Phishing on GSuite

Recently. more and more Google accounts are getting targeted by hackers trying to gain access to your account through an attack known as Phishing.

As educators – you have a duty to safeguard the sensitive information which you have access to and this post will cover a couple simple steps you can do to ensure this is done!

What is Phishing?

According to Google, Phishing is:

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And according to Microsoft – Phishing email messages are “designed to steal money” by either “installing malicious software” or “stealing personal information” from you.

Usually, they come in the form of an email which looks genuine but is in fact carefully crafted to only appear genuine at the surface level but is a means to obtain your details, namely your username and password.

It’s a far more subtle and believable version of the old classic – “Nigerian Prince” email scams asking for your bank details.

Please Go Secure

The first trick to protect yourself is that whenever you open any link, anywhere, which asks you to sign into Google you must always remember the mnemonic Please Go Secure.

This will remind you of 3 things to check every single time. Padlock. Google. Spelling.

Padlock

If you are asked to sign in to Google – then genuine Google sites will always have a padlock in the URL box at the top. Below is what it looks like on all standard browsers:

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Google Chrome
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Mozilla Firefox
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Microsoft Edge
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Microsoft Internet Explorer
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Opera

As can be seen, most browsers have a green padlock but they all have at the very least a padlock. This lets you know that the site’s certificate (like a stamp of trustworthiness) is legitimate.

Google

Next, make sure that Google is in the URL! The only time you will ever need to sign into Google is if the URL actually contains part of a Google domain. No matter how real the page looks, no matter how Google it appears, if it doesn’t have google in the url then it is not Google.

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This page does not have google in the url – therefore it is not Google. Do not put your username or password in here. No matter how real it looks.

Spelling

By far the easiest way people are caught out with phishing is that the URL is made to look like a genuine URL, but in reality there is a very simple spelling mistake that the hacker is hoping you don’t notice.

Always, always, always check the spelling.

For example, gooogle is not google.

acccount is not account.

tw1tter is not twitter.

If a word is misspelled, do not sign in.

Please Go Secure. P is for Padlock. G is for Google. S is for Spelling.

Check these 3 things quickly every time you need to sign in to Google and you will be protecting yourself and your colleagues and students a great deal.

2 Step Verification

The biggest thing you can do to protect yourself from being hacked is to add an extra layer of security on your account. This means that if a hacker does get your password – it is useless to them without that second layer… your phone.

2 step verification means that when you enter your username and password into Google, a 6 digit code will either be sent to you as a text message or in the Google Authenticator app. Unfortunately your Google Admin can not turn this on for you so you must turn this on yourself!

This is, as I mentioned, by far the biggest thing you can do to protect your account and it only takes a couple minutes to set up.

1.) Go to https://accounts.google.com

2.) On the first column, look for Security Check-up

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3.) Enter a recovery phone number and email address, if you have one. Click Done.

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4.) Check the devices currently signed in to your account. Click Looks Good below if it all looks okay, or Something Looks Wrong if any of them don’t seem right.

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5.) Check all the account permissions. This lists all apps which have access to your account and what level of access they have. Anything which is no longer relevant or doesn’t look quite right, click Remove. When satisfied, click Done.

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6.) Finally, the most important step, set up 2 step verification so that when you log in to a new place Google will text you a code to prove it is in fact you who is logging in. If this is set up on your account, this will protect you from phishing attacks as an attacker can not log into your account without your phone.

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So, to recap, the best way for you to combat an increase in phishing attacks to Google accounts is to remember the mnemonic whenever you put your username and password in – Please Go Secure – and to set up 2 step verification on your account.

And if you ever receive any suspicious emails you suspect might be phishing attacks – alert Google or your System Administrator.

Inbox by Google – G Suite

This post aims to explore some of the features of Inbox by Google and how, in a Google Apps for Education environment (G Suite), it may come across as a better mail solution than the standard Gmail app.

I have been using Inbox for around a year or two now for my personal email address and while I have found the web interface rather clunky and trying to catch up, the app has always been lovely to use with nice, big, simple UI with increased functionality as opposed to its rather stale older brother.

I have recently been testing out Inbox on a GAfE tenancy to check what works and what doesn’t.

Out of Office Replies

It must be said that Gmail still allows many more features than Inbox; features which would be needed if an education or corporate tenancy were looking to switch over. An important one, for school staff, would be the introduction of Out of Office replies. This functionality has been available on email accounts for many years, even MS Outlook 2003 had the functionality for Exchange accounts, so it strikes me as odd that Inbox doesn’t allow for it.

