Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Day 75 "In the trenches" (color us gone edition)

Last day of the semester.

Color us gone (at least for a couple of days, on vacation in the high hills). We head north, west, and Up tomorrow AM. Dear friends getting married in Taos on Thursday.

May Day.

25 years ago, May 1 1983, Dharmonia and I got married. This was one of our wedding gifts, from Bob Franke:

(to the tune of "Donnybrook Fair")

(Bob Franke)

The song of Gypsy Davy rang
Delighted through the night
The wise and foolish virgin
Kept her candles burning bright
Rise up my young and foolish one
And follow if you can,
There'll be no need for candles
In the arms of such a man.

Make love to each other
Be free with each other
Be prisoners of love 'til you lie in the sod
Be friends to each other
Forgive one another
See God in each other
Be beggars to God.

The night was cold and dark and wet
As they wandered on alone.
The sky became their canopy
The earth became their throne
And as their raiment ran to rags
They thought it nothing wrong
For earth and sky are robe enough
When you sing the gypsie's song.

They sang and played the gypsy song
Wherever they were sent
To some it seemed a dancing tune
To some a sad lament.
But in every heart that heard them true
A tear became a smile
And the pauper or a prince
Became the gypsy for awhile
Another semester "In the trenches" done.

I love you.

CYA war crimes

This is where the rubber is really going to hit the road; this is why Cheney was frantically shredding after the 2006 elections; this is why they really want to set up telecom immunity: because they know that they are liable to indictment for war crimes:

Cheney Lawyer Claims ‘Congress Lacks Constitutional Power’ To Investigate VP’s Role In Torture Approval

Earlier this month, British international lawyer Phillippe Sands revealed in his new book that Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington personally traveled to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, witnessed an interrogation, and sent approval back to Washington
The only reasons for some lawyer to claim that Congress hasn't got the power to investigate the VP is because they fear what such an investigation will reveal.

He fucking watched the torture go down. These were not "rogue bad apples"--this was policy. These were war crimes, undertaken with the knowledge, approval, and insistence of the Bush White House.

War crimes, baby.


"All I ever wanted to do was to play the guitar and bend the string like..."

I'm reminded, once again, that this is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard.

Frank Zappa died fifteen years ago.

And I'm sitting here with tears rolling down my face.

Below the jump, the staggering and magnificent La-La-La Human Steps dance company choreography for the Ensemble Moderne's live version of G-Spot Tornado, from Frank's last shows, when he was already dying (in agony) of prostate cancer.

I can't wait to see what it's like on the Outside Now...

Now playing: Zappa - Outside Now

Monday, April 28, 2008

Day 74 "In the trenches" (fare-ye-well edition)

Continuing close-down: a whole bunch of "lasts" over the past few days. Gettin' sleepy as we come down from the 16-week adrenaline rush of the semester:

last Wednesday was last concert-hall show for the Celtic Ensemble for the season;

Thursday was last coffeehouse gig 'til after return from China tour;

Friday was service-gig playing 90 seconds of banjo for an all-city choral concert. Crazy: 1 minute version of "Charlotte-Town"--more-or-less a homogenization of "Boatman Dance", which is entirely too ribald, wild, wooly, and hairy for an audience full of Good Citizens" and a 45-second version of "This Land Is Your Land," with all of Woody's agit-prop communist sentiments edited out;

Saturday was Celtic Ensemble festival gig on a flatbed truck in Slaton TX, following the typical punk-band-made-of-art-students, who played about as well as such bands usually do, while making a lot of half-sophisticated "ironic" comments dissing the crowd. Favorite line from that gig: my own response: "trad music is what happens to emo when it grows up and moves out of its mom's basement";

Sunday was six hours of grading undergraduate music history research papers--me and my two TA's all sitting around a big table, working through papers, pass-after-pass through a rubric. 1st pass: where is the thesis statement? does it work? does it fit the strictures we laid out?; 2nd pass: where is the bibliography? is it complete? in correct format?; 3rd pass: where are the footnotes? are they apt? is everything paraphrase or quoted actually cited, to avoid plagiarism?; 4th: where are the primary examples? are they relevant? do they work? are they adequately integrated into the original analysis and interpretation required? and on-and-on through eight passes. This multi-pass method takes a long time but has the benefit, in contrast to the single-faculty-member-sits-up-all-night-slogging-through-paper-after-paper method, that it sets up a reasonable certainty that every paper has been read by at least two people and that all three are applying reasonably consistent criteria and rigor.

Here's the full rubric:

If you're from the age or educational profile I come from, this stuff seems insultingly simplistic -- so simplistic that it's hard - wired into my (and I think older) generation(s)' intellectual DNA. It's stuff we don't really think about, too much, because it's so fundamentally a part of the reading that, up to a certain era in American educational history, was a cornerstone of how we were taught. You can learn this stuff simply by being exposed to it -- by reading it, in thousands of examples, and then by being drilled in the principles of expository writing.

The problem is that, at least since the late '80s/early '90s, kids are not any longer drilled in such principles, and almost none of them read. That's simply not how they intake or process information. Between multiple media, non-linear knowledge, knowledge-"clouds", and the perpetual visualization of American culture, the kiddos simply learn differently.

It's a big step for intellectuals/academics of my generation even to recognize this radical transformation of learning methods, and another big step to acknowledge its permanence. We are never--at least not in a 4-year college program--going to turn such kids back into text-processors. It's yet a third big step for us to begin to design data-delivery methods that permit them to operate from within their modes of literacy and still begin to internalize our modes of critical thinking. After all, our job is not to make them old-school text-literate; to make them into old-school literate versions of ourselves--our job is to teach critical thinking.

On the other hand, the other parts of that charge include "critical reading" and "critical writing"--so that is part of our mandate, one that is reinforced (unrealistically, as I have suggested before) by the state's mandate that we include courses with a "Writing Intensive" requirement.

Sunday night was Celtic Ensemble band meeting and retrospective, wherein I cook for them, they eat, then we talk about plans for the future, and then we talk (the real hard stuff) about the year past: what worked, what didn't, what we need to change. That's the last shot I have to get that information at a constructive moment: frustration, satisfaction, disappointments, victories--what my revered Buddhist therapist used to call "resentments, regrets, and appreciations," and which she used to make every exiting group member go through out loud, in that order, before she'd OK their departure. Waiting 'til next fall for any such post-mortem would be counter-productive, for several reasons: because a lot of their present concerns would have faded, because the level of trust they feel now with me and each other would have faded, because they would have had the whole summer to simmer over resentments, and so forth.

This way, by talking it out the day after the final show of the season--a really successful one--and when they're just realizing that this year's version of the band is over, and that, with folks leaving, this particular version is not coming back, I'm catching them when they're feeling all of those reactions very intensely and are, whether they know it or not, busting to get that stuff out. By tapping it now, I can let them vent, get it out on the table, and--with them and me in the room--get that intensity channeled in positive and constructive directions.

