Monday, 25 June 2012

Making, playing, listening to and hearing music...

In the opening chapters of Professor Jeremy Begbie's authoritative book on Music and Theology entitled 'Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music ' the author makes the distinction between music making and music hearing (p40). Whilst that may seem obvious, he then goes on to expand this further (pp 41-46) by initially pointing out that there may be a prior stage, composition, to the essential elements of performance (making) and listening (hearing). However, let's look at two additional discussions which have expanded the making and hearing aspects of music in line with Professor Begbie's theses.

Bruce Springsteen – playing versus making music:

On his We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions / American Land Edition [CD+DVD] Bruce identifies the difference between performers who simply play music and those that make music together. As the interview progresses it is clear he is referring to the way some players are not content to just interpret a music score (or chord / tab chart) but have the inherent gift to gel together with their fellow musicians such that a new plane is reached where communication is instinctive rather than reactive. The group of players effectively become one and feel the groove enabling co-ordinated variations and improvisations with no pre-meditation.

Historically it is clear when either musical conventions are challenged or there is an 'ethnic' re-imagination then substantial musical developments occur. In relatively recent times we have seen the advent of Jazz, the worldwide success of songwriting bands spearheaded by The Beatles and the Punk explosion. Equally the international popularity of Reggae and Gospel Music on one hand and the UK folk music's crossover into the mainstream with groups such as The Fishermen Friends with their repertoire of traditional shanties. There is a potential division between classical and popular music performers that disappears when they have both the grace and desire to side step such differences. This can achieve a performance and response that transcend any where the artiste could have chosen to stay either entrenched or simply played safe. This was a revelation to cellist and composer Philip Sheppard when working with the late Jeff Buckley which I explored in this post. Clearly there are a vast number of additional parameters that come into play; social, geographical and chronological and this gives more to discuss and unpack to move toward a less generalised explanation of the above.

Nick Coleman– listening versus hearing music:

This former NME journalist and music lover's entertaining yet deeply moving memoir, The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss , describes how his world was changed forever when he was diagnosed as having the condition Sudden Neurosensory Hearing Loss, a combination of partial deafness combined with thunderous tinnitus. He effectively has to re-learn how to hear and for some time during his recovery it is his encyclopaedic knowledge of pop, rock and classical music that sustains him as he psychologically engineers a way to replay his record collection from memory. It is only when he realises that he needs to learn how to listen to what music is saying to him that a sense of hearing is partially restored, albeit accompanied by great physical pain and discomfort. So he concludes that he has to develop a new way to listen, one that is active rather than passive.

If I may suggest:

This provides a clue as to why listening and hearing are different. For example, one method I employ when trying to check something subtle but potentially troubling during a recording session is to play the piece back whilst making a cuppa when I'm not in full close up, focus mode. This synthesises the moment someone hears your work for the first time and corrections can then be effected if there is, indeed, actually an issue anyway. In a similar way there are songs that stand out on the radio as we are driving along, at times I've even stopped the car to catch who the artiste is (so annoying when the presenter doesn't say?!). My proposition is that is an example of when a piece 'speaks' to us, provoking us from a hearing only to a listening intently mode. This endorses what Coleman concludes, that hearing is passive whilst listening is deliberately active.

It is therefore safe to propose that the more acute hearing of most musicians enables them to listen better than someone less musically gifted, and, when playing in an ensemble, engages that ability to promote those special moments of making transcendent music together.


Friday, 22 June 2012

Crowdfunding classical combo ColdPlay cover...

Have recently stumbled across this extraordinary duo, The Piano Guys, a virtuoso pianist, Jon Schmidt, and cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, playing inventive cover versions and original material. For this project they enrolled charismatic singer Alex Boye who translates the song into Swahili, English, Yoruba (his mother's native language), and his own African "scat". So the original title of ColdPlay's Paradise became 'Peponi' in this brilliant and adventurous cover.

The Piano Guys are inviting folk to join a 'Founder's Club' to help them produce more music and videos... check it out!


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bruce Springsteen from boy to Soul and Spirit...