In Settings it lets the user configure an email signature – which accepts rich text pasted in, so this is one thing needed for tenancy use but the Out of Office replies really need to be added by Google.

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Inserting a Signature in Inbox by Google

Templates

Templates tend to be irrelevant on a personal email account – but in an education tenancy they can increase efficiency and cohesiveness across multiple sites by standardising email types which might be common across the tenancy.

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Creating a Template in Inbox by Google
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Pop-up Window to Create Template Content
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Selecting a pre-defined Template when composing a new email

What would be a good feature is if administrators on the GAfE tenancy could define templates and roll them out to specific Organisational Units on the Admin Console. This way, for example, all admin staff across the tenancy could receive administrative templates whereas teaching staff could receive their own set of templates.

This would instill best practice in cohesive collaboration across the network of sites and consistency in contacting external stakeholders and parents.

Bundles

In my opinion, the most powerful aspect of Inbox is the bundles. By default, Inbox will bundle similar emails together to de-clutter your main inbox. The defaults, which are great for personal use, are:

  • Trips
  • Purchases
  • Finance
  • Updates
  • Forums
  • Social
  • Promos

Scanning your emails and presenting information ,very cleverly, in cards like the Google Now app this puts the user experience of Inbox above all its competitors.

For example, see below. This was a trip to London I had last weekend and had used my email address when booking train, hotel, travel insurance and dinner reservation:

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From main inbox, all relevant emails are automatically bundled in this tab.
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On expanding the tab, one can see Google Summary tabs at the top and the actual emails below.
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On expanding the Google Summary tab all relevant information from the email is pulled out and put into Google’s UI.

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This is really handy for personal use, and somewhat good for educational use too (staff do sometimes need to make business trips/school trips) but what is really good for an education tenancy is the ability to create custom bundles.

From the menu on Inbox, one can choose to create a new bundle with just a few steps.

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Custom bundles (as well as stock) can be turned on or off from settings.
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When creating a new bundle, click ADD to set criteria.
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Link different sets of criteria together, such as From, To, Subject, Includes and Excludes.

Custom bundles are a brilliant resource and I am already using it in a limited capacity on an education tenancy but I feel there are 2 changes Google would have to make in order for this to be a viable alternative which education establishments would start switching to:

  1. The ability for the GAfE administrators to roll out custom Bundles to Organisational Units within the Admin Console. This way groupings of staff and/or Groups would be able to receive appropriate pre-defined bundles.
  2. Allow more bulk options within the criteria when creating a custom Bundle. If I want to create a bundle for, say, Head Office. I would go and add all Head Office staff manually in the From field. It would be better to be able to add a Google Group (therefore not having to worry about maintaining membership of the bundle’s criteria when Head Office staff leave/join) or to be able to add entire domains in this field, such as *@testgafe.com

Other

There are some features which have carried over from Gmail which prove useful, such as integration with Google Hangouts:

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But some of the newer functionality on Inbox, which is pretty cool, is the ability to Snooze emails (perfect for the teacher with a September to-do list rivaling Chilcot’s report length.) You can snooze by Date and Time, as is most conventional, or even by geographical location if you have the Inbox app on your phone. Such as snoozing until you get to work.

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Example email to snooze

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Another feature is the ability to pin emails to the inbox. If several emails are pinned, then when the pin toggle is selected it will remove all non-pinned emails showing only those you have marked. This is a great feature which I use as a sort of “outstanding work” list making sure to unpin an item when complete.

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In summation – I believe Inbox has a lot to offer Google Apps for Education and, with some work put in by the Google team as opposed to the odd feature here and there suited to personal use, this could be a great alternative to Gmail. If more granular control is given to the tenancy administrator, then staff and students could receive a consistent mail client tailored to them and their role within the education establishment.

George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

I wanted to write this merely just to say to Mr Galloway MP, with regards to Christopher Hitchens who died of cancer in December 2011: Shame on you.

The famous debate between Galloway and Hitchens in 2005 surrounding the Iraq war, the former being totally against it and the latter feeling it a justified cause, was notable in the passion both parties held for their view. This certainly did show. The chair, Amy Goodman, was stuck in the middle of a titanic debate which much media have likened to famous boxing brawls of Muhammad Ali.

We profile Writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens for a Manuel Roig-Franzia profile  pegged to the release of his memoir.

 

One thing I would like to mention with regards to the debate is when Galloway likens Hitchens to ‘a court jester‘, as if that is an insult.

