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Avior Byron will present a paper 'Huberman as Beethoven' in the 2010 Israel Musicology Conference.   

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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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A response to Lady R: am I really monologic?

Lady R (who wishes at the time being, not to reveal her real identity) wrote: “I enjoy reading all your arguments (with some of which I also agree, but not with the ‘monologic’ tone…) […] you tend to suggest that there is one correct way, which is the so called “new” one. I do agree with you that there is a lot to correct and improve, but that - in addition to the “old” ones, not instead (you should be in a dialogue with the others). Anyhow, it’s good that you steer the minds a little…”

Dear lady R,
Thank you for your comment. I am glad to steer the minds a little. I hope that also other will contribute comments to my posts and to the comments of others, so that a discussion will move forward. I am glad that many people decided to subscribe to my blog. However, I hope to convert more people to be active participators and not just passive readers. I think that the internet gives all of us a precious stage which could contribute to everyone – no matter what your opinions are.

We both know and respect each other for sometime now and we are interested in many similar things. As you know from reading some of my publications, the tone that I use there is different than the one that I use in the blog. The way I see blog writing, is that one can afford to express oneself in a more provocative manner than in an article. A blog is like a diary. One is not expected to be as “politically correct” as in formal publications. My aim is my several last posts, was to question the way Israeli musicologists think about their goals and methods.

What should we write? There can be several answers to this question and mine is not necessarily the right one. I have attacked Schenkerian research although my one PhD supervisor (Prof. John Rink) and one of my PhD examiners (Prof. Jonathan Dunsby) are highly influenced by Schenker’s work. It is a pity that the young Schenkerians in Israel did not respond to my posts. Perhaps they agree with every word… (-; Perhaps they are simply scared or are unable to debate issues of methods publicly. There are up-to-date research methods that are influenced by Schenker. Why no one came to defend them? It seems to me that this is a symptom to the sleepiness in our local quarters.

I do not think that “there is one correct way, which is the so called ‘new’ one” (although I must admit that Prof. Dalia Cohen too, suggested that I am monologic (she did not use this exact term) on our phone call). There are many ways. Yet we should be careful from cheap relativism. Not all ways are equal and they do not all lead to Rome. Some lead to Jerusalem and some lead to boring results. This is way I insist that the most important question is “what are our goals?” After one knows that, one can think about how to get there. The call for papers does not reflect a concern with this question. Perhaps I am wrong and we will see a live discussion on this matter in the forthcoming conference.

If books in Hebrew are supposed to make a lasting effect on Israeli culture than they should be present in the book shops and they should be up-to-date as in other fields.

Don’t forget to vote in the poll on the left side and subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the upper-right form. Is Byron “monologic”? Please feel free to comment on this issue.

What should we write: comparison of “A Great Joy Tonight” and “Music-Mission and Message” (part 1)

We went this morning to a small trip to Tel-Aviv. I went to buy Susan McClary’s book Feminine Endings which I ordered. This is one of the books that that every music lover should have at home. I left the store with this book and with two other books: Inbal Perlson, A Great Joy Tonight: Arab-Jewish Music and Mizrahi Identity (Tel-Aviv, Israel: Resling, 2006), and Michal Smoira-Cohn and Herzl Shmueli, Music: A Mission and Message (Or Yehuda, Israel: Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, 2007).

In the post Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew” I wrote that “I hope that the Israeli Musicological Association annual meeting will discuss not only what is not written, but also what should be written. Do we need more Schenkerian books in Hebrew that almost no one reads, or is there a more desperate need for books that might be of interest to a larger amount of readers?”

In this post I will compare the introductions of the two books in order to demonstrate the different goals of the writers and their relation to up-to-date research in other fields in Israel and music research in the world.

Music: A Mission and Message claims that “music is communication”. Michal Smoira-Cohen suggests that “the music moves from the producer [mashmia] and and listener [shomea]” The listener, she argues, feels a feeling of spiritual elevation if the got the “message”. She suggests that “music is in its entirety: emotional intelligence”. The music has a “mission”: it must reach the listener so that he or she could “internalize it and enrich his spiritual world”. The book, it is claimed, “is written out of a concern for the day of tomorrow and the fate [no more and no less] of music, which stands, this day, before a cross road.”

