Category Archives: Personal

“They would have…” — Coppélia, Scotch snaps and class (the social kind)

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The Scotch Snap goes to Poland

My recent discovery that one of the interpolations in Coppélia for Franz’s variation is from a “Scottish” ballet (Gretna Green, by Guiraud) encouraged me to re-watch Philip Tagg’s wonderful hour-and-a-quarter long documentary on the so-called Scotch snap. I say “so-called” because that’s the chief take-home point of the documentary: it’s called the Scotch snap, but it was once as characteristic of English music as Scottish, and the speech rhythm from which it derives is still prevalent in English today. If there’s a reason why we think of it as Scottish, or “Celtic” it’s because the English musical tradition where it was once common has been wiped clean, “upgraded” as Tagg puts it, of such elements, precisely because they became associated with lower class, country people. I suppose you could compare it to the way that people with regional accents or sociolects  are taught RP in elocution lessons. English music from roughly Handel onwards became the Elisa Doolittle or Lina Lamont (see below—and for more on all this, watch Tagg’s video). 

 

In the Guiraud solo, that snap is an an identifier for “kind of Polish/Ukrainian” (i.e. 19th century Galicia), except that in the piece it came from, Gretna Green, the snap is Scottish. There is also the drone  D in the bass that suggests rusticity, but it’s the snap that’s the real giveaway. Here are the two side by side: 

The Scotch snap in Swanilda's "Friends" dance from Coppélia

The Galician “snap” in Swanilda’s “Frends” dance (Thème slave varié in Act I)

The Scotch snap in the (Scottish) ballet Gretna Green by Giraud

Guiraud’s Scotch snap from Gretna Green, used as Franz’s solo interpolated in some productions of Coppélia

As Tagg argues in his video, what this is about, surely, is not so much race, nation or ethnicity. but class. The same seems to be true of  Coppélia: it doesn’t really matter (at least to modern audiences, I suspect it did matter to Delibes) where Franz comes from, what matters is that he’s a rustic local, not a prince, or an urban(e) shopkeeper or toymaker.  In theory, Franz could be dancing to Chopin, since Chopin was Polish. But how wrong would that have looked?  Chopin is the wrong class of Pole, the concert-giving, salon-performer in Paris, the poet with a floppy cravate in Les Sylphides. Franz is a rustic, like those villagers in Giselle whose waltz is all Bohemian snaps. 

Extract from the Waltz in Act I of Giselle, showing the Scotch snap

The Waltz from Act I in Giselle, showing the Scotch snap (or Bohemian snap, if you like)

But I’m leaving out an important detail here. The music that Delibes *cough* “borrowed” the “Friends” tune from, is an art song by Moniuszko (see earlier post for all the details), and the “snap” doesn’t exist in the original: it’s something Delibes added. The notes at the same position in Moniuszko’s song are semiquavers, and they are for a single syllable. 

Poleć, pieśni, z miasta by the Polish composer Moniuszko (1819-1872). Source: IMSLP

Fair enough, there’s an acciaccatura in the piano accompaniment but does that amount to a Scotch snap? Not really, I think. 

They would have… 

I can guess how that Gretna Green solo ended up in Coppélia. It sounds kind of foreign, kind of rustic. That’s usually enough geographical detail and social context for the average ballet scenario.  I once heard a student ballet teacher tell a class of children, “Your hands are like this in this dance, because they would have…” That phrase, they would have has stuck with me ever since: she was talking about character/national dance, referring to people from another country as if they were not only remote geographically, but also historically. There was no detail about who “they” were, or where they were from, they were just “they.”  The construction would have seemed to imply that what these people did (whoever, or wherever they were)  could not be documented in terms of real people or events, but just as a list of possibilities, of permanent characteristics.  That sums up the strange universe of ballet pretty well.  We do this, they would have done that. I’m not sure what it was that the hands were supposed to be doing. Digging potatoes? Showing off handkerchiefs that they had embroidered?  It’s not the students’ fault: this is the casual, institutional racism, snobbery and ethnic nationalism of ballet that seeps from the walls of the art form. 

Rustics and rustication

Ballet apparently needs settings like these  to make it interesting, to give it what programme writers call “colour.”  Here’s an example from Pittsburgh Ballet, which is so representative of the genre, that you should not read anything into the fact that it’s that company or that author. It could be any ballet programme, anywhere: 

Nuitter and Saint-Léon changed the names of the characters, except for Dr. Coppelius, and moved the location from Hoffmann’s Germany to Galicia, a province of Austria-Hungary, because it was thought to be more colorful.  Today’s map finds Galicia in southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.  The “color” of the region can be seen in the brilliant colors, heavy embroidery and elaborate trimmings of the peasant costumes, widely enhancing the designer’s palette, both then and now.  It can also be heard in the rich nationalistic melodies and complex folk dances of the composer. (Source: Pittsburgh Ballet Programme Notes

Before continuing, let’s take a moment to remember that  “Friends” is not by Delibes, and nor is the Csárdás, and nor is this variation for Franz.   I’m not sure what  a “rich nationalistic melody” sounds like, or that Delibes “folk dances” are really that complex, but never mind. The main point is that ballet seems to need those Scotch snaps (or Celtic, Hungarian, Polish, Galician, Bohemian or whatever kind of snaps they are) to prevent the music from being a wall of  ballet gammon, or perhaps ballet mayonnaise. It’s a perverse form of “poverty tourism” where you can admire the rustics from the comfort of your box in the theatre, but at the same time shine a light on your own dullness, your lack of the rhythmic vitality demonstrated by  the people on stage. 

No-one, particularly not your average ballet audience, would actually want to go to those places of course. One of the punishment for academic misdemeanours at Durham University was (and still is)  “rustication,” i.e. being sent back to the sticks. According to a lecture by Dr Martin Pollack, this is apparently how Austrians (who annexed it in the 18th century) once viewed Galicia, a place you didn’t want to get sent (one writer referred to it as “Halbasien,” “half-Asia”), at least, until the job of Germanification had been completed, and the locals had been tamed. 

