Monthly Archives: November 2006

Listen to Dad, or Pay $1600 for Spaghetti Sauce

My dad taught long ago to always check the contents when buying something in a box, especially something expensive. He was right, as he has been about so many things: The New York Times reports today that instead of a $1600 camcorder, a couple found spaghetti sauce in the box.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Rittenbergs planned to shoot family movies with a new camcorder. They may have to settle for a family pasta dinner, instead. The couple paid about $1,600 for a camcorder at a Best Buy store in the St. Louis suburb of Ellisville last week. They said when they opened the box, they found something they hadn’t pictured: a jar of Classico pasta sauce where the camera should have been.

”The only thing I thought was, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,”’ Melisa Rittenberg, 36, of the southeast Missouri town Perryville, said.

Best Buy is still deciding what to do.


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The Improvisors Hold a Conference

I’m giving a presentation at the inaugural conference of the International Society for Improvised Music later this week. Improvising musicians tend to be so right-brained and, well, improvisational, that it is something approaching a miracle that the society has been formed and the conference has been so lovingly and efficiently organized by Ed Sarath, Sarah Weaver, and others.

There are so many presenters that aside from the keynote sessions, there will be that frustrating simultaneous-presentation phenomenon. I feel so sorry for everyone else presenting at the same time as me–they won’t have an audience! (Just kidding. I hope it is not the other way around.)

The conference is at the University of Michigan. I love Ann Arbor and haven’t been there for a while, so I’m really looking forward to it. Here’s the blurb on my presentation:

Humanistic, Pan-Idiomatic Improvisation: Using Approaches of David Darling and Arthur Hull in Working with College Music Students

The humanistic approach to improvisation developed by David Darling and his colleagues in Music for People has profoundly influenced many musicians and educators. DePauw University cello professor Eric Edberg will discuss/demonstrate how his training with Music for People, and also with Arthur Hull (author of Drum Circle Spirit), has created opportunities for transcending classical perfectionism and fostering creativity and panidiomatic improvisation skills in himself and his students. The session includes music making; instruments welcome.

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Badass Cellist

It’s official: I’m a “badass” cellist–or at least the classical music in jeans concert was. (Thanks, Alek.) Now I finally know what I want my tombstone to say. (Or would say, if I was going to have a tombstone, rather than have my ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico–which sounds like a much more enjoyable place to spend the next billion years or so than a hole in the ground.) Pushing 50 and still badass–that really made my day!

The concert, and the idea behind it, has gotten renewed attention since Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, mentioned it in his blog. The harpist Helen Radice recently wrote a fascinating post prompted by the concert and my ruminations on it, too. Her thoughts are particularly perceptive:

This is the problem: the deeply in love, and the rest. It always has been: I can’t think of another art form that is so divided between those who simply could not live without it, and those for whom it couldn’t be more irrelevant, who would, as Edberg says, rather “watch TV, or play cards, or smoke a joint, or drink a case of beer, or play Ultimate Frisbee, or hang out with friends, or even study…or…could go and listen to (what [they] assume to be) boring music and have to stifle [their] humanity.” That is why opinion so divides over concerts, like Edberg’s experiment, designed specifically for non-musicians. Some non-musicians dance in the aisles, but the musicians can’t bear it. When the musicians are on their feet cheering, often the others are too, heading for the nearest exit.

Edberg is right that musicians should care about what our audiences will enjoy. But, because the division outlined above is the problem in the first place, a similarly divisive solution that either, but not both, the audience or the musicians like, may be a good first jolt, but is not sustainable. As a musician, that is, someone who doesn’t “just love to make music, [but] need[s] to make music… if only 50 or 20 or 10 people come…[he doesn’t] really care”, I would argue Edberg recognises this. His concert is an emergency measure: “if it takes letting them dance to get new audiences in, let’s let them dance. I can’t think of anything better to do in a crisis.”

Crisis measures are sometimes necessary, but they are short-term. “Accessible” concerts are about novelty, gimmicks to catch the eye.

It’s well worth reading the rest of her remarks. The thing we who are interested in the future of art music need to continue to explore is how to make concerts accessible but not gimmicky. Greg Sandow (who might be my patron saint if he weren’t still so very much alive and well) has written about this recently, here and here.

I’m probably the only person who has thoroughly read through not just all my posts about my concert experiment but also all the comments posted about it, both on my blog and elsewhere. It’s a lot of reading; but taken together the various responses are quite informative–such a wide range of views.

By the way, the piece in the video clip is the last movement of the Haydn-Piatigorsky Divertimento in D Major. Gregor Piatigorsky, the great Russian cellist (1903-1976), arranged it from (as I understand it) a work originally for baryton, viola, and cello. Two of my teachers, Denis Brott and the late Stephen Kates, were students of Piatigorsky and quite fond of the piece.

