Balancing, as told by a classical music composer

If you see someone on the street that requires help – perhaps that person displays some sort of behaviour that draws your attention, or is homeless – would you stop to help? There are some people who think this: why would you stop though? Why would you set aside all your evening downtime after a long day at work simply to take on more responsibilities by getting involved in a situation that doesn’t directly concern you? These are not even work responsibilities that would benefit you financially or help you career wise, these are areas where someone might think it is a matter for social services to deal with.

Fair enough – you can imagine why they would consider that thought, wouldn’t you? After all, you pay taxes to the government to cover these sort of social responsibilities that, if accounted for individually, would be to cumbersome to manage. If all that you were liable for was divided up and individually tabulated – for example, the amount to pay to binmen for clearing away your rubbish, the amount due to police for policing – the whole process would be too overwhelming, both for you and for the person due. The bin man would have to have separate invoices and accounts for all the houses on the street!

There are many that feel that because they pay taxes, and under these taxes there is the provision for social services, then whenever there is a social situation that needs addressing it is the job of the council or local authority to deal with it. For example, when you see homeless people sitting under railway bridges, you may offer them some loose change from time to time, but feel that, long-term, it is the job of the local authority to find housing, short-term accommodation or some other form of alleviation for those in need.

The problem we have is that our inner being, the compassionate one, feels we need to offer assistance, yet our head tells us we have to steel ourselves from helping, because otherwise we would have to keep offering financial assistance, get too involved, take responsibility on behalf of the local council – and all other reasons. In this way we breed a sort of social disconnect, which can cause mental problems in the long term.

How can we bridge these two parts? We can take a leaf out of the book of the classical composer George Gershwin. He successfully bridged the two and in this modern day is seen as introducing jazz influences into classical music, blending the elements of one into the other, until the mix was a bit of both. And so it is with our society – every one has to find a level of equilibrium that allows you to balance social obligations with practicality. Your level may not be the same as someone else’s, but you have to find one that gives you some form of inner peace, so that when we are older and flashbacks to the past, we can live with our own history.

The role of Music in life

What role does music play in your life? Is it just commute fodder? In bygone times it was used for more than just that.

Music had many functions and purposes. In times gone by it was used to accompany religious rites or religious worship. Think of tribes drumming or singing while dancing to an unknown god in a trance, or religious blessings within dignified ceremonies (such as temple blessings). In the Western world, the majority of music was written and used for religious purposes. The Catholic church’s preference was for sung texts whose words glorified God, instead of the instrumental music played by the heathen, for whom music was used for social, non-religious entertainment. The texts of the latter songs spoke of courtship, chivalry, and other themes of love, sometimes in rather vulgar terms, or were used as political satire.

This practice of music for religious worship, social entertainment or political commentary has continued over the centuries, even though styles may have diverged or overlapped and new genres may have sprouted.

In the 1960s, folk rock – a lighter sort of rock – was a vehicle for social protest. Songs such as “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “I Ain’t Marching Any More”, and “A Change is Gonna Come” gained popularity in America because they voiced sentiments to the issues of the time such as America’s participation in the Vietnam War, and the lack of civil rights of African Americans. Closer to England, punk rock songs such as “God Save the Queen” demonstrated opposition to the monarchy.

But it is not necessarily the words to music that can serve as a form of protest. Protest need not manifest itself in the lyrics. The performance of music in itself can serve as a form of opposition. Think the words of Verdi’s Requiem Mass. The Latin text to the Mass setting has nothing that screams “protest”. But in 1942, the score was smuggled into a Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic and the prisoners of war, learning the music under the guidance of the former composer and conductor Rafael Shachter, continually came together to perform the music in an act of spiritual resistance, immersing themselves in the art and forgetting temporarily the harsh realities of ghetto life and deportations. For the 150 or so prisoners of war, coming together to learn the music and perform it allowed them to find the strength to cope with the loss of freedom. And even as the numbers dwindled with deportations to Auschwitz, the Requiem was performed sixteen times. “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say,” one prisoner-of-war remarked. (One wonders if they tried the revolutionary arias of Verdi or Rossini operas.)

