Burnt offerings 2014

The return of Qingming.

Nothing kills of the anticipation of a long weekend like a pile of exam papers, and once again this year, there are piles to be marked in the after­math of the mocks this week. I’m already a little ahead on the marking, having dispatched the A2s’ reading papers in a day, although that’s not quite the feat that it appears to be. I also made deep inroads into AS1’s reading, and that is a feat because there are five texts, and the paper is a bulky, clumsy thing to handle.

The exam this time has also been different because we included a writing paper. Normally, to spare ourselves a good deal of bother, we set some recent text type as the writing so that we can mark it beforehand. Although I like splitting things in this way, such exercises are only partial tests of the students’ ability to produce the text type correctly because they’re only dealing with a single type and don’t have to do it under exam conditions.

Although I told the classes to focus on the topics which we have covered in class (Health and Cultural Diversity), A2(2) mostly chose the Cultural Diversity topic or the Science and Technology one. The popularity of the latter was because the text type was blog/diary entry, which is no doubt regarded as an easy option because of its supposedly amorphous nature. A2(1&3) split themselves roughly evenly across four of the text types, but had the brains to avoid Leisure, which was a pamphlet giving advice and thus something akin to guidelines or instructions.

AS1 favoured the nature vs. nurture question about homosexuality; the blog entry reacting to newspaper reports alleging that Justin Bieber is gay; and the review topic (“review the film of the book”, meaning To Kill a Mockingbird; answers – anything but). The other two topics got a smatter­ing of attention.


A musical interlude.

When I saw that the exchange rate had improved in my favour, I went on a music-buying spree.

  1. Garden of Early Delights (Pamela Thorby and Andrew Lawrence-King; Linn Records) – this is an album of early Baroque music which includes some fairly familiar pieces (in fact, the only name I don’t know is Johann Schop), and combines the recorder with the harp.
  2. The Nightingale and the Butterfly (Pamela Thorby and Elizabeth Kenny; Linn Records) – Thorby unites with a lutenist on an album of French pieces from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is mostly new music from composers who I have previously not heard of (e.g. Charles Dieupart, Louis Caix d’Hervelois) or who were only slightly known to me (e.g. Robert de Visée).
  3. Locatelli, Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – I don’t often go to Hyperion because they charge VAT regardless of your point of origin, but the exchange rate was a little more benign than it has been. I had previously had a single example of Locatelli’s output prior to this and bought several albums all at once.
  4. Locatelli, L’Arte del Violino (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is Locatelli’s Op. 3, which is the composer showing off his technical skills with the violin. It is not, though, one of those works of this nature in which all sense of musical quality is abandoned in favour of some clever screechy sound which very few violinists – apart from Locatelli – could achieve.
  5. Locatelli’s Op. 4 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is a combination of six Introduttioni Teatrali which, according to the accom­p­anying booklet, have an obscure history. The remaining six Concerti are just as obscure with no clear reason why they were included in this publication.
  6. Locatelli, 10 Sonatas Op. 8 (The Locatelli Trio; Hyperion Records) – Like Op. 4, this is a mixed bag, being a combination of ten violin and trio sonatas which, as the notes say, was contrary to the usual practice of six or twelve pieces of the same genre.
  7. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Second Livre (Markku Luolajan-Mikkola et al.; BIS Records) – Having quite liked Marais’ Pièces de Caractère, I thought it was worth trying some more music from him and filling in a gap in my musical arsenal.
  8. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Cinquième Livre (Wieland Kuijken et al.; Accent) – This album includes a piece which was inspired by the oper­ation in which Marais’ gallbladder was removed (Le Tableau de l’Oper­ation de la Taille). I was listening to the album when I heard what sound­ed like someone speaking French. I thought it was coming from outside, but it was commentary accompanying the music.
  9. Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concerts (London Baroque; BIS Records) – This is an album of six concerts which are largely character pieces, although it’s often impossible to tell who in Rameau’s circle they refer to. The first concert is probably a tombeau, a genre of which the French seemed to be particularly fond. There is some overlap with Rameau, Complete Works for Harpsichord (Trevor Pinnock; crd).
  10. Italian Lute Music G.G. Kapsberger – A. Piccinini (Konrad Junghänal; Accent) – Lute music always gives me a sense of warm summer afternoons when the sun is setting, the light is just so, and the world is quiet and comfortable.
  11. Telemann, The twelve Fantasias for Transverse Flute without Bass (Bart­hold Kuijken; Accent) – This is another album in which “fantasia” has been misspelt in the file name. Probably it’s just a typo, but it smacks of a lack of attention.
  12. Telemann, Trios & Quartets (Epoca Barocca; CPO) – What is says on the box. Unfortunately, the accompanying booklet (an occasional inclusion from CPO) is cut off at the end of the first page of the German section, which means there. The CPO website is barely any more enlightening. This seems to be chamber music for the musically inclined burgers of Hamburg to bash out of an evening.
  13. Telemann, III Trietti metodichi e III Scherzi (Parnassi musici; CPO) – These are light pieces which Telemann published in 1731. The CPO website says they are “full of dancy swing”. CPO must’ve been on a budget because the cover for this album is the same as the cover of Telemann’s Complete Violin Concertos Vol. 4.
  14. Hotteterre, Complete Chamber Music Vol. 1 Suites Op. 2 (Camerata Köln; CPO) – This is a very recent release from CPO and marks the first in a series of four CDs from Camerata Köln. I haven’t listened to the album properly yet, but it is very chamber music in style.