The argument presented in Music: A Mission and Message is problematic. Nicholas Cook wrote: “To understand music as performance means to see it as an irreducibly social phenomenon, even when only a single individual is involved… This observation derives its force from the extent to which the manifestly social practice of music has been conceptualized in terms of a direct and private communication from composer to listener. Because of this hierarchical communication model (one that reflects the traditional alignment of divine and human creation), even the everyday fact of divided authorship has been problematic for the musical academy.” [14], ‘Between Process and Product: Music and/as Performance’

For Michal Smoira-Cohn and Herzl Shmueli Music is received “as if from a higher force, uplifted from man” (I guess she is speaking here about God although she if careful by using the words ‘as if’). For them, music is a message that is not being interpreted and influenced in any significant way by social and cultural circumstances. They suggest that music is an a-priori objective message that should be transmitted securely from God via the composer and performer, to the listener. It is very clear here who is active and who is passive; who is on top and who is under; who is ejaculating “the music” (the composer) and who is receiving it passively. In other words, music is not really being interpreted (in a sense that its “message” significantly changes as a result of this interpretation) it is transmitted. Its essence is left intact.

Performance becomes a passive act which has little affect on the “message” that should be transmitted faithfully to the listener. Otherwise, how can we save the world (or at least “the fate of music”)?

Inbal Perlson’s aim is slightly more modest. She wishes to reveal the mechanisms that turned the Jewish-Arab music in Israel to “Mizrachi” (eastern) music. She claims that by doing so, the Israeli Zionist hegemony neutralized the Arab component and made the music Israeli. This way the popular folk music (Zemer) could be kelp under control and it did not threat the development to the Israel-Jewish-Askenazi-white musical establishment.

I will review this book in a separate post, however, here, I will to demonstrate how the research questions are so different in these two projects. Perlson’s research is part of a postmodern project that was initiated by authors like Michael Foucault. It is dealing with power forces that control the music establishment, and affect the lives of all Israelis. Michal Smoira-Cohn and Herzl Shmueli project is pretending to be objective, dealing with “the music itself” (whatever that means). Most important: it is ignoring the cultural and social context that music is written and performed in.

Reading only the introductions of these two books, it is clear that the aims, research questions, relation to updated research on music in Israel and in the world, is completely different.

This is why I think anyone who cares why there are almost no books on music in Hebrew in the books shops, must first think what kind of books should be there. Musicologist have limited power. Yet, I saw how musicologist in England and USA were able to raise funds in order to create amazing research projects (see CMPCP and CHARM). We can do the same here. First we should make clear to ourselves and others where we are heading to. Will musicology in Israel in ten years from now will look like it was ten years ago, or will be somewhere else? What are our aims?!

If you care, comment on this post now.

How to write good texts about music

I wrote yesterday about a sad telephone call that I received from Prof. Dalia Cohen. She attacked me for “thinking that there is only one way of how to write on music”. I told her that this is not true, and I pointed out several authors, such as Ethan Haimo, who cannot be considered part of “new” musicology, and who are, I believe, distinguished scholars.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz once wrote that whatever one will write, and no matter how much one will be careful, you cannot avoid sometimes being misunderstood.

In this post I will state my thoughts concerning what makes an author a good writer about music. I will immediately note that it is not whether he or she belong to this or that camp. Anyone who will bother reading the conclusion of my PhD or the last part of my article draft on Schoenberg’s Op. 33a will see that I criticize, not only “old” musicology, but also some of the basic assumptions of “new” musicology (it is funny to read in this wikipedia link that “Many of the scholarly concerns that used to be associated with New Musicology have now become mainstream.” What does this make of much of the Isareli musicology?). So lets move on to the points that might help you write good texts about music:

Read all about it
Good scholars need to give much time to reading all that was written about the issues and problems that they are dealing with. Look at the end of books to see what bibliographical items the author is refereeing to. Perhaps something is also relevant to you? You could consider using my general research links to accesses the biggest libraries and search sites such as “Google scholar” and “Google books”.

Distinguish levels of scholarship
Not everything that was written about these issues will be interesting or noteworthy in your article. It is important to demonstrate that you did the reading (especially if you are a PhD student). However, quote only what is helpful for building your own argument.

