A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.


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A sort of memoir

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Music Remembers Me by Kirsty Beilharz

The Memory of Music by Andrew Ford

We’ve all experienced time travel. It’s called memory. Not the handy, short term stuff you need to function in every day life, as you hunt for your glasses or try to recall the name of the person walking towards you. No, I’m talking about the longer term stuff, those visceral, whole body experiences where your memories are multi-dimensional, multi-sensual — the feel of the grass beneath your feet, the scent of the madeleine. The moment you experience a different time and place with such intensity that the transformation is almost total – you really are there. Almost.

I expect we’ve also all experienced how music can be the key to the time machine. Like the way Elvis Presley singing ‘Return to sender’ still sends me rocketing back the 1970s, driving down a narrow country lane on the way to Slapton Sands, wriggly with excitement as my brother and I scan the horizon, wanting to be the first to see the sea. (I’ve remarked on it here too).

It’s serendipitous, then, that two books exploring the relationship between music and memory should land on my desk at the same time.

Kirsty Beilharz is a composer, designer, and maker. She is also Director of Music Engagement at HammondCare (Learning and Research Centre) and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Edinburgh U.K., applying music research in the context of dementia and palliative care. Her book, Music Remembers Me, is intended as a guide to understanding how music can be used in caring for patients suffering from dementia. It’s full of insights, some of them practical — the best headphones to use, playlists to get you started, how and when to use music — and some of them profound. The how-to text (which bears its scholarship lightly but is thoroughly referenced) is interspersed with vignettes of real life stories of how music can transform. Stories of patients like ‘Bob’, who repaired his shattered sleep patterns and broken appetite with structured listening; or Marion, whose beaming face on the cover shows her reliving her time as a singer and dancer through her headphones.

Kirsty’s descriptions of hands-on experiences alongside her research make a strong case for how music can be a powerful tool for improving quality of life in dementia care but it goes beyond being an anecdotal ‘how-to’. As she addresses the various applications of music in detail she also explores the condition of dementia, and the affects it has, not just on the patient, but on the carers, on family and friends, and on the broader community. She prescribes music not as a blanket of comforting noise to be thrown over a difficult environment, but as a precision instrument which can be tailored to an individual’s needs. In short, it can help people be, when the very act of being is difficult.

On the cover of Andrew Ford‘s latest book, The Memory of Musicis a picture of a naked music box, its workings exposed. But of course, it’s more than a music box. It’s actually a time machine, with which Andrew takes us on a journey beginning in Colwyn Bay, Liverpool, and zig-zagging across time and space via Bradford, London, Sydney and the Southern Highlands.

Ford calls his book a ‘sort of memoir’, but he tells his story without fanfare or self-congratulation. The story is, instead, a good excuse to construct a fond and fabulous play list of a life. 1960s Liverpool hums to the sound of the Beatles, while South London rocks to Beethoven, Boulez and Bowie. If you’re looking for a traditional biography, this is not it: Ford lets the music take him on a myriad of winding side roads and historical tangents. After all, not knowing where you’re going when you step into the time machine is half the fun.

However, as the story meanders on, in the comfortingly chatty but erudite manner much loved by listeners to The Music Showit’s anything but pointless. Yes, Ford revels in the offbeat, offtrack observation, but his observations are never random. They are spotted, collected, inspected and then pieced together to form a personal world view which is much more than just a collection of reminiscences. Ford investigates his memories, his music, how it makes him feel, how it makes others feel, like a questing bloodhound, piecing together exquisite details and fragile links with all the skill of an artist. Or a composer.

Music is, of course, his constant companion and, on the way, he tries to answer questions about how it works. What is music? What does it mean? Can it be political? Why do I compose? Where do ideas come from? What is authenticity in music? Why do I like this, but not that? He’d be the first to admit that he doesn’t know all the answers.

The Memory of Music is an entertaining and thought-provoking read. If Ford is at first a faintly reluctant subject of his own story, he has by the end revealed much of himself — his views on religion, on war, on politics, on family, to name but a few. But, more than anything, he has made a passionate case for listening with a generous and open-minded spirit. As he says, “If you’re open-minded, open-eared, open-hearted, if you have a little faith, the music may speak to you.”

Hear hear to that.

 


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Oh no! Nono!

Cross posted from my Unbound Page, where there are details of the book I’m researching on Dartington International Summer School of Music.

A letter from William Glock to John Amis, dated July 1962

Dear Johnny

The worst has happened. I’ve been trying desperately to get in touch with you.

Nono has finished his piece.