In war-torn Yugoslavia, the ethnic struggles in Sarajevo in 1992 and the innocent killing of 22 civilians by a mortar round as they waited in a food queue prompted cellist Vedran Smailovic to play Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor for twenty-two days, one day for each member of the dead, as a silent mark of respect, in the vicinity of ruined buildings and in full defiance of the snipers with their crosshairs fixed on him. The Sarajevo String Quartet, would likewise present the city with 206 concert during the siege which lasted four years, continually uplifting the inhabitants of the city, even though the two original violinists lost their lives. It was a statement of defiance, not just to the oppresors, but a resolute stand to continue to live with dignity despite the circumstances.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen, who died in 1992, was thirty-one and a prisoner of war when he wrote his Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Quartet for the End of Time. When France fell to the Germans in 1940 he had been rounded up and deported to a German camp located some seventy miles east of Dresden, where his fellow prisoners in Stalag VIII-A included a clarinettist, Henri Akoka; a violinist, Jean le Boulaire; and a cellist, Étienne Pasquier.

Messiaen somehow managed to procure some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic German guard and put together a work that features an unusual quartet – clarinet, violin, piano, cello – which presents challenges in blending sounds and balance. But those were the instruments at Messiaen’s disposal in the camp. Playing battered, makeshift and out-of-tune instruments outdoors in the falling rain and the snow on the ground, the musicians premiered the work on the evening of 15 January 1941 for fellow prisoners of war, which included French, German, Polish and Czech men from all strata of society, huddled together in their threadbare uniforms, on which was stitched ‘K. G.’ or ‘Kriegsgefangene’ (meaning prisoner of war) in a silent demonstration of hope against their current circumstances.

Does looking at music this context give it more life than mere mindless entertainment while on your commute?

Perhaps you can give more meaning to music in your life through learning a music instrument and making it more relevant. For piano lessons in N4, get in touch with the pianoWorks website and give your life a fresh direction.

Would you rent office wear?

What do you do when you need an outfit for a special occasion? It may be an event such as a graduation party, or a wedding, or another social event such as a birthday party, or maybe something as posh as heading off to Ascot’s? Chances are that if you haven’t already got an outfit for these sort of occasions, you may perceive the cost of obtaining a one-off outfit, one that you are unlikely to use frequently, as too expensive. You would probably head down to a clothing rental shop, and pick something that you could rent just for the event itself, and then return it when you have no further use for the garment. Depending on what you are renting, and the duration you require it for, you may find that you end up paying perhaps a tenth of the cost of what it would be if you were to purchase a completely new outfit.

Now if you do the maths you may question then – would it be worth it then, if you were to buy an item that you might get ten wears out of? An item that you might use on a number of occasions, such that after the tenth occasion you would have broken even?

The economics of cost that one has to factor in is that you are not actually paying a tenth of the cost when you rent a garment instead of buy one; you are paying for the cost of the maintenance of the garment itself. Because after you have rented some formal wear, the company has to clean the outfit using special chemicals and procedures. Conversely, if you were picking an outfit to rent, you would expect that the outfit would be new, clean, and not bearing the sweaty hallmarks and smells of the hen night when it was last out?

There are some market players who are considering making the move towards targeting people to rent daily office wear. The reason they give is that it is more environmentally friendly to provide one garment for many people (cleaning it between individuals, of course) then for many people to buy one of the same outfit each and then wear it sparingly.

The classical composer Joseph Haydn worked in the courts of Esterhazy in his adult life, but for much of his childhood he was always teased and bullied for being scruffy. (You can read more about Haydn in the Piano Teacher Muswell Hill website, and learn other trivia – including why his tomb contains two skulls.) It is unlikely that someone like him would have benefitted from renting his workplace outfits, as he would probably wear one until it was threadbare, but maybe in future times will change? Perhaps later generations will find it amazing we even owned our own clothes, and the rental market for clothing might take off!

How generalisations become beliefs, and hamper

We often hear people decry their own inability at Mathematics with statements such as “I’m not good with numbers.” It is almost fashionable to have a handicap at something – like how teenagers from time to time may claim they have a physical injury that affects their ability. The problem with using generalisations such as “not good with numbers”, or “I’m more artistic than scientific” is that we use them as knee-jerk explanations whenever we encounter the first sign of difficulty at learning a new skill. The result is that if this kind of thinking is left unchecked, you could develop a huge tangential swerve around an area of knowledge to avoid it, which sometimes even requires more time than the actual need to address the information head on and develop the skills to manage it.

