Category Archives: the present

like it or not

“what is art today? […] the decent impotence of those who scorn to cloak the general sickness under colour of a dignified mummery.”

all art and patrons of art, throughout history, have faced an ongoing challenge: why do we like what we like? more importantly, whose opinion really matters? does my “like” trump your “like”? and, of course, do we like things because they are good?

what is good?

as someone who does a fair amount of study & reading on the philosophies and aesthetics of music, i come across this fairly often. i got hit with the reality, very bluntly, of what happens when you start asking these questions at a later age. there is no turning back once you realize that your concept of music, what it is and what it does, can be challenged. it can shake your entire foundation. this was tested last week in one of my classes. we devoted a whole class to postmodern aesthetics of music (with a little dash of Adorno) and i found myself in the position of preaching to the deaf. i could cite Pluto, Adorno, Derrida, and Lyotard till the cows came home but they were not having it. words like “good”, “undefinable”, and “beautiful” keep appearing and i kept cringing.

and what saddens me the most about all of this is that it’s not the fault of my peers. they’ve been indoctrinated and they don’t even know it. many of us come out of our musical academic experience thinking the only composers who have ever mattered are Bach, Mozart, (maybe) Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler. god help you if you don’t like those composers because you are obviously not a real classical musician. how have we let it get to this point? this is canon formation in overdrive. are you really gonna like Beethoven because someone told you to and pointed out in all of his works what a genius he was? why wouldn’t you?

i had this experience with Bach. Bach was in my life from a very early age for, you see, he and i have the same birthday. not only that, but i was born 299 years to the day after the Master himself. (yes, if you can do math, i have just dated myself. whatever…) growing up, my favorite classical radio station would play nothing but Bach all day on my birthday and it drove me crazy! this led to a most likely irrational hatred of Bach and his music. but how could anyone hate Bach? did i not understand his genius? well, after years of rejecting common thought, i decided to really check Bach out on my own. and, amazingly, i had a moment. i liked Bach. from that moment on Bach and i have had an increasingly personal relationship. Bach became important to me because i found something relevant, relatable. Does common academic study tend to bolster those feelings? possibly, which, of course, i hate. but i never let myself take any composer at face value — if someone is going to tell me that someone is “great”, i need to know why.

as we all know, schools are intent on teaching the Austro-German Classical/Romantic legacy. it’s just easier. but in doing so, we produce a generation of musicians who are content with not taking risks, whether in programming or education, and it has real effects. in the Northeast, where i was educated, the “orchestra” was the only relevant and important music-making body. the wind band genre, which i grew up with was “less than”, “undesirable”, and not real art music. says who? says those who were educated within this system.

this reeks of bad things to come and i feel it’s my duty to curb it as much as possible. i will admit, i get a little overzealous (i know many people who are German Romanticists and it’s just my general feeling to loathe them, which is not fair — there’s just so damn many of them!) but i believe what i’ve subscribed myself to. don’t like Mozart? fine. but if you’re going to rebel against the institutionalized canon, be educated about it. and stay away from “good”, “better”, “best”. that trap is lethal — unless you’re Plato.

i saw this again on a much smaller scale (and i mean MUCH smaller) with the release of Christina Aguilera’s new video, “Not Myself Tonight” — there’s a lot of vitriol out there about what’s “good” and what”s not and i found myself asking the above questions in regards to this…and feeling badly that the same sort of institutionalized aesthetics happens on every level, from pop music to art music and everywhere else. i think part of the reason why it can be more inflammatory in music as opposed to other arts is because of the very deep connections we make with artists and their work. i’ll be the first person to admit it — to me, Bach’s Goldberg Variations feels like a warm breeze blowing through my hair and sounds like the silence of unconquered lands. and if you come up to me and tell me that Bach is shit, i’ll punch you in the mouth. but then i have to take a step back and analyze all of those feelings.

i’m not saying that we can’t like music just because and place value judgements because, let’s face it, that’s impossible. but if you haven’t before, take a look at why you like the things you do and think the way you do about certain musics. is it because of your own personal decisions or because you haven’t heard otherwise?

side notes: 1) i’ve decided to get my Britten tattoo & a new Bach tattoo to complement it on my right arm. i’m totally swagga jacking the lovely Ms. Lindsey Falbo, but let’s face it, Bach was a fucking baller who designed his own family crest. you can find the Britten here: http://drp.ly/V9Ifu (which i designed myself) and the Bach here: http://drp.ly/V9K1 (however the Bach will not be filled in but only outlines that i will design)
2) i’m sorry Christina, and i mean no disrespect but go away, again, figure out the artist you want to be, and then come back. when you do that, i will be happy. don’t pander to the lowest denominator with this video/song…you don’t need to be Madonna or Gaga, trust me.