When you get to know the literature in one field you will start knowing the names of some of the most important scholars. They usually receive most of the quotations in the field. This will be helpful in the future in order to decide what literature you would prefer to scan though (due to limitations of time) and what literature you will read very carefully, perhaps even several times.

Many scholars have tendency to complicate things. I believe that one should try to write in a clear and accessible manner. There are trends in scholarly writing that aim to write a complicated an inaccessible text. I think that one should find a balance between writing in a way that the general public will be able to read, and writing in an artistic way. When I write, I always ask myself, can I write this in a clearer way without compromising my argument? Compare the two books John Rink edited on performance (The Practice of Performance: Studies in Musical Interpretation and Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding) and you will see how the second one is much more accessible, yet not less authoritative from the scholarly point of view.

It is important to write a clear introduction and conclusion to your text. When you start a new section, consider adding “sign posts” before it: something like “Now we will move on to discuss the ….”. This is helpful in orientating your readers. When you write, always think about your readers – have mercy (the Aramaic word ‘mercy’ is equivalent to the world ‘love’ in Hebrew’). Love your readers.

Doubt accepted truths
When you examine the arguments of others, read them slowly. Doubt accepted truths. See if there is another way to look at things. Try to find “wholes” in the works of others; see if there are perspectives where these arguments do not stand scrutiny. This is one of the most important things in order to be critical.

It is also important not to be too critical. Even if you find some problems in the writings of others, there probably is some truth in them and this should be respected.

Be critical to your own assumptions

It is always easier to be critical to others than to yourself. Every person has defense mechanisms that can be an obstacle in the way of self criticism. One of the ways to do so is to imagine what another scholar or friend would say about what you have written. Another way is to leave your writings for sometime (a weeks, or even several months) and return to them thereafter. This way you become slightly detached from what you have written, your defense mechanisms are less defensive and you are able to refine your arguments.

Imagine possible attacks
When my supervisor, Prof. John Rink, prepared me to my viva (a preparation that started several years before the event), he encouraged me to imagine possible attacks and arguments against what I claim. The philosopher Gadamer wrote about his teacher Heidegger that he would listen to his student and say “yes, you are right”, but after a moment he would add something like “but perhaps it could be seen from different perspective, how about…”, and he would raise objections to the student’s argument. Show your work to others. If you are writing a PhD, try to publish some of the chapters as articles in peer-reviewed journals. This way you will receive, free of charge, the criticism of experienced scholars.

Publish makes perfect
Do not publish rubbish. Yet, write with the intention to publish your work (I owe Zohar Eitan much for this tip, which he gave me before I moved to England to start my postgraduate studies). I published four articles during my PhD studies and I found it very useful when I had to defend my work in the viva. The process of publishing your work is not easy; however, it makes you rethink again and again your arguments and style of writing.

Examine new research methods
Scholars who are serious will examine various research methods and use several ones in different circumstances. Why be faithful to a single school or method when others can be more useful for your aims?

Support your arguments with solid evidence
Try to find as much quality evidence as you can to support your arguments. Read though many documents and books. Spend much time in archives and libraries. Go for long walks in the woods (preferable where Beethoven and Schoenberg walked – there are great woods in Mödling), and think hard what could sustain your claims.

Gideon Levinson once told me that he doesn’t like that I use the metaphor of a “court of justice” in order to describe what a student should imagine when he writes. It would be romantic to imagine that a writer should only express his or her inner impulses without considering what others will say. This is perhaps something that composers can do (and I doubt that this can happen in serious places). I believe that one must imagine that what one writes will have to stand a close examination of others. Just as people must defend their claims in court by bringing evidence, so scholars must try to be convincing as possible by gathering evidence, presenting it in a clear manner and quoting writers and sources who have great authority.

Think big
A good text on music should relate to issues that transcend the particular music in discussion. One should have a feeling the greater issues are at stake. Why speak about a particular music? How does it relate to other music? How does it relate to philosophical problems that trouble man since history began.

It is all about significance
Why are you writing your text? Who cares? Is it at all important? Your readers will scan through your abstract and perhaps also the first paragraph. Make sure that you state the significance of your research at an early stage. You readers will ask: what is in it for me? Give them an answer!

Did I forget anything? Do you have other points that you think can be helpful for “How to write good texts about music”? Don’t agree with what I wrote here? Feel free to comment.

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.