I think he stayed away from Darmstadt (‘ill’) in order to finish it, and anyway I feel we must do our best to put it on.

But… It’s for soprano, viola, cello, d.b., celesta, keyboards, 1 tam-tam, 12 crotales covering all 12 semitones – but the exact pitch I don’t know; are you an authority on crotales? If Gigi’s letter (sent apparently 5 days ago) reaches me tomorrow morning I’ll let you know.

‘Gigi’ is Luigi Nono, Italian avant-garde composer, disciple of Schoenberg and Webern, central figure of the notorious ‘Darmstadt School’, (a term which he coined in a 1958 lecture).

Nono’s only published work for 1962 is Canti di vita e d’amore: sul ponte di Hiroshima. It’s not clear what work that Glock was referring to and, in the end, the ‘new work’ listed in the program didn’t happen. But the soprano mentioned below, Dorothy Devow, was at Dartington that year at the same time as Nono, and gave the premiere of Canti at the Edinburgh Festival at the end of August, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Performers: (1) D. Devow – cd she be asked to come down earlier, to learn her part? L. N. will bring the material with him on Friday.

(2) Nono will conduct

(3) students can play the cymbals, tam-tam, crotales (6 players). Also the celeste – but this presumably has to be hired. Cd it be put on the Steinway truck?

Sorry to spring this all on you; the news came at 11.55pm last night.

Menuhin: $200. It seems reasonable.

Much love,

W

Re:- the crotales. There are cr. graves and aigues, if no more; so we better wait. I’ll phone.

Did Nono and Devow rehearse at Dartington? Did the students work out the crotales? And who were these students? It was quite a class: Peter Maxwell-Davies, Richard Rodney Bennett, Harrison Birtwistle, Hugh Wood, Robert Saxton, Brian Elias, Alexander Goehr, Cornelius Cardew, Nick Maw and Susan Bradshaw among them. Nono taught in Italian, with Max as interpretor. He was an iconoclast, an ardent communist and hard taskmaster. His other claim to fame, at Dartington at least, was his refusal to shake hands with Benjamin Britten, on artistic grounds.

Can anyone out there enlighten me on what work William was talking about? And do you think it’s reasonable to pay Yehudi Menuhin $200?

I’m off to have another rummage… And you can too if you chip in to my book project. It’s now funding at Unbound. Let’s make this thing happen!

 


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Rummagining

Digging through an archive is a bit like piecing together a puzzle. Most of the bits are there, but they need putting together, and once you have put them together you realise that something is missing. It’s like the yarning, cryptic crosswords and QI (mixed in with a fair amount of drudgery.) But every so often things fit together in new and exciting ways.

I was intrigued to find out more about early performances of Le Marteau sans Maitre. Yes, I know, nasty modern music, but that was a big part of the Summer School. You could have your Mozart and Schubert, but you needed to listen to something written yesterday too.

Pierre Boulez’s notorious work was first performed in 1955 at the ISCM Festival in Baden-Baden but I was pretty sure its first UK performance was at Dartington.

To the archive!

First, a photo: 59.42

I can make out “Boulez” and Le Marteau sans maitre, but not much else. It’s a picture of Ilona Halberstadt, a film producer and scholar, who later founded “Pix” magazine. She was also involved with Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra in the 60s.

Then here’s the concert programme:IMG_5024

August 9th, 1959 it says, in my father’s handwriting. I can almost smell the roneo ink.

And then, by recent happenstance, an introduction to the fearless conductor, John Carewe, who agreed to dredge his memory for that performance. Here’s what he remembers:
“The idea of doing it was mine. William [Glock] was enthusiastic. I had been in Paris studying with Messiaen and Boulez (I think 1956/7). I guess I gave my first concert (RFH recital room, based round 2 performances of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No 1) in Jan 1958 and William invited us to Dartington. Of course I knew Le Marteau and loved it and its challenges, hence my desire to do it..
There was a new printed version available. We started rehearsals about 7 months before that August. We had one session together (after which we sacked the percussionist and Richard Rodney Bennett took over the part). After that I took lots of rehearsals with one, two or three players. There was no guitarist at that time who could have played it so Cornelius Cardew learnt to play guitar! All the others were young professionals intrigued by the problems. In Dartington we rehearsed from 9.00 am to late evening for 5 or 6 days before the performance. I guess we got travel, bed and food and possibly £10 each for all that work.  But we loved it!”

Here’s a (terrible) picture of them rehearsing.59.98

Now I’m hoping to find someone who remembers hearing it for the first time.