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fluent in academese

as i inch ever closer to my new life as Ph.D. student, i find more and more things about my life turning to the academic. and i don’t just mean in the sense of institutional learning but the recreational aspects of my life as well. it makes me wonder, who am i exactly and just what am i becoming?

when i was in high school, maybe sophomore year or so, i called my mother into my room and asked, “am i going to end up looking like one of those professors on the history channel with coke-bottle glasses and bad teeth?” (i will admit, the people solicited by the history channel look much better now) and my mother replied, “yes, imani. yes you will.” and walked out. i was stunned! was my academic nature so visible, so pervasive that it bled through my daily life…all the way into my future? i know many young professors and i admire and respect them greatly. but when it comes to the personal, as wonderful as they are, i have no desire to be like them. sometimes i think i’m an anomaly. while building, establishing and, somehow, living up to this academic guise, i get fake nails painted hot pink, fly home in a zebra print trench coat, retro sunglasses and gray Lucky jeans (that’s happening right now, by the way), listen to Finnish death metal, house and electro-pop on the same playlist as Bach and Brahms, drive fast, watch [adult swim], play Call of Duty, buy Christian Louboutin and Rick Owens and party in the East Village. what kind of musicologist does that? maybe i’m part of a new generation of musicologists that lives in the world that i inhabit while still going to Columbia, Harvard, Cornell and Princeton. does that mean we can’t be as adept at discussing Dufay and Palestrina as our forebears?

or maybe i really am alone.

with all that being said, the part of me that’s always longed to be in the situation in which i find myself currently is hungry for all of the things that i don’t know and haven’t done. i want to subscribe to the New York Review of Books, i want to do research at the Library of Congress, i want to help work on the upcoming Britten thematic catalogue (dreams, dreams, i know), i want to build my own racket (apparently, it’s easy?) and when i think about all of these things, they seem to signal, to me at least, the beginning of not only my adulthood but my academic-hood. i see the things that the young professors i know have in common and it appeals to me.

it is no surprise that this post is coming on the eve (okay the eve’s eve) of my birthday. as i get older, i wonder what things in my life i should leave behind and what i should embrace. it seems like, in many ways, that i have just now discovered myself. in the past year, i’ve reached a spiritual, sexual and mental awakening where i am happy with myself and my life for the first time in my life. of course i don’t want that to end. can that run concurrently with this new phase of my life? i think it’s gonna have to because the combination of those things make me a complete and successful person.

so when this train i’m on arrives in baltimore, i’ll head to Barnes and Noble and pick up (hopefully) Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land and read it on my way to rehearsal in Silver Spring. and tomorrow, i will head to the birthday party that’s being thrown for me, eat with friends and then go to Fells Point and get wrecked wearing a shirt dress from the Gap and suede heels i bought when i was in Milan.

ich will euch wiedersehen!

Ye now are sorrowful, howebeit ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:22)

i know i’ve mentioned Brahms before here before but i would be remiss to not mention the experience i had today. somehow out of the ashes of confusion and anger towards circumstances that were beyond our control, something beautiful occurred. in the midst of our run of Ein deutsches Requiem, we reached the fifth movement. and while it has always been performed lovely, i was completely taken by surprise. yet somehow i’m able to recall the exact moment: Mühe und Arbeit gehabt. suddenly, my eyes filled with tears and i was just so overcome with this strange mixture of joy and sorrow that is only explainable through tears. however, my brain told me to snap out of it because i was singing and if i paused for even a moment, it’d be all over. this was the biggest conflict of interests ever. my body wanted to run off stage and weep, as if to release some deep longing and yet, somehow, my lips kept moving. the next thing you know, we had reached the end. wiedersehen! and out of nowhere, as if by God’s command (or Brahms’s), birds began to sing. well that was more than i could handle. the only other time that particular experience has happened to me was in the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity in NYC where i had an appropriately religious experience singing Saint-Saëns. for me, as a child, i associated birds singing with the idea of the earth speaking to me, reciting a love song. i know it might sound weird but i was a child that was moved by the wind, the sea and birds singing. whenever i felt the most sorrow and the most despair, the birds would come and they would sing.

