Wednesday, October 11, 2017

two sessions

Thanks to a timely departure and a quick dash across town, I got to two public educational sessions in the Palo Alto area last evening.

The first was a Stanford Music Dept. lecture by guest Malcolm Bilson, a specialist in classical-period fortepiano whom I've seen before at the historical recordings seminars they've held. His talk was very much in that vein, urging performers to form inflections of style based on thorough study of the expression marks in the score (which he says most ignore in favor of plodding through without inflection) and through development of taste (a term used by many writers of the time to define good performance and composition) to determine subjectively how the score should best be expressed in the playing. For instance, he said nobody plays the quiet phrases in the opening bars of Beethoven's Op. 90 slower than the loud ones, when he considered it obvious they should be. He didn't say why, in that case, Beethoven didn't add a ritard marking as he did a few bars later, but I'm sure if asked he would have responded that it was too obvious to need specification for anyone with taste.

Then down to the city library for a panel session on the future of libraries, by which they meant mostly public libraries. Being functionally retired, I don't hear much about that any more. Two library consultants and one search expert from Google gave presentations and then the two who were physically present (one of the consultants is away on business and gave a prerecorded talk) answered questions from a journalist and from the audience.

I detected a tension both between the speakers and within their talks, between seeing libraries as incorporating new technologies into their established general mission and changing the fundamental purpose and nature of libraries. The established mission includes providing information and training users in evaluating it - much talk on how this can be done with uncurated web material. The change in mission turns libraries from places where individuals access material into community gathering centers, and from sources of material into forums for patrons to create their own. While one speaker argued that "community gathering center" has always been one function of libraries (meeting room rental, storytelling sessions), the latter is a more general educative function and not one that exploits what libraries specifically do, and the trend away from the older functions struck me as throwing babies out with the bathwater, something I've already noticed with changes in the search capacity of online catalogs (my own specialty). That libraries as we know them are unlikely to disappear in the next 20 years - the Google expert's conclusion - was the most comforting thought.

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