Monthly Archives: June 2011

Polonaise and mazurka: the ultimate internet resource page

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This is probably the most wonderful site I’ve ever come across in the very specialised world of music for dance: a page of links to the the content of Polish Dances, the complete written works of Raymond Cwieka. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of detailed research on the mazurka and polonaise.  I can pretty much promise you that you will never, ever find another resource so large and comprehensive and informative on the topic.

The route by which I found it is interesting. I don’t know how long it’s been up there, but I’m shocked at myself for not having discovered it before, considering that I spend a lot of my life researching this subject.  I found it because I was trying to find a the original German version of Paul Nettl’s The Story of Dance Music, given that the translation is poor in parts. I searched for <“the story of dance music” german title>, and one of the links that appeared was Cwieka’s book on the polonaise (all 410 pages of it) linked to by Jason Chuang. There’s a moral here: if you want to find good resources on the net, it helps if you put in another good source as your search term, because a well-researched page will have references. If you don’t know about a subject, then it stands to reason that you’re not going to know the kinds of terms that will bring up the best sources. References are a good place to start.

The generosity of Cwieka is overwhelming. It’s all up there for you and me to read and enjoy and learn from. I’m oscillating between joy and despair, though – it’s such a great resource, but it just shows that  I don’t know shit about the polonaise really, and I know just how many hundreds of pages I am away from being well-informed.

Update, January 2017

Further to all this, here’s a nice comment left by Raymond Cwieka on my site: 

CALLING ALL DANCERS INTERESTED IN BALLROOM / VICTORIAN / FOLK / POLISH DANCE!

YOU MAY VIEW OUR WORD VIDEO ESSAYS AND WRITTEN ESSAYS AT:
FOR THE VIDEOS:
Go to the internet; type-in “Raymond Cwieka – Academia.edu”.

FOR THE WRITTEN ESSAYS / SOURCES. / ANAYLYSIS:

Go to the internet; type-in “Raymond Cwieka| Papers – Academia.edu”.

THESE ARE NOT ARRANGED IN ANY ORDER!

(to open www.academia.edu, you may need an account with
them/have a google/facebook account)

Cordially,
r. cwieka 

 

 

 

Roadhugs

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Glad to see the new Roadhug campaign to get people to be nice to vulnerable road users by thinking of them as people you know, rather than just anonymous obstacles in your way.

The people who present the most danger to me on my cycle journey to work are Wandsworth mothers on the school run, and by far the worst are those with ‘Baby on Board’ in the back window.  The irony is that their oversized tanks which protect the passengers from everything from bulls to car crashes are also the perfect killing machine.  When they cut me up, pull out of turnings or open their roadside doors without looking, or leap over speed bumps at 30 mph because they can, I come close to pulling up beside them and shouting through the window ‘with drivers like you on the road, that’ll be your child one day”.  Now at least someone else has said it in a much kinder way.

 

‘Digital natives’? I don’t buy it

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I can’t usually watch more than two minutes of a televised debate without fast forwarding or switching off altogether, but I was completely hooked by all 100 minutes of the ‘Are We Making Monsters?’ debate at ENO with Will Self, Claire Fox, Norman Lebrecht and composer Nico Muhly.

The occasion was a build-up event for  Muhly’s opera Two Boys which premieres at ENO this Friday (24th June). The opera is based around a true story of a teenage stabbing in which the internet, social media and multiple fictional online personalities played a central role.

I found it fascinating precisely because there is so much we can’t know here, and the issues are enormous, deep and wide-ranging. To hear the social, moral & psychological  implications of Grindr discussed by such luminaries is deeply satisfying and funny. Time and again, I found myself switching sides as the speakers (particularly Claire Fox) disagreed with each other with compelling arguments.

There is one argument in all of it that I just don’t buy, however, and that is this conceptual division of individuals into what Will Self initially called the ‘pre-net’ and ‘post-net’ generation. An audience member finally pointed out that it’s more common to speak of ‘internet native’ and ‘internet immigrant’. I’m more accustomed to the terms ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’ to describe people who were  born with or without the presence of the internet.

I have never bought this idea as being particularly helpful or true. As a tutor, I spent a lot of my time struggling to teach ‘digital natives’ how to be one, not always with a great deal of success.  I, and some others of my (pre-internet) generation, are at times more tuned in to the possibilities and affordances of the online world than people who grew up with it.   No-one is compelled to use the internet all the time for all the things it can do, and the divisions, as far as I’m concerned, are not along age-lines, but between people who do and people who don’t do stuff with it. People who don’t make use of something like Zotero for academic work – to take one example – don’t do so not because of their age, but because they are lazy and/or they don’t need to do so in order to eat (lucky them). Or it’s simply that they can’t, because they don’t have the money, the broadband access, the hardware and the education. Try telling an impoverished child in an area where the council has closed the library that they’re part of the ‘net generation’.

