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Music Beyond Belief: an explaination of the relationship between personal faith and musical composition by composer Joseph Alen Shaw


Musical notation from a Catholic Missal, c. 1310–1320 * This beautiful Missal made from parchment originates from East Anglia. It is considered a very important manuscript as it is one of the earliest examples of a Missal of an English source. Sarum Missals were books produced by the Church during the Middle Ages for celebrating Mass throughout the year – uncopyrighted/CC0

Here is a feature to whet your appitite for the upcoming (October 15) issue of The BeZine, which is themed music. This essay is by Joseph Alen Shaw, composer, musician and scholar. It is shared here with Mr. Shaw’s permission. He and his essay come to us via John Anstie. John, a musician and poet, is the lead for the October issue. You can visit John at My Poetry Library. J.D.


“Any discussion of modernity’s mainstream in music would be incomplete without a serious reflection on the spiritual values, belief and practice in composer’s minds.” – James Macmillan (2013)

Western music throughout its history has undoubtedly been shaped enormously by religious and/or philosophical beliefs. One can only vaguely attempt to imagine the plethora of alternative courses of development which may have unfolded if it were not for the original patronage of the church and the influence this had, particularly in terms of the composition and performance of music. The last two centuries however saw a change in the way religion is perceived and practiced in many parts of the world and this had an inevitable effect on music. As part of a lecture held at the University of Notre Dame in September 2013, the Scottish composer James MacMillan highlighted some very important points about how faith and music have co-existed in the past and furthermore how they are allied now. He states that ‘there are some forms of art where the connections with the numinous are more difficult to discern than others. In the case of music, there seems to be a veritable umbilical link with the sacred.’ He goes on to say that ’composers have always responded to society’s need for spiritual and religious feeling’ and examples of this attitude can be seen from Bach to Stockhausen, from Lutheran Chorales to Sternklang (Park Music), 1971. The former were essential to the churchgoer’s daily experience in prayer and ritual, whilst the latter had a similar impact on the public wherever Sternklang was performed in attempting to lift their spirits into a realm above our own. This evidently affirms the ‘umbilical’ link furthermore.

Stockhausen said that ‘a creative person is always most excited when something happens that he cannot explain, something mysterious or miraculous.’ And similarly Michael Tippett with his remark that ‘it is a great responsibility: to try to transfigure the everyday by a touch of the everlasting.’ Macmillan in his lecture poses the question ’can a religious artist still be understood and affirmed in our own time?’ The answer to this is not as simple as yes or no but just as important is the notion of non-belief, realism or atheism and how composers who fall into this category fit in on the spectrum of philosophy in music composition and performance. A similar question could be asked of composers who base their reasoning on science and a more skeptical view of the world around them as inspiration for composition. Are their ideas valid and as fruitful as those inspired by faith?

Kenan Malik in an article entitled What Is Sacred About Sacred Music? explores notions of how transcendence itself can be defined by humans as physical and social beings. For religious believers, the sacred of course is that which is associated with divinity and holiness, but as shown below it can have a meaning beyond divinity:

Transcendence does not, however, necessarily have to be understood in a religious fashion; that is solely in relation to some concept of the divine. It is rather a recognition that our humanness is invested not simply in our existence as individuals or as physical beings, but also in our collective existence as social beings and in our ability to rise above our individual physical selves and to see ourselves as part of a larger project, to project onto the world, and onto human life, a meaning or purpose that exists only because we as human beings create it.

Turning to the question of composers’ personal beliefs and how it may or may not affect the music they compose, it is certainly true that what composers do and indeed that which they create is not necessarily what they believe. Composers have to make a living and keep their ‘head above water’ and even with the wealth of material and knowledge available to musicologists at the present time the option to know the true thoughts and beliefs of composers from the early centuries in matters of faith cannot be readily available. Much of the information pertaining to these artists’ real personal beliefs have to remain shrouded in the realm of speculation. The most accurate piece of information would most likely be their confidential diaries and not letters that could contain bias towards certain ideas for reasons of personal circumstance. This applies much more to composers from the centuries past and less so to artists closer to the present day who could be vocal about their beliefs and, with the advent of new technologies, in the cases of living composers, still are.