I’d like to include Solomon Volkov’s narration in Testimony, a supposed memoir of Dmitri Shostakovich:

“The yurodivy has the gift to see and hear what others know nothing about. But he tells the world about his insights in an intentionally paradoxical way, in code. He plays the fool, while actually being a persistent exposer of evil and injustice. The yurodivy is an anarchist and individualist, who in his public role breaks the commonly held ‘moral’ laws of behaviour and flouts conventions. But he sets strict limitations, rules and taboos for himself. (Volkov 1987:xxi)”

The figure of the yurodivy is often likened to that of a court jester – one who can poke at social issues directly (even literally in the audience of the ruling autocracy) and not fear repercussions like that of any other subject. Aside having its roots in divine Christian belief, the idea of a yurodivy should come as a compliment to those involved in social commentary and intellectualism, like Hitchens.

But the point of my post is in Galloway’s words immediately after Hitchens death. Writing for Scottish tabloid, the Daily Record, Galloway says that he declined comments for eulogies “on grounds of taste”. I wonder what taste Mr Galloway had in mind when, in the same article, he described Hitchens as a “drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay” and “the only-known case of a butterfly changing back into a slug”. Despite the major biological flaw in his statement, confusing slugs for caterpillars, the underlying insult remains just as strong.

I understand that on certain topics Hitchens may have been a great adversary to Galloway – but for a man who wished to ‘show respect’ by declining comment for…oh, 3 or 4 days, he certainly has brought (even more) shame upon himself by writing such comments. Isn’t the ‘respectful’ thing to do, on the passing of an adversary, to admire the qualities which made them such a worthwhile rival?

I agree that George Galloway raised legitimate concerns surrounding the invasion of Iraq back in 2001 which probably should have been addressed more – but his blatant disregard for respect upon a man like Christopher Hitchens is the final straw for me losing all desire to take him seriously (as if the Celebrity Big Brother performance, rape comments, good friendship with Assad and use of the term ‘window licker’ just before the Paralympics to try insult somebody by insinuating they are disabled wasn’t all enough).

Rats!

I loathe rats.

Not the sewage vermin – I just hate them. But I loathe people who think that it is okay to ‘tell on’ others. It wasn’t acceptable when you were 4 in the playground to run and tell the teacher, so why is it any different now?

We have a neighbour, Peeping Joe (so named because his previous title of Peeping Tom could be considered defamation – he had no interest in looking at girls through keyholes for all I know). Now Joe is 3 floors up, but from his windows he can see and hear all activity in our front patio. And believe me, he does see and hear all activity.

Joe not only stands at the window observing like a vulture, readying himself to scream at us the second his decibel meter clicks above the background level, he tries to hide. If you look up at Joe’s window all you see is the top of his stupid little head bobbing up and down like an old wrinkly buoy in water.

Last week it was my roommate’s birthday so for a few hours before the club we had her friends round. Yes, we were being loud – and so one of our neighbours did the correct thing to do in that scenario: He shouted ‘shut the fuck up, it’s midnight!’ out his window. No problem neighbour, I apologise.

But what does Joe do? Call the police. Dirty rat.

So the police walk into our flat and the first thing they do is apologise. Apparently it was the second night in a row he had called them about our flat and had done so before. Why, in 2012, do we think it’s okay to alert the police to everything? Deal with your own problems!

This picture is of a poster quite close to where I live, I saw it walking home from work. I wasn’t aware that Glasgow had turned into an industrial product line for creating snitches! If the police want to find out who writes graffiti, drops litter or makes loud noise – let them find out themselves. They are the police officers.

I can’t be the only person who, when watching Goodfellas, wanted to put my hands through the screen at the end when he is testifying against his family and strangle his stupid rat neck!

This current bout of anger might be due to the catalyst that is that stupid neighbour of mine – I’m not always this hostile towards the idea, however in any light – who the fuck does that?!

If you proudly display a Neighbourhood Watch badge outside your house – please just kill yourself and do us all a favour.

Education or Indoctrination

The idea of compulsory education has been around for a long time – John Calvin, a leading figure in the Reformation of the 16th century, put in place a system in Geneva whereby everybody received a free education by the state – which was focused around religion; teaching language and humanities.

However, public education has only become common practice relatively recently. The first American state to make education compulsory for children, Massachusetts, did so in 1850 after Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, Horace Man, took a visit to Prussia and found out what they were doing there.

Prussia lost a battle to Napoleon in 1806, despite their army being greater than Napoleons. The blame for losing the battle was placed on their army not thinking together as ‘one unit’. The Prussian soldiers were not obedient enough to win the battle. This is the seed which modern compulsory education has grown from; Obedience.

