Thursday, February 26, 2009

Playin' the blues tonight...

...holding the chaos at bay.

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stoppard/Shakespeare versus Morgan/Gregory

Couldn't sleep, so working early. On opposite cable channels, in the background, it's Johannesen/Portman The Other Boleyn Girl, authors Morgan & Gregory, versus Roth/Oldman Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, authors Stoppard & Shakespeare.

Both costume epics, both with rug-chewing attempts at scene-stealing (Richard Dreyfuss in Rosencrantz, Eric Bana and every other pretty-boy-in-tights in Boleyn), but there is just simply no contest: it's Roth/Oldman/Stoppard/Shakespeare in a landslide.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Art = "the Possible"

I believe in the art of the possible. The ideal doesn't exist, the pessimistic leaves no reason for effort. But, as I once said to my admired boss: "there is no situation so bad it can't be improved; there is no situation so ideal it doesn't need work."

A breakthrough moment came for me when I first read the detailed descriptions of the actual, ridiculous runaround that Mozart and his collaborators had to go through in Vienna at the height of the Hapsburg empire, and the multiple censors, critics (professional and amateur, titled and street) to get various operas on the stage. That's one reason that, in the wake of Figaro, they opted to open Don Giovanni "out of town" in Prague in 1787 with "the ink barely dry on the page." It was a notoriously bohemian town (the literal capitol of "Bohemia", though the name hadn't yet taken on the later adjectival connotations) and both composer and impresarios knew they could work out the kinks best there, trying for pure purposes of financial stability to springboard off the success of their previous buffa smash.

Neither Mozart's life nor his production of this opera was anything like the tragedy that Peter Schaffer opted to portray in the play/film Amadeus, but there are two things that Schaffer got right:

(1) the fact that there is a difference between "talent" (God I hate that word) and effort (God I appreciate that word)--or, more accurately,that making art just simply comes easier to some people, and

(2) the enormous frustration that you can experience watching someone do, effortlessly and brilliantly, something you've worked for years to do and can't do as well.

One of the things that the play/film Amadeus got right is the reality of the realization the great art never happens in an ideal, Olympian vacuum, that it is never the ideal realization of an Apollonian ideal. It is always down in the messy, frustrating, compromising trenches that the art that gets made gets made.

Creativity is the art of the possible, not of the ideal. The great artists, the really great ones, are the ones who made maximal use of available resources--and at the heart of their artistry was their ability to see possibilities, specifically possibilities in combinations that were not apparent to others.

And that means you gotta stay open--because there are always possibilities.

Monday, February 23, 2009

All kinds of courage: facing the hard times

Counseling grad students getting ready to defend and getting ready to pop out of the pipeline into a scary job market. Likewise counseling undergrads and parents who are deeply scared about the economic future. Here's a distillation of my response:

This nation threw off an empire (we'll leave to another post our *assumption* of the mantle of empire). We helped win the First World War--a pointless war, undertaken for asinine reasons of greed on all sides, but one that had to be ended. We helped defeat Hitler, though for the worst possible reasons and at the last possible moment. Black people and white people put their bodies on the line to end Jim Crow. Drag queens stood up to New York cops at Stonewall in '74. Allen Ginsberg "Ohm'd" an entire party of people out of Grant Park at Chicago in '68. FDR led us out of the Great Depression--oh and by the way spawning an entire couple of generations of great people's art--and framed the "Four Freedoms", surely one of the most powerful, courageous, and humane articulations of the inherent dignity of human beings. The suffragettes endured water houses and forced feeding to win the vote. Mother Jones stood against mine owners and their thugs. Mailer and the hippies levitated the Pentagon in '65. We brought Buddhism to America. Washington, Lafayette, and von Steuben held their ragged bloody-footed volunteers together through the sub-zero winter at Valley Forge. Lincoln fought slavery to a standstill. Malcolm repudiated Elijah Muhammed; Martin stood on the bridge at Selma.

We are not a fearful people. Regardless of the brutality, greed, and cynicism with which oligarchs have tried to persuade us otherwise, we will not be defeated. But it has to begin with courage, compassion, and sacrifice.

We have to *rise* to this challenge--not sink.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

HDD versus CnH2n+1OH

Some days--like those 24 hours after a catastrophic hard-drive crash, for example!--you just want to start drinking alcohol (CnH2n+1OH) by around 10am.