We seem to fail doing the very same thing in music

Dear Yossi,

Thank you very much for your comment on my post Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”. I found it very interesting.

Yossi wrote: ‘if you mean that this methodological shift has left little imprint on studies published in Hebrew, then perhaps you are right. But this might owe more to the paucity of publications in Hebrew in our domain (as you yourself point out), than with a colossal unawareness of “what’s going on out there” in terms of scholarship.’

During an evening on the occasion of the retirement of Prof. Judith Cohen, a certain experienced professor used his speech to simultaneously praise Cohen as a scholar who creates score editions (among other things), and attack Joseph Kerman’s famous criticism that musicology should move away from positivistic research (such as creating seemingly objective Urtext editions – when in fact the are often very subjective) towards musical criticism. The silence in the room, after the speech ended, seemed to me less in respect of Cohen, which all the people present there admire, than part of ignorance towards the essence and the strength of what actually was said there.

It is well known today that the Urtext concept is a fiction and that one cannot avoid taking a position and chose between options how to edit a musical score. Pretending that this process is objective is part of a naïve (in the good case) or un-honest game (in the worst case) where people pretend to be scientists in the name of reaching an often untenable objective truth. Kerman’s call for a musicology which is critical is still important today, both in Israel and elsewhere. By the way, Kerman too acknowledges the importance of much positivistic work. However, he suggests that musicologists should have different aims. This is why the issue of research questions (that I raised in my last post) is so important.

Another occasion that made me think that many Israeli musicologists are not updated with recent research in the world is a lecture given by Prof. Roger Kamien in a conference on performance. It was surprising to see the gap between Kamien’s accessible and interesting popular book Music: An Apreciation and his Schenkerian lecture on performance. Kamien presented complicated Schenkerian graphs that very few people where able to follow. However, this was less troubling than the basic premise behind his whole lecture. He seemed to argue that one should do such an analysis in order to perform the music. So you could see his complicated graphs, and then hear his wonderful piano playing, and you asked yourself: is it really necessary to do such analysis in order to play Beethoven? Wallace Berry, Eugene Narmore and others would argue that ‘yes’. John Rink, Nicholas Cook, William Rothstein, Edward T. Cone, Joel Lester and others would give a different answer. Yet after his paper ended, Kamien asked: “any questions?” There was deep silence in the room. This would never happen in England or USA. Someone would react by asking a polite question that would question Kamien’s notion that performance must be subordinated to analysis.

Yossi wrote: “And if indeed scholars are less conversant with the latest academic shifts – how should this affect the way we view their scholarship, if we still value it as solid?”

I agree with you that there is much to learn from scholars who are less conversant with the latest academic shifts. A scholar that I value his research as not only ‘solid’ but also very interesting is Ethan Haimo. Much of what I know about Schoenberg is from reading his articles and books. It is true that Haimo can be seen as a formalist. However, he too is well aware of how society and culture affect a composer (and not only the other way around).

Moreover, there are ‘New’ musicologists who write in an unclear manner, do not conduct thorough research, and their arguments don’t stand scrutiny.

There are various levels of scholarship both in ‘new’ and traditional musicology; however, it would be misguided to assume from this that everything is relative and that the shift in the academic world (that happened almost twenty years ago!) is merely fashion.

Joseph Kerman wrote: ‘Certainly the original masters of analysis left no doubt that for them analysis was an essential adjunct to a fully articulated aesthetic value system. Heinrich Schenker always insisted on the superiority of the towering products of the German musical genius. Sir Donald Tovey pontificated about “the main stream of music” and on occasion developed this metaphor in considerable detail. It is only in more recent times that analysts have avoided value judgments and adapted their work to a format of strictly corrigible propositions, mathematical equations, set-theory formulations, and the like - all this, apparently, in an effort to achieve the objective status and hence the authority of scientific inquiry. Articles on music composed after 1950, in particular, appear sometimes to mimic scientific papers in the way that South American bugs and flies will mimic the dreaded carpenter wasp. In a somewhat different adaptation, the distinguished analyst Allen Forte wrote an entire small book, The Compositional Matrix, from which all affective or valuational terms (such as “nice” or “good”) are meticulously excluded. The same tendency is evident in much recent periodical literature.’

Yossi wrote: ‘Finally, what shifts do you have in mind—from the 1970s?—that the Israeli academia has not caught up with yet?’