In his ‘Address to the German Nation’, Johann Gottlieb Fichte stated that Prussia needed compulsory teaching of all its subjects. Individualistic behaviour had no place on a battlefield and so Prussia sought to eradicate this attitude by indoctrinating its children. It made education mandatory for all children with 5 main goals:

  • Obedient soldiers to the army
  • Obedient workers to the mines
  • Well subordinated civil servants to government
  • Well subordinated clerks to industry
  • Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

It was simple really – children gave up free-thinking and instead adopted their ‘role’ in the state. A child now did not have to think, or to face the challenges of pursuing their ambitions (or indeed even working out what those ambitions were). Instead, all a child had to do was behave and do as it was told. This, in turn, would mean that the child can mature and prosper and everybody is happy.

As a result, the state can now engineer how it feels society should be as it has a nation of obedient subordinates who won’t question their decisions or wish to ‘opt-out’. Before long, Prussia excelled itself to become the 4th richest nation in the World. The experiment worked.

This is essentially class creation. You have to recognise an ‘elite’, which the Prussians did (around 0.5% of the population) and you have to ensure a subclass is formed exactly how you want it to be. (The Prussians actually had a middle class who were partially taught well while still having to conform). This subclass shouldn’t have the ability to question, become free-thinking or desire independence from it. It had to do away with the post-enlightenment idea of education and instead they should be taught how to follow orders and feel proud to be doing their part for the good of the state.

Due to the large success of the system, it soon spread to the Western World and the education system we have today is essentially just an adapted version of this. We create submissive people who can conform to whatever industry the state requires them to. Yes, we are told that we can grow up to become whatever we want, but the reality is that such a system is tailored to whatever requirements the state has during the time – whether that be industrial, financial, agricultural etc.

Most people would argue that this is irrelevant and outdated. It can be said that even if this was the cause for compulsory education – it certainly isn’t anymore and that even if it was, isn’t that a good thing as our children are receiving an education?

Well – no. It is evidently still the case for education as can be seen by changing attitudes of higher education establishments over the last few decades: a drive away from academia and towards ‘employable skills’ is very apparent. This is the major focus of a university education; graduate employment. How do the skills we teach you at university help you when you get a job? Which, ultimately, Is the end goal – making money.

It would be a nice thought to think that everybody followed what their passions were and we all lived in a world where employment wasn’t an issue – artistic people painted, composed, sculpted etc. But this is not a sustainable society for the free-market model which we currently have in place. We need call-centre middle management, we need health & safety officials, we need admins, PAs, Recruitment Consultants and Software Engineers – and we need them in bulk.

This dumbing down of the people is achieved in much the same way the Prussians did it around 200 years ago – it is essential to make people not be independent enough to evolve from this model, or, if they were, make it impossible for them to progress through it. The idea of continual assessment is a big factor in this.

Assessment is virtually irrelevant when trying to gauge somebody’s intellect in a subject matter. As John Gatto, a leading academic on Education, said that if a test states that you are a ‘brilliant reader’ then you are probably not a brilliant reader but what you can do is ‘go to a reading selection and with 6, 7 or 8 types of information you can quickly gloss the section, remove the information and check something on a multiple choice sheet.’ But if anyone was to ask a ‘complex question’ on the reading selection then ‘you won’t know what they are talking about’.

He goes on to say “they can answer factual questions but they can’t answer questions that ask them to gauge the significance or the relationship of characters. Anything that requires higher order thinking, they can’t answer. They can retrieve bits of information and check it off on a list.” And he says that this is done by “increasing the frequency of these tests, from first grade on, to the point we’re passing education as doing well on these tests.”

It is only natural then that people will become accustomed to this correlation between assessment and perceived intelligence. If you pass a test – you are viewed as intelligent. Why would anybody wish to question the method when they could just adapt and go along with this which is already in place? It is therefore easy for people to learn the art of information regurgitation or ‘getting by well’.

I see it as some form of tick-box mentality where the student, from a young age, is taught to tick certain boxes (course objectives) and if all the boxes are ticked they can then progress to the next level of education – and so on until they reach employment where it is a similar structure in place of target-driven performance.

The course criteria is so mind-numbingly futile that any possibility of creating an academic is carved away so that at the end of the degree, the university can spit out yet another qualified worker for the workforce. This practice really is mundane.

This indoctrination is so blatantly obvious yet relatively unknown among students in the education system. But then, why should it be? They have mastered the art of ‘passing’ and they receive their good grades and pats on the back from teachers and in a few years get a degree out of it. Well done and congratulations to them!

