Tag Archives: peabody

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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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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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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my problem with Monsieur Berlioz

the great thing about being a graduate assistant is that it gives me the opportunity to really soak up all of the questions posed in a seminar without the burden and trappings of work and assignments. (and the money.)

i am here, presently, listening to an analysis of Jacques Barzun’s Berlioz (The Cambridge Companion to Berlioz, Berlioz as man and thinker), and wonder if i as a 21st century musician/musicologist can reconcile myself with Berlioz’s 19th century ideas about music and aesthetics. now, maybe, it would be naïve of me to try to do this, or some kind of logician’s folly but i think it’s worth investigating.

the post-Romantic world is an ugly one, full of doubt and mistrust, of music especially. no longer is there a belief that music (and the arts) can stand alone in this world and above the fray. Berlioz, even in the time of political revolution and upheaval, believed that no matter what one’s beliefs may be that a) they should not in any way contribute to one’s artistic agenda and b) that music rises above all terrestrial burdens. is this the Romantic aesthetic taking hold? was Berlioz alone in this?

from reading his memoirs, it seems that this sort of belief in the fortitude of music was pre-natal. but it would not be fair to exclude the influence of theories of the day. even though Berlioz and Wagner were complete opposites in regards to musical aesthetics, it is the world in which they lived that allowed such disparate yet connected views on the role of the arts in society.

from where i stand, Berlioz is the one who seems naïve. how dare he not be prescient enough to forsee the calamity awaiting in the coming century! in this i realize my own folly, expecting too much of the man. but i believe it was foolish to not see the dangers that lay hidden within such a dogma. and here’s where insight into Berlioz as man comes into play. Berlioz was a man stranded on the line between fiction and reality. From this place, it’s hard to see the dangers of artistic ecstasy. But it is possible that this is where music has remained from creation, somewhere between the grim nature of reality, where it can be manipulated, and fiction, where the greatest of possibilities lay dormant.

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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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why music matters; joyeux anniversaire!

[i’m in the midst of a december 15th hiatus so i figured i should write and write fast!]

this semester, i have only taken one class on the books. it happens to be the first iteration of Community Engagement/Creativity, a class focused on helping music students work outside of the conservatory. now this class has done a lot of great things for me but i think one of the best is the final project. now my final project is a little pedestrian and i’m not here to talk about it. what i am talking about is the final project of one of my classmates.

he decided to put together an orchestra of students, composers and conductors whose sole mission is community outreach. the debut performance was to take place tomorrow at a mid-level correctional facility. yes, jail. everyone was super excited because this is the kind of thing we felt we should be doing, not for some politically correct reason but because we felt that everyone should get to hear this music, any music, and it’s our job to bring it at any cost. well at our rehearsal tonight (i’m playing principal bassoon/giving pre-concert notes), we were informed by the director of correctional facilities that everyone was really excited about this performance and wanted to be a part, all the way up to the lieutenant governor — but they couldn’t make it on saturday so it needs to be rescheduled. for some reason, they thought we’d reschedule it for some day in the next week or so. what they failed to realize is that we are in our last week of classes and everyone is leaving. the concert is now indefinitely postponed until february.

so besides general frustration, why does this matter? well, this concert was never for bureaucrats. and policy and press dictating music-making? unthinkable. but our collective hands were tied so here we are. luckily, the orchestra is performing a concert on sunday as well but it’s not the same. i see this as a hurdle that will reappear in the future. it’s easy to latch oneself on to a project like this for whatever type of notoriety you might seek. for us, it’s always been about the music.

is this problem systematic of a bigger problem in our culture? most likely. we suffer from wanting to be recognized and acknowledged by the state while still having the creative freedom to do as we will. it’s a system that America has struggled with always. the concept of the patron is one that has eluded us. even so, new music and art have survived and continued, though, underground. do we deal with the devil and hope we’ll find a way to squeeze in our own artistic vision out from underneath the weight of the pact? now, especially, is the time to consider our options.

but enough of that sad talk, let’s talk about birthdays! thursday was the birthday of French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen and friday the birthday of Elliott Carter, still kicking out music at the youthful age of 101. Messiaen and Carter are two composers to which i return often, partly because the amount of scholarship on them is not as dense as other composers. early in my undergraduate studies, i got a lot of flack for being a Carter fan until i started working with clarinetist Charles Neidich and two of my dearest friends (a flutist and clarinetist) who did nothing but play Carter all the time (and ate it for breakfast). just the intensity and virtuosity of his music won me over immediately. i liked sitting in a rehearsal saying, “i don’t know what the fuck is going on…but i want to.” and of course with Messiaen, i just wished he wrote something i could get my hands on. instead, i have to live through every pianist and cellist i know and pretend that all of those lush vast expanses of chords were built for me. i hope that as i continue in my career, the level of scholarship on these two composers will grow. till then, joyeux anniversaire.

and of course, here’s Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Carter’s Two Diversions and Messiaen’s Regard de l’Esprit de Joie.