Mostly I think we succeeded. The therapist used to do "resentments, regrets, and appreciations" in that order, I believe, because she understood with great wisdom that every relationship (romantic, professional, familial, or musical) which ends carries at that ending a full spectrum of emotional responses. If you're going to leave clean, then you have to address that full spectrum, which will inevitably include resentments, regrets, and appreciations (if it was a healthy relationship). But, and this was Suzy Fulkerson's great Boddhisattva realization (one of many), the order in which you address those responses matters. By expressing the resentments first, you get the most difficult, most painful, and probably the most present emotions out first, and you thrash them out between all parties; e.g, "I was mad when you did that." Then you express the regrets, which are a lot harder to get in touch with (and which usually carry at least a touch of guilt): "I wish I hadn't done that. I was wrong." And you thrash those out.

And then, if you've done it right, you've gotten all that surface bullshit--all the static in the signal chain--out of the way, and you've gotten down to the bedrock of what made the relationship matter to you in the first place, which is what you appreciated--really, what you loved--about that person. We humans are so prone to respond to the surface day-to-day distraction of Monkey Mind, of all the small and temporary frustrations and resentments, that we can completely lose track of the things, and the people, who really make our lives better.

It's no different in creative partnerships. As with any long-term relationship, you choose to stay with the people with whom you make music because your net emotional-and-artistic gain is greater than the cost or loss--not because it's cost-free. And if you want it to last, then you have to decide to do some work and make some compromises, probably none of which you're going to want to do. But if you have the emotional maturity--the simple emotional experience--to understand the stages of working-through resentments, regrets, and appreciations, then you can do that work consciously, intentionally, and constructively, in a way that flushes-out the bad shit and lets you hold onto the gold.

Which, for musicians, should ideally come down to "I love the way you play."

It's good for us to remember that.

Below the jump: Spring Planting on the South Plains.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Black President on Fox

I don't usually engage in predictions or prognostications about the process, because I'm too ignorant about the hidden factors and because predictions (in my tiniest of tiny ponds) don't impact the process. But I will say this: if past events in Obama's campaign--the Jeremiah Wright controversy, which was widely expected to do great damage, being the principle case in point--are any indication, then taking himself into the previously-boycotted lion's den of the Faux News network is probably going to be another example of his and his handlers' remarkable understanding of political jiu jitsu. The Wright "controversy", totally ginned-up by inside-the-Beltway pundits who really don't understand how much righteous anger there is in black and brown communities in this country, was supposed to tar him with the "extremist" brush. But instead, in the wake of those accusations, he stood up and gave a speech which is widely regarded as the best of his career, thus far, and a watershed moment in the essentially non-existent 21st century American discourse on racial divides.

I think the same thing might happen on Faux. If various of McCain's handlers have already announced that they'll leave the gig if Obama is the nominee--because those handlers know that the McCain camp's attacks on Obama will have to embody grotesque racism to be even remotely effective, because they know that McCain will still lose, and because they want to have a shred of marketable reputation left after that inevitable loss--then some one or two of the troglodytes who populate Faux's sound-stages and office suites must know that the network stands to lose much more by this appearance than does Obama. If the O'Reilly's and Hannity's treat Obama the way they typically treat opposition members appearing--yelling over them, cutting off their mic's, laughing at them--those less-subhuman Faux staff must realize that such treatment is going to play very badly against Obama's dignity, and minority status. If they yell at, laugh at, or cut-off Obama, they will alienate everyone (including a lot of the elderly folks who are the the network's core audience) who doesn't still favor lynching.

Plus, Obama is smarter, and quicker on his feet, than they are. And he knows that being portrayed by the Faux morons as "radical" is only going to help him with the other 78% of the electorate.

I think going on Faux, standing up under their shit-rain, and giving-back as good as (or better than) he gets, is a virtual win-win for Obama, and has the potential to be a huge loss for Faux and the Republicans the network supports. Imagine the mobilizing rage amongst moderates and progressives when the race-baiting excerpts from the Obama appearance get replayed in anti-McCain campaign ads.

I won't watch it. But I won't be surprised if Obama is the big winner from any such appearance.

[ETA: OK, now I feel smart. Bowers agrees.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day 72 "In the trenches" (close 'er out edition)

Things closing down 'round here. Last concert of the season last night by Celtic Ensemble (more below), last presentations in seminar class, last pieces of repertoire in undergrad class, solidifying assignments for and (given our perpetual space shortages in a severely overcrowded building) problem-solving next fall's room schedules. Tomorrow brings various end-of-academic-year service obligations (playing banjo for some children's choir, committee work, etc); Saturday the last festival gig. Today we got confirmation on the itinerary, programs, and performance spaces for the China tour, and talked with the Irish Embassy in Beijing re/ some outreach work while there.

Kids are burnt--forgotten or sleeping through (or nearly through) obligations, getting sick, breaking down. As I've previously commented, there comes a point in a semester, or for that matter in some kid's degree plan, at which kicking asses (a highly productive and worthwhile activity at other times) is counter-productive and does actual damage. When the kid has done, or not done, everything that s/he is going to, then it's time to help him/her cope with the consequences--the payoffs, if they're going to succeed, or the psychological coping mechanisms, if they're going to fail. So if they sleep through the makeup quiz, or the lecture, or the call time, at this point in the semester you mostly need to help them survive (physically, cognitively, emotionally) and figure that you've gotten as many constructive outcomes as you're going to.

On the other hand, the Celtic Ensemble's concert was remarkable, on both sides of the footlights. I had purposely front-loaded the repertoire, making available a very long roster of "big songs" and dance pieces, allowing the kids to pick particular pieces and instrumental combinations according to who learned what, and so on. I was surprised (and a little non-plussed) by the degree to which I had underestimated their capacity to get things learned. They learned a lot of music.

The result was that we had more than we needed, and I had to finesse which pieces would be included, which deferred, and then, of those included, which would go on the various concert programs. Typically, our fall programs are small and brief (and only presented as part of guest shots at various service performances: Madrigal Dinners, Celtic Christmas, and so on), because the thematic focus I choose for the fall semesters tends to be upon less-familiar Celtic traditions: Breton, Galician, or (next year) Welsh/Cornish. These are beautiful repertoires but they have a much steeper learning curve, either because they are unfamiliar, or make use of relatively obscure languages, or unusual instruments or performance practices, or all of those things. So we save 'em for the fall semester, when there's no pressure for a full-length concert, and when the returning vets have their memorization, improvisation, and learning-by-ear skills already up to snuff. This in turn permits the new year's recruits to get up to speed with these (for classical musicians) very different skills, absent the pressure of preparing a concert program.

