Monthly Archives: October 2006

A cello player who writes

I don’t just enjoy writing, some part of me needs to write. I spent much of the early part of the week drafting a very long proposal on the behalf of a committee on which I serve at DePauw. The proposal is the culmination of over a year and a half’s work, including much disagreement within the committee. The process was so infamously contentious that the committee which must review my committee’s proposal requested a recounting of how we reached our decision.

And so the proposal needed to not only present the arguments for our recommendation itself, but also given an even-handed and fair account of the disagreements and how they were eventually resolved (or at least moved past). It took many hours to draft; overall it was a fascinating and enjoyable process. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from doing a significant piece of writing, especially when it was well-received by my colleagues, many of whom expressed their appreciation.

One of my colleagues was so impressed with the draft that he honestly asked me why I was a music professor when i could write so well. (OK, no pretension of false modesty here. And once I wrote a document for another committee, which included members of the Board of Trustees, one of whom said, “If you can write like this, what the hell are you doing in the School of Music?”) I remarked that had I not gone into music, I think I’d have enjoyed being a lawyer. I love developing arguments and being an advocate.

But a few days of being absorbed by this process, as interesting and enjoyable and satisfying as it was, left me feeling not really myself. Why? There wasn’t time or energy left to really practice. And it came after a week out of town, where I did some playing and had beautiful experiences doing so with my relative who is recovering from a stroke. It was a fairly limited amount of playing, and no actually practicing or working.

When I don’t practice and play a lot, when I don’t feel really in shape as a cellist, I get somewhat miserable. (Can one really be only somewhat miserable?) People who live with me discover this rather quickly. My former father-in-law was the first to name it. “If Eric doesn’t practice, he’s pretty much impossible to live with,” he explained with a sigh and a smile–and combination of exasperation and paternal pride (he is a musician, too) that I’ve never experienced before or since.

And so there it is: when I’m not being a cellist, I don’t feel myself. It’s something I recognized back in my senior year of high school. I was faced with the choice of going to a conservatory or going to a university. My academic teachers wanted me to major in literature or philosophy; my music teachers urged me to pursue performance. (False modesty thrown to the wind, I’ll also mention that of my father’s law partners said I was one of the smartest people he’d ever met–which surprised the heck out of me, since it seemed to me we’d had too little contact for him to have any sense of me); he told my father he couldn’t understand why I’d even consider going into music when I could become a doctor or a lawyer.)

I wrestled with the decision. (If you’ve read this blog much, you know that I’m an agonizer and have a hard time being decisive about important decisions.) This was a hard one, at least as long as I tried to figure out what I should do.

Then somehow I realized something which made the decision for me: that I felt the most alive, the most fully myself, when I was making music. 30, 31 years later, it’s still as simple as that. I’m most alive, most me, when I’m playing and practicing and making music.

So as much as I like writing, I think it’s safe to say I’m a cello player who writes, not a writer who cellos.


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The Interent: It’s not just for porn anymore

The Internet can be just amazing. The other day, I was in dire need of a cello part for the Mozart G minor viola quintet (that’s one with two violins, two violas, and a cello). The DePauw library didn’t have it, the libraries in Indianapolis (including Butler University) didn’t have it, and the violist who organized the performance I’m participating in Monday night couldn’t find his copy. I posted a message in the Cello Chat forum at the Internet Cello Society, and within a couple of hours two kind people had emailed me PDF files of the part. And one directed me to a web site that has PDF files of public-domain copies of all the Mozart string chamber music.

And like many gay men and lesbians, I was very interested to not just learn about the New Jersey Supreme Court on same-sex unions. Within minutes of the decision being announced, I was able to download the entire decision (including all the concurring and dissenting opinions) from the court’s website. “The Internet is for porn,” goes the hilarious song from Avenue Q. It’s also very good for democracy.

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Who writes the headlines at “N.J. Court Rejects Gay Marriage” is what the site chose to run over its article on today’s decision. Rejects gay marriage? The court said the legislature has 180 days to either include same-sex couples in existing marriage laws or create civil unions with the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex marriage.

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NJ Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Unions

One more step towards equality. From today’s opinion in Lewis v. Harris (note: PDF file):

HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed samesex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under tecivil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to samesex
couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.