so just as St. John said, i was sorrowful and was made joyful. the ability to be moved by something so acoustically and mathematically arbitrary, so textually fragmented seems a mystery to me. luckily, it’s a mystery i have no desire to solve and have no business solving in the first place. i’m perfectly content with music happening to me. so many in my field ask questions to reach a deeper understanding of what we do and why we do it but i feel that this deep knowledge can only come from a sort of passive listening that happens with one’s whole body and mind. that’s when the tears come, and the birds sing.

(for you, jessica.)

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how the iPhone has made me a better musician

(and student, and teacher, etc.)

so those of you who know me know that i am obsessed with my iphone. i won’t lie, i can’t, it is a fabulous piece of machinery. and while i love it for all of the ridiculously goofy things it can do (and that whole phone business) i’ve tried to incorporate it into my life as fully as possible. now considering that i am a full time musician, student, graduate assistant and teacher, those are the things that need the most help. so how do i do it?

imani’s favorite, can’t live without iphone apps:
General
so of course, i couldn’t work without the first page apps from Apple: Safari, Calendar (i’ll talk more about this in a sec), Camera, Weather, Maps, Calculator, Settings and Contacts. these are all on my first page and are opened pretty much every day. in my dock i have iPod, Phone, Messages and Mail (which at last count has six email accounts in it). the one probably used the most would be Calendar because if i don’t schedule everything very carefully, well…CRASH! i am using MobileMe right now which i love mainly for the calendar sync. I have a MacBook, an iMac and my iPhone all with calendars on them. syncing between the three is vital.

Music
i am always on the hunt for great music apps which, i think, are few and far between. but the ones i have, i have totally embraced. this includes stuff for performing, practicing, listening and music reference.

  • Tempo is possibly the best metronome i have ever seen. it has a beautiful interface and is, possibly, more functional than my other metronomes. it goes up to 300 bpm, you can choose from a variety of time signatures (unfortunately only meters of 4 and 8 but if you want something like 5/2 or 8/16 just do the math), the accent can be placed on any beat and the beat can be subdivided into eighths, triplets and sixteenths. it also has a visual element (it flashes) which you can remove. my favorite part came with the new update. you can add specific tempi to a setlist. so if you’re working on multiple pieces you can save each one and then come back to them without having to reset the metronome. it has pretty much replaced my lovely little Korg and now that i have multiple instruments, i can keep one in one case and just carry my iPhone. i always have a metronome.
  • all the same can be said for Cleartune, a beautiful chromatic tuner. it has a great interface, works extremely well (i use it with my baroque bassoon), the calibration can be changed (i keep it always on A4 = 415.0) and you can change the temperament! as i enter into the world of early music, i have found this extremely handy. i keep my other tuner in my modern bassoon case, set to A4 = 440 and i never have to worry about re-calibrating.
  • Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music pretty self explanatory, the dictionary boiled down into app form. while i’m waiting for a much more comprehensive dictionary (i’m looking at you Grove! you got my email!) this is definitely worth it. i, myself, have the Oxford in book form and pretty much rely on that but i have played on this app and it’s easy, well designed and has all of the terminology any student might need.
  • Reverse Chord Finder a beautifully designed handy little chord dictionary that allows you to play the chords on the piano and then gives you a list of chord names with inversions, etc
  • Composer of the Day a cute little app put together by the folks at Wittenberg University with, you guessed it, info on composers each day! it includes audio samples, a short little bio and not as well known composers.
  • Ghostly Discovery and now for something completely different. i found Ghostly in an App Store “music discovery” list and figured i’d try it out. i pretty much use it every day at this point. it creates a playlist based on variables that you enter (laid back, agressive, etc. then followed by tempo) from their catalogue. so no, it’s not all of the music in the world, but the music on their label is diverse, interesting and now takes up a big chunk of my recently played playlist (as i bought three albums from them in the first week) find some new music, it’s good for you!

