The Coin Age


We draw near the end of an era for a phenomenon that has existed across many cultures and several millennia – physical money. It will probably go the same way as bartering, a.k.a. taking a goat or handy driftwood out into a snowstorm to trade for vital medical attention and risk being laughed at by mounted Cossacks on the way, in favour of the much more secure electronic means such as cards and internet banking.

A Cossack with his Laughter Pole

However, coins do still exist at present and can be validly used for absurd studies for the moment and so I decided to take advantage of this fact.

We’ve all experienced the unparalleled thrill of finding lost coins on the ground, which tends to happen a lot in the UK due to the perseverance of the relatively worthless one and two pence piece. My question is this: Is it possible to realistically achieve minimum wage by looking for coins?

There are way too many factors for this to be taken seriously, but I’ll give it a go anyway, looking at value, volume and weight and determining frequencies. The process is such that I’ll look at the specifications of each coin and determine how likely it is to be ‘lost.’ Then compare the UK and Australia currency systems. As such, I assume a heavier, larger or more valuable coin is more likely to be retained and this is placed in proportion to the weight, volume, and value of the other coins. For instance I assume that a 2p coin will be twice as rare to find as a 1p, a 5p five times, etc.


Minimum Wage: £6.08 

One pence coin:Value: 1p Weight: 3.56g Volume: 518.36mm^3

Two pence coin:Value: 2p Weight: 7.12g Volume: 1069.51mm^3

Five pence coin:Value: 5p Weight: 3.25g Volume: 480.95mm^3

Ten pence coin: Value: 10p Weight: 6.5g Volume: 872.16mm^3

Twenty pence coin: Value: 20p Weight: 5g Volume: 672.30mm^3
Fifty pence coin: Value: 50p Weight: 8g Volume: 1085mm^3  (Approximate Volume)

One Pound coin: Value: 100p Weight: 9.5g Volume: 1252.46mm^3

Two Pound coin: Value: 200p Weight: 12g Volume: 1583.68mm^3

So percentage-ing against the total Values (388p), Weights (54.93g) and Volumes (7534.42mm^3) and averaging physical attributes (Weight and Volume), then averaging that average and value, and then weighting them relative to the One Pence Coin, blah blah blah, then we can come up with the following statistics for “lose-ability.”

Frequency of Losing Coins in the UK

So the £6.08 minimum wage would most likely be made up of something like: 151 One Pence coins, 37 Two Pence Coins, 28 Five Pence Coins, 7 Ten Pence Coins, 4 Twenty Pence Coins, 2 Fifty Pence Coins, and a Pound. 230 coins. All in an hour and seven times a day.

This seems unlikely. If you assume there’s a coin on every 100m stretch of street in any given inner-city area for instance, that’s 23 kilometres to cover per hour. I guess if you cycled and had good reflexes and eyesight you might manage… But it works out to one coin every 15.65 seconds.

The Australia

Australia has a much higher minimum wage of $15.96 but fewer coins and smaller, more lose-able valuable coins, thus improving your chances.

Five cent coin: Value: 5c Weight: 2.83g Volume: 384.67mm^3

Ten cent coin: Value: 10c Weight: 5.65g Volume: 874.87mm^3

Twenty cent coin: Value: 20c Weight: 11.3g Volume: 1597.09mm^3

Fifty cent coin: Value: 50c Weight: 15.55g Volume: 2338mm^3

One Dollar coin: Value: 100c Weight: 9g Volume: 1472.62mm^3

Two Dollar coin: Value: 200c Weight: 6.60g Volume: 1056.2mm^3

Total Values (385c), Weights (50.93g) and Volumes (7723.45mm^3). This means:

Frequency of Losing Coins in ‘the’ Australia

The $15.96 minimum wage would probably be made up of: 151 Five Cent coins, 36 Ten Cent Coins, 9 Twenty Cent Coins, 2 Fifty Cent Coins, and 2 One Dollar Coins. Only 200 coins an hour as opposed to 230 in the UK. 18 seconds per coin.

THEREFORE…. Regardless of how unlikely it is to earn a living by looking for coins, it is 15% more difficult to do so in the United Kingdom than in Australia.