Of course, there is poverty, and there is staged poverty. Pollack mentions that his stepfather had been stationed in Galicia in the first world war (so less than 50 years after the premiere of Coppélia). His memory of those experiences included “wide wooded uplands, and impoverished hamlets where everything was built from wood, even the churches.”  The wooden churches were what surprised his stepfather most, since in his native Austria, he had never seen such a thing. One thing is for sure: it didn’t look like the set of Coppélia. 

The inhabitants of Galicia aren’t just a fictional people invented for the ballet scenario. They had names, and lived and died in villages with names.  Where he can, using archival records, Tagg names some of the English workers who went as indentured labourers to the US in appalling conditions. Likewise, you can find out about the inhabitants of Galicia: Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, and others at the time of Coppélia by searching the All Galicia Database which has records going back to the 18th century. Obviously, Coppélia is a fiction, not an attempt to portray real people. But it matters that Galicia is a real place, with complex histories, if you’re going to start saying local colour, and they would have…  

Esmeralda and the Truands

Next on my list is La Truandaise from Esmeralda, another example of the “Scotch” snap being used to denote otherness that is geographically vague (Bohemian? Gypsy?) but definitely poor. In the video below (assuming YouTube don’t block it) of Osipova dancing the “Truandaise,” the flexed foot is perhaps the movement equivalent of the Scotch snap. She does it, because (as a  ballet teacher might say) they would have flexed their feet (because they couldn’t afford to go to ballet classes, and find out about good toes and naughty toes). So how could she afford pointe shoes then? Best not to ask too many questions. 

The Scotch snap in Pugni's La Truandaise from his ballet "La Esmeralda"

Pugni’s “La Truandaise” dance from Esmeralda (1844)

Feed the birds 

Tagg demonstrates through many examples that the Scotch snap rhythm is common enough in English speech that it is bizarre that it should have come to denote anyone from the British Isles except the English (as “Celtic” has come to mean). Playing for class today, I discovered another example: “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. Tup-pence, Tup-pence. I “discovered it” because as I was playing it, I thought first of all, “here’s a rather odd example of a “Bohemian” snap in a musical, until I realised that is not Bohemian at all, but English—and, fitting Tagg’s hypothesis, it’s a certain kind of Englishness—an old beggarwoman selling breadcrumbs for tuppence a bag. If you’d never seen Mary Poppins, and just heard the tune of Feed the birds, you might well think that it’s a tragic song from old Bohemia. 

Feed the birds  is an interesting case. According to the Wikipedia page on the song, the author of Mary Poppins, Pamela Travers, only wanted period Edwardian songs in the film, and had to be coaxed round to Americans writing the soundtrack. Oddly, it turned out to be an excellent choice, because the Sherman brothers portrayed Englishness in music particularly well with those “Scotch” snaps (there’s another one in A spoonful of sugar. The class issue is less clear there, though Mary is still only the nanny, however posh she might be). Listening back to “Feed the birds” with Tagg’s documentary in mind, I wonder what it is that I think I can hear—and it’s the very ordinary speech of my childhood. My dad, and the local shopkeepers saying “tuppence” or “tuppence ha’penny,” or “throppence.” The (musical) idea that the Scotch snap is Bohemian, gallic, celtic, Hungarian, or whatever, has blinded me to the rhythms of my own speech. Extraordinary. 

What a difference a demisemiquaver makes. And how much history you can write, just by focusing, as Tagg does, on detail like this.  And as one final aside, writing this post I came to hear of a novel I should have known about years ago, Joseph Roth’s, Radetzky March (Dr Pollack mentions it in his lecture), and am thoroughly enjoying reading it. I wish I had read it before any of my travels in what was once the Austro-Hungary, and I suspect it will make great background reading for Coppélia

 

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Bugatti Step by Jaroslav Ježek, and the joy of musical journeys

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I said it had been a week for finding things: well, it’s not over yet., apparently. 

The Bugatti Step

As this will be a longish ramble about finding music, I’ll cut to the chase. The Bugatti Step by Jaroslav Ježek is a fantastic piece of piano music that you could use for class, and the sheet music is available online. I’m not usually guarded about sharing ideas for class music, but in this case I have to confess it’s taken me weeks to do so, because I love it so much, I don’t actually want my colleagues to have it in their repertoire as well. But I can’t help it. It’s too good not to share. 

How I discovered Ježek and the Bugatti Step

What prompted me to finally share the score was that the route to finding it (and other music by Ježek) has been so delightful and interesting. Not long after I vacated Facebook and Twitter a few weeks ago, I was listening to the radio in the car, and heard Barry Humphries talking about his forthcoming show at the Barbican, a presentation of music from the Weimar period, including some of my favourite cabaret songs and composers. As I love the music of this period, I thought I can’t possibly miss it. I checked the dates. Then, because I wasn’t on Facebook anymore, I wrote an old-fashioned email to someone who I thought would appreciate this as much as me, but who is probably the busiest person I know, and lives hundreds of miles away. I don’t suppose by any chance you’re in London when this is on, and free? As it turned out, he was, and so we went, and it was wonderful. 

Barry Humphries presents this collection of music as if you’re having a pleasant after dinner chat in his sitting room (or, if you’ve ever been there,  the Kleine Philharmonie bar in Berlin, which in turn looks like the set of Cabaret). The story he tells is wonderful: as a young man, he discovered this music in second-hand shops in Melbourne, remnants of the possessions of  Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, who had clearly loved the music enough to bring it with them. He fell in love with it, and has ever since nurtured a fascination with it, leading eventually to this show. 

One of the first pieces in the programme was Bugatti Step, played as a piano solo. I couldn’t help thinking, this is wonderful music in itself, but it would also be great for class, so I made a mental note to check it out afterwards. The composer, Jaroslav Ježek, (known as “the Czech Gershwin”) as so many others, was forced in the late 1930s to flee  the Nazi occupation of Czechoslavakia and go to New York, having until then been a huge contributor to the Czech music and theatre scene. 