School/Organization
now these are a mix of music things and general things, stuff to help organize your life and make teaching lesson plans just a little bit easier.

  • Here, File, File! this app just hit the App Store and i am totally in love. HFF lets you view your computer’s files remotely from anywhere, not just on your local network. the interface is GORGEOUS (the best is your computer sits on a desk with your current wallpaper), it’s intuitive and allows you to look at (and play) all of your files. by favorite-ing them, you can go right to files and folders directly and the search is clean. let me give you an example of when i could have really used HFF: last fall in the Faustus class, RG asked me if i had a recording of Mahler 9 on my iPhone. i, of course, did not. but had i HFF, i would have connected to my iMac (also known as my giant repository of music) and we would have been set to listen to the last movement, and cry. a fabulous way of accessing all of your files and necessary if you have more than one computer. may need a little technical assistance setting up, depending on your router but totally doable. get it now while it’s 30% off at $6.99!
  • Dropbox the same can be said for Dropbox — i use Dropbox and HFF in completely different ways and for some people, all they may need is cloud storage. well i find Dropbox to be the best, especially when it comes to sharing files. during my intersession class, i created a Public folder with all of my videos, articles, etc that my class was able to access (since i did not have access to WebCT) and it was much easier than printing out everything.
  • iTranslate a universal translator that really translates! there is the free version and then iTranslate Pro, the difference between them being no ads, landscape mode and a favorite phrase list but both versions have text-to-speech add ons (which i don’t use but look good). i have used iTranslate for my German translation work and it has done quite well, having words that some of my dictionaries don’t have. if you don’t mind ads, just get the free version, they’re pretty unobtrusive. also, if you turn on the keyboard for the corresponding language (Settings –> International –> Keyboards), the iPhone will do Auto-Correct in that language (with corresponding diacriticals!)
  • Google/Inquisitor both really great search engines (Inquisitor is from Yahoo!), Google has a voice search option that works very well. both search engines search through all available engines and have very clean, useable interfaces.
  • 2Do this app has earned a permanent spot on my first page. a checklist app with more than checklists, i use this to organize all assignments for classes as well as my everyday tasks that need to be accomplished. it is full powered, again, with a beautiful interface and syncs with iCal (thankfully! i lost everything on my iPhone but the 2do backup was there & ready) while there is a free version that works if you have minimal task needs, i strongly recommend the full version that comes with unlimited groups/tabs and push notifications.
  • Things for those of you with more intense GTD needs, there’s nothing better than Things. i think the screencast explains it better than i ever could but i couldn’t live without it. granted both the iPhone app and desktop app are pricey ($10, $49.95 respectively) one could do with just the iPhone app if necessary. the integration between the apps and iCal, however, make it well worth having both.

other apps that i love include WorldCat, Pastebot, Simplenote, and Wikipanion. keeping everything on all of my computers synced and having access to everything keeps me prepared for, well, anything. could i get along without all of this? absolutely! i still rely on my handy Moleskine notebook. but if the technology is out there, why not take advantage of it? i mean, as spacey as i tend to be in conjunction with my intense OCD, i need it.

please list any apps that you think fit into these categories or that you just love!

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the wood’s in trouble

enough of Berlioz, for a time. this is what i’m listening to right now.

first, two of my great loves, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ian Bostridge. here is Bostridge singing selections from “On Wenlock Edge”, part of the RVW symphonies box set (which if you do not have you should HAVE)

continuing with Haitink recordings, here is Haitink conducting Concertgebouw performing the second movement of Mahler’s Symphony no. 4.

and i mean, really, what else do you need besides RVW and Mahler?

