Why draw?

Why do we draw?
Here is a first list of reasons for drawing:

  • To observe
  • To record some real phenomenon, such as a scene or a person’s face
  • To play
  • To explore, to follow a line
  • To think
  • To capture some essence of an object being drawn
  • To become one with the object being drawn
  • To communicate something, for example, an emotion, a mental state, an idea, a thought, an inference, . . .
  • To express some prior internal emotion or mental state
  • To express some internal emotion or mental state concurrent with drawing, something that arises in the act of drawing
  •  To invoke some emotion in the drawing
  • To provoke some emotion or mental state in the viewer of the drawing
  • To inspire viewers to action, as, for example, in political posters or satirical cartoons
  •  To achieve some internal emotion or mental state by drawing –  for instance, to seek to become calm, to seek to enter a trance, to seek to be in the moment
  • To better know oneself
  • To seek mastery of the skills and arts of drawing, to train oneself in these arts, to undertake a practice (in the Zen sense of that word)
  • To pray
  • To communicate with non-material (spirit) realms
  • To achieve or to progress towards religious salvation
  • To provide soteriological guidance to others, as Shitao and his Buddhist contemporaries believed they were doing in China of the early Qing Dynasty (See:  Hay 2001).
  • To pass the time.

More on drawing-as-thinking here.  For comparison, some reflections on the purposes of music here, and on music as thought here.
 
References:
Jonathan Hay [2001]: Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China. New York: Cambridge University Press, Research Monograph Series.

Musical Genealogies

Thinking recently about tradition, I compiled genealogies for the lessons I have had in composition and in violin.

In composition, I once had lessons with “Gentleman Jim” Penberthy, who in turn had had lessons from Nadia Boulanger.   Although every mid-western American city was said to have had a music teacher who’d once been a pupil of Boulanger, the same was not true of Australia. As best I can determine the genealogy is thus:

  • James Penberthy (1917-1999)
    • Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
      • Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)
        • Louis Niedermeyer (1802-1861)
          • Emanual Aloys Forster (1748-1823)
            • Johann Georg Pausewang (1738-1812)
        • Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)
          • Fromental Halevy (1799-1862)
            • Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)

I am greatly pleased to find myself a composition student descendant of Cherubini, whose sublime string quartets influenced and were influenced by those of Mendelssohn. In violin, I once had some introductory lessons from Mr Leo Birsen, whose genealogy was:

  • Leo Birsen (1902-1992)
    • Jeno Hubay (1858-1937)
      • Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)
        • Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
          • Eduard Rietz (1802-1832)
            • Johann Friedrich Ritz (1767-1828) (ER’s father)
            • Pierre Rode (1774-1830)
              • Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824)

Subsequently, I have had lessons from two fine teachers whose genealogies are as follows.  My first teacher Ms Gisela Soares was taught by:

  • Philip Heyman
  • Ryszard Woycicki
    • Stefan Kamasa (1930 – )
      • Jan Rakowski (1898-1962)
        • Karola Wierzuchowskiego
      • Tadeusz Wronski (1915-2000)
      • P. Pasquier

And my second teacher Dr Claudio Forcada was taught by:

  • Goncal Comellas
    • Joan Massia i Prats (1890-1969)
      • Alfred Marchot
        • Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931)
          • Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)
          • Henry Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)

Here, parallel indents show a student of multiple teachers.  Thus, Ysaye was taught by both Wieniawksi and Vieuxtemps.  As it happens, Wieniawksi was also a pupil of Vieuxtemps.
 

Digital dumbing down

Despite being all the rage, touchscreens have never impressed me.   I did not put my finger (metaphor chosen deliberately) on the reasons why until reading Edward Tufte’s criticism:  they have no hand!  They lack tactility, and of all the many possible diverse, sophisticated, subtle, and complex motions that our hands and fingers are capable of, touchscreens seem designed to accommodate just two very simple motions:  tapping and sliding.   Not something to write home about when you wake up each morning eager to digitally percuss, or have hands able  to think.    Bret Victor has a nice graphically-supported argument about the lack of embodiment of touchscreens in the world of those of us with opposable thumbs, here.  As Victor says:

Are we really going to accept an Interface Of The Future that is less expressive than a sandwich?

Conductors

This is a list, as best I can recall, of the conductors I have seen in live performance. If memory serves, I also add the ensemble which I saw them direct.

