Monthly Archives: December 2008

Umoja–reflecting on unity on the first day of Kwanzaa

Happy Kwanzaa, to all who celebrate it as it begins today.   If you don’t know much about this African American celebration, take some time to rad and meditate on the Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles). And Merry (second day of) Christmas. Happy 5th day of Hanukkah (6th day begins at sundown tonight, right?).

I’ve turned the cable back on for the holidays, which has my kids (20 and 17) very happy.  Pete and I are big Dexter fans, and we can watch the entire third season now via Showtime on Demand, before he leaves Monday for a winter-break trip to China.  Three episodes down and a bunch more to go before he leaves, but we can do it.  My daughter loves Weeds, and we are working through the fourth season at a more leisurely pace.  This on-demand stuff is great–I can watch and/or record these few shows I really enjoy then turn the cable back off.  And because I’ve had the cable off for almost a year, Comcast had all sorts of incentives for me, including free Showtime for six months, so it’s not costing much.

I’m hoping I don’t regress back into excessive channel-surfing mode, which is why I turned the cable off in the first place.  If I do, I’m bound to come across some crabby white political commentator making some nasty remark dismissing Kwanzaa as a “made up” or “invented” holiday, asserting or implying that Kwanzaa is part of a supposed war on Christmas. Ugh.  Kwanzaa, f course, is not anti-Christmas nor meant as an alternative to Christmas; it starts the day after Christmas, so the religious celebration can flow into the cultural celebration.

What’s wrong with inventing  a holiday, anyway?  Kwanzaa got started back in the mid-1960s by Maulana Karenga, and if ever a people deserved to create a holiday to reclaim and celebrate their heritage and identity, it was African Americans in the 1960s.  That it ticks off some white people?  All the better.  Most of us need it, because most of us have no idea of what the black experience has been in the United States over the last 100 years.

As far as Christmas goes, I’ve loved the parties and smaller gatherings where I’ve spent time with friends and family, because it’s about love and fellowship.  The church services have been beautiful, too, and I’ve enjoyed playing in them.

What I could really do without is all the standard Christmas music, sacred and secular, because 50 years of it has left me feeling overdosed.  It would be fantastic to not hear any of it for about five years and then welcome it back.  It would be like going off a diet.  (I’ve totally given up low-carb eating for the holidays, and it’s been fantastically enjoyable;  it will probably be really hard to go back to healthy eating, giving up the sugar and refined flour, but, wow, how I’ve reveled in having totally given in to temptation.)

And all the commercialism makes me sick, at least on one level.  There’s this crazy sense that if I don’t get enough presents, spend enough money, etc., etc., my loved ones won’t know I love them.  Or be hurt and disappointed.  (OK, call that the co-dependent Christmas syndrome.)

On the other hand, I’m acutely aware that the economy, especially in times of recession and near-depression, needs to have money circulating in it.  If we don’t buy stuff, then the people who make and distribute and sell stuff don’t make any money, lose their, jobs, etc., etc.

Layoffs happen everywhere.  In academia, jobs are being cut, just as everywhere else.  Where I teach, tenure-track jobs are secure, but not part-time and what are called “term” (temporary) full-time faculty positions.  The worst part of the holiday season has been learning about people I know who are learning that their positions (here or elsewhere) will be eliminated after this year.

On each day of Kwanza, one of the seven principles is the focus. Today’s is Umoja–unity.  “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”  I know Kwanzaa is meant as a specifically African-American celebration, but there is a lot to learn from it whether or not one is African American. What’s my sense of unity?  Unity with my friends, my family, my church, the university where I teach, my colleagues, my profession?

What I’m acutely aware of today is that the stronger the sense of unity I allow myself to feel, the more it hurts to see losses and suffering and fear.  And at the same time, even when there’s pain, it’s good, so good, to allow myself to feel connected to others.  That’s life, that’s reality.


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Filed under Dexter, economy, Kwanzaa, Weeds

Rick Warren and Cardigan Sweaters

Random thoughts on a rainy morning as i wait for the cable guy (or gal) to show up:

Rick Warren: On one hand, I’m upset that Obama has chosen Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration, given Warrren’s enthusiastic support of California’s Prop 8, which may turn out (legal appeals are still under way) to have overturned the California Supreme Court’s rulng that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional under the California constitution.  On the other hand, I thought the most enormous and horrifying mistake George W. Bush made was, having lost the popular vote in 2000, to act as if he had a huge popular-vote mandate for a highly conservative, pro-business, anti-middle class social and economic agenda.