Overall this tangible window of opportunity closing, with the emergence of an era of bank cards and iPhones, is seemingly something that really won’t be missed. Maybe our energies would be of better use towards creating a solution to our Cossack bartering troubles…


On Listing Things except Sharks

Dear Reader,

I started this article quite some time ago but it got too ranty so I abandoned the idea and it joined the ranks of unpublished posts which tend to either be extremely short/blank or excessively long. Upon re-reading it recently I thought it did have a degree of merit, so attempted to streamline it to cater to your probably fickle attitudes and laughable attention spans. 😛

PART 1: The Survey

Detroit Apparently. Lions.

I should be off doing other things. Pressing things. But instead happened to happen upon this list. JUST CLICK ON THE DAMN LINK TO SEE WHAT IT IS I’M TALKING ABOUT, OH NEVER MIND YOU IGNORED IT ANYWAY. OK FINE. BUT YOU KNOW WORDPRESS RECORDS OUTBOUND LINKS SO IF YOU DO READ THIS POST AND YOU DON’T READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE I CAN TELL AND I DO IN FACT JUDGE YOU, THE READER. by Anthony Tommasini from the New York Times on the top 10 greatest classical composers of all time.

Upon reading I felt heavily depressed and refused to recycle for several days. They were:

  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Mozart
  • Schubert
  • Debussy
  • Stravinsky
  • Brahms
  • Verdi
  • Wagner
  • Bartok

It seems in choosing such a list Tommasini merely looked at whoever had the longest articles in any standard ‘Who’s Who of Composers’ book. His justifications are often misinformed and rather perversely he states:

“I think what I was up to was more precisely nailed by a reader who said that I placed a high value on ‘innovation.’ … Take Debussy, for example. He may not have written that many works, but he changed how music was thought of. He said, in effect, ‘Here is another way to organize time, to make harmony, to conceive color.'”

Well. While I address the manneristic Debussy later in this post, it seemed to me that the characteristic of innovation seemed to be consistently overlooked in the list. Choosing by ‘lasting greatness’ here is really another phrase for ‘popularity en masse because the music is nice, famous and classical sounding.’ True innovation is not necessarily ‘wildly popular’ in its day.

Even the reader’s comments were inane. Endless bickering about how criminal it was to leave out their Tchaikovsky and Haydn and Mahler and Chopin. The irony being they were so limited in their scope – and blatantly oblivious to other composers – that should this list be a top 25, it would pretty much cover 95% of composers mentioned in comments. Perhaps I will devise some sort of table for this study… T’would be worth it to get the actual percentage – yet I’m pressed for time, so might leave it for a couple of days… Ok, it’s later and I’ve gone and done it: The figure, based on 166 of the 866 comments is actually 78% (73% if you include random and obviously-intentionally-controversial-but-not-really-valid-one-off suggestions like John Lennon). In other words, adding an additional 15 composers would satisfy 78% of commenters! Still, I think that upholds my tossed-off guess quite well. Furthermore a top 30 list (five extra composers) would be 87% (81%).

What does this mean? Well it implies that basically thirty composers made 9/10ths of everything worth listening to.

PART 2: The List

Eye of the Tigre

The concept of Top Ten-ing most things, except sharks, is useless and subjective at best. So here’s my TOP SEVEN view and subsequent justifications. (Tommasini’s list only included dead composers – but I will not use that limitation should the need arise: A great composer is a great composer. I’m writing this as I go. PS: Having written it I didn’t end up using living composers anyway.) But I mean what is great anyway?

No.1: Charles Ives. With no doubt. Not only did he foreshadow a vast number of 20th Century innovations – including the ones attributed to others, he was an Insurance CEO (also making contributions recognised today) a millionaire in today’s currency, writing music in his spare time (as well as many philosophical writings), and made all of his achievements in relative isolation and amidst a cultural climate of complete resistance and disdain to his music (and it still generally is I could argue). Still, his music is possibly among the most stylistically diverse possible, ranging from extreme tonality to, Classicism, to radical experimentation as wild as anything today, and uniquely often combining this stylistic diversity within single works.

Additionally his energy and passion to art and life in general is staggering by human standards, and his aesthetics are of such complexity and depth that he was basically a school of thought in himself. Furthermore, his greatest works: the Fourth Symphony, as well as the Concord Sonata, transcend the scope and breadth of Beethoven in the 9th and the Hammerklavier respectively, an achievement that should by itself in theory place him among the greatest composers. Finally his compositional life ended gradually after a stroke around 1925 or so (Though he lived until 1954) so he had a life as a ‘composer’ for only 50 years. No other composer to my knowledge achieved so much with such a severe handicap – Beethoven comes close with the onset of deafness – but he worked as a composer, had patronage and a also modicum of audience appreciation.