  • Claudia Abbado, Orchestra Mozart Bologna
  • Thomas Ades, Britten Sinfonia, London
  • Yuri Bashmet, Moscow Soloists String Orchestra
  • Stuart Challender, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra
  • Matthew Coorey, RLPO and Halle Orchestra
  • Gustavo Dudamel, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Mark Elder, Halle Orchestra Manchester
  • John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, London
  • Edward Gardner, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London
  • John Gay, Soweto Symphony Orchestra and Maseru Singers
  • Richard Gill, Patonga Orchestra and Chorus
  • Reinhard Goebel, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
  • Hector Guzman, Irving Symphony Orchestra, Texas
  • Bernard Haitink, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • Mathieu Herzog, Orchestre Appassionato, Paris
  • Nicholas Kraemer, Manchester Camerata
  • Marcelo Lehninger, Boston Symphony Orchestra
  • Charles Mackerras, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Neville Marriner, Academy of St Martin in the Fields
  • Diego Matheuz, Orchestra Mozart/Mahler Chamber Orchestra
  • Michael Morgan, Queensland Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra
  • Joel Newsome, Solistes de Musique Ancienne
  • Gianandrea Noseda, BBC Philharmonic
  • Sakari Oramo, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
  • Libor Pesek, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Trevor Pinnock, European Brandenburg Ensemble
  • Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Gerard Schwarz, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Aziz Shokhakimov, Orchestre National de France
  • Brian Stacey, Lismore Regional Symphony Orchestra
  • Marcus Stenz, Halle Orchestra Manchester
  • Patrick Thomas, Queensland Symphony Orchestra
  • Robin Ticciati, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • David Urquhart-Jones, Lismore Regional Symphony Orchestra.

Pianists

As with violinists I have heard live, I thought it interesting to list the pianists I have heard perform (modulo the vagaries of memory):

  • Caroline Almonte – Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in Eb K365 (MSO, Melbourne 2009)
  • Ksenia Bashmet – Bach’s D Minor Keyboard Concerto (BWV 1052) (Moscow Soloists Chamber Ensemble, London 2011)
  • Alessio Bax (RLPO, Liverpool)
  • Alasdair Beatson  – Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D Minor (London 2011)
  • Richard Rodney Bennett (Canberra 1976)
  • François Dumont (Brussels 2018)
  • Kathryn Eves – Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (Cheshire Sinfonia, Manchester 2008)
  • Nelson Freire – Mozart’s Piano Concerto #20 in D minor and Villa Lobos’ Momoprecoce, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra (Boston Symphony Orchestra under Marcelo Lehninger at Tanglewood, 2012)
  • Alexander Gadjiev – Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 Opus 21 in F minor (Orchestre Appassionato under Mathieu Herzog, Paris, 2022)
  • Angela Hewitt – The 48: A truly awesome feat of memory and physical performance, with superb touch and an integrity of interpretation. I don’t think rubato and the North German Baroque belong together but, so not an interpretation to my taste. (Manchester)
  • Rolf Hind (Birmingham, Liverpool, London 2013).  Hind’s masterful performance of John Coolidge Adams’ sublime Phrygian Gates in Liverpool was entrancing and unforgettable, and helped change my mind about minimalism.   I heard him play this again in London in 2013 – again sublime.
  • Stephen Hough (RLPO Liverpool; Manchester)
  • Elisabeth Klein (1911-2004, Liverpool).  I heard Ms Klein, a student of Bela Bartok, in a recital in her tenth decade, playing several of Ligeti’s etudes.   She became a public performer of modern piano music only in her sixth decade.
  • Pekka Kuusisto (Britten Sinfonia, London, 2012, playing piano part of Stravinsky’s Suites 1 & 2 for Small Orchestra)
  • John Lill (RLPO, Liverpool)
  • Yvonne Loriod – Messiaen’s From the Canyon to the Stars (Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Opera House, 1988).
  • Joanna MacGregor – Bach’s D Minor Concerto BWV 1052 (Manchester)
  • Stephen McIntyre – Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in Eb K365 (MSO, Melbourne 2009)
  • Brad Mehldau (Manchester)
  • Olli Mustonen – Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #1 (BBC SO, with Sergei Nakariakov, London 2013)
  • Roberto Prosseda – UK premiere of Mendelssohn’s 3rd Piano Concerto in E minor (ca. 1840-42, unpublished, completed by Marcello Bufalini) (RLPO, Liverpool)
  • Lauma Skride – Mozart and Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas (London 2011)
  • Cedric Tiberghien (RLPO, Liverpool; recitals, London; Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, with Orchestre National de France under Aziz Shokhakimov, Paris 2022)
  • Simon Trpceski (RLPO, Liverpool).

