Monthly Archives: December 2006

Might as well lie back and enjoy it

My paternal grandfather, a brilliant man and shrewd business executive, spent his last ten years or so, after my grandmother died, doing basically just four things: grocery shopping, cooking, watching television (lots of television) and a small amount of reading. My father, a brilliant retired lawyer, does pretty much the same, to the chronic frustration of my mother, and the occasional judgmental comments of his children. What a waste it sometimes seems.

Today, I slept in late and then spent most of the day in bed, doing what? Watching television. It was a Smallville marathon on one of the cable networks. I’ve never seen that much of the series, but as a boy I was enthralled with Superman and Superboy comics, and so Supermanish things have an attraction for me. I might never have gotten out of bed had it not been for a private student coming for a lesson at 5:00 PM.

In the midst of all this, I had another of those horrifying mid-life realization: I am not just “turning into” my father, I have already become my father.

I was feeling bad about this (not bad enough to turn off the TV, though), when it hit me: I was quite enjoying this slothful afternoon of rest, in all its delicious, lowbrow irresponsibility. And my father is not unhappy. On the contrary, he seems to quite enjoy the balance of his life now. There is no denying that he did much good for many people during his career, and that he was a good provider and is a faithful husband and loving father. If he likes watching Jeopardy and reruns of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and All in The Family and Gunsmoke, so what? And my grandfather–he, too, seemed quite content in his later years.

So I’m a little less worried about the fact that I may spend much of my later years watching television, cooking, eating, and driving my children to frustration. If that’s my destiny, well, I might as well relax and enjoy it.

Say, where did I put that remote?

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Gerald Ford, RIP

I was just 16 when Gerald Ford became president. I had mixed feelings, and some suspicions, when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

I have no memory of the remarkable event I just watched on C-Span: Ford’s October 1974 self-initiated, voluntary appearance, under oath, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee to explain his reasons for granting the pardon and to answer questions.

What a truly remarkable event in the history of government of, by, and for the people.

In my final years of high school I gave little thought to politics, and never developed much of an opinion about Ford; the media caricatures of him as a stumbling, not-too-bright guy had some effect on me. What I just saw, a sitting president testifying (intelligently, articulately, and and with an authentic air of principle, patriotism, and passion) to a Congressional committee at his own request to explain and defend a highly controversial decision, has given me the highest respect for this man. And what a remarkable contrast with the slick evasiveness and public lies of President Clinton (whom I greatly admire in other ways) and what appears to be the tragic disconnect with reality of President Bush (whose good intentions have paved the road to the hell of our Iraq debacle).

Surely President Ford realized that the pardon might cost him election in 1976, yet he firmly believed it was the best thing for the country, and did it despite the potential political cost. He was an honest, decent man who acted as a statesman at a time when we so needed it.

Every once in a while something reminds me of the greatness of this country. Watching Ford’s stunning testimony was one of those moments. Thanks, Mr. President, and rest in peace.

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Acts of kindness

I’m visiting my parents in Tampa, and have two nice chain-reaction kindness stories to share.

On the flight down, a mom and three kids (10, 5, and 3) were among the last to board our sold-out Southwest open-seating flight. I had a nice window seat, because I wanted to nap. The middle seat was empty. Be nice, my better self told me, and so I smiled and offered to move to a middle seat a couple of rows back, which would make at least a pair of seats available. That started a short chain reaction. The lady sitting on the aisle in my original row was sitting across from her husband. The middle seat beside him was open, so she did her good deed and moved to it. Voila! All three kids could sit together. The man in the aisle seat directly behind the kids moved to the middle so the mom could have easy access to the kids. Then the guy in the aisle seat across the aisle offered to switch to that seat, and now the mom and kids could see each other.

It was such a lovely energy; actually heart-warming. And we were all repaid when the three children spontaneously began singing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with such innocent happiness that everyone smiled that special smile that only comes when adults are around happy children doing something delightful.

Then, as the engines revved up as we were about to take off, one of the kids started a countdown: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . . . . . BLAST OFF!” And not quite two hours later, when they saw water beneath the plane, came the shouted announcement, “WE’RE IN FLORIDA! WE’RE IN FLORIDA!”

