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Fill the void veins of Life again with youth

i’ve decided that since it’s so difficult for me to really sit down and type blog entries at length that i’m going to start writing more composite posts (i must credit my boyfriend for this idea because yes i DO read his blog…) so here we go.

AMS/SMT 2010 Indianapolis
so this year i found myself in the very flat city of Indianapolis for the annual AMS conference. every two years, the conference becomes a joint one with the Society for Music Theory, which then of course swells the ranks by quite a fair amount. of course, i always joke about picking out the theorists from the musicologists (their bow ties are usually made of cotton as opposed to silk) but they make the conference interesting. as per usual, i missed the Amusicology party (i was stranded in Chicago, naturally) but made up for it by attending my fair share of receptions. (and i must say, i was really pleased with the number of prospective students at the Columbia reception though i’m sure that Walter Frisch was not pleased with how many times i brought people up to him) i didn’t attend as many papers as i would have liked as i became increasingly more sick (something from which i’m still recovering) but the ones i did attend and heard about were quite intriguing.

one of my favorite parts of the conference is the luncheon given by the Committee on Cultural Diversity. this was my entry into the world of AMS though i had been a student member for quite some time. in 2008, i received the Eileen Southern Travel Grant which paid for my trip to the AMS conference and introduced me to people i considered quite influential. so attending the luncheon and seeing the new crop of musicologists-to-be was very encouraging. let’s just say that diversity is not something that comes easily to AMS and it’s something i look to be a part of changing over the years.

i can only talk about the conference because, honestly, Indianapolis was not a destination of choice. it was cold, it hailed and all the streets look exactly the same. but the wine is cheap!

there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
today, at work, i found myself amidst a philosophical debate about music. it was strange. the break room at an Apple store is really not the place. but then, i thought about it and you know what? everywhere is the place. there are those who are satisfied with the definition of “something with aesthetic value” summing up the whole of their musical experience. that’s what music is, end of story. and maybe i’m in too deep but that always seemed like an unfair definition to me. it’s part and parcel with the whole idea that art has to have socially redeeming value and bring something to our lives, usually something of beauty. i think art, especially music, is in the unique position of showing us the ugly, naked, difficult and sublime. so much of music is self-described torment and it’s that torment with which we identify. now i’ll be honest, i don’t go around listening to 4’33” all day but i will say that when Apple released the piece as its free download of the day (it was an April fool’s joke) that not only was i amused but i was intrigued by the amount of ire it caused. and i DO go around listening to Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinge because i think it’s haunting and ethereal — even if it is electronic.

the comments on this youtube clip of Gesang de Junglinge describe the very conversation i was having today. and if i like this and think this is music, not because of some deep seeded intellectualism/elitism but because i really do like it and it speaks to me, what does that make me?

requiem aeternam
i guess it’s time for me to write about this since it’s been on my mind all day since yesterday…Casey Butler, a young freshman bassoonist at Peabody, died yesterday after passing out in her bassoon lesson. this has affected me on so many levels that it has astounded me, to be honest. first of all, the Peabody community is a small one and incredibly insular. something like this is felt immediately, even to those who are no longer in Baltimore. and for me, it’s even more personal in the fact that this is my studio, she was my colleague and a student of my teacher. this may be bias but i always considered the bassoon studio to be one of the closest at Peabody and my heart aches for my dear friends and my teacher. they held a memorial for her tonight and i’m sure it was an incredibly emotional experience.

on a personal note, i know what it’s like to lose someone close when they’re young and i’ve always felt like there’s nothing like the death of a teenager. death, of course, is never an easy thing to deal with but seeing a life so filled with hope and promise be taken away seems unjust in so many ways. no one believes it could be your friend, at a time in life when you feel invincible. i think that’s the thing that gets me the most and there’s nothing you can do about it. there’s a poignancy in that that’s inescapable.

my heart goes out to Casey’s family and of course to the Peabody community — my family.

(for more info, check here http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/4598)

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it’s that time again

in a few short days, i’ll find myself in the thick of it, at the 2010 AMS/SMT conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. as per usual, i’ll be blogging and tweeting all about it so look for the official conference hashtag #amsindy2010 and check back at AMB to catch my rundown after the dust has settled.

this year’s gonna be a doozy.

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when did i become a musicologist?

first of all, hello from an extremely extended hiatus. my summer ended as most summers do — calamitous — and i went about the business of becoming a PhD student. it has been most exciting and challenging in the most pleasant of ways. i have now settled into a cycle of read for class, go to class, read for class, go to class, rinse, lather, repeat and now can find the time to squeak in a few thoughts about the process.