What comes across as Humphries introduces the music, is a sense of loving and cherishing these pieces, of giving them the value and the hearing they deserve; a will for them  and their composers not to be forgotten. It’s infectious, but It’s something more than enthusiasm; there’s a warmth and intelligent sensitivity about Humphries’ advocacy of this music that sometimes helps you hear it almost too closely for comfort; you hear with the ears of those who wrote it and heard it at the time. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the politics of then and now. 

Rendezvous with Ježek in Prague

So now fast-forward a little (I went to the concert on 23rd July, and it’s now 10th August), and I see an former Czech colleague of mine at the studios in Prague—she used to play for class  when the ballet masterclasses in Prague that I’m at now first began. Years ago, she had told me  where I could find a second-hand music shop in the city. I asked her it was still there. She checked on her computer; she wasn’t sure, but  there’s this bookshop  in Wenceslas Square No. 42 that has a new and second-hand music department. By chance, I was walking there in the afternoon, so popped in. 

Ježek: 81 songs and dances from the jazz age (book)

The book of Ježek’s music I found in Prague today

And blow me down, one of  first things I see on the shelves is a book of 81 songs and dances by Ježek, arranged for piano byu Sidonius Karez.   (81 melodií a tanců z modrého pokoje). I had to buy it, even if I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it.  I’m glad I did. It’s a wonderful book, lovingly and carefully put together, with interesting panels of information about Ježek and photographs of him and fellow musicians and performers from the Liberated Theatre in Prague. I can just about work out what it all means, with a bit of help from Google Translate, and my background as a Slavic languages graduate. I start to search for the original 78rpm recordings on YouTube. The music is just wonderful. 

Musical journeys

I’m telling the story because it’s not the first time that my route to finding music has been face to face, material, hand to hand. Meeting people, going to bookshops, being present somewhere. If I hadn’t been to that concert at the Barbican, I might never have heard of Ježek, or had the chance to be thrilled by his music. Barry Humphries found the music in a second-hand shop where it had come from Europe in the 1930s. And now, I’m finding more of it, actually in Prague, in a bookshop, because I bumped into my colleague and she recommended  that bookshop. I would not have known what I was looking at, had it not been for someone bringing that music to Melbourne in a suitcase, and Barry Humphries looking after it, and years later, presenting it at the Barbican. If I hadn’t got off Facebook and made the effort to make arrangements to see a friend in real life, I wouldn’t be writing this now. 

There are other ways to find music, of course, and YouTube is great for researching what has already triggered your interest. But for me, at least, the music you discover like this, passed from hand to hand, music that you can touch, or music that you hear in the physical presence of others, is somehow always more precious. Barry Humphries tells a story in the show about how his mother didn’t like library books “because you didn’t know where they had been.”  For him, that was precisely what he liked about them, and that was the appeal of the music he had found in the second-hand shops that led eventually to this concert. 

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Franz’s solo in Coppélia: yet another interpolation (Bol’shoi version)

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Segment of piano reduction of Guiraud's Gretna Green used in Coppélia

Who knows what this is? Answers below!

Click here to download Franz’s interpolated solo from Coppélia for piano (free pdf)

After I’d finished that last post on teachers and their summer school rep, I wondered whether I’d gone a bit too far on the world-weary musicians’ humour.  But then the very next day, I was asked if I could locate music for the solo in the video below (sorry if it gets removed, that’s the pain of posting YouTube links. If it does, search for Franz variation, Coppélia, Bolshoi and probably another one will turn up). It’s Coppélia, I was assured. It’s not needed for the summer school I’m playing for currently, but for another that’s happening in a couple of weeks (and all credit to the teacher who knows enough to be looking in advance to get the scores together.) 

 

 The video I was shown was from the Prix de Lausanne some years ago, where the solo was announced as Act I of Coppélia, and was in E major. Now I’ve seen a few other videos (including the one above), I’m pretty sure it had been speeded up and pitch-shifted from D. So what? Well, I’d looked through hundreds of pages of scores of Sylvia, La Source, Le roi l’a dit and other ballets, looking for things in E major. It’s not that I wouldn’t have spotted the tune in another key, but a key helps to speed up the search. 

How many dancers does it take to identify an interpolated solo? 

At dinner last night, about eight illustrious stars of the ballet world sang along with the tune and said “what IS that?!” First answer? Raymonda. The director on my right rang Moscow. “It’s Coppélia.” Yes, so everyone keeps telling me, but WHAT IS THE MUSIC. Because the music isn’t from Coppélia. I had already asked the oracle (Lars Payne) who informed me that the solo wasn’t in the Schott edition of Coppélia which has includes music that was dropped from the first (Heugel) edition of the score. 

Someone on YouTube commenting on this solo says “That’s Fille mal gardée not Coppélia.” You never know with YouTube commenters. They’re either mad bots, or they know something. Could it be? 

I’ve done a transcription of the music, but I am pretty sure I am going to see it in print one day, because it sounds very familiar. My first thought was that it sounded a bit like Glazunov — it has resonances with that awful Jean de Brienne solo. But Glazunov would surely have had a few middle lines going? The opening really does sound like Delibes, but that middle section with the lazy falling chromatic bass? That sounds more like Lanchbery. Until that point, it sounded like it could have been Minkus or Pugni.  I take that back. There’s something really rather fine about this solo, in its melodic construction, and in the voicing of the chords. In that sense, it has quite a different feel to the usual suspects. 

Enter Ernest Giraud, wearing a kilt 

Could it be Ernest Guiraud, who added a solo for Act 3 (see this article from the Petipa Society)?  I’d looked through the scores available on IMSLP, but couldn’t see the solo. Then I hovered over Gretna Green again. Come to think of it, this music does sound like it could be Scottish, rather than Hungarian/Polish. IMSLP only have a scene and waltz from Gretna Green. Is there anything else on the net? Well, yes there is. There’s a  manuscript full score at archive.org (on pages 196-201). As I’d done the transcription already, it was easy to recognise what I was looking for, despite the old score and handwritten notes. Et voilà, the mystery is solved. That solo — now the third interpolation for Franz that I know of in Coppélia is from Gretna Green, by Ernest Guiraud. 

