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Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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What is THE best way to find scholarships?

A phone call from Prof. Dalia Cohen

I just received a phone call from Prof. Dalia Cohen. She was very upset. She claimed that I completely misunderstood her (she was refering to my last post We seem to fail doing the very same thing in music).

I do not think that I misunderstood her. In this conversation she claimed that “the composer thinks more than the performer about the music”. These were not her exact words but – more or less.

She continued to say interesting things about “absolute” things in music and I encouraged her to comment on my music Blog post. I hope she will decide to do so. She asked me not to quote certain things that she said and I will, of course, respect her wish.

I would not write these last blog post if I would not think that these issues must be debated in public. If almost all the people that commented on my recent blog posts are right (I have in mind Elisheva Rigbi, Bat-Sheva Shapira, Yossi and others who wrote to me via email), than most of us in Israel are a bit old-fashioned (to put it in a nice way). The only way that things can change is by discussing these issues that are an imprtant part of the discourse in the academic world today.

What creates musical meaning? I am not sure why thought or an idea (Gedanke) is the most important thing in music. This common place notion makes the composer the originator of ideas (or the “prophet” who receives ideas from God) and the performer a more or less passive instrument - almost a “tube” that the idea passes through.

An alternative paradigm is that musical “ideas” are a result of mutual acts by performers and composers. A metaphyore could be a Valse where both dancers pull to various directions (the metaphore is not perfect since you have also the listener and other people such as the music producer, critics and even musicologists who affect the creation of musical meaning). Musical meaning is created by interpretation. To pretend that performers are idle or not really “thinkers” is to underestimate the influence of their interpretations.

I have much respect to Prof. Dalia Cohen who is one of the most experienced musicologists in Israel. She is one of the last people of the older generation. Disagreement about fundamental issues in music should not be interpreted as disrespect.

What made me sad was that she sounded very upset. She said something like: “how can you say what you say when I wrote six books in Hebrew!” It is a pity that she misunderstood me. There are books in Hebrew. But you will find usually one or two of them (total sum!) in most of the book shops in Israel. We agreed that perhaps it is because they are out of print. But this also says something, I think…

Why is there always one or two shelves of books on each of the following subjects: philosophy (one thinks of the many recent books by the publication house Resling), psychology, history, etc. In music you will find one or two books from scholarly work. Why? Israeli musicologists should not take all of the blame on themselves. Nevertheless, there should be a thorough rethinking of what we teach in our institutions, what research questions we ask (in relation to other places in the world and other fields in Israel and in the world) and where we want to be in ten years from today.

In a decade from now, will there still be two books about music in the book shops? If the answer is positive, then it is very sad. We are celebrating the 60th independece day in Israel today. When Israel was 50 years old I was a BA student in the Tel-Aviv University. At that time there where too, an average of only two books about music on the music shelves of book shops.

If you will take the time to read carefully my posts you will note that they are not that provocative as some people claim. They do not suggest that there is only one way to do research (Dalia’s claim).

Another thought: it is funny to see that even people who react very strongly to my post Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew” agree that most (not all – but most) musicologists in Israel are old-fashioned and not really updated with recent research. At least we agree about one thing. The only thing that is left is to discuss what the criteria are, for determining what ‘up-to-date’ research on music is.

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