In contrast, the spring semester brings the heavier performance schedule: typically a January concert of the fall repertoire, which, with the extra 6 weeks over the holidays, is usually up to snuff for performance; then learning more-familiar (Scottish, English, or Irish) repertoire for a "big" program in late spring semester--typically, around the 3rd week of April. Because that more familiar repertoire involves a less-steep learning curve, I can put more emphasis and responsibility on other factors: trying new roles, heavy memorization (some of those ballads are long, but still have to be memorized), adding-in guest musicians or new instrumental approaches, or even, most fundamentally, diversifying responsibilities. For this particular program, it meant basically allowing anybody who wanted to be the lead singer on one of these big ballads. These are incredibly stark, powerful, almost Beckettian tales of love, loss (usually), and death (almost always), and they make heavy demands on a singer: not so much in terms of vocal technique--like most North European folk melodies, their range is relatively narrow and relatively accessible for an untrained singer--but rather in terms of memorization, as I've said, and even more in terms of focus, audience attention, and narrative intensity. It takes an awful high level of focused concentration just to remember one of these pieces, much less to deliver it, and lead the ensemble, in a fashion that translates in a 500-seat concert hall.

They were aided, last night, by a remarkable and very diverse turnout. Over the past 2 years, the audiences for the Celtic Ensemble have steadily grown, but it's been a very slow incremental process, one wrung-out via the use of every single outreach channel I could brainstorm or extort: repetitive email, websites, newspaper announcements, posters (both electronic and hard-copy), talking-it-up on public radio, and so on. Last night we had what I suspect was a 40-45% bump in numbers, a much wider diversity of demographics (some folks I've never seen at any previous event), and, most interestingly, a very large proportion of other SOM students.

We always do outreach to our own students--several of the Celtic Ensemble kids had commented to me that they didn't think the general SOM population knew "how cool" the ensemble--and we always hit 'em with emails and such. However, last night's much-enhanced turnout of students was a good anecdotal confirmation of the Web 2.0 premise that even email is "old-fashioned", and that kids who are accustomed to being constantly plugged-in via other methods--iPod, cell, text messaging, IM, and/or Twitter--don't even tend to read email. This time, a bunch of the band members had put together a facebook group, specifically for the ensemble, and sent out an automated invitation to something like 150 other students listed as "friends" on facebook. A whole lot of those "poked" kids actually showed up.

All of which would have been reasonably cool: always nicer to play for a larger, more diverse, and (most importantly) intrigued and amused audience. But what was really cool was the reaction of the SOM kids--at least four of whom stopped me in the corridors to say "that was amazing!" or "that's the best ensemble on campus" (hardly true, but indicative of pretty powerful positive vibes) or "that was the best concert I've ever seen!" (same), or, most valuably "Can I sign up for the ensemble for next year?" I don't really know what the hell we did differently than we have done in past concerts, so at least part of this anomalously-effusive new reaction has got be a result of different and desirable new demographics coming into the audience mix. And, we did have a kind of "perfect storm" sufficient to impress music undergraduates: cool and unfamiliar yet accessible music, lots of instrumental firepower of the sort classical kids can grok, wide diversity of shifting roles (singers playing, players singing), lots of interaction and motion and physical fun on-stage, and, perhaps most impressive (for a classical musician) of all: everybody playing nearly everything without a music stand in sight. I'll have more to say about this in tomorrow's post--the profundity of the impact of going "off the book"--but suffice it her to say that playing by memory, and the ability to improvise and interact that can only be achieved through such playing, is certainly the most unfamiliar, and most exhilarating, musical experience that many of these classical kids have ever had or seen. To borrow economic terms: it's a "bottom-up" (from the players to the audience, in the moment) as opposed to "top-down" (from the composer--only slightly down the hierarchy from God, to the conductor, in advance, to the players, doing their jobs like good little factory cogs, to the audience, who are supposed to shut up, sit in the dark, and listen) organization. The former is the model of a jazz group or folk band; the latter is the model of a symphony. For kids who've mostly spent their musical lives as cogs in the Youth and university orchestra machines, what we do seems pretty liberating. And it is.

And then there's the dance: it seems so elemental, so obvious, to say that if you want an audience to appreciate and grow to love a dance music they have to see it danced. It's become a thumbprint of our ensemble: the only SOM ensemble that includes a dance corps. Remarkable, to an uptight New Englander raised in the 1960s, to find a crop of young people who've been two-steppin' or dancing ballet folklorico pretty much since they could walk, and who are not only already good at dancing (I mean: quick enough to pick up three Bampton Morris dances or eight English Country Dances in a single day, two Irish ceili dances in a single session, or a Galician xota from a YouTube video), but also like it. Who will volunteer for it. When I was 20 years old I would do pretty much anything before I would dance--except if there were a female involved, in which case I'd get out there and do my best--but it's still kind of shocking, in a good way, to find kids who'll volunteer.

Result is that we've got a really solid dance corps, and that at any given concert, if I want or need it, we can whip out any one of these previously-learned dances. In turn, it conveys (for a two-steppin' or square-dancin' Texas audience), as nothing else can, what the music was originally intended to do. And when we play our cards right, we can close a concert with a Breton an-dro, and , almost without even an invitation, half the audience will run down from the nosebleed seats and dance it with us. Which breaks all kinds of frames: between audience and performers, between passive observers and active makers, between players versus singers versus dancers versus listeners...all in one glorious communal mass hammering out the rhythms. Some different from a symphony concert.

On second thought, maybe I do understand why those classical kids were so gobsmacked. It's more responsibility, more stress, more unpredictable; but damn is it more fun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Minutemen"'s fence lasts not much more than that; price: $20M

$20M 'fence' scrapped for not catching enough illegals
Right. 'Cause in order for it to work, those lard-assed high-cholesteroled, assault-rifle-toting, lawn-chair-overflowing "patriots" woulda had to stand up and actually chase somebody. Only these Jack-Bauer-fellating "Minutemen" (that about how long you typically last, stud?) would have the gall to call themselves after the rawboned old farmers and green country boys who actually stood against tyranny at Lexington and Concord.

These guys were the real "patriots":


These guys? Not so much.

The image “http://www.cursor.org/images/prowarprotest.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Snark alert: the domain minutemanborderfence.com is now for sale. My, my: that didn't take long, did it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Day 71 "In the trenches" (digging-in/digging-out edition)j

As in, digging-in to problems, and digging-out of others. You make mistakes, and dig yourself into problems, and then you face 'em, so as to start digging-out again.

Yesterday was the former, today more of the latter.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monsters. War criminals.

There is no excuse for alleged humans who do this:

Sands reveals that Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer Jim Haynes traveled to Guantanamo in 2002, witnessed an interrogation, and sent approval back to Washington. The “driving individual was Mr. Addington, who was obviously the man in control,” Sands said:

There was an extraordinary meeting held in September 2002, just before the techniques were to go up the chain of command, so to speak. [Gonzales, Addington, and Haynes] descended on Guantanamo, met with the combatant commander there Mike Dunlavey, watched some interrogations, and as I was told by Dunlavey and by his lawyer Diane Beaver, basically sent out the signal ‘do whatever needs to be done.’

War criminals.