Gretna Green piano reduction at the British Library

There is a piano reduction of the whole ballet in a few libraries, and this solo starts on page 66. It’s available online at the British Library (direct link to the first page of the solo here). Now that I can see the piano score, it’s clearer that the solo (or whatever it was originally) was quite a bit longer, and the repetitions up the octave in the Bolshoi version are probably as a result of having cut out the middle section. 

Doing this kind of transcription work is labour-intensive: I listened over and over to the video, taking down the solo by dictation. Having found the orchestral score, I amended the harmonies I hadn’t been able to hear properly. Now I’ve seen Guiraud’s own piano reduction, I see how I could have made mine simpler. However, audio transcription has it’s advantages. You make the arrangement much closer to how it sounds: for example, the simplicity of Guiraud’s arrangement is at the expense of the doubling of the cello and bass, which is what gives the solo the oomph it needs when you play it for a ballet rehearsal. 

More on Guiraud

Guiraud is an interesting person to follow up, judging by my skim through this dissertation on Guiraud’s life and works by Daniel Weilbaecher (1990). Born in New Orleans to French parents, he moved back to Paris to continue his music education. winning—like his father before him—the prestigious Prix de Rome.  Gretna Green (originally Le forgeron de Gretna-Green), according to Weilbaecher (see p.71 of his thesis), was the first work of Guiraud’s to be produced at the Opéra in Paris, on 5th May 1873, choreographed by Louis Mérante. The famous Milanese ballerina Rita Sangalli was supposed to have taken the leading role as her Parisian debut,  but preparations were delayed and so she made her debut in Delibes La Source instead. Now the interesting thing about that is that it was Sangalli’s specially composed solo from La Source (No. 23 in the piano score from IMSLP) which is one of the other interpolations into Coppélia for Franz’s solo. 

Guiraud was best friends with Bizet, and good friends with Delibes (he was a pallbearer at his funeral), and the teacher of Debussy.  Weilbaecher is full of fascinating stories that sound extraordinary given the stature now of the people concerned. Shortly after the premiere of Gretna Green, Guiraud was at Lalo’s house with Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Reyer and Bizet. Massenet, it seems, was all over Guiraud, praising his new ballet. Bizet intervened and told Massenet to shut up, and that he “disgusted” him—much as they all loved Guiraud, he said, Gretna Green was not as good as all that, you sycophantic creep. Or words to that effect (full story on p. 74 of Weilbaecher’s thesis). One contemporary opinion was that Gretna Green might have had a much longer life had it not been for the fire which destroyed the Opéra at the end of 1873. Whether or not that is the case, Guiraud was well-known and liked in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and I’m so pleased to be able to identify him as the composer of this solo. 

Afterthoughts

Let’s run through the details briefly again: the teacher wants to do a solo, and says it’s from Coppélia (by Delibes) and is in Act I, and judging by the video, it’s in E major.  As it turns out, it’s not by Delibes, it’s not in Act I, and it’s not in E major, it’s from a ballet with a Scottish theme, not a Polish one. The moral of the story? If you’re going to teach a repertoire class, get in touch with your pianist well in advance to make sure they can source the music. That’s how this fascinating journey started, and it has been a pleasure to sort out. 

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Why I’m not on Facebook/Twitter any more

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Picture of Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

It’s been a bit like smoking: I  had tried a couple of weeks without Facebook in Prague in 2014, which was a good practice run for Lent 2016, when turned it off  and cut down on Twitter. By the time I saw Jaron Lanier talking about his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now earlier this year, I barely needed convincing any more. I had already read Lanier’s earlier book Who Owns the Future? and was so impressed by his thinking that I was ready to listen to anything he had to say about social media. I read Ten Arguments in a day, and like someone who’d gone to an Allen Carr session on stopping smoking, I just went straight to my computer and deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts, and haven’t missed either of them since. 

There were two things in Ten Arguments that pushed me over the edge: 

  1. Finding your own passions again: Getting off social media leaves you free to find what drives you, when you’re not being constantly driven, poked, nudged, informed, advertised at, and inflamed by thousands of strangers and companies on social media. 
  2. The direction of social media is neither left nor right, it is always down.  What drives engagement is negative feelings, outrage, disgust.

On the second point, I knew Twitter was winding me up, and making me depressed. When I saw the “on this day…” posts on Facebook, I would be embarrassed at how often my posts were of the “THIS IS DREADFUL!” type, with a link to some worthy and miserable story. I also found that once I had started on Twitter, I could barely pick up or concentrate on a book any more. Since leaving, I have rediscovered the joy of reading novels. 

As for the first, I had convinced myself for a long time that I could never leave Twitter because it was so useful for staying informed. The minute I left, I rediscovered how nice, how different it felt like to do your own research, follow your own nose, or the opposite: just do nothing, and not be inundated with suggestions for articles and books you might read. How lovely not to have to have an opinion on something. 

From a different perspective, leaving Facebook and Twitter is about no-platforming. I’ve had enough of the hatred, the stupidity, the alt-right keyboard warriors, the journalist (and MP) “provocateurs” making money by stirring up outrage. Enough. 

All the other reasons Lanier gives were enough in themselves, but it was these two that made the biggest impression on me.  There was a third reason for quitting that has nothing to do with Jaron Lanier. It was finding out that Zadie Smith more or less shuns social media and the internet altogether.  After I’d finished one of her novels, I noticed that she’d given a credit to SelfControl, an app for blocking the internet on your computer while you work, rather like Freedom, except that so far, SelfControl is free. Zadie Smith is probably the writer I admire most. There is something so perfect about her sentences, both in their formation and their truth.  I’d give anything to write like her. It might sound stupid, but I thought, if Zadie Smith can write like that without being on Twitter, then there’s no reason to be on Twitter.  