Either that, or bake bread:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 30 (round III) "In the trenches" (launch-pad edition)

Season of change, around here. This year happens to be a transition year, for our department and ensembles: we've got people moving on from Collegium, Celtic Ensemble, and Musicology department--including a number of our teaching assistants. Means next year is a rebuilding year, which is OK: some ebb-and-flow and turnover is healthy for everybody. And we're damned glad to see these grad students finishing up: we're going to be popping out at least five PhD's, at least three MM's, in a single season. For a division whose total grad-student population is maybe 15, that's a great success rate.

Of course, it also means that these grads are going to be rolling out their careers in an especially unstable and unpredictable job market. What I tell them is that this is a much scarier time for the Associates and the Fulls--and especially for those who were hoping to retire sometime soon. Given that TIAA/CREF and other matched-by-employers retirement funds and IRA's have lost 25%-40% of their value in less than a year, a whole lot of folks who thought they were going to retire at 62 or 65 are looking at having to stay on some years more.

Which is not particularly good economics for their employers. While these senior folks have huge insight and experience to offer, it comes at a price: a senior faculty member, 20-25 years in-grade, has (very aptly) arrived at the top end of the spectrum of faculty salaries. Tied as it is to rank, and to annual (or at least regular) cost-of-living and blanket merit raises, that senior person's salary represents probably the highest cost-per-hour of any faculty member in the operation. We don't begrudge them this, of course--they earned it, after all--but it does mean that these senior people, some of whom carry lighter loads than those shouldered by their younger, far-junior colleagues, are expensive. If the University can provide them a reasonably attractive retirement package--or perhaps the opportunity to retire, but to continue as Emeritus or other part-timer--it can hire a junior replacement, to shoulder the same or a bigger load, at a fraction of the cost-per-hour of the senior retiree.

Yet at the same time, in this period of economic downturn, and particularly in this part of the country, one of the only which is experiencing job-creation and immigration, undergraduate enrollment is expanding. We are never not going to have enough quality recruits to fill those ensembles and undergrad classes. We are thus never going to be without the need for new, junior people with experience and energy who can handle those classes--which are both essential to the undergrad core and, because they are typically taught in large rooms by low cost-per-hour junior faculty, an excellent economic return.

So we tell our people, "Look, work on those factors you can control. Don't try to second-guess either the motives, the operations, or the timetable of the search committees to whom you'e submitted applications. You won't know when, or how, or why, they have arrived at their decisions, and it's more-or-less madness to try to untangle those decisions."

Some time back I was talking with one such soon-to-be-PhD, and he said "I don't know whether I'm going to be perceived as qualified for [X] job." I said "you're not going to know how you're perceived. There are two fundamental questions to ask yourself, when confronted with a new job posting to which you think you might apply:

(1) "Could I cut this gig?" (e.g., do the duties fall within your areas of primary and/or secondary specialization, do you have tools, skills, and/or experience that is roughly comparable to that requested?)

(2) "If it was offered, would I seriously consider accepting it?" (e.g., do I actually want this gig? Or is this some kind of abstract exercise or mind-game?)

I said, "Ask yourself, in the case of [X] job, those two questions. If the answer to both is 'yes,' then for crying out loud apply for the gig!"

Most of us--and damned sure our graduates--are perfectly capable of combining a fairly wide diversity of related skills, according to the needs of a particular job. Most of us--and damned sure our graduates--are eventually going to get decent jobs which they enjoy and where they can do good work. But such statements--along with explanations of the actual, glacial pace at which search committees do their work--are not much consolation to a dissertating grad student who's getting ready to defend in June, hasn't heard anything positive about the search by Feb 20, and is beginning to wonder "damn, am I going to have any kind of job possibility come September? Am I going to have to get some dumb temp job? What will that do to my employability next season?"

There is no way you can simply tell people in such a position "don't worry, think positive, be pro-active," and have that actually help them. They need concrete strategies, questions answered, ideas about procedures, and general (and specific) mentoring.

So, in recognition of this season of the year--when the applications go out, the document is near defense, and they're hanging by the mailbox or the cell phone hoping and praying for a call--and of the absolute economic turmoil that's blowing by like a hurricane right over our heads, we organize a round-table at which all four faculty members in Musicology could present a few key insights, and take their questions. Here's the charge I gave them:

“Let us each speak freely to what we each individually believe the exiting grad students would most benefit from hearing.”

