Education, education, education

Fascinating day yesterday. Notebook fully utilised. Observations. That kind of thing.

If you need a headline it’s the unwitting tussle about higher education. My company for the day held the view that gaining a degree was akin to acquiring a much-need shield. I on the other hand held the view that studying for degree is the first step on a never-ending journey of discovery, a relationship which will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

I was disappointed when I discovered what I was up against. I didn’t seek to change the other party’s view. To do so seemed disrespectful.

Broadly speaking, the day’s conversations confirmed what I had previously privately denied: not everyone sees higher education the same way I did when I embarked on my university career.

I approached my choice of music degree (mixed with a range of European history modules) with a sense of openness. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished that degree. How could i? I figured the best strategy was to just follow my nose and see where it led me. Unlike the likes of Elaine Bedell (and my peers) I wasn’t blessed with clarity of vision at the age of 19 years old about what I absolutely wanted to do. That same approach has been the foundation of my career. The flip side is that coming up with a strategy demands knowing something innately. That takes time. My approach to knowledge acquisition is necessarily suitable for all.

Back home last night, I sink into a searingly hot bath with a large glass of reassuringly cheap wine and scroll through Instagram. University pal Pete Faint is posting pictures of what he’s listening to. Vinyl (predictably). Last night it seems, it was Acid Jazz.

When I talk about Acid Jazz to the OH I wriggle with excitement. Pete introduced me to it back in 1993. A stream of albums. Urgent stuff. Committed performances. Precision studio recordings committed by musicians playing live. It’s not music that evokes a mood, so much as commands my attention. It’s an immersive experience – like stepping into an art installation that swirls all around you. There is colour to be marveled at. Rhythmic clarity. Progressive harmonies. Unrivaled textures.

What I was listening to the first time in 1993 was seemingly the complete antithesis of what I was studying – a shot in the arm.

But was Acid Jazz and the symphonic works of Brahms, Britten, and Dvorak I was studying as part of my degree really that far apart? I’m not so sure today.

I remember the Wednesday morning tutorial when one of my music lecturers (the legendary Denis McCaldin) introduced the work of Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players in a recording of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Colour, edge and an urgent kind of rawness. Economy of resources revealed the mastery of orchestration. We were able to hear detail for the first time. Leanness brought excitement.

In recent months I’ve been reminded of a piece of faulty thinking I’ve fallen foul of for most of my life. It’s a simple thing: if I know about how to do something, or I have an understanding of something then the value of knowing it is immediately reduced solely because I now know it. I’ve looked at numerous things in my life through that prism. Knowledge about music is one such example.

Both these musical introductions – one from a lecturer, one from a peer – have come about because of higher education. Both are perennials, planted young, which have taken hold, and over time gained strength. They were not assets – a means to an end. Am I really the only one who thinks that? Am I a member of a dwindling minority?

Picture: Pete Faint

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