Monthly Archives: February 2012

How blogging helped me make the best cup of coffee ever

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One of the nicest things to happen this year was a surprise gift of coffee all the way from Lebanon. And all because of a blog.

Last year, I did a 30 days without supermarkets challenge, in which I aimed to buy all my food from local, small traders. The day I ran out of coffee, I discovered that my favourite Tooting Store, Daily Fresh, sold a very attractive looking Lebanese coffee brand called Maatouk (see earlier blog Wake up and smell the (Lebanese) coffee. As you’ll see from the comment on that post, my coffee adventure was picked up by none other than the nice people at Maatouk itself, in Lebanon. And as promised, the other day, a big parcel arrived for me with a load of different Maatouk coffees to try, a rakweh, and a boxed set of Private Blend that included  a very pretty designer coffee cup.

Private Blend is has a rich, chocolatey taste with no bitter aftertaste. There’s something about the coffee ritual that I love, but especially when it’s made this way. I don’t know which part of the equation is the most important, but there was something about this blend, the rakweh, the cup and the method that turned out one of the best cups of coffee I ever tasted. It’s also convinced me that the short, strong hit of coffee like this in the afternoon is better than anything the milky cappucino has to offer. I probably shouldn’t do, but I love ‘accidentally’ eating the coffee grounds too.  It feels as wrongly right as eating a bar of chocolate in one go. There’ll be more on this topic as I try the other coffees. Watch this space.

The Maatouk set with rakweh

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In praise of (occasional) marginalia

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Clifton (1983, p.75)

As you leave the Institute of Education library, there’s a montage of photographs showing the awful things that people have done to books, like water damage and coffee stains, highlighting and tearing, as a reminder to treat their books nicely.  Writing in books, particularly library books, is a real annoyance. But occasionally, you come across a bit of marginalia that is so enlightening, and as in the case I’m about to relate, so charming, you have to forgive the reader for taking their pencil to paper. (But don’t do this at home, and particularly not with an IoE book).

The book in question is Thomas Clifton’s Music as heard: A study in applied phenomenology (1983). It’s very difficult to get hold of, and I’m so glad that Senate House library had one (as I’ve remarked before). I’m thoroughly enjoying it because Clifton gets at a point which is very relevant for my research:  Music analysis that explains how a piece of music was constructed says very little about the way that you actually experience music.  But on page 75, there’s a bit about the relationship between feeling and reflection where he seems to slip into a very dodgy value judgement about rock concerts.  It’s at this point that a previous reader, who has commented in pencil several times in the margins with  very small, neat handwriting, has underlined Clifton’s  sentence (“We have encountered  the resultant spectacle at rock concerts, where the music is not at all the main attraction but a side show”) and then written in the margin:

“How do you know?! One suspects Clifton is contradicting his own phenomenological precepts here by making a judgement independent of experience!”

And underneath, another reader has written in a larger, more exuberant hand

“Yes, I agree!”

Now I know I shouldn’t be advocating writing in library books, but this bit of marginalia is a really useful commentary on Clifton’s book, and a heartwarming proof that two previous readers had given close attention not just to the text, but to the marginalia as well.

For the record,  I agree! too: I think  Clifton is wrong here, too, because everything he says about rock concerts could be said of classical concerts (that we may ‘run the risk of submerging into our own feelings and confusing the expression in the music with the spontaneity of our own responses’).  It seems strange for a phenomenologist to ascribe a mode of listening to an event or a musical genre rather than to individuals attending the event and experiencing the music, but if I’m not wrong, I think that betrays a prejudice against rock music that made him drop his phenomenological guard. All of which I might not have given so much attention to if two people hadn’t defaced the book.

There are plenty of solutions to this out there – annotatable pdfs, or tagging and note-making in Zotero groups for example. But there’s something about holding and reading a book that someone else has held, transported back and forth to a library, and inscribed literally with the mark of their hand, that is  phenomenologically different to the experience of tagging an electronic file, and that’s yet another reason why physical books will always win out for me over the electronic.

IT tips: how to stop Chrome opening your pdfs

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I love Chrome, but I hate the way it takes over your pdfs and opens them in the browser. I also hate the way this isn’t straightforwardly configurable on the preferences page. However, it’s easy, and this is how you do it:

Type this in the address bar.

about:plugins

You’ll get a list of plugins used in Chrome. Scroll down to ‘Chrome PDF viewer’ and click ‘disable’.

Done.