Here are the bullet points I asked them to lay out in their 8-minute individual presentations:

  • This is who I am
  • This is what I teach
  • This is where I did my degree work
  • These are the academic job[s] I've held (as grad student and faculty member)
  • These are the related jobs I've held (if any)
  • Here are the things that helped me most—practically, intellectually, and/or psychologically--in working the job search.
And here's the stuff, in response to my own charge, I shared with them.

It was a good session--I think. Probably won't be the last one we need to do.

I sure hope it helps--I want our guys to be OK.

Below the jump: Evening Star on the February South Plains

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fuzzy people 51 (totem-animal edition)

Courtesy of Sunshine: my totem animal (there's one on the fingerboard of my bouzouki, because I worked with them as a kid):

Cute little devil.

Hat-tip to the Rev for the "fuzzy-people" appellation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Out-of-rotation movie blogging

HBO is showing Almost Famous, a candy-colored re-imagined semi-autobiographical fantasy by Cameron Crowe (certainly more honest and truthful than his even more candy-colored '90s post-teenage fantasies, from Say Anything to Singles to Jerry Maguire), and it's not that great a film: it's a fantasy, as Dharmonia very aptly put it, of "something like what the '70s rock scene might have looked like to a 15-year-old on the outside."

It's really not that good, and a lot of the writing simultaneously panders and sentimentalizes (a Crowe speciality--even more when he's talking about his "own" adolescence on the road with rock bands), but it does have some decent acting: Jimmy Fallon as a sleazeball-but-effective tour manager and Jason Lee as a preening semi-talented front-man/vocalist (both of them type-cast and at the peak of their limited powers); Billy Crudup as the more-talented-than-the-rest guitar-slinger who at least looks the part--even though his "guitar faces" are pretty lame; Kate Hudson as the uber-groupie Penny Lane (limited, and stuck with some of Crowe's most dumbass writing and directing) but luminous nevertheless;

and it does have some great acting: in both bit parts (Eion Bailey and Terry Chen as two of the LA-wannabe-hipsters who founded Rolling Stone) and more major ones: Frances McDormand way outside her (brilliant) Coen Brothers bag as the mother of the young runaway-with-the-band would-journalist Crowe,

and, operating in a whole other artistic, expressive, and emotional universe, the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, maybe the greatest non-"star" actor of his generation (c'mon, what other actor has a comparable roster of absolutely definitive roles? Synecdoche, Charlie Wilson's War, Capote, Empire Falls, Cold Mountain, State and Main, Magnolia, Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, and that's just the hits), playing the absolute greatest "rock" writer of them all, Lester Bangs.

I won't even call him a "rock critic"--that's to put him in the not-even-close company of Bob Christgau and Greil Marcus: not bad, but very much genre writers, striving desperately to find some way, as English majors or History majors or American Studies majors, to talk about music when they didn't actually know anything about music.

But Lester was different: he was unequivocally, unabashedly, unashamedly uncool (and self-destructive: see Let it Blurt, but that's another story). And you have to at least give it to Crowe, he does give the movie version of Lester the one great, and truly honest, speech about the difference between being a "rock star" and being a "rock fan" (in the midst of a lot of other lies and fantasies about the actual scuzziness of many people involved in the business in that decade):

Lester: That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter....Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love... and let's face it, you got a big head start.

I'm glad you were home.

I'm always home. I'm uncool.
But if you really want to understand the greatness of Lester, then fuck the writing of wanna-be's like Cameron Crowe. Instead, go to the source: to what Lester himself had to say about some truly great music, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks:
It's the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.
Only Lester could have linked Van the Man and Federico Garcia Lorca. Only Lester could have made me believe it:
My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.
Federico Garcia Lorca
RIP LCB (1948-82).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Day 27 (round III) "In the trenches" (memento mori edition)

Been thinkin' about death a lot lately, all up in this crib. No particular reason, beyond the recognition by many of the kiddos--which always arises around mid-term of the Spring semester every year--that their time here is actually going to end: that no matter what kind of experience they've had at this Uni, they're going, one way or other, willing or no, to have to leave this place. Some struggle, some shine, some tread water--most of ours at least cope--but they're all going to have to leave. Some this Spring, some next, some at some un-confronted future date which they haven't yet faced up to--but they will all leave. Or be left. Or both.