Great news at the end of a long day. The downside is that Republicans may be able to use it to rally the evangelical base in some races. But after 6 years of a president supposedly in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, most of it with solid Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, will this carry as much scare power as such decisions have in the past?

We’re having Coming Out Week here at DePauw. I’ve been wearing a sticker with a rainbow cow and with white letters “C O W” superimposed–United DePauw handed them out. The best, the most effective, perhaps the only truly effective way to make changes for LGBTQ people is for us to come out, be known, and insist on full rights.

And now I’ll go read the decision.

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Healing Music, II

I got to spend a lot of time with my beloved stroke-patient relative today. He is making such fast recovery that even the hospital staff seem genuinely amazed. The stroke happened not quite four weeks ago; it was massive and the result of a split in a major artery. That he survived is, perhaps, a miracle, and the prognosis at first was most uncertain. Actually, the prognosis for recovering the use of his left side was initially quite certain: he wouldn’t. But he’s now able to stand up unassisted, to walk with a cane, and was even negotiating stairs in his therapy today. His ability to carry on a conversation is quite normal, and he’s making great progress with his speech therapist on reasoning and analysis tasks that involve the parts of his brain that are recovering. In his early forties, he’s a brilliant and increasingly well-known research physician, a leader in his field. Each day the probability that he’ll be able to fully resume this important work increases.

My role while visiting this week (while on fall break) has been to help with the kids, be a moral support to his wife, and to just hang out with and play cello for him. The just being there is the most important thing, it seems to me.

This evening, our last, was perhaps our most intimate. After his wife and their four-year-old twins had gone home, I sat by his bed and we talked of various things until he was sleepy. And then he asked if I would be willing to play him a lullaby and if I would mind if he fell asleep. I joked that audiences do that all the time at my concerts, so I’m used to it. (At first he thought I was serious, so I reassured him that this was not the case and I’d be happy to play him to sleep.)

I softly improvised, mostly pizzicato, for a while. He was sleeping, perhaps lightly, I thought. I played the Sarabande of the Bach C Major Suite and the Allemande of the G major, both pizzicato, as gently as I could, until I was sure he was asleep. Then I put the cello in its case as softly as possible, turned out the one light in the room, and crept out as quietly as I could.

It was a uniquely beautiful moment for me. It was such an open and trusting request for him to make.

I hesitated to write about it here, because it was so personal. But I want to remember it. And for those musicians who still read this blog despite my recent political rants, perhaps reading this story will affirm an inner sense that there are many possibilities for making music beyond traditional concerts. I used to play quite often in hospitals and nursing homes, and then got preoccupied with other things. I’m going to do more of it. What better thing is there to do as a musician?

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Thanks be for evangelical diversity

I mentioned the green evangelical movement in my last post. Here’s an MSNBC story about it, as well as, the website of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Creation Care magazine.

And just as there are green evangelicals, there are gay-affirming, Bible-believing evangelicals as well. Evangelicals Concerned is a national, gay-affirming organization, or maybe organizations; I can’t tell if this or this website is more official than the other. The Metropolitan Community Churches combine elements of many Christian traditions; those I’ve attended tend to have a strongly evangelical, even somewhat Pentecostal tone. Jeff Miner, the pastor of Jesus MCC in Indianapolis, which I briefly attended, co-authored a book, The Children Are Free, which makes a very strong biblical case for affirming same-sex orientation and committed relationships.

I am not a “Bible-believing” Christian. I also recognize and value the importance of love, kindness, forgiveness, spirituality, community, shared values, social responsibility and justice, rituals, and mythology. I’m more of a mystic than a believer; my point of view is probably more similar to that articulated by Matthew Fox than anyone else. And I think it’s self-evident that rigidly-held, fundamentalist beliefs are the greatest danger facing the world today. (I’ve been reading a lot of Sam Harris lately.)

But whatever, whomever God is, I thank him/her/them/it/us for the growing diversity among evangelicals.

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How things change . . .

I wrote an earlier post about the damage done to the Republican party by the Mark Foley scandal (not just Foley’s actions but the coverup). It’s revealed to the evangelical “family values” swing voters that the upper echelons of the national party are filled with privately gay-positive or gay-accepting people who have been taking publically anti-gay positions and using scare tactics to get the evangelical/fundamentalist swing vote out to the polls. Even President Bush, who no one doubts is a genuinely “born again,” Bible-believeing evangelical Christian, is said to be privately kind and respectul and supportive of the gay and lesbian people–including couples–he knows. And yet he’s repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, always at get-out-the-vote times.