The shifts in musicology occurred at the early 1990s. In other fields in the world they can be tracked back to the 1970s.

Thank you, Yossi, for your comment on ‘The issue of Hebrew vs. English’. It is especially enlightening to see how the academy can discourage people from writing in Hebrew since ‘you must publish in peer-reviewed journals, and those, alas, tend to be in English’. I hope that this issue will be discussed in the conference.

Yossi wrote: ‘The cliché that the young hold the promise to the future needs no further beatings from me’

It is of course true that not all young scholars are promising. Writing good musicology is a serious and hard struggle. Yet, it is true that the younger scholars are more open to assimilate changes than older scholars. There are exceptions to this, Jonathan Dunsby and Eric Clarke are good examples for scholars who changed during the decades and kept themselves at the forefront of academic research.

I accept your criticism concerning Elisheva. It would have been better to approach her personally. Yet what was done was done (as we say in Hebrew). What she wrote was not that terrible: “4)If you were better acquainted with Israeli research, in musicology or other disciplines,you wouldn’t make such a sweeping claims about the poor quality of Israeli research. Anyone even remotely familiar with Israeli science and scholarship can find ample examples that we are not all as negligible or outdated as you claim. Not yet , considering the financial difficulties of ISraeli academia.” I felt that it would be more productive to discuss the issues themselves than attacking this or that person. Individuals (including those that I mention) are not the issue. We should discuss the greater cultural trends in Israeli research on music.

Elisheva is right that I have much to learn about Israeli research. This does not change the troubling fact that one can find in Israeli book shops amazing books such as Boaz Neumann’s Being-in-the-Weimar-Republic (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved Publishers, 2007 (in Hebrew!)) which deals with the history and culture of Germany in the 1920s in a highly original, professional and updated way; while in music one cannot find such books. Noiman’s book is better, I argue, than the English books written of the subject (at least those that I have read).

Why academic scholars from other fields than music are able to publish in Hebrew albeit the difficulties of budget and other scholarly limitations, and we seem to fail doing the very same thing in music?

Response to Dr Elisheva Rigbi’s second comment: are we normal?

This post is my reaction to Dr Elisheva Rigbi’s (Chairperson of Israel Musicological Society) second comment on my post: “Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”

Dear Elisheva Rigbi,
I was thinking whether to publish you last comment at all. I decided to do so since I thought that my blog post can be misunderstood (as you misunderstood it).

You are right that I slightly edited my post since it first appeared. I mainly added a reference to Tav+ (see also the comment from Bat-Sheva Shapira which says much about the situation in Israel!). However, my main criticism did not change.

Here is what I did not say (not in the edited or pre-edited post):
1) I never said that all Israeli research in general is outdated.
2) I never said that all Israeli musicologists or Israeli research are outdated.
3) I never said that Israeli research cannot influence anything.

What I said and still do say:

1) The situation of Hebrew literature on music (academic and popular) is very bad.

2) Much of the musical research in Israel is outdated with relation to recent movements in the academic world (Social and cultural research such as performance studies, feminist studies, psychological studies, etc.)

3) I suggested that the Israel Musiclological Society would be wise to put more emphasis on the goals for future writings in Hebrew. What should be written? What kinds of research questions? Should we continue to do what we always did or should there be other action points that we want to take. It seems to me that the letter that you sent does not suggest that a radical change needs to occur. If I am right (and I hope that I am wrong), the meeting may amount to a list of complaints towards others, such as: “no budget… give us more money”.

4) I claimed that translating books could be a useful way to increase the Hebrew literature in a relatively fast and inexpensive way. Perhaps the Israel Musicological Society should offer scholarships for the translation of materials (this is something that is done in other places such as the journal Music and Letters).

5) I wrote that I am pessimistic that the Israeli academic world can make a real difference. I believe that this is true not only from the reasons that I have already stated, but also because there are so few of these people. Do we have more than 10 scholars sitting in academic posts in all Universities in Israel (the Tel-Aviv department is closed and what is left there will probably fade away)?

6) I suggested that the young generation is the promise for a better future.

I think that it is a great thing that the IMS is making this meeting. However, the goals of the meeting should be stated more clearly. It is important to arrange round-table sessions where discussions will be conducted. Most important: action points should be decided upon during the meeting, and supervised thereafter.