 

Zorn’s ‘Grammar’ online, for all your polka mazurka needs

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I got my copy of this via Abe Books a few years ago, but it occurred to me that it must surely be out of copyright, and digitised by now? And sure enough, here it is, Grammar of the Art of Dancing from the Internet Archive in several formats including Kindle.  The online book version is worth trying too, for the very sophisticated searching opportunities it provides.

Friedrich Zorn’s Grammar of the Art of Dancing is one the most concise but exhaustive accounts of dozens of 19th century dances and their music. In 938 short, numbered paragraphs with musical examples and Zorn’s own dance notation, he can tell you all about different types of waltzes, what a Varsovienne, a Redowa and a Polka Mazurka are, and how musicians should  improvise changes in their playing to fit the two-step or three-step waltz.  The book is full of all kinds of fascinating details, like a comparison between the difference in tempo that people waltzed in different cities in Europe (Russians were the fastest, if  I remember correctly), or that the first polka was danced at around 88 b.p.m which was soon considered too dull for social dancing, so it sped up.

As a ballet pianist teacher, you’re left – even in the beginning of the 21st century –  with a legacy of these dances, whose rhythms still haunt music everywhere. To try to stratify them for yourself from the repertoire you know, which is what I did for years, is a slow and ineffective process.  Why is it that we seem to be so much better acquainted with dances from the distant Baroque than from those only just over our shoulder? From the moment you start reading Zorn, you have a pair of metrical spectacles with which to view the vast repertoire of dance music of the 19th century, and begin to recognise the shapes and patterns of those dances in music all around you.

Happy National Libraries Day – especially to Tooting Library and the IOE

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I’m no Luddite. I was an early-adopter of computers and the internet. I earn about 25% of my salary from playing the piano, and 75% from being a pretty expert user of all kinds of software. I use the internet all the time for research, and I’d be lost without my computer and my iPhone.  The world is full of incredible opportunities now that were not available to me when I was an undergraduate or at school. That’s wonderful, and I use those opportunities all the time.

But not a week passes when I am not even more blissed out by libraries and what they have to offer.  This last few weeks I’ve been doing an ‘Info and Lit’ course at the IoE, and I’ve learned so much from our tutor Nazlin Bhimani in those sessions that I never got from sitting for hours in front of a screen. Through really good guidance and teaching, I’ve learned to make better use of the resources that I’ve already had available to me for years, and all because when you’ve got a real human in front of you, you learn how to use stuff, how to evaluate, what to ignore and avoid.

I’d live in the IOE library if I could, but I equally love my local library in Tooting, not least because it’s only 5 minutes away. I go there when I need to concentrate, somewhere quiet but where other people are working so you feel motivated to do the same. The staff are amazingly helpful – I’ve seen so many instances where they’ll help someone out with using the internet, teaching them how to search, for example, and nothing is too much trouble.  The study room has always been packed (but spacious) when I’ve been there.  They have lots of new books, a range of newspapers.

My favourite library moment was on Thursday this week. I’d been scrolling through the Musicology Must-reads over at the Taruskin challenge blog, and noticed Thomas Clifton’s Music as Heard, a book advocating a phenomenological approach to musical experience. As this is right up my particular research street, I decided to hunt it out. Could I find a copy anywhere? Not on Amazon,  not in the IoE library, and Abe Books were £90+ for the only two remaining copies. So I took my tutor’s advice, and searched the Senate House catalogue. And sure enough, there it was. When you know how hard-to-get a book is, the moment when you hold it in your hands is one of awe and excitement. And it’s a fabulous book.

Ironically, today was the day that I finally got a Kindle to see if would be any use to my parents. It’s not. As with most gadgets, they didn’t think about the elderly or people with poor motor skills.  I also thought I might be converted if I actually had one. I’m not. I hate it with a passion, and I hate the way that Amazon are helping people to forget what libraries do, and that you could go to a local charity shop and buy a paperback for 50p, and then give that to someone else.

But worst of all, the Kindle doesn’t supply you with the computer, the power, the wifi, the money, the quiet, the space, the chair, the desk, the teacher, the other like minded readers to sit and enjoy the space with. This is why Sadiq Khan was so right when he wrote this to Edward Lister at Wandsworth Council last year:

Popularity and utility cannot only be measured by the number of books issued in any given year – there is a wider social benefit to a community that comes from the local provision of good IT facilities, or a quiet place for children to do homework. (Sadiq Khan)

If you don’t believe that, go to your local library and have a look. Long live libraries.