Saturday 21 April 2012

A blog post of Tweets: can smartphones solve poverty?

In his recent book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes how “cell-phone novels” have become popular in Japan.
His comment gave me the idea of creating a blog post out of Tweets.

It all started at the end of last month when I read that a renowned economist said that poverty will be brought to an end by the widespread ownership of smartphones. The point is sound but it seemed to me that while we watch the value of Apple reach the equivalent of the GDP of Europe a lot persons will go on suffering.

Here’s the translation below for those who need it:
Reply from JMM: Well at least you know the route
TJ: Agreed, but how to convince everyone else?
JMM: You don't convince me
TJ: If I can't convince a fine man like yourself, there is no hope
JMM: Yes there is, we keep on searching
 Meanwhile JMMelo marked the original tweet as a favourite
TJ: The technology exists, what's missing is the will on the part of decision makers
 UMS: Excellent that this debate has arisen. I also think the technology exists. The challenge is enormous, but it's possible
TJ: If only as well as being true it were easy to solve. If only there were a spirit of sacrifice to eliminate poverty
JMMelo:I believe that willingness will arise from understanding how unjust and unequal is the socioeconomic system which tolerates poverty
JMM: If you take a look, there are thousands of gestures of empathy between persons every day

JMM writes very interesting and his  blog Corto y Cambio  is translated in a number of languages.
Thanks for technical suggestion about this post are due to:

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Ruben Yessayan new Debussy recording

Ruben Yessayan, the Madrid based pianist and composer, has just released his second cd, a selection of Debussy's music including the first book of Preludes and Children's Corner.

Mr Yessayan brings to this music his vast experience as a solo and ensemble performer who has specialised in music of the 20th century.

As a graduate student at the Manhattan School of Music in New York he studied piano with Nina Svetlanova and chamber music with Isidore Cohen.  It was during this time that he performed as principal pianist with the Claremont Ensemble. I remember hearing him perform with this group in a piano trio in an evening of Bartok music when I visited the Manhattan School of Music in 2004. His technical virtuosity combined with a rich and deep understanding of the music make his playing a joy to hear.

 At the same time he worked as apprentice conductor of the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of Mischa Santora. Later Mr Yessayan returned to Europe, where he has developed a career as soloist and teacher.

He is also Artistic Director of the  International Music Festival  "Villa de Medinaceli", a post he has held since 2007.

This new cd is available online via Amazon, Spotify and iTunes, as his his earlier cd, with music by Khachaturian, Mozart, Albeniz, Cage and Igoa.

International Art Camp in Mozambique, Africa

I have just received the up to date information about this year’s Tambo International Art Camp which will take place in Mozambique, organised by the Tambo Tambulani Cultural Association.

The setting is magical, in Pemba, Mozambique, and the cost is exceptionally reasonable, at only $120 including food and camping. The array of music, theatre and dance on offer is huge.

The most attractive feature of this Art Camp is that it incorporates a festival of local artists who are participating near their own home setting and performing for their local audience. Campers who travel from other places are experiencing a genuine festival of local culture, not a contrived hash served up for tourists.

The feeling I get from reading all the available materials and following the organisation's web site is one of real celebration and I am reminded of the fascinating and moving experience of Gillian Howell, the Australian education practitioner who spent several months in Timor l’Este: her most worthwhile moments ere spent working alongside local musicians  who kindly welcomed her into their own musical and cultural celebrations.

You can see from the detailed information about  last year's camp that the week includes many different activities and many different music and dance styles.