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we turn it up to onze

[thanks to my friend @lownote over at epmusic.wordpress.com for this]

the only way to grade discussion postings (with any amount of sanity) is to play some kick ass Messiaen in the background (especially if it’s the Danse de la fureur from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du le temps). dedicated to RG, the second session of MH4 and the two boys keeping me busy in class today with their antics.

play here

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acts of conspicuous symphonization

con⋅fer⋅ence  [kon-fer-uhns, -fruhns]
1. a meeting for consultation or discussion: a conference between a student and his adviser.
2. an event where like-minded people geek out over like-minded things. “I just got back from the AMS conference!”

okay, so i made up that last definition, but don’t you think that sums it up? AMS Philadelphia 2009 was great and just like any other academic conference, had its ups and downs. granted, the downs for me included getting lost, getting lost, getting lost, getting stuck in traffic, paying way too much money for tolls, driving for seven straight hours, getting lost and getting lost but the ups, both personal and professional overshadowed all of that.

(okay, maybe i still like the getting lost stories. they’re really rather funny.)

for the business side:
as per usual, i go to AMS to see other students, colleagues and professors, catch up and hopefully hear some interesting papers. saturday proved to be the best day all around: caught some really fascinating papers on Avant-Garde Diaspora, Luxe Pop and Pastiche and Neo-Classicism. saturday also happened to be the day where i saw the most people, had the best conversations and of course, attended the giant joint reception. (have to say, not a fan of the format and i’m sticking to that.) the big downside, however, to going to a four day conference is the toll it takes on your body and mind. as i sat diligently in the British Topics session, hearing about Constan Lambert and RVW, i found myself fighting to focus – and not because i wasn’t totally enthralled by the paper. my body had had it! which leads us to…

the personal side:
now last year at AMS in Nashville, i was the only Peabody student who attended. yeah, i had friends but it was a little lonely. it was nice this year to have other students and other Peabody professors there along with the slew of friends i’ve made over the years. went to some great dinners and lunches, saw Philly and enjoyed being in the company of other musicologists. if you’re interested in my thoughts in real time from the conference, check out my twitter feed at www.twitter.com/idmbassoon, for which, i’m sure, i’ve already gotten in trouble. (also do a search for #amsphilly2009 and see what other friends & musicologists were saying about the conference)

on the whole, the conference was great. sure, i went to some not-so-great papers but that’s to be expected. i learned enough but what i will take from it are the connections that have been made and cemented and the time spent.

oh yeah, and this:

(god, that will never stop being funny.)

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Der Fall Englisch (The Case of English)

the english language is a curse.

at least in my line of work. but this isn’t about the need to be multilinugal for scholarship’s sake. this is grounded a little more in reality (and practicality). when i became a graduate assistant, my first class was graduate history review. it was exactly like it sounds: if you did not score well enough on your master’s history entrance exam, you were placed in this class before you were allowed to take any musicology seminars. my class was moderately sized, about 35 people, and the majority of them were non-english speakers. well teaching worked pretty well and so did answering their questions. then one day, one of my students wanted to do a one on one midterm review session. “great!”, i thought. the opportunity to really help someone. but as soon as we sat down, i realized this would be a challenge. yes, the student did not have the greatest grasp on english but that wasn’t the main problem. the problem was with me. i had to explain pythagoras, music of the spheres, and the Latin Mass. i realized this was all way out of my purview. how do i break it down? how do i make it accessible? at that point i had no idea and i felt like a failure. i felt like i had let someone down who came to me for help.

fast forward a year. a few days ago, one of my students sent me her discussion posting to look over and give comments. she’s been doing this for a while now with marked success. i’ve tried to make my comments reflect her content and not her writing ability because i’ve never felt like that’s been my place. as long as she understands the concepts, right? well not only was this recent discussion posting been riddled with grammatical mistakes but content mistakes as well. i got a little frustrated, moved past it and responded to her email. was i helping her? or was i, again, at a loss in how to do so?

in my community involvement class, this discussion arose; what happens when a large part of your community doesn’t communicate in quite the same way? as much as we’d like to believe, music is not a universal language, especially where history is concerned. how do we, as teachers, communicate the more complex (and less musical) ideas?

this is not a referendum on english in america, in conservatories or anywhere else. my main concern is reaching everyone as best as possible. that may not be possible. sometimes, you have students who are just not all there (no matter what language they speak), sometimes, you have students who try their best and still fail. maybe this falls into one of those subcategories that has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

or maybe this bothers me too much, who knows.

all i know is, i’ve yet to find an answer that satisfies, well, anything. and maybe that’s another part of my journey that i will come to understand more in time.

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from the library stacks 11/5

Mobile Photo Nov 5, 2009 10 24 59 PM

books from top to bottom:

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas
Evolution of Communication Systems
Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw
Britten and the Far East
Scandals and Follies: The Rise and Fall of the Great Broadway Revue
Britten’s Musical Language
Britten’s Gloriana
The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity
The Origins of Music
The Cambridge Companion to The Musical
The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig
Bach Cantatas for Bassoon

all for 1) my Master’s Thesis (forthcoming 2010), 2) editing my Ph.D. application writing samples, 3) preparation of course materials for my course on the history of the musical in 2010 and 4) my laborious and ongoing study of all things baroque bassoon. bring it.

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