Make the case for music!

A couple of months ago, I wrote a response to an article in The Economist lamenting the continued devaluation of music in the curriculum in the UK. A couple of weeks ago a similar article was published in The Times by Alice Thomson. I’m not sure what prompted the article but it drew a supportive letter to the paper from Simon Rattle which was enthusiastically retweeted by Tom Watson.

Whilst we should all encourage continued coverage and discussion about the place of music in our culture and in education specifically, these articles are way too meagre in content to make an impression on anyone who is not already fully in support of music being central to our education. Continue reading “Make the case for music!”

Why was Bach so great?

Bach fulfills a huge number of criteria that people use to judge the quality of a composer. He had extraordinary harmonic control, he wrote beautiful melodies, he had great structural control, he wrote wonderfully for voice and idiomatically across all instruments, he was equally adept at both small- and large-scale works, he had a palpable sense of religious awe, he had a sense of humour, his music has great humanity, he wrote with an almost unbelievable intellectual rigour. Continue reading “Why was Bach so great?”

The people around us

I discovered the other day that someone I have known for many years committed suicide. This is the second time I have experienced someone connected to me taking their own life; a friend of mine also committed suicide when he and I were both in our late teens. Knowing one person who took their own life is relatively common – the statistics show that around 1 in every 6200 people worldwide commits suicide. But knowing two is certainly getting to be unusual. Continue reading “The people around us”

Should we all pay for orchestras?

The Musicians’ Union (MU) in the UK recently released data about pay for orchestral musicians which raised a few news stories and some comment. Most of the comments I saw bemoaned the disparity between skill level and pay, drawing comparisons between doctors and lawyers in particular. A few talked about the need for orchestras to have a more modern approach to programming and personnel.

Ivan Fischer – a musician whom everyone should hold in high esteem – said in The Times that orchestras needed to ‘rethink and reform’. This was, according to paper, ‘in order to justify their existence and entice future generations to orchestral music’. Continue reading “Should we all pay for orchestras?”

What did the 20th century contribute to piano music?

The simple answer to this question is a huge amount. I might even go so far as to say that use of the piano developed more in the 20th century than in any other period of musical history.

The great period of technological development was the late 1700s into the mid 1800s when the invention and refinement of the mechanism that allows the piano to play both loudly and quietly took place. Musically, composers certainly explored these new opportunities – look at the expressive range of Beethoven’s piano music in comparison to Mozart’s and the difference is obvious. Continue reading “What did the 20th century contribute to piano music?”

Is it fair to say Mozart had more natural talent than Bach?

Before answering this question, we have to unpack what ‘natural talent’ means. While there is no question that some people have more aptitude for particular tasks than others, I don’t think there is any evidence for true natural gift.

Certainly if you read the work of the Swedish psychologist Anders-Ericsson, you would be hard pressed to believe that in anything other than the most extreme cases and in specific kinds of activity there is such a thing as natural ability. Have a look here for an introduction to his ideas The Making of an Expert. Continue reading “Is it fair to say Mozart had more natural talent than Bach?”

Chemicals and depression

There was an article on the BBC News website a couple of weeks ago outlining a potential new treatment for the severely depressed. The treatment is nasally-administered ketamine which, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, led to significant improvements in the symptoms of heavily depressed and suicidal patients.

The effects were short-lived, levelling out after 25 days, but were considered to be significant enough that the team behind the trial are now entering phase three trials (the last phase of clinical trials in which the drug is tested for efficacy and safety on a large group of patients) with the intention of bringing a new product to market. Continue reading “Chemicals and depression”