") are indeed producing, whoever is in charge of mowing the lawn of the baseball field they're on is a bit too keen. Very sad indeed. On a semi-failed attempt (I brought back two wee puffballs), I did see traces of a fairy-ring, which was cheering.

On Thursday, Ann and I boarded a plane back to England, where we and other friends attended the wedding of Gawain Glenton and Kirsty Whatley. Having spent all possible gift money on my plane ticket, I wrote them a 5-part canzona on a very silly theme that Alex Potter had come up with years before and we played it before the party got going.

The day after the wedding I went food shopping with Josué so that we could use the kitchen and big dining table of our lovely Updown Cottage in Shaftesbury and it wasn't until I'd got home with the ingredients for pumpkin pie that I realized it was Thanksgiving. Strategic loveliness followed: after a pub lunch and a ramble through the countryside, we drank real ale, cooked up lamb roast and had ourselves a feast, followed by pumpkin pie and Highland Park in front of an open fire.

Now I'm back in Montreal again, which brings me to the third reason I've not been writing as much: it feels like home here. Starting this blog was something I did when I moved to England last May to keep a sense of stability in my life, and it worked very well. Now I'm finally in a place that feels like home again, which takes over that function even better. I will continue to write of course, but it feels like a luxury now, and not a necessity to keeping me sane the way it did last year.

I've run out of pictures because after dropping in Susie Napper's her last night and having a cup of tea once again in her kitchen, I left my camera on her counter. Which is fine by me - it gives me an excellent excuse to go back again today!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Another travel log, not because I don't have any ideas about music, but because I'm too tired to do anything but post pictures at the moment. Despite hearing Dutch all around me and almost getting hit by myriad bicycles, I remained in denial about being in Holland until breakfast, when I saw this, and suddently it clicked:

Our concerts have gone well so far, it was a pleasure to play in the fine acoustic and happy atmosphere here:


The next morning we headed by bus to Schiphol, plane to Milan, and bus to Bolzano - 11 hours from door to door! We had half an hour at the hotel, where a happy but distinctly untrue message was writ on the walls of each floor. This was mine:

 Just not true 

The theatre had a dry acoustic, but at least a full foliage rendition of Frank Zappa's face outside:

The unmistakable beard of a certain mother

Yesterday, the bus showed up late, drove 90 in the 100 zone, hadn't arranged to pay the toll at the Swiss border, and wandered about Locarno looking for the hotel, turning a 5-hour ride into more than a 6 hour one. As this cut our hotel time to under 90 mins, we were not impressed, but our awesome tour manager called the bus company and gave them an earful while we were lost in Locarno, which was thereapeutic for all within earshot.

That's all for now as the flight to Romania is boarding!

View from Hotel Window, Locarno