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Avior Byron will present a paper on Bronislaw Huberman in the 2010 'The Embodiment of Authority' Conference at Helsinki, Finland.   


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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?

Self-discipline in music and musicological practice

Self-discipline in music and musicological practice

One of the things that bothered me since I started to learn music was how to practice and develop in a systematic way. I would like to stress that the solutions that I found are good for me and will not necessarily work for everyone. I am writing here about musicology but the idea is valid also for other types of music practice. It is also important to note that my situation, at the moment, is of a freelance musicologist (although officialy I started a Post-doc at the Hebrew University).

Daily practice

Last month, during my research trip at the British Library, I had the honour to meet the singer Jane Manning and her husband, the composer Anthony Payne. I told them that I am concerned about my academic future in Israel and that I wonder whether there are many freelance musicologists. One of the things that they told me is that each person that was a freelance musicologist found a solution that was good for him or her. This made me think that since I have a regular income from our translation company, I must find a solution that would be good for me. Our company is in Mazkeret Batya, ten minutes walk from where we live. Since I wake up at six AM every morning and since I am the general manger or the company, I can afford starting my day slightly later than most people can.
I decided to devote one hour, five days a week for reading book and articles on music. This may seem not too much time for some people, but if this is done in a consistent manner, than its value accumulates. I know this from learning Judaism. It is said that one should make specific time for learning Torah. This is what I am doing these days with music. I started to do this last week, when I returned from London, and it is early to say, but until now it is working fine (I am at the middle to the book Serkin: A life by Stephen Lehmann and Marion Faber, which is excellent!).

Weekly practice

I made a more drastic decision and that is to devote one day a week for doing musicology research. I started working with Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg and my subject is Bronislaw Hubermann. Yesterday I sat for half a day in his archive in Tel-Aviv. This marks a change in the way I thought about music. While in the last two years I thought that if one wants to do research one must have a regular academic job and an income that would financially justify it, today I believe that one should do things also because one feels that he or she must do them – even if the only take money from the person. Perhaps this is naïve. But this is what I believe in.

Concentrated practice and work

Once or twice a year I take a month or so off my work and devote myself to doing more extensive research. The aim of this is to produce more extensive work that is not possible in the daily and weekly frameworks described above. In fact, "normal" academic scholars do the same during the summer break.

9 Tips for creating and publishing academic research

9 Tips for creating and publishing academic research

In this essay I will give a few tips for creating and publishing that I found helpful for myself.

1. Publish as early as possible

It is highly recommended to start publishing as early as possible. The challenge of writing something that might be accepted for publication is important for your development. It is not easy to publish material at a respected journal. Doing that, even when you are a student (I did it at my third year as a PhD student) will gain you important experience and confidence. It will help you prepare your material for the viva (if you are PhD student).

2. Gain experience by publishing reviews

If you just started writing (or want to start) you may want to start gain writing and publishing experience by writing reviews to books. You may approach journals such as Music and Letter, The World of Music or various online journals that are looking for reviews. This could help you write in a text that is not too long and see what happens when it is edited.

3. Publish at online journals

Some Universities do not appreciate online journals. They were (and at some places still do not) seem to be less valued as some printed journals. However, as Nicholas Cook wrote at my blog, this seems to be changing and more and more people find it important to publish at online journals. The advantage of this is simple. When your work is online it will clearly gain more reactions from scholars (and other people). The web is one of the strongest tools for research, and I am not talking only about Google Scholar, Google Books, online databases, JSTOR and various online indexes. It is also the simple web search that many scholars are using in order to reach information about what they are doing research. People will find your work on the web in an easier manner than on an offline journal, and they will react (if they find your work worth reacting to). I have published articles on the web form the very first start of my academic career and still do. It paid off. Look how many people found my research on the web and quoted or reacted to it in other ways.