Evolutionary psychology

In his Little Red Book, Mao Tse Tung said:   “Learn to play the piano.” [Fn #1]  However,  I don’t recall ever seeing a single piano in an African village, although I certainly saw (and heard) piano accordians in the villages and along the mountain paths of Lesotho (along with various hand-drums and mamokhorongs).  And settlements larger than traditional villages – Zimbabwe’s Growth Points, for example – sometimes had pianos in their churches or newly-built school halls.  Of course, the earliest of these pianos could only have been made in these last 300 years.

It seems to me that the historical absence of village pianos in Africa causes a problem for evolutionary psychology, since clearly a daily compulsion to play the piano is not something that has a long-standing evolutionary basis – at least, not for those of us descended from the peoples of the African savannah.  So if evo-psych cannot explain this very real human characteristic, what business does it have explaining any other human characteristic?  Why are some attitudes or characteristics to be explained by evolutionary means yet not others?  What distinguishes the one class of characteristics from the other? And what credence can we possibly give to any evolutionary explanation of phenomena which is not, prima facie, explainable in this way?   Surely, this limitation of the scope of evolutionary explanations completely undermines such arguments, since either all higher-level human characteristics have evolutionary explanations or none at all do.

Footnotes:
1. In: Chapter 10:  Leadership of Party CommitteesQuotations from Mao Tse-Tung.  Peking, PRC:  Foreign Languages Press, 1966.
 

The mystic piano

Every morning, for as long as I can remember, I wake up with an urge to play the piano.   My family tell me this desire was evident from when I was only a few months old (and, so surprised they were, they took photos to prove it) and it has been strong all my life.   When I asked to learn to play, my parents told me that I would be able to learn piano after I started school. Apparently I returned angry from my first day of school because the kindergarten teacher, despite the presence of an upright piano at the side of the classroom, had not given any instruction on how to play it.   Certainly, my desire to play existed long before I had any lessons, or any beliefs or opinions about whether or not I could play or whether or not I was musical, and before I even knew what music was. This desire, insistent and persistent, led to lessons and to years of practice, which in turn led to some ability, as well as a (justified, true) belief that I can indeed play.

Some people have similarly strong desires to engage in what we often refer to as religious practices – to sit quietly in solitude, to still the mind, to listen carefully, to meditate, to visit churches and temples, to commune with what may be non-material realms, to do Yoga – and they may experience these desires independently of any religious beliefs.  Arguably, such desires are the origin of the non-belief-based “religions” such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism, as well as of the mystical strains of belief-based religions.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have minority mystic strains – eg, the Kabbala in Judaism, and Sufism in Islam.    One can be a mystic Christian with very few if any actual religious beliefs, and certainly no beliefs that are particularly “Christian”, as conversations with many Quakers or Unitarians can attest.  I am expressing views here that I have before, there and there.

Not having any beliefs, but a strong urge to do something, is a very different state of mind to merely being skeptical about the matters in question, a position Andrew Sullivan expresses.    Many in the Western philosophical tradition seem unable to imagine how one can engage in a practice without first having a belief which justifies or supports doing this practice. But that inability of imagination just shows the hold that the Christian confessional tradition has over the minds of even our sharpest secular philosophers, such as Norm.   In a later post, Norm says he is contesting “the thesis of the unimportance of belief there” (his emphasis).   But, as any Zen adept will tell you:  belief (in the form of enlightenment) is what follows regular zazen practice, not what precedes or accompanies it, and it may only occur after a life-time of practice.  Belief is very unimportant in many of these practices, to the point where someone can even write a book called, Buddhism Without Beliefs.

Finally, en passant, it is a pity that Norm resorts to speculation about the motives of the people he disagrees with, as if doing so were somehow to weaken their arguments.   None of us can truly know the motives of others, so such speculation is ultimately fruitless, as well as being unbecoming.

FOOTNOTE:  I am not the only person with a daily compulsion to play the piano:

And yet playing the piano – or trying to play the piano – is now such a part of my life that a day now feels incomplete without having sat at the keyboard for even two minutes.    .  .  .   All this may one day become clear.  Until then I shall stumble on, feeling that the act of playing the piano each day does in some way settle the mind and the spirit.  Even five minutes in the morning feels as though it has altered the chemistry of the brain in some indefinable way.   Something has been nourished.   I feel ready – or readier – for the day.” (Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian)

Classical Violinists

Hearing a concert by Vadim Repin, the second time I have heard him play, I thought to list all the classical solo violinists I have heard perform live (in alpha order, with the music where recalled):

