Thursday, October 07, 2010

Not a sound on the pavement

Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

Marcel Proust
Swann’s Way, “Overture”

No, you have not stumbled into a Theory of Knowledge class. No, I am not less sane than usual. Yes, it will be another one of “those” columns. Climb aboard the ride and pull down the safety bar .

It is sometimes the smallest things that will have the greatest effect. As music teachers we build associations to many hundreds of pieces of music through performances throughout our careers. Not only do we remember the musical details, but we remember the entire scene of the performance and in some cases events around it.

Stop and think of a piece of music that you have performed. Pick any one. Get the sound of that piece going in your mental music player. Can you see the venue where the performance took place? What were you wearing? Who else was performing with you? Can you see it from your point of view as a performer or as an outside observer? Now the catch - what emotion are you feeling? Are you remembering the emotions of that performance, the emotions that surrounded that time in your life, a mixture of both, or some strange mixture you can’t quite determine?

Brain researchers have been exploring these phenomena, amongst others. Using MRI scans and prompts requiring the subject to remember events or perform tasks they are identifying areas of activity in the brain that correspond to a variety of activities. In one study they showed a silent movie that had a variety of sounds visually depicted - here’s the description by Ian Sample writing in The Guardian:
Volunteers clambered into an MRI scanner and watched silent movie clips. Each five second video included a scene that implied a sound. There were animals in action: a howling dog, a mooing cow, a crowing cock. There were musical instruments: a violin, a bass and a piano key being struck. Three final videos showed a chainsaw cutting down a tree, coins being tossed into a glass and a vase being dropped and smashed. All played out in silence, but even typing that I could hear the buzz of the saw, the sharp clink of coins, the crash of the vase. Like the author, I presume that as you were reading the descriptions of the scenes you created the sounds in your mind’s ear.
The study then goes on to raise what may be the answer to why we became involved in music education. According to the lead scientist in the study, Kaspar Meyer, the visual stimulus would not trigger the the mind’s ear to hear the sound if we had never made those sounds or seen and heard those sounds being simultaneously made.

It is our task to create the opportunities for our students to build those aural, physical and emotional associations. We tend to call them by the mundane names of practice, rehearsals and performances. By creating for them the best environment to build that framework of emotions and sensations we recalled in our earlier exercise, we do the most to influence their development as musicians, learners and citizens of the world.

And the best part is, we benefit as well.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Words, Words, Words

Because e-books were not explicitly mentioned in most author contracts until about 15 years ago, disputes have arisen about who has the right to publish digital versions of older books. But along with other publishers, Random House, which releases Styron’s works in print, has said that clauses like “in book form” give it exclusive rights to publish electronic editions. In a letter to literary agents in December, Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest publisher of trade books, said authors were “precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties” for electronic editions.

Motoko Rich

New York Times

25 April 2010

As we bring this year to an academic close with concerts and festivals and the first glimmers and glints of who will be where next year, let us pause and examine the turning point at which we find ourselves in the intellectual property world. “How does this affect me? ” I hear you cry. The short answer is, in many ways that you may not have thought, Grasshopper.

Intellectual property relies on contracts, and contracts are, despite the opinions of their authors, written by mortals. There is no such thing as an iron-clad contract as time has a way of making its intentions known. All of the music that you buy from your favourite supplier is licensed from the author/composer/librettist under a contract. Contracts are limited by their terms and conditions. If the person drawing up the contract is neither omniscient nor incredibly precise in the language they employ, the contract may be unenforceable or offer loopholes in the terms and conditions that may be exploited by either or both parties.

When choral and band arrangements are contracted, there are a wide variety of rights that are under negotiation. Distribution, performance, duplication, medium are some of the principal rights that are covered. As you can see from the quote above, the medium through which the material is published is becoming an issue. As an author, there is a separate negotiation for audio recording rights, film rights. screenplay adaptations and extensions to contracts. Most of us who use online services for purchasing music are waiting for the day that all work will be offered as “print on demand”. We may well be waiting for a long time. Many publishers would like to see this happen as it would mean a relatively inexpensive solution to keeping a publication in print and in stock. Many authors would like to see this as it means that more of their titles are available for performance (and for sale). Why hasn’t it already happened? Read the contract.

If a contract has not specified electronic means in its terms and conditions, the author has the right to enforce the contract and not allow electronic distribution. That means opening up a renegotiation for electronic publication rights with everyone involved in the publication in question. “Everyone?” I hear you ask? The composer, the arranger, the lyricist or poet if the choral work is taken from a pre-extant text all have a say in the publication or non-publication of the piece, depending on their original contract for the piece. If any one of them does not agree the terms, the contract cannot be completed and the piece cannot be published electronically.

This is one of the reasons why films of events such as “Woodstock” have featured artists and songs. Unless all the performers agreed, including the composer and lyricist, the pieces could not be legally transmitted. It could be argued, if there were any advocates, that the pieces filmed, but not used should not even have been filmed. However, since ownership of many rock and blues songs is cloudy at best they were at least filmed. If the film distributors could not find a clear title for a composer or lyricist, the song could not be included in the film. Also if a band did not agree to their performance being distributed, no film rights. If a songwriting partnership disagreed, no film rights. For film rights read any rights and you’ll see the state of the current publishing field.