4. Publish books online or offline?

Recently Daniel Leech Wilkinson published a whole book on the web. This is a very revolutionary act that more academic people on his level are not willing to make. His reasons are stated here:
it is quite unreasonable to ask the reader of a book like this, who may well be a student or an underpaid musician, to invest (as buyers of my last two books were required to invest) £60 ($85/120) or more in order to have a copy on hand for future reference. Almost all this sum remains with the publisher and distributors.
In a private conversation with Wilkinson, he told me that he does not recommend young scholars to publish books on the web. Such scholars should gain reputation and recognition by being published with a serious publisher. He does think that the future of publishing book is on the web and he hopes that this will reduce the costs of book. In any case, if you do publish on the web, I would recommend you not only to put it as an HTML document as Wilkinson did. Add also as a PDF document and remember to add it to Google Book (a process which is straight forward and fast).

5. Publish various types of publications.

Do not publish only articles or only books. Try to be active in publishing various sorts of publications: articles, books, book chapters, edit books, edit journals, reviews, and even blog posts, etc. This would gain you invaluable experience in various types of writings.

6. After every few years find new a direction

It is sad to see that some scholars simply recycle their work or even research methods again and again. Every few years try to reinvent yourself by actively seeking new ways of making research and new subjects. My research is on Schoenberg and performance. At these very days I am thinking about a new subject for doing research.

7. Discuss your research in conferences

One of the ways of checking your ideas is to present and discuss them at conferences. This is a way of receiving feedback as well as making good contacts.

8. Ask a friend to read your work

Sometimes a friend could give you valuable feedback even if this person is not an expert in your field. Such criticism (like any criticism) should always be listened to with caution. This brings us to our last point.

9. Listened to critics and readers with caution

I had the experience of receiving very negative response to one of my articles by two people. I asked did not back off and answered the journal why I think that the main arguments of these reviewers were not completely right. I asked that the article would be submitted again to other people who may be more open to my kind of research and this is what the journal editor did. At the end the article was not accepted to that journal. However, I have learned two things. The other two reviewers were much more helpful and kind. This proves my point that no one likes all types of research (and that the review process is not always objective). All reviewers gave me comments that helped me improve my article before sending it to another journal. This kind of experience was very important for me. In other words, do not give up. The process can be long and not pleasant. However, it will improve your writing.  

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Second thoughts: the higher education jobs situation in Israel

Second thoughts: the higher education jobs situation in Israel     

In one of my previous blog posts raised some concerns that many people in the Israeli job market do not know about music vacancies in higher education. When doing so I received certain conformation about the feeling of secrecy that surrounds such jobs (mostly around non-permanent vacancies). I was also approached privately by people who had similar experiences as I had, namely, the Israeli job market being hard and sometimes even unfair.
I do regret writing about some of the gossip I have heard, since it is possible that it is not true. Even though the source was a respected person, I should have not passed on this gossip. In Judaism it is called lashon hara. I know that I have personally suffered from it when I taught in the Bar-Ilan music department, and it was a mistake to do it myself in my blog. Unless there is clear evidence that it is true, and unless saying the thing can do any good, one should avoid saying it. Otherwise, it is lashon hara and it is considered something very wrong to do. I apologize to anyone that I have possible harmed by doing so.  
I also hope no one took seriously the pictures and movie of rabbits and pigs. I tried to use black humour in order to provocate a discussion. It seems that I have failed also in this.
Whether or not the higher education job situation in Israel is fair or unfair, it is not really the point. It is hard due to the fact that there are very few institutes and many people applying for jobs. Actually, John Rink (who was my PhD supervisor) told me that the situation in England is very similar. He told me about one of his students that is in a similar situation like many of us – she is working in something that is even not connect to music simply because she needs to make a living.  
In the next week or so, I hope to create the Israel Music Society Announcements Google group (sounds too long?). It will function for the society announcements and it will also be a platform for telling people about job vacancies.
Whether or not there is need to a person in our musicological society that will approach higher education institutes, I do not know. What do you think? Since I will probably do this for myself this year, I could approach also for other in our society. I will be glad to know what you think.
I would like to add that in a private email exchange between Yossi Maury, we agreed that it would be wonderful if there would be one place where all music job vacancies will be published. What do you think? Feel free to comment in the form below… if you dare (-;

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10 Tips on how to find scholarships and funding

10 Tips on how to find scholarships and funding

One of the main problems that troubles both students and scholars in the academy, is how to find scholarships and funding to their studies or research projects. This is not a simple problem since it seems that there are many possible scholarships and grants to apply to, however, time is limited and in these days the competition is great. Even if you have the best research proposal, without funding, you may find yourself in great difficulties when trying to devote yourself to your studies. Finding funding for your academic work can be a major project in itself and you must be patient and systematic during this process. In this post I will suggest a few tips that might help you find scholarships, grants and other types of funding in a systematic, fast and efficient way.