No.2: Percy Grainger. The Australian version of Ives in many regards, and still more – again foreshadowing a vast number of 20th Century innovations (oddly enough, usually different ones to Ives) so that between the two, they pretty much account for most of the 20th Century. Perversely, they are both left out or at least marginalised, Ives not as much as Grainger. For example, while Anthony Tommasini waxes lyrical about Bartok being:

“an ethnomusicologist whose work has empowered generations of subsequent composers to incorporate folk music and classical traditions from whatever culture into their works, and as a formidable modernist who in the face of Schoenberg’s breathtaking formulations showed another way, forging a language that was an amalgam of tonality, unorthodox scales and atonal wanderings”

…his ignorance in forgetting that Grainger was roaming the English countryside similarly collecting folk songs BEFORE the ‘real’ composer Bartok, and integrating them into his music is palpable.
Grainger suffered from the curse of popularity, and also of notoriety. Being a famous concert pianist (like Ives a full-time non-compositional career) his popular fame today rests on a small number of folk-based minatures, leading performers and audiences alike to smile and say “Oh yes, Grainger. Nice light music. Not serious though” before proceeding to quoting the plethora of rumours (many distorted, or plainly untrue) about his character. It was true he was an eccentric, but much of his life was taken out of context, and other parts conveniently ignored – but that is an thesis worth of debate in itself. But musicians then totally disregard the remaining 98% (I will do a similar study for this) of his vast output – including ironically his large-scale and most innovative compositions.

Grainger not only employs folk music, a vast variety of world influences, atonality and his own “free music” (a life-time project as avant-garde as integral serialism, freeing music from notation), electronic experiments, aleatoric (chance) music (40 years before John Cage),  harmonic advances AHEAD of Tommasini’s Debussy (Grainger Quote on Debussy’s harmonies: “Just one of the trees in my forest.”) and then beyond, into worlds of atonality and incredible dissonance reconciled, like Bartok, with folk idioms, yet he did so in complete isolation, whilst being well aware of and documenting his advances against the slower Western Schools. Furthermore, he invented the modern concert orchestra – with an equal role for extended percussion, developed the role of the orchestral piano, the modern wind orchestra, and created innovative concepts such as elastic scoring. He also arranged a great number of his and other composer’s works.

One scholar, on comparing him to Ives, suggested that of the two, Grainger was the more artistic. And fundamentally this statement has substance – Grainger is unabashedly joyful, characterful, colourful and passionate, even accessible, but with integrity and sincerity. For a “Modernist” composer this is exceptionally rare, and makes it extremely difficult for musicians who don’t take it seriously to perform convincingly and subsequently come to love it. His style and manner disregard and questions many modern conventions and it is through such pioneering eccentrics that the world is truly shaped.

3: Ludwig Van Beethoven: No explanation really required. A Transcendentalist worthy of respect. And he is still not in short supply of it. Developed within himself a new era, and was the foundation for much of the Romantic period. Maybe take a look at his lieder repertoire though – it’s not done enough and Schubert is done too much.

4: J.S. Bach: I also agree. Bach has been a foundation for all the above composers. And they all demonstrate a thorough knowledge and usage of counterpoint. Bach, however, worked as a full time composer and had a relatively event-free life sitting around in Protestant Germany, hence the No.4 position. Were he deaf, working primarily as an accountant or court jester, and had his music publicly and ritually  jeered at by patronising masses, perhaps I’d rank him higher. Still. Respecting Bach.

5: John Cage: Like Grainger, suffering from the curse of notoriety in the form of 4’33”. Not many have bothered looking past it, unfortunately. One of the greatest innovative composers and aestheticians who not only questioned what music fundamentally is, but produced creative works encompassing a vast variety of elements and ideas. As a musical thinker and an ‘outsider’ to music he openly aimed to bring down the final barrier between music and sound, to liberate music from the keyboard via electronics and percussion, and he did it with practicality and a sense of humour. It’s curious how people reacted initially to his ideas as ‘not music’ and I can still hear the echoes from the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica.