If ever the country needs a genuine “uniter, not a divider,” this is it.  Obama is a political genius who seems committed to depolarizing the electorate.  (This the guy who defeated the undefeatable Hilary Clinton and then the undefeatable  John McCain with his calm, well-organized, and brilianty-executed campaigns. If he devotes that same intelligence and  strategic gift to bringing the cuntry together, he’ll be a great president).

This is an extraordinary, and, I think, brilliant gesture to that effect, and meanwhile Obama has not backed off his pro-LGBT statements.  He’s got to be president of the conservative Christians as well as frustrated and impatient LGBT activisits.  As insulting as the Warren invitation may feel to those of us still smarting from Prop 8, I think it’s a good move.  I found Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life” book inspiring, and by reaching out to him and his followers, we have a greater chance of winning allies than by denouncing them as bigots and creating further division and polarization.  I’ve always been a catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar guy, with some lapses.

A lt of the post-Prop 8 fury and demonization is really displaced anger at ourselves for not making a stronger case and, in California, running a better campaign.

Where the f**k are the cardigan sweaters? I took my Mom Christmas shopping yesterday at Honey Creek Mall in Terre Haute.  It’s as if TH passed an ordinace banning the sale of cardigan sweaters, which button down the front and are much easier for 81-year-old guys like my Dad to put on then pullovers.  Not a single one at Macy’s (well, they had one shitty-looking one), Penny’s, Sears, or Elder Beerman?  What gives?  At least we got our exercise.


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Stressed out? Doubting yourself?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of [title of show] (yes, that’s the title of the show).  Now that I’ve learned that some of my students read the blog, here’s a song, just for you, from the show to listen to when you’re beset by the “vampires” of stress and self-doubts that can come during finals week.  “Die, Vampire, Die!”

Remember, you’re wonderful, no matter what the vampires say.

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Emily’s “Twelve Days of Cellomas”

One of my favorite cello reads is Emily Wright’s Stark Raving Cello Blog.  A freelance cellist and teacher in the Los Angeles area, she’s a great example of using the web to gave away great suggestions and encouragement while building her reputation as a teacher.  Her summer “24 Scale Challenge” (see here, here, and here) project of playing all the major and minor scales every day using a universal fingering got me doing the same thing (it really works;  I did it in four octaves, rather than three, and I eventually added in arpeggios, etc., something I used to do in my younger years).

It also inspired me to mandate that my DePauw students have all major and minor scales memorized for their jury exams this past weekend. I had my colleagues draw a slip of paper with a note name out of a bowl, something we’ve been doing in lessons and studio classes.  The student enthusiasm for the project was noticeably less than my own, but all agree that it helped their playing.  So we have Emily to thank (or blame).

Now Emily’s doing a Twelve Days of “Cellomas” series of tips (some of my conservative Christian friends may get touchy about messing with “Christmas” but really I think it’s a nice play on Christmas for cellists). It’s being updated daily, so just go to the home page of her blog and scroll down.  Great idea, great tips so far, and–for those of us interested in this sort of thing–a great way to get traffic to her site.  Most musicians make their living with multiple free-lance and part-time careers as players, teachers, concert-series directors, etc.  Those of us who teach in conservatories and college music programs have an obligation (in my opinion) to prepare for life as musical entrepreneurs.  Emily’s a great role model.

And a fine teacher, quite obviously.  You go, girl!

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Filed under Emily Wright, musical entrepreneurship, scales, teaching, technique building

Norman Johnson: “Amatuers forget, professionals . . .”

Norman Johnson

Norman Johnson

During my last two years of high school and my first year of college, I was privileged to attend what was then known as the North Carolina School of the Arts (now it’s the University of North Carolina School of the Arts). Conducting the annual ballet (I think) and opera (for sure) performances was the late Norman Johnson, the founding Artistic Director of the Piedmont Opera, and, I just learned by reading the short bio on the Piedmont About Us page (scroll down), the Director of Opera at NCSA (so no wonder he conducted the operas!) from 1968 to 1996.

He was kind, perhaps a little too kind for someone working with a student orchestra;  so many of us looked at playing an opera as a pain in the ass.  Norman was great at conducting an opera;  the type of teaching notes that one has to do from time to time with any student orchestra wasn’t something he was, well, into.  At times, I thought even then, a Toscanini-like temper tantrum might have had a good effect on us, but Norman was to kind a soul for that.