1. Prepare in advance

It takes time to find all the potential scholarships, grants and fellowships that might fund your studies. Preparing in advance will help you not miss the deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you will probably have to wait a whole year before being able to apply.

            Another reason why preparing in advance is important, is because you might be dependant on other people for completing your application form or getting them to write for you recommendation letters. People in the academy tend to be very busy or they simply might be on vacation when you need them. Approaching them in advance will help you avoid begging them to help you, putting them in an inconvenient situation where they are being rushed, or simply missing the possibility that they will cooperate merely because the cannot adjust themselves to your irresponsible time table. 

2. Find web pages that have lists of relevant scholarships

The first place to find scholarship is on the web pages of the university that you plan to attend. These days I am desperately looking for funding sources for a Post-Doctorate in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Here is the web page that contains a list of scholarships. The Hebrew University has a scholarship database where you can look for funding according to your degree and research field. Other Universities have similar sites and databases. I have collected here some scholarship links for Post-Doctorate students (you can find here also pages that list many scholarships and grants). 

3. Contact people who deal with scholarships on a regular basis

One of the best sources for finding grants and scholarships is to ask your (potential) supervisor or other professors that have taught you in the past, two questions: (1) What scholarships and grants do you know of (make sure you write down their answers!). (2) Where can I find people who might know about such funding sources?

            Each university usually has a body that is in charge of research and development (here is the website of The Authority of Research and Development in the Hebrew University and here is a link to Humanity scholarships there). Learn the website of the equivalent body in your university and do not forget to call people that work there and ask for more information about scholarships (and other people that might help).

            It would be wise to approach people who already went through this process (experienced students or scholars who are 1-5 years head of your stage in the academy).

            Another good thing to do is to use the internet in order to find the information. It is obvious that you could use search engines. If you have a blog, write a post that will tell the world what you plan to do and that you need funding. Use social sites such as Facebook and Twitter that can further spread your message. I can tell from personal experience that I have found a potential funding via Facebook.

4. Make a list of potential funding sources

It is important to by systematic in your search for funding. Open and excel file or google doc spreadsheet and make a list of all scholarships, grants, fellowships and other funding sources. Make a column that will say what is the deadline and other columns that will say if you have filled all the forms, attached all the documents that were requested, and approached that people that will send you recommendation letters.         

5. What is the deadline?

This is a very important question. Preparing in advance (see tip no. 1) is useful for noting the deadlines of scholarships in your diary. I recommend that you will use Google Calendar or any other machine that will give you a reminder when to start preparing the material for the scholarship. Such preparation takes its time and spreading the work is the most reasonable thing you would like to do in order to make life easier. 

6. Read about the body that grants the scholarship and understand their aims

Before filling the forms and approaching people for recommendation letters, it is highly recommended that you will spend time to learn the website of the body that grants the scholarship. Understanding their aims is important for adjusting your form and your CV. There is nothing wrong in doing so. Some grants want to know what kind of voluntary social work you have done during your life. You might not be interested in emphasizing this to other funding sources, yet it would be very wise to do so if you know that this is one of the goals of the people that decide if you will be granted the funding.

7. Make sure you filled in all the forms as requested

Take time to read the form before starting to fill it. After filling all the requested information, go through the form again and make sure that nothing is missing. Missing information is one of the main reasons why applications are turned down.

8. Make sure you added all the requested documents

For the same reason it is important to make sure that you have attached to your application all the documents that were requested. Such documents might include a list of grades from previous degrees that you did and your diplomas.

9. Write as clearly as possible

A scholarship candidate is often requested to write an introduction letter, a research proposal or an abstract of it. Make sure that you write as clearly as possible. Keep in mind that such documents might be read by various people. Some of them are from your field and some are not. The content of such documents should be directed to the type of audience that will read them. If you will write in a highly sophisticated manner, using terms that are known only to people from your field, while the readers of your application are people who know nothing about such academic words – you will loose your audience, and the scholarship. One the other hand, if your readers are from your field, make sure that you prove that you are part field by emphasizing the main problems and issues that might interest all of you.

