Is music a competitive sport?

Following hot on the heals of the announcement by the BBC that they are going to commission a “Choir of the Year”-style competition for amateur orchestras (here), there has been a fair amount of discussion and debate about whether this is a good idea. Or is it simply another cheap-ish way to fill air time by using participants who don’t demand media-style salaries?

In real life, nearly everything is competitive in one way or another, either directly or implicitly, leading to a hierarchy of price/cost/importance/prestige*. The BBC in particular has a long track record in musical competition, including the “Young Musician of the Year” started in 1978. There are legion other musical contests – Cardiff Singer, Leeds Piano, etc etc. The very act of auditioning to play in an ensemble is competitive. It’s a way of life for Brass Bands.

Is this then the start of the same process for orchestras? Traditionally, in Great Britain at least, non-professional orchestras were often somewhat different. For one thing they are made up of a mix of complete amateurs, music teachers, semi-professionals and often a professional conductor and/or leader. Often they rehearse with available players and supplement the numbers with paid musicians come the concert. The way the competition is currently arranged will exclude many ensembles – more than 40 but less than 75 members, for example – and the amount of time required may well interfere with the normally running.

I’m still trying to make up my mind whether I think it’s a good idea. I know that my regular orchestra (< 40 regular players) will not be participating. I’ve long used the term “amateur orchestra”, but the term “community orchestra” is a far better description in most cases – a local group for local players. Should a community be competing?

Geoff

 

* take your pick

A short history of my favourite music

A friend has inveigled me into exposing my history of music-listening via a series of Facebook entries. I decided that actually it would be fun to add them here, where I can get a chance to expand them.

Here’s the first:

Day one of musical memories.

Glenn Miller

String of Pearls – Glenn Miller and his Orchestra

This was on a 78 we used play on an old portable record player in the loft at home in Sittingbourne. There’s a little piano “tinkle” at around 2:00 which used to sound like someone dropping a glass, but the up to date rendition makes it clearly sound like a piano. The great thing about the 78s were that they were so thick and heavy there was little danger of a sub 10-year-old damaging them more than they were already, other than by accidentally dropping it out of the loft hatch (never did, of course).

There were several other old vinyl records we used to play, but this was probably the best music. Others you won’t be seeing included “Six White Boomers” (1963 A side, the B side was “I’ve Lost My Mummy” – I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out the artist); “Milord” by Edith Piaf (never really liked that one), and an usual 10-inch long player of a Slavonic dance or something (struggling with that one even with the internet)

 

It’s as I feared (or maybe hoped)…

…no-one is reading these words:

Clipboard02

Perhaps it’s time I should advertise.

Will I ever be as smart and witty as the TED presenters?

I’ve recently attended a local TEDx event. It was a supper meeting, food punctuated with video replays of food-related TED lectures. I’m happy to report that the food we ate (Nepalese*) was excellent, the company enjoyable if a little naively optimistic for this old cynic.

As for the lectures, they were, as is usual for TED sessions, entertaining and thought-provoking. They seem to me to be almost the equivalent of those comedy events at The Apollo theatre, but for the “thinking” middle classes. The audiences on the recordings were as far as I could see contrasted with the supper club audience – mostly older, greyer. But I can’t help seeing the lectures as pure performance, designed to elicit a specific emotional response to the material at hand. Clearly science and innovation for the media-savvy 21st century.

Good or bad? “Interesting”, to use a loaded English word. It’s clear the speakers care about their subjects, probably the main reason they are interesting.

Now all I need is something I can wax lyrical about.

* Rising Green cafe, Corsham Street. Check out the momos on Wednesday lunchtime.

We still can’t sort

Sorting data is one if the core processes of modern IT. (and please don’t even THINK if pronouncing that last syllable to rhyme with fleas). So imagine my surprise this week to find in an internal application, which allowed you to sort the various columns, the following date sort:

April 2016
Aug 2015
May 2015
Sep 2015

Yes, that’s right, sorted by the first alphabetic letter of the month. Doh

For Once I Like The App

Just in case there is anyone reading, you may have noticed a recent “flurry” of activity here. This is almost entirely due to the installation of the WordPress app on my android-based phone. It’s a model of simplicity that makes it easy to create blog entries spontaneously.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m absolutely sure I’m not the first to notice. In general I’m not a fan of the plethora of single purpose apps which simply replicate function from a Web site. Naturally some websites are better than others when it comes to interaction with the smaller form factor, so a dedicated app can be the answer.

In this case, kudos to the WordPress team. The only bad news is more of this stuff…

A Good Week (with some software too)

Slightly unusually in recent history I find myself nearly at the end of a week of almost non-stop learning. I’ve been attending a “Technical University” dedicated to the particular area of IT I work in, where I’m delighted to say the general standard of lectures has been very high. It’s been a bit claustrophobic, but I think that comes with the territory, and the relatively narrow subject area  does mean that a lot of friends both old and new have been here.

Favourite session of the week? A concentrated hands-on workshop where I was completely lost for two hours re-acquainting myself with skills from more than two decades ago. Of course it’s not exactly as before, there’s a Windows app involved in part of the workshop, but it was great to shut the world out and concentrate properly.

Having to take 8 attempts to download a file took away some of the gloss. Fingers faster than brain on this occasion, along with confirmation that I HATE track pads on laptops….

Not so much playing

I’ve sometimes wondered how it must be for a player of a less frequently used instrument when it comes to playing a concert where you’re either only in one or two pieces or you play very few notes on the ones you’re in. Well tonight it’s been both. Playing 2nd bassoon in a concert that featured solely strings in three out of the six pieces was always going to be one of those quieter evenings. As it turned out, there weren’t that many notes in one of of those three pieces either.

So I did get the opportunity to listen for a change, and very lovely the pieces were. (for the record, they included Elgar’s Sospiri and an arrangement of the slow movement of his String Quartet).

Spare a thought for the triangle player, though. About 10 “strikes” in one piece. At least he got to go home early 🙂

Not so soft any more

When I first started trying this blog out I really was working for the software division of a large IT company, but for the last 5 years I’ve actually been back in the hardware division. Which of course contains software stuff too. Such is the way of the Dilbertian corporation these days.

There are of course a number of differences in the approach. You don’t have to worry about the power supply or air conditioning for the software. Nor do you need to pass the security vetting to deliver the 1s and 0s. Just try turning up unannounced at a bank’s data centre with a pile of boxes and see what sort of reception you get 🙂

Bootstrapping the div

The last week has been deeply occupied with my latest Web obsession, Bootstrap. In simple terms it’s a lightweight stylesheet framework which, for me at least, makes hand-building a responsive* website a lot easier. It is chiefly built by a couple of guys who work for Twitter, and so far seems to meet the needs of my main site, amateurorchestras.org.uk, admirably.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of what it is capable of, mainly because I’m still taking a cautious approach to the amount of javascript I use. A side effect has been a big improvement (IMHO, naturally) of the look of the site, without having to drastically change the original design or the slightly dodgy Rexx code I use to generate the main data pages. 

Apart from all the <divs>…

*means a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it means the pages look good on most sizes of screen without having to change the local source.