Preparing The Great Learning

What are we doing today? Well, in part we’re practicing the gestures for the Dumbshow for Paragraph 5 of Cardew’s The Great Learning, which will be performed Sunday, 12 July, at the Union Chapel, Islington (http://store.unionchapel.org.uk/events/11-jul-15-the-great-learning-by-cornelius-cardew-union-chapel/). The Dumbshow opens Paragraph 5, the longest, most multipart, and busiest Paragraph of The Great Learning. This opening consists of mimed gestures inspired by Native American sign language. The idea is for the slowest performer to start the first sentence, ‘teaching’ it to the next slowest, who then teaches it to the next and so on. One they have demonstrated the first sentence, each performer moves on through all seven sentences themselves.

Is anyone taking part in this paragraph, and if you are, do you have any questions about the score, which describes but does not depict the gestures. If so, in 2003 Christopher Hobbs and Martin Shiel filmed Michael Parsons, one of the founders of the Scratch Orchestra, performing the Dumbshow, and then all alternative gestures that Cardew provided. We’ve put this film up on the EMC site:

Michael Parsons, performing the Dumb Show, Paragraph 5, The Great Learning

You don’t have to do exactly the same gestures that Michael does; reading and following Cardew’s description is enough. But When I was writing about the notation in The Great Learning I found that some of the descriptions are confusing. That is why I asked Michael to film his performance, and for Chris and Martin to film him. Use this as a guide — or just look at the beauty and dignity of Michael’s performance. I hope to see you at the concert!

Author: Virginia

Virginia Anderson is a writer who messes with the EMC Blog. She specialises in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. She also plays clarinet, and has recorded on Zanja, Advance, and Rastascan Recordings, specialising in new works for Eb clarinet and free improvisation.

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