10. Do not close the door before others do it for you

If you think that a scholarship might not be for you, do not automatically desert it. I recommend calling the people who are in change of the scholarship and make sure that you are really not eligible for approaching it. I can tell from my own experience that I found a potential scholarship after calling the organization that grants the scholarship and finding, to my surprise, that also I can send an application.

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If you have any questions feel free to comment on this post in the form below and I will respond.

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Bronislaw Huberman – funding ideas

Bronislaw Huberman – funding ideas

I want to write a book about Bronislaw Huberman. He was an exceptional violinist and he founded the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. I think that it is a scandal that there is no book in English or Hebrew about Huberman and I wish to devote a few years to make research in his archive in Tel-Aviv and study his recordings, writings and letters.
Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg kindly agreed to supervise this project as part of a post-doctoral program that I hope to do in the Hebrew University. My PhD was on the same period and I am acquainted with the aesthetics and history of the first part of the twentieth century, as well as with the most updated and sophisticated performance-studies literature and research methods. 

The problem

The only problem is that due to the economical crisis in the world there is no possibilities of funding via the University. This means that I will need to find external sources of funding if I wish to write the book.
I was thinking to approach someone in the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and ask if they might be interested to fund such a project. After all, it should be their interest to give to the Israeli public, in particular, and the world, in general, a book that would tell Huberman’s (as well as their) story. If you know who I could approach in the IPO that might be sympathetic to the idea, please contact me.
Another idea I have is to approach the Tel-Aviv Municipality which are in charge of the Felicia Blumenthal Library. Perhaps that might have interest the public would have access to the valuable information that is stored and maintained there for years. If you know whom should I approach there please let me know.

Do you have any ideas? 

I would appreciate any ideas for funding such a project. Do you know any relevant post-doc scholarships? Please write to me or comment on this post if you have other ideas? Thank you for your time.

What young people should keep in mind when deciding to do a PhD in Musicology

What young people should keep in mind when deciding to do a PhD in Musicology

Durrell Bowman wrote to the American Musicological Society List the following:

"It looks like we’re heading for about 60 viable tenure-track positions this year. Based on what I know from previous years, about 65 candidates apply for a typical state-college-type job.  So, let’s assume that 65 is close to the average number of applicants, and let’s also assume that each person applies to 20% of the positions. That suggests 325 people applying for 60 jobs, and 265 people thus not getting positions this year.  Based on DDM and other information, our field must have produced around 130 new Ph.D.s per year for the past forty years, so, cumulatively, there could be more than 1500 Ph.D.s in our field (between, say, 35 and 75 years of age) who have never had tenure-track positions."

This is something to keep in mind when you need to decided whether to study musicology or anything else. It is hard, and in some places like Israel, it is almost impossible. I am very happy that I did my studies in Music. Yet, I admit that it is quite a shame that I am not really doing anything with it during most of the day.

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An Interview with David Shemer: The Performance of Early Music - Part I

David Shemer: The Performance of Early Music - Part I

David Shemer is one of the most importrant figuers in the Israeli early music scene. He graduated in theory, conducting and harpsichord at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. He holds a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) from the State University of New York at Stony Brook . He plays the Harpsichord and conducts. He is the founder of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. Shemer is a teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music.

I would like to thank David Shemer for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. Note that you will find here only the first part of the interview (which is still in progress). So if you wish to ask David Shemer questions, you may add them as comments (in the form below), and they might be included in this interview. I have included here several videos that might help the reader understand and appreciate whom Shemer is speaking about.