He did get exasperated.  In so many operas, there are ritards and accelerandos and unwritten fermatas and pauses and what not.  He would patiently teach them to us, and we would not always remember them.  I remember feeling put upon and resentful, in a myopically teenaged way;  instrumentalists are so trained to do what’s in the score that it seemed an outrage(!) that we had to do so much that wasn’t in the parts!  Someone, at least in the rehearsal process, was always forgetting a fermata or playing in newly inserted silence.  And so my irritation was with myself, and my fellow students, as well, with the whole damned situation and it was fueled in part by defensiveness.

In one of these rehearsals, when yet another one of us had quite audibly forgotten to do or to refrain from doing something or other (sins of commission, sins of omission), Norman stopped us, sighed and after a glare asked us,

“Do you know what the difference is between an amateur and a professional? An amateur forgets.  A professional . . .”

Dramatic pause.  I was sure he would say, “remembers.”

” . . . writes it down!”

That really hit the adolescent me.  Human beings, amateur or professional, forget.  The problem wasn’t that we’d forget, the problem was that we were trying to remember things and were too lazy to write them in.  It was a relief and a revelation all at once.  It was so typical of Norman’s kindness.  No shaming, but a genuine lesson.And he was so right!

I’ve used that line on students countless times ove the 30+ years since I heard it from Norman.

I was reminded of this earlier today.  My colleagues in the DePauw Chamber players and I performed for the Warren Central High School orchestra in Indianapolis.  We were approaching the last page of the Chausson piano trio, and in my music, a couple of likes before the last page, were penciled the words, “turn here!”   So I turned.


I had written those words in when I was using a photocopy of the penultimate page next to the last page. I’d turn that next-to-last page, then look at the photocopy of it, which would be to the right of the last page, then go back  . . . it was as complicated as it seems.  Then I realized that all I needed to do was photocopy the last page.  But that page had come untaped, so I had it next to the music (which is somewhat narrow) on the stand.

In the heat of the moment, I turned.  But then I was missing the last two lines.  I realized my mistake, turned back, and then was lost for a while.  Eventually I caught on and joined back in. It was a mess;  how many of the kids know what was going on I don’t know, but I was momentarily panicked.  All’s well that ends well, and as it happened we ended just as the bell rang to end the period.

Norman came immediately to mind, of course.  A permutation of his adage has now entered my vocabulary:  “Amateurs forget, but professionals . . . ”

“. . . erase.”


Filed under 14683790, amatuer vs. professional, embarassing moments, Norman Johnson, North Carolina School of the Arts, North Carolina School of the Ats

This Tosser Loves “Nine People’s Favorite Thing”

One of the best experiences I had in the last year was seeing the brilliant and inspiring (now-closed) [title of show] at the Lyceum Theater in New York.  My son, who’s 20, straight, and never seen any other Broadway musical, was with me and loved it, too.   

I mentioned in a comment on Greg Sandow’s blog the other day that I have dreams in which I hang out with Hunter and Jeff (the show’s creators and half the cast) and work with them on getting it repopened.  Maybe that dream work is paying off. I see on a fan site that it may be reopening off-Broadway in the spring.  Yay!  I realize I’ve actually been in a grief process at the thought of not being able to see it again.

This video gives a taste of what I love about [title of show’ and why I am proud to be a “tosser.”

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Filed under videos, [title of show]

Troy Stuart video

Well, I just discovered Vopod, and with it a way to embed the Sun video of Troy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Troy Stuart video“, posted with vodpod

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Filed under Troy Stuart, videos

Troy Stuart

Troy Stuart

Troy Stuart

Troy Stuart, cellist with the Ritz Chamber Players, studied with me when he was in middle school (in an after-school program) and then for his first two years of high school at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Now he holds my former position there, and also teaches at the Peabody Preparatory, where I taught as well.  He’s profiled in today’s Baltimore Sun in article about African-Americans in classical music.

I almost cried when I read this:

In the 1980s, as a graduate student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, the toughest challenge Stuart faced wasn’t in the pieces he studied, but in a large mirror on the practice room wall – the reflection of an African-American staring back at him.
“I had to cover it for the first half-year,” Stuart says. “I wasn’t gaining any confidence from seeing myself. If I had had a Yo-Yo Ma to look up to, I know I wouldn’t have had any problem looking into that mirror. I still remember the first time I saw an African-American on a classical album cover, I almost fainted.”

I knew it was hard for him growing up in an African-American neighborhood and being the guy into cello and classical music, not basketball.  I didn’t know it was that hard.  I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done.  I just know that I thought he was amazing and I loved being his teacher.

