soul to soul

so last week, i had the great pleasure of recording an interview with a producer from the BBC for a radio program entitled Soul Music (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008mj7p), a program that focuses on a particular work (classical, pop, whatever) and people’s personal connections to it. i spent a very emotional hour talking about the Brahms Requiem & its place in my life. 

it was one of the most difficult things i’ve ever done. there were tears and things caught in my throat and serious real talk was had. i don’t think the producer nor the sound engineer had ever heard something like that. (the sound engineer asked me if i was a writer, i told him i was) but as difficult as it was, it was freeing and i’m so excited to share it with everyone when it airs.

i do think it’s funny though that the day after giving this interview, opening myself up about being ill, that i ended up in the hospital. and this time, i wasn’t concerned about my professors knowing (and i actually wanted them to know…granted this situation is a little different) — things may be cyclical but that doesn’t mean i have to make all the same mistakes. 

and i think i have Brahms to thank for that.

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déjà vu all over again

hello AMB readers! when we spoke last, it was all about Stravinsky with no sort of real discussion as to what was going on with me (i know you’re all so interested…) so i think it’s back to basics around here, today being the first day in MONTHS that my head has been above water, figuratively, of course.

this post relates to this very recent change in my life and something that’s been on my mind, at least for the last fifteen hours or so. after a really tough decision between Duke and Oxford, i decided to finish my PhD at Duke & i’ve been very happy here. the program has been exactly what i needed & i feel completely rejuvenated not to mention the fact that it’s been bound up with some very busy months for me. i wouldn’t classify where i am as completely starting over but it’s definitely not where i left off at Columbia, and i’ve made my peace with that. but there’s one thing i haven’t made peace with & i’m not sure that i ever will.

for all intents and purposes, i am a first year at Duke. but i am not a “first year.” 

that first year in quotes denotes a certain type of person who, usually, is at a certain place in their life and knows nothing about the ways of graduate school. (and yes i know this is a generalization, many people start a PhD at various places in their lives with varying life & school experiences) and when people who i do not know meet me and find out that i’m a “first year,” i get all of the typical first year questions: “how do you like graduate school?” “what are you working on?” “what’s your cohort like” all with an implication that is reflected vocally that we’re your elders and know the game and welcome to our world. well, that’s not me & i don’t want to be treated as such. now, i don’t hold it against those people for talking to me in such a way (not a lot), but i feel badly that i feel that i have to correct them, that i have to say, “well, i actually was in the PhD program at Columbia for three years & left to come to Duke.” because that whole sentence sounds so entitled. but it’s really not why i say it.

those three years were a struggle as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows and i don’t want that time to be white-washed away because i’m now at Duke. i did coursework, got a degree, and took my comps. i TAed and taught my own classes. and all of that is really important to me. it doesn’t just disappear. 

so yes, i have to do a lot of that over again and yes, to a degree, it sucks (mainly time-wise, i think i’m doing all of it better the second time around) and i have no problem identifying myself thusly. but please understand that if i do mention my years at Columbia it’s because they still have some meaning. and also that i’m no spring chicken — i’m almost 30 with a dissertation on the horizon.

there’s a lot in my rear view mirror.

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happy birthday!

well if you run in my circles, and you being here might suggest just that, then you probably know that today is the 100th birthday of Stravinsky’s *Le sacre du printemps*, or *The Rite of Spring*. sure, the lore is filled with apocryphal stories of riots, chaos, and confusion; counting beats and steps from offstage and telling those bitches in the deuxième ètage to shut up — we love telling this and other apocrypha to our students. whether it’s showing the Joffrey Ballet performance or doing a little performing of our own, this is the way that many of us try to relate this so-called entry into modern music. and let me tell you, those have been fun moments…

watching my students clap the opening rhythms at the beginning of the Adoration of the Earth has never failed at being HILARIOUS.