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the elitist within us all

i hate the Romantic period. aside from philosophy and poetry (which i’ll love in any period), the notion of the Romantic aesthetic bothers me. the great genius that is the soul of the artist which allows for creativity on a massive scale that MUST be released? and of course, the later concept of artist as hero. save it.

but there is one aspect that intrigues me. the notion of universality is a cumbersome one but one that is bandied about in regards to music on a regular basis. in the 19th century, this universality acts as double edged rapier. while all of us are able to appreciate art, not all of us are able to create. how indulgent! i can create but you can’t? this is the backbone of the Romantic aesthetic. but is this true? and is it important to think so?

i wasn’t sure to write about this because, at the time, i was in my Berlioz class talking directly about this subject. so, big deal, of course we mention it when dealing with Berlioz and his ilk. but then this idea of music as universal, shared but not created collectively, came up two more times during my day: once during my Mahler 4 rehearsal and again during colloquium. and what was central to both those utterances is the idea of elitism. the best music is created by elitists that, therein, creates its own elitist class of composers. now don’t get me wrong, this is not classism in the sense of the rungs found within today’s classical music audience. this is the separation of gods from mortals, to put it Romantically.

if you don’t think your music is special, so special that it speaks to the whole of humanity but could only do so through the imbuing of your vision, why would anyone listen to it? why do we listen to music in the first place? we give music monikers and adjectives like ‘transcendental’, placing upon the genre of music a burden, albeit an abstract one, to connect us to something. the best music does so. (note, that qualitative term is to prove a point. i’m not here to start an argument about what “best” means.) now this idea about what music should do has existed for as long as music has. but it was not until the Romantic era that people decided to do something about it. the composer moves from the role of craftsman (like Bach) to genius (like Wagner). the plight of the composer/artist is the plight of mankind focused. the way to survive through the miasma is to create and reflect. and as mankind is blessed with the gift of imagination, so is the artist.

here’s the rub. music acts as universal exactly because the spark to create, the ability to imagine lies within every person. we understand music because it is our own plight being reflected through the light of the Romantic lamp, the vision of the artist, who can do so like no other.

i do not like this. i especially do not like the word “universal”. i have been taught, as of recently, that “universal” is a four-letter word (just like if i say “the composer’s intentions”, i’ll get my hand chopped off). that and the idea of owning creativity, hoarding it, just doesn’t seem kosher. doesn’t seem fair. but let’s face it, those who had the ability to be elitist in the 19th century, either financially or artistically, did. wouldn’t you? i don’t blame Berlioz. he was a hyper-everything, a product of his time. but i’m glad the artistic hero has gone the way of the dodo. granted, it took two world wars to do it but, hey, we are dealing with the whole universe.

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intersession days two & three [AKA laugh at my jokes!]

i think the most insightful things i could learn from this class are really about me and my capacity to make this my future. with each passing class, i become a little more relaxed and i try not to carry my stored anxiety about imparting knowledge. it’s difficult but getting better.

i felt bad for my students on wednesday because we spent the first half of the class talking about Wagner and his impact on drama. not what they were expecting, but they seemed to latch on to the complex ideas of integration theory and the Aristotelian orders of time. it’s funny because i have to keep reminding myself to “un-complicate” things — there is no reason why any of these students should be concerned with Neue Sachlichkeit — and try to let them know that while i know they are intelligent enough to understand these concepts when explained, all they need to do is be familiar with them. then i usually make some wisecrack about German being a debbie downer and we all relax.

the discussion on minstrelsy was probably the most frank we’ve had with the most participants while still being a little hesitant. but the comments that got to me the most were those about seeing artists with whom they were familiar (Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, et al.) under this new guise of blackface and how shocking it was to them. as someone who’s grown up with these films, that’s a reaction that is new to me and it was really nice to talk about it.

i think teachers dread their first monday and first fridays. as a student, i understand what those days are like (the word is awful) and today was no exception. i had a bunch of absences, of which i was aware, but those who came looked like they had been hit with mack trucks. i’m so glad i started with Gershwin — something about recounting the plots of Strike Up The Band and Let ‘Em Eat Cake out loud that always leads to hilarity. and then came the break. during the break, i asked if they were enjoying the class and apologized for beating them over the heads with a LOT of terminology. this led to a really spirited discussion about experiences in the theatre, what we like and don’t like and everyone laughed and shared. i was really surprised — it gave me the opportunity to get a little more personal. they enjoyed my Der Freischütz wolf call story and i didn’t know people could get so caught up in Beauty and the Beast the musical. the second half of class which started with Brecht was surprisingly rowdy, though i loathed having to talk about & describe things like non-Aristotelian drama and Gestus. turns out, many of them were familiar with Weill, partially because actor and Writing Seminars faculty member John Astin apparently talks about Die Dreigroschenoper almost every day.