Image credit to http://adjolly.deviantart.com/

Dmitri Shostakovich – 5th Symphony

Симфония 5

Symphony NO. 5

Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович, 1937

Written by Dimitri Shostakovich, 1937

Introduction

Shostakovich was a Soviet Composer who had to deal with the fears of exile, imprisonment and death that this brought daily. Under Stalin’s regime, the arts were greatly restricted and all artists had to conform to Socialist Realism – which can best be described as creating what Stalin wanted to hear or see at any given time. Shostakovich was subject to, and had to deliver, denunciations of fellow composers daily.

The Soviet Regime denounced all pre-revolutionary composers, that is before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 when Russia became a communist nation, with the exception of Beethoven and demanded its composers learn about the politics of the Bolsheviks as an equally as important, if not more so, subject as their music. Solo musicians were banned and instead ‘mass music’ was to be produced – this being music which is simple enough to be remembered and sung in fields and factories to raise morale of the workers.

Western concepts in music were forbidden and seen as anti-socialist. Composers like Stravinsky and Prokofiev migrated to the West and so were able to experiment more in their music. At the same time, there are composers like that of the second Viennese school experimenting with atonality.

These severe restrictions placed on Soviet composers to write formulaic music meant they lived in constant fear. Shostakovich’s feelings towards the Soviet Regime are perhaps the most controversial since he was such a prominent composer who battled his entire career with being immensely popular and then denunciated several times.

Work: Symphony No. 5 (1937)

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich

1.   Bibliographic information relating to Dmitri Shostakovich

  • Volkov,S. (1979) Testimony – The Memoirs of Shostakovich. UK: Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

The authenticity of this book is greatly disputed between musicologists and some feel that it is no more than Volkov’s own fabrication[1]. Regardless, one cannot study Shostakovich without at least taking note of the content.

The book is written in the first person of Shostakovich and, when reading it, I can’t help noticing the unique style; that of an older man rambling. This, however, is to be expected – Shostakovich lived through some of the toughest times in the last century and he hadn’t ever been permitted to share his experiences – even in the privacy of his own home. The Soviet Regime told people what to think and what to believe and his public image would have been determined by the soviet leaders. Shostakovich, like most soviet composers, was no more than a propaganda pawn.

His son, Maxim Shostakovich, has said of Testimony that it was a book written “about my father, not by him”[2]. But has also stated to Ho and Feofanov in 1991 that “I am a supporter both of Testimony and of Volkov” And has since publically given full support to Testimony.

This Shostakovich which the book portrayed was not the “faithful son of the Communist party” that his official obituary stated, but rather a very bitter and resentful man who had lived a very submissive life – and hated the Soviet way of life.

This helps shed light on the character of Shostakovich and to study his 5th symphony with this character in mind makes it apparent that there are subtleties which scream out at the Soviet way of life.

  • MacDonald, I. (1990) The New Shostakovich, 2006 reprint. UK: Fourth Estate.

Ian Macdonald, a firm believer in Testimony, examines Shostakovich’s life and how this could affect his outlook on Soviet Russia. MacDonald believes Shostakovich was never a loyal supporter, if at all, in the Soviet society in which he lived. He does however mention, on the topic of the vast denunciations and propaganda articles attributed to Shostakovich (and most composers of the time), that even if he wasn’t ‘personally committed to the Soviet System… he had effectively sold out to the society’.

MacDonald in his introduction weighs up the evidence supporting and discrediting Testimony to try give an indication as to why this is his stance on Shostakovich’s life.

Shostakovich, in MacDonald’s view, was considered to have the role of yurodivy – that of a court jester (with Stalin as the tsar to fill the same analogy). In Russian history, the yuridovy character can get away with, to an extent, poking at social injustices. He could entice audiences to find deeper meanings in their art, although the art itself may be more light-hearted and foolish, like a court jester.

For example, in the 5th Symphony – The second movement is a satirical Scherzo, which Macdonald describes as having a ‘beer festival spirit’ and says it ‘shows us all is as normal in this smilingly hollow world’. Michael Tilson Thomas explains the different characters, such as the Red Army, foolishly trying to dance in this movement in his documentary on the work.

The following movement, the largo, is a requiem for everyone who has suffered to the Soviet era and, on the premiere of the symphony, many of the audience were bought to tears. Shostakovich, arguably, couldn’t have pulled off this movement without the second and fourth (the finale). It is here where he inherits the yuridovy character – not many composers would be allowed to compose such a piece that resonates with the people’s sorrow so deeply.

