Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Receipted and filed

Last day of the semester. Tomorrow is "Dead Day" (unfortunate verbal shorthand), then it's 2 finals to give (and grade) on Thursday, 1 on Friday, and get on a plane for Ireland--for a month!--on Saturday.

Hit 'n' run blogging for the next couple of days. Big Ups to all the students who made it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The complex metrics of leadership

I've served in a leadership role in a lot of different situations, but most of them have been within the complex dynamics of creative collaborations. I've blogged before about the differing (and complementary) satisfactions that emerge from engaging in a diverse yet integrated set of collaborative situations: for me as a musician, having one gig where I'm the leader, another where I'm more-or-less music director, another that's a straightahead collaborative democracy--plus whatever peculiar one-off's that may come up on the horizon--allows me to play different roles.

And even more importantly, to keep those roles separate: when I'm in the sideman role, to accept and be comfortable with that, avoid trying to take over or shape the direction, because I know that there is another complementary situation in which I can call the shots. It's also incredibly valuable (I am discovering in my dotage), for someone who spends most of his professional time telling other, younger people what to do, to be put back in the situation of being a beginner, a subordinate, or a cog. Hubris is a ready trap for anybody who has a lot of training in one or another specialized skill, and it's doubly or triply tempting if you hold over someone the power of a grade or a degree.

But, you begin to get your shit together, and you get enough years in within the organization, and new possibilities arise. From my admired boss I am coming to learn more about the art of administration. As I say, I've understood people management for years, in the context of bands and classrooms, but it's an interesting challenge when you are leading the thinly-disguised middle-school recess that is a tenured faculty.

I have also come to understand that there are upper-administrative roles I could occupy constructively and others not. Currently, I work well as a sort of emissary from the Dark Side: the tenured Chair of Musicology who still looks like a tattooed ex-biker and -bouncer, but who can talk in a comparatively erudite and articulate fashion (albeit one sprinkled with four-letter words and their polysyllabic ilk, principle among them "motherfucker") to folks who may not be familiar with just how dark the Dark Side can get. It's charming and titillating but at the same time it's a challenge: I have to be reasonably honest to (and about) myself but I also have to try to reach out to people who are radically different than myself. These days, I spend a surprising amount of time talking/promoting to people with whom I share very little (politics, experience, leisure activities, choice of tipple, religious affiliation) except for the crucial point that they like music and I can talk about music.

No, I could never be the Director or Dean of a School of Music, at least not in this part of the country. Because in contrast to the pet-Bear persona I'm describing above, the Director/Dean has to feel enough like a banker that the blue-haired ladies feel the return on their investment (in infrastructure, in scholarship money, in buildings, or--most immediately AND rewardingly--in talented young people with good attitudes) is guaranteed. Somebody who looks and acts like a banker--cheery, optimistic, energetic, and never ever ever condescending or intimidating--feels like a safe investment. Some wild-eyed hippie--positive, energized, but also aggressive and demonstrably/visibly different from them--is never going to feel so safe.

That's why I'm better in a subordinate role, trotted out when the Boss needs to up the exoticism quotient.

I reckon I'm OK with that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Prayers of thanks

Thank you, Tara/Avalokiteshvara/Brigid. I am happy to know that optical hard drives are also under the control of the Buddhas and saints of compassion and the natural world. Thanks to all for prayers and good thoughts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Long one

Work day started at 6am (5am alarm). Ended about 20 minutes ago. Can't sustain this much longer. 11 days until I get on a plane for Ireland. For a month.

Now, any decent person, any person leading a realistic life, anybody with the remotest sense of a realistic sense of values, would feel pure gratitude for the chance to take a group of students on a 2-week field trip to some of the places I love best in the world, preceded by a week as outside examiner for a Bachelor's in Traditional Music program, followed by a weekend conferencing in Dublin, right? Any realistic person with a rational view of reality?

All I can think about is how much work I'm afraid I won't be able to get through before I get on that plane.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"This is where the soul of man never dies" - Sam Phillips

Ed Young (quills) and Hobart Smith (banjo).

Look at the command in those faces: the absolute, bedrock conviction in the power and validity of one's own musical and cultural expression. Currently reading Halberstam's The Children, a history of the fight to integrate schools in Nashville in 1959-60, and this, this right here, is precisely what those mush-mouthed bow-tie-wearing cynical Southern Democrat pols and "good folks" in the Jim Crow South feared:

that the poor black folks and the poor white folks would get together, realize that the skin color that divided them was a hell of a lot less important than the class-exploitation that united them, and would fucking rise up.

Class warfare? You bet your ass that's what the "good folks" with a vested interest in the exploitative status quo feared. That's why they riled up the poor, low-information crackers: to do their dirty work and to keep them from making common cause with other minorities.

That's still why.