An insightful (and rare) interview with 'The Boss', who talks about the influence of his childhood house and Catholic upbringing in relation to his brilliant Wrecking Ball album. For Apple viewers here's some text but video may still be Flash :-(

P h/t Martyn Joseph

Monday, 11 June 2012

Fathoming Francis... Savvy Saint

My attention was first drawn to Ian Morgan Cron's (IMC) literary output when the Greenbelt highlighted a review he had made about the 2010 Festival which I blogged about here. Subsequently his 'memoir of sorts' Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me was praised by friends such as Maggi Dawn and Martin Wroe so I felt compelled to purchase, despite the J word in the title! To say I enjoyed it is an understatement, it was one of my top reads last year and one I heartily recommend. I was also aware of IMC's earlier book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale, a novel about a pastor of an evangelical 'megachurch' in New England who struggles with a crisis of faith, so when given the opportunity to review it I was delighted.

The book is prefaced with a firmly worded disclaimer that Chase Falson is not IMC in disguise... Ha, I expect I will not be the only one determined to find cracks in that defence! It then opens with Chase arriving in Italy to visit his Uncle Kenny after bucking the trend in church by saying what he really thinks and, as an outcome, being given an immediate sabbatical by the church elders (the Sanhedrin?!). The key characters in the church are introduced before the action happens as Chase is 'nudged' to call this enigmatic Uncle, a Franciscan monk / priest, who has persuaded Chase to drop everything and fly to Europe forthwith.

What then ensues is somewhat of a whirlwind exploration of both the physical church connections and the theology of Saint Francis of Assisi in the company of a bunch of lairy guys who are able to impart wisdom through both their love and behaviour. So our erstwhile pastor is thrown into a bewildering world of relatively orthodox Roman Catholic rituals and edifices in the company of these 'disciples' as they unpack the history of St. Francis. As a result Chase starts to write his journal entries directly to St. Francis, another literary medium to impart some deeply personal thoughts about his pilgrimage. There are some notable counterpoints, too, as St. Francis' advanced thinking is explored, for example, I couldn't help notice the narrative as red wine was poured into plastic cups whilst simultaneously discussing how St. Francis was effectively the first Christian enviromentalist. Furthermore, during one of the services of Mass there are disctinct similarities between the young IMC and the adult Chase. Ian, you've been sussed!

Now, just as I was starting to get a little uncomfortable thinking that the answer to all my spiritual quests could only be answered by attending Mass and/or church even more, half way through the book Chase is on his own and lands up encountering Carla, a gifted and beautiful cellist. Subsequently they share a meal with a top notch musicologist who has a major effect on them both.

From then on I was hooked. Ok, music may be home territory for me, but I found myself reflecting that perhaps, as a reader, I need to cover all the same ground as Chase, to be a pilgrim too? From then on I found myself reading purposefully, allowing myself to be absorbed as even more stunning surprises were revealed before the build up to the challenging conclusion, which is neither one of received wisdom or what you might expect. This is then developed in greater detail in the excellent and comprehensive study guide included as an appendix.

Interestingly his two books appear to be directed at different audiences. Chasing Francis is much more of a book for a Christian, churchy type whilst I could certainly give Jesus, My Father, The CIA and me to anyone, regardless of their faith journey or affiliation. As a UK citizen who just has to drive across this country to experience the relatively radical teaching that forms the core of the Greenbelt Festival ethos, I feel much of the theology in Chasing Francis was comforting rather than revolutionary. However, I equally found that an important aspect of this book is the encouragement and endorsement it provides, particularly concerning the arts and, for me, music. One minor warning for non North Amercian readers is some of the language and acronyms may remain a total mystery! IMC's later book translates better in that respect.

Readers will really appreciate IMC's turn of phrase, he has a enchanting writing style that makes this book very enjoyable and, as I said earlier, a great encouragement. More significant are the layers in the narrative that give the reader the opportunity to mine the text for interpretations that match their current condition, which migrates this work from purely fiction. IMC refers to this as 'wisdom literature' in the introduction, an apposite description. And what's really intriguing is the loose ends with many of the characters, roll on the sequel...!

Ian Morgan Cron is one of the speakers this year at Greenbelt 2012


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Jubilate everybody...

This is the incredible Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu who stole everyone's hearts when featured in Gary 'Take That' Barlow's documentary programme about the creation of the rather splendid 'Sing', a Commonwealth anthem for the Diamond Jubilee...