We’ve reached the end of August
Beginning: 11:59 CDT on Wednesday, August 21st, 2014
Listening to: Mogwai’s Happy Songs for Happy People (2003) and Aaron Neville’s song Hercules (1973)
Reading: French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
Rereading: Composers at Work: The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I never thought I’d begin a *serious blog post* with a plug for anything non-early-music related; but this entry starts with the rediscovery of another blog, the long-cherished Motel de Moka. I came upon the well-run portal/platform for independent and underground musical releases when I was a junior (third year) in high school and have been visiting it ever since. (*~Happy anniversary, Laura and the mp3 blog.~*)
Beyond feeding my knowledge of popular music from the past six decades, the site has also greatly influenced my musical taste. For a number of years in high school, my primary hobby was exploring music blogs; through this, I gained exposure to songs I wouldn’t have heard had my only musical outlets been radio and TV. I’m pleased that years later curiosity and the drive to expose oneself to new music remains. It is also rewarding to acknowledge in adulthood the positive impact of repeated action over time and reap its benefits. I believe that listening to a wide variety of music must comprise its own education: a means by which one might gain musical worldliness and add expression to the performer/composer/improviser toolkit.
My students in South Africa received a similar education, aided by the capabilities of cell phone technology. While the vast majority of them did not own computers, they did each have cell phones and were able to download new songs onto them at Vulindlela, the Keiskamma Trust’s small library and computer center. Students were even able to share songs among themselves via Bluetooth: at the beginning of my teaching contract, I connected with two high schoolers by asking them to explain Bluetooth technology to me. I could then share from my phone and vice versa. The giving and receiving of music continued intermittently over the remainder of nine months’ work.
Following the introduction to how Hamburg’s Xhosa youth explored new music, I was privileged to witness the leap from popular listening to performance in observing three students in particular: two boys, twins Thabo and Thabiso, and their girl friend Nokuthula, would decipher and transcribe the chords of well-known songs in order to sing them together at the piano. A favorite of song of theirs was “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion.
The only impediments to translating popular music to the page were a lack of theory skills and the absence of a piano teacher. Our most advanced students had just written their UNISA Gr. 4 theory exams in September. (There are eight grades in total, plus the Teacher’s Licentiate.) Our best pianist, Thabiso, was self-motivated but self-taught. Students keen to sing at the piano could hear the root of most chords but not necessarily the quality or inversion; and this showed in their transcriptions, which they kindly allowed us to correct.
Despite its imperfections, the system Keiskamma Music Academy students invented worked as an alternative means of engaging with music outside of formal classes and lessons using available resources. It also channeled the same curiosity about new music, a curiosity that seems to often accompany youth, even in bare circumstances.
I thought at first that this blog post would herald news of Keiskamma Music Academy’s new music building, including the saga prior to the academy’s moving day; but I’ll save that for another time. I’m sorry at the amount of time that’s passed between my inaugural blog post and this: the beginning of the month was focused on applications, Ensemble Musica Humana, acclimating to new work in Chicago–the delight of working as I’d always dreamed, in the Loop, in the city I love–plus a newfound teaching position that begins later this fall. Steady as she goes; one step at a time, and more posts to follow.
Trailing off for now,