Day 70 "In the trenches" (remediation edition)

Some days you eat the b'ar, some days the b'ar eats you (and picks his teeth with your bones). Some days you hit the right notes with the right people at the right time--that is, sometimes you pay attention--and sometimes you're sleepwalking through your day, and you crash through unintended and disharmonious results to your actions. Some days you get good news that reinforces your (obviously fragile, because otherwise why would news, good or bad, make a difference?) sense of self-worth; other days, you get hit with disappointment that rattles that same (shaky) sense of self-worth.

Some days contain both.

One thing I've learned over a very long time--too long a time--is that withstanding disappointment is a multi-stage process just as is withstanding grief. 'Most everybody in the post-'70s therapy-conscious understands that the death of a loved one, or a relationship, or of a hope, involves a process of grieving, first and most eloquently (and humanely) described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression-Acceptance: possibly the most powerful depiction of which is her own photo-journal/essay To Live Until We Say Goodbye. Ross's breakthrough insight--at least as significant in the 20th century, I believe, as Freud's identification of the past traumas which cause present neurosis--is to recognize that any loss will implicate these stages of grief, and (again like Freud) that the only lastingly-healthy way to reintegrate and survive emotionally intact is to recognize, identify, and move through all these stages. To avoid the stages of grief--as when avoiding the inevitability of death--is to prolong or even freeze oneself within them.

Thus also with certain kinds of life-disappointment. If you've cherished certain hopes, dreams, or scenarios, then there's a certain grief-cycle that has to happen when those scenarios disappear...

....and it's almost one AM and I've got to crash. More tomorrow

Below the jump: first, the portable Office, with a new appurtenance: Blackberry World Edition (I know--I've seen the pictures of that subhuman sociopath Karl Rove with his Blackberry, and I don't like knowing we have even that little in common--but I have an excuse). I've learned to work pretty well in diverse environments, to use the laptop as a mobile office space, and to be able to focus and be productive. But the Crackberry--one of each of whose functions I'm trying to learn daily (and of course failing: it's much smarter than I am)--works in China, or so they claim.

And we're goin'.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Pop-corn!" (James Brown)

As in "''Ginger, get the popcorn!'" [West Wing]

Can I just say that one more reason, these days, I look forward to Friday afternoons is because of the gratifyingly consistent and seemingly endless parade of news-dump revelations and craven resignations and delusional perorations coming from the lame-duck and criminal Bush Administration?

This is fun.

Day 69 "In the trenches" ("2 more minutes, please" edition)

Things coming to a close here. Graduate students finalizing their seminar ("Musics of the African Diaspora") presentations for tomorrow--we hope; undergrads finishing their paper projects--we hope. Come hell or high water, the last obligation, aside from attending and contributing in class, is over for the grads by 5pm tomorrow; for the undergrads, the millstone of the paper is done by 10:00am on Monday (we don't accept late papers, and we make the hard-copy due at the beginning of Monday's class--as otherwise the little bastards would write frantically, and probably meaninglessly, until 10:46 on the due date, and then sprint into the room in the last 4:00 minutes of class, claiming they were still "on time"). They're cursing me now but they'll thank me Monday at 10:51.

For some reason, for the typical musical undergraduate, even one in the 4th semester of a 4-part sequence, in three semesters of which papers are required, a 10-page research paper on an original thesis is still scarier and more insurmountable than, oh, I don't know, playing an entire concerto for memory. I don't mean to sound snotty here--I realize that something you've either (a) never done before, or (b) have never done well before, can seem impossible--but I wonder about a state which mandates that virtually all of secondary education be geared toward standardized testing, and the monkey-see-monkey-do blind imitation and memorization of templates which yields defensible scores on such tests, and then turns around and mandates a Writing-Intensive (10 pages, multiple rounds of submission and critique, re-writing, etc) requirement at the undergraduate level. My sense is that, subliminally, the state is saying "we know that we've sold out all pretense toward pedagogy at the secondary level in order to suck up to the Oligarchs of "No Child Left Behind"--so we're going to mandate that you (minimally) state-sponsored universities pick up the slack we've left...and then we're going to threaten you if you question the requirement--or put gutless-punk courtiers of the lame-duck Oligarchs in positions of university-administrative power."

The end result is that we do what we can, but spend at least as much time re-tailoring the dimwitted state mandates to meet their imbecilic (and usually quasi-illiterate) "letter" of the law, while providing our kids the life- and professional-skills (through the requirement) we think might land them one of the few remaining arts jobs in George W Bush's America. It's a fine line to walk, and usually takes some finesse and some very slick-and-subtle selling of the material's merits to kids and parents (fuck selling it to the Suits at the Top--most of them don't care about pedagogy anyway).

Meantime: watching grad students grow into the role of scholar and professional colleague. For some, it's easy: it's what they planned to do ever since undergraduate. But we don't see too many of those--I'm not sure whether, outside the Ivy Schools, there are very many who come in at 17 or 18 saying "I know that I want to be a musicologist/ethnomusicologist" and never waver from that.

The commoner profile is somebody who comes in to an undergrad degree as a performance major (because they've seen performers, enjoy the look of that career, and have that path on their radar screens), or as a music educator (K-12 band, choir, or orchestra director; for the same reasons), or perhaps coming in from a concentration entirely outside music. A lot of those last have actually been playing music just as long as the music majors, but for one or another reason (don't like the lifestyle, have too many other more marketable aptitudes, lack of self-confidence) don't declare as music majors right away.

Hence, more commonly, students usually discover the existence of the musicology/ethnomusicology nexus while they're already undergraduates majoring in something else. Typically, this is why ethno people actually get started as master's or even doctoral students: they're already on campus, they're already involved in music, but in one way or another they're not satisfied with the rather more circumscribed curricula and career paths of those other concentrations.

So they look around, and--for a certain small percentage--what we do seems like either more fun or more complete (or both). Either they are interested in music that doesn't fall in the jazz-or-classical binary that is the focus of most music conservatories' curricula, or they're interested in an approach to music that's more inclusive--of culture, of meaning, of context, of psycho-spiritual-politico-economic-historical function. And that's when they tend to land on my doorstep: as shifting-concentration doctoral or master's students, or as brand - new - wet - behind - the - ears master's students ("jeez, I don't know how the hell to act like a graduate student...I don't feel like one!"), or--more rarely--as undergrads for whom the lights went on the very first time they heard the terms "musicology/ethnomusicology".

The job for these folks is not only to train them in a body of repertoires (some of which they may know and/or play, but mostly not), a body of methodological practices (some of which they may respond to instinctively but with which they almost certainly don't have any practical familiarity), a body of perspectives (most of which "feel right" to them, as it's the perspectives that tend to draw students across disciplines into what we do), but also a body of goals and strategies. E.g., "what are the goals of your musicological/ethnomusicological work? What do you want your work to accomplish in the world?"; and "what tools and/or analytical/expository strategies are you going to learn and employ in order to accomplish your goals?"

