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Monday, April 24, 2017

On participatory presenting

One of the connections music may make is a connection to time. To the past, to the future. And to the present. When I developed a little model of the functions of music, I called the connection to time 'presenting'. Just a little pun, with a little truth in it.

But now, I want to talk about this other form of presenting: standing in front of an audience and present something you think might be meaningful to that audience. I do that a lot, these days. Tomorrow morning I have to present something called a 'keynote' at the Research in Music Education RIME conference in Bath, UK. I am looking forward to it. I have more time than the usual 20 minutes to explain what keeps me busy: music education and 'idioculturality'. I will try to give a sort of synthesis of the many little building blocks I have been working on those past five years, and hope it works - hope it may be useful and meaningful to the people who come to listen to me. (The doubt about whether I will succeed in being meaningful is part of the package, I know by now.)

Tomorrow morning will be quite a contrast with another experience in 'presenting', two weeks ago. I was asked to tell something about my past research on the functions of music as well as on my present research on a Dutch shanty choir. The context: a music project lasting a few days in which secondary school pupils aged approximately 12-16 years were working on a piece of music inspired by the Mozart Requiem, to be presented at the 4th of May, our national commemoration day.

The project was led by a very energetic workshop leader who knew her business well. I attended  a whole morning and saw her and the pupils at work - and myself, as I joined groups in dances, songs and stories. At some point the workshop leader invited me to tell something about my work. So I sat down on the floor and started talking. I had not prepared a story or a text (unlike tomorrow, when I will actually read the keynote) because I wanted to be flexible. So I began, and then a nice form of interaction started happenening.

Rather than letting me speak for 20 or 30 minutes, after a couple of minutes the workshop leader took over. "You just heard what he said?", she asked the pupils. "Tell me, what does this mean to you?" She turned to one pupil, then another, then another. Then she sent them away for ten minutes in groups to work on their  thoughts in a musical way: "Use the key words and come back with a little piece of music which includes movements connected to the words." They came back, presented, we sat down again, I talked a bit, the workshop leader took over again, et cetera.

I loved this way of working. I wish I could do more 'participatory presentations' like this, in a duo, combining listening, talking, thinking as well as 'musicking'. Don't get me wrong: I also love telling long stories such as the keynote tomorrow, and maybe the concept of the partcipatory presentation could be a bit out of style at a research conference. But the paticipatory presentation format, and especially the duo work involved in it, was really great.

I write 'especially the duo work' because that is what I mean. I could do a participatory presentation on my own - I sometimes do it, more or less. But working in the combination of the researcher and the workshop leader, each bringing in their specialty and improvising something that is 'just right', felt really special.

By the way - the workshop leader is called Hannah Conway. Check out hannahconway.co.uk. Hire her - she's great!

Hannah: thanks - looking forward to our next meeting!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ridiculous question

Recently, the national education authority (‘onderwijsinspectie’) assessed the level of arts education in the Netherlands. I am not going to say anything about their findings, apart from the fact that they were not very positive. What I do want to say samething about, however, is how the national education authority thinks it can assess the level of arts education.

Children were asked, in the ‘knowledge assessment’, subtheme ‘own valuation’, the following question after hearing an unspecified music example (C.P.E. Bach? Martin Garrix?):

“Which word fits the music fragment?
a. solemn
b. rough
c. calm
d. boring
e. gloomy
f. cool
g. wild
h. happy
i. another word:
j. I don’t know
Why does this word fit the music fragment?”

The national education authority report has been criticized by many for various reasons. For example, methodological questions were asked about how they compare the findings of this report with the ones of the last report, dating 10 years back.

Those questions were all good and fine. But there is another question which seems more important to me. It has to do with the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’  of arts education, not with the ‘hows’ – with those questions we usually tend to forget because we are interested more in measuring the mechanics of didactics than in pondering the philosophies of pedagogics.

The question is: what on earth makes us think that by asking those kind of questions we can really say something about the ‘level’ of arts education? What exactly does the authority think ‘level’ is, or even 'education'? What does this tell us about the ways we - our society - apparently think about the added value of arts education in primary schools to the lives of our children?

The outrageous ridicule of ‘measuring’ ‘knowledge' by those kinds of ‘questions’ is, basically, an insult to anyone who still hopes that arts education has something meaningful to offer.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

On the brain, unfortunately

A colleague of mine recently pointed out that the difference between psychologists and pedagogues is that psychologists care about the 'how' question whereas pedagogues are concerned about the 'why' and 'what' questions in education.

She immediately added that of course this was a gross exaggeration. Nevertheless, there seems to be a kind of truth in it to me. Let us accept, for the moment, that she is right, and that therefore one needs both psychologists and pedagogues to think about education. And let me then apply this difference to what some people consider to be the most important contribution nowadays to the discussion about music education: neuropsychology.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Serious Request - or: So Deadly Contageous is Music.

There may come a time when the mist that surrounds us all may thicken around me, and thicken and thicken. I will first find my way without any problem. But gradually I will lose sight of this beautiful world I know so well - and I will lose how it smells, and how it tastes, and how it feels, and how it sounds. Or at least, that is how I will look to you.

I would appreciate it if by then, you would help me a bit. Nothing serious - I hope others will be able to do the serious stuff - but when you visit me, play me a tune, sing me a song, put on the radio.

Play me 'Go Leave' by Kate McGarrigle, because I love this voice (and that of her sister Anna, of course), and because she sings 'ears have a way of calling...'.

Friday, November 18, 2016

On the 'Added Value' of Music

I was at a conference where numerous projects were presented in the domain of 'Arts and the Elderly'. It was good to notice that, where ten years ago activities in this domain were hardly visible and actors hardly met, now this domain has constituted itself as an actual domain with actual key questions and a growing network of people who know how to find each other and appreciate each other.