Troy speaks in the video on the Baltimore Sun site (I cannot figure out how to embed it here) about finding your passion.  It’s over twenty years ago that we worked together;  I remember his boundless, sometimes hard-to-channel, enthusiasm as if it were yesterday. It was obvious back then he’d found his passion. The irrepressible spirit  I remember so well from 1984 seems to have remained, well, irrepressed.


Filed under African-Americans in classical music, Baltimore School for the Arts, cellists, former students, Peabody, Ritz Chamber Players, Troy Stuart

“Come out, come out, wherever you are” . . . being an out professor when you’re not “obviously gay”

Via Andrew Sullivan, there’s a Newsweek poll out showing increased support for LGBT legal rights, including same-sex marriage, and a correlated rise in the number of people who say they know someone gay.

One reason that tolerance for gay marriage and civil unions may be on the rise is that a growing number of Americans say they know someone who’s gay. While in 1994, a NEWSWEEK Poll found that only 53 percent of those questioned knew a gay or lesbian person, that figure today is 78 percent. Drilling down a bit more, 38 percent of adults work with someone gay, 33 percent have a gay family member and 66 percent have a gay friend or acquaintance.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was in the process of coming out in the DePauw community, one friend used to mock me for thinking that the long-term key to increased respect and acceptance is, basically, for everyone just to come out, as openly as possible. “You think the answer for everything is for us to all come out,” she, semi-closeted, chastized me.

Well, yes.  I still believe this, and the Newsweek poll gives some validation.  Negative stereotypes are best dispelled by confrontation with positive realities. Straight allies are key; heterosexuals outnumber the rest of us by a huge proportion. Parents, siblings, and friends of those of us who are other than heterosexual have huge impact. Not just in politics, but also through their acceptance and love, which helps those of us who grew up with self-loathing heal from it, and for younger generations to grow up healthier and healthier.

DePauw has been committed for decades to diversifying its faculty. We used to be nearly all married white men. Forty or fifty years ago, single men were presumed to be heterosexual “bachelors,” so absorbed in their work that they didn’t have time to find a wife, or who just preferred be single. That was the cultural pretense, anyway; to be openly gay would have meant dismissal under a “morals” clause in faculty contracts;  to have openly suggested someone was gay would cause a scandal.

The faculty and student body are much more diverse these days. And the DePauw administration and Board of trustees are enormously gay-positive.

But there’s still that being out thing.  It’s easy for students to know who their women, Hispanic, African-American, African, Asian, etc., teachers and fellow students are. But the queer faculty?  Our LGBT-ness can be invisible if we don’t conform to stereotypes. Since I’m not particularly effeminate in my speech or mannerisms, and am divorced with two children, many students assume that I’m straight, unless I do something to make it clear that I’m not.

How to do it is the question.

I don’t have a partner I can occasionally refer to in the way that heterosexually-married people casually mention their spouses, or to put a picture of on my desk. I used to make little speeches on Coming Out Day, but that always felt awkward.  Long ago I wrote an article published in the student newspaper;  that cleared everything up for a few years, anyway.  A colleague told me I’d need to write one every four years.  But I haven’t felt like doing that (maybe I should!)

So just I make occasional comments reflecting the fact I’m gay. We were talking in a class about an upcoming on-campus recital by the famously handsome singer Nathan Gunn. A young women in the class mentioned one of her friends wants to marry him: I spontaneously and somewhat enthusiastically replied that I would, too, if only he wasn’t married to a a woman. We laughed; it took a few seconds.  Everyone then knew I was gay, and I hadn’t needed to make a big deal out of it.  I mentioned how important looks have become classical-music, especially opera careers, and how it seems to me that certain gay critics sometimes spend a lot of time reviewing Nathan Gunn’s pectorals when he does one of his shirtless roles.  All of which was relevant in a class that deals in part with career-building and publicity.

[12/17/08 edit:  I’ve removed the anecdote that followed here, as well as the comments relating to it.  When I wrote the post, I incorrectly assumed that hardly anyone actually reads the blog, and that none of my students do.  (No student of mine had mentioned the blog to me or posted a comment for  years, whether at its old location or this).  That turns out not to be the case, I’ve since learned.  In that context, the inclusion of that in-class anecdote is inappropriate.  Lesson learned on my part.  My apologies to those in the class who were upset. It wan’t my intention. Feel free to contact me directly if you’d like a more personal apology.]


Filed under Andrew Sullivan, being out, gay issues, LGBT