[to be honest, i have been afforded this luxury today because i’m off from work. i found myself a resident of St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital yesterday and when that happens, usually everything else stops.]

so, very recently, i found myself asking (of myself) a question: just when did i become a “musicologist”? there are any number of events to which one could turn: the day i became a member of the American Musicological Society (2006), when i started applying for Masters of Musicology programs (2007), when i started taking graduate musicology courses (2006), the day i was admitted into a graduate program (2008), the day i graduated from that program (2010), the day i gave my first paper at a conference (2010), and when i entered a PhD program (2010)…any one of those moments could be heralded as “the moment” but do any of them actually hold any weight? is there an institutionalized body that conferred upon me such a title? or did i have to acquire a certain level of knowledge?

or was it just as simple as completing the utterance “i am a musicologist.”?

the answer, i suppose, is really of no consequence but it is fun to think about. maybe i’m all wrong and i’m not really a musicologist at all. maybe i’m just a kid with a strong interest in something. in any case, if anyone has a thought about it, i’d love to hear it. maybe we are all just what we say we are.

what are we fighting for?

though i try to enjoy my vacation, one thing or another pulls me out of it and makes me confront many of the academic questions posed to me in the cooler times of the year. recently i was (pleasantly) goaded into explaining my own musical convictions: why don’t i talk about the thing i have so openly devoted my life to?

there’s something about the power of verbalization. in that conversation, i realized that there’s a lot about academic music with which i am incredibly unhappy. unfortunately, i don’t think there’s a lot i can do about it. does that mean i have to roll up my sleeves and turn into a riot grrl? i don’t think so because here’s where verbalization comes in:

we have just barely moved out of our academese phase. you know, music is complicated, theoretical, organized, mathematical and not to be enjoyed but understood. we have schools, you know. schools that teach about music and we must fill our textbooks with well laid out plans that are impenetrable by student and teacher alike. i feel like i’m lucky because music has become living again, but just barely. classical music and academic music is the culture of the dead when it should be the culture of the living. it is emotional, social and personal. and as much as i would like to revere the great masters, the form (and those who make it) is flawed.

i understand how hard it is to accept these concepts. there’s nothing i’d like to believe more that the experience i have when listening to music is my gateway to the metaphysical. on a personal level, there’s nothing wrong with that. but as a musician-cum-public servant, i have to remember and acknowledge all of the ways in which my art, my field, my discipline is a part of the world-at-large. music can be the harbinger of very ugly things, it can be inexplicable, problematic and even common. the urge to retreat behind the gilded walls of theory, practice, and history is all too well known. so after the explosion of the early twentieth century we retreated beyond ourselves into the world of secret science and academia. if ever there was a way to make classical music look more elitist than before…that was it.

but now, rebellion! there is a new generation who not only sees but bathes in the irony of academic music. the meta has become ür-meta and many are trying to redefine what we think of theory, musicology and composition. i am pleased and look to be part of this generation. just slightly before me was the awakening and this new group of musicians seemed like they had to move as far away from what came before them as possible and it was a little radical. now maybe there’s a little more comfort and freedom but only time will tell.

so what does this all mean? we’re in a time of turbulence and only by looking ahead will we as musicians really figure out what we’re supposed to be doing. no more looking back – everyone’s dead back there. (except Elliott Carter)

le jour de gloire est arrivé!

no national anthem seems to be as co-opted as La Marseillaise and i know that i first became familiar with it as a theme in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. i don’t know what it is about the anthem but it lends itself to pop culture references. my favorite is in the musical The Barkleys of Broadway. Ginger Rogers’s character who has left the world of musical comedy (and her somewhat controlling husband in Fred Astaire) to be wooed into a life on the dramatic stage. Her debut was as the actress Sarah Bernhardt in the play “Young Sarah”. the one scene we see is the young actress reciting Le Marseillaise and winning over the hearts of a panel of acting teachers. the play is a hit…and we all learn the words to the French national anthem. it’s brilliant and riveting.

and then there’s Berlioz.

“We struck up the Marseillaise. Almost at once a holy stillness fell upon the seething mass at our feet. After each refrain there was a profound silence. This is not at all what I had expected. On beholding that vast concourse of people I recalled that I had just arranged Rouget de Lisle’s song for double chorus and full orchestra, and that where one normally writes ‘tenors and basses’ I had written instead ‘everyone with a voice, a soul and blood in his veins.’ After the fourth verse I could contain myself no longer, and I yelled, ‘Confound it all – sing!’ The great crowd roared out its Aux armes citoyens! with the power and precision of a trained choir.”

enjoy and happy Bastille day!