The current publishing field also has to cope with the emergence of a global market where copyright has always been specified nation by nation and in global treaties. If a country didn’t sign the treaty, any copyrighted material that entered the country had only the rights granted by the country where the material was located. The Internet can be filtered by nation so there is some form of discrimination possible. However, the licenses for publication have historically been granted nation by nation, often with differing publishing groups in differing nations. A case in point are my own books from Novello. The first three books are not licensed for sale in the US and Canada. The next four are available world wide, so Novello and MusicSales negotiated a different agreement with the holders of the publication and distribution rights.

So bear a thought for the publishers as you search for new repertoire and materials. Everything so far has presumed that for the most part the people concerned with the title want the piece to remain in print. It may surprise you that there are authors and composers, such as the late J.D. Salinger, who do not wish works to remain available after the initial contract period expires or in any altered form from the original specification.

I leave you with the contract terms offered me from Novello. Their lawyers are pretty sharp and I think that you will appreciate both the brevity and impact of their work.
In consideration of the payment set out in this Order you hereby assign to us with full title guarantee the entire copyright and all like rights in and to the product of your services performed by you pursuant to and under the terms of this Order (the "Services") for the full period of copyright including any and all renewals, revivals, extensions and reversions therein throughout the World to hold to Music Sales Limited absolutely. You hereby confirm that the payment referred to above shall be the entire payment whatsoever due to you in respect of the Services (including for the avoidance of doubt any further payment that may otherwise arise in respect of any rental and lending rights under the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 1996) and, further, you give your consent to the Services being used in any form and in any media whether now known or hereinafter designed or invented without further payment of any kind whatsoever.
Enjoy your summer and re-create!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star?

"It encourages kids not to learn, that's the trouble. It makes less and less people dedicated to really get down and learn an instrument".
Bill Wyman, former bass player for the Rolling Stones

"It irritates me having watched my kids do it. If they spend as much time practising the guitar as learning how to press the buttons, they'd be damn good by now".
Nick Mason, Pink Floyd
both quoted in The Guardian, 8 September 2009

Two masters of their instruments air their views on the “Guitar Hero” phenomenon. From reports from my students, it appears the more real guitar or drums you can play, the more you have to “unlearn” to play the game. I have to admit, I’m sure like many of you, I played the beta version of “Guitar Hero”. That was the version where you actually learned to play the instruments then formed a band and played for tribal gatherings then known as sock-hops or dances.

Back in the dark ages in junior high I was in a band formed in the wake of the British Invasion that rehearsed in my basement. As I had been taking organ and tuba lessons for three years already, it was down to me to learn the songs in order to teach them to the rest of the band. I expanded my studies to include electric bass guitar and then transferred them to the upright bass to begin playing in the orchestra. So there I was from an early age listening to records, playing along, writing a variety of charts for my colleagues and co-conspirators. As at least three of us in the band, up to six in one incarnation, were also in the choir we were pretty good at vocal stylings and could cover not only songs by Chuck Berry and the Beatles, but also songs by such luminaries as the Beach Boys, the Cryan’ Shames and The Association.

So I suppose my innocent teen age pursuits shaped and fed my already fairly large interest in music. In our house music was something that happened the same way that you ate dinner in the evening. My father played trumpet and organ and my mother and her twin sister sang in a duet act, both performed at least semi-professionally in the Chicago area. As a result of my extra rock band training, neither ear training nor melodic dictation ever proved to be difficult in any of my courses. Similarly, class piano improvisation requirements where not as trying as they were to many. That early “Rock Band” game began as “do what they did” and turned eventually into “take the structures they used and develop a unique variation that is yours”.

I continued to play and sing in a variety of ensembles in High School. My band director needed a keyboard player for a lounge/club gig and asked if I could play a Hammond B3. As it turned out, I could and I then embarked on a career in the lounges and clubs of the south side playing standards, learning yet another style and set of performance theories and rules. This pattern continued through university and beyond.

With the growth of the Internet and the many tablature and lyrics sites that now exist, the technology has lifted some of the repetition out of transcribing songs and arrangements from contemporary popular music. Our students can now see their heroes performing on YouTube and concert videos. There are digital recorders built in to many hand held devices. Digital playback devices exist that allow songs to be slowed down without changing the pitch so students can play along with soloists. Students who have the music fire lit in them can find many avenues to stoke the flames. According to Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of the firm which created the Rock Band series, “We’re constantly hearing from fans who were inspired by Rock Band to start studying a real instrument.”

Mozart created his musical dice game to pass the time making music. Xenakis recorded burning charcoal to create a piece for the Brussels World’s Fair. The artists of musique concrète sliced reel-to-reel tapes into “samples” and distorted them and stitched them together or overdubbed them to create music. Today our students drag loops and beats to create songs, record and manipulate original sounds and source sounds in samplers. Algorithmic composition and “chance music” are now accepted compositional techniques. Our students make music in many ways, appreciate music in many ways and share their musical talents in a variety of ways.

Perhaps that is all the “Guitar Hero” is - another way that students socialise through, participate in, and express themselves with music. I am sure that we as teachers would hope that once the “Guitar Hero” game is conquered, all of our students would quickly resume the life-long game that they have undertaken; making music an essential part of their lives as intelligent consumers, enlightened critics and expressive performers and creators.