Best flight I’ve ever been on.

This afternoon, my mother and I went to Barnes and Noble to do a bit of browsing and and have some coffee. The wife of the retired-age couple ahead of me in the Starbuck’s line was delightfully friendly and chatty with the, oh, what do they call them, the barrista. Then a few minutes later she invited a man by himself, who was looking for a table without late afternoon sun glaring on the table, to join them. He declined, but I was happy to see someone so open and friendly that I went to their table and invited them to help themselves to the half-priced box of mini biscotti I had purchased for Mom and I to have with our coffee.

The friendly couple invited us to join them. I accepted; my mother gave me a look tinged with suspicion and irritation, but came over. We ended up having a wonderful time. The husband is a retired history professor. My mother is a recently retired music professor, and so there we were, three professors and the really fun one, the professor’s wife. We must have chatted for two hours. The friendly couple and my mother exchanged numbers, and a new friendship may be developing.

Last night, my parents and I watched The Bishop’s Wife on TCM. Cary Grant plays a very handsome angel sent to help an Episcopal bishop (David Niven) deal with a spiritual crisis as well as some marital problems with his wife (Loretta Young). At one point, Grant’s character says, “I just wish human beings would act more . . . like human beings.”

It’s nice to be part of it when we do.

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Teaching kids, living in fear

From an anonymous poster, commenting on Dealing with the Baggage:

I am a gay elementary school teacher, and let me tell you, I work in an unbelievably hostile environment. I am NOT safe, and the proven positive results I have attained at work DO NOT make my job secure. All of the work I’ve done could be ripped away from me at any moment, and I feel positive that absolutely no one would be willing to defend me. I don’t mean to be overly negative about this, but I’m telling the truth.

The essay to which he’s responding focused in part on the horrible effects of government-sanctioned propaganda, particularly that which defined homosexuality in men as a “sickness” and equated it with pedophilia and ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers) and a compulsion to act on such feelings. The effects, and those of the rhetoric of Religious Right alarmists and those pandering to them, are very much still with us.

The man who wrote this comment is probably a great guy who has a gift for teaching children and is making a positive impact on their lives.

And he lives in fear.

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Current Reading

Blogs:

Greg Sandow has another episode posted in his online book-in-progress on the future of classical music. We’ll, he’s still dealing with the past, on modernism now. Understanding the past and present is key to developing ideas for the future, of course, and everything Greg writes is fascinating.

DePauw music education student Chris Simerman has started a blog, Music and Music Education. It’s a great opportunity to watch a really bright young man who is really in love with music and really dedicated to being a teacher develop his thinking and share his insights.

I often feel frustrated that more of my colleagues don’t share my view that many of our students are as, or, in some cases, more, bright and talented than we are, and that with fresh eyes and youthful energy unhampered by the failures, disappointments, and desire to repeat successes that creates the particular glass through which all adults peer, they have much from which we can learn. Of course, age brings experience and knowledge worth passing on and here’s one tidbit. Click on the third icon from the left in the toolbar at the top of the window for entering text on the “create post” page, Chris, and it will spellcheck your post.

Heavy-Reading Department:

I’m engrossed with Linda Goehr’s fascinating book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, and also digging into The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction, a compilation of symposium essays edited by Michael Talbot, inspired by Goehr’s thesis, that the idea of the fixed, inviolate musical work is a construct of Romantic thought. Her ideas, and the elaborations on, objections to, etc., them are having a great impact on my developing thought on the role of improvisation in the WECT (Western European Classical Tradtion–an acronym developed by Leo Treitler (from whom I almost took a course, named simply enough, “Rhythm,” in graduate school; I dropped it after one session because I couldn’t begin to follow what the graduate theory students were saying; they would expound, Treitler would gently explain that they were spouting bullshit [of course, he didn't use that term], and say something I could understand; nevertheless, I figured I was either out of my league, or that it would be a frustrating exercise in academic blathering, or both).