MacDonald summarises, brilliantly, that:

 “Understanding music like this is simple – particularly if half your family have been arrested and you are alone, terrified and trying to smile.”

  • Fanning, D. (1995) Shostakovich Studies UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fanning’s studies of Shostakovich show that he isn’t convinced by the dissident view portrayed of him in Testimony or by MacDonald in The New Shostakovich.

The second chapter is an interpretation of the 5th Symphony with studies on several sources including that of Alexei Tolstoy who gave the official review of the performance after its premier. Fanning concludes that, although the piece may have some reflection to Soviet Society, it may just as well be an autobiographical composition where the darker parts may relate to Shostakovich’s life at the time of writing it – as it was after his condemnations in Pravda which he wrote it.

Fanning explains that Shostakovich obviously makes a good candidate for a dissident in post-Soviet Russia as many Russians wanted to dissociate themselves from the Communist view point which suppressed them and how it is natural to portray Shostakovich as how ‘we would like to imagine ourselves acting in his shoes’.

He notes that if an ‘oaf’ can hear the meaning behind his 5th symphony, as Volkov claims Shostakovich said in Testimony, then so to can the Soviet Government or one of the many informers and that would mean definite consequences for Shostakovich.

2.   Analytical sources

  • Dimitri Shostakovich – 5th Symphony. (2009) Keeping Score. [TV Documentary]  USA: SFS Media, 2009.

Michael Tilson Thomas explores the music of Shostakovich’s 5th symphony in search of clues which lead to the conclusion that he was indeed writing a piece of music which, although acceptable to the requirements of Stalin’s regime, was subtly flaunting his hatred of it.

At the end of the 1920s and beginning of 1930s, musical creativity was slaughtered by Stalin – anything which wasn’t exactly in line with his propaganda was considered ‘formalism’ and harsh consequences for the composer, performer and anybody who condoned or was involved in the piece were likely. Stalin wanted simple music – music for the masses.

The first gesture Shostakovich makes towards mocking this idea of simplicity is in bar 4 where he introduces 3 repeated A natural notes. This theme is recurring throughout the entire symphony, often abruptly ending other themes. Thomas puts it as Shostakovich saying ‘is this simple enough for you?’. He explains how Shostakovich starts the symphony on a ‘ta-da’ figure, used by the likes of Beethoven, to then ‘wiggle down’ into this repetition of the A note.

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5, Bars 1-4. (Violin Part)

Aside from the recurring theme of the repetitive A natural, Thomas’s other major observation about the piece is at figure 131 when it is coming to its final cadence. Instead of the conventional ‘happy ending’ which would have been expected of him, Shostakovich decides to use one altered note, Bb, which has such as an impact as the movement went through a painful process to finally reach the major key, then at the last cadence it looks back to minor. Thomas sees this as ‘one last stomp into submission’ by the same ‘dead end’ notes, played on the timpani drums.

Shostakovich, in Testimony, states of his finale:

“It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, “Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,” and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, “Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.”

3.   Performances

  • Shostakovich, D. (1959) Symphony No.5 (Bernstein, L.(conductor), New York Philharmonic Orchestra.). USA [After Soviet tour of 1959]

Bernstein certainly has the most controversial of Shostakovich interpretations. Being from America, the message behind the symphony isn’t one which he can personally relate to, but he does interpret the piece in a way very unlike most Soviet composers and Shostakovich has praised Bernstein for this.

Personally, I feel that the tempi used by Bernstein are too fast and unrepresentative of the struggle which should be conveyed.

His grandiose approach serves well in the Scherzo at emphasising the flamboyancy of such a piece, but it’s this approach which, to me, makes the largo feel just rehearsed and recited (rather than felt).

  • Shostakovich, D. (1937) Symphony No.5 (Rostropovich, M.(conductor) National Symphony Orchestra.). Grand Hall, Moscow State Conservatory, Moscow. [February 13, 1990]

Rostropovich was a good friend of Shostakovich’s (Shostakovich was Rostropovich’s teacher at the Moscow Conservatory) and also lived during the troubled times of the Soviet Era. This gives him a personal connection in trying to convey the emotions of the piece – he also experienced the same fear Shostakovich did when writing it.

Personally, I feel that Rostropovich’s interpretation of the largo is one of the most sorrowful pieces of music I’ve heard. The tremolo of the strings at figure 90 really exposes the fury and despair which this requiem was written with. Prokofiev, after hearing the symphony performed – admittedly not by Rostropovich – in Moscow, sent Shostakovich a note of congratulations[3] but asked; ‘Why so much tremolo in the Strings?’.