Avior Byron: When did you first hear early music? What do you remember from that experience? 
David Shemer: This is something that I remember very clearly. Can almost put a date on it. What is surprising is how late it happened in my life! I have been playing harpsichord for some years, graduated from the Jerusalem Academy, and then got an Artist diploma form the Tel Aviv academy - both as a harpsichordist and as a choral and orchestral conductor. After that, I got a British Council scholarship, to study harpsichord and conducting in London, and yet, I didn’t have any clear idea what I was going to do there. I loved Baroque music for as long as I can remember myself, but knew next to nothing about period instruments or HIP (historically informed performance). In Israel, in the late 70s, there was hardly a chance to properly hear it. At that time, one could occasionally hear a harpsichord (mostly, a non-historical version of it), here and there some recorders, but that was it. I was 28 when I came to London. It was September 1980. One morning, at the very beginning of my career as a student of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I woke up and switched on the radio. What I heard was unbelievably beautiful. It wasn’t difficult to recognize the music, the 2nd movement of Bach 5th Brandenburg concerto. But never before have I heard this music played with such a profound expression and such flexibility. It was sublime! I kept on listening to the rest of the piece, eager to know who these magicians were. The magicians were The English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock (who also played harpsichord solo, of course), with Steven Preston on traverso and Simon Standage on Baroque violin.

Emmanuel Pahud & Trevor Pinnock & Jonathan Manson Recording Scene



Byron: What made you decide to devote yourself to working with early music?
Shemer: Right there and then. The music sounded on this recording like nothing I have heard before. It spoke to me so directly, so overwhelmingly, that I knew immediately that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. A risky statement, I know, but so far, nearly 30 years later, it proved to be correct. For the next two years, while I was living in England, I tried not to miss any reasonably important performance of early music on period instruments - and there were millions of these in London - and the more I heard, the more I got convinced that this is how this music wants to sound.
Byron: It is very interesting that your first significant experience of hearing a HIP performance was that of hearing a recording and not a live concert. Do you think that there is any significant difference between how HIP performances sound on recordings and how they sound in live concerts? 
Shemer: I don’t think the difference is any bigger than with any other kind of music. It might be the most "modern" thing about HIP: in the older times, there were no recordings… But as far as HIP being, as I strongly believe, a modern musical activity, recorded sound is very much a part of it. 
Byron: How long did you stay in London? Did you hear during that time also HIP performances in other places? Was there any difference? What were the significant performers and ensembles that you heard during that period? Did you make any important contacts that you wish to mention? 
Shemer: I stayed in London for just over two years. In those days (as also today, I believe), there was no need to go to other places, in order to hear non-British Baroque groups. Many came to England. Thus, I heard Musica Antiqua Köln, Gustav Leonhardt, Paul O’Dette, Bob van Asperen, Franz Brüggen and his (at that time) ensemble and many others. And then, of course, I’ve heard all the most important British Baroque musicians: The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock (tried not to have missed any of their concerts; later, I also studied with Trevor and remained on friendly terms with him); Academy of Ancient Music, with Christopher Hogwood; Consort of Musick; The New London Consort with Philip Picket (whom I also studied with), and others. The person, whom I consider the most important person in my development as a harpsichordist is Jill Severs; she hasn’t been active as a performer, but is a fenomenal teacher. Through Jill, I’ve met many of my generation’s leading English harpsichordist - most notably, Maggie Cole, with whom we became very close friends.

The best dance scenes from "Le Roi Danse." Music by Lully, Cond. Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln

Dieterich Buxtehude, g minor prelude, Gustav Leonhardt plays


Lute Virtuoso Paul Odette - 1984 SOUNDBOARD TV Series DVD


Händel - Messiah "But who may abide", Emma Kirkby, Christopher Hogwood: Cond., The Academy of Ancient Music


Byron: Concerning you sentence ‘the more I heard, the more I got convinced that this is how this music wants to sound.’: do you still feel this way? Did HIP performance change since the 1980s with relation to how is sounds? 


Shemer: I most certainly do. Of course, HIP has changed. This is part of its beauty. After all, HIP means "historically informed" - and we always become better informed than before. But it is much more than that. The HIP movement becomes more mature, more "at ease" with what it is doing, not afraid of making mistakes. The sound of the best HIP ensembles is nowadays mellower, warmer, richer than it used to be in the 70s and 80s, when early musicians were as much interested in the historical truth, in their HIP ideology, as in sounding different than mainstream. Also, HIP musicians’ technical proficiency improved dramatically, over these years. Nobody in their right mind would say any longer that one only plays Baroque violin because one wasn’t good enough in the modern one! Not after we have heard Andrew Manze, Monica Hugget, Maggie Faultless, Simon Standage or our own Kati Debretzeni. This change of attitude is not necessarily always good news, though. By becoming part of the mainstream itself (and it has, in many places; although, so far not in Israel!), HIP is in a constant danger of loosing some of its own integrity, some of its, as Anthony Rooley put it, cutting edge. Finding the right proportion between a fanatical proselitism and a too-comfortable being a part of musical establishment isn’t always easy.


