I have transferred my website from Typepad to WordPress so that I have a much better online home for all my projects, plus the research that I’m doing at the Royal Academy of Music.
It’s a bit of a mess right now but give it a few weeks and it’ll all make sense!
That was an unexpected hiatus in blogging! The past two months have actually been incredibly interesting, but I haven't been able to blog for a number of reasons.
Anyway, a new website is coming in the next week or two (just waiting for the first drafts back from the designer now). More very soon!
In the meantime, do check out the new website for FIFTH QUADRANT: http://www.fifthquadrantmusic.com/
I did a couple of outreach concerts for Live Music Now recently that were sponsored by the Musicians Benevolent Fund. We were sent to play for former professional musicians who were seriously ill and no longer able to function properly. Many of those musicians were suffering from dementia.
You might think that's somewhere between a busman's holiday and chinese torture for a former pro, but that could not be more wrong! When you're deprived of many of your faculties, music can often reach places that many other forms of communication can't, and if you're losing your personality and the sense of who you are, it can be one of the only ways of connecting meaningfully with other people.
Actor Simon Callow is just one of the people who has experienced this first hand, and he tells the story of his relationship with his terminally ill mother in this article in the Daily Mail. As you can see, live music makes a profound difference.
Live Music Now and the Musicians Benevolent Fund have launched an 'adopt a musician' scheme in response to the positive effect that music has on such sufferers. I hope you'll consider becoming a patron of their work – it's a great cause and one that I'm happy to be part of.
Remember, it comes to us all…
I've finally upgraded my blog. You can find it at http://simonhewittjones.typepad.com/
As soon as the posts from this old version of the blog have been merged into the new one, the new one will replace this old one at my main address, http://www.simonhewittjones.com/blog/ . That could take a week or two.
In the meantime, all new blog posts will be at the new one: http://simonhewittjones.typepad.com/
So we started the MusBook push last week. In all honesty, it's still slightly inadequate (but getting BETTER!), but we finally have the right people asking the right questions, which gives me more confidence than ever that at some point we'll find some of the right answers, and that by the end of the year it will be really quite respectable and exciting.
[I'm taking a month or two out to work on MusBook, and then will be back with another tour of Palestine in December - Autumn from Four Seasons (3rd of 4 year cycle!), then a full program of MP3s and concerts from January onwards. I'm also about to properly upgrade this blog.]
One luxury (necessity?) is that I'm getting to talk with – and more importantly to listen to – lots and lots of music people about what they need from digital media, and indeed how they suffer from digital media, either the lack or surfeit thereof!
A fundamental question, one of the ones that comes up most frequently, is the question of TIME .
We've barely scratched the surface of technical possibility, and yet we've already reached saturation point for each individual. We don't have any more hours in the day.
(I was worried that I hadn't blogged for a week, when I meant to be writing every two days. Yet the calendar says it's been two weeks! The time just got sucked away…)
I'm as passionate an advocate as anyone for the new possibilites that digital technology brings to human endeavours. But anything that keeps me from practicing the violin, frankly, is a nuisance (unless it's really really interesting!).
So why on earth am I involved in launching a social network for 'Classical' (etc.) music?
The best questions I think social media can ask are how to create new experiences, or improve existing experiences, by improving the connections between people. And it does this incredibly well, because the structure of a network means that it's not long before an infinite number of possibilities exists.
But how can you fulfil an infinite number of possibilities?
Well, obviously you can't. And many of us are dying trying!
The alternative – embracing ludditism – doesn't seem any better either. I can think of several people who have run away from Facebook in terror, or never 'given in' to joining it. But that doesn't seem sensible either – it's more like a repressive fear- or ignorance-based action to keep at bay a set of possibilities that are completely unpredictable. But it's totally understandable, and I have a lot of sympathy for people who have made that decision because they don't want to be overwhelmed.
