Friday, February 13, 2009

Spelling and other misdemeanours

Warning: large ranting post ahead.

I have been marking written tests taken by prospective students who want to study music at university, and as always I am appalled, horrified and furious at the complete and utter lack of basic musical knowledge that some people have, considering they want to make a career out of it. Last night one of these written tests really took the cake for me. I have never in my life read such appalling spelling in an essay, which is part of the test in addition to the basic music questions like, "Name this note." Here's a sample - see if you can work them out:
Carmon (yes, Bizet's opera)

And so on. Gaaah!

What is wrong with the following scenario? Young Person fluffs around and leaves school after year 10. Has some casual and part-time employment in "retail and hospitality" for a few years, learns how to do web design or similar, all the while being really interested in music, particularly alternative, electronica and similar, and attempts to write pieces by playing them from an electronic keyboard into your computer, tweaking notes that sound "wrong", pressing a button and, voilá! Notation appears! "Hey! I think I'll be a composer, and apply for a composition degree at uni!"

Why, why, why would you decide to be a musician at the age of 18 (or older) and apply to a tertiary music course without even being able to read music? Correct me if I'm wrong, but do students turn up to first-year mathematics having never done mathematics in high school and being unable to read numbers? It really IS the equivalent of that.

I was at work today and I ran into a woman who I had taught in 2007 in the foundation unit, which starts with topics like key signatures, scale construction, how rhythm is organised, and so on. I asked her what she was doing now and she informed me that she was auditioning for postgraduate study. I am not sure if my gaping jaw was obvious to her but I smiled politely, wished her good luck and continued on my merry way, incredulous that this person could go from being unable to construct correct rhythmic patterns in 2007 to attempting a postgraduate qualification in music in 2009.

If you can't read a note as big as a barn, GO AWAY AND LEARN HOW AND THEN COME BACK TO A UNIVERSITY MUSIC COURSE!!! Can I emphasise that strongly enough?

I am deadly serious. No matter what line of music you are hoping to make a career in, do NOT expect to learn everything from scratch in first-year university. It is simply a waste of everyone's time, especially your own. This career is simply too competitive to succeed in if you don't know anything about it by the time you reach your late teens or early twenties. And those who think they know about music because they have all the recordings of Miles Davis, can play licks by Joe Pass, can sing a few songs from Sondheim musicals, or similar, just need a reality check. And private tutoring before they apply to a university.

However, this leads me to a much deeper philosophical issue: why are music institutions taking in students like this? Why are music institutions designing courses around what the students think they need, as opposed to what the experts in the field know they need? What are the career options for students who exit tertiary music courses being unable to play standard repertoire and get on the casual list of a professional orchestra, or make a living doing jazz gigs? What about the students who can do those things, where are the jobs for them? Why are schools producing musically illiterate students who in turn go into teaching and so the awful cycle continues?

No matter whether it's jazz or classical, I will go to my grave upholding the belief that people who want tertiary music study need to be able to read music, take basic theory and aural training, learn the fundamentals of music history, and need to be literate and able to write coherently.

Sorry if this rant started to seem a little incoherent or disconnected. It's been a long week!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

One book meme

I came across this at Reeling and Writhing. Hello Genevieve, whoever you are! :)

When I was pregnant with Lillian I found myself with a lot more time and enthusiasm for reading. It was probably procrastination since I wasn't writing a piece at the time. I love to read. My husband loves to buy me books; they don't always appeal to me but I've come across a few gems recently, and not-so-recently.

If this meme appeals to you, consider yourself tagged. And let me know, I'd love some recommendations.

One book you’re currently reading: Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited. My sister gave it to me for Christmas and I'm hooked. Saw snippets of the BBC series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews on ABC2 recently but I'd like to see the whole thing.

One book that changed your life: Goodness, so many! I was impressed with Alex Haley, Roots, which I read when I was in high school. A few years ago Anne Manne, Motherhood, really made me re-think so many things. Jane Austen, Persuasion, is one of the best books of all time.

One book you’d want on a desert island: Hmn, tricky. Maybe Pride and Prejudice?

One book you’ve read more than once: Pride and Prejudice. What can I say? I love Jane Austen.

One book you’ve never been able to finish: Arundhati Roy, The God Of Small Things. I just didn't get it. Also George Eliot, Mill on the Floss, but I'll give that another go.

One book that made you laugh: Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones, the Edge of Reason. Laughed till I cried. The films are not nearly as good as the two BJ books.

One book that made you cry: Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Nanny Diaries. I was a weeping mess at the end, and turned back to page one and started again. Great book.

One book you keep rereading: None, really. I do enjoy certain parenting books and go back to them when I feel like I need a refresher. Diane Levy, Of Course I Love You, Now Go To Your Room is my favourite and works every time. (Can I add Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion here too??)

One book you’ve been meaning to read: So many! I have a pile of books to get through, that were given to me as gifts over the past year but in the madness of having two young children and a large piece to write, the year slipped by (as did the summer break). *sigh* Here they are:
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman's Union
John Honey, Strings
David Malouf, Every Move You Make
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
I did manage to read Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and thought it was brilliant.

One book you believe everyone should read: Musicians should read Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle. It's a searingly honest inside look at the world of classical music, and how things really work - how it's so difficult to make a living, why some people get gigs and others don't, no matter how good they are. Fascinating and somewhat depressing. If you're not willing to do what it takes to make it to the top, don't bother going into classical music. Food for thought.

Also, Li Cunxin, Mao's Last Dancer. Fascinating, riveting, heartbreaking, warm and wonderful. I definitely recommend it.

ETA: The Bridget Jones books are read aloud by Tracie Bennett as audio books - hilarious.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

First day pics

Just two shots of Alexander's first morning heading off to school. The sun was in the wrong place, we were trying to get there on time, Lillian kept bursting into tears, I had to go to work... it was not a very calm way to start the day!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Off to school

Alexander started school today. He is now in Prep, for which you need to be five here in Tasmania. A rather momentous day, the first day of full-time school. He was cool as a cucumber, very happy to be going back to see his friends and see his new teacher again. He was most excited that there would be some Mobilo, a particular type of construction toy that he was addicted to at Kindergarten. I did my best not to cry but have to admit that a tear did come to my eye at one point. But nobody saw. No they didn't. Luckily. Then we left (David came along to share the moment) and he barely looked up, just said, "Bye Mum, bye Dad." Snif. That was it. I'll put up a few pictures when I get a chance over the next day or so.

It was a manic day, as I am now back at the Conservatorium for two half-days a week so after leaving Lillian at her grandmother's I went off to work for a few hours. Ack! I've been on leave for around 16 months so it's like starting a new job; even more so because we have a new head of school and I have a new office and so do most of my colleagues so I can't find people and most of my books and files are still scattered around my new office waiting to find a shelf to live on. It took me a few hours to unravel some emails, sort out computer access to student records, catch up with a colleague who is the go-to person for just about everything, before even starting on re-writing the unit outlines for what I'm teaching. And then it was time for school pick-up. I really don't know how I am going to fit it all in this year - mothering, composing, lecturing, cooking, shopping, cleaning, washing, chauffeuring, and several other -ings. Need to be organised, need to get enough sleep.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get on the computer much over the past couple of months. Sorry if you've been wondering where I am. I am here! (said the Whos in Who-ville.)