One time when Alan Lomax got it right.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two heroes

Bill Moyers talks to David Simon, creator of the greatest, bravest, most truthful narrative programming ever heard on American television.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Let's say goodnight to everybody. Goodnight moon. You say it.

CHILD: Goodnight moon.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: There you go. Goodnight stars.

CHILD: Goodnight stars.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight po-po's.

CHILD: Goodnight po-po's.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight fiends.

CHILD: Goodnight fiends.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight hoppers.

CHILD: Goodnight hoppers.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight hustlers.

CHILD: Goodnight hustlers.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight scammers.

CHILD: Goodnight scammers.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight to everybody.

CHILD: Goodnight to everybody.

DETECTIVE KIMA GREGGS: Goodnight to one and all.

CHILD: Goodnight to one and all.

h/t to the General.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Good peasant food

Dr Coyote's mock Ma-Po Tofu.

Was reminded of this by an article on a China Ex-pat blog I've been following since last spring's tour. Hadn't had Ma-Po Tofu in years--since Bloomington, anyway, but it certainly is dead-easy, and thus maintains my highest priority for a recipe: that I don't have to follow it, but can more-or-less make it up out of my head.

Start a pot of brown rice. Once at a boil, reduce to low simmer, cover tightly, and leave it alone, for at least 30 minutes.

Meantime, dice 1 block extra-firm tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Fry over high-heat in 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (olive oil will burn over high heat) with a splash of toasted sesame oil added. Continue until brown and crisped on the outside. About mid-way through the frying process, add a good splash of tamari--but have a cover handy, as at this temperature the tamari will sizzle and splash. Scrape the pan occasionally with a spatula to keep the tofu from burning onto the bottom. You can also add sliced celery, bamboo shoots, asparagus, pepper, or other crunchy soft vegetable.

Whisk together in a mixing bowl some combination of the following: 2 tablespoons tamari, 3 tbs of white wine, 2 tbs white or cider vinegar, at least 1 tbs brown sugar, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp ginger, a good dose of chili powder, and at least 1 rounded tablespoon of cornstarch. You'll have to whisk hard to get and keep the cornstarch in solution.

Add the liquid to the tofu, stir well, and reduce heat to a simmer. Leave the lid cracked so the liquid can reduce. When cooked down to a thickened gravy texture, you're ready to serve the tofu over the rice. Garnish with ground almonds or peanuts.

Low trans-fats, relatively low-cal, relatively well-balanced (though you may experience a craving for dairy and/or sweets afterward), cheap as hell.

Good peasant food.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Celebrate excellence

If, as a teacher, you're going to insist upon it, if you're going to model, if you're going to break your neck trying to find ever-newer and -more nuanced ways of instilling it, if you're going to refuse to settle (or allow the students to settle) for anything less than the absolute peak of feasible excellence, then you also oughtta damned-well celebrate it when it appears:

Out of a class of eighty-seven, we had six late paper submissions. And every one of those six had an admissible excuse.

Eighty-seven out of eighty-seven who met their deadlines and did what they needed to do. That's 100% success.

So we collected the papers, explained (again, because damned near all of them are running on one, two, or three nights without any sleep at all) the criteria that were required to be met in order for an individual paper to be permitted review and rewrite upon initial return, and then, just before I cut 'em loose--because I knew that, after one/two/three nights without sleep, once the paper was out of their hands (required to be stapled and submitted in hard-copy, as well as submitted electronically by a deadline 10:00 minutes prior to class time, so that nobody would show up late), they weren't going to be able to concentrate at all, full stop, I said:

This is what success feels like.
They cheered.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Old-school TX weather-reporting

Just heard during tornado coverage, the storm chasers:

Well, we got us a wall-cloud that's rotating like a big ol' wagon-wheel in the sky...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fuzzy people 52

Hell, yes, I'll donate 40 bucks a year for this:

Meet Gracie (Urocyon cinereoargenteus): newest adoptee.

Hello, little Reynard. Welcome to the family.

h/t to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fuzzy people

Bounder of Adventure

h/t to Dharmonia
, and to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Grateful acknowledgements once again

Just a shout-out--again--to two of my great teachers, da Boss and the Geshe, who taught me a hell of a lot about how to use skillful means to broker solutions.

Nine bows.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Plains of Kildare

Andy Irvine and Paul Brady in 1977. Andy said to us "I've taught so many people this song: Frankie Gavin, Paul Brady, Donal Lunny, Johnny Moynihan, Nikola Parov. And now you lot."

Sam Phillips: "This is where the soul of man never dies."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Still punching

Still mired in the depths of not one but two catastrophic hard-drive failures. But still here punching. Our guys kicked ass (both formally and informally) at the regional meetings of the musicology society, and even maintained their demeanor during 12 or 13 hours in a 12-seater van. As I said to Dharmonia today, "you know, if I hadn't had those those two HDD crashes, this would be a great semester": classes are going well, bunch of students graduating, scholarship was going along well. But still trying to hang tough.