Monday, February 25, 2008

Day 33 "In the trenches" (Jump-in-the-line edition)

Hangin' in there. Search candidate here next week (early), off to Savannah for another gathering of another tribe next week (late), kids hurtling toward Spring Break.

Moving into 20th century in the undergraduate history review class: transformations of compositional concerns from 19th century Romanticism (harmony and formal structures) to 20th century Modernism (sound and rhythm), retention of Romantic conceptions of programmaticism and canonic hierarchies, and the various "Isms" around which we organize 20th century concert music: Impressionism, Expressionism, Exoticism, Primitivism, Futurism, Neo-Classicism, Serialism, Total Serialism, Minimalism...

These aesthetic schools, though they might seem a bit esoteric for a bunch of 19-year-olds from Sudan and Earth and Levelland and Shallowater and Plainview and Idalou and other various W Texas towns, in fact resonate very powerfully with their own prior experiences--if only because their data-streams are so multifarious that the kids are remarkably skilful at recognizing consistent aesthetics across these different media. If you identify a kind of "futurist" impulse in Ellington's Daybreak Express (1930), a tone-poem and miniature portrait of a train-trip in the length of a 78, and then unpack the implications of trains, as a symbol of progress, change, and utopian speed, and then unpack still further for the symbolism of trains to African-Americans seeking progress, change, utopia, and--at the very least--a cheap ride out of the Jim Crow South, and then give the kids just a bit of information about Ellington hiring his own special sleeping and eating cars so that his sidemen didn't have to put up with racist bullshit at lunch counters or boarding houses, then just in the course of 6 minutes conversation and 3 minutes of music, you've given them a pretty good sense of the futurist impulse toward utopia, and you've set up a pretty good frame for the sense of horror with which the Western Front (for Europeans) and the Second War (for Americans) destroyed that utopian impulse. And then you can help them find futurism in Fritz Lang, or Le Courbousier, or Frank Lloyd Wright, and they can see it.

Below the jump: sunrise on the South Plains.

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