Here is some information about Pemba from the Mozambique tourism office 

“Formerly known as Porto Amelia, Pemba in Mozambique is the beautiful gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago and Quirimbas National Park. The Niassa National Reserve can also be reached via Pemba. This city in Mozambique has a delightfully relaxed feel although this is changing as tourism projects take off. Visitors to Pemba can see lovely Portuguese colonial architecture and strong Arab influences, also magnificent views over the bay from the city heights.
The capital of Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, has all modern amenities including an airport, shops, banks, patisseries, cafes and restaurants as well as bars. There is also a massive market where just about anything can be bought. The old part of Pemba also has traditional markets to explore which is the place to go for beautiful arts and crafts (especially work by the Makonde people which is renowned) and handmade silverware.
Pemba Bay forms a huge harbour and stunning coral reefs lie close to shore providing wonderful diving and snorkelling adventures. The surrounding landscape of bay is characterised by forests of Baobab trees growing down to the shoreline. The most popular beaches are Wimbe and Farol for accommodation and restaurants. Dhow safaris are a popular way to sail around the bay and beyond. There are great beaches further north of Pemba or visitors can hop on a flight to visit the Quirimbas Islands.”

While your mind is on Africa, I’d like to tell you about a   beautiful choir of children   from Madagascar who visited Europe recently.

Thanks to Michael at Tambo for taking the trouble to send me the 2012 International Art Camp  information. I do not have any personal experience of this festival and I pass on this information in good faith.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Polyglots, The Beatles and a Spanish Monster

How many times have you done some work and found that the experience of meeting the people you worked with was worth much more than the fee you were paid?

This was my experience a couple of years ago in Madrid. First there was a call from a music producer asking for help to arrange for her to audition my students. Easy, just sent a message out and dozens of wannabes turned up to sing. Finally one of my pupils was selected and earned a handsome reward for her part in the recording. Then I was asked if I would call in at the studio and listen through the adult and children´s recordings to check on the English pronunciation. All good, easy and fun to do, a bit of cash and a change from routine and a chance to meet some wonderful musicians and actors.

Then I was asked to look over some lyrics for the next stage in the recordings. This meant that, after meeting so many talented and courteous people I also got to meet the big boss, and this was a real pleasure. The boss is none other than Oscar Gómez, a “Monstruo” in music recording in Spain. Sr Gómez has written songs for top entertainers over thirty years which have become part of the cultural landscape in Spain and Spanish speaking countries.

This was supposed to be “a couple of quick chats” but turned into numerous visits and each session was like a Spanish inquisition, though Sr Gómez would perish at the thought of being associated with that part of his country’s history. Whenever I suggested a word change he put me through an interrogation to justify my requested change. After all, he had chosen every word of every line with great care, his English was really good and he had been writing hit songs forever.

It´s hard to argue your case for changing a word when all you have is a feeling that it´s not quite right: it doesn’t have to be a matter of grammar, just a sense of up to date use of the language in the end. His attention to detail and his perfectionism are clearly part of his success story, and sometimes he even let me convince him I was right.

One day we were about to start and Sr Gómez wanted me to wait and asked if I had heard the recently issued Love album of The Beatles remixes. He played the opening track Because through the studio speakers and out came this amazing acapella sound of The Beatles in close harmony, which had existed for nearly 40 years but had so far been unheard in that form. He was transfixed, lost in admiration for The Beatles, for their music and for the production quality that made this miracle a reality. These are among the characteristics of truly great professionals, aren’t they? It’s their ability to recognize the achievements of other practitioners in their field, and their capacity to be impressed by something new even when you would think they have seen and heard it all.

All this brought about the cd and video featuring some loveable characters, lovingly created and expertly realized by a team of slightly mad but extremely professional actors and musicians: they are…..
The Polyglots ......
Big-O a big-hearted flirty rapper, Patata a fun mischief maker, Karim shy, timid and absent minded, Violeta a bad tempered dancer, Tati miss perfect, a true romantic and poetess and Correcto a likeable true blue Brit teacher.

Two boys and two girls, together with a ferret and a penguin, make up The Polyglot team, singing their cool songs designed to make learning English that bit more fun.
It was a great pleasure to see this project come to life. Most of all I enjoyed meeting these amazingly creative people, especially Oscar Gómez, a Spanish monster in the best sense of the word.

