Black Inc. August 2012
In Try Whistling This, Andrew Ford traces the concept of dirty dancing back to the 16th century, marvels at the weirdness of Percy Grainger and consider the decision of Wilhelm Furtwängler to keep conducting under the Nazis. He explores the intersection of words and music, the bugbear of Australian musical identity, and the fundamental importance, in music and in life, of listening.
There are essays based on Ford’s acclaimed radio series Music and Fashion, as well as illuminating examinations of music-makers from Mozart to Messiaen, Elgar to Brett Dean, Cole Porter to Sondheim, Bob Dylan to Randy Newman.
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This is a superb collection of essays of opinion across a broad spectrum of musical expression by our finest commentator.
Anthony Linden Jones, Music Forum
I was entirely delighted by Andrew Ford’s Try Whistling This: writings about music. Ford is the most literate of composers; the most musical of writers. He demonstrates a seemingly endless knowledge of his field, while writing brilliant, entertaining criticism.
David McCooey, ‘Books of the Year’, Australian Book Review
Should we think of Mahler’s all-embracing symphonies as ‘operas without the action’? Was Bob Dylan really ‘the best-read and most literary popular song writer of the past 50 years’? Is improvisation something you can practise and get better at?
One of the most attractive things about Try Whistling This is that Andrew Ford – who would, incidentally, answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions – is constantly spinning out new ideas, asking us to see familiar things with fresh eyes, prompting us to think again about settled opinions. And then to go back to the music and listen more intently.
Attractive too is his depth of knowledge and the breadth of his musical sympathies in this collection about music and the people who make it. There’s no condescension in Try Whistling This, and no suggestion that one type of music is less worthy of serious consideration than another. Music is for him an oceanic expanse, where even the pools and inlets are refreshed by tides of fashion and currents of innovation. He is as comfortable (and adept at) discussing the austere appeal of plainsong as the supple melodic lines of Hoagy Carmichael . . .
The scope of his coverage shows just how much music is a seemingly endless field for adventures, nourished by old traditions and enlivened by new sources of inspiration. He asks us to take the time to listen to new compositions, as well as to things we think we already know. With new music, he says, ‘originality should always be the point’. Perhaps we will even find something we can whistle.
Peter Fuller, Canberra Times
Ford says he doubts he is, in fact, a proper critic at all, though he is certain he knows what one does. ‘The critic must ask what it is the composer and-or performer aiming for, and then whether on its own terms the music has succeeded,’ he writes in an engaging introduction. The point is, it’s not the critic’s job to tell us whether to like a particular piece; it’s to say whether it’s any good, and why (or why not).
In Try Whistling This he sets up an even broader sweep than this remit would suggest, however, first throwing at the reader a longform essay called ‘Music and Fashion’, refigured from a six-part radio series he presented with the same title. It’s a grand stroll through the past few centuries that asks, from many different angles, a deceptively simple question: why do we like the things we like?
Stephen Fitzpatrick, The Australian
Ford writes from the frontline of music; he is composer first and a writer second. He can’t help but be caught up in the drama of creation and can empathise with Mahler, for example, who could compose only during his summer break, or Walton who sometimes found it difficult to compose at all. Where other critics might take a helicopter view, or affect objectivity, Ford has both the luxury to write about what he likes and the inclination to occasionally play favourites, but utterly without dogma. A transplanted Briton, Ford lavishes particular care on Elgar, Vaughan Williams and others – and he’ll probably send you rushing to investigate some of the non-astrological music of Gustav Holst (that is, his entire output minus The Planets suite). Australian music receives Ford’s generous and sympathetic advocacy, too, in appreciations of Richard Meale, Brett Dean and others. Naturally, Bob Dylan is here, as well as Stephen Sondheim, presented with equal wonder and affection.
Spend 15 minutes chatting with Ford (or reading one of his books) and you soon sense that there is no bottom and no sides to his knowledge. There are plenty of smart people around, but the miraculous thing about Ford’s manner is that he makes you feel smarter too.
Robert Murray, Melbourne Review
The strength of the pieces collected here lies in their approachability, making even rarefied music easier to understand, and providing pointers for adding depth to the listening experience. It’s a ‘bedside reader’ for the musically curious, uplifted by Ford’s celebratory spirit and eclectic range.
James Koehne, Adelaide Advertiser
Ford is well studied yet very accessible. Classical music dominates this tome, with considerable focus on Australia composers, but Ford does tackle Dylan, Randy Newman and Cole Porter. Most of all he shatters the idea of classical music frozen in time, breezing through centuries and styles with rare perspective.
Doug Wallen, Rolling Stone