Byron: Could you say a few words about Jill Severs? What made her such a good teacher and such an important figure in your life?
Shemer: Jill was the first person in my life as a harpsichordist, not just to talk about the importance of touch in playing the harpsichord, but actually to show me how it is done. People often refer to the harpsichord as an instrument that plonks away, without any difference as to how it is played. Without mentioning any names, I have heard several highly respectable musicians saying things like "there is no possibility of interpretation on the harpsichord", or "it has no soul", or "if Bach only knew the grand piano!…", etc. I’m sure that other harpsichordists had similar experiences. This is funny, of course, bearing in mind the huge popularity of this instrument with some of the best musicians of all times, such as Bach, Scarlatti, Handel, Rameau, Couperin - to name but a few. Incidentally, the highly influential little book by F. Couperin is called "L’Art de toucher le clavecin" - and Couperin certainly wouldn’t bother to write a book on a non-existent subject. To put it shortly, Jill Severs taught us what Couperin’s title (and the book itself) suggests: the art of touch upon the harpsichord. I’ve always liked this instrument, but never so passionately until I had the good fortune of studying with Jill. She opened the soul of the instrument for me. To a very great extent, she shaped what I have been thinking and persuing about playing and teaching the harpsichord to this very day.
Byron: If you would have to recommend only 5 CDs of early performances, which would you choose? Could you recommend another list of 5 CDs for starting listeners of early music? 
Shemer: Oh, dear, not one of these desert island questions! Frankly, I don’t listen to very many CD’s, always preferring live performances. And when I do listen to CD’s, my preferences shift too often, to give a serious answer to this question. As for the second part of your question, I would suggest to starting listeners to EM to strive for a widest possible variety of listening experience. Listen to good opera recordings (with Les Arts Florissants, for instance), to good orchestras - there are many, and choosing a few won’t be fair to the others; Gustav Leonhardt, a fabulous harpsichordist, comes across his recordings in a less favorable way than in his unforgettable live concerts, but still he’d be my No 1 choice; probably, Andrew Manze on the violin - but what about Monica Hugget and, again, many others? The same would go for other instruments/ensembles. Sorry for not being too helpful here… Perhaps one more useful suggestion might be - pay close attention to the Italians: Alessandrini, Bernardini, Gini, the Grazzi brothers…

Rameau - Motet, In convertendo, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants

Byron: Where are the biggest centers of early music in the world? Are there any important websites that are a must for early music lovers? 
Shemer: Just as 20-30 years before, Amsterdam (Holland, in general) and London are still hugely important. To that, one must add France and - as I already mentioned in the previous answer - Italy. But, of course, Germany mustn’t be discarded - what with Musica Antiqua Köln, the Freiberg orchestra, Academy of ancient music Berlin… In general, interesting things happen in many places, but these seem to be the most important centers. As for websites - yes, I’m sure there are, but - again, I must confess, I’m quite cybernetically challenged, and don’t use the net much. If there is a bit of free time, I prefer to practice or do something completely different, not necessarily (early) music-related…
Byron: I agree that HIP is a modern activity, yet this might sound strange to some people. After all the ideal, might seem at first sight, is to go back to the past. What makes HIP a modern activity in your eyes? 
Shemer: This is a very serious issue. Of course, HIP is also about going to the past. The thing is, the very act of going to the past - certainly, on such a massive scale - is something that has never been done in the past. This is what is so utterly modern. When people in the 18th century London established "the Academy of Ancient Music" (after which a very well known Baroque orchestra was named in the 1970s), they were talking about performance of music of 1-2 generations ago. There was precious little interest in music that was REALLY early. But this is not at all about music only. How much your average 18th century English gentleman really cared about, say, Indian culture? (Never mind the fact that India might be part of the British Empire!). Or Chinese? Or African? Listen to Mozart’s "Turkish" music - can you find a Turk that would embrace it as his own? Of course not, and Mozart never intended it to be - in fact, he couldn’t care less about the real Turkish music. Looking straight into the eyes of any "foreign" culture - whether geographically or historically removed from the spectator - is a profoundly modern phenomenon. The point of HIP, unlike the musical mainstream (although the mainstream has also changed a great deal, in this respect, during the last few decades) is not approaching the early music with the condescending: "they wrote some really nice tunes, but we, of course, can play them much better". Rather, HIP strives to be informed and inspired by this foreign culture - and it is a foreign culture to us - in all its aspects: composition, performance, instrument making, acoustics… Inasmuch as consciously cultivating respect for the Other culture is a modern (postmodern, as some might say) thing, HIP is very definitely modern.