When you're young, it's hard to recognize that the bad times, like the good ones, will end. If you're young and suffering, you think no-one has ever suffered in the unique way or to the excruciating extent that you yourself currently are, and you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel that ensures that, in the nature of human psychology, even that excruciating pain is going to end. When you're young and happy, you think that it will never end, and it's that much more excruciating when--like everything in the world of samsara--that phenomenal happiness also ends.

You get a little older, you suffer through those cycles of joy and loss, and you begin to recognize them when, as is inevitable, they recur. The heart, when broken a second time, heals a little more recognizably but without perhaps the same first, exquisite pain. The second death of a loved one is a little less of a horrific blind shock than was the first. And of course, the very fact that it's familiar the second, third, or tenth time is itself a source of sadness.

But everything ends. Good times and bad, joy and sorrow, hope and success, and suffering and pain--and life itself--all end. We are all going to suffer sadness, and separation, and loss of loved ones.

And it is precisely this, precisely this, that makes the brief, brief time we have here so utterly, unutterably precious. "Life is like a little ceili," said the great historian of Ballymenone, Hugh Nolan, "it begins in darkness, and it's lit for a little time--such a little, little, time--and then it goes into darkness again." Somewhere in Bede's Ecclesiastical History, the metaphor is of life like a sparrow at night, flying into the lit mead-hall, passing through the warmth and firelight only for the length of that roomful of warriors, and then out into the cold outer darkness again:

The present life of man upon earth, O king, seems to me,
in comparison with that time which is unknown to us,
like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the house
wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your ealdormen and thegns,
while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed,
but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.
The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another,
whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest;
but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight,
passing from winter into winter again.
So this life of man appears for a little while.
To quote the only truly great line in The Shawshank Redemption, "they's on'y really two choices. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."

Maybe it's the season of the year--the springtime season, in universities, of parting and loss; or the season of life--the downhill slope of 50--but those truths feel very, acutely, very damned real. How long does a 50-year-old man have, right? 24 years, to the national average? 30, if the longevity of the males in the paternal/maternal bloodlines is any indication, and if the senility in the female doesn't catch up with me? Three, or four, if my father's early decease is any indicator?

It doesn't matter. All beings, like all phenomena, are constantly in the state of arising and passing away. One door opens, but another closes.

In medieval painting, the memento mori was the quite literal "skeleton at the feast," the presence of a skeleton, or skull, or ticking clock, that reminded those in the flush of life's success--in the throes of portraiture--that they too would die. In Christian theology, it was a reminder to take heed of one's immortal soul, to abstain from sins of the present and seek absolution for those of the past.

It's a little kinder in other wisdom traditions--particularly, in my not-unbiased opinion, in that of my own Zen Buddhism--but the truth remains the same:

Peter Mathiessen tells the story of his teacher, slamming the kyosaku against the polished floor of the zendo, and shouting, "Pay attention! Pay attention! Because your life is passing very very fast!"

We are all going to die.

That's not morbidity. That's reality.

And hence, because real, it is liberation.

That's the real lesson.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lettin' it go

Tomorrow is another (travel) day. Dharmonia and I are headed here, for this, and a whole lot of this:

so that I can provide another iteration of this, in company with a couple of old friends. Here's what we're doing:

Might pay a visit here, tomorrow night, if it works out.

Blogging will be road-style (light on the comment, heavy on the photos) until next week.

See you down the road.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Uphill battles

We all fight 'em. It hurts like hell...and damned near like hell when it's happening to those we love. Not least, for somebody like me, because of the stress1 it produces. But, flip or fly: we've survived far worse, and we'll get through this as well.

Rootin' for all my boys and girls out there. Be strong--and let your friends help.

1Defined as "the tension that arises through refraining from choking the living shit out of some asshole who desperately deserves it."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Day 22 (round III) "In the trenches" (oblivion edition)

In the main, I don't give a shit about fame, or recognition, or "permanence" (and let's not talk about money--I'm a musician and a teacher, right? I got over the money tip decades ago). I don't care about an inheritance, about a portrait on the wall, or about a row of titles on the bookcase, or 13 pages of C.V., or 360 unique hits in Google, or 9 CDs (to date), or hundreds of concerts, or hundreds upon hundreds of live gigs, or citation in others' bibliographies, or any of that shit. Not ultimately. Not really. That's not why I do what I do--why I get up in the morning, or settle for the short bread, or the long hours, or the confusion and non-comprehension from the general population, or the long, long, long rear-guard action we have fought for millenia against the forces in the culture that want kids to be raised scared, dumb, and passive--so that they can be more efficiently controlled. None of those are the real reason why.

