Written by prof. dr. Hans Fidom
Next August (Mondag 3th – Friday 16th), VU University (Chair Organ Studies) and the Orgelpark present a new branch to the impressive program of the VU SummerSchool: a two-week course on making music and thinking about it – both in new ways. No less than ten internationally acclaimed teachers, tutors, and professors cooperate in presenting a colorful course, including sound walks trough the city. Students that would like to enroll have time until June 1st.
The new course is named Minding Music :||: Making Sound. It takes place at four locations in Amsterdam: the VU University itself (with a main role for the large organ in the Aula), the Orgelpark, and the two medieval cathedrals of Amsterdam: the Nieuwe Kerk and the Oude Kerk.
The course aims at getting academics and artists work together, have them learn from one another, and open new perspectives on a very basic question, namely: what is it to make music? Lots of other questions obviously follow. For example: Who decides what good music is? What roles do listeners play? Is improvisation really different from playing composed material?
Indeed, such questions (and asking them at all) may appear rather disturbing – if only because they immediately reveal that common thinking about music in the West operates more than just a few tacitly suppositions. It seems time to openly contest them.
Exactly that makes organs (being large, being mounted in fixed places, having secular roots as well as ecclesiastical ones, etc.), however counter-intuitive it may sound, the perfect instruments to be used as research tools. They mercilessly demonstrate that any inclination to apply reductionist intentions when theorizing about music are bound to fail in practice: a music can never sound the same twice.
It is not only the inherent individuality of organs that make them show this basic fact, it is their technology as well: the many solutions the past millennium has produced regarding connecting keys and pipes appear to (have) inspire(d) music-making in as many different ways. It seems that improvisation actually might be the link between all of them, and that, consequently, the listener’s intentions may have to be considered significantly more relevant in music situations than composers’ ones.
The course Minding Music :||: Making Sound carefully approaches and tries to map this field by following two tracks: an academic one and an artistic one. University students (art historians, designers, philosophers, historians, etc.) will feel more at home in the academic classes, to be given by philosophers such as Alicja Gescinska (Poland/Belgium), Franziska Schroeder (Ireland, Germany), and VU Organ Studies professor Hans Fidom; whereas artistic students (musicians [organists], composers, [sound] artists, etc.) will recognize their world more in the masterclasses, given by internationally acclaimed musicians including Hans-Ola Ericsson (Canada, Sweden), Zuzana Ferjencikova (Slovakia, Switzerland), Trevor Grahl (Canada, The Netherlands), Oude Kerk Music Curator Jacob Lekkerkerker, and VU University and Nieuwe Kerk organist Henk Verhoef.
The characteristic of the new course Minding Music :||: Making Sound is that both groups of students will follow all classes together; and that every class has a significant ‘time window’ for discussion and asking questions. The assignment for the artistic students will be to give short concerts at the end of the course, whereas the academic students will do poster presentations in between these concerts.
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