The more interesting strand to emerge from this line of enquiry however is how a composer’s personal belief or faith feeds into the compositional process and the musical product thereafter, if at all. One could be argued that the key question to be asked is whether or not an artist whose convictions are so deeply rooted within themselves could possibly have produced the same music without their beliefs that they hold so dearly. Kevin Malone is an academic lecturer and composer at the University of Manchester. He refers to himself as a ‘realist’ and refutes the more common label of ‘atheism’ because of its tendency to ‘suggest there is theism in the first place’ which is an interesting idea in and of itself. In 2016 his new work Mysterious 44 was given its world premiere at the University, an opera that used the well-known Mark Twain story as its basis. In the story three young boys learn to read and thus begin to think for themselves, which angers a village priest and leads to consequences. The opera has a cast of fifteen live singers They interact with two invisible characters, video animation and a surround-sound electronic score. The ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science’ funded the production of the opera twice and a voice recording of Richard Dawkins himself begins the opera with a reading from the Mark Twain text.

It is clear from this that religious texts and philosophical ideas nevertheless provide strong catalysts and even entire frameworks for composers who are not believers themselves. The twentieth century in particular has seen a wide range of composers from varying stylistic inclinations choose to write music which references the rich teachings and legacy of doctrinal liturgy, whether it is performed in actual services or not is irrelevant. As well as this composers have used a large amount of symbolism from faith as material, as did Kevin Malone in his opera where he comments that ‘just as religious composers may use tri-partite structures to symbolize what they see as a trinity of spirits, I too use some numerical devices.’ He also suggests that the use of structures relating to numbers are ‘composer’s conceits’ and nothing more:

Mysterious 44 is an entertainment. Good entertainment should also be educational and not just ear and eye titillation. By writing Mysterious 44 I strive to promote clear and individual thinking, self-determination and hopefully an expanded use of the musical arts to not beguile listeners into perpetuating group thinking but to stimulate the natural curiosity for truth of which each of us is capable.

The example below from earlier in the canon (Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra) shows a use of all the 12 pitches to represent science, which was written in response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) ideas which would contend the ideas of Stockhausen in particular and suggest instead that our physical reality is all that exists and all that we are able to know. It becomes more difficult to associate musical composition and performance with a reach to the beyond as Stockhausen would with this model in mind. Again, here we can see that this manipulation of pitches in order to make a personal statement about the progress of science is a composer’s conceit and the effect is only achieved successfully because the music in itself is so sublime.

Example

One of the most influential composers and atheists of the twentieth century, chose to use part of the liturgical doctrine in a composition which brought about an entirely new style of composition in the middle of the 1960s.

György Sándor Ligeti was born on 28th May 1923 in a small town of only five thousand inhabitants which is now Transylvania. Despite not having any particular religious upbringing as a child, the young Ligeti had an interesting fantasy life and a strong grasp of the world around him simultaneously. He invented his own utopian society called Kylwiria in which there would be no suffering or death, and even created a whole new language for such a place also. These sorts of fantasies of course are very common amongst young children but Ligeti was an exception in that they persisted into his teens and the ideas which had formed in his mind from this cemented themselves into kernels of artistic vision which would go on to inspire even some of the last pieces he composed in his last years. Interestingly one of Ligeti’s first attempts at composition at the age of sixteen was a large symphony in A minor based on elements from Also Sprach Zarathustra which he worked on over two summers in a cemetery near to his home. As previously noted Ligeti was not a practicing Jew and became Jewish ‘only through persecution’ at the hands of the Nazi regime in World War II. His family suffered horrendously as the hands of the same forces, with his father and brother both being murdered in the concentration camps. For many years he believed his mother had died too in Auschwitz, but her medical training saved her as she was skilled as a doctor in the camp. Throughout much of this time Ligeti ‘stayed alive by coincidence.’ He fled Hungary in 1956 and began a new life in the West, earning his place as one of the key figures of the new musical establishment alongside those such as Boulez and Stockhausen.

In a radio interview broadcast on July 2006 with John Tusa (the managing director of the Barbican Centre at the time), Ligeti discussed in great detail various aspects of both his socio-political and religious beliefs. Ligeti was described as being ‘the great atheist composer’ by Tusa and this poses further questions on Ligeti’s personal relationship or lack thereof with the mysterious and miraculous, which Stockhausen refers to. It seems to suggest that in conversation with his colleagues both publicly and privately, he may have been very open about his lack of any true religious conviction of one kind or another. Thomas May (a contributing writer to the San Francisco symphony’s program book) explains that ‘Ligeti had developed an immunity to all ideologies’, and a strong case can be made that his lack of adherence to any of the major monotheistic religions is not surprising, having suffered both directly and indirectly at the hands of two severe dictatorships from the beginning of the twentieth century. Ligeti’s father was certainly considered to be ‘an atheist and socialist’and whether these characteristics would have been passed on without the tragedies in his life is of course unknowable but does branch outward into an interesting line of enquiry. Ligeti taught his students to be non-believers but at the same time he was fully aware that a certain naivety was necessary as a creative artist and particularly as a composer. This idea was most likely one of the key components of the elevation of Messiaen in Ligeti’s admiration, whose faith permeated into all areas of his life and not just the art of his music.

