Monthly Archives: December 2007

229.5 and falling . . .

No refined sugar, no flour, very few starchy vegetables. Lots of “real food”–eggs, dairy, meat, fish, and fresh vegetables. Lots of walking (although my exercise commitment has not been as steadfast as my dietary one). My goal was to be down to 230 (from 263.5) by Christmas. 229.5 today, with 3 days to go! Final target, derived from the BMI charts, is between 170-180, so there are 50-60 pounds still to go. I’m a third or a bit more of the way there, so here’s a pat on my back.

Jimmy Moore’s low-carb blog, which if sometimes a bit hysterical in tone nevertheless constantly supplies encouragement and loads of excellent links, and Gary Taubes’ increasingly influential book Good Calories, Bad Calories, have been major supports. As has been my (self-diagnosed) OCD streak.

Some folks on low-carb diets eat a lot of “low-carb” ice cream, muffins, sugar-free candy, etc. The sweet-tooth, sugar-high addiction was a big part of the problem for me–stress eating. So I just plain gave up dessert items (with an occasional planned exception, such as Thanksgiving Day and probably Christmas Day). I didn’t want to do anything that might reinforce those old cravings, plus there is plenty of debate on the safety and efficacy (in terms of blood sugar reactions) of the sugar substitutes. I will say that the holiday season is a very difficult time in this regard, with so much temptation to resist. “No virtue without temptation,” I read somewhere recently. Evidently!

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What If You Gave a Non-Traditional Concert and No One Clapped Betwen Movements?

Gavin Borchert argues in a Seattle Weekly review that non-traditional concerts, with applause encouraged between movements, are not the innovation that will save classical music. He contrasts the experiences of two Chiara Quartet (website motto: “chamber music in any chamber!”) concerts, two nights in a row: one in the traditional Meany Hall, one at a bar. Despite encouragement to do otherwise, the small audience at the Tractor Bar was quiet and reluctant to clap between movements, even when reminded by the quartet’s cellist that they had permission to do so.

So what have we learned? Well, maybe people behave the way they do at concerts not because it’s an artificial standard imposed by ironclad tradition but because the music sounds better that way. Maybe listeners feel classical music most deeply when they pay quiet attention to it. Maybe sometimes not clapping is OK, and we don’t need to rush in and obliterate every silence. Maybe true innovations in concert presentation—new ways of getting music and music lovers together—will be concerned not with questions of formal vs. informal, loose vs. uptight, but with what setting best allows music to work its magic.

He makes some good points, and the article is well worth reading. Of course, generalizing from one or two experiments doesn’t provide much predictive value. Despite having experimented with a concert in which the audience was encouraged to clap and dance whenever they wanted, I like quiet while I listen. Applause between movements? Well, with some works, such as Romantic symphonies, we know it was the standard practice of the time and expected and often encouraged by composers. So it feels extremely artificial to me to keep people from clapping after the rousing, bombastic finish of a first movement. But that doesn’t mean I would prefer noise during the music.

One thing Borchert doesn’t address is how many of the 40-50 people he says attended the Tractor Bar concert were people who don’t otherwise attend classical concerts (which he couldn’t know unless there was a poll taken). If most of the audience were Chiara quartet or general classical-music fans who are already part of the traditional audience concert culture, it’s no surprise they behaved as we’ve been trained, regardless of the alternative environment.

The dilemma is this, it seems to me. The current audience of regular concert goers likes things the way they are. The question is what do we do to bring in new audiences who really are put off by the formality of the concert environment. Borchert is right that informality in and of itself is not the answer, and that quiet listening is a good way to experience classical music. “[T]he fidgetless focus of the thoroughly absorbed,” he accurately calls it.

My intuition, and that’s all it is at this point, since I’m unaware of any data on the subject, is that there nevertheless a very powerful long-term role that informal, interactive concerts can play in building a wider, or additional, audience. That doesn’t mean we need to do away with traditional, formal, concerts with silent (especially during the music!) audiences. But neither should we dismiss alternate-format experimentation. “Chamber music in any chamber.” I like that.

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An interesting improv discussion

Greg Sandow was one of the great speakers at DePauw’s Post-Classical Symposium last weekend, and earlier this week he blogged about his visit, including some very positive comments about the short concert my improvisation students gave. There were a number of interesting comments posted to the thread, including one by me and another by one of the students, Sarah Wachter, who explained the benefits of improvisation for classical musicians about as well as it can be explained. The entire thread is well worth reading.

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Jury Duty

My old Tanglewood friend Roger Bourland blogged quite a bit about his jury duty out in LA. There’s another kind of jury duty we college music professors do: listening to the end-of-semester juries played by applied music students. (By the way, now that classes have ended I may be blogging quite a bit, at least until January 10 when I leave for a tour in China. And what I’d like to know is how the hell Roger has the energy to keep blogging so frequently while being a new department chair and actively composing.)

If you haven’t been a college music major or a conservatory student at some point in your life, let me explain. The applied-music “jury examination” is the equivalent of the final exam. The student plays a program (at DePauw, where I teach, about 15 minutes long) for a committee (or “jury”) of faculty. In some smaller schools, the entire music faculty may listen to all the juries; here at DePauw, we do it by department. We had about 35 string juries to listen to yesterday, in a marathon which lasted from 9:00 AM to about 6:00 PM. The students play, and the string faculty write comments on their performance and their progress. At some schools, the faculty also grade the jury. There are both advantages and disadvantages to that. At DePauw, in the string department, we just write comments, which the students can read in the music office the next week or the following semester.

I always approach these jury days with some trepidation. Will I be able to maintain my concentration and write coherent, useful comments once we get to hour five or six? Will I be able to remain positive and supportive in attitude, while also giving honest feedback? Will my right hand hold out after hours of writing, when it dos so little of writing-on-paper anymore?

I used to resent the time this took when my college teaching career began, but now, to my delight, I find I enjoy it. Most of the students play at their best, rising to the occasion, and most of them are making good progress. It’s great to hear how well they are doing and to see the good work my colleagues are doing with them. And I found it a pleasant intellectual challenge to write really good comments. I love to write, when I have time and intellectual/emotional energy. So it was like blogging all day long, except in longhand.

There were no disasters. No one fell apart, and no one was unprepared. A few students were underprepared, as happens, but nothing horrible. And many students played just beautifully.

I’ve been off of sugar, flour, and starchy vegetables for around two months now. My energy is higher, and my moods more stable. I found myself able to sustain my concentration throughout the day, which used to be a struggle back when I was eating a more conventional, unhealthy American diet. Plus I’ve now lost 30 pounds or so. There are about 50-60 more to go, according to the BMI charts. So far, though, so good.

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