Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Recent music-related reading/listening, plus a postscript from Africa

Stuff I've finished:
  • Conducting Choral Music (Robert L. Garretson) - interestingly, this covers not only the basic artistic aspects of choral conducting, but also has some chapters that read like a survival guide for choral directors in the primary/secondary school system
  • Choral Music: History, Style, and Performance Practice (Robert L. Garretson) - a decent survey of the history and musical interpretation of choral music
  • The Modern Conductor (Elizabeth A. Green and Mark Gibson) - mostly skimmed this out of curiosity; if I do any detailed reading/study on conducting, I'll save it for later
  • A couple of recordings of works by Stravinsky and John Corigliano
Stuff I'm reading/listening to now:
  • Recording + score of The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)
  • Recording of Don Giovanni (Mozart)
    An opera guide book about The Magic Flute
  • The Choral Experience: Literature, Materials, and Methods (Ray Robinson and Allen Winold)
Listening to the students in the SCU Art Song Festival inspired me to check out the Mozart operas. I'm going to try to get familiar with some of the arias that the students sang.

Concerts I've been to lately:
  • The Stanford Invitational Choral Festival last Friday. For anyone who is into choral music, this is an amazing event to attend. The groups range from high school to pro, and many of them will knock your socks off. And it's free!!!
And now the postscript from Africa: I caught a couple of NPR stories last week that I could relate to, a little bit: Surviving on about $1 a day and Being 'rich' in a poor land. The second story especially resonated with my Ghana experience. It's about the reporter's culture shock and discomfort when he temporarily relocated to Mali and suddenly became a member of the ultra-rich class, after living a middle-class life in L.A. The eye-catching title of the second story exemplifies (to me) how media coverage of Africa can be somewhat distorted and not tell the whole story. $1/day seems horrifyingly pathetic to us Americans, but the cost of living there is drastically lower - where I was stationed, a school lunch costs 10 cents, as does a big bag of fresh, hot bofrot (they're like donut holes). A van ride is 30 cents and will take you pretty far (although the van is most likely falling apart). A steak dinner at a four-star hotel with all the fixings runs about $8.

Also, I dislike how the media sometimes portrays the entire African populace as a mob of constantly-warring, disease-afflicted, rag-clad beggars. This is an affront to their dignity. I met a lot of people during my short visit, including some hostile/shady/pathetic characters, but I also met people who were intelligent, caring, generous, funny, and hardworking. People like them live their lives as best they can, difficult as those lives are, and still maintain their sense of dignity, kindness, and joy.

This is not to romanticize conditions there - not in the least. The standard of living is drastically lower, and there is real hardship and need, especially in the areas of health care, public infrastructure, economic security, and education (based on my brief first-hand observations). I saw people who could not afford the 10-cent lunch for their child.

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