That's where the graduate presentations requirement comes in. Instead of simply requiring a "research paper" (God, I hate that term, as 90% of the time it's the one used in high schools for those cut-and-pasted travesties kids are encouraged to paraphrase and plagiarize out of bad textbooks, online articles, and other shoddy sources), we make the grad students put together a formal conference-style presentation: formal thesis, abstract, careful title, reading text, visual/audio aids, handout, timed duration, formal Q&A after, etc. Most of them, when they start our program(s), have not only never given a conference presentation--they've never even seen one.

This means that you not only have to tell them how to do it, you have to show them as well. Which is why, at least once every semester, 10 days to 2 weeks out from the student presentations, I'll deliver at least one classroom lecture in the style of a conference paper (either improvised, from my lecture notes, or from an existing conference paper which happens to be relevant to the seminar's work). I have to watch out a little to balance the need to employ method and material that actually facilitates that work, and also to avoid freaking-out those Type-A's who think that their presentation must match the scope, facility, or comfort level of the professor's. But it's also/still really useful to show them a research presentation in advance.

And then it's really useful to have them prepare and deliver the presentation. The old in-the-trades model (which I learned by instinct but first heard articulated by my buddy Steve) is "read one - see one - do one"; that is: read/have described how to perform a certain skill (plumbing a house or building a staircase, teaching a lecture or delivering a conference paper), then see someone perform the skill adequately and effectively (because there are so many aspects to such skills that are taught and learned infinitely more efficiently by observation than description, and then "do one"--put it into practice, make the mistakes, fix the ones you can in real time and sweat through the ones you can't.

It's a good model and it works, but in academia there are fewer opportunities to put it into practice, both because much of the work-skills that are being learned are internal (not external), abstract (not concrete: you can't lose a finger through an erroneous application of Derridan plumbing), and text-driven. Anything that gets us up out of the seats, changes the direction of the flow of information or the burden of processual responsibility, diversifies the presentational method--or all of these things--is a good thing. Anything that performs all these tasks and gives kids enhanced skills at interviewing and landing The Job is a very good thing.

Thus to the presentation: 9:30-4pm tomorrow, all day long in a room, one after another, problem-solving and committing error-and-repair every time out of the chute. Coffee & donuts at 9am, catered lunch at 12:30, inevitably running late and being jammed for time (that awful note, handed up to the podium while you're talking, that reads "2 minutes, please"), guaranteed technology snafus, weirdo curveball questions from the audience (if necessary, if no one asks a hare-brained question which tests the presenter's ability to improvise, I will), and so on and so forth. I do this every semester, with every seminar, regardless of the topic or the other assessment tools (exams, journals, attendance & participation) involved. Because it works.

This is why our people go out and get jobs, or wipe the floor at regional conferences, or host regional conferences, or get invited back to present again because their initial presentations went so well, or provoke astonished and catty comments from other programs ("What the hell is going on up in Lubbock?!?"), or get grilled by fascinated senior scholars on their way to and from the restaurant and up and down in the hotel elevator, or get scholarship and travel money, or win national awards, or chair their own panels at national conferences in my absence, or get cover articles accepted by major periodicals, or all of those things. And more.

Because it works.

Below the jump:

Flowers for Danny Federici.

Goodbye Danny

We loved you.


Lights on E Street burning a little dimmer tonight.

But in my mind, I'm hearing Danny play 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). And I always will.

Goodbye Danny. We won't ever forget you.
Now playing: Bruce Springsteen - 3-01 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Day 68 "In the trenches" (seven-eight times edition)

nana-korobi, ya-oki: "Fall down seven times, get up eight times," a Buddhist teaching. When you're as frazzled with end-of-semester burnout as I am (we all are), your ability to cope with disappointing news gets comparably frayed. The kids are frazzled, the fuse is short, my ability to assess critical response accurately is definitely eroded. So when I get a "no guarantees, no Greatest Thing Since Burkholder, we like it but it's clear that as a first-time author you present a bigger contractual risk than someone who's got a successful delivery under your belt" response, it's damned difficult not to, as Katagiri Roshi said, "get tossed away." But ultimately, it's not going to matter how you feel about the situation; what matters is what you do with how that feels. It's going to make a difference in how you feel; but is it going to make a difference in what you do?

Further to yesterday's post--this does not mean that you ain't gonna feel bad when you hit a roadblock. If you're prone to feeling shitty after one of those, rest assured you still will. But, what you do learn as you age is that this feeling bad is a process: it's got its stages, and you're going to go through all of them--including the hurtful parts. Ain't no point in trying to avoid it; you will feel bad. But what you learn is that, after some time, you'll stop feeling bad, and begin to regain some perspective.

If you know this, and remember it the next time you get hit with disappointment, then you recognize that you don't have to take any actions in the midst of the freakout, because they'll likely be ill-advised anyway. So you take your hands off the computer keyboard, or say goodbye politely and hang up the phone gently, or wait an extra 3 seconds before responding in a conversation, or wait overnight before you call somebody back, knowing that you'll probably think straighter later. It's easier to do this when you know that after some length of time you'll feel better.

And, the whole disappointment might feel a little less bad or permanent. And then you'll be glad you didn't react sooner.

Patience is a real practical virtue.

Below the jump: two admired leaders, each of whom has taught me a lot about patience [thanks to Mac Tire for the photo].


Not really necessary to blog about it, but here's just a basic, frustrating-professional-roadblock, comment on the day:


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Day 67 "In the trenches" (honoring the Elders edition)

One of the more sobering--but more enlightening--things about getting older is that you realize just how temporary, and how brief, both life, work, and friendships are. In the history of the universe, or of homo sapiens, or even of institutions, individuals' contributions can seem remarkably, even heart-breakingly, brief. As you age, and you go through this cycles again and again, that brevity really sinks in.

Yesterday, it was helping kids, many going through these cycles for the first time, through that most painful--because least familiar--realization: that Time is Short. That no, none of us is going to live forever; that choices made 2 months (or 2 minutes) ago will have inevitable consequences, and that some portion of those consequences (a much larger proportion than most kids realize) will be irredeemable. That no, life mostly isn't going to give you do-overs...so if you want to have even a prayer of making any kind of success of your life, your job, or your relationships, you damned sure better recognize that moment-by-moment choices are crucial. So FUCKING PAY ATTENTION (wonderful half-remembered quote from a Zen teacher "Pay attention! Pay attention! Because your life is passing very very fast!").

That quality of moment-by-moment (the Zen teachers call it "One-Pointed") attention to one's life, work, and human contacts is at the very heart both Buddhist awareness and the craft of being a teacher. Recognizing that this human contact, this moment of crisis (and thus by definition, of opportunity), this conversation, this administrative decision, this choice is crucial, and that it will have untold, unknowable, and unavoidable impact upon the entire web of creation (Indra's net of interpenetration between all things), is what is meant--and typically misunderstood, in the West--by "karma". "Karma" does not mean that you are doomed by past choices, or past lives' choices (one thing Buddhism teaches is present responsibility). The concept rather arises from the fundamental realization that choices have consequences, that those consequences are permanent (even if, sometimes, remediable), and that therefore choices matter. Do bad things, and they will rebound to cause pain--Somewhere. Do good things, and the will rebound to relieve suffering--Somewhere. Maybe not here, or now, or for us, or in ways visible to us.