I sometimes tend to the same kind of pessimism about the internet as Will Self, but in the end, that wouldn’t make any sense. The only reason that I know what he thinks about the subject is because I saw the debate on the web, using my iPhone not as some device to interact with others virtually, but as a small television. The only reason I knew about the debate is because I follow Dickon Edwards on Twitter, and he posted a link to the debate. The debate itself was occasioned by an art-form that I largely detest (opera). I got a flyer through the post, and promptly threw it away. Via the web, I got to hear a bit of Muhly’s music, see him in person, learn more about the opera, get engaged by the debate, and now I’ve bought tickets to see it.

The idea that there is an online world ‘out there’ that is separate, disengaged from the physical one is part of the problem of the debate. When Will Self heard the word ‘internet native’ he said something like ‘aha – so it’s a territory’. I don’t believe it is, even if people use the metaphor in casual speech. Because I don’t think it’s a territory,  I also don’t think it’s capable of having ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’. Perhaps it’s this metaphor that causes people to become internet xenophobes in the first place.

Postscript: As chance would have it – and thanks to Dickon Edwards again for the tip – the Guardian reports on Facebook Fatigue. Perhaps we’re over it already.

See also: 30 minute podcast/interview with Craig Lucas (librettist of Two Boys) and Nico Muhly from the Independent, with Edward Seckerson. Wonderful stuff, and more great insights on the world of the online.

جوناثان ستيل

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Given that I come from a generation where if you wanted italics, you had to change the daisy wheel on the printer, I’m still amazed at how easily computers and the web deal with international fonts. Looking through my site stats, I discovered that someone had got to my site by searching for جوناثان ستيل. I pasted this into Google, and indeed, for some reason my site comes top of the list.

What’s جوناثان ستيل?  I asked Google Translate. Turns out it’s Jonathan Steele, apparently.

This time, Slovenia: A geography lesson for Telegraph readers

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‘Working class pupils ‘perform better in Slovenia than in UK‘ is the headline of  an astonishingly crass article in today’s Telegraph.  I can’t be bothered to regurgitate all the reasons it’s stupid, since I already had to do this last year when the Daily Mail’s headline news was that Slovenian live longer than women in the UK (see my rant A geography lesson for Mail-readers).  If Telegraph readers knew what a great country Slovenia was, they’d probably be sending their kids to school there.

Another group hit by library closures: the U3A

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Education: The Age of Uncertainty is an impassioned but factual article in today’s Independent about the effect that library closures are having on the elderly, and in particular on members of the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Ian Searle writes:

The mass closure of public libraries is hitting older people and retired people who want to learn and keep their minds active. The sort of learning that goes on in the University of the Third Age (U3A) – the learning that retired people do because they want to do it, not because they need it for their careers – will be worst hit.

It’s a convincing argument, and I hope that the 250,000 members of U3A lobby government to make it strongly, but the specificity of the statement above  bothers me: it blurs the effect that the closures will have on everyone else. As I pointed out in a recent entry, my local library at least was full of young people.  Learning and the opportunity to gain access to what libraries have to offer – including a quiet and warm place to think – are important at any age, whether you ‘need it for your career’ or not.  The concept of a career in itself is fast becoming an anachronism, as people have to adapt to a very unpredictable and insecure job market.

Argos? What about the library?

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I’d no sooner pressed send on the previous post about the wonder of libraries, than I happened to see a ‘heartwarming’ story in  today’s Evening Standard about a 7-year old  girl who came home to find £500 worth of brand new books from Argos waiting for her.

I put ‘heartwarming’ in quotes, because while it’s very nice for anyone to get £500 worth of something out of the blue, this  story rather sickens me. Where is there any mention of libraries?  How does such an act benefit the wider community over the long term? That’s what they’re there for: books are expensive, and to spend £500 on them when you’re a child is overkill. You’re not going to like all of them, you might only read most of them once, and if they’re popular books, there’s no reason to buy them new. Giving one child a mass of books looks good on paper, but it’s not half as fantastic as the library services that are already there. And thanks to the way that libraries serve their communities, the chances are Aurelia’s mum could have taken out a load of books in Polish as well – she certainly could in Tooting.