I used to say that my reason for staying on Facebook was to stay connected with people, and it’s too useful for work to ditch it. When I look back, Facebook has been instrumental in two jobs in years and years of being on it. In recent weeks, since being off it, I’ve met up with people in real life and had a wonderful time. It didn’t require Facebook, it never did. I’ve also just reconnected (via my contact page on this site) with my best friend from junior school, which has been wonderful. I’ve had a lot of work just by letting people know I’m available. 

Velleity: the word we need for Facebook connections

Facebook helps you find and stay connected with people from all around the world. But what then? I only learned the word velleity a couple of years ago (again, thank you Zadie Smith). It means “a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.” I don’t know how I lived without that word until now. It perfectly describes how I feel about cigarettes 10 years or so after giving up smoking. If I ever think about smoking at all now, it’s no more than a velleity.  That is the level, I feel, of interaction on Facebook. I glance at people and their lives and go “Uh huh OK, nice” and scroll on. Time after time after time. It’s easy, non-committal, and requires nothing of you. They probably do the same to me. If you do meet, it’s because you discover that by chance, you’re going to be in the same place at the same time. You get out of the habit of making plans to see people that matter to you. 

How to contact me the old fashioned way

I’m delighted to say that many people have used my site to find me, and contacted me using a form such as the one below. If you fill this in, it comes to me as an email. I’ll reply to it! 

 

 

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10 fabulous ballet women for International Women’s Day 2018

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Picture of a rose

One of the reasons I started blogging was because I was frustrated that journalists and historians tended to focus only on the big names: the stars, the directors, the choreographers, the “game-changers,” the critics and scholars, while leaving out the people who did so much of the heavy-lifting:  ballet mistresses, teachers, coaches, notators, assistants. Another category:  those  dancers who come over during a rehearsal and help you out when those at the front charged with doing so don’t know how to.  Insiders know that ballet is a joint enterprise,  and that on the dancing side, these are the people who make the ballet world go round, who hold it together, who support and lift everyone in it, who keep the ship afloat and motivate the crew in stormy seas badly navigated.  

I wanted to do two things: to say thank you to the people who had explained the ballet world to me when I was floundering, particularly at  the beginning of my career; but also, to disrupt the web search results, so that some of the people I admired most would come out of the footnotes to other people’s biographies. It was the early 2000s, and at the time, people  believed (perhaps they still do?)  that if you couldn’t be found on the web, you didn’t exist. 

Disappearing Acts

They weren’t all women, but the fact that men in these roles are also overlooked has, I believe, a lot to do with gender, with the tendency to dismiss supportive, other-directed, compassionate, nurturing and emotionally intelligent behaviour as unimportant “women’s work,”  compared to the more attention-grabbing projects of choreography, composition, or building new premises.   Joyce Fletcher writes about this in Disappearing Acts

[C]ertain behaviors “get disappeared”—not because they are ineffective but because they get associated with the feminine, relational, or so-called softer side of organizational practice. This implicit association with the feminine tends to code these behaviors as inappropriate to the workplace because they are out of line with some deeply held, gender-linked assumptions about good workers, exemplary behavior, and successful organizations. In other words, the findings [of Fletcher’s research among female design engineers] suggest that there is a masculine logic of effectiveness operating in organizations that is accepted as so natural and right that it may seem odd to call it masculine. This logic of effectiveness suppresses or “disappears” behavior that is inconsistent with its basic premises, even when that behavior is in line with organizational goals. The result is that organizations adopt the rhetoric of change—moving, for example, to self-managed teams—but end up disappearing the very behavior that would make the change work, such as recognizing the effort involved in helping a team work together effectively. 

As an example, she cites a discussion in a manufacturing firm where everyone agrees that “the ability to bring people together, to resolve differences, and make team members feel at ease with each other is something that is very important in getting a diverse group of people working well together,” (p.2) yet these do not get added to a list of core competences because “they are not measurable or something that could be written into one’s objectives.” If you’ve ever had to write learning objectives, or been told to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. you’ll know what it feels like to have to bring yourself kicking and screaming into line with this way of thinking.

This isn’t about giving some occasional column inches to “unsung heroes.”  The concept of lone heroes and solitary geniuses is part of the problem. As Mary Beard said recently in an interview in the LARB about women and power: 

This is about women who want to be listened to and taken seriously and to make a difference to the ordinary workplace. Power isn’t just stratospheric. It’s not just about the glass ceiling. There’s quite a lot of women who feel so far from the glass ceiling that that metaphor is a real turn off. This is about how we operate together at every level in the culture, whether that’s around a university seminar, or high school, or a retail store, or whatever. It’s about thinking about who we take seriously, how, and why.

This list is 13 years old, and I could add many, many more to it now (I won’t, because if I start, I’ll end up doing a new Advent Calendar) but it’s wonderful that I still know,  work or  catch up with most  of them today, and they are still every bit as fabulous. 

10 Fabulous Ballet Women for International Women’s Day

References


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A year of ballet playing cards #38 (QC): Prague Waltzes: Soft, strong and very long.

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Screen grab of piano score of Prague Waltzes by Dvořák

Prague Waltzes: click the image to download the free piano score

When is a waltz not “a waltz”? Most of the time 

If I ever get to play what I think of as  “a waltz” for class (you know, the rollicking, flowing, swaying kind that has a pendulum swing in it that propels you forward without ever getting tired) , I mentally crack open the champagne. Ninety percent of the time in class, you’re trying to find something that is waltz-like, but not exactly “a waltz.” I suspect the problem is that the waltzes we know from the concert repertoire were made more for ears than legs. I have rarely, if ever, found a suitable moment in a ballet class  to play Léhar’s  Lippen schweigen (“The Merry Widow Waltz”), yet that’s one of the first tunes that comes to mind when someone says “waltz.” Over ten years, many of the posts on this site have hovered around this topic in one way and another, to the extent that I’ve now created a page listing the “waltz problem” posts.  