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Savage remarks

Andrew Sullivan has posted some bizarrely hateful anti-gay ramblings by Michael Savage with the invitation to substitute “Jew” for “homosexual” to see how scary the guy is. At least this sort of thing is out in the open and not being fed to children by the government, as was that awful Sid Davis film (below). How can anyone think the sort of stuff Savage does? Or is it just an act? “They want the full subjugation of this society to their agenda.” Right. Equal rights for everybody. If you don’t want that, then go ahead, be afraid. Be very afraid!


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Dealing with the baggage

I often wonder, with some wistfulness, what life would be like had I not grown up hating myself for being gay. So much of my adult life is taken up with managing the genuinely profound emotional/spiritual damage–anxiety, depression, social phobias, internalized homophobia, etc. My greatest, and most difficult, accomplishment is just having survived. There are many blessings that have come with being gay, but there is still so much baggage that must be repacked and rebalanced every so often that it can still be exhausting, even after all sorts of therapy and support and coming out, etc.

The darkness, the sickness of the sort of homophobia I was surrounded by and absorbed as I grew up is occasionally made newly clear. I know now how much of it was the result of government anti-homosexual, anti-communist propaganda, and I’ve read that the government worked to make homosexuality socially unacceptable to prevent men from claiming to be gay to get out of military service during WWII and the Korean and Vietnamese wars. And then there was psychology run amok.

Exgay Watch just posted a link to the YouTube video below, on the occasion of the death of its producer. This is the sort of thing my parents were taught to believe: that “homosexuals” were “sick” men driven to seduce, molest, and even murder young boys. That’s what homosexuals were back then. That’s what I was taught. And so when I began to realize I was attracted to other guys, not girls, I was horrified and terrified and did everything I could to stop it.

I watched much of this video yesterday afternoon. Sickening. No wonder I have so many issues, I realized anew.

Then last night, I had the immense good fortune to be channel surfing (see, that’s one addiction that can pay off sometimes) and come across the documentary A Touch of Greatness, about the extraordinary teacher Albert Cullum, on PBS. One of the most inspiring things I ever saw.

All the clips of Cullum show him to be one of the most stereotypically gay-acting people I’ve ever seen. Neither the documentary nor any of the hits I found in a quick Google search said he was openly gay. But I found myself wondering if any of the parents of the children in the film ever worried about him. And then I was horrified with myself for projecting that, because some corner of my brain still cannot erase the programming that conflates homosexuality and pedophilia. And I remembered that once my son (the paradoxical wonderful result of running away from my same-sex attraction) had a rather effeminate piano teacher whom I didn’t want to be alone together with my son. I feel ashamed for having felt that way. And horribly angry at all those who produced the sort of crap in the clip above. And angry that nobody told me or my parents that there were great people, people like (most probably) Albert Cullum, who were homosexual.


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Fall colors and noise pollution

One of the WORST inventions ever invented is the leaf blower. What horrible noise pollution! Now the fall colors bring sonic annoyance with them. I suppose if I had a soundproof house it might be better, or if I lived in a neighborhood with fewer tress. Meanwhile, urrrrrrrrrrrgh.


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Stealth classical music?

“Classical” music, like all labels, may have outlived its usefulness.

My first-year seminar class is putting on a concert in a few weeks as a class project. The goal is to get non-music students in the door, to an event that includes at least some classical music.

They have decided to hold the performance in a large room near the food court in the Student Union Building, and to have free desserts, so there will be somewhat of a coffee-house atmosphere. Or what a few of them think of as a coffee-house atmosphere. In doing some “market research,” asking friends what they though of various titles for the concert, my students discovered that few of their friends knew what a “coffee house” is. In this age of Starbucks, where the music is not live (usually) but the CDs being sold, the association between a coffeehouse and live music no longer exists.

They also discovered that nearly 100% of their non-musician friends said they wouldn’t go to something with the word “classical” in the title. (They had been thinking about “so you think you know classical music.”)

“Classical music” supposedly refers to everything from Gregorian chant to Steve Reich and Kronos. It is an increasingly counterproductive label.

My students are calling their event “A Musical Buffet,” and will emphasize the inclusion of jazz and African music and not use the word “classical.” And they’ll do some of that formerly-known-as-classical music, too.


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Curioser and curioser

Oh my gosh. It hadn’t even occurred to me that Ted Haggard’s homosexuality might have been an open secret among, or at least self-evident to, top evangelicals. Now Andrew Sullivan has posted that this in fact was the case, at least according to Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

It reminds me that there is this sort of dichotomy going on with the fundamentalists/evangelicals I know personally. There are a few with whom I have a friendly acquaintanceship, through DePauw or through my kids’ school and friends. The woman I know best has always been extremely kind and respectful to me, and to other gay men and lesbians with whom she’s had personal contact. And yet she believes, as a matter of faith, in all the ex-gay stuff Focus on the Family and others promote. And the pastor of our town’s biggest evangelical church, who I had speak in a class on gay issues once, is very friendly to me when we come across each other in a restaurant or elsewhere in town. (I’m told his wife once made him apologize, after a particularly virulent anti-gay sermon, to a teenager in the congregation who had just come out.) And he actually seemed surprised when I told him that most gay and lesbian people would find it offensive to hear him continually compare our sexual orientation to alcoholism.