Reading the Goehr and Talbot books is part of a long detour into works on musical philosophy and aesthetics which began when I first began skimming through Bruce Ellis Benson’s The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, which was the first book to show me that the diminishment of improvisation (of actual notes) in the WECT was a result not just of an evolution in practice and increasing skill in notation, but even more a reflection of a profound shift in the understanding of music and of the roles of composer and performer. It’s now nearly nine months since Benson’s book sent me on an intellectual detour which brought the writing of my book on improvisation to a virtual halt. And what a fascinating, absorbing, and exciting journey it has been.

I Love Questia:

I’m reading The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction online, via Questia. I just love Questia. I can afford the twenty bucks or so a month it costs, and it makes it possible to read so many works immediately, and, when traveling, without dragging them around. I found the book through an Amazon search, saw it looked interesting and relevant, and in a few moments had the entire text available to me. The “Internets” are amazing.

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Matthew Barley

Matthew Barley is a terrific Brit cellist. I love his CD Silver Swan, which I’ve had for a while. In terms of really fascinating and well-done multi-track recording, he’s right up there with David Darling and Maya Beiser.

I just came across his website. Fabulous. One of the best websites of any classical/post-classical performer I’ve ever seen (only criticism: if you are going to start a blog, then blog). And a great article on improvisation (which is how I found it).

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Mr. Bigglesworth

Just after I bought my rundown 1888 Victorian-style house in 2002, I hired a couple of guys to mow the overgrown lawn. They found a tiny kitten, more the size of a large caterpillar than a kitten you’d expect to find on its own. My kids and I literally got an eyedropper with which to feed him (we also found that dipping the corner of a washcloth in the formula worked, too). We doubted he’d make it, but he did. It wasn’t long before he was out getting into fights and we had him neutered.

I was stumped on what to name him. My son was in a Monty Python phase at the time, and chose “Knigget.” I went along with it, since I couldn’t decide on anything else. The kids called him Knigget for a while, but it wore off, and we took to addressing him as “kitty” and referring to him as “the cat.” We tried various names on and off, but nothing stuck.

I developed a serious relationship, and my partner started calling him “Mr. Cat.” That was perfect, we all agreed. It worked well until my partner moved out without notice, leaving me dazed, confused, angry and relieved all at once. The words “Mr. Cat” would triggering all sorts of post getting-dumped feelings. So the poor thing (actually oblivious and indifferent to all this) was back to “kitty” and “the cat” and, on formal occasions such as trips to the vet, “Knigget.”

But now tonight, a private student just left. During her lesson, the cat was weaving in and out of us, rubbing against me. I picked him up and spontaneously said, “come here, Mr. Bigglesworth.”

Now that feels right. I don’t have that much of a Dr. Evil air about me (or so I think), but like many arts types I live in my own egocentric universe. For tonight, anyway, Mr. Bigglesworth he is.

(If you don’t get the “Mr. Bigglesworth” reference, well, you are even more out of touch and uncool than am I!)

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We are all human (inconsistent intonation)

Anne Midgette gives cellist Efe Baltacigil’s recent Weill Hall recital a mixed review today.

Efe Baltacigil, a young Turkish cellist, is a personable performer. On Friday night he came onto the stage at Weill Recital Hall with a dark, mottled cello, an agreeable manner and an accompanist named Anna Polonsky, then settled into Bach’s Sonata in G (BWV 1027) like an adept conversationalist — all ears, visibly responding to what the music was telling him.

The music was delightful. Mr. Baltacigil’s tone was warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch. Bach lilted and danced; Mr. Baltacigil danced along.

What a great description of a cello sound: “warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch.”

She obviously loved his music making in the Bach G Major and the Franck A Major sonatas except for one issue: some intonation problems. “Mr. Baltacigil’s uppermost notes weren’t quite right, and the final movement of the Bach sonata kept drifting slightly flat,” she noted about the Bach. And in the Franck, “Mr. Baltacigil appeared to reach the pinnacle of his expressivity. Yet again the tang of faintly sour notes wafted from the emotive phrases. The music finished with excitement but out of tune.”

