- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2010

Music both ways

“According to [psychologist Stephen] Christman, who is based at the University of Toledo, [Jimi] Hendrix was not strictly left-handed. Although he played his right-handed guitar upside down, and used his left hand to throw, comb his hair and hold cigarettes, Hendrix wrote, ate and held the telephone with his right hand. He was, Christman argues, ‘mixed-right-handed.’ And this ‘mixed’-ness, signaling better interaction between the left and right hemispheres of the guitarist’s brain, suffused every part of his music.

“Hendrix’s special ability, Christman wrote, ‘enabled him to integrate the actions of his left and right hands while playing guitar, to integrate the lyrics and melodies of his songs, and perhaps even to integrate the older blues and R&B traditions with the emerging folk, rock, and psychedelic sounds of the 60s.’ Certainly the guitarist’s technical virtuosity is clear. Christman points to Hendrix’s technique on songs like Still Raining, Still Dreaming, ‘where Hendrix uses his right hand to play an intricate series of bends and slides, while his left hand, in between plucking the strings, uses the pickup selector to switch back and forth between the treble and bass pickups.’

“Many guitarists are left-handed, including Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler and Kurt Cobain, and Christman argues that great guitarists tend to be relatively ambidextrous. Conversely, many piano and keyboard players are strongly right- or left-handed: they rely on the independence of their two hands, playing separate lines.”

Sean Michaels, writing on “Was Jimi Hendrix’s ambidexterity the key to his virtuosity?” on Feb. 25 at the Guardian

Punishing music

“In recent years Britain has become the Willy Wonka of social control, churning out increasingly creepy, bizarre, and fantastic methods for policing the populace. But our weaponization of classical music — where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been turned into tools of state repression — marks a new low. …

“In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was ‘subjecting’ (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In ‘special detentions,’ the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 percent since the detentions were introduced).

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably ‘go into adulthood associating great music — the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth — with a punitive slap on the chops.’ This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think ‘Danger!’ whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.”

Brendan O’Neill, writing on “Weaponizing Mozart,” on Feb. 24 at Reason

Skating music

“The figure skating portion of the Olympics came to an end last night, but I can’t stop thinking about the performances, particularly how snooze-worthy some of the music choices were. There were a few highlights. Kim Yu-Na’s short program to the James Bond theme was playful and sexy, while Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s choice of an Indian medley during the ice dancing competition was delightful.

“But points off for using music from Phantom of the Opera, which needs to be retired from all competitions until the end of time. Ice dancing also provided the bizarre musical cue of Linkin Park’s ‘Crawling’ from brother/sister duo Sinead Kerr and John Kerr. Ice dancing can get away with more unusual and popular song choices, whereas singles and pairs skaters can’t use music with vocals, but that doesn’t mean they have to put me to sleep.

“If I were a singles figure skater, I’d skate to the String Quartet’s tribute to Muse’s ‘Time Is Running Out.’ The song has a great sense of suspense with plenty of highs and lows. Plus, there’s lots of pretty violins. I’d use one of Andrew Bird’s exquisite instrumental, whistling (does that count as vocals?) tracks for my short program.”

Vlada Gelman, writing on “Pick the music for your imagined figure skating debut,” on Feb. 26 at Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog

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