Imagine this stereotypical scenario. A child’s room is not in the condition we expect it to be. But when asked to tidy up the mess, a child may resort to statements such as “I’ve had a long day” to explain off the lack of willingness to attempt a clean-up. If we indulge this slightly, by giving the child a short rest before repeating the request, we might end up with a succession of reasons of why the effort to tidy up the room can not be mustered. The cumulative effort of thought and creativity to come up with reasons to avoid the work can eventually outweigh the energy needed to do it in the first place.

We procrastinate, and the reasons we give to justify these are generalisations we hear every day, as if these lend credence.
Over the past decades there have been various studies into belief systems and event career paths of adolescents and young adults. A common theme was how, at critical junctures of their lives, students made career choices based on generalisations they had come to accept over time as true. For example, students avoided engineering professions because they had believed themselves not to be good at Mathematics, and had built up a whole belief system around this.

Extra-curricular activities and participation in other clubs might help. The non-result oriented clubs, particularly ones where the cultivation and development of a skill such as art or music teach patience and the value of hard work. But we must be aware that the participation in such activities does not in itself become an area where false generalisations become beliefs. When playing the piano, the teacher has to address false assumptions influencing abilty such as “I’m right-handed” (and therefore am bad with my left), “I play by ear” (and hence cannot read music) or “I have bad coordination” (and therefore cannot play with both hands, but am able to simultaneous talk to you while checking my email as we walk down the street together.)

And if you are considering piano lessons, and live in Muswell Hill N10, why not get in touch with a Muswell Hill piano teacher? You learn from the music you like and learn how to learn – life skills which are transferable to other sectors of life.

The Blue Line turns 50!

Can you believe that the London Underground Victoria line is going to be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year? That’s right, the celebrated blue line will have been running for five decades since construction was undertaken between the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury and Islington. (The later stations to Brixton were gradually added as the station line was extended.) So what are the treasures you can see if you decide to take the line southwards?

One of the treasures you can see at Walthamstow Central is Vestry House Museum. Just a short walk away from the station itself, you can have a look inside the museum itself, which used to be a workhouse. The building, which was built in the eighteenth century, is a rich display of local history. There is a costume gallery and you can have a taste of what Victorian life was like. The best thing of all is that it’s free! This is a wonderful place to take the kids.

For those of us that are older – well, young adults really – Tottenham Hale might be your place to be. If you are into the nightlife, you might want to head up to Styx. Up sticks to Styx as they say! It has a good music scene, and has been described as an edgy music venue. Certainly not boring! You are guaranteed a good night out there. They run different club nights and also has alternative theatre shows. And just what exactly is an alternative theatre show? Not spoiling it, you’ll just have to head down to see it. And while you’re there, get down and munch on their tasty pizzas. The entry price depends on the night, so check it out before you head there.

A few stops down the line from Tottenham Hale is Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park was formerly known as Brownswood Park and is a great place to bring the kids when the sun is out. Thee are many playgrounds for them to enjoy playing at and when they get tired, you can take them to the cafe for a tasty snack. But what if the weather is not so good? There are many things to do around the area too. You can visit the theatre around the station, or Seven Sisters Road contains a wide array of shops guaranteed to tickle your fancy.

You are indeed blessed if you live around the Finsbury Park area – it is one of the established places with good transport links. There are places for artistic and health development. Gyms, theatre classes and music classes abound.. And if you are looking to start music lessons like learning the piano, why not get in touch with pianoWorks? A tutor visits your house and you get to play music suitably adapted, and music you like. Get in touch via the above link and learn a skill for life!

Are you an early riser?

How quickly do you wake up in the morning? Are you the kind of person that springs out of bed before your phone alarm has had the opportunity to vibrate three times? Do you ever need a backup alarm that you never use? (By backup alarm, I mean setting an additional one, say a proper, real, alarm clock that you have in case your phone runs out of charge or something like that?) Do you never give the backup alarm the opportunity to get tested because you are out before the first alarm has run its course?

