On The Concept of Postman Pat

I mentioned the Improvisation on the Concept of Postman Pat a couple of posts ago and I think it deserves a little more of a mention/explanation as it’s a thoroughly remarkable piece. While the main performance went un-recorded in my rare and baffling observance of institutional rules, there was some rehearsal footage that survived (below). This one is a fragment from the second parcel.

But first … or second, to recap:

“The piece was ‘written’ by Brisbane percussionist Cameron Kennedy – a musical innovator and performer of rare humour and intellect. It was first entirely improvised for mixed percussion by Cameron at the 2010 Australian Percussion Gathering, and he wrote down the instructions at the request of Hugh Tidy, who performed that ‘version’ in 2011. Cameron then revised and expanded the instructions for this recital to incorporate the piano as the primary instrument.”

And so, dear reader, it is essentially a structured improvisation… on the concept of Postman Pat. And while it is entirely permissible for the original theme song to crop up thence and whence, (and it deliberately opens quoting said material), the postal element of the piece lies more in it’s structure – short individual ‘parcels’ featuring specific spoken fragments from the episode “Postman Pat and the Cranky Cows” (complete with various British accents) and a set of guidelines for each segment’s musical parameters. Thus involved are the emphatic shouting of things such as:

“Would you look at that Dorothy… They’ve started on me broccoli now!”

“The sheep have taken a liking to our green vegetables, Pat.”

“Is there a postman in the house?”

… all while manipulating electronic delay, a percussion battery of very flexible instrumentation and two or more pianos; one prepared in a rather germane* fashion (germane?! Oh no, I’ve become my supervisor!) with a copy of the very program note describing the piece.

My favourite instruction was from the somewhat liberal “Cameleoparcel:”

Mentally identify a member of the audience and create a musical representation of what you imagine their life to have been like thus far.

"Well that's the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser"

“Well that’s the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser”

And that’s the great thing about the Postman Pat: the hyper-flexible and practical approach it lends to performance: There are no wrong notes or musical decisions, at worst just unconvincing ones. Whether or not it will go down well with an audience is another thing, but ultimately that is down to the performer. In any case, many thanks are due to Cameron for the fantastic music/concept.

*appropriate or relevant. I learn one new word a year and that was 2012’s.

Marmots and their Orchestral Rationale: Part II

INTRO: They say that pigeons develop odd and repetitive behaviours (such as hopping on one foot) should you feed them pellets at random intervals, presumably made of seed or some such food that pigeons like. The theory here is that they believe whatever they happened to be doing at the time triggered the pellet dispensing and if they manage to do it again (in just the right manner) then they will get more pellets. When the next one inevitably arrives it simply reinforces the behaviour and the cycle continues ad infinitum.

HYPOTHESIS: Anyway, it has been over two years since the early days of this blog and I thought it’s a spectacular time to revisit my inaugural rant about orchestral repertoire. I actually had attempted this about one year ago but it remained in draft from and I think now time and some more far-reaching data can provide a three-dimensional-time-instalment on the topic! Basically, we will look at the concert series for 2013 not only of the original Australian orchestra but three separate seasons of another very well-known orchestra in the UK and see what’s what.

METHODOLOGY: The pieces played fall into categories of:

  1. Works by popular European Composers
  2. Works by unpopular European Composers
  3. Works by popular non-European Composers
  4. Works by unpopular non-European Composers

A word from the recapping porpoise:

Recapping Porpoise

The definitions of European and non-European is quite simple but the former includes Russia (as part of a highly integrated ‘Western’ music culture). The definition of ‘popular’ I probably defined earlier in my last rationale post, but for apathy’s sake will re-make it up here and then for obsessive-compulsiveness’s sake compare afterwards anyway, (to test my own consistency).

Popular composer (My 2013 Definition): “A composer who is mainstream enough to be known by a regular concert going audience and can be expected to appear regularly (anywhere from extremely frequently to once every few years) in an orchestral concert series.”

Popular composer (My 2011 Definition): “A well-known composer (Beethoven, Mozart, etc) that a typical Classical concert-going audience could expect to hear every few years or so.”

Close enough! Anyway now we are all on the same (web)page here are the results:

RESULTS:

For the original Australian Orchestra:

Original Orchestra ANew Orchestra AWell that’s slightly more promising 70.3% of the series (down from 81.8%) made up of  European classical standards.

Now let’s take a peak of three 6-month seasons of the UK orchestra.

January 2012 to June 2012

1st Season Orchestra B

July 2012 to December 2012

2nd Season Orchestra B

January 2013 to June 2013

3rd Season Orchestra B

This is a little bleaker…

Just a little bit

The percentages chronologically here are 93.4%, 90.4% and 85.5%. Although it’s a slight downward trend the average is still 89.8% of the repertoire is typical European, and in one and a half years only one non-popular, non-European composer is featured.

CONCLUSIONS: I’ve been wondering a little recently about what would happen if orchestras (or classical artists in general) dropped the facade of being part of a ‘living tradition’ and dedicated themselves only to playing what is considered the classical music canon. With this repertoire already making up around 90% of a season (or much more if you include the popular non-Europeans) I doubt the regular concert-going audiences would complain or even notice if it was upped to 100%.

It seems to me that when these orchestras explore or innovate its out of begrudging tokenism and perhaps it would be healthy to say/admit “Wait, this is for all intents and purposes a museum-culture (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and you should go elsewhere if you’re not a part of that.” I think modern composers deserve better then to be lining up for meagre pellet distribution from a culture that is demonstrably against them… it is not good for one’s mental state. Or maybe perhaps what I mean is they should rebuke the insinuation that they are the latest edition of the classical ‘tradition’ and instead be seeking to be relevant to other groups who may be more interested rather than forcing new things on a audience obsessed with the past.

CODA:  The humble pigeon is actually quite exceptional for a commonplace bird*, unlike the ibis, which is unexceptional for a much-worshiped deity symbol. Look them up. Yes, both of them. And remember, nothing says ‘Deutsch touristischen’ more emphatically** than excitedly taking photos of the colloquial dump-birds.

You can even eat them!

*You can even eat them!

**This is not strictly true… a LOT of things say ‘Deutsch touristischen’ emphatically, not least themselves.