Monday, October 15, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 56 (maiden-voyage edition)

Another jammed day. This past weekend was taken up with:

Friday "fall break": which is only a "break" for students who checked out mentally around Thursday noon--for faculty and staff, it was a full work-day during which we all desperately tried to catch up);

Remarkably excellent pub session Friday evening: in a music town like Lubbock, it's a real watershed when the local music-heads, who've been going out to hear live music ever since Stevie Ray and B.B. played the barbecue joints around town, discover trad music and decide they want to hear it in the pub: when the cackling guinea hen who's talking through the quiet song gets shushed by a woman who's listening, and the guinea hen's male companion says something snotty, and then the massive ex-Marine who's also listening says "Excuse me?" and the guinea hen and mate depart swiftly. We sang songs all night long, and we toasted English Dave at the end;

Saturday work-day, during which I blew off a volunteer obligation because I fuckin' forgot it (shit), but during which the late-afternoon teaching session had some good new youngster players--it's always nice to grow the next generation, in case I get hit by a bus;

Sunday: three rehearsals--one for the loud band, a second with Dharmonia for a duo gig in Florida, a third with the Celtic Ensemble. All three good: by the fourth rehearsal, the loud band is starting to sound like we know each other plays--and we've already got a demo in the can. Nice to be in a situation where all four disparate personalities are gettin' their goodies without anybody having to bend too far--and great players!

Dharmonia rehearsal also great. It's a remarkable sensation to revisit a repertoire with a brother/sister musician that you learned together 20-25 years before, and realize again that the music you created at age 20 was actually good music. We didn't have the chops to execute it, in 1980--but by God the ideas were sound. Nice to have the chops now to play it the way it was intended to sound then.

Celtic Ensemble is working out really well. Our annual calendar has evolved so that the Fall semester is the break-in-new-talent, work on a small/light calendar, deal with the various service obligations (Madrigal Dinners, Celtic Xmas), and mostly get people up to speed period. Then, we hit hard in the Spring semester, doing a January concert of the Fall repertoire, and then jumping into a much more complex and elaborate repertoire for a second concert in late Spring. Also working on a bunch of morris dance stuff and lucky enough to have a motivated core group of dancers for the morris side.

Then the maiden voyage of the loud band: quintessential West Texas Sunday night barroom jam session: wall-to-wall bikers, burnt-out fraternity boys (on the downward slide since they eked out their 2.0 GPA and barely graduated), and a roomful of the kind of top-notch musicians who, around here, have been blowing out great music in bars ever since the 1940s. There's a reason that the great musicians who are born and raised in the Lubbock area wind up getting out as quick as they can: the music scene is excellent--because chock-full of great unknown players--but also incredibly demoralizing because the audience, while digging the music, is overall pretty much indifferent to the musicians' or scene's ongoing well-being. They're good diggers, but their ability to absorb pretty much any idiom outside the familiar grooves is pretty much nonexistent.

We played Meters and Bob Marley obscurities--and the band played great--but pretty much the only people who responded were the other musicians: the bikers were waiting for the next shuffle, and the burnt-out frat boys only recognize "I Shot the Sheriff" because they blared it out the windows of their boozing halls. But we played good--and there's something really gratifying about playing music as one-among-equals with your students. I started playing bars around 1976 or '77, before several of these guys were born, but I don't want to be the authority figure. As I said to the bass player, "There's no way you're calling me 'Dr Coyote' in the context of the band, because if you have to turn around and tell the rhythm guitar player his time is bad, it's not fair that you'd also have to call him 'Doctor.'"

It's also a pretty wonderful experience to be able to play all the diverse musics I rehearsed on Sunday, knowing that my job description, whose teaching--research--service ratios I insisted upon tailoring, includes "performance" and "vernacular musics" as principal research and teaching areas. So it's all research and it's all part of my job. In two weeks I'm going to go off and anchor the house rock band at the international gathering of my discipline's tribe. Some difference from the snotty "why is he even enrolled in our musicology program?" questions I got during my graduate study, because I had the temerity to argue that the music of someone other than Joseph Haydn might be eloquent, beautiful, and merit study. Regardless of the dishonest and spiteful actions of individuals who tried to chase me entirely out of this field, I and we are here now. The world of academic scholarship done caught up with us.

I'm reminded of a button Dharmonia gave me years ago, which I eventually had to stop wearing around my grad program's Musicology dept, because it made the guilty-conscienced social misfits on the faculty too uptight:
"Laugh while you can, but we will be in charge someday."
It's a strange (but very welcome) sensation to spend 20 years (1987-2007) with your head down in the tumpline, feeling like a Sherpa slogging up an Everest of requirements, seminars, exams, accreditations, dossiers, annual reports, and various other hills to climb, only to emerge out on the flat near the summit, and realize that all those years paid off--that you really are in charge.

Now playing: Albert King - Blues At Sunrise

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