Assyria, Bernstein, Birkbeck, Dmitri Shostakovich, Ebony Concerto, Fugue & Riffs, Pandemic, Paperchase, Prelude, Radio 3, Shakespeare, Simon Callow, Spem In Alium, St John Passion, Stravinsky, Wimbledon
Crack open the champagne, I actually did some writing yesterday, and it felt good. I only managed to squeeze in an hour, granted, but still made good progress hammering out some ideas for a choral commission, and ended up asking myself why I do not do it more often. Today I am travelling with ideas, manuscript and, thanks to the new Paperchase in Wimbledon station, pencil in tow, ready to grab any free minutes in today’s schedule.
Yesterday still involved clearing some major issues of administration, but these were beginning to fade by the middle of the afternoon, at which point I dug out the manuscript and seized the remainder of the day. The musical language thus far in this piece is relatively traditional, but I believe that any written idea in the early stages is better than none, also because the simple act of putting pencil to paper, as quoted in my blog the other day, encourages the brain into thinking mode. Apparently tasks left undone put the brain into depressed mode, so I managed to kill two birds with one stone, and get in games of Assyria (loss) and Pandemic (win, hooray!) to boot.
Friday also brought with it time spent on organ practice, in preparation for Sunday morning, and listening, for Monday, when I will be delving into Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto alongside Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, which a BBC Radio 3 webpage claims is by Igor. Not so.
This morning brought with it the gentle noise of the latest Birkbeck prospectus landing on my doormat. Sadly, however, music has fallen silently off the list of courses offered, and this is a crying shame. The powers that be have decided to close down the music department, presumably putting the lecturers out of work and instead making sure that things such as Media Studies stay on the curriculum. I know that we are in a recession and that the multi-millionaires in government keep telling us that we are all in this together, but music seems to be portrayed increasingly as a luxury, at least the kind of music which does not regularly emanate from the BMWs, Volkswagens and such in my neck of the woods. I keep hearing that it is elitist, which, of course, is nonsense, a lazy and exclusionist argument which does nothing to bridge divides.
I once heard Simon Callow say that one of the first things oppressive regimes do is to control expression of the people, especially in music which is, of course, dangerously abstract in places and powerfully evocative in others. From Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, with its imposed title about how contrite Dmitri was (but the listeners knew better), to the folk music of small states, music has always spoken powerfully to people, given them a sense of national and cultural identity and linked them to players and writers of the past. Most people have trouble with Shakespeare’s brand of English, but Spem In Alium will always project that sense of wonder it had at its first performance.
Anyway, Birkbeck have dropped their music courses, and that is that. I am dreadfully sorry for the students and the other staff, for the former are hugely enthusiastic, committed, hard-working and inspirational, while the latter are – well – the same. Adult education has taught me much more than undergraduate level teaching, and I treasure such moments as a 94 year old lady telling me emphatically that “things weren’t like that” when I spoke about Bach performance in the first half of the twentieth century.
I have no intention of writing about politics, sex or religion in this blog, and, in any case, educational needs outlive governments. I fear for the state of our brains when funding is being cut so sharply and those who feel the need for self-improvement are seen as elitists above their station while the TV celebrates those who rejoice in their ignorance. It is an old complaint, however, “O tempora, O mores”.
Meanwhile I am playing in a St. John Passion today, lucky me, and will happily talk to anybody who will listen about its palindromic structure, the melodic gestures, the harmonic felicities and so on and so on and (in the case of this piece, especially) so on. As long as somebody goes away with their understanding enhanced, alive to what music means to me and to millions of others, then I shall not stop, for I believe emphatically that education is not a cost but an investment.