One of the pinnacles of the composer’s achievements which gained him international status in the avant-garde circles was his Requiem, a prime example of the textural style of his early output begun in the spring of 1963 and completed in January 1965. It is also a fine example of how religious themes and ideas can be used and translated into a secular non-doctrinal context as compositional material. Interestingly Ligeti chose to set the Lux Aeterna as a separate piece slightly later in 1966. Only a year after the completion of the Requiem, the text and the sound world was still clearly fresh in his mind. The requiem as a form of composition has had a long and rich history in the canon of Western classical music. James Macmillan emphasises that as time has passed and the relationship between sacred music and its intended specific use in liturgical services has changed, ‘the liturgical forms have found their place in the concert halls of today’ and the Requiem is certainly no exception to this observation. The Ligeti requiem is intended to be a concert work and as he explains:

My Requiem is not liturgical. I am not Catholic, I am of Jewish origin, but I do not follow any religion. I took the text of the requiem for its image of the anguish, the fear of the end of the world.’

Paul Griffiths refers to this piece as ‘the most overwhelmingly impressive product of Ligeti’s cluster style’ and the effect on the listener is certainly warranted a similar description. As the composer himself said, his work is principally inspired by and revolves around the day of judgements and a primeval fear of the end of the world. It is essential a funeral mass for the whole of humanity, a personal statement about death which does not rely on its creator being a practicing believer of Catholicism or indeed any belief system to be able to relate to it.

The instrumentation of the orchestra at the start of the work reflects Ligeti’s natural instinct for extremes in the exploration of texture and timbre. It is scored for trombones, bass trombone, horns, contrabassoon bass tuba, contrabass clarinet, double bassoon, bass clarinet and double basses. For much of the piece Ligeti splits the chorus into four-part groupings of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Using this twenty-part texture to weave dense patterns of what Ligeti liked to call ‘micro-polyphony’. The clustered, harsh brass tones combined with the urgency of the vocal line both within solos and in unison throughout the piece provide the perfect response to the liturgical text. It has an overriding sense of desperation and helplessness which is inherent in the Dies Irae text. This piece is most certainly one of the finest examples of a religious work by a non-believer to have entered the repertoire so far.

Attitudes towards music and religious belief/philosophy have certainly changed dramatically over time as has been shown. A deep sense of religious conviction merely serves as a vehicle by which he/she is able to express him/herself. Performers and indeed listeners may benefit in some way from knowing the inspiration and/ compositional processes behind the music. However a composer in the most general sense is a creator who concerns him or herself with the sound as the building block materials of their art. The priority of any composer first and foremost therefore should be the creation of sound. Just as Ligeti was adamant that ‘the experience of terror does not lead to the creation of art’, nor necessarily does a personal experience of the divine for that matter.

Extra-musical inspiration is essential in the composition of music, whilst the relevance and transparency of the personal motivation of the composer within a piece itself is limiting and questionable at best. Although impossible to prove of course, it could be argued that Ligeti (because of the strong commitments to his new and particular musical language at the time in the 1960’s) would have written a similar Requiem if he had been a Catholic for instance. Similarly, a case could be made that Stockhausen’s experiments for most of his life in the electronic studio in Cologne would have been undertaken without his inclinations towards the mystic and otherworldly domains. Experimentation with sounds is the key factor here which draws composers to creating their work. Music as an art form is not a language although it can be treated as one in a variety of ways. Its syntax is that of a young child who can speak few words but is able to express an indeterminate amount more depending on the perceptiveness of the listener. Personal faith and music therefore are inextricably linked to varying degrees in the minds of composer, performer and listener.