In fact, that itself does highlight the problem: there is no way of handling an exponential increase in possibility when we don't have any increase in available time. Technology has caused this problem.
Technology also needs to solve this problem.
As well as providing us with extraordinary possibilities that we never could have dreamed of, technology also needs to a) tell us how many of those possibilities we should pursue and how, and b) pursue them for us as much as is feasible, thus limiting the actual number of actions that we need to do to make the most of the possibilities worth pursuing.
There is a balance point. But it's so individual, that it's probably impossible to reach. However, we can at least aspire to it through the technology that we use, and how that technology responds to us.
In the meantime, all we can do is triage .
Do you know people who tape the grand prix and avoid looking at the results, then get home and watch it in one go? I do. But they're significantly outnumbered.
There's something about knowing that something is happening right now that gives the possibility that, ultimately, anything could happen. I think that that knowledge makes something more exciting, and more engaging. It's a subtle difference, because if know that you're watching it not in real time, but still don't know what actually is about to happen, then anything can still appear to happen.
Yet, at the back of your mind, there's the thought that whatever has happened has already happened. Maybe it's my imagination? (Well, it is without a doubt my imagination, that's the point!.) But I think there is a noticeable difference in your state of awareness if you genuinely believe that something is happening in real time. I admit therefore that it is purely psychological. But I do think that there is a future of web broadcasting every bit as exciting as live TV of old, for this very reason. Either way, I'd love to hear from fans of live sports who have experienced a definite difference in the way they consume sports TV in real time to when viewing a retransmission or highlights programme.
Train of thought: I'm watching Matthew Barley live on the Plushmusic website . They're amazing and have webcast production really right, I think. Webcasting will be de rigeur in a year or two, mark my words. It's a massive part of the future of music.
I'm tremendously excited that Greg Sandow has reignited his book-to-be, 'The Future of Music'.
It's brave to birth a book in public, and he's been doing just that on his ArtsJournal blog. After a couple of (quite necessary) false starts, he's come up with a structure that is exciting a lot of people.
I'm excited, because it's potentially the first academic-yet-populist work that really gets to the heart of the post-1990s reality of the Classical Music tradition, in the same way that, say, Alex Ross really got to the heart of the contextual meaning of 20th Century classical traditions in The Rest is Noise.
Sandow has published the draft of the index here: http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2009/09/unveilng_the_book.html
And I will now proceed to replicate and rip it apart here
My comments in bold italics, addressed directly to the author…
I — The Crisis
Chapter I –Rebirth and Resistance
Classical music is changing. The changes can lead to its rebirth. One reason for change is the classical music crisis – the fear that classical music is receding from our culture, and that its audience might disappear.
Yes, and yes! But of course that fear of losing the traditions is a proxy for a fear of change. Because inherant value of traditions keeps them relevant, therefore they will survive even if they have to adapt. Should this be made clear from the beginning, or later on?
But there's resistance to change, and some people don't even believe that the crisis is real.
Though this becomes less true by the day, because reality bites fast.
Chapter II – Dire Data
Why the crisis is real.
Proof that the audience really is aging. How dramatically younger it used to be. How its aging signals a very large cultural shift.
This seems very USA-centric to me. The USA is only part of the picture, because it was especially susceptible to the age of the 'music-as-a-product' recording industry, which is now declining to levels which will be mostly irrelevant compared to the new free-at-point-of-use music economy.
Tangible evidence that this shift really happened. The decline in classical music ticket sales. Recent data from the National Endowment for the Arts, and how it shows that the classical music audience will almost certainly shrink.
See above. Have you researched Freemium (Chris Anderson), and considered how that might relate to the pre- and post- recording industry ecosystem?
Chapter III — Falling Behind (The Problem of Funding)
Why money for classical music will become harder to raise.
Classical music in what form? I can't wait to read this chapter
Chapter IV — Renegade Culture
The central problem — our changing culture. The world has changed, but classical music (mostly) hasn't. Which explains why people — of all ages — have lost interest in it.