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Fortunately, something always remains to be harvested. So let us not be idle.

i’ve said it all before so i’ll just say this: happy birthday Mahler. alles Gute zum Geburtstag. (and yes, i know i’m a day late. i spent all day listening.)

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this is the song that never ends

i hate saying goodbyes mainly because i refuse to give anyone or anything up. so i’ll just say thank you.

to peabody: thank you for giving me friends, a new start, new-found confidence, love, baroque bassoons, scandal, validation, teachers who care more than i’ve ever known and surprises around every corner.

to the musicology department: thank you for bach, britten, berlioz, 20-page papers, lunches, dinners, lots of wine, long conversations, connections, Columbia, my students, my thesis and my future.

habe dank.

how i gave up and learned to love powerpoint

(and keynote)

i find it strange that someone like myself who has been so involved with the visual arts for so many years, especially as a medium of conveying scholarly information, would be so against powerpoint. but here i am, trying to understand how to make this thing fit in my career.

and believe me, i will have to.

the last few colloquia we’ve had have hinged on powerpoint and even when the presentation was about archival research at the Bach-Archiv with Dr. Michael Maul, i still thought, “all these presentations make me think of is sixth freaking grade.” i mean let’s face it, in its infancy, MS Powerpoint was filled with star wipes, flying bullets and clipart. and i was young and impressionable, determined to make up my mind about my aesthetic beliefs right then and there. the result? no powerpoint. and to this day i’ve hated it in in presentations, at conferences, basically at every turn.

who decided that the only way to disseminate mass information to a crowd was through a slide show? i mean, i acknowledge its efficacy but can’t we have something a little more interesting? pantomime? interpretive dance? anything?! i’m in the process of working on my paper for a conference i’ll be speaking at in june and i dread the fact that i must use powerpoint (Mac’s Keynote, respectively) to play things and show things — the nature of my paper is very visual. and you better believe that it will be the most ingenious presentation ever given.

or maybe it’ll have a star wipe. sigh.

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it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

just cause everybody’s doing it: a (brief) compilation of my entries for this year’s #operaplot!

1. the mate was pretty venus’ son/the queen was strong & sure/Italie the gods cry the queen’ll die/in this 5 hour tour a 5 hour tour

2. why does the devil always get the good music? this isn’t “the damnation of Lucifer”!

3. heres a story of a lovely lady/who was watching 2 very scary kids/both of them had ghosts who wanna keep them/every1 gets screwed

4. let’s make a deal! door #1=bloody jewels door #2=bloody weapons door#3 = dead wives. wait, shouldn’t one be a car or something?

5. i ❤ a girl but she's w/a thug i'll trick him into getting arrested. wait he's back & took my girl to NYC? oh lawd i'm on my way!

6. baritone lets crazy lady (man? lady?) ride boat for free. puts up w/her moans & reunites lady w/lost (dead) son?! domo arigato!

7. sid & nancy aren't punks but they sure start a riot! albert, mom always said not to drink the kool-(lemon)-aid!

8. stutter much?/throw a punch!/send that Claggart out to lunch/starry Vere/must adhere/beauty Billy must die, i fear

9. from the Piazza San Marco to Lido there's enough malaria and cute Polish boys to go around! book your tickets now, one way only.

10. restless Etruscan rides all night to have way w/chaste Roman. Roman has a "hangover" only suicide can cure. is this it all?

11. Elizabethan queen/though we're sharing the same dream/while our hearts still beat as one/no courtly love (or dances) on the run

can you guess?

1. Berlioz – Les Troyens
2. Berlioz – La Damnation de Faust
3. Britten – Turn of the Screw
4. Bartok – Bluebeard's Castle
5. Gershwin – Porgy and Bess
6. Britten – Curlew River
7. Britten – Albert Herring
8. Britten – Billy Budd
9. Britten – Death in Venice
10. Britten – The Rape of Lucretia
11. Britten – Gloriana

(i tried to do all of the Britten operas, save Grimes. i think it turned out pretty well!)

for more information on #operaplot, what it does & why it’s so awesome, check out its home at The Omniscient Mussel. (if you know where that comes from, you get an internet cookie!)

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Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)

english contralto Kathleen Ferrier was born today in 1912…she has found a special place in my heart as she was Britten’s Lucretia, my Lucretia. her story is as beautiful as her voice & if you don’t believe me, just listen.

here she is singing Erbame dich from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion:

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