Otherwise, it will amount to talk, talk, talk…

It would be wise if certain people concentrate their efforts, not on being defensive, but on accepting criticism and thinking forward: how can we join forces and brains in order to make the future a better place for all of us?

There are so many other research fields in Israel that are actually working (one thinks about History, philosophy, gender and cultural studies, Jewish studies, and more…), why music is such a poor exception?

One of the reasons that we are not moving forward is that musicology (in Israel and in the world) was based on 19th century philology – they study of texts. If the world moved away from text-based studies in the last two decades, we are still stuck there.

In is seminal article titled “Between Process and Product: Music and/as Performance”, Nicholas Cook wrote: “It is tempting to say that all this is rather silly and that what is needed is simply a proper sense of balance and mutual respect between musicians. But that ignores the influence of what I referred to as the grammar of performance: a conceptual paradigm that constructs process as subordinate to product. That such a paradigm should be deeply built into musicology is not surprising: the nineteenth-century origins of the discipline lie in an emulation of the status and methods of philology and literary scholarship, as a result of which the study of musical texts came to be modeled on the study of literary ones. In effect, and however implausibly, we are led to think of music as we might think of poetry, as a cultural practice centered on the silent contemplation of the written text, with performance (like public poetry reading) acting as a kind of supplement.” [5]

In the two short conversations that I had with Dalia Cohen she stated to me that what the composer does is more important, “of course”, than what the performer does. Roger Kamian, who is also an excellent scholar and performer, demonstrated two of three years ago in a conference on performance in the Tel-Aviv University that performance should be subordinated to analysis (Schenkerian analysis to be more specific). Did he read the classics articles on the relation between analysis and performance in John Rink’s The Practice of Performance: Studies in Musical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)? It is perhaps not surprising that they think this way, possibly due to the research tradition that they comes from. However, the fact so many younger musicians still think this way – is troubling.

Dr. Elisheva Rigbi commented “I agree that we have some pretty bad and outdated musicologists here, just like everywhere else. But we also have good ones, like elsewhere.” Elisheva. You are right. We have some very good musicologists in Israel. Yet, you are misguided in your attempt to present us as a normal place. A comparison with England, USA or other research fields in Israel demonstrates that we are not asking the right research questions.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog simply by entering your email in the form on the top-left side. If you need help with this, write to me and I will add you. Things are getting interesting here!

Why my Blog is in English: an answer to Dr. Elisheva Rigbi

Dr Elisheva Rigbi, who is the “Chairperson Israel Musicological SOciety”, commented on my post Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”. She wrote “Want to make a contribution to Israeli society? How about writing your blog IN HEBREW! Then you might have more than just ‘little hope that the Israeli academic world can make a contribution to Israeli society’”. In this post I will explain why my blog is in English and not in Hebrew.

I wrote in my post “What language should a scholar choose for writing?” that “There and issues against and for writing in English or Hebrew. If one writes in English, one can reach a larger audience. There are more scholars that can read what one writes, and comment on it. This is the reason why I decided to write my blog in English.” I have no idea how long I will write this blog. If I will see that people read it, it will grant me motivation.

My blog is not intended to solve the problem of “making a contribution to Israeli society by writing in Hebrew”. I did write a few articles in Hebrew in the past (see publications) and I hope to do so in the future. If I will see that blog writing is for me, I might open another blog in Hebrew.

Take part in the discussion

Several people wrote to me that they agree with what I wrote in Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”. I would like to encourage these people and others to comment on this post and other ones. You do not even need to use your real name if you are afraid from the long nails of the Israeli music establishment (that was a joke, by the way…).


Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog simply by entering your email in the form on the left (top). Things are getting interesting here!

See also:
Response to Dr Elisheva Rigbi’s second comment: are we normal?

Call for papers “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”

The Israeli Musicological Association published today a call for papers on the subject: “What there is and what there is not to read about music in Hebrew”. The meeting will take place at the Hebrew University on Sunday, 29 June 2008. The aim of the meeting, so it is argued, is to discuss what does not exist in Hebrew on music.

It is true that there are some books in Hebrew that one can find in the library. The problem is that most of these books are out of print, so most Israelis cannot find them in the book shops.

