Monthly Archives: December 2014

Dignity, Humiliation, and Music. Who Knew?

When George Wolfe asked me to come improvise with him at a conference at Columbia University, I of course said yes. Then I saw it was the International Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies conference, I told George we might need to come up with a good rationale for the cello professor to use professional conference funds to attend this particular event.

But once I arrived at Columbia, I was struck by how much I felt I was part of this work. Humiliation and shame are not just tools of control in relationships, personal, professional, organizational, and societal. They are also deeply part of the experience most classical musicians have as we study are craft and learn our art. There are very few of us who are not on some level ashamed of, or healing from years of feeling ashamed of, our playing or singing.

For my entire life as a teacher, I’ve worked with students to learn to trust themselves and find their voices, while at the same time presenting the exacting standards that can be so intimidating and which can cause so much hurt when we don’t meet them. All along, I’ve been healing, too.

It’s what led me into the safe-space, accepting world of Music for People improvisation and the community drum circle culture articulated by Arthur Hull.

I never framed this work in terms of humiliation and human dignity before. But as I heard scholars from many disciplines around the world speak, and as we spoke together in discussion groups, I realized that I’ve been working in this field.

And that there was much I could take back to DePauw, where we are dealing with how to make the campus climate more hospitable for students and faculty of color. Where we are collectively looking for how to participate in the national and international conversations that relate to ongoing humiliation that is racism.

The contribution that George and I were able to make was to use performances of free improvisations as a model for a way of relating that is rooted in what I now realize can be called dignity. Listening. Responding. Taking turns leading. Supporting and challenging. Neither dominating or submitting.

I learned so much, too, which I’ll write about at another time. Meanwhile, it was a genuine miracle for me to discover that there was a group of people of whom I was already a part, without knowing it.

Thanks, George.

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Sponge Shoes

If it seems to be good to be true, it probably is.

That’s the saying, anyway.

On the other hand (and isn’t there always another hand?), miracles, unexpected, undeserved wonderful things, happen too. If you are intentionally open to minor miracles, as I am, you can mistake too-good-to-be-true for a minor miracle.

I spent about 45 minutes this morning using daughter’s hair dryer to make my new dressy-casual black leather “sponge shoes” comfortable to wear.

They were one of those minor miracles. Just $19.99 at the Bass Outlet Store on Black Friday.

Sponge shoes, you ask?

Yes. It turns out the soles absorb water with extraordinary efficiency and transfer them to my socks with a speed and thoroughness I would have thought impossible. A bit of drizzle in New York and just walking a few blocks on a damp sidewalk and my feet were suddenly and unexpectedly wet.

Ha ha! A more minor miracle than. I’d thought.

How This Happened:

My partner loves shopping and in particular Black Friday. I’d always comfortably hid at home on Black Fridays until we met, and at first absolutely refused to go anywhere near Black Friday madness.

But then we found a win-win solution. There’s a big outlet mall in Edinburgh, Indiana, a little over an hour from where we live. Adjacent to it, just off I-65, are several motels, one of which is virtually in the parking lot. So two Thanksgivings ago, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Indianapolis, drove down, and checked in to the motel-in-the-parking-lot. he could shop all night, I could sleep.

I did venture out with him for a while, to see what it was like.

And ended up buying shoes and socks (really good socks, too) that would last me a couple of years, at terrific prices.

We did it again this year. And I found these amazing looking black leather loafers at the Bass store on a super clearance for only $19.99!They look great. They fit beautifully. They are wonderfully comfortable.

I wore them for the first time Wednesday night as I performed a chamber music concert at DePauw. I liked them so much I wore them Thursday morning as my only shoes on a pack-light, long-weekend trip to perform and speak at a conference in NY.

Friday there was a very light drizzle in the late afternoon. As I walked a few blocks to a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, I noticed that the ball of my right foot felt a bit damp. That’s strange, I thought. These are new shoes. I know there’s no hole in the soles. After dinner, we walked a few blocks to a concert. Both feet felt damp.

I hadn’t stepped in a puddle. The sidewalks were just damp. It was drizzle, not rain. By the time I made back to my daughter’s apartment in Harlem, my feet were wet.

I was going to buy some other shoes Saturday, since it was raining again. I met a friend for a late lunch, then others for a group drink. In between a haircut with my favorite NY barber. Somewhere along the way, I got used to the wet feet. There seemed to be a certain limit to the transfer of moisture.

I toughed it out. Dried the shoes this morning, and it was dry all day. I love these shoes today.

Maybe that’s the latest minor miracle.

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