Rostropovich had a feel for Shostakovich’s music – Shostakovich’s first 2 cello concertos were written for him. This connection, I feel, allows Rostropovich to deliver moving interpretations of all of Shostakovich’s symphonies which he conducted – not just the 5th.


[1] The most prominent study being that of Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov who, after 2 books on the topic, have concluded that they believe Testimony is authentic.

[2] MacDonald, I. (1990) The New Shosakovich. 2006 Edition. UK: Fourth Estate.

[3] Fanning, D. (1995) Shostakovich Studies. UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Man With The Harmonica

The Man With The Harmonica

Written by Ennio Morricone, 1968

ENNIO MORRICONE AND SERGIO LEONE

Ennio Morricone, born in Rome in 1928, is one of the most prolific composers in the world, despite his unconventionality and inability to speak English. He has composed hundreds of pieces and, although being most famous for his film scores – most notably westerns – he also has an impressive repertoire of Jazz, Classical Music and even Pop Music. His work has received great appraisal and in 2007 he won the ‘Academy Honorary Award’ for his contribution to music.

Morricone was first commissioned to write the music for ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ in 1964 by old school friend and Film Director, Sergio Leone. The film, Leone’s first Spaghetti Western, was on a relatively low production budget and as a result, Morricone had to make do with what he had. Regardless, he managed to write one of the most prominent Western Film Scores to date in which he used a very avant-garde style of composition to create leitmotivs for the major characters which, arguably, go far more in depth than any of the screenplay does. He has even been described, along with Sergio Leone, as “creating the Italian Western” [Bertolucci, B. Ennio Morricone. (1995) [TV Documentary] UK: BBC 2, 1995.]

An example of this would be in the sequel to the above mentioned film, ‘For A Few Dollars More’: the antagonist of the film, El Indio, carries a pocket watch which plays a piece of music, his motif, throughout the film. This piece of music gives the audience an insight into the detailed background of the character which wouldn’t be possible to portray in 2-3 hours of acting. Morricone says on the role of the pocket watch [Morricone, E. (2010) A Quietus Interview. Interviewed by John Doran [in person], Unknown, 8th April 2010.:]

” the music that the watch makes transfers your thought to a different place because it is just a watch and of course every time the bandit winds on this watch this character, who is thinking about his life and all the difficult situations he has been in and has lived through, the rage, the violence, the fear, come out through this watch. The character itself comes out through the watch but in a different situation every time it appears.”

The instrumentation, due to budgetary restraints and Morricone’s desire to not write a conventional Western soundtrack, only adds to the quirkiness or depth of all the character’s motifs. In A Fistful of Dollars he used a Fender Stratocaster guitar; which in 1964 was very new to the music scene and very unorthodox to be used by a ‘classical composer’ – more associated with the likes of Buddy Holly & Hank Marvin, and later, Jimi Hendrix & Eric Clapton.

In 1968, Leone asked again of Morricone to write the musical score for his next Spaghetti Western, Once Upon A Time in the West. Morricone decided to stick with his unique style, often making use of solo instruments and vocals, despite having an 84 piece orchestra for this production (The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra, one of Hollywood’s most notable in performing film scores, only has a 75 piece orchestra). The main character, ‘Harmonica’ – played by Charles Bronson, is first shown on a train station platform, opposite 3 gunmen, playing a dissonant theme on his harmonica.

From the first glimpse of this character, the audience is captivated by him. This continues the entire length of the film, until the end when his dark back-story is eventually revealed. Although the entirety of his background isn’t known, the harmonica – which, like the pocket watch in From A Few Dollars More, is used by the character throughout the whole film – develops the theme of nostalgia in the character and room for him to develop.

His motif is entitled ‘Man With The Harmonica’; a title, which like the film, gives no clues as to his past. Over the main theme played by the harmonica, a slow arpeggio can be heard building into a striking entrance from the electric guitar. This, when added to the cinematic, is, for me, Morricone’s finest moment – giving me goose-bumps.

Unlike most western films, where the protagonist kills the evil, black-hatted villain in a heroic duel then rides off, further west, with or without the girl he fell in love with – Once Upon A Time in the West doesn’t allow for heroes. In the end, nobody wins – all the main characters are more damaged than they were at the start of the film. This pain and struggle, I believe, could not possibly be achieved without the music of Ennio Morricone which grips the audience on a sensory journey throughout the whole film.

Social Media

Social Media both excites and appalls me. It is undoubtedly a crucial part of the way we live today however, like a lot of people, the gross invasion of privacy which is being deemed a natural turn is something which I’m not quite ready to accept with open arms.