Another problem is the quality of these books. The main problem is that, by large, the shift that occurred in the academic world in general since the 1970s and in musicology since the 1990s did not reach Israel. There are a small number of ‘serious’ scholars in Israel (how one measures serious is a big question, however, the criteria of whether one published anything in the last five years (and in what journals and publication houses) could be sufficient to prove my point). Many Israeli scholars are disconnected from the social and cultural research that dominates the scholarly world today. Perhaps they read what is written, but how many of them make a serious contribution to the field in a global sense? There are few dear individuals that do make a contribution, but they are an exception to the rule.

I hope that the Israeli Musicological Association annual meeting will discuss not only what is not written, but also what should be written. Do we need more Schenkerian books in Hebrew that almost no one reads, or is there a more desperate need for books that might be of interest to a larger amount of readers?

To be fair, there are some excellent musicologists in Israel. Yet there voice is usually not heared and does not reach the wide public (one of the reasons that we are speaking about writings in Hebrew is connected to the attempt to be relevant to more people in Israel and perhaps also USA).

A noteworthy journal that is gathering momentum is Tav+ which is dealing with music in the context of society. The journal is consciously semi academic and it is one of the only publications that is dealing with contemporary music making in Israel. It is a pity that this journal is not sold in book shops like stimatzki and tzomet sfarim. The journal, however, contains lots of interesting articles.

I wrote a few days ago a post called ‘Why no books about music? Think about it!’ which is about how poor the situation in Israel is (with relation to issue of books on music), and I mentioned the book by Cook that was translated lately. This book is a good change in the Israeli scene. I hope that the translation of other books will follow (one has in mind the second book by John Rink on performance and books by many other authors). The translation of books could be a good way to fill the book shops with updated and interesting books on music in Hebrew.

I have little hope that the Israel academic world can make a contribution to the Israeli society. There are few scholars in Israel that actually publish interesting things, and one of the important reasons for this, is the lack of budget for music research in Israel. The budget for the Universities in Israel is constantly being reduced. There does not seem to be any sign that something will change (although things usually do change exactly at such times). Perhpas the talented authors in Israel should try to find ways not to be dependent on government budget.

I hope that I am not too pessimistic. I do hope that things will change and that more and more scholars will be able to take part in this change. The young generation is the promise. There are quite a few young Israeli musicologists who are curious, updated and ready to contribute. The internet is another way to help scholars to be creative and productive.

Do you have any thoughts on this issue? Please feel free to comment on this post with the form below. Perhaps this way a discussion will start – something that is very missing in Israel.

I responded to some of the comments to this email in the follwing links: Response to Dr Elisheva Rigbi’s second comment: are we normal? Why my Blog is in English: an answer to Dr. Elisheva Rigbi We seem to fail doing the very same thing in music Here it comes מה יש ומה אין לקרוא על מוסיקה בעברית Review of the IMS conference 2008: what there is and what there is not to read in Hebrew in Music

Why no books about music? Think about it!

When one goes into book shops in Israel, one cannot not notice that there are no music books. You could find a few song books, usually popular song books. But you will rarely find books about music. There are a few books that where translated into Hebrew. The most important one that was lately translated is Music: A Short Introduction by Nicholas Cook. This is a great book and it will probable contribute much to the dull musicological scene in Israel.

I lately went to a book shop called “Sipur pashut” in Neve Tzedek. It is a wonderful book shop with critical books on a large variety of subjects: philosophy, literature, film, art and more. Yet also here the music section was almost not existent. When I approached the person behind the desk, I was told that when they will enlarge the store they will have room for music books. It seems to me that Israel in general has no room for music books.

Why read books about music if you could simply listen to music?
Good music books make you listen to music differently. It is not only music that changes the lives of many people. It is also the words “around” it: discussions with friends, what is during a radio broadcast, what one reads in the newspaper, and what you could discover in a book.

When I write about music, it is usually out of a process where I started to listen to a certain piece of music differently. I wish to share this experience with my readers.

This is what happened in my last research trip to Berlin. As a result of extensive reading and listening, I began to hear things connected to gender in Schoenberg’s Piano Piece, Op. 33a. You can read a draft of the article in the “Drafts for comments” section of this website.

I hereby call all Israeli readers of this post to approach your local book shop and ask: “Why no books about music? Think about it!

Copyright Avior Byron 2022 .