Monthly Archives: June 2010

It’s not always the way that you do it, sometimes it’s what you do


Fascinating article from the Journal of Experimental Psychology, I like the sound of your voice: Affective learning about vocal signals‘.  We’d all like to think, wouldn’t we, that having a ‘musical’ voice is what counts, and that – to paraphrase the old song – ‘It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it’, a kind of vocal sugaring of the pill.

But it seems from this research that while it’s true that the mere sound of a voice can induce different affects in us – hear laughter, and you have a general sense of wellbeing, hear a scream, and you begin to worry – that’s not the whole story.  The results of this study suggest  that hearing a speaker say negatively charged words (like taxes or divorce) would influence your judgement of the acoustic qualities of their voice to the extent that even if that person were to say relatively nice things at a later date, your experience of the content of what they said earlier has coloured the perceived quality of their voice. The opposite applies – someone you heard talk about love and kittens yesterday could tell you you’re fat and for a moment you might think they’d said something nice.

This seems to have enormous implications for teaching in the arts. However ‘musical’ your voice may be, if what you say is negatively charged, then your listener’s perception of those musical qualities will be overridden by the content. And conversely, it goes some way to explaining something that is beginning to puzzle me in my own research – why is it that the people I know that seem to me to be very ‘musical’ often have very quiet, perhaps even subdued and not necessarily highly expressive voices? Could it be that what they all have in common is that they’re nice people, and that their voice is ‘music to my ears’?

Let’s have a Kristen McNally evening!


Now you know how I feel about the wonderful work of choreographer Kristen McNally (see previous post), so I’m delighted to see from her just-published  blog over at that she’s keen to put on an evening of her work to date, plus a new piece (yeah, OK, I’m all chuffed that my blog gets a mention too). I’ve told so many people about the Obama piece (if it was on video, I’d make it illegal not to see it on one of my courses) that it just has to have another viewing soon, and I will bring everyone back from their holidays to make them see Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game. There’s an invitation to send suggestions & ideas or join a discussion about it on Use your democratic rights, make your voice heard and let’s have a McNally evening!

Cyclists: beware multitaskers


The driver who caused the death of one cyclist and injured another while she was distracted for – listen carefully – two seconds while throwing a spider out of a car window has been sentenced (full story from BBC here).  I keep banging on about multi-tasking, but here’s proof that you can’t do two things at once, and that there are occasions when mutli-tasking ceases to be a cute think-piece for a magazine article and becomes an insidious lie.

Insects in cars are an unpredictable hazard, but mobile phones, music, make-up and iPods aren’t, and the decision to use them while you’re driving is predicated on belief in ‘multi-tasking’ for which there is seemingly no evidence.  “Continuous partial attention,” the term coined by Linda Stone for what computer users do, might be a better way of looking at it.

And is music really distracting?   Yes, according to a BBC news item from 2004 reports (link via Music and Mind in Everyday Life, by Eric Clarke, Nicola Dibben & Stephanie Pitts).

Ballet troubles & music


Picture of view from the Royal Ballet Studios, Covent Garden

The view from here

Music in Motion is an article on new scores for NYCB from The New Yorker by Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise. (Via theballetbag via Twitter)

I enjoyed reading The Rest is Noise more than any other book I’ve read on music, which is saying something, because I usually can’t even bring myself to even walk past the  ‘music’ section in bookshops.  By ‘music’, I mean that very specialised thing that people do in concert halls, or in the privacy of their own home hifi, the contemplation of works. And so by ‘books on music’ I mean things like biographies of composers, and the whole fawning and promotional literary culture that surrounds the classical music industry.  Since the moment I had the experience of seeing people dance while I played the piano, I found it difficult to find music without movement interesting or enjoyable any more, and it is the premise of so much writing about music that nothing, but nothing, should come between ‘the music’ and ‘the audience’ – especially not dance.

So I was rather sorry to see an author I admire so much be so dismissive of ballet. As a friend of mine pointed out recently, no-one would think it was OK to be ignorant of a work of literature or a canonical work of music, but when it comes to dance, there’s almost a certain hipness about saying you’ve never seen any, or don’t understand it, or don’t know anything about it. Ross quotes the pianist Susan Tomes as someone who also writes about her ‘ballet troubles’ in her book, Out of Silence. “I feel a sense of frustration that the dancers’ steps are not actually to the music, but merely run in parallel with it. I’m all too aware of the way they have rehearsed their movements in the studio using spoken rhythms (‘And one-and-two-and-point-and-turn,’ etc.).”

I don’t mind that she feels frustration – heaven knows, some of the worst nights I’ve ever had in a theatre have been watching ballet – but what does this mean,  ‘the dancer’s steps are not actually to the music’? Which dancers? All ballets? All music? All steps? And what determines the right of anyone to say what the music is, and that others have somehow got it wrong?  What’s so terrible about spoken rhythms, or rehearsing?  Watching pianists rehearse is no picnic  either.

So much of Western art music has dance at its very heart (see the section on ‘mind and body’ from Philip Tagg’s great article on High and Low, Cool and Uncool: aesthetic and historical falsifications about music in Europe), and there’s a whiff of high-mindedness about both Ross & Tomes on this subject – it’s only the body, it’s only dancing, how could it matter, compared to the great rational minds that create music?