Could that be you? Do get in touch!

 

This is a cross post from my Unbound updates page. Unbound is the game-changing publisher which finds authors with something to say then uses crowd-funding to make it happen. There are more details of my book, Sanctuarya pictorial history of Dartington International Summer School, over there, and that’s where to go if you want to get updates on what I’m finding out and pledge your support by signing up to get a copy when it comes out next year. (Go on, you know you want to!) If you’ve already signed up, thank you thank you thank you,  and do take another look because Unbound’s just relaunched a bright and shiny (and pink) new site.

 


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Ten of the Best

It is a truth universally acknowledged that lists and ‘best of’ posts are de rigeur at this time of year. I was going to do a ‘best of 2016’ blogpost but, frankly, I’ve seen so many round the traps – including some really good ones like this and this — that I’ll spare you my own ravings. Instead, I’d like to throw another list of ten at you.

booksHere are ten books which have grabbed my attention or piqued my interest from the publishing house Unbound. (Full disclosure: they’re hopefully publishing my Dartington book sometime in 2018.) Unbound is three guys’ response to the strange and wonderful publishing environment we find ourselves in in this new century, an environment which is being fought over by two opposing forces: the big companies, blockbusters and bargains brigade, and the seething underclass of independents, self-publishers and little guys. Unbound attempts to combine the best elements of each.

It is a full-service publishing house with editors and designers (so none of the wince-inducing grammatical clangers or woeful purple prose which clutters up the independent scene). However, it works with its authors, using a nifty crowd-funding front-end to its online presence, to pre-sell books to cover the production costs, thereby freeing it from the onus of only selecting sure-fire winners.

Put simply, it has developed a different structure for sharing risk. It puts some of the onus back on the author, but it also allows Unbound to embrace a much broader, much edgier stable of authors. Brilliant but niche non-fiction books. First novels. Quirky memoirs. Books which don’t sit squarely in a genre.

A scroll through Unbound’s current list of projects is a dangerous thing at this time of year. I cannot afford to buy any more books, but that doesn’t stop me from longing. So here’s my list of ten Unbound books which catch my eye.

  1. Letters of Note is one of the first books published by Unbound, and a best-seller. It’s a collection of memorable letters compiled by Shaun Usher. It includes facsimiles of letters from people like Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt and John Cleese – intimate little glimpses into fascinating lives.
  2. I met Lia Leendertz on Twitter, way back in the good old days. I love gardening, and love reading her columns, full of wise and poetic observations on the passage of the seasons. The New Almanac is a modern version of the traditional rural almanac, complete with moon tables, planting guides and beautiful illustrations. I live in Australia so it’s not going to help my garden grow, but I’ve pledged to it because I love the idea. Maybe she can do an Australian version one day!
  3. Lev Parikian’s sort-of memoir, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear, is a great example of the sort of book Unbound does really well. It defies description, but the way in which Lev fails to describe it is so compelling that you just want to read it anyway.
  4. Brilliant comic writer, performer and former Python Terry Jones was one of Unbound’s first authors, and a torch bearer for the company in its early days. This is the finale of his medieval adventure trilogy.
  5. When I pitched Sanctuary to Unbound I wasn’t expecting them to know about Dartington Hall, but by a nice coincidence it turned out that they had just commissioned a biography of Dorothy Elmhirst, Dartington’s owner and benefactor by Jane Brown.
  6. Jessica Duchen is a music writer, critic and librettist who already has four novels published. Ghost Variations is a musical detective story with a twist – it actually happened! I’m reading it right now, and immersed in the adventures of violinist Jelly d’Aranyi fighting for the legacy of Robert Schumann in the strange times of 1930s Europe.
  7. Moose Allain is a cartoonist, artist, writer and thinker. I wonder what I’m thinking about is a collection of pictures, stories, doodles and musings which emerge when he wonders. I love it because it makes me laugh.
  8. I’ve pledged to this on the strength of a very impressive rap from one of the Unbound founders, who called it “a near perfect manuscript”. I’ve since met (digitally) the author, Sarah Marr, and if the novel is anywhere as entertaining and insightful as her online postings it’ll be ace.
  9. Not only does Solitaire Townsend have a splendid name, she also has something to say. Something important. Her book The Happy Hero grapples with one of biggest challenges, Climate Change, but she manages to do it in an irresistibly positive and persuasive way. The Happy Hero reached 100% funding in just three days. Which makes me think she’s onto something.
  10. There is no number ten. You’d better go and choose your own. Have fun.

Merry Christmas.