James M. Potter

music, games, and culture

Watching: Whiplash – How do you make a musician?

“Not quite my tempo”

I recently had a chance to catch up with Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014), a film about an aspiring jazz drummer who labours under the unforgiving tutelage of J. K. Simmons’ bandleader. In addition to being a great film, it throws up all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of talent and creativity, and, in particular, just how far you can or should push someone to realise their talent.

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Performing: Bad Music by Good Composers


It’s the height of the Lieder Festival here in Oxford. A host of stellar performers have graced various venues with nuanced and insightful performances of songs by the principal architect of German artsong, Franz Schubert. The goal is to perform all 600-odd songs set by him, as well as a sampling of his other, less well-known music.

It’s in this latter category that I’ve found myself this week. Christ Church Cathedral Choir’s contribution to this Oxford-wide celebration of Schubert is a liturgical performance of his Mass in C. Presumably some other choir had already nabbed the Mass in G, the only one regularly performed by English choirs, or perhaps we decided to boldly venture into the unknown for the sake of unearthing an under-performed treasure. It’s safe to say we’ve not done that – it’s an awful piece. Read the rest of this entry »

Britney, Autotune, and new instruments

I went to Istanbul last year. A friend and I took a room in a hotel in the Sultanahmet, just south of the Hagia Sophia. It was a beautiful hotel, and our room, though small, was more than equal to our requirements. True to the reviews we had read online prior to our arrival, right outside the window of this room was a loudspeaker, which added the call to prayer to the dawn chorus. Every morning as the sun rose, and then periodically throughout the day, the speaker would erupt into life with a burst of singing, wonderful and strange to us, accustomed as we were to the Western call to prayer of church bells. Read the rest of this entry »

Listening: Harrison Birtwistle

Harrison Birtwistle performed by Ensemble ISIS, 25/06/14

Birtwistle is probably the Harrison with whom I am least familiar. Harrison Ford comes first, and then…actually I’m struggling to think of any others. I suppose a distant second could be the work of Harrison & Harrison, organ builders. Very distant second. But behind even them, Birtwistle – a lack of familiarity my phone keyboard chose to illustrate by rendering this week’s event as ‘birthwhistle concert at christ church’.
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Listening: BBC Choral Evensong/Vespers

Listening to online broadcasts of sung services might seem like something of a busman’s holiday for someone who regularly sings eight of them a week. However there’s a peculiar pleasure to sitting down with a cup of tea on a Monday morning (don’t be alarmed – it’s the church musician’s day off) and catching up with the BBC’s weekly broadcast, laconically reclining at one’s desk and asymptotically idling towards Inbox Zero. Read the rest of this entry »