As this Washington Times story points out, the evangelical community is realizing it’s been had. While these crucial swing voters are not becoming liberal Democrats, their growing disenchantment with this hypocrisy on sexual issues, combined with a growing recognition that the Bush administration has bungled the Iraq situation so badly that nearly everyone who originally supported the war is horrified and sickened by the results, is creating a distaste for the Republican party and its incumbents. And so they aren’t going to turn out and swing the vote as they used to.

The growing “green” movement in the evangelical community isn’t helping either (I watched a fascinating Bill Moyers piece on PBS last week about the growing number of theologically conservative evangelical Christians who are deciding that global warming is a real phenomenon and that as stewards of the earth they need to take responsibility for the planet’s health).

As best I can figure out, those who have cozied up to the evangelicals without genuinely sharing their values have done so in order to be able to put into place economic policies which are extraordinarily pro-business and pro-wealthy people. The “family values” agenda, which is so real to so many evangelicals, seems more and more clearly to have been a ploy by many Republican politicians.

Without the evangelical swing vote, a lot is up for grabs. Once rightfully disillusioned and disenchanted, those evangelical “values voters” aren’t going to be coming out and swinging elections. And so their disproportinate political power is going to diminish and, in all liklihood, evaporate. Republicans may have to become more moderate, and fiscally responsible, to get elected and stay in office.

They may even find that they need the lesbian and gay vote. And Democrats will find it easier to take positions solidly in favor of equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation.

So it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in next month’s mid-term election, and over the next two years as the 2008 presidential campaign gets going. I’m an independent, more interested in LGBT rights, human rights, and fiscal responisibility than who is in what party. The Democrats have a unique gift for blowing great opportunities. But if the evangelicals stay disenchanted with the Republican party, and stop being a swing vote, who knows what can happen in both parties?

Some very good things may be on the way for the environment, for the economy, for LGBT people, for human rights, and for the rebuilding of the United States’s relationships with the rest of the world.

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Healing music

I’ve been playing for my beloved stroke patient, in the hospital. And last night a wonderful Native American flutist stopped by his room and played for all the family gathered there (the hospital has a program in which professional musicans make room-to-room visits).

Making music in this setting, making music to sooth and heal (which can include playing the hurt and pain and anger) feels so right to me. Playing concerts often has so much ego involved. Playing to heal and be healed is something different.

The music of the flutist, and of his beautiful flutes, was exquisite.

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A reminder of the many things right with the world

I’m out of town, visiting a relative, whose husband recently had a stroke. He’s making a wonderful recovery; it’s also becoming clear that the recovery will take a very long time and that there is much hard work and frustration ahead, as well as many joys.

It is wonderful to see the commitment and love that shine through so many members of his family his friends and colleagues, and the extraordinary health-care professionals working so hard on his behalf.

There are so many frightening and frustrating things going on in the world. It’s too easy to forget how many great and loving things are going on. I’m grateful for the reminder.

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Why the Foley Scandal is so Bad for Rebublicans

As each piece of news trickles out about Foley’s long-standing flirting with and sexual harassment of male pages, my understanding of the real significance of the Foley affair, the actual scandal with so much political trouble for Republicans, takes shape. (Andrew Sullivan is great about posting each additional nugget of Foley’s creepy behavior.)

The Family Research Council and others have been suggesting that a secret homosexual network in D.C. has covered up the Foley scandal to protect its own. No, it seems more and more evident that powerful Republican leaders have covered things up, knowing that this sort of scandal would bring to light the fact that most Republican congressmen and senators are actually pro-gay in private life, have “contempt” (as Tucker Carlson is quoted in my post below) for evangelicals, and have hypocritically championed anti-gay causes to manipulate evangelical voters.

Ick. That’s all I can say. I respect someone who honestly believes that the Bible proscribes sexual relations to a husband and wife only. But people who don’t believe this pretending to, to get evangelical votes? That’s really creepy. I remember how angry guys like James Dobson got when they realized the the Regan and first Bush administrations were paying the lip service on issues like abortion but taking no action. I wonder how they are feeling now.

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