Sunday 8 April 2012

The musicians who sank with the Titanic

One of the many touching scenes in Titanic is the moment when the musicians decide to go on playing. There they are in their formal suits, instruments at the ready, and their future is already clear, there seems to be no hope for their survival as their place in the queue for a seat in a lifeboat is very near the back. Who would forgive them for going off for a smoke, or going to look for a stiff drink in the unattended bar? Who would be left to reprimand them for not finishing their set, and what little chance was there that they would be alive long enough to be reprimanded anyway?
Yet, given the choice which faced all the persons aboard the stricken ship, they opted for courage instead of cowardice, for honour instead of skullduggery, and their actions earned them a place of pride in …… the story or in history?
One of the difficulties of James Cameron´s film is that it mixes fact and fiction, hard truth and fairy tale. So I was very touched to come across a plaque honouring these musicians, and confirming that the scene played out in the movie chimed with reality.
The last time I visited the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, England, was in 2008 and the large wooden plaque is on display for all to see just inside the beautiful art deco style building. The names of the musicians are listed, with a brief note of tribute to their heroism and their musicianship. I was curious about this plaque because I was fortunate to hear many concerts at the hall given by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) in the ‘70’s and I could not understand how I had not noticed it. Our guide explained that it had been hung in the band room in the months after the Titanic sank, and for many years orchestra players touched it on their way onto the stage as a good luck charm. When the building was renovated recently, the impact of the movie had been so great that the orchestra members thought there would be sufficient interest among concert goers to see this very original memorial to some very special musicians.

  Photo credit:
At the same time, placing the plaque on public display was a way of reminding all visitors of the RLPO’s great history. According to the orchestra's web page

"The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the UK’s oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra and the second oldest concert-giving organisation in the UK. The origins of the Orchestra’s concert series date back to the formation of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, which administers it, by a group of Liverpool music lovers in 1840. Liverpool Philharmonic has remained at the heart of Liverpool’s cultural life ever since."

Like many arts institutions in the UK, the RLPO is extremely aware of its changing role in society, and it is among the most adventurous orchestras in its programming and in special projects. I have written with admiration about the orchestra's  commitment to promoting social inclusion  under the direction of Peter Garden  as Executive Director (Learning & Engagement).  The orchestra was so active when Liverpool was European City of Culture in 2008, it was said that the RLPO provided the soundtrack to the year’s events.  

Among the many music groups active in Liverpool is the Phoenix Concert Orchestra    

There is a footnote not told in the movie: the notes on the plaque go on to explain that it was the custom for musicians to hire their suits when they went to work on the ships. Apparently the tailor from whom these brave men had hired their suits sent a bill demanding payment from their families in the days following the disaster. There was such a huge outcry in the local press that the tailor was forced to withdraw his demand for payment and forgive the debt. 

Wednesday 4 April 2012

How to be more creative

For anyone who wants to be a more creative person, one of the most important tasks is to define what creativity means for you. 

Over the last decades there have been a number of characteristics associated with the term, and some of them have moved away from a concept which was widely accepted from the days of the storm and thunder of the Romantic poets and composers and which held up past the “Sputnik moment” of the late 1950’s. It’s reassuring that in recent years, at last, someone has come to redefine creativity in line with that early and valid meaning. Skip to the end if you can’t wait to know who I am thinking of.

For many generations, creativity was a term associated with someone whose work was novel and groundbreaking in its originality, and which was appreciated as being of unquestionable quality, and which was widely understood as being of value in its field. A composer such as Beethoven, a painter like Goya and a poet like Blake would be paradigms of this concept of creative persons.

I suppose it was in the 1970’s that terms became confused and the concept of novelty took precedence over everything else. The idea of being original, which had previously implied a recognizable standard of quality, was diluted and what was left was the idea of something simply different, novel. Artists of all kinds and fashion designers were applauded simply because they produced something  that had not been done, seen or heard before: never mind that nobody would ever want to see, hear or do it again. Newness was everything, quality was passé. 