The sound of three heads turning

Much of the music you’re asked for in class has zen-like conundrums in the specifications. A colleague said he’d been asked by one teacher  for a “melting march.”  Sounds familiar:  I tried to solve a similar problem with what I called a “chameleon-like March by Granados).  Waltzes for multiple pirouettes are similarly taxing: you need something slow, but not too squidgy. Rhythmic, but with space for allowing more turns without sounding naff. Elastic and steppy for balancés, but then with three sharp beats that can signify three “heads” for a triple pirouette.  

If there’s a model for the tune that can accommodate all this, then perhaps it’s the opening theme of  Kaiserwalzer Op. 437 by Johann Strauss II: 

 

But it doesn’t last long, and it’s played so often for classes, you can only use it sparingly. 

That’s why Dvořák’s Prague Waltzes is such a find. Like the old slogan for Andrex toilet paper, it’s soft, strong, and very, very long. If you’ll forgive the comparison, the design problems of pirouette music and toilet paper are not so dissimilar. Beats in waltz music need a softness combined with a tensile strength such that they can hold together and stretch without breaking, but also separate with a quick tug when you need them to.  And here you have it: pages and pages of pirouette music that does all the right things (though I’ve made a few minor cuts to make it class-ready).

Prague Waltzes is a useful model of what “waltz” can mean. This composition is evidence that waltzes don’t just go “1 2 3 1 2 3” — there’s a whole world of varied accents and tempos and rhythms within a single phrase. Most significantly, in my view, there’s a lift/accent/length/weight, call it what you will, in the middle of the bar rather than beginning, and often a sense of direction towards the third beat, not the first; sometimes there are three separate gestural beats in a bar, not three subsumed into one. Prague Waltzes also provides  many examples of how to vary and extend a waltz idea when you’re improvising. 

I also love the title, having spent every 14 of the last 15 years playing for the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. It’s a city I will associate forever with ballet, playing for some of the best and nicest people in the ballet world. I wish i’d had this music for some of them, however, considering how many hours of pirouettes I must have played for. 

Tempo for Prague Waltzes

I left the allegro vivace  on this arrangement out of deference to the orchestral score, but to me this doesn’t sound right given what’s on the page, and so the metronome marking range is mine.   I like the tempo that Jirí Belohlavek takes it with the  Prague Symphony Orchestra (I also like to think they must know what they’re doing with this Czech music).   For class, you could take it even slower, and pull it about in different ways as necessary. Belohlavek plays around with the tempo quite a lot for the sake of concert interest, but the opening sections are the kind of tempo which works well for a lot of pirouette exercises. 

 

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Post-grad study for mature students : 15 tips

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A while back, a friend and colleague who is about to start a PhD asked me if I had any advice. I said, don’t ask me, given that I had to interrupt for a year, and I’m living on borrowed time for my final draft even as I write this. But, he said, that’s exactly who he’d like to take advice from—a struggler. So, I started this list of things that I’m glad I did, wished I’d done earlier, and wished I hadn’t done as a birthday present. True to form, I missed the deadline, but I’m now publishing this for him, and for two former students of mine who asked me if I had any advice for them as they begin their part-time MAs as mature students.  The advice probably applies to young postgrads as well, except that I think balancing work and study, and the distractions and commitments of everyday life get harder as you get older. 

Here goes—and comments would be wonderful to help anyone else in the same boat. 

Five things I’m glad I did: 

  1. Used reference management software from day one, and  invested  time learning to use it well. I use Zotero (the standalone version), but you can compare others here. One of the best quick guides to Zotero in my view is this one from  the Old Bailey. The day that I discovered how to use the Library Look-up feature changed my life. I learned that from the IoE library pages. Zotero has too many cool features to mention. Put in the time early on learning to use it, and you’ll reap rewards ever after. 
  2. Decided who my heroes were  as writers and thinkers, and kept their work in mind as my inspiration. I hardly needed telling to do this, but it’s a good thing to remind yourself. My heroes were:  Howard Becker, Erving Goffman, Tia DeNora, Philip Tagg, Georgina Born, Lucy Green (who happens to be my supervisor, so I’m lucky). Very late, I discovered Jean Lave, Michael Billig, Leah Greenfield. I’d recommend Michael Billig’s Learn to Write Badly to anyone, whether they’re in the social sciences or not. 
  3. Turned off the internet to write/read. The internet, bad writing, social media, the phone, are all the enemies of any kind of work that you need to do as a researcher or writer. I keep coming back to what Dani Shapiro says in Still Writing: online newspapers, magazines, emails and such like, this is “the opposite of reading.  It pulls you away, instead of directing you inward.” (p. 34). Pulling away is exactly what distraction means. I used Freedom when it was free, but changed to the free SelfControl app, after I noticed Zadie Smith’s had given thanks to it at the end of one of her novels. Whatever you use, don’t trust yourself to switch off the wifi. 
  4. Kept a research diary. Include all the bad stuff as well as the good. I keep mine in a local installation of WordPress on my computer, using MAMP. On depressing days when you get nothing done, you can at least write about how depressed you are. I wrote several days of entries when I tried to read Foucault. The fact that I still couldn’t cope with him several years later told me that it was a good thing I didn’t hitch my work to his particular wagon.
  5. Didn’t wait to write until I’d  done my research. “Memo writing”—ad hoc, on the fly, as-you-go writing about your research as you’re doing it— is a favoured feature of grounded theory approaches to research, and what the GT people say is correct: often, those memos end up being part of your final work. Howard Becker says in one of his excellent books on writing, that there’s nothing that says the stuff you write quickly is necessarily any worse than stuff you toiled over. E. H. Carr in What is History said something about not being able to read more than about three books before he had to start writing. It’s not a crime. 