(and yes, i mean that John Astin.)

in any case, the class enjoyed listening to a little Lotte Lenya and watching clips from the LA Opera’s 2008 production of Mahagonny, more than i could have expected. i didn’t finish my lecture, got started with Blitzstein but let them loose to finish it on monday and i was incredibly pleased.

i have to remind myself of what it feels like to be in their shoes, i mean, i should know. it’s just as hard to be a student sometimes and i don’t want to ask too much of them. as long as they get one thing out of this, then i’ve succeeded. unless that one thing is about Wagner because then, well, i’ve pretty much failed.

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Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit

i have had an intimate love affair with Ein deutsches Requiem for over four years now, and its still in the blessed honeymoon stage. it all started when a very exuberant german conductor walked into my life. Hans Michael Beurle was here to teach our choirs about Bach, Brahms and conducting and i had the pleasure of experiencing all three (even though he struggled all semester with the pronunciation of my name) and the coup de grâce would be Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with our combined choirs (vocal ensemble, choir, chorus and choral society). we started work on the piece early and Hans singled me out for alto section leader. that meant me listening to my recording of the Requiem (which just happens to feature the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, under the baton of Robert Shaw, who i just heard perform the Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic) over and over, marking up my score and, occasionally, singing my parts out loud on the Q88. i fell in love with the piece instantaneously.

and then, the day after our vocal ensemble’s performance of all Bach cantatas (as Hans called them, the really hard ones), i went to see a cardiologist in Long Island, as my GP was worried about some recent EKGs. after some tests, i sat in the doctor’s office with my parents only to hear that i was going to the emergency room right then and there to have heart surgery. to make a long story short, this was the beginning of a multiple year (and ongoing) barrage of surgeries and hospitalizations that would completely change my life (i was 21 at the time). i ended up being in this particular hospital for two weeks, mostly in ICU on bed rest. once i was out of recovery, my parents asked me if there was anything from my apartment that i wanted. i asked for three things. a stuffed bear that was a keepsake, my ipod and my score to the Requiem. now for any of you who have had extended hospital stays, you know that it gets old fast. you’re awake at all hours, never really left alone with nothing to do. so amidst all of the pain (physical and personal) and confusion, i fell, very deeply, into the Brahms. i was excited to nail a new passage, memorize something or just have the chance to sing. and the more it became about knowing the piece as opposed to just knowing the words, i felt a sort of joy that was hard to access under the circumstances.

singing “ewige Freude” suddenly meant something.

the day i got out of the hospital was the dress rehearsal for the performance. i couldn’t walk and had to be carried into my apartment. i took a shower and went to sleep for a few hours. and when i woke up, i made the decision to go to the dress rehearsal. my parents were staunchly against it but i had made up my mind. i needed to do this. and i don’t know how but my parents understood. so i hobbled to the bus and made my way to school on the condition that if anything happened that i would come straight home. everyone was surprised to see me and asked how i was. i didn’t want to talk about it, all i wanted to do was sing. and though i sat while everyone else stood, i sang. Hans assured me that i didn’t have to be there but was glad to have me.

i ended up doing the performance (standing) and i couldn’t control my emotions. i cried like i had never cried before. this piece of music carried me through an incredibly dense despair to a place of freedom and joy. i believe that that is the message of the piece itself. Brahms himself was suffering from loss when he embarked upon the work and its ability to help heal cannot be lost on us. any attempt to talk about the so-called power of music can become trite so i will leave it here (and let the music speak for itself) but i must end with this: there is something to be said about what we allow music to do, both to us and for us. if i ever forget why i got into this racket in the first place, this helps me to remember.

here is the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Otto Klemperer performing the first movement, Selig sind, die da Leid tragen.