In the 1980’s the word creative became associated especially with the advertising industry, and the creatives were the talented persons who used their imagination to persuade the rest of us to buy, buy and buy. It mattered little whether the images they used and the story they told were verosimil: their skill was in convincing a relatively gullible public to part with their cash. Their worth to their employers and their salary had nothing to do with the quality of their output by any artistic measure, it only mattered whether the campaigns they invented caused an increase in sales. In fact, some advertising campaigns were so entertaining and striking that the product was lost, buried by some much humour, glamour or glitzy location filming, and after all the money was spent all that remained in the public perception was the famous face, joke or beach, not the product itself.   

In the 90’s a more sinister connotation attached itself to creativity. Soon after we in Britain had got over a senior government figure admitting he had been “economical with the truth”, we learnt that company leaders in the USA has encouraged their accountants to be creative in their accounting. This was all very well until the moment of truth arrived. As huge companies like Enron collapsed in a heap of worthless paper that was a mild presage of the financial crisis of 2008, thousands of customers, suppliers and investors were less than appreciative of company workers who had let their creativity run wild.

After the dotcom bubble burst, when I was working in a large organization, the staff handbook included descriptions of competencies which were to be developed and encouraged in the organization. One of these was creativity, which did not surprise me. What did cause me to look twice was the definition of creativity, which was the capacity to build relationships and partnerships with external partners. I was more than happy to play my part in building relationships and was delighted that one of my personal interests, which is establishing partnerships, was valued by the organization. It was just that creativity as a label that never quite seemed to fit.

At last it has been a great relief to hear Professor Ken Robinson   the education guru who has become best known through TED talks, who has reestablished the earlier characteristics associated with creativity. Ken Robinson is a passionate and convincing advocate of identifying, promoting and developing creativity in schools and beyond. His conviction is that our current methods of schooling are contrary to the flowering of creativity in our students, and he has argued tirelessly that nurturing creativity is important firstly for the well being of our personal selves and secondly because only creatively thinking persons will be able to find the solutions which are increasingly necessary for the well being of our civilization and the plant we inhabit.

Ken Robinson has no hang ups when it comes to defining creativity. If you have time, go direct to the source and follow his lucid and entertaining explanations first hand. If you only have time for a sentence, here is his definition of creativity taken from one of his presentations:
"Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value."

Does that sound familiar?
If you want to be a more creative person, that’s what you should be aspiring to.   

How to run the best advertising campaign

You could call this How to run the best advertising campaign or Madrid subway poster: a ticket to nowhere
Here’s a photo from the recent campaign by the subway company in Madrid, Spain. 

It’s a great idea as it aims to show very simply and clearly what good value you are getting for your ticket when you ride the subway in Madrid by comparing the charges on subways around the world. The timing was important because the campaign ran just as the company were implementing a pretty drastic hike in the price of fares.

Unfortunately, the campaign generated so much negative feedback that the posters were hastily taken down, that’s to say the ones that had not been ripped up by angry commuters who felt the company were trying to play them for fools.
At first sight, the argument seems to be clear: the price of a ticket on the Madrid subway is lower than in many other cities and there are the figures to prove it.
But they don’t.
In the first place, some subway users felt that some of the figures used were inaccurate because they do not compare similar journeys, as they knew from their holidays abroad.
In the second place, and more importantly, the figures do not take into account the relative wage levels in the different cities quoted. This was really most angered the Madrileños, who suffer some of the lowest wages in Europe. Apart from the huge number of young, qualified adults  who are becarios, working full time hours in exchange for a grant, there are thousands working for a minimum wage of less than 1,000 euros a month. How can you compare ticket prices for those persons with ticket prices in London where salaries are generally much higher?
So, a great poster, great idea and perfect timing. Just a shame the company didn’t think about who their customers are before printing the ads. This was a ticket to nowhere and the light at the end of the tunnel was a glare of bad publicity.

  On second thoughts, maybe you should call this How to ruin the best advertising campaign.