Win it for the Daily Mail, Slovenia


Slovenian flag

Feeling just a bit odd today, as had it not been for commitments in London, I would be at the England-Slovenia  match, having won a five-day trip to SA and a ticket to the match in a competition.

I hope Slovenia win, and that’s not out of any anti-English sentiment, it’s because I want them to teach the Daily Mail and their readers a lesson (see previous rant ‘A Geography Lesson for Mail Readers).  Since the Mail first published that ridiculous article (which began ‘Healthcare in England is so poor that women live longer in the former Communist state of Slovenia’), there have been 261 corrective comments (mostly by Slovenians in perfect English)  which are food for the soul.  So if you want to blame anyone for my lack of support for England today, don’t blame me, blame the Mail.

It’s probably wrong to punish the readers, though – it would be hard for them to be as vacuous as the journalists that write that stuff, or who make TV ‘news’ reports.  A friend told me a story about her nephew and his friend who went to a West Ham match and were approached by a TV crew, hoping to get some footage of ‘stupid’ English football fans. The presenters handed the boys a map of Europe, and asked them to point out Slovenia. Since they were both pretty bright anyway,  and one had a Slovenian grandmother , that wasn’t difficult. They then proceeded to answer all the questions about Slovenia correctly, at which point the TV crew asked if the boys would mind retaking the interview, but faking wrong answers so they could get the story they wanted.

And for this you think we deserve to live longer?

An online ballet crossword


Click to go to the online ballet crossword

I’m reposting this from six years ago – my first ever online ballet crossword. Even though I say so myself, I think it’s rather nice if you like that kind of thing. It’s as much the gracefulness of the technology that I like as the content, which is about ballet & music & stuff.

Online sheet music resources for ballet


Sheet music for ballet: where to find scores of the major ballets

Not often that I link from here to my real job, but I’ve finally done a factsheet* page of links on a subject that I’m always being asked about – where can I get the music for this or that solo from a ballet.

So here it is, online Sheet Music Resources for ballet courtesy of the Royal Academy of Dance, with  direct links to all the Tchaikovsky ballets, Giselle and Coppélia and a few more. 

Note: I linked to the RAD Canada site above, since the RAD UK website lost or relocated invisibly all of the music resources, which I assume is a blip.  It’s back online now at — but I’m keeping the link above just in case! The pages are exact mirrors of each other, there’s no “UK” or “Canada” version. 

Sheet music for ballet class

And don’t miss my Year of Ballet Playing Cards (links to a clickable list of the posts so far) – every Thursday in 2015, I’ll be uploading a piece of piano music for class that you can download as a pdf and print for free, and blogging about it at the same time. By the end of the year, that’ll be 52 pieces. For more about that, see About A Year of Ballet Playing Cards.

*It was a factsheet, but as of March 2014 it’s a webpage – and update with a couple more links, too.

Stermann & Griessman tanzen fürs Vaterland sketch


I think there’s a kind of international exchange going on. I find more and more English people fulfilling the stereotype of the humourless German bureaucrat, whereas German humour just seems to get funnier and funnier.  Sadly, the funniest parts of this sketch are untranslatable, so go and learn German.

Penguin/Clarkson ad update


For those interested in how things are progressing with my complaint about the Penguin advertisement for Jeremy I-will-run-you-down-for-fun Clarkson’s new book (see previous post So You Think That’s Funny, Mr Clarkson), here are the responses so far:

  • Penguin: Confirmed receipt of complaint, no response yet
  • Boris Johnson: Response (yesterday) by liaison officer, advising me to take the complaint on to TfL directly.
  • Advertising Standards Authority: acknowledgement, no response yet

So top marks to my local MP Sadiq Khan, and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport who, even though it’s not actually in his remit, is the first and only person to do anything tangible so far, in that he has written to both the Mayor & the ASA on my

Click to see the original post

behalf, enclosing my email, and sent me copies of those letters, by post.

By contrast, the most disappointing response by far was from the Mayor’s office, because it came with a whole load of blurb about how the Mayor has ‘made the issue of cycling safety one of his top priorities.’ Yes, I know, and I actually began my complaint with a note of congratulation on the cycle lanes etc. How could they miss the point that I made in my complaint that this having Penguin’s ad downstairs on the underground is at odds with the Mayor’s own laudable efforts to make the roads better for cyclists?  I was also hoping for some kind of consideration of the moral/ethical issues in general, but never mind.

Here’s a selection of incidents from my very average week on the road. Believe me, we don’t need dislike added to this:

  • A police car nearly turning across my path assuming I’d stop because they thought I could hear the imaginary siren that they hadn’t turned on.
  • People (many, many of them)  looking into their laps as they text/chatting on mobile/changing hands for the phone as they turn a corner
  • A bus overtaking near a traffic island, so that they leave enough room as the front of the bus passes you, but you nearly get swamped by the back end as they swerve in to accommodate the traffic island
  • People in side roads accelerating towards you just so you know that you’ve got to wait for them
  • Buses pulling out without a signal
  • People – and don’t ask me why this is the new disease – looking left as they turn left, instead of seeing what might be coming towards them from the right.
  • Taxi drivers using the cycle lane as extra headroom  to get ahead of people waiting to turn right at junctions – without looking to see whether there’s anyone actually in it.

Oh and the latest annoyance – drivers behind you who decide they’re going to jump the red light, after you’ve already decided that you’ll stop for the amber.