  • Alena Baeva – Mendelssohn’s D minor Concerto (Moscow Soloists Chamber Ensemble, London 2011)
  • Joshua Bell – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (London), Mozart Concertos (Manchester), and the Concerto of Behzad Ranjbaran (world premiere, Liverpool)
  • James Ehnes (Manchester)
  • Konrad Elias-Trostmann -Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (Sinfonia d’Amici, London, April 2014)
  • Thomas Gould – e-Violin Concerto of Nico Muhly (world premiere, London)
  • Giovanni Guzzo – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (L’Orchestre du Monde, under Janusz Piotrowicz,  Cadogan Hall, London, May 2014)
  • Simon Hewitt Jones (Liverpool)
  • Daniel Hope – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (both the standard and the original versions, London)
  • Alina Ibragimova – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (London, 2012);  Schumann’s Concerto, with the London Symphony Orchestra (London, 2014).  Schumann wrote his concerto for Joachim (pictured), who never performed it publicly, and tried to keep it out of print for a long time.   Pity that Joachim did not succeed.
  • Cameron Jamieson – Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto (Brisbane 2011)
  • Sergey Khachatryan (Manchester)
  • So Ock Kim – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (London)
  • Gidon Kremer (Copenhagen)
  • Pekka Kuusisto – Concerto for Violin by Thomas Ades (Britten Sinfonia, London, 2012); Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (RCM Chamber Orchestra and Sacconi Quartet, Folkestone, May 2014); Bach’s D Minor Partita (Improvisation with Teemu Korpipaa, Folkestone, May 2014).
  • Tasmin Little – Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto (Liverpool 2003),  and (Manchester)
  • Jonathan Morton – Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and Strings in D Minor (London 2011)
  • Rachel Podger – Bach Double in D min (Manchester)
  • Vadim Repin – Sibelius’ Concerto (Barcelona) and Prokofiev’s Concerto #1 (Bologna 2011)
  • Linus Roth (Liverpool)
  • Baiba Skride – Mozart and Mendelssohn Sonatas (London 2011)
  • Valeriy Sokolov – Sibelius’ Concerto (Manchester)
  • Christian Tetzlaff – Bach Partita #2 in Dm & Sonata #3 in C, and Beethoven Concerto (London 2015)
  • Richard Tognetti (Sydney, Brisbane 2009)
  • Nikolaj Znaider – Tchaikovsky Concerto (London 2015)

The drawing is Adoph Menzel’s 1853 drawing of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), famously a pupil of Mendelssohn and a cousin of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grandmother.   Joachim taught Jeno Hubay (1858-1937), who taught Leo Birsen (1902-1992), with whom I had some lessons.

Recent Listening 5: Hungarian Modern Jazz


A quick mention of various Hungarian jazz CDs that I’ve been listening to this week, some of the music cool and some hot.  I have heard several of these performers live, and hope to do so again: pianist Szabo Daniel (whose hands are shown above), double bassist Olah Zoltan (playing on both the Toth Viktor and the Budapest Jazz Orchestra CDs), and the superb Trio Midnight.
Szabo Daniel [1998]: At the Moment. Hungary:  Magneoton/Germany: Warner Music.
Trio Midnight [1999]:  On Track. Featuring Lee Konitz. Budapest, Hungary: Well CD 2000.
Toth Viktor Trio [2000]: Toth Viktor Trio. Budapest, Hungary.
Budapest Jazz Orchestra [2000]: Budapest Jazz Orchestra. Budapest, Hungary.  Recorded at Aquarium Studio.
Note: Entries in this series here.

Scottish Marley Chingus

A quick shout-out to Marley Chingus Jazz Explosion, who play at The Caledonia alternate Friday nights, to where a friend invited me last night.  In truth, I’ve seen their posters for a couple of years, but had avoided going to hear them.  Their twee name makes them sound like a tribute band, and who wants to listen to people with insufficient imagination to play their own music, or even to invent their own name?
But the loss was mine.  What a great performance!  The quartet comprises Colin Lamont on drums, Dave Spencer on e-double bass, Bob Whittaker on tenor, and long-fingered medic Misha Gray on e-piano.    Last night they also had guesting another tenor player, whose name I did not catch.  (And Principal Cellist of the RLPO, Jonathan Aasgaard, was also in the crowd.)  Mingus, Monk, and Shorter featured (eg, JuJu), as well as their own fine compositions in brazen, hard-driving, funky, modal post-bop – serious early-60s jazz, before the harmonic emptiness of fusion took prominence.   What I particularly liked was that their solos did not sound the same from song to song; quite a few jazz performers really play the same solos whatever the underlying tune.   Gray’s trills, two-finger glissandos, and left-hand ostinatos were a delight, recalling early piano styles, and I also liked his occasional Shearing-style block chords.  He could do more with those, I think.
Pity about the name, though.