Monday, 24 October 2011

A Little Bit of Self-Promotion

Please excuse this self-promo exercise. I have spaces available for cello students in SE London. If you're interested, please go to my tutoring page:

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Angklung

Last Saturday I arrived at the Musical Museum for my reception shift and spotted a copy of the Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments (Anthony C. Baines) whilst making a quick cup of tea in the office. Its A-Z dictionary-style format and organology subject-matter appealed to me as a bit of light reading (compared to the copy of the Gormenghast Trilogy I've been wading through for the last few months) to dip into should I find myself twiddling my thumbs once the mailing list envelopes were stuffed and afternoon's tea dance got underway, so I picked it up.

Starting at the beginning, I flicked through, browsing for entries that caught my interest. I had a good start with the very first entry, Accordion, which includes not one, but
two nice diagrams; felt satisfyingly aggrieved by a western classical-centric entry on the Clarinet in C, which states that it was 'much used in the past where the orchestral key is C or G', but doesn't mention, for example, its widespread use in klezmer; and had a nice foray into various types of lute.

The entry which really caught my interest, though, was the Angklung, an 'Indonesian instrument of swinging bamboo tubes suspended in a light upright frame with a wide bamboo forming the base'.

Angklung Players
Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I liked that it produces sound in both a percussive (the swinging tubes strike prongs in the base) and free aerophone (the tongue-shaped top to the tubes causes the internal air column to vibrate as the instrument is swung) manner, and found its intricate design beautiful.

M0ffia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Further rooting-about has unearthed this lovely documentary on the angklung's role in daily life at the high school in Cikondang village in Cianjur, West Java...

...This rather dry demonstration of the instrument...

...An angklung performance by children at an unspecified orphanage...

...And this impressive rendition an Rihanna's Umbrella.

All quotes from the Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments

Friday, 28 May 2010

22 years on, and I still want to dance to mechanical instruments...

Back in February, I came across the Musical Museum by chance after a walk along the Thames from Richmond to Brentford. It's a bit of a hidden gem, featuring a theatre with a stage, film screen and the 'Regal' Wurlitzer organ, rescued from the Regal Cinema, Kingston-upon-Thames. There's also a violin player (which sounds like a cat - brilliant!), pianolas, pub pianos, orchestrions and barrel organs.

Here's a Violano-Virtuoso. This one's in much better condition than the one at the Museum, being reasonably in-tune, with only a hint of cat.

Some highlights of the Musical Museum

I got very excited about my discovery and have started volunteering at the Musical Museum on the reception and I'm going to learn to give guided tours when I'm settled in.

My mum reminded me recently of a favorite activity of my early childhood which may explain why I'm so excited by a place full of mechanical instruments now...

This is me aged three, at the Salop Steam Rally, in September 1987. Mum says that I 'stopped at every steam organ to have a dance totally oblivious of the people following to watch'. Perhaps, if I'm brave enough, I'll dance to some of the instruments at the Musical Museum...

...And aged 25 in front of a fair organ at the Musical Museum's 1940s Weekend, June 2010. I did dance a little bit!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

An Update: Morris Dancing, X-Factor, the BNP and English National Pride

A short article in the Spring issue of Soundsense's Sounding Board magazine, Folk music 'hijacked' by BNP, bought me back to some of the issues I addressed in my Morris Dancing post. The article discusses Trish Winter and Simon Keegan-Phipps, of Sunderland and Sheffield Universities, research project entitled Performing Englishness in New English Folk Music and Dance and mentions the 'folk world's strong and distancing response to right wing politics [...] supported by almost every big name on the folk scene', centred round the organisation Folk Against Fascism.

Winter and Keegan-Phipps' closing report makes interesting reading, especially their reasons for the resurgence in English folk traditions regarding immigration:

[I]t is felt by many within the English folk culture that the cultural traditions of other ethnic groups in England command greater respect – particularly from key policy makers and funding agencies – than that afforded the English folk arts (p.17)

Sadly, it's all too easy for far-right organisations to twist the desire for English folk traditions to be recognised as equally worthy of respect as other (immigrant) cultural practices to their own ends, which we have seen with the likes of Nick Griffin declaring his appreciation for Eliza Carthy.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Chad Gadya and the Jewish Reflections Project

I was reminded today of one of my favorite songs, Chava Alberstein's Chad Gadya, a version of the children's Passover song. The original is a cumulative song about a goat which is bought for two coins, which is eaten by a cat, which is bitten by a dog, which is hit by a stick... it ends with an appearance by the Angel of Death, then finally God Itself intervenes.

At the Passover Seder table, children traditionally ask four questions (with an extra 'introductory' question):

Why is this night different from all other nights?
Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matza, but on this night we eat matza?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?

Alberstein adapted the Chad Gadya lyrics to include her own questions:

Why are you singing this traditional song?
It’s not yet spring and Passover’s not here.
And what has changed for you? What has changed?
I have changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:
How long will the cycle last?
How long will the cycle of violence last?

Given the context of when and where this song was first released, in Israel, 1989, during the first Palestinian Intifada, Alberstien's questions are charged with political comment.

I was prompted to search out Alberstein's song today when I found this version of Chad Gadya:

The music is performed by the Yiddish Twist Orchestra and visuals are by Miki Shaw (both London-based).

After pondering these two versions - Alberstein's is so despairing and oppressive with its feeling of being locked in a never-ending cycle without hope, whilst Miki and the Yiddish Twist have fun with a silly story, which reminded me of They Might Be Giants' children's music videos - I started searching for other versions of Chad Gadya.

Youtube yielded this clip by Ofra Haza, but it didn't really do it for me given that I was hoping for something deep-and-meaningful for my compare-and-contrast exercise...

...And then, I came across an absolute gem, the Jewish Reflections project, a collection of songs for Seder and other occasions collected from Jews in the UK between 2006 and 2009. It includes 15 recorded versions of Chad Gadya, along with sheet music, and biographies of the contributors. I'd found what I was looking for: lots of versions of Chad Gadya with accompanying life histories to read various insights into. What a great resource!