you are not alone

never underestimate the importance of community.

i just came back from a fabulous talk by my professor George Lewis (it was Columbia University’s University Lecture, which one professor gives every year) and it was great but what was even more of a highlight for me was meeting people that i had yet to meet before. a whole community of african-american colleagues was right there, waiting to be found. they were all incredibly nice, interesting and welcoming. but the thing that struck me the most was the lack of feeling within myself that this community was forced. for the first time in, possibly, my entire life (most assuredly my scholarly one) i don’t feel alone. but i didn’t feel alone when i arrived. Columbia felt like the perfect environment for me, one in which i was not constantly reminded of my otherness (a feeling that was magnified by my time at Peabody).

when i talk to people about what i do, i brace myself for the looks that accompany “you study opera/British music/etc.?” as if i should be doing something else, as if they expect me to do something else. that is not encouraging but it’s nothing new. tonight, i spoke about my interests with a little more confidence, as if i had no fear of being judged. when i was home this weekend, i had a talk with my young cousin who is a freshman at the University of Virginia. she expressed to me all of these feelings, feelings i’ve known for years. it was hard to see what i’ve gone through happening to her, that feeling of loneliness and sadness at the fact she had no one with whom to relate. i hope that i was able to reassure her that she, too, has a community. a family filled with strong, intelligent, black women who are there to help her when it gets rough.

as President Bollinger said tonight, the academic life is a lonely one. and more so, it’s a life that is difficult to describe to those who are not a party to it. couple that with the very plain fact that it is not the most diverse and that this brings about its own sets of challenges makes it even more difficult for several of us. and that is why, in the end, what matters most is community.

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who are the musicologists, anyway?

(before i begin, just a note of apologies for my absence. the past couple of months have been, well…that’s a story for another blog.)

this entry has been long in the making because several things have come up to influence how i feel about this topic. a few months ago in one of my seminars, the question of musicology vs music came up. i noted how we as musicologists are so quick to judge others from other disciplines who write on musical/musicological topics. but on that same note, we also judge musicologists who value their musicianship. so the question is, who are the musicologists?

i’ve never been a fan of that “those who can’t do, teach” adage. i can do and quite well. and my many encounters with musicologists have made it clear that in order for me to have turned to musicology, i must have failed at my musicmaking career. is this some way of passing on past failures? i know many musicologists who are active in their musicmaking and i genuinely feel it makes them the better for it. some would say that there are many reasons for this somewhat irrevocable split. if you read Suzanne Cusick’s article in Rethinking Music, it comes from the battle between the academic and male musicology and the feminine act of musicmaking. i definitely give this idea some credence. but is that all? for some reason, i believe it goes deeper than that. i fear it might be a real hatred of what performing is or is made out to be.

the other day i had a revelation. yes, there is something very physical about performing but there’s something else. your blood is pumping, there’s sweat on your brow (if you’re doing it right) and you’re filled with endorphins. and the best part is the connection your brain feels with your entire person. there’s a wholeness that comes from practicing and performing that is hard to find anywhere else. i realized that my brain has felt disconnected from the rest of my body. uncovering secrets, relating facts, proposing topics are all amazing feelings but not quite like the rush playing provides. how could anyone be against that?

somewhere and somehow, we need to find away to connect the two divided halves of ourself. we need to listen to music in our seminars (because honestly, how can we question and analyze if we don’t listen?) and try to not denigrate our colleagues. believe it or not, insight can come from the strangest places and it’s time for us to accept that. this may be a futile argument but i, if anything, am convinced that in order for me to be the best musicologist, nay, musician that i can be that i must keep cranking out those Bach suites and Vivaldi sonatas while reading manuscripts and writing abstracts. and if i fail, then i fail but i’m not too concerned about that.

thoughts?

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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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with him, it’s all or nothing

i know i’ve been noticeably absent…immediately after i graduated i was taken up with the task of preparing for my first academic conference as a speaker. two weeks ago, i gave a paper at the Britten in Context conference at Liverpool Hope University. this has become, already in such a short time, a momentous event in my life. as RG said to me, it’s great to have these experiences that remind us of the reasons that we do what we do.

maybe i’ll talk about the conference later, maybe not. right now, this is a good place to be.

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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.