I don’t understand how some people can seem to accept that some people are gay, and be nice to them, and see how truly, well, gay we indeed are, and then believe that all someone needs to do is to accept Jesus, pray, and learn to feel more masculine or feminine and that will be that.

Oh, well. There’s a lot about fundamentalists/evangelicals I don’t get–and a lot of people who are of that religious persuasion whom I love.

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Not signing on to this potentially losing cause:

James Dobson, arch-conservative founder and head of Focus on the Family (which promotes the idea that sexual orientation can be changed through counseling and prayer), has decided not to help counsel Ted Haggard (the evangelist dismissed from his church after being outed by a male prostitute) after all–too busy, Dobson says.

Or maybe he doesn’t want to be associated with the country’s highest profile would-be “ex gay.” As the good folks over at have pointed out, Haggard’s resignation letter implies he’s already tried some form or forms of therapy or counseling. With an unsurprising regularity, ex-gay leaders turn out be more gay than ex. So the odds that Haggard would be a long-term success story are virtually nil–something that Dobson surely knows. (Ex-Gay Watch has a great section on “former ex-gays,” by the way.)

What could possibly be worse than Haggard claiming to have “come out of homosexuality” (or something like that) and than messily fall off the straight wagon again? I wouldn’t want to risk being associated with that either.

Daniel Gonzalez at EGW recently posted about two evangelists taking opposing positions regarding whether or not sexual orientation can be changed. But even Tony Camplo, whose remarks (quoted from a CNN broadcast) urge honesty, doesn’t suggest that it is easy or necessarily even possible to change orientation; Campolo seems to be referring to getting control of one’s sexual behavior. Gonzalez emphasizes the key point: “he’s going top have to live with that orientation.”

CAMPOLO: [Haggard has] said all the right things up to this point. The real question is, when he does get counsel, when he does enter into this restoration process, will he be forthcoming and honest about everything? Will he just say, I have a little problem on the side? Or will he begin to face the fact that maybe I have a sexual orientation that does not offer an easy fix. And if he does turn out to be homosexual in his orientation, he’s going to have to live with that orientation and figure out what this means for the rest of his life, because there’s not an easy fix for that. And to suggest that a few prayers and a few spiritual things, some scripture reading, is going to solve the problem, it won’t. That’s a good beginning. But — and with God’s help, he can go beyond that. But I have to tell you, you do have to go beyond just a spiritual experience in the process of restoration.

The choice is to live as an integrated, whole, self-accepting and affirming gay or bisexual man, or to continue to disavow an integral part of himself and to compartmentalize this aspect of his sexuality. As someone who’s “been there, done that,” I can tell you the latter course is very difficult.

Some social conservatives use the existence of ex-gay ministries and the anecdotal testimonies of (what usually turn out to be temporary) success stories to suggest that it would be not just possible but fairly easy for a gay or lesbian person to change. Look at how hard it is to change something like one’s eating habits–we are a country literally eating ourselves to death. The obesity epidemic grows and grows. Think Kirstie Allie won’t put the weight back on once her NutriSystem deal ends? Has Oprah ever kept weight off long term? (OK, I watch too much television.)

Sexual orientation is surely even more hard-wired than the desire for sugar and fatty foods. Dobson, no fool, is smart to distance himself from an attempt to de-gay Haggard. Which is actually good news for Haggard, who now may be one step closer to getting the love and help he needs to be who he is, not who the anti-gay evangelist movement would like to turn him into.

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Weekend Reading: Sandow and Ross

Greg Sandow has a new episode posted in his The Future of Classical Music online book. As always, worthwhile and important reading. And he’s been blogging up a storm lately, too.

Speaking of worthwhile blog reading, Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, did a blog post today about the classical-music-in-jeans experiment Stephanie Gurga and I did at DePauw back in August. “Classical chaos,” he calls it.

I found out about Ross’s post from a notification if a new comment posted to my morning-after invitation for feedback from the audience.

I’m a classical musician who’s very comfortable with applause between movements, casual dress, performers talking before and/or after pieces, and other breaches of conventional concert decorum. On the other hand my colleagues and I work hard to learn what we do, and we’re pretty good at it–good enough, anyway, that we’re not embarrassed to charge admission. What I saw on the short video clip (linked from Alex Ross’ blog) was two musicians who know what they’re doing, and a cluster of people who can’t dance and were just grandstanding. Doesn’t ability make a difference? If people who know how to do the waltz feel like waltzing to the second movement of the Arensky D minor piano trio, go for it. If klutzes want to upstage the musicians with an improvised quasi-polka, no thanks. . . .

Here are all my relevant blog posts, if you are just joining the discussion (in order of appearance):

Let’s see, it’s almost mid-November. The colleague who stopped speaking to me for a while after the “chaos” concert is being friendly again. I won’t forward him the link to Ross’s post!

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