…but for me. at the heart of me, i’ve always related to Rite differently from musicologist me. because at the end of the day, no matter what i do, i’ll always be a bassoonist and let’s face it, my first *real* introduction to the piece was this way.

this isn’t really about the solo. and what i mean is, it’s not about what the solo is as an excerpt. it’s more about how that solo has figured into our understanding of what the piece is and what it means. somewhere along the way, the Rite got hyped. and that solo, in my opinion, is the most overly-hyped solo in history. why? because its worth as an excerpt has very little real world value.

i found myself ruminating over this last night. it seems like the one thing people have asked me countless times is to play the Rite solo: “oh, do you know the Rite solo?,” “have you played the Rite solo?,” “is the Rite solo hard?,” followed by some sort of vocal interpretation to me as to how the solo should go. did i know the solo when i was 14? yes. could i play it? not really. but it didn’t matter. i had been playing the bassoon for three years at this point and nothing struck fear into my heart more than that solo. i mean who were these people who knew NOTHING ELSE about the bassoon who were asking me about this? and why did they care so very much?

when i got to college, and more specifically, when i got to graduate school, my feelings about the solo changed drastically. for me, the solo had no currency. orchestras rarely play the piece and they rarely ask for it in auditions. and it seemed like no matter how i played it, i was playing it incorrectly even if the way to play it was not fixed. (yes, the solo has to be played rhythmically and those note values have to be correct but where you place them in space is another matter) — but there it was, staring us in the face, demanding to be learned.

so i learned it.

i even played it at an orchestral audition (which was probably the most worthless endeavour i have ever embarked upon) and i felt nothing.

i felt in that moment that i learned the solo for the same reasons that i had to teach the piece in Music Hum: it’s one of those things that has to be learned because it’s a signpost. and this seems to be accepted among bassoonists with whom i speak. just like musicology, other facets of music has their own canons but when it’s one that’s so incredibly tiny, like that of bassoon solo/orchestral rep, we glom on to the things that elevate us, that give us recognition and seeming purpose.

but there are other solos. solos that came before and came after the Rite solo. solos that are FAR more important. i’ve had a chance to play a few of them: Ravel’s *Alborada del gracioso*, the solos in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies, the solos in Beethoven’s Third and Fifth symphonies, the contra solo in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Bartok’s *Concerto for Orchestra*, Berlioz’s *Symphonie fantastique*…and let me tell you, they’ve been game changers (especially the Ravel); these are excerpts i practiced for days, solos i’ve sweat over, solos i’ve played in auditions, solos that matter.

and it’s in those moments, when i’ve heard those solos played brilliantly, that i forget about all the stupid things people say about the instrument, how amazing it is and how talented and musical those performers are. the Rite solo has its flickers but it burns cold.

so let’s remember, that solo didn’t come to Stravinsky in a dream. he found the melody in a book of folksongs. and nowadays, high Ds are pretty standard (as are high Es and even, sometimes, high Fs –– if you’re French); the solo is showing its age and a little of its novelty.

so yes, our students should learn it. it’s worth learning. and students should feel good when they’re able to play it (especially when they can master their own take on the fluidity of it) but it is not the end all be all. the same for Rite itself. regardless of how you feel about the piece, it is important. that’s why we’re talking about it today. and people should learn about it, hear it, see it, experience it. but all music didn’t end or begin once this piece was premiered and maybe we should remember **that**, too.

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a little housekeeping

go check out my tech tumblr, Techademia (http://techademic.tumblr.com) where i talk about my life as a 21st-century academic, sharing all of my favorite tips about hardware and software and where i answer your questions! videos, links, pics and all that fancy stuff.

if you’re on twitter, i hope you were able to check out tweets from the Society for American Music conference labelled with the hashtag #Sonneck2013. go look it up, the tweets were mega informative and interesting (and i wasn’t even there!) also includes links to lots of pictures and videos. — i’m quite glad that people are getting into the spirit of tweeting musicology conferences (other disciplines do it so much better, ESPECIALLY librarians). i’ll try to keep you updated with conference hashtags as they come along and if you go to a conference and have a twitter, consider doing a little tweeting yourself! it’s fun and it creates a great public record.

up next on the docket is a post on race that i’ve been musing on for some time. this is sort of a tough one. but there may be some talk about admissions and making tough decisions in the next few weeks. stay tuned.