I have great empathy for Efe. To have reached his increasingly prominent position in the cello world, he obviously can play in tune in the high registers of the cello. You don’t get into the Philadelphia Orchestra, in any seat, otherwise.

So what happened? Nerves make the hands too tight? Not quite enough practice? Overwhelmed by the rest of his schedule? Tired? Or just really going for the creative, expressive aspects and some of the intonation getting a bit off?

I can play dead in tune, and often do. But any of the above can result in some intonational lapses in my own playing, especially in thumb position (the high registers) with pieces new to me, or if I’m so busy with other things (that full-time college professor job and the three teenagers can make life overwhelming) that I don’t have enough time or energy to practice as much as I’d like. Good intonation was the most difficult thing for me to achieve in my cello playing, and it is the first thing to start to slip if I don’t practice regularly.

I’ve heard plenty of well-known cellists play out of tune, so Efe and I are in good company–as are all the other fallible human beings playing the cello (and other instruments).

And one thing’s for sure–I’d rather hear a fully-alive, creative performance with some occasional intonation mishaps than a dull, safe one that is note-perfect.

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Those Colorado Closets Keep Opening

What’s going on in Colorado? The New York Times reports another conservative pastor has resigned from his church (this one with “only” 2,000 members, not the 14,000 of Ted Haggard’s former church) because he’s been having gay sex while in an opposite-sex marriage and, surely, preaching against same-sex marriage and the dangers of the “homosexual agenda.”

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Just weeks after the senior pastor at a huge Colorado church was fired over gay sex allegations, the founding pastor of another church in the state is quitting for similar reasons.

This time it’s Paul Barnes, whose suburban Denver congregation saw a videotaped message yesterday. On it, Barnes acknowledges having gay sex, saying he’s “struggled with homosexuality” since age five, and has been “begging God” for help.

Paul, it’s OK to be gay. Love yourself as you are.

And once again I have much empathy for his family and for his struggle.

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Existing Career Skill Programs for Classical Music Students

As noted in my previous entry, I’m beginning to research what various conservatories and schools of music are doing to equip their students to “create their own careers,” as my DePauw students and I have come to phrase it.

Curtis Institute: Curtis requires all BM and Diploma students to take “The 21st Century Musician,” described on its website as, “This class examines career-oriented topics such as obtaining a job, management, orchestra life, medical matters and record-keeping.”

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music has not quite the best-designed website in the world; it’s hard to determine from it what, if any, career development services are offered. It’s not far from where I live, though, and I haven’t heard about anything through the grapevine. It does offer an “Introduction to Music Business” course which I understand is quite popular

Eastman School of Music: Eastman, among other resources, hosts the Institute for Music Leadership, with a fascinating array of programs for performers, arts administrators, etc., including an Entrepreneurship in Music program.

Juilliard: Juilliard offers Career Development Seminar (MSMUS 505) and Business of Music (GRMUS E610; students must complete one of them to be placed on the schools Professional Artists Roster. Juilliard also has a Career Planning Services office, which offers Individual Career Consultations, Career Seminars and Workshops, Speaking Up! (a weekly public speaking club), and Performing Resume Software. Juilliard also offers Greg Sandow’s course “Breaking Barriers: Classical Music in an Age of Pop,” which inspired much of my first-year seminar work this fall and seems quite groundbreaking in looking at creating a new paradigm for performing art music.

New England Conservatory: NEC has what looks like a fabulous program: the Career Services Center. It’s run by my former Stony Brook cello classmate Angela Myers Beeching, who wrote Beyond Talent: Building a Successful Career in Music, and who teaches a four-course “Professional Artist Seminar” sequence. Here’s a conservatory taking post-school life seriously. Looking at the table of contents and an excerpt from Angie’s book on Amazon, I think I can say that it is a book every aspiring classically-trained performer should read, and I’ve ordered it–both for myself and the DePauw library.

Oberlin has an Office of Career Services, but I don’t see where they offer any courses or workshops in career building, entrepreneurship, etc.–so someone correct me if I’m wrong.

More to come! And please feel free to send me other links and descriptions.

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