Five things I wished I’d done earlier: 

  1. Used ONE application for all data. For a long time, I wavered between nVivo, MaxQDA, Scrivener, physical notebooks, bits of paper, Word documents, my blog, my private diary, putting things here and there. I’m clearer now: anything that is in any sense data —interviews, odd bits of information, articles, ad hoc conversations, notes written on the back of envelopes, notes on books and articles that I’ve read—goes into MaxQDA, loosely categorized, but finely separated (i.e. each event, book, topic, article, note or whatever has its own document). It’s not that I necessarily need MaxQDA to analyse it, but I need to know where all that stuff is. 
  2. Kept the equivalent of a commonplace book for everything else. Doing research makes you interested and ravenous for new things. You need to put them somewhere, and be able to find them one day. You can’t tell what might eventually go in your research after all. 
  3. Coded (i.e. categorized) my information more assiduously. I went to a lecture by music psychologist Andrea Halpern a couple of years back, who said in passing that if you don’t “code” stuff, you don’t memorize it. She said something like “it’s nice to colour sentences in with fluorescent markers, but don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything useful. It’s just pretty. It doesn’t tell you anything about why you did it. To make it useful, you have to code it somehow.” People talk about “coding” as if it’s only something you do when you’ve got interview data. If you do it as you go with everything (like if you have a commonplace book, q.v. and you need to decide how to categorize something), it’s amazing what a difference it makes to your own comprehension of what you’re doing and reading. 
  4. Read challenging, well-written stuff first thing in the morning. Don’t take my word for it, try it and see. It’s like shutting the door and learning to hear again.  The advice came from either Dani Shapiro’s Still Writingor Annie DIllard’s The Writing Life, both of which I’d strongly recommend, alongside the practical but not so poetic The Psychology of Writing.  
  5. Sorted out details of punctuation. When I got my first article published, I had to finally commit to knowing whether the comma came inside the quotation marks or not, and a dozen other really annoying things. They’re like tripping over your shoelaces as you walk. You think early on “I’l deal with that later.” Knowing in advance means that you save yourself hours of editing later, and hours of daily annoyance now. 

Five things I wish I hadn’t done

  1. Taken on side work projects. Clear time in your schedule, and—having done it—don’t let anyone or anything in there. Vanity projects and things that are marginally related (but not useful) to your research are the worst. 
  2. Made incomplete notes. I’ve got dozens of instances in my notebooks and in files where I’ve quoted a large block of text, forgotten to say what page it was on, or in which book. At the time, because I was immersed in it, I thought I could never forget. You will. 
  3. Let other things slide. Daniel Levitin got me on to this one in The Organized MindThe temptation is to stop everything so that you can get your writing done. But all those other things (washing, tax returns, health checks, dentist, the garbage taking out etc.) need to be done. If you don’t do them, they add up in your mind as a mass of worrying distractions. It’s counter-productive to binge-write and let everything else go hang. 
  4. Started planning future projects. I’ve seen this referred to a lot: the temptation to start planning the next thing, while this one remains unfinished. You might as well do drugs. 
  5. Over-reflected. The downside to keeping a research diary is that I ended up sometimes writing more about thinking about writing than actually doing it. Treat writing like digging a road, or data entry. 

 

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A year of playing cards #23: A fruity waltz by Tcherepnin / Cherepnin (10h)

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Screen grab of the sheet music of Grande valse by Tcherepnin

Click on the link to download

What a difference an e makes: the difference between a grand waltz and a grande valse

Ballet teachers often ask for a “grande valse” or a “grande waltz” or a “big waltz” for grand allegro, probably as a result of someone telling them to do so on a teacher training course, but to be honest, it’s a misleading and much misunderstood term.  It’s clear from the way that many teachers make a kind of Popeye-flexing-his-biceps gesture as they say “grande valse” that by grande they mean something with oomph, or butch, or—to use a phrase I haven’t heard for years—to give it some welly. 

But the  grande in grande valse in compositional terms refers to the scale and nature of the work (i.e. long and discursive) rather than its dynamics or capacity to be used for big jumps. And there’s the problem, because when composers write large-scale works, they usually introduce contrast, interest, variation, symphonic-style development, the unexpected, including changes of speed, and the playful expansion of melodic material. For that reason, many of the pieces in the concert repertoire called grande valse won’t be that useful for  ballet class, given that what is needed is a succession of 16-count phrases of similar dynamics for each group of dancers as they come across the room. Composers of grandes valses don’t last long before the temptation kicks in to try some canonic imitation or rhythmic dissonance over a pedal point. If you’re trying to do grand allegro, or play for it, this is often more of an annoyance than an interesting feature. A notable exception is Chopin’s grande valse op. 18 No. 1, which has a lot of usable sections in it—but on the other hand, it’s not very “grande” in terms of tempo and oomph. 

Tcherepnin’s Grande valse: the best bits

Tcherepnin is unfortunately no exception to the general rule (incidentally, it should really be Cherepnin—the ‘T’ comes from French transliteration, where the T is needed to make the “ch” sound, otherwise it would be pronounced “Sherepnin”; Chaikovsky, a.k.a. Tchaikovsky is another example).  No sooner has he stated his big tune, than he begins to take it apart, like a dog pulling at a lead while you’re trying to head straight through the park. Depending on the exercise, there might be times when this can work, and in principle, If you’re going to have 10 minutes of grand allegro, much nicer to be able to play stuff that develops and changes than keep repeating yourself. For that reason, I originally intended to transcribe the whole waltz: it’s wonderful. However, I had to keep cutting and cutting until there were only two pages left.  In grand allegro, you can’t suddenly drop from fortissimo voluptuousness into the coy experiment in the example below. It’s an example of what Christopher Hampson once called being “musical” in a pejorative sense (see earlier post on “Being too musical“). The grande valse concert repertoire is littered with them, which is fine if you’re listening rather than dancing. 

Screen grab of a section of Cherepnin's Grande Valse from Le Pavillon d'Armide

Tcherepnin giving in to the temptation to be ‘too musical’

However, the first couple of pages of this is great for a certain kind of travelling (rather than jumpy) grand allegro, and it’s wonderfully dramatic, wistful and film-scoreish in a similar vein to Geoffrey Toye’s 1934  Haunted Ballroom waltz . 