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the listserv goes on and on…

i have wanted to write about so many things over the last month or so. at one point it seemed like anglo-american musicological academics were losing control. it’s calmed down and some other things have happened that i thought would be good to compile all in one place.

some time in december, my facebook/twitter BLEW UP with somewhat confusing and vague comments from my friends/colleagues, all related. in the wake of Charles Rosen’s death, the AMS listserv went bananas. and not in the good way. but it was so bad, so intense that it caused me to do something i didn’t think i’d have to do for quite some time: rejoin the listserv.

background: when i became a member of AMS in 2006, i went whole hog. i had my copies of JAMS, poured over the newsletter, and subscribed to the listserv. over time (a short period of time), that enthusiasm waned. the emails on the listserv were insipid, confrontational, and (the worst part), never-ending. i jumped ship pronto with no intention of looking back.

but the outrage that seemed to be pouring out of the internet was too important for me to refuse to participate. what took place after Rosen’s death seemed like slander and it was malicious. and one email after another caused the whole thing to snowball. most people wondered if this was the right conversation to have, if this was the right place, or the right time. (i disagreed.) and at one point, it was all anyone could talk about. and as i witnessed it, i became more and more distressed. musicologists fight about stupid, hypothetical shit all the time — it’s absurd yet tolerable. but this was new. now don’t get me wrong, at some point, all of our careers and decisions will be discussed but this seemed like — no, was — an attack. many people expressed a fair amount of outrage but the conversation and its many offshoots went on for weeks. thankfully, another happy little event came and distracted everyone: Zachary Woolfe’s review of Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker’s new book The History of Opera. in one very short paragraph, Woolfe denounced and insulted all of musicology, especially opera scholarship. i was slack-jawed when i read the review (i had just purchased the book maybe a month before) and it seemed like many people were asking where did Woolfe get the stones to make such a bold statement (in so many words). now as a contemporary opera scholar, i acknowledge that there is opera after Britten and that opera scholarship has been slow to recognize this fact (and this points to endemic problems within the discipline, ones i’m ready to debate at any time) but work is being done — good work. and for an outsider to be so incredibly dismissive seemed like someone taking a battering ram to the door. and when you’re on the other side of that door, regardless of what your feelings might be, you join the troops and prepare for battle.

it’s all quiet on the electronic front and now (with help from Columbia’s new Gmail server), i have once again relegated the listserv emails to their own folder, away from my inbox. i check on them from time to time but that’s about it.

in other news, i’ve been accepted to Duke’s PhD program. as you might imagine, this comes as a great relief. for those who have never applied to graduate school (for any field), i try to explain the “all you need is one” concept — sure, we all have our top choices and our safety schools but in the end, all that matters is that there’s one school that will take you, one place where you’ll be able to continue your studies and write your dissertation. this made my rejection by Cambridge a few days later a lot easier to swallow. what i’ve learned after going through this the first time three years ago is that this process is not personal. there may be personal aspects to it but they are few and far between. Cambridge told me not to take my rejection personally and i didn’t (well to a degree. as a human i, like anyone else, hate to be rejected by anyone) and if i get rejected from the other four schools i applied to, i won’t take that personally either. (well except UNC — if they reject me a second time, god knows what i’ll do) but regardless, i can go about the business of my life knowing that come fall of this year, i’ll be in school again.

and can i just say how humorous i find it that all of my NC friends are like “come home!”? i appreciate the enthusiasm, i really do but right now, there’s still a little ways to go before i decide on moving back home. my facebook status announcing the news garnered almost 200 likes (and 60 comments) which i think is so absurd and, honestly, it makes me feel a little ashamed. thirsty much? but i share everything, how could i not share this? plus, 200 people out of approximately 1800 friends is a drop in the bucket. still, it was an overwhelming drop. i think i’ll choose to be thankful rather than ashamed.

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my love affair with Brigg Fair

so there’s a lot of musicological intrigue going on and believe you me, i will write about it but it’s been so very much that i thought it would be nice (for me, mainly) to take a break from all of those shenanigans and talk about something else.

so here we are, talking about Grainger. i read a great blog posted in Gramophone today about how we think about early twentieth-century British music … you know, my bread and butter. i run into this all the time: it’s all pastoral and pleasant. The Lark Ascending and The Planets and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. well those things do exist but that view is a little short-sided, especially considering the wealth of British composers at this time and their output. homogeneity is not the word that i’d tack on to them. the idea is that if you’ve heard one thing, you’ve heard them all. and since that one thing isn’t The Rite of Spring, it doesn’t merit discussion. in my discussions with friends, when i get to play them stuff they haven’t heard before, not only do they like it but are pleasantly surprised when i say, “that was Vaughan Williams!”, etc.

but that’s not really the point of this entry (though it is a life goal of mine — to re-introduce the world to the English Musical Renaissance and others. i start with my parents…) the point is to talk about a song i like. it’s my blog and i can do that.