The Buddhists, who prefer to avoid dichotomies as distorting and misleading about the interpenetration between all phenomena, also prefer to avoid opposing "good" with a concomitant/opposite "evil." To a Buddhist, with any degree of theological understanding, the opposite of "good" is not "sin"; the opposite of "good" (or, to use their preferred term, "compassion") is ignorance. This is why Buddhism is not, at its heart, a theology. It does not ask you to believe in a spiritual path about the hereafter; it asks you to believe something observable, demonstrable, and also intuitively human: that failing to understand the long-term permanent impacts of good and bad deeds is ignorant, and betrays a fundamental lack of virtually scientific probability.

This is the quality of moment-by-moment attention which, as a Buddhist and as a teacher, I ought to manifest: I need to listen to colleagues, students, and every other human (every other being) I interact with, because it is ignorant to presume that some interactions don't matter. If all beings matter, then all beings deserve compassion; if all beings deserve compassion, then all interactions with other beings (humans, animals, trees, flowers, books, bags of recycled materials, even the monsters of the Bush administration) also matter.

A teacher--of anything: Buddhist theology or soil science, fractal geometry or ceramics, child-rearing or compassionate killing--needs to pay this kind of one-pointed attention: to the lecture, the seminar, the question, the answer, the debate, the experience, the crisis, the resolution. Failing to do that is my failure as a teacher and a Buddhist.

Fortunately, I've had good models: great and revered teachers ("they were Giants on the Earth in those days"), admired friends and role models, dedicated students and poor almost-hopeless fuck-ups. Every one has provided, at the very least, the opportunity to work on paying attention. Because attention is what makes compassion possible--how can you be kind if you can't even register the suffering of the beings in front of your nose?

Compassion--attention, and the simple kindness and human connection that emerges from attention--has been demonstrated for me, as I say, by great and revered teachers over the past 30 years. But more recently, for the past seven-and-a-half, by an admired senior colleague, mentor, and friend. You can read about him (a small, modest bio that was all he'd allow us), but let me tell you about him:

When I interviewed here--my heart sinking because I realized it was a great gig, well-suited to my talents, in a place of such "geographical oddity" that it was five hours from everywhere--he and his wife were the first people I met. He met me at the airport, drove me to the graduate dorms (where they were putting me up because all the hotels were full with some damned Athletics Department event, and about the impression given by such lodgings I'm sure he wasn't happy), took me to dinner, picked me up in the morning, hoicked me around the campus for that One Long Day of Deans and Directors and meetings and guest teaching and research presentations and exit interviews which every candidate knows, took me to dinner again, and generally shepherded the process with great though discreet attention.

As he was schlepping me back to the airport on the Saturday departure, he said, "well, we really need someone who can remake this department and kind of bring it up to date." Then, as I was getting out of the car, thanking him for his attention, he handed me a small, half-sized copy of the local Yellow Pages and said, "Here. You might need this."

And I knew, right then--no hubris or arrogance involved--that they were going to offer me this gig. And I knew, reluctantly and very much against my imagined future scenarios, that I should and would take it. Because I knew, on the basis of this man's kindness, calm, focus, attention to detail, that not only did he mean it when he talked about "remaking the department"--that, unlike 90% of the administrative suits who mouth lip-service to "Change" and "Renewal" [tm], this man was going to actually follow through by helping make it real.

And he did. We could not have accomplished what we've accomplished without him--which was, as I said when writing-up the nomination letter for the Distinguished Teaching Award that is very rightly serving as his valedictory honor, as follows:

complete revision and modernization of the undergraduate curriculum, the same for the graduate curriculum, the (current) finalized revision of Music Appreciation suite of courses, the expansion of the Tenure Track musicology faculty, the expansion of the Musicology graduate program's enrollment, development of a practicum by which senior graduate students move into teaching-assistantships and adjunct positions, placement of undergraduate and graduate musicology students in top-notch graduate programs and very competitive job situations, development of the MUBA in Vernacular Music, the Vernacular Music Center and its attendant Scholarship, and even the very renaming of our department from "Music History and Literature" to the much more apposite and relevant "Musicology."
Wayne Hobbs made this happen. He's been my elder and my mentor and a fierce (quiet, modest, understated, gentle, statesmanlike, but nevertheless fierce) advocate for what I've done here for the past seven years. We couldn't have done it without him.

Up here on the South Plains, we Honor the Elders. Wi'bdhahaN, Uncle!

Below the jump: roses, primroses, and irises: bloomin' Spring on the South Plains!

Hillary and McCain are done

The Boss endorses the Black President:

Like most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest. He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.
This campaign, both primary and general, is over. I'll put Obama on the podium with the E Street Band as the rhythm section, and the Boss takin' us to church, over the Rich White Folks in either of the other campaigns, any day.

Can you imagine what those campaign rallies are going to be like?

This thing is over.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Day 66 "In the trenches" (coasting and coping edition)

Coasting to a finish here. Still a hell of a lot to do before semester ends, but mostly, for me, everything that's going to need to happen has been scheduled, and getting it scheduled is two-thirds of the battle, actually (the actual execution of whatever tasks will all happen, provided the time to execute has been allotted):

graduate student presentations: one long weekend day but, since I take notes during the presentation and then forward to students, not requiring much after-the-fact grading: just edit, cushion (e.g., cut out the most brusque or impatient impulse comments from on-the-fly notes), complete, and hit "Send";

undergraduate student paper grading: another one long day, during which I and TA's all sit around one table and read all 100 papers three times--but then they're done, in time for us to hand back and provide those meeting the deadline the opportunity to revise and re-submit--though not many do, as most are so damned relieved to have the thing done a week before the semester finished. From my end, essentially yields "done for me" before the end of the semester;

couple of final concerts with Celtic Ensemble, but that repertoire is mostly done and ready to play--one advantage of having them learn everything by ear and play everything from memory, they develop some skills in fixing errors on the fly--and so there is less propensity for crashing-and-burning;

final grades to figure and upload, but those are mostly automated through having been entered over the course of the semester on WebCT--and the TA's can do the entry: all I have to do is any curving or other merciful acts;

also a ton of meetings with either studio students, and/or grad students and others either finishing-up on writing or trying to get started on the writing (at this stage of the year, the finisher-uppers are freaked-out and trying to be done, while the getting-started ones are the Type-A's trying to get a jump on next fall). Always glad to meet with kids, coach lessons and writing, but it's very very time-consuming. Fortunately, that's mostly outward-directed--at this stage, the pressure is on them, not me. Mostly.