Some of us are like that and will know people like that. Others may confess to be perpetual snoozers, hitting the snooze button so many times each morning that after a few months there may be a noticeable dent on the snooze button. One of the inventions built to counter this love for snoozing was the running alarm clock, sort of like an alarm on wheels which would just move away and induce you to get out of bed in order to turn it off, although I have to say, if you were the snoozing type, you probably would not have had the self discipline to stick to using this alarm clock.

Your will and drive to get up in the morning may pretty much depend on what you are getting up for. If it is something worthwhile, you will want to be up for it. But if it is seen to be something routine and mundane, then maybe not. Case in point – look at teenagers. On most mornings they will have problems or difficulties getting up for school, because they will complain it is too early. Yet in the holidays, when they have all the time in the world to do what they want, and time is at their disposal, they may get up early and have no difficulty arising to continue playing computer games even if they may have gone to bed late that previous night.

So what does this demonstrate? The importance of finding a career you are passionate about.

The composer Igor Stravinsky had strong ideas about the direction of music which sustained his creative drive over many decades of work. While he started out writing “nice” tunes in the previous existant style, his music style took a new direction with The Rite of Spring, a work which was not quite well-received initially but has since been recognised for its impact of Western music (learn more about this from the Crouch End Piano Teacher website. Surely his drive and thoughts about music, despite the opposition around him, would have kept him going. And you know what? He was notoriously an early riser, getting up before down to compose music!

Using Social to your advantage

Some people will attest to this fact: Your choice of social media reflects the generation you were born in, and hence your age group. Is there any truth in that? Well, perhaps. But this only works on the assumption that you stick with one brand for life. It assumes you are likely to go with the predominant brands of your time, then build up your followers and your profile as you go along, and then before you know it, you will have established connections with like minded individuals as yourself, enjoying the clique of a core group, and leaving the social media platform means abandoning the friends you have amassed and essentially cutting a big part of your life.

Depending on how much you have time you have spent – this could be anything from a few hours to a few months – it could be hard to break away. Even when you are straining to make a new start, you could feel really feel the pull increasing. Or as they say, the more you pull against the strain, the more you strain against the pull.

Social media is captivating and once you are entrenched in it, it is difficult to get out of its seductive pull. Some people use it as an opportunity to promote their work to an audience that has similar interests. After all, you have already connected with people with similar interests to yourself. It is then easy to promote products you might create yourself, such as if you were an author and wanted to promote books to your followers. You might even earn money from affiliate marketing, pushing other people’s products. Or you could be a social media influencer, purporting to use certain products and claiming to have a level of success, inspiring others to jealously follow you to emulate the success in your life. Social media influencing is really advertising by stealth.

Social media might enable someone to have a chance encounter with whatever business product you are offering. And that chance encounter may develop into a lifelong passion. Did you know that the composer Leonard Bernstein would not have gone down the classical music route had it not been a chance encounter with a piano in his younger years? From then on he was hooked. You can read more about this in the Muswell Hill Piano Teacher blog. Someone might encounter you on social media via a follower you already have, and likewise you might meet someone who may enhance your business, or offer you a service that will reduce your costs, so remember to devote your time and manage your social media to your advantage!

What food advertisements may reveal to us

You see lots of things advertised on public transport. Step into a London underground tube carriage and what do you see? Ads for musicals, food, places to go, money – and whatever you think of the advertisments, you can’t disagree that there is a captive audience. Bored people will glance up and take note of the advertisements, and even if you don’t commit to buy, the ads will have made an impression on your mind, that may induce you at a later stage to a purchase by a somewhat circuituous route.

But if you consider that advertisements are placed where they can have the most result, then their target market exists within the boundaries. Simply to say, if a tube carriage contains certain types of advertisements, then the advertisers must believe that their clientele exists there. You wouldn’t advertise a pregnancy test kit in a senior citizens’ magazine.

So what can the advertisements on tube carriages tell us?

Some believe that the ads can tell us various things. One of them is our relationship to food. Where in the past, people used to believe that sitting down to dinner was a daily affair, not it is believed that it is okay to sit up alone and indulge yourself in front of the TV and social media catchup. In other words, the number of takeaway ads suggest that the social side to eating is gone. People no longer sit at a table together to talk. Eating is lesson of a social expereience than belore.