i have been in love with Percy Aldridge Grainger since i was thirteen. (and a caveat right now because my boyfriend HATES this: Grainger was Australian who moved to London and then moved to the US but i (and pretty much everyone else) lump him in because of his compositional style. i am well aware that he’s from Australia…) i always thought he was so incredibly underrated and i never understood why. we are taught that out of the hundreds of great composers over the centuries that there are a handful who were brilliant orchestrators and arrangers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Berlioz, Ravel…i want to put Grainger up on that list (if someone hasn’t already) — his arrangements are so complex and precise that he had to use his own weird made-up pseudo-English terminology to explain what to do. and if you don’t do exactly what he says, when he says it, then the color, the line, the phrase vanishes. i used to love (not used to, still do) to listen to Grainger in my stereo headphones and track the various melodic lines, following their ebbs and flows, noting that one chord, that one sound that would stop time the moment i heard it. truly, for me, there’s no other composer quite like him.

and that brings me to Brigg Fair. the first time i heard it, i’m pretty sure time slowed down and i could feel the rotation of the earth. i instantly fell in love with it. (I will admit, Ian Bostridge played a small part in that…) it showcased all of those things that i loved about Grainger, how the solo line melted into the chorus, turning into a false entry, followed by this resplendent return — all in oohs and aahs. now granted, this is a folk song and i have heard the recording Grainger made of it in the field. it’s charming enough but what Grainger does is more that arrange — he transforms. he elevates that folk song into something so incredibly complex and intricate while still allowing it to be simple. the words seem to express something so incredibly tender and heartbreaking. and while some may be quick to call this not composing but if it’s not, i don’t know what is.

and now for the secret (well not so secret if you’ve ever talked to me) non-musical part: i loved this song so much that i decided that it would be my wedding song. that i would get married on August 5th and the whole deal. (much like girls plan their future wedding dresses and cakes, i pick out wedding music) it’s become incredibly special to me (and to my friends) and, amazingly enough, not absurdly corny. it spoke to me, not just as piece of music but as a perfect sentiment of love.

so on one August fifth in the future, i’ll be off somewhere starting a new chapter in my life with a very familiar friend accompanying me. and hopefully, it’ll will be just as beautiful and complex as the song.

"And now we're met together 
I hope we ne'er shall part".
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return of the mack

hi internet. you’ve probably forgotten about me. in that case, let me re-introduce myself: hi, my name’s imani and i’m a recovering academic.

a lot has happened since i wrote here last. the two subjects of my penultimate post are both dead (and very recently so) and my status, for the time being, has changed. i’m leaving Columbia and applying to new PhD programs in the hopes that i’ll land somewhere in the fall. i’ll be spending the next six months or so in the real world (something i’m actually looking forward to), saving up money for my next grand adventure whatever that may be. i’ve given a few papers, attended a few conferences, taught a handful of classes and learned more than i had ever bargained for — a lot about myself, especially.

so what brings me back here? well…while attending the behemoth that was Alphabet Soup, er, i mean AMS/SMT/SEM 2012 in New Orleans a month and a half ago, i met up with Ryan Bañagale (of Amusicology fame and all around awesome musicologist) and we talked about social media among other things. i talked about my blog to which he actually said that he missed it. (you know i thought no one ever read this…a vain naïveté, i know but who cares?) sometime later, i realized that my tiny little voice was an important one for a whole host of reasons. while my journey is uniquely my own, a lot of people can identify with it (or at least parts of it) and it’s always been important to me to document my struggle.

(don’t worry Ryan, i still want to write for Amusicology!)

so here i am! granted, i won’t have that much to talk about in the upcoming months … actually, strike that. there’s the application process, the admissions and failures, and the life of a (hopefully) temporary independent scholar. plus, as we all know (though i think sometimes we need reminding) being out of school does not make me — or anyone else — less of a musicologist.

i’d like to think now that i’d have the time to devote myself to a different type of writing but we shall see. plus, i have *other* things to do. that means: go check out my Tumblr devoted to the Britten Centenary (and my place within it) A Birthday Hansel; it’s great fun and is a little less about me and my thoughts which is always nice.

so go, tell your friends and i’ll do my best to hold up my end of the bargain this time.