One of the key questions, a persistent and recurring one, is that of advocacy for and, ultimately, of financing of activities for frail and vulnerable elderly: those with dementia, those in hospitals or in care homes, those living a lonely life at home devoid of meaningful social contacts, et cetera.

The communis opinio is that the arts may contribute to physical and mental health, and to a general sense of well-being and meaningfulness of life. There are many strong examples to show that, and research is carried out both to give 'deep' evidence (through, e.g. ethnography, case studies or action research) as well as 'broad' evidence (through larger scale but more superficial effect measurements). And slowly but surely the knowledge of what the arts contribute to the elderly is building up.

But in the back of my head there is this persisting and recurring question of my own: why do we, suddenly, in the case of the vulnerable older woman, have to explain something that was taken for granted when that same woman was not yet vulnerable and older but just simply living her everyday life. When it comes to music: why do we have to argue that there is something missing in the life of this vulnerable older woman if music has no place in it in the same way as it did before? And why do we have to deliver the 'evidence-base' for the simple, widely accepted notion underpinned by libraries of research that human beings are learning beings, and that therefore life is incomplete without the possibility to be surprised by new music, new images, new movements, and that even the very vulnerable should be given the opportunities to living by learning?

I was in a session on the said conference where we were making an inventory of 'the value of the arts', and where we were talking in terms of 'added value': the arts give you the opportunity to express yourself, to bond socially, et cetera. But the idea of 'added value' gives one the idea that the arts are not part of the basis of life, but form an 'extra' in order to reach specific 'goals'. That may be the case in for example the therapeutic use of the arts, but even arts therapy nowadays is firmly grounded in the idea that it works precisely because the arts are nót an extra in life, but rather an undeniable part of life.

Speaking for music - the only 'art' of which I really know something - I would like to draw your attention to the fact that 99,9% of our population leads an intense and deeply satisfying - and very idio-syncratic, and often not very 'canonical' - musical life on a day-to-day basis. If at an elderly age people get less and less opportunities to continue their musical life, it is very simply part of a human health care system to provide those opportunities. The questions may be who should be doing that (contrary to popular belief in my circles I do not see why 'music professionals' should suddenly take the lead here), how we organize it, and who pays for it.

But the fundamental position should be: music is not an added value. It is a basic value. Music for elderly people should not be judged on the basis of the fact that it is 'fostering well-being', or on any other kind of 'added value' of music. It should be judged on the basis of the fact that human life by definition is musical, and that living the full life till the end means also living the musical life till the end. And if a care system is a 'care' system at all: simply taking care that that happens.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Long live the Italians - but no.

I had a long blog break. A long, long blog break. But I was nearly back writing, if not for our Italian friends.

The break was not due to a holiday. Oh yes, I had one; we went to a Foreign Country, I renovated a room of one of the kids, put together at least 10 IKEA bookcases, built a sort of play house for the kids in the garden (it looks more like a hunting lodge to shoot at the neighbors), swam in a lake, hurt my foot, read books (Michel de Certeau, Bruno Latour, Gert Biesta, T.C. Boyle, books on the death of Yugoslavia), and what not.

And hardly wrote blog entries.

I wrote other stuff, of course. The not-blog-writing-period started way before the holidays and lasted until way after the holidays, and as my working life consists of talking, listening, reading and writing, I wrote articles, grant requests, research field notes, memoranda and addenda, bibliographies, little pieces about the history of shanty singing, and much more.

But no blog entries.

Maybe, I thought, I had grown tired of words. Maybe I had lost inspiration and suffered from writer's block. Maybe the world simply had changed, and nothing happened that required a blog entry to be dealt with. I mean, I could write about reading De Certeau or getting stuck in Latour; or about the way Bob Dylan's album 'New Morning' coloured my stay in the Foreign Country. But somehow, it didn't feel right.

But then the Italians nearly got me back to writing. I read in a news item that they give every kid turning 18 500 euros to be spent on culture. Or rather: on Culture. There seems to be a list made by the Italian Ministry of Culture, containing the Culture one can choose from. Italian Culture - because, as the government has stated, that is good for personal development and societal coherence. And it is an anti-dote against the terrorist attacks of IS. The Dutch corespondent in Italy added in his news item that the 500 euros could probablyy not be spent on Justin Bieber concerts, because Bieber would most likely not be on the list.

For a moment I thought this might be something to write about - the combination of astonishment and irritation is probably the greatest catalyst for writing any blog entry. But when the Bieber-stuff came up at the end of the news item, astonishment as well as irritation seeped away. Sometimes reality is so boringly and outrageously stupid that one can do nothing else but loose all interest.

Sorry, my Italian friends. Sorry, Justin. I am sure the world will soon be interesting enough again to write about. But there apparently are limits to what one can write about, limits beyond which all writing becomes useless.

As Wittgenstein said: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen". And indeed, it feels like 'muss', not 'soll'.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Kanye West, a guy called Uwe Diegel, and a sickening confusion of categories


I was checking out one of the social media last night and some-one I respect posted this:


Uwe Diegel is chief-executive of a medical firm. He also has a past as a classical concert pianist.

So let us get the equation right: the music world may be compared to the Muslim world. And in that case, it is okay to compare Kanye West to a terrorist.

I checked out Kanye West on Wikipedia because I don't know much about him and maybe I overlooked a recent atrocity. I also checked some other sites on news about him. Found nothing to be deeply anxious about. Yes, the usual Famous American rubbish; little scandals, bigger scandals, cross-libelling, et cetera. Nothing to be too shocked about if you follow the show bizz from the side lines.

I cannot draw any other conclusion: it is okay for Diegel to compare Kanye West to a muslim terrorist because West makes music Diegel dislikes. (And, maybe: because Music, to Diegel, is Religion.)