Here the interview continues: Interview with David Shemer - The Performance of Early Music - Part II


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On being a critical author

On being a critical author

Now that about two years passed since I finished my PhD, it is enough time to look back and think how it affected my writing. I will relate in this post to one aspect: being critical.

I remember that my supervisor taught me how to be critical towards various kinds of sources and what people say and write. This was one of the best lessons that I have learnt during my postgraduate studies. However, looking back, it had also some negative affects. Paul Banks told me several months ago, that when you publish a book you write in a different way than when one writes a PhD. One is less defensive. Paul, who was one of my examiners (the other one was Jonathan Dunsby), knows very well what he was talking about. During my viva I sat in a beautiful room before two examiners who are world experts about Schoenberg and/or performance (my PhD subject) and the period I wrote about. They read every sentence of my PhD and I had to prove that all my arguments are solid. Believe me this is quiet scary. Once feels like be judged in a court of law. During the last year of my PhD I had the viva event at the back of my mind. I had to make sure that everything that I write is defensible. This created a certain kind of thinking and writing. In the following I will try to explain what I mean.

            A leitmotif in Schoenberg’s writings on performance is his demand for many rehearsals. In an article entitled ‘Gustav Mahler’ from 1912, he argued that Mahler ’still [had] something to say’ to the performers in the tenth rehearsal. Mahler, he claimed, had a clear ‘image’ (Bild) of what he wished to reproduce.(Schoenberg, Style and Idea, pp. 449-71) The main issue in the quotation above has to do with a musical image that was in the mind of the composer, which is reproduced by the conductor and which should be communicated through performance. Having many rehearsals while forcing performers to play the right notes, served the aim of reproducing an image, and this resulted in the performer’s participation ‘in the spirit of the music’.

            When I read this during my PhD, it seemed to me very idealistic of Schoenberg to think this way. It seemed to me a Romantic view, placing the composer as a prophet who communicates a divine image to the listener, given to him by God.

            I still think that this view is terribly idealistic and it does not stand scrutiny if one closely examines what performers do. Yet, during a lecture on management, the lecturer argued that a manager should have a clear image of what he wants to achieve. This reminded me of Schoenberg.

            Perhaps Schoenberg did not want a perfect image in the mind of the performer. Yet, he did expect a conductor, to have a clear image of the music before he stands before the performers and manages them.

            Now there are various kinds of management techniques, which give various degrees of freedom to the people who are managed. In any case, today I can sympathize with Schoenberg’s demand. Today’s economic crisis demands from managers to be alert and make focused decisions. One needs to have a clear image of ones goals. Otherwise, one’s company can disappear.

            Looking back at my PhD, it was right to criticize Schoenberg for being idealistic towards the role of the composer in relation to that of the performer (especially before 1933). However, it is true that a composer and similarly, a performer, should have an image of what they want to achieve. I feel this clearly from great performers such as Glenn Gould.

            It is good to be critical, yet one should learn also to respect the perspectives of other people, even if at first sight they seem wrong. Becoming a good writer about music demands a balance between writing with authority and weighing various ideas and perspectives.

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On fear: Schoenberg, Stravinsky and the Israeli music scene

The problem

One of the things that make me sad about the Israeli music scene (including musicologists, composers, performer and critics) is the problem of miscommunication and isolation. People are working alone and find it hard to make mutual projects and co-operations. I felt it strongly in the Music department in the Bar-Ilan University as well as in the Israeli Musicological Society. In both places one can find talents on different levels. Yet, the ability to create something together was usually sabotaged by fear.