My attempt to acquire Boismortier, Flute and Harpsichord Sonatas Op. 91 has been unsuccessful. I downloaded an album from Presto Classical, but what I got sounded late 18th century. I then had a listen to samples of the album on line, which confirmed that what I had was probably something by Haydn. I’m waiting for Presto Classical to let me know when the actual album will be ready for download.


The Sekkereterry of Stayte for Edgercayshun.

Last year when the PISA report came out, much was made of the results which showed that Asian school children were geniuses and British school children were barely able to hold a pencil without stabbing one other person (including themselves). As was observed at the time, the quality of life for Asian children is generally dreadful and, in the case of China, the results were based on children in Shanghai. Michael Gove wants GSCEs pegged to results in China and other successful economies from 2017.

As I’ve observed in the past, Chinese school children are good at anything a computer could do, but rarely good at anything else. Maths – tick that box; Physics – tick that box; Chemistry – tick with less certainty; Biology – don’t tick it at all because the language is beyond them. Arts and Humanities subjects? Not likely.

Even the dimmest students here can still do maths with a reasonable degree of competence, but only a few of them are capable of doing Further Maths according to the Head of the Maths Department at school. While they may be good at maths, that doesn’t make them intellectual giants. Anything requiring imagination and creativity is beyond all of them unless they’ve been taught some sort of procedure for mimicking something just as they are taught procedures for writing TOEFL and SAT essays.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gove’s favourite sci-fi characters are the Borg from Star Trek and the Cybermen from Dr Who, both races of soulless cyborgs who can solve maths problems in the blink of an eye, but haven’t got a milligramme of creativity or joie de vivre among the lot of them. The man seems to want Borg school children rather than human beings.


Bloody China Mobile.

I’m regretting the recent switch to China Mobile. The latest wheeze is that all .co.uk websites have been blocked. I’d been on Presto Classical the other morning, but couldn’t get on it in the afternoon without Astrill. The same block (or, impediment) seemed to be affecting music sites in general, but I found, for example, that The Register was also out of bounds. .org.uk sites seemed to be partly affected. At school, which I assume goes through China Telecom, there were no problems with any of these sites. Great­fire.org claims no blocking, either. I suspect this may be some sort of filter­ing cockup. Something to do with a DNS update?


But at the end of the day…

I need to get on with some marking.

2 thoughts on “Burnt offerings 2014”

  1. So, as far as English is concerned, your students are “academically” away ahead of native English speakers of the same generation? It wouldn’t surprise me as I’m struggling with what many of the younger generation here below the age of 40 say to me or on radio and TV. Their writing skills aren’t any better. What concerns me is that you seem to be more involved with marking endless exams or preparatory exercises for the “finals.” It’s worse than the process of elimination in the Indian league of T20 cricket!!

    I enjoyed your assessment of the baroque music and must listen to some of the freebees offered on Presto.

    1. No, in English they are nowhere near the level of native speakers. Their writing is at best mechanically accurate in the same way that a computer could be programmed to produce prose, but entirely lack the quality which makes the writing human.

      This term has been one of endless assessment for IB English B. It all comes to a finish next week with the IGCSE speaking. The finals start about three weeks after that.

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