And so I wind up empathizing with them. It's a stressful hard time, for both the Type A's and the tardy-as-frack types, and they're all pretty much suffering. If there's a biorhythm to teaching psychology, it's knowing when (and at what points in the semester) is the time to kick asses and when to be unexpectedly kind:

First half of the semester versus second, Fall semester versus Spring semester, the first time a grad student flagrantly under-prepares for an exam, those are the times to kick asses--because those are the times when an early ass-kicking actually provides leeway for improvement, effort, and high-caliber results;

Second half of the semester, or Spring, or the second time the grad student cans the exam, those are the times to be kind--because at that point, the student has done as much as s/he is going to do, and can't create more hours or days or weeks--and so the only question is whether the results the student is actually going to be able to produce are adequate. At that late stage, remediation is impossible--the most you can hope for is survival. Or, if they're not going to survive--if the work is just not adequate or sufficient for the kid to be able to function with a minimal professional competence as required by the job (HS band or choir director or elementary school music specialist have very different music history requirements than graduate school or a college interview)--then the most constructive thing you can do is let them down kindly and help them feel sufficiently OK about themselves that they don't simply give up permanently.

And so if survival, for these particular kids, is the best available option, then you make the best of that. And you try to help them cope.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Day 65 "In the trenches" (Looking-ahead edition)

Short hit today. Looking ahead to next fall courses and assignments. Getting into the 1930s (what I called in the Powerpoint "The Hungry '30s") with the undergrad class, at precisely the same time that they're hitting the wall with exhaustion, as well as mental checkout....

...as am I, evidently. More tomorrow.

War-criminal placeholder

This bit of Photo-shopping really seems to me to nail it.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Day 64 "In the trenches" (crystalline-blue edition)

Counting down on the public-radio pledge drive--last two hours to pledge. Dharmonia said to me, en route from campus to radio station, "How come you do 2 hours a day for the whole week?" Of course, she knows the ethical ideals and goals that drive this kind of involvement (see this past week's posts for the nth iteration of those reasons), and she's certainly heard me rant and rehearse them.

But, 10 hours out of the last 3 weeks of the semester is in fact a pretty heavy investment of time. Of course, it's a little easier because you can sit there between live pledge breaks and tap tap on the computer, reading/ranking study-abroad scholarships, blogging, grading papers, etc--but it's still a pretty good-sized chunk of time. So why do it, beyond the high-flown reasons?

Well, another good one is that it represents absolutely massive virtual "face-time". Dharmonia and I used to do the annual pledge drive in Bloomington, because we were lowly hourly part-timers and we had to be there. But it was also fun, because there, in a relatively uptight and conservative public-radio environment, the one week of the annual pledge drive was a chance to kick over the traces, improvise, have fun, make comical pitch "carts" (cartridges--the old 8-track technology which was the standard method of delivering -0:30 second audio in the old days), and so on. There were some incredibly creative folks there (shout-out here to the great Chris Rund, author of the hilarious "How to Recycle Your Old NPR Coffee Mugs" series, and to Thomas Irvine, who voiced a particularly Yiddish version of Bonaparte: "Ah don' need a tote-BAG-uh!") and the pledge drives, though tense, were also the "funnest" events.

So, when we moved down here to the Great Flat, Dharmonia and I knew darned well that we were going to need both the station's resources (because she was going to need to continue producing her national program from here) and also the station's support. We'd had 11-12 years working public radio in a relatively conservative programming environment, and seeing the kind of visibility that radio could provide for local arts initiatives if only the folks making programming decisions could understand their capacity to help or hinder--but chose not to.

When we got here, and met the local public radio people, the vibe was immediately different. Partly this was just the difference between close-mouthed Midwestern social behaviors versus "Hah, how're yeew?!?" openness in West Texas. But it was also that the staff understood that their station, much younger and running much leaner than the Indiana operation, and founded by a bunch of classical-music fanatics even before they had an NPR license, had the capacity to be much more engaged with and responsive to the local arts community--and, if they were smart, should be. That in turn meant that the local staff were very glad to have a couple of new music faculty members arrive in town with some pre-existent skills at fund-raising.

So when they asked us to help out with their pledge drive, we said "Hell yeah!" It's not hard for us to do, we have a bunch of chops at it, and the staff are so happy to have a couple of extra energetic bodies that they're very receptive to what we bring to the table.

And, I knew damned well that 2 hours a day for 5 days twice a year, during the 4-6pm All Things Considered segment when all the upper-administration suits are listening, couldn't be wasted time. In fact, it's prime Face Time. The vice provost for academics of the university, a fervent supporter of the station and its direct supervisor, always makes a point of being on-air during the pledge drive. To be introduced to him as a co-pitcher, within the first 3 months of starting work, and hanging out with him for a week between pledge breaks, was invaluable networking. He damned sure recognized me in the coffee shop thereafter.

If you're a working artist, or a teacher working in the arts, then outreach, public education, public visibility--"Face Time"--is not just ego-candy, not just personal career development, but an essential part of hacking out a place for your art and art like yours in the undergrowth of administrative budgeting and community consciousness. I've blogged before about the crucial role that arts types have to take in generating awareness and sharing ideas across faculties and campuses, because other faculty are usually so busy that they haven't got the time to to inform themselves about colleagues' activities. That means that we have to find tactful but effective ways of selling ourselves, as a way of selling the value of what we do.

As working artists, and especially as performing artists, we embody the art that we do: singing, playing, dancing, acting, and so on. That means that the community needs to learn to associate us, quite literally and quite physically, with the art that we do. Face Time for us is Face Time for the art--and, by extension, awareness of and support for the art that we make.

And that's why Face Time matters. Go to the phones!

Below the jump: more crystalline-blue on the South Plains.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day 63 "In the trenches" (landscape in the sky edition)

Thursday/Hump Day of the pledge drive. Landscape's in the sky today--65mph winds and a whole lot of dust from off the cotton fields is in the atmosphere now. Lots of meetings today, lots of stuff to deal with--but also a good lesson with flute student, and a good meeting with the Diaspora seminar. The latter's lecture always a very interesting one, because it's where we present blackface minstrelsy, from its earliest roots in the 1830s solo song-and-dance performances of George Washington Dixon ("Zip Coon") and Thomas "Daddy" Rice ("Jump Jim Crow"), through the proto-pop bands like the Virginia Minstrels (who both created the idiom of American pop music, and left a raft of imitators in their wake across America and in Ireland and the British Isles as well), and into vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, radio comedy, early "Talkies", and beyond.

Interesting challenge: I've been thinking quite consciously about blackface minstrelsy for at least the last three years (and, as a white musician largely involved with studying and performing black music for three decades, subjected constantly to the suspicion of exploitative or appropriative behavior throughout those decades), and so I see the tropes and echoes of the idiom throughout the balance of American popular culture. And, maybe because I've been thinking about it hard, writing about it, and reading great scholarship about it, I've come to see and to employ the nuanced thinking its noxious racism and undeniable artistic brilliance both demand.