Listen to Tcherepnin’s Grande Valse from Le Pavillon d’Armide

Many of the Youtube classical music links I post eventually disappear for copyright reasons, so listen while you can. 

 

 

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Walk to Canterbury in Aid of the Connection

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Walk to Canterbury 2016: picture of the walkers outside Canterbury Cathedral

At Canterbury Catherdral at the end of the walk to Canterbury last year. This year, I’m doing it for the first time: click to donate!

This year, I’m walking to Canterbury in aid of The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a charity that helps homeless people in direct, practical ways.  I’d be thrilled if you can contribute, however little, via our donation page here.  It’s a great way to do something to help the homeless; or maybe If you enjoy the resources on this site, which will always be free, and free of adverts because I pay for my own hosting, why not show your appreciation in a donation to The Connection? 

 

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More on the joys of live music

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Barely a week after feeling unusually compelled to write something on the joys of live music after hearing the choir at St Martin-in-the-Fields, I found myself in a similar position after watching (and listening to) Hans van Manen’s Adagio Hammerklavier performed by English National Ballet at the Sadler’s Wells (Thursday 30th March performance). 

I was interested to see what I would think of it now, 20 years after we did it at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where I was a company pianist. I say we did it, but it’s truer to say they did it, because I was just a tape-op in rehearsals, pausing and playing a reel-to-reel tape of Christoph Eschenbach’s 1970 recording of the adagio of Beethoven’s  Hammerklavier Sonata.  Given that I’m not a fan of Beethoven, slow music, pas de deux, or operating a tape machine. It was like watching paint dry, though I did not, to be honest, watch the paint much. I took a book, and listened with half my attention for instructions from the front of the studio. 

It’s a commonplace now to talk about the way that we listen through things like surface noise on discs, distortion on tape recordings, hum, interference on telephones and so on, to the voices or music beyond ; , but in this case, however good those Berlin dancers were (and I’m sure they were brilliant) I couldn’t get beyond the noisy facts of that recording to either the music or the dance. It was like listening underwater, or gazing through the side of a grubby fish-tank. All I remember of it in performance was the vast stage of the Deutsche Oper, and that interminable Beethoven. Although the sound booth was behind soundproof glass and several metres away, as soon as the music started, I began to mentally hear the click, hum and whirr of the tape machine. 

The reason we did it to tape, despite the availability of several pianists who could have played it live, was apparently historical, aesthetic, choreographic: van Manen had choreographed to that recording precisely because it was so slow: Adagio Hammerklavier was a study in balletic adagio, and Eschenbach’s Beethoven had the right quality. Clive Barnes said that the work was “set to” this specific recording , and as I understood it in Berlin back in the early 1990s, we weren’t allowed to do it anything else; the recording was integral to the piece. I say “apparently,” because re-reading Stephanie Jordan’s Moving Music, I realise this can’t have been entirely true. Antony Twiner explains in an interview that he’d had to copy the Eschenbach performance when he played for the piece: 

I took the record home, and I listened to it, and I played along with it, memo­rized it, and marked my own copy as to how long this or that note was held by this man . . . I said, ‘Well, it’s not impossible. It may not be my personal inter­pretation but if that’s the way you want it played, it can be done.

When ENB did it last week, they didn’t use the recording, it was played (beautifully) by Olga Khoziainova, perhaps under similar preparatory conditions. I was astonished at what a difference it made. It helped that Tamara Rojo’s pas de deux with Emilio Pavan that night happened to be, in my view, one of the most breathtaking ballet performances I’ve ever seen, but even without that, I could have watched Adagio Hammerklavier for another 30 minutes and not been bored.  I had never noticed that gently rippling backcloth before, but I could have watched that alone and been entranced. One of the biggest differences is the feel of the sound in the air. You can sense the upper notes bouncing off the roof of the theatre, whereas the recording makes you feel like you’re listening to a room, not a piano; hearing the atmosphere, rather than living in it.

With the music played live, time seemed to unfold only in the present moment, the movement and music together drawing you into some tiny point of light on the stage, like following the tip of a pen as it writes. This brought together in my mind both Ingold’s thoughts about lines  and Stern’s on the present moment  .  A recording, by comparison, is already dead in the water, a hard-edged lump of music whose outcome is known in advance.

I usually spend a lot of time defending recorded music in ballet: live music for the sake of it is not intrinsically a good thing, recorded music not universally a bad one.  If you make extravagant claims for live music based on ideology dressed up as transcendent values, someone will eventually call your bluff. and all live music, however legitimate the claims for it, may suffer as a result.  Ironically, considering that Adagio Hammerklavier was inspired by a recording, it is that recording that kills it in my view. Played live, the thing that van Manen was after seems to shine from the stage from moment to glorious moment.

Once again, I find myself taking issue with Liveness. On the surface, this anecdote about the Eschenbach recording illustrates Auslander’s point that live performances are mediated by,  predicated on, or constrained by recordings, and thus liveness isn’t a simple condition: it’s all mixed up with mediatizations as well.  Perhaps it is the inclusion of ballet, so precarious, so much hostage to the present moment that makes the particular difference here. In an interview with the critic Edmund Lee, van Manen differentiated between slow motion, which he said is based on “total balance,” and adagio, which for him is “like a wheel that you push—and that moment where the wheel is still moving, just before it falls.” . Watching Adagio Hammerklavier with live music retains that sense of danger on another plane, whereas with a recording, the wheel is not only not falling, it isn’t even moving. 

A fascinating side issue here dealt with by Auslander in Liveness, is that performances (in the sense of the characteristics of a particular interpretation) aren’t subject to copyright. It would be a breach of copyright to copy the actual recording, but not to mimic the details of Eschenbach’s performance in your own playing (and then record it, if you wanted to). Given that, as in this example, a particular performance can be a person’s trademark in the metaphorical sense, it is strange that it can’t be in a literal one. 

References [just because I love generating them automatically with Zotero and  Zotpress] 

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