6: Richard Wagner: Who else could single handedly and almost universally reform opera across the world? An unbelievably magnetic personality commanding almost unprecedented resources for a ‘musician’ and consistently creating some of the greatest and most feared operas from scratch and humble beginnings as a nobody. Not only that, but they went beyond operas towards ‘total works of art ‘- transcending Wagner from mere composer to who-knows-what. Even creating a new exclusive breed of operatic singer, with roles of such demanding calibre as to actually have killed them off occasionally. Although an egomaniac, I think Wagner’s case is unique in that his ego and self-belief was matched by his output. In other words, he delivered.

7: Leonard Bernstein: Very few composers matched Bernstein’s absolute excellence in all fields, although Grainger was similar in this regard. Still, how many great musical thinker-composers-conductors-pianists-musical educators (with fully fledged professional careers in each and every one of these fields) also produce musicals such as Westside Story? The theatrics and often advanced musical language of his major compositions and productions show an impressively talented “all-round” human being who outshines certain European composers who devoted their entire lives to one narrow branch of the arts.

Part 3: The End

and Bears.

So there it is. Seven composers I think stand beyond the rest. Not because we now hear their music most frequently on the radio (we generally don’t) but because their music is simultaneously more unique and yet universal. They excelled, they innovated, and I mean really innovated, often in spite of much public opposition and hostility, and they were a bunch of exiles, eccentrics and isolated, forgotten pioneers. I could go on at length about their achievements, but what collectively sets them apart from other composers, I think, is that with those sorts of minds and personalities had they been born in a different time or place they still would have found their way to greatness one way or another. As I said, unique yet universal.


A short note.

A few years back I found this wonderful discography.

Music for Piano and Orchestra: The Recorded Repertory by Dr Allan B. Ho

In case you didn’t look at it just then it’s effectively an impressively exhaustive list of recorded piano concertos – defined as a work for piano and orchestra (seven or more instruments total). It’s a constantly updated work and now goes for 369 pages… With around 25-30 individual compositions listed on each page. I lack the patience and/or technology to actually count but it roughly means there are at least 10 000 recorded works for piano and orchestra identified by this study.

2000 per Corgi

I’ve always had little more than contempt for strict, mindless adherence to the classical canon, evidenced by many piano competitions listing a small handful of allowable works. Typically these include two concertos by Mozart, five by Beethoven, two by Chopin, three by Rachmaninoff, and one by Schumann, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Saint-Saens, Bartok and Prokofiev. You could maybe double this number to allow for other common “standards” and other works by the above composers… Also it is also a fair comment (as I established in a previous post) to say that orchestral programs featuring concertos rarely branch outside this small European paddock of musical stagnation.  Let’s say a basic concerto repertoire of forty concertos, but feel free to double this again, or quadruple it, or quadruple it again! See if that makes much difference.*

40/10000 x 100= 0.4% of the repertoire.

* still only 25.6% Good luck naming all 2560 ‘common’ concertos!

I find this statistic kind of ridiculous. Though it’d be a hard study to undertake, I think a statement that 95% of pianists play 5% of the repertoire is actually not too far off from the truth. Sure, there’s always the occasional novelty in your typical pianist program, but it strikes me that anything more than that in the music world means you’ve gone off into the ‘niche’ that is ‘uncommon/rare/new music.’ Congratulations, you’ve become a specialist. Is it not absolutely ludicrous that this apparent niche occupies 99.6% of available ‘art’  piano music, at least in the concerto field.

This is why I’m confused when I’m told I need to play more mainstream music. If I chose music at random, with this sort of statistic I’d need to play 249 concertos before finding one that pianists normally played.

Admittedly, not all this music is going to be amazing but even if you hold that 0.4% so dear and infallible  (though if you look really, really hard at the Chopin concertos you’ll probably start to wonder why…) you’ll still have to find something worthwhile in at least a more substantial percentage.

Bat country

To put it in perspective: According to our friends in Wikipedia, only one-eighth of the Earth’s surface area is habitable, and 0.4% percent of that mean’s that you’re only happy living on a square about 160km wide. That wouldn’t get you out of any but the obscurest of the European countries. People would not call you well-travelled.

Dear Pianists: Are you really that afraid?

No pictures this time. Oh maybe one or two. I think the bold font compensates.