Most students haven't: the youngsters perhaps have never heard of the idiom, find its racial caricatures absurd (and unfamiliar), and thus don't feel much knee-jerk guilt about enjoying its comic brilliance and musical pleasures, especially in the post-blackface idioms of vaudeville, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Laurel & Hardy. The ones who are a bit older and more sophisticated do have an awareness of the racist implications in those later idioms, and are still uncomfortable with how to think about the conflicting issues of racism versus genius. So the task of the lecture is to both convey the history and to encourage a more direct, nuanced, thoughtful, historical, and critical response to the idiom and its paradoxes. An interesting pedagogical problem.

You have to begin from first principles: taking them back to the original actuality of the idiom--the caricatures of big lips and rolling eyes, ragged clothes and sashaying akimbo gait, and the implications of those; but also to the subversive, mocking, cakewalking cultural critique that both Anglo and African blackface slipped into their entertainments. There are versions of all the canonic blackface songs--"Jump Jim Crow", "Zip Coon", "Old Dan Tucker", and the rest--which go into great, lengthy, and very detailed social and cultural critique: just like the calypsonians of Trinidad, the sambistas of Salvador, and reaching all the way to the mocking praise-and-blame songs of the West African jeliyat.

It's worthwhile remembering a couple of things about blackface: (1) that it became a media phenomenon in the 1830s-'40s, which was precisely the same period during which Andrew Jackson's presidency had radically realigned public conceptions about who wasn't, or was, newly entitled to a vote in the democracy. Prior to Jackson's victory in the 1828 Presidential elections, the franchise was essentially limited to white males who were landowners. This was consistent with the British parliamentary model upon which the Republic was founded, which presumed that, even in the House of Commons, you had to own land in order to stand for Parliament. But the 1820s saw the US franchise extended to a much wider, much poorer, and (thus) more radical demographic. They were Jackson's constituency, and they (and their new power) scared the shit out of the old Anglo-Anglican aristocracy who had largely run the early Republic. So when TD Rice, in one version of "Jump Jim Crow" from 1832, sang:

Should dey get to fighting,
Perhaps de blacks will rise,
For deir wish for freedom,
Is shining in deir eyes...

Cho: Wheel about and turn about and do just so
Ev'ry time I wheel about I Jump Jim Crow

I'm for freedom,
An for Union altogether,
Aldough I'm a black man,
De white is call'd my brother.
He was preaching what was, in the context, revolution. And by doing it in the motley guise of "Jim Crow," or "Dan Tucker," or "Zip Coon," they reach back to the oldest archetypes of both European and African carnivale, and to that festival's mocking, wheeling, cakewalking critique of power.

In the guise of the Fool.

The great Eddie "Rochester" Anderson:

Dooley Wilson:

Ethel Waters and Eddie Anderson:

Duke Ellington, Buck & Bubbles, and the Hall Johnson Choir:

These people were geniuses. That they had to play caricatured roles in order to accomplish their genius lessens not their greatness, but only our own sense of entitlement to old and wrong valuations of culture.

Below the jump: landscape-in-the-sky; Springtime Blow on the South Plains.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Day 62 "In the trenches" (phones, staff, teaching, rumba, overseas edition)

Busy day today: teaching, pitching for public radio, working out passport and visa details for China tour with the trad band, staff meeting, rehearsals this weekend for a visiting artist's master-class and concert of Afro-Cuban folkloric drumming. All good stuff to do, all elements either coming to fruition or laying good foundations for the future--but time-consuming and demanding nevertheless.

Today's class for the undergrads was Webern Op. 21, the Symphony, which we use for starting to talk about pointillism (blurring of boundaries, indistinct combinations of color, and, in musical contexts, emphasis upon fine and/or minute musical events distributed in space), klangfarbenmelodie (a wonderful portmanteau German compound noun for "sound-colors-melody"), the technique of isolating the single sequential notes of a (typically angular, atonal, or serial) melody...

Urrr....11:30pm and out of time. Will continue as "Part Deux" tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Day 61 "In the trenches" ("Go to the phones!" III edition)

Still live-blogging the Pledge Drive here. Interesting dynamic to fundraising in periods of economic crisis and political opportunism: donations for public broadcasting usually go up. Stupid, unimaginative, and cowardly political opportunists typically will try to scapegoat public broadcasting as a hotbed of "lib'rul bias." Which is horseshit: NPR, for example, has completely sold out to inside-the-Beltway cliquish power-fetish. But it is true that public broadcasting, especially public radio, is committed to a degree of diverse and thoughtful opinion that drives conservative wingnuts crazy. So the wingnuts, and the cowardly politicians who strap on the knee-pads every time the Far Right starts screaming, will tend to attack public broadcasting when they can't find any other victims.

Aside from the cynicism, cowardice, and flat-frickin' dishonesty of such attacks, they also reveal their stupid misunderstanding of their own constituencies. The reality is that, just as in '94 when Gingrich and Buchanan and their numb-nutted ilk "rode to the sound of the guns," pledging for public broadcasting goes up when the economy slumps or when politicians attack.

So bring it, you bastards: keep ranting about the damned "lib'rul bias" on public broadcasting and watch our numbers go up and yours go down. And, when I watch the muted TV monitor tuned to CNN (above and to the right in the photo), blathering silently about underage sex, "cross-dressing elementary kids," and the salacious details of Britney's latest meltdown, I'm reminded about the difference between clean work and dirty. That would be, "mine" versus "yours."

Meantime, last night was the monthly "First Monday" ceili dance for the Caprock Celtic Association in the back room of the local neighborhood coffee shop. I've played and taught Irish dance music for many years, and some of the most enlightening experiences I've ever had have been playing the music specifically for dancing: there are aspects of interpretation that are simply unavailable in the absence of dancers. So, I want my guys to have the same opportunity to learn.

It's a fine line to walk with this kind of community offering: you're having it in an open public location, and you promote as "all ages and skill levels," then you will have people coming in--with their kids--with that full diversity of expectations or preferences. You simply can't run things in an autocratic fashion, because what you're trying to model is a bottom-up, responsive, communal, contributory set of behaviors. This is vastly simplified by not charging a fee--the inclusion of a fee-structure to such situations instantly shifts the dynamic away from "we're all in this together, equally responsible" and toward "hey, you, I paid for this experience--now gimme!" You don't want this. So you make it "suggested donation" only, and you read the riot act to the attendees that even if they're going to drink only water from the house, they better tip the counter-staff big. And you generally treat them like they're family: follow the house rules, play nice, tolerate one another's eccentricities, and recognize that the pluses outweigh the drawbacks.

This means that you have to put up with it when somebody brings their four kids, or their klutzy friend, or even the acid-dancing hippie boyfriend--because that's what families have to do. You try to get everybody to sign-on for the goal of the evening--to learn and share--and pulling in the same direction, but you also have to recognize that Uncle Harry is going to get confused or that your sister's bratty kids are going to act out. So you grit your teeth, hold your temper, focus on the positives, and be grateful for that part of the thing that works.

Which, when you think and respond in those terms, it mostly does. "Be the change you wish to see," right?