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revelations

i haven’t written here in more than four months…a lifetime on the internet. to be honest, i had very little desire with very little to say. it was, in my opinion, a result of all of the struggles i faced during this year. i was loathed to admit it to myself but i was too sick to do the things that needed to be done. so many days, i spent in bed not being able to get up and with a real hatred of walking up the various hills to get to my apartment. as a result, my work didn’t get finished, i went for weeks without sleeping and basically had a breakdown in front of my peers and professors so intense that they collectively pulled me aside.

less then a month ago, i had my third heart surgery. though it didn’t turn out quite the way i had wanted, it was a step in the right direction. currently, i’m in the recovery/monitoring stage but i’ve seen glimmers of hope. i can walk that distance, climb that stair and have it feel much better than it’s felt in years. i have more good days than bad and what’s even more amazing is that i don’t have that fear anymore: the fear of not waking up from my sleep, that kind of thing so common with people who have heart problems. but now i’m antsy. i told my mom that i miss my abs (which i do) — a year and a half ago, i was a size 4, working out five days a week and feeling great.  i can’t do anything until the doctors say it’s okay, but i’m ready.

what does any of this have to do with musicology?

well nothing specifically except for the fact i refuse to have a repeat of the last year. credibility seemed shot, no one thought i could do what i needed to do, or at least it seemed that way. i didn’t put myself first. i put everything else in my life first, even though i swore not to. i have another chance and i would like not to blow it. i’m aiming for a clear body and a clear mind, both of those things, i think, are key to surviving in this business. and by business, i mean academia. there are so many things involved in what we do that are not conducive to living healthy lives. and nothing we do matters if we don’t do that. all the stress, the work, the misery…not worth it.

so i’m hoping that this new heart will allow me to reform myself. stop worrying about my body and start thinking about all the other stuff that i’d rather spend time on. and i hope that no one has to go through what i’ve gone through. this is enough for all of us.

“musicologists are super boring.”

i enjoyed reading Charles Rosen’s lively rebuttal to Richard Taruskin in last week’s New York Review of Books regarding Elliott Carter and music during the Cold War. i don’t know if i have much more to say about it than that and…well, read it i suppose.

basically, i just love seeing musicologists duking it out in a public forum. it’s the best we can do.

you’re the best around

there are definitely some things about grad school that you will encounter that people do not warn you about in advance. some of those things matter more than others and some of them sneak up on you like a raccoon or some other annoying animal. one of those things, the one with which i’m dealing currently is ego.

what a nasty little word. unfortunately, it is a huge part of the jobs in which we find ourselves. someone once said, “how is anyone going to praise you if you don’t praise yourself?” okay, so i revised that statement a little bit but you get my drift. when we send off abstracts, apply for jobs, etc, we have to promote ourselves. now doing that in person (what i call academic hustling) is one thing. doing it on paper is another. so the question is: how do we talk about ourselves successfully on paper without sounding like complete douches?

this has been a sticking point for me very recently. writing my bio as a performer was easy. believe me, i had no problem writing about every award, scholarship, competition, famous professor that’s ever crossed my path. anyone who’s ever applied for an orchestral audition knows that you can and will be rejected on a bio alone. but for some reason, writing an academic bio (or some conglomeration of the two) doesn’t work out quite the same way. as more things happen to me, the more reluctant i am to add them to my bio. but it’s not like i’m making things up — i did speak at that conference or win that award. maybe at my age it feels like showing off, i don’t quite know. but for some reason, i feel like some outside force is shaming me.

and of course, you can’t just write up a list and be done with it. it has to be interesting and witty…you know, representative of you. good grief, it never ends! now this may sound trite to you but it is a very important thing to ponder. as we continue with our academic careers, hopefully, our accolades will grow. these are great things of which we should be proud. unfortunately, many of us get to a point where they go to our head. my severe lack of modesty as a performer was one thing. severe arrogance as an academic, in my opinion, gets you nowhere.

on a related note, have you ever had the feeling that people were not impressed with you? the flip side of the above argument is getting too wrapped up in your academic awesomeness. after laying out all of my credentials to new associates, i got the feeling that what i had just said was not registering. i wanted them to acknowledge the ridiculous amount of work i’ve put in over the last 10 years. but that can’t be healthy. so there i was, trapped between the super egotistical and the super modest. it’s a place that musicians know all too well. this extra level of academia only made my situation worse.

so what’s a grad student to do? i’ve always believed that it’s a healthy dose of the two. when and where, however, is more easily said than done (or written).

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