Signal Hill has long been a communications point on the Southern California landscape. In an earlier era, Native Americans signaled their brethren with fire and smoke, from Santa Catalina Island to the foothills of the Coastal Range bordering what is now L.A.

Today the signals are electronic, connecting us--at the click of a mouse--to vast, new worldwide networks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spain: Meeting Christopher Small, II

This post continues the discussion of our meeting with Christopher Small in Sitges, Spain.  Once again, those of you with an interest in the Arts in Our Communities, may find this particularly interesting.

Christopher Small was born in New Zealand where he studied piano and, despite difficulties locating a teacher in the then-sparcely populated country, some violin.  On the strengths of a ballet he wrote as a young man, he received a scholarship to study in England.  He completed his studies there and remained, eventually becoming a Senior Lecturer at Ealing College of Higher Education in London.  He retired in 1986 and moved to Sitges, with his partner Neville, a Jamaican-born dancer and promoter of community arts in London.

Small's life's work is reflected in three books.  They are: Music, Society, Education; Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music; and his manifesto, Musicking: The Meaning of Performance and Listening; published in 1977, 1987 and 1998, respectively.

These are scholarly works organized around two broad questions: "What is the nature of music?" and "What is its function in human life?"  He has thought about these questions for years.  Instead of applying conventional abstractions, ideologies or theories to explore these themes, he questions old assumptions and turns to what he sees (and hears) directly in the world.  For Small, music's significant meaning lies in the vernacular.

He draws heavily on the thinking of anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his notion of the "pattern that connects," and finds the significance of music in our social processes that are much more personal, and much more pervasive than those found in the concert hall or on a CD.  Music is not a thing, he would say, not limited to the work or the score, or even the performance.  Rather, when seen broadly, music is a process that explores, affirms and celebrates human relationship.  He coined the term "musicking" to show this.

To fully appreciate these ideas, Small's books -- linked above -- need to be read.  For a quick introduction, and for a taste of Christopher Small, the man and scholar, I suggest reading his lecture given at the University of Melbourne in 1995, linked here.

The next post -- our final installment of our Meeting with Christopher Small -- will describe our actual encounter with him in Sitges, Spain.

-- RCH

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