This single benevolent act by Argos benefits one child for a very short time, and in a very limited way (though the benefit to Argos is probably much greater and longer lasting). The Evening Standard story completely disguises the wonderful services that local libraries provide their communities and have done for years. Why would they do that? Why would they continue to propagate a fiction that if you don’t have books at home, then there’s nothing for it except to wait for your local chain store to air-lift a box of them into your living room, when there are magnificent libraries everywhere, at least for the moment?

The wonders of a library in Tooting

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Tooting Library 2006

Tooting Library in 2006 - it's been completely revamped since then

For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty concentrating, to the extent that libraries are the only reason I have ever achieved anything. It doesn’t matter how much space I have at home, or how much time and opportunity I have, when I need to concentrate and get any kind of mental work done, I have to go to a library. I’ll buy a day membership to a University library, travel for more than an hour, do anything just for the peace and concentration it affords.  The quality of work I do in libraries is so much better than anywhere else, that I have vivid memories of what I read and when, going back decades.

I’m in between courses, so whereas for the last couple of years I could have taken myself to the Institute of Education library, I’m now without anywhere to work.  After two years of having an oasis in the middle of Bloomsbury to work in, I’m lost. So on Saturday, I went to Tooting Library, knowing that they have a wonderful quiet study area upstairs. It was the most useful and enjoyable two hours work I’ve done in weeks.

The reason I’m blogging about this is because since the threats to library services started last year, I find myself arguing with people (middle class employed people, by the way) about why we need to keep them.  They talk vaguely about ‘everything being digital’ and ‘you can get it all online’ and ‘books are dead’ or reduce the argument to idiotic in the classic sense:  ‘they never have anything I want’ or ‘it was closed when I went’.

To reduce the concept of a library to a repository of books is to miss the point, in my view. On Saturday, the study room and IT facilities were full. People were having to book slots and come back later to use the computers (and there are a good number of them). All the seats in the study area were taken. There were a lot of young people, and a lot of old people, and a very broad ethnic mix. A lot of them, like me, had gone there to study, some had gone to read the newspapers. I was so grateful for the quiet, but also for the encouragement you get when you’re in a place where everyone else is trying to do the same thing (people say they go to the gym for the same reason, even though they could work out at home).

As Sadiq Khan pointed out in his open letter to Edward Lister of Wandsworth Council in February about library closures in Wandsworth:

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.

Well said. It’s not just children either. At a time when more and more people are losing jobs, having to retrain, competing for an ever smaller number of jobs, and have less and less disposable income, libraries are a lifeline. When councillors think they can turn off this particular service, I wonder if they understand it at all, or even know what value it has in their own communities. It is particularly important if the government, as it claims, wants to get young people into work. You have to support that kind of initiative with places to study.

Given the wonderful service that libraries and librarians offer (I don’t think anybody’s put it better than Philip Pullman in his speech about library closures), I find it disgusting that anyone should suggest that volunteers are the answer. I know a number of librarians, and I am trying to envisage how they and I would feel when some financially independent do-gooder turns up at the library and turfs them out of their means of employment, as if their knowledge, experience and education, let alone their need for a job, was insignificant.

Surely before we go down that route, there is an option for some kind of light-touch membership system. If people will pay to go to the gym or belong to the National Trust, can they not pay something to use a library? Keep it free for students, the unemployed, the retired and those on benefits, but offer membership options.  The trouble is that sadly, not enough people are convinced that they’re worth fighting for.

 

 

 

Music, technology & the body

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I was intrigued by a reference to Mrs Bagot Stack’s Women’s League of Health & Beauty in a review of Michael Clark’s piece at the Tate Modern by Clement Crisp yesterday. As recondite as it sounds, the league, albeit after several changed names until the current Fitness League, is still going.  The figures are extraordinary – in 1936, the league had 166,000 members in the UK alone. This is well over ten times the current worldwide membership of the organization I work for.

As I’m currently writing a PhD proposal, and my topic is broadly speaking the way that dance teachers and dance teacher educationalists use music in dance teaching, I was fascinated by a comment by Prunella Stack in an interview in 2005 on the 75th anniversary of the league:

She cites music’s role in appealing to the “higher senses”. “Aerobics is rather mechanical and is not influenced by music, unlike our system where it is terribly important,” she says. “This artistic element is what really releases people.” [In a league of their own, The Times, 2005]

As philosophical statements about music go, that’s pretty straight-down-the-line and clear. I’d love to read that in a brochure for a ballet school, but in so much dance training, music is used as a tool for attaining technique, or to distract from effort. It’s just another technology. The more I read about The Fitness League, the less I think that Michael Clark should be offended by the comparison.