© 2016, essay and illustration, Joseph Alen ShawAll rights reserved

Bibliography

Books:
Duchesneau, Louise, György Ligeti: Of Foreign Lands and Strange Sounds
Griffiths, Paul, György Ligeti. London: Robson Books, 1983
Harvey, Jonathan, Music and Inspiration, London: Faber and Faber, 1999
Stienitz, Richard, György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination, London: Faber and Faber, 2003
Toop, Richard, György Ligeti, London: Phaidon, 1999

Websites:
Macmillan, James, Conversations with Composers,  (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Mallick, Kenan, what is sacred about sacred music?, (accessed on 02/04/2016)
May, Thomas, Ligeti: Lux aeterna (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Sabbe, Hermanna, Conversation with Ligeti (1978), (accessed on 02/04/2016)
Tusa, John, Interview with Ligeti

Scores:
Ligeti, György. Requiem, for SMez soli, 2 choruses and orchestra. Folio score, London: Peters, 1965

Recordings:
Ligeti, György. Works, for orchestra. Selection. Compact disc , The Ligeti project IV, Hamburg: Teldec, 2003, 8573 88263-2

Country Music, Cow Pokes and City Girls

An old cowboy went a riding on one dark and windy day … Riders in the Sky: a Cowboy Legend (1948), Stan Jones (1914-1963), American actor and songwriter


Just a little warm-up for the upcoming Music issue of The BeZine (October 15th). 


When he was twelve, Stan Jones heard a tale from an old cowboy. It was the inspiration for Ghost Riders. This version by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson sounds to my fancy a bit like something of the Old West (1865-1895), not that I would really know.

I was born and educated in the Eastern U.S. about half-a-century after the Old West died. One day, I landed in the Western U.S., California, and stayed. Like most Americans of my time, I was reared on accounts (fiction and nonfiction) of the romanticized and reprehensible wild wild West. After having been fed on everything from Bret Harte’s short stories to cowboy songs and poetry to cowboy shows and movies, I was anxious upon arrival in California to explore the places that were legendary like San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton.  


A cowboy posing on a horse with a lasso and rifle visibly attached to the saddle, a quintessential Old West image. Public domain photograph courtesy of United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a15520

For me part of the mystique of the Old American West and its music, poetry and culture was that so many of the famous and infamous characters were actually not all that long dead when I was born. Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917. Annie Oakley died in 1926, just ten years before my sister was born. Bat Masterson (lawman, marshal, buffalo hunter, gambler, and army scout) had retired from one of the most violent and lawless eras in the West to work as an East Coast sports editor and writer at my hometown paper, The New York Morning Telegraph (now defunct). He held that job in 1914, the year my mom was born. He died in 1921, after several more of her siblings came into this world. Although I very much doubt that my grandfather read about sports, it’s not unlikely that my mom’s older brother, Daher, read Masterson’s columns.

Ghost Riders was one of those songs that made me feel connected to the colorful characters of the Wild West who’d so recently tread this earth.  It also made me feel connected to the wider world. It’s probable that the story that inspired Stan Jones was some version of the almost universal tale of “the hunt,” which predates Christianity in Europe and arrived in the States with settlers from Europe, perhaps especially Germany and the Scandinavian countries. It’s a lyrical version of a lost soul caught in a never-ending hunt lead by a devil, shape shifter or psychopomp. Think of Gabriel Hounds or Woden’s Hunt. The German folklorist Jacob Grimm wrote about the hunt.

“Another class of spectres will prove more fruitful for our investigation: they, like the ignes fatui, include unchristened babes, but instead of straggling singly on the earth as fires, they sweep through forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now with heroes. Look where you will, it betrays its connexion with heathenism.”
 .
Music has such a wonderful way of linking personal history and shared history. For me, Ghost Riders is just one example of this decidedly satisfying interconnection.
.

© 2017, Jamie Dedes


Ghost Riders in the Sky

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire
As they ride on hear their cry

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay

Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky

– Stan Jones

 

Of Pirates and Emperors ….

“Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What do you mean by seizing the whole earth; because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor”. City of God, St. Augustine

In another lifetime, my day job involved working with “special populations.” Initially I taught Welfare-to-Work and Career Development and over time moved on to work collaboratively within our community as a planning unit supervisor, designing and delivering programs that served refugees, at-risk youth, foster youth, and ex-offenders. Such programs are meant to assist in assimilation of refugees and in the transition from foster youth programs or incarceration to integration into the mainstream population.

These programs involved a range of services – General Education Diploma, English as a Second Language, vocational training, case management, mental health counseling and support groups. Because early in my career my work included training, I had first hand contact with clients, including at one point going into prisons to do some preliminary work toward successful transitions and lower recidivism rates. Later, writing grant applications and assisting in the development of Requests for Proposals required hosting focus groups with  stake-holders, which included our prospective clients.