The central problem?… or the central opportunity?!?! From whose perspective are you presenting this issue………….????????
Part II –The Nature of Classical Music
Chapter V — Defining Classical Music
What classical music really is, and why we should save it. Its great tradition.
Chapter VI — The Myth of Classical Music Superiority
Why classical music isn't better than music of other kinds. Why it's harmful to think that it is.
Too right. Hope the responses to the inevitable objections to this are watertight and comprehensive. I can't begin to imagine how to debate the quality of, say, a moderately boring 1700s European composer against a moderately boring late 20th Century indie rock band… glad you're writing this book not me…
Chapter VII — World Gone Wrong: The Failure of Classical Music
Why classical music – in the ways it's presented today – no longer makes sense. Why it functions now as a refuge from contemporary life.
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Did I say yes? Yes!
Part III — Alternatives
Chapter VIII — Pop Music and Popular Culture
Why popular culture is smart and valuable. What it can teach classical music. Why classical music has to coexist with it.
Yes again. But to what extent does the distinction need to exist? It's been useful up until now, but does that mean it will be useful in the future? How will people see musical genres in 20, 50, 100, 200 years' time?
Chapter IX — Classical Music in the Past
How classical music used to be freer, and more expressive. How this can inspire us now.
Totally. Does improvisation have a place in this chapter? It's a big and worthy subject, with many Classical links. How did people extemporize concerto cadenzas 300 years ago?
Part IV — The Rebirth of Classical Music
Chapter X — What Should We Do?
How classical music has already changed. Problems we still have to solve, and recommendations for further change.
Technology is the medium not the message. For a start, musicians should get a grip, stop moaning about 'having' to use the Interwebs, get used to the idea that spending a couple of hours a day using electronic media is not a bind, but an extraordinary privilege that allows for untold creative and communicative opportunites, then go and use the rest of the day to play music and to do some practice!
People should also learn how to use social media properly, recognize that the time they used to spend watching TV is increasingly being replaced by online interactions, and understand that a decade or so from now, we won't be thinking of 'offline' and 'online' in the same way as we do today… just that we'll all be participants in a world that in today's terminology could be described as an 'offline' world, enabled by 'online' technology. Internet everywhere, via Wimax technologies, interactive surfaces across every type of building, object, personal and public area, etc., will offer untold possibility to everyone.
Timelessly valuable performances, recordings and compositions will automatically retain a relevance. All the rest will sink in a morass of infinite information… much like most of our blog posts [side note - that's why books will never die!]
Chapter XI — Rebirth for Real
The future. What classical music might look like, after it reconnects with current culture, and becomes a truly contemporary art.
This could be really exciting… but how easy to predict?
But what's clear is that this change is enabled by technology. Which means it will probably happen much more quickly than people anticipate. Get this book out soon!
Also, somebody – somewhere, somehow – needs to start a full debate on the term 'Classical Music'. In the present ecosystem, it's a necessary and indispensible term, and therefore any attempt to replace it won't work. But once the entire nature of how Classical Music connects with contemporary culture changes, the true meaning of that term may need to be re-evaluated.
There are already a lot of great comments on Sandow's blog post that address some of the above, and music education is something that is also mentioned.
Critical to this whole issue is the upside-down teaching of music that goes on across the world almost everywhere; most often musicians who go into teaching as a secondary choice, and don't give it the committment and sense of responsibilty it deserves.
Music teaching at its worst is about drilling information into people about how to play, rather than nurturing creativity. It's yet another post-industrial response to a 20th Century problem. Again, I refer you to the legendary Ken Robinson video, which explains everything.
Really, Classical Music cannot be fixed until Music Education is fixed. Because the future of both is irrefutably intertwined.
Which also gets to the heart of why musical traditions are so important for society in our newly globalized world. And therefore why Classical Music NEEDS to change.