If you watched Black Mirror (Channel 4, Dec 2011) then you’ll have seen several notions of how social integration are expected to pan out. In Black Mirror, there is an episode which shows all people having an Avatar – which all their social interactions are done through. The avatar can go to the park, the avatar can wear cool clothes, the avatar can watch their favourite rock band – the person cannot.

In this episode – the only way that a person can make something of themselves is to appear on an X factor type show and impress the judges. It shows that you don’t need metaphorical ‘conformity’ to sell out – which is a most accurate reflection of all of us.

Do your parents have a Facebook? What about your grandparents? Or your manager at work?

Through past relationships, social media has been nothing but a green eyed hindrance and through family and real close acquaintances I’m forever trying to hide (rather than expose) intricate details of my daily life.

Or whatever happened to being invited to a party and politely making an excuse as to why you can’t attend? Now it’s a Facebook invite which, if you publicly show you aren’t going, can’t then be questioned by anything else you do. I can’t ditch one event for another, because my entire “social circle” will see.

But then, that is what Black Mirror shows: Facebook isn’t the problem, nor is the advertising companies that fund it, the governments who allow it or the media who praise it. I am the problem.

I can sit and fault social networking for hours but can’t offer the realistic alternative to captivate the desires of people. We want it – so it’s there. We want to be able to see those details of other people’s lives. It’s a thirst for knowledge we all have – but just not the right knowledge. The old saying that curiosity killed the cat – have we, without realising, taken on the role of the cat?

The internet has, literally, entire libraries of information on them: People could continually learn for their whole lives and not have to pay a single penny for any of the material! Yet people seem to be blinded with the belief that what they want to know is what others are doing with their lives as it strokes our egos and makes us believe that other people are interested in what we are doing with our lives.

About to go to bed? Post it on Facebook. Just made a sandwich? Post it on Twitter.

We believe we are important enough that people care…and now we are all stuck in that mind-set of sharing useless trivia.

Men Are Not Manly

So I was just sitting enthralled in Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York album when I was hit with a wave of realisation: why it is that men are such pussies now.

On Saturday I was trying to find some clothes in Topman on Oxford Street and this was no easy task. Clothes which 50 years ago would have been for females permeated the entire store. I had to wade through rows and rows of clothes laced with oestrogen before I could come across a T-Shirt that didn’t start halfway down my chest.

I wondered whatever happened to male sexuality and why have we all become so…faggoty?

But I’ve just realised – it might have something to do with the fact that we no longer listen to Swing music.

Hear me out – listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2S1I_ien6A

Now sticking with someone like Frank Sinatra – is there any question about the character of that man?

Swing music is masculine. That is a fact – it represents sophistication, confidence and macho. Compare this with an artist today: Lil Wayne’s lyrics on Money on My Mind – “Dear Mr. Toilet I’m the shit, Got these other haters pissed cause my toilet paper thick” . Lovely.

We’ve seemed to substitute our charismatic whisky drinking and bread-winning bravado for filtered cigarettes, cardigans and talking about our feelings.

So, as a musical snob and someone with a desire to revert to our classy past, I urge you to download some swing music, buy a shirt and trousers and pull your girl’s chair out for her next time you go for dinner. Eventually, together, we can restore the 1950’s Las Vegas Godfather-esque culture!

London

So I just returned from my first trip to our nation’s capital – and I was pleased to see the city inundated with Union Jacks. I’m not sure if this was just post-Jubilee residue or if the city really is a blend of tourism and genuine patriotism but I was content with it.

I attended the Organ Gala at the Royal Albert Hall where I had the pleasure of seeing the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Bach Choir and organist Stephen Disley – conducted by David Hill. It was a fantastic event and made my first visit to London an impressive one.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge – view from outside my hotel.

If my uncertainty on London’s patriotism was rather opaque for the rest of the weekend, the finale, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, left no question about the true feelings of our country’s chauvinism.

One thing which I did, however, find myself totally confused about – Subway. Not the copiousness amounts of underpasses in the city, but the sandwich store.

I went to a Subway around midnight in Piccadilly Circus to find a sign saying that the City of Westminster only permitted 5 different Subway fillings to be heated after 11pm. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Chicken Teriyaki – I just wanted something else heated and failed to understand the logic behind this. Having never visited the city, I’ve only heard stories of the rationale which the eccentric Mayor runs London with…but is there any logic behind only allowing certain fillings to be heated?! (And yes, Google failed me on the answer.)