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twelve drummers drumming

well i’m snowed in here in baltimore, which presents the unique opportunity to either a) get a lot of things accomplished or b) do absolutely nothing. you can take a guess how the day played out. in any case, a handful of musical tidbits for this particular season:

  • a fabulous post from the guys over at Amusicology, on, ironically enough, how to get to work on your dissertation. i should really implement this…
  • this is the season when everyone puts out a christmas album (much to my dismay) and my time working at the gap has taught me to guard your music wisely! Pandora is working well as i made a “This Christmas” radio station (after the classic Donny Hathaway song & my favorite christmas song), try it out if you’re looking for some new music.
  • a yule log doesn’t hurt (even if it’s electronic)

this past week has been interesting and has raised a lot of issues and thoughts that, i suppose, need addressing. i’ve been taking a class this semester called Community Engagement and we all had to give final projects at the end of the year. mine took place on friday — a selection of musical theater songs with some theater games and info at a baltimore city middle school. over all it went well but there were moments when i wondered if i knew what i was doing. first, what we were up against: middle schoolers. no matter what part of the country, what class, race or socio-economic strata, middle schoolers are all the same. too cool for everything and hormones, hormones, hormones. so the thought of getting 20 kids to listen to me talk about rodgers & hammerstein seemed highly unlikely. and i was right, partly. the first group of kids (all girls, actually) was really excited and seemed cooperative. the group that followed wanted nothing to do with me and i choked. i learned a valuable lesson, many, actually, and tried to keep moving forward. my performers were unfazed which is testament to their professionalism and willingness.

but how do you lose the academic veneer that you’ve been working on? how do you make music history approachable to 13 year olds? i had an interesting conversation with my performers before we started about how to reach people. in the last year of my undergraduate, my new music ensemble along with students from the drama department took a full version of Stravinsky’s L’histoire on tour. our second stop was a high school in bay ridge (brooklyn) where we performed parts of l’histoire and parts of Steve Reich’s Drumming. they seemed unimpressed, at best. my pianist mentioned that they may just not have known how to express interest because, let’s face it, who hears Reich and Stravinsky live in their high school?

so i hoped in vain that part of this project would hit home and i think it did. an adorable 7th grader came up to our vocalist asking all sorts of questions. made me feel good even if i kind of flaked. (if you’re wondering, i got a B+ in the class which was to be expected). i think sometimes, we’re so caught up in academia and the impractical aspects of our field that we forget about their very practical applications. as far as getting out in the community, i’m a little rusty but i plan on rectifying that (in the form of an internship at the BSO’s ORCHkids program). how many musicologists, professors or what have you would have been able to do what i did on friday or would have even entertained the idea? if middle schoolers and church goers and kids at the Y don’t know about a symphony, what’s the point?

you can contend that point if you wish. my platform is that there isn’t one, but that’s just my take.

for something a little less existential…i was lucky enough to receive, as a thank you for my GA work, two tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall from my advisor. i’m taking advantage of this present tomorrow and watching Donald Runnicles conduct Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem. i really have fallen in love with this thing, on so many levels. for the inner tech geek in me, the quality of this is just outstanding, from the website to the actual production. it’s a pleasure to watch and feels like a grand event. and, of course, the music is just first rate. it seems that this is a venture that the Berlin Phil is strongly behind, using it to allow people all over the opportunity to hear great music. their outreach program that is tied in with this (with the help of Deutsche Bank) is also outstanding. so maybe it is related to what i discussed before. programs like this and the Met Live in HD (their cinema showings and their online player) make me slightly less worried about the future. it’s work on both ends of the scale that matter.

well, if i don’t see you before the new year, merry christmas and happy holidays. relax, be safe and love one another. i’ll leave you with a song from my very well guarded christmas mix, James Taylor’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic, River.

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how sweet the answer echo makes to music at night

i know i’ve been absent for a few weeks…it’s crunch time for me. what’s that you ask?

THREE grad school applications
ONE intersession syllabus
ONE community project
THREE standardized tests (one of them NOT in english)
ONE thesis abstract

yeah. but i have lots of fabulous blog posts coming after the storm has passed. look forward to active listening vs. passive listening, musicians in the community and the real world peabody: exam season edition. so until then, pray that i make it out alive and with some semblance of my sanity in tact.

and to tie you over, have a little steve reich.

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