In the Bar-Ilan Music department there was no conversation on how one should educate the students. This was left (presumably) to very few people. In any case no conclusions of such discussions were communicated to the teachers or students. In the Israeli Musicological society there was some discussion on how to promote Israeli musicology and music, yet this was usually sabotaged by few noise people, others who promised and did nothing and others who simply gave up. It seems that everyday troubles and the fear from one another paralyze any mutual action and cooperation.


Schoenberg and Stravinsky

I have no idea whether this is a problem which occurs only in Israel (I have little to compare with). History seems to indicate that one can find the problem also in other places and periods. The most famous and perhaps the saddest case is that of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Peter Yates wrote in a letter dated 17 May 1952: ‘Nowdays artists work in closed boxes… Our artistic life is typified by Stravinsky, who lived here more than fifteen years without ever meeting Schoenberg in public or private, but now attends performance of the old man’s work like a devotee.’ (Quoted in Dorothy Crawford, Evenings On and Off the Roof (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 127). Only after Schoenberg died, Stravinsky allowed himself to be influence by Schoenberg’s music in a more open way than in the past. Now it is understandable that this happened. Schoenberg wrote a piece titled Three satires that was partly against Stravinsky. He also wrote and talked against him in various occasions. Also Stravinsky attacked Schoenberg. Yet could they not find a way to go beyond this nonsense and communicate with each other during those years that they were practically neighbors?


The future

In the age of Social web sites, it seems sad that one can connect with people on the other side of the world, yet find it hard to communicate with their neighbors. If there is any chance that Israeli classical music (including composition, musicology and performance) will become less provincial, than it will be by overcoming fear and mistrust, and by starting to work together.     


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Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme

Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme in the Music Beit Midrash of Mazkeret Batya

The Music Beit-Midrash met last Tuesday for the first time. In the following you will find a brief report of the meeting which might be useful for those who wish to listen again to some of the music, read more (see some of the links below), or comment on the music or the meeting (in the form below). Note that the last link in this post leads to interesting related videos.

The first meeting was dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. I introduced the aims of the meetings and started it by giving a short review of Schoenberg’s life, musical contributions, and relation to Judaism. Since the meeting was mainly on Pierrot lunaire, I felt that we should listen also to Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4, in order to receive a perspective of Schoenberg’s musical development. We listened to a modern performance of Schoenberg from the last few years, and to the historical recording with Schoenberg conducting the piece (see the first recording in the page). The people who took place in the meeting noticed that Schoenberg’s conducting is much slower than that of the other recording. It was fascinating to see the reactions of the people who listened. Some of the people commented that Schoenberg’s conducting seems more confident. My impression is that people are very sensitive to what they hear even if they do not have any musical education. I mentioned some of the historical and cultural reasons of why Schoenberg’s conducting is slower.

The next part of the meeting was about Pierrot lunaire. We listened to four performances. The first one was quite brutal and the last one was (as one of the people present remarked) ‘anemic’. It seemed that people were quite shocked from the music. Yet I think that they were simultaneously interested in the fact that these performances are so different. We discussed the performance indications for the vocal technique titled Sprechstimme and we moved on to discuss the ‘problem’ that there are multiple categories for deciding which performance is better.

Some argued that they just want to enjoy the music. Others claimed that the composer communicates something with the music and they want to understand it. Therefore, a performance that communicates the ‘message’ better is superior. Others wondered how can one define what is the ‘original’ demand to perform this music. An interesting dicussion developed concerning the various value that one can promote in performance. For example: faithfullness to the score, faithfullness to the atmoshphere the composer intended, and expressing the individual interpretation and insight of the performer.

I suggested that the idea of communication is not without problems and that the performer must make decisions that involve their own identity and values. I think (and hope) that most people enjoyed this first session. You can click here to see 8 video performances of Pierrot lunaire.  This could give you an idea of the verity of interpretaions that one can hear in recorded (video and audio) performance of the piece.

For those who did not participate in the first session, please note that you are very welcome to join at any stage. There is no need for any prior knowledge in music, and the sessions are not built one on the other.

Participate and comment

If you took part in the meeting please comment on this post in the form below. Did you enjoy the session? Any thoughts or suggestion?

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Copyright Avior Byron 2022 .