Some suggest that the elimination of a social experience of dining is more further advanced that before. Eating is that annoying thing you have to do to stay alive. It is almost like eating gets in the way of work and going home. Considering the number of hours that people now work, the advertising of a takeaway meal to solven life’s annoying need to have to eat to say alive is symptomatic of that fact we work really long hours nowadays.

So that is what food ads on the tube can tell you. Sitting down at a table is too long, and gets in the way of work. It tells us we are working longer hours overall.

But bear in mind that what you see only tells one side of the story. The following is a case in point. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was always thought to be an extrovert. But it turns out that he was depressed, and prone to bouts of introspection too. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N8 website using this link.

Perhaps tube advertisements about food only tell us one side of the story, and a closer examination of other things around might yield a better picture. Still worth a thought though!

Jack of all trades?

Suppose you had a guy ring you and say one thing like “Let’s meet for dinner tonight. There’s a great place downtown and the food is great and the music they play is really cool,” and when you meet for dinner there everything is as described. At the end of the evening the guy leans over to you and says, “I really had a nice evening” and when he walks you back to you house, he sings your praises and tells you what a lovely person you are and what a great time he had too. And when you probe, “Would you want to go there again?” and he says “I would”, your hopes are high, not because of the place itself, but because it is a way of perhaps saying he is attracted to you and wants to go out again.

Then the next day on Facebook (or some other form of social media, depending on your age – unfortunately my demographic preference is Facebook) you find out that he actually has a string of girlfriends and flings, and has actually a bit of a reputation as a womaniser. Of course, you might have done your research prior to going out with him. But hear me out – let’s suggest he has actually a girlfriend, or someone he is linked to. And when she asks him if he would go out with you again, and she says she actually heard him say “I would” – perhaps an undercover investigator was tailing you – and his response to her is to say, “Actually, I had meant to say ‘I wouldn’t’,” meaning that his message to you was an unfortunate slip of the tongue, then you might think, “This guy is either mentally unstable in some way, or he is a two-timing turncoat who says anything if he thinks he can get away with it.”

The problem with politics is that to appeal to a large voter base you need to be different things to different people. But perhaps here’s where a lesson can be learnt. The classical music composer Muzio Clementi was a composer, performer, piano manufacturer, mentor, publisher – but crucially, never all at the same time. You can read more about this in the Piano Teacher N4 blog.

So when the President of the United States says Russia did not collude to influence the US presidential elections, and then turns around the next day to say he meant to say the contrary, you know what to make of Donald Trump.

How many days until the next vote?

Success spoils: Staying Hungry

As we come to the conclusion of the World Cup, and a final involving a French and Croatian team, it is a good time to ponder over questions such as the following:

How did a team with a big national population and established football league and facilities, lose to a team from a small country and poor facilities? The majority of the Croatian team play outside of their own country and for those that remain, they have to train in ramshackle facilities and in harsher conditions. You can argue that these inbreed greater will to succeed, instead of the footballing teens who haven’t quite made it yet but are on high salaries.

Ever heard of Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Arsenal’s young player has played in a few games this season, but is on thirty-thousand pounds a week. If that is the salary of a fringe player, it is quite a cushy life, compared to what other people in normal jobs take home. A person’s annual salary in one week? You can see why some make the accusation that the hunger is lacking. Grown men in other European leagues have to fight to succeed to get anywhere near that.

The problem when you get too much, too soon, is that you go soft. You start to think about doing as little as possible to coast your salary. If you look at Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, he has been a peripheral figure for much of the seasons; only when it was contract renewal time did he put in an extra shift. But now that he has signed his new contract, and will be banking every week more than people make in a year, as long as he can ignore the criticism of fans, he will be fine.

The NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf was only fresh out of college when he signed a multi-million pound contract. But he only played a few years – totalling a few games – too much money too soon. Success spoils.

Is it the truth that too much too soon is too much to handle? Leaf’s contract was $31.25 million over 4 years. He ended playing 25 games in his NFL career, which is what most pros do in just over two seasons. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was identified as a child prodigy, but throughout his life had money problems and could not cope, dying penniless. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N15 blog.)

Success spoils – that is why Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh off his world cup exploits, sought a new move from Real Madrid to Juventus. After a few years of winning everything there is to win, staying hungry by moving to a less winning team is the only way to keep striving and improving!