This experience was quite enlightening for a kid who was raised and educated in convent schools. I was equally appalled and inspired: appalled by the ways in which our culture and government and even well-meant social programs can entrap and inspired by the depth of faith and courage I witnessed in people who had crushing barriers to successful and sustainable employment and integration. Many of these barriers were artificially created by ill-informed perspectives and biases and sometimes cruelty on the part of the general population and by lawmakers.

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

There were certainly a lot of clients who clearly had exercised poor judgement or simply (often devastatingly) had no idea of the impact their actions had on the lives of others; but, there were those many whose incarceration was born of poverty, lack of education and opportunity, lack of parental guidance and presence, racism, learning disabilities and mental illness. Among other things, the great lesson  – and the great disappointment – of that period in my life was that the U.S. justice system was rife with injustice. That was true all those years ago and never more so than it is now.

Today, one of the great travesties is the move from publicly run prisons to corporate management and exploitation.  You will often see prison management companies advertise the provision of education, training and other services meant to make the general public believe they act with good conscience. If you review stockholder materials, however, it is blatantly obvious that recidivism rates are a selling point.  Privately managed prisons have a vested financial interest in high prison populations and a high percentage of returns to prison. Hence, the way prisoners are treated IS CRIMINAL. All things considered, this is a modern-day example of the view  St. Augustine’s pirate held: “I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.”

© 2017, Jamie Dedes

As published in the July 2017 issue of The BeZine. Read the whole magazine HERE.

The video below provides an overview of the corporate prison complex.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to watch the video.

Antidotes to Tyranny and Concentration Camps of the Mind from Spaulding (UK) polymath, Colin Blundell

Colin Blundell

I love the way the obscene word ‘TRUMP’ doesn’t appear once in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Lessons from the 20th Century (Bodley Head 2017 ISBN 9781847924889 – UK) [Tim Duggins Books ISBN-13: 978-0804190114 – US],  which is clearly directed that way. The ‘fascism’ that’s sweeping the whole world is entirely represented by the five letters of the American president’s name and by anybody who associates with them – Mayhem in the UK, for instance.

“Fascism?” says the simplistic Tory MP, “Where are the Concentration Camps?” My answer is, “You don’t need them – you do things far more subtly these days. You have learned a lesson from the past – not to be quite so callous…” In the thirties, the Camps were a physical symbol of depriving individuals of their humanity, starving them, murdering them… Now there’s a Concentration Camp of the Mind. You do it by depriving the ‘plebs’ of aid & sustenance & meaningful jobs, and you force them to work till they’re too old to stand upright so they don’t have time or energy for protest. You peddle lies like the need for ‘Austerity’. Or you plug them into e-devices and they just die that way quietly at home or on the streets, sometimes by their own hand.

Here are the TWENTY LESSONS outlined by Timothy Snyder. The headings are his, the descriptors are mine. He brilliantly details the way in which the history of the 20th Century offers ‘lessons’ – the antidote to TYRANNY.

1. DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE When you signify approval by voting for them or falling in with their machinations against any better judgement you might have had you make them think they’re winning
2. DEFEND INSTITUTIONS The United Nations, The European Project, all regulatory organisations – institutions of this kind protect us from their greed & exploitation
3. BEWARE THE ONE PARTY STATE Resist all indications that they’re the only way, that there’s no alternative – listen out for the words…
4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FACE OF THE WORLD Remove all their hate signs
5. REMEMBER PROFESSIONAL ETHICS Expose corruption in high places, share signs of their chicanery at all levels, support honesty
6. BE WARY OF PARAMILITARIES Resist their uniforms & insignia of power
7. IF YOU MUST BE ARMED, BE REFLECTIVE Verify everything for yourself. Be prepared to say NO to them! Thus far no further…
8. STAND OUT Say something different, speak the alternative words, don’t repeat their mantras like a parrot – many do!
9. BE KIND TO OUR LANGUAGE Study what they say carefully; read books; say your own thing; notice all abstractions – they beguile us into agreement
10. BELIEVE IN TRUTH Don’t accept all this post-truth/fake news stuff
11. INVESTIGATE Verify, verify… Don’t go for sound-bites & headlines; be prepared to read lengthily
12. MAKE EYE CONTACT & SMALL TALK Stay in touch with real people
13. PRACTISE CORPOREAL POLITICS March! – don’t let them tell you it’s pointless. They’d have you glued to the telly. Feel the truth of things deep in your somatic sensibility. Don’t go along with their emotional bluster
14. ESTABLISH A PRIVATE LIFE Resist all attempts to have them spy on you
15. CONTRIBUTE TO GOOD CAUSES Support AVAAZ, 38 Degrees, War on Want, Greenpeace – whatever grabs you. Start small
16. LEARN FROM PEERS IN OTHER COUNTRIES Relate to as many other like-minded people as you can across the world so you know you’re not alone
17. LISTEN FOR DANGEROUS WORDS Be angry about the way words snake into your being – ‘extremism’, ‘terrorism’ for example
18. BE CALM WHEN THE UNTHINKABLE ARRIVES Notice how an event (23rd March 2017) like the carnage caused by the nutter who drove into people on Westminster Bridge (Earth has not anything to show more fair/Dull would he be of soul who could pass by/A sight so touching in its majesty…) is exploited by them to keep us in a state of terror. ‘Act of terrorism’, ‘an attack on Democracy…’ [abstraction] – ‘must be willing to give up certain liberties’ [abstraction] in order to maintain security [abstraction]. Focus on the enemy without so we forget the enemy within. Hitlerian trick
19. BE A PATRIOT rather than a nationalist. It’s so nice to wake up on a spring morning in the place where you live
20. BE AS COURAGEOUS AS YOU CAN Resist all tyranny, whatever form it takes. Be content in your self

© Colin Blundell


Blogging “I hate the word! Like I hate most things in the e-world. I will not join the Twits twittering… Things that are worth saying are worth saying at length…” Colin Blundell

I Colin Blundell’s work. It never fails that I learn something or think about something differently when I visit Colin’s “Globbing” as he calls it. While I was busy encouraging folks to read Prof. Snyder’s book, Colin was already using it as a jumping-off point for the delivery of his own observations.  / J.D.

Colin says of himself:

“I work with people to help them gain a deeper insight for themselves into who they are and what they might do.

“Having escaped wage slavery in 1991, I began to suit myself when I worked, never really thinking of it as ‘working’ but more like the opportunity to sample various hotels and training venues round the country and as a way of paying for the renovation of an ancient decaying heap that I could call ‘home’.

“Since 1991, I’ve taught NLP, Accelerated Learning, Covey’s Seven Habits, Change Management, Problem-solving and Time Management. Currently, when I feel like it or when networkers ask to pick my brain, I teach the art & practice of the Enneagram and a robust coaching model deriving therefrom.

“The ‘Enneagram Apprentice’ series is for friends who have attended my Enneagram course. It follows up and develops the ideas created by them there.

“I write poems, novels, philosophical tomes, music and make watercolours and Magic Cities.

“I hand-make paperback books.

“I do long distance motorbike treks.

“‘The best is still to come…’ Stephen Covey (when he was 70)

“If you’re expecting short blogs from me you’ll be severely disappointed! Sound Bite Exhortations are enticing or immediately attractive but say very little in the end… The knack is how to get on the inside of a seemingly snappy apophthegm. I teach how to make ideas come to life.”

– Colin Blundell


I encourage you to read On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, to  listen to the videos of Snyder’s lectures and – Yes! — to visit my friend Colin Blundell for wise, interesting and honest reading. A good complementary read for On Tyranny is Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, / J.D.



Prof. Timothy Snyder (This photograph and biography are from Dr. Snyder’s Amazon page.

Timothy Snyder is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard.

Professor Snyder spent some ten years in Europe, and speaks five and reads ten European languages. Among his publications are several award-winning books, all of which have been translated: Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe: A Biography of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1998, revised edition 2016); The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (2003); Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine (2005); The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (2008); and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010). Bloodlands won twelve awards including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. It has been translated into more than thirty languages, was named to twelve book-of-the-year lists, and was a bestseller in six countries. His book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, was published by Crown Books in September 2015 and in twenty-one foreign editions thereafter.

Snyder is also the co-editor of Wall Around the West: State Borders and Immigration Controls in Europe and North America (2001) and Stalin and Europe: Terror, War, Domination (2013). He helped Tony Judt compose a thematic history of political ideas and intellectuals in politics, Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012).

Some of Snyder’s essays on the Ukrainian revolution were published in in Russian and Ukrainian as Ukrainian History, Russian Politics, European Futures (2014). Other essays will be published in Czech as The Politics of Life and Death (2015). Snyder sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Modern European History and East European Politics and Societies. His scholarly articles have appeared in Past and Present, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and other journals; he has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, and The New Republic as well as for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers. Snyder was the recipient of an inaugural Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2015.

Timothy Snyder is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and sits on the advisory councils of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research and other organizations.