I teach because I want to make a difference. I want the opportunities, sense of expanded possibilities, the recognition of the beauty that infuses the universe just behind the veil of suffering and alienation (samsara) which we think is existence.

And I want it for them: for my students--past, present, and future; formal and informal; momentary or permanent; voluntary and in-; intentional and happenstance--for every person who the universe puts in the way of whatever I can offer them.

I mostly didn't get that vision as a kid--I mostly had to invent, or discover, or (occasionally) stumble across the Great Teachings and Teachers which gave me that vision of how to be: a way of finding the sacred in the world. A lot of people in my generations sought to find the sacred in a lot of different ways, in the wake of the brain-dead suburban '50s and the hysterical, egocentric, homicidal '60s: to drugs, or Jesus, or "back to the land," or Gordon Gecko-esque Reagan-lite "Greed is good," or even hunkering down in a psychological foxhole and pretending the world was as trite, selfish, and pointless--as "nasty, brutish, and short"--as the Bush oligarchy wanted us to believe.

But just as I looked at the generations of emotional destruction I was heir to, and said "It fuckin' stops with me," I look at the endless possibilities which music opened for me, and I say, "It fuckin' starts with me." Any young person who ever needs help from me in any way, in realizing the possibilities that the universe provides, will get it. I will never turn that away.

I am convinced that the reason that artists make art--the art they would make whether there was an income, support, recognition, or even life itself or not; the art they make when the State threatens to kill them for making it--or follows through and actually does it--is their best, most eloquent, most lasting, most beautiful way of expressing love. The love that all humans, all sentient beings--the rocks and trees and birds and beasts and clouds and rivers and humans--recognize, behind the veil of samsara, to be the point of existence.

And teachers teach for the same reason. Forget my name, my publications, my recordings, my gigs, my works, my poems, my compositions. Forget them all. They don't matter to me. When a student pays it forward, helps another, makes beauty, practices compassion, eases suffering, it cracks open my heart.

That is all the legacy I could ever need or want.

I teach my students, and have for decades, and will, until I die, because it's the best, most eloquent, most valid, most lasting way to tell them something almost too deep, too simple, too profound to express (in the words of Kate Bush's magnificent Love and Anger: "Well, if it's so deep that you don't think that you can speak about it / Just remember / Someone will come to help you").

Because I love them.

Below the jump: sunrise light through the front-room windows, and Mister Man on the back deck with San Francesco.

Now playing: Kate Bush - Love And Anger
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 08, 2009


A 56-year-old woman, Jennifer Figge, swims 2,100 (that's two thousand one hundred) miles across the Atlantic. Including a 1,000-mile detour around bad weather.

What are her priorities on the day after she lands:? the treadmill. And seeing her dog.

Fucking in-dom-itable.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Imagining the Village"

Mind-boggling. Martin & Eliza Carthy, backing Billy Bragg, along with Sheila Chandra and the RealWorld house band, joined by the Copper Family singers, in their great-grandfather's masterpiece: "Hard Times of Old England."

"The Imagined Village."

That's where I want to settle my generations.

"The Office" (workstation series) 116 ("re-set" edition)

Just heard a report on NPR this morning, en route to the cross-trainer, describing Biden's recent statement to NATO members that the Obama Administration (just typing those words makes me think of the wingnut heads that must explode across the country when they even hear it) wanted to "hit the re-set button" on foreign policy. While I more or less deplore the trendy computer jargon (specifically, the button used by computer-relatively-unfriendly people when it "won't work anymore"), I sure empathize with the sentiment.

Anyway, on to the jobs for the day, and "hitting the re-set button" for several research projects. Diving back into the world of the blackface minstrels, cranking out a conference paper for conference delivery in March, but which will also mutate into another chunk of another chapter in the big book. Also finishing up a bit of a rush job for an Irish journal about The Music as it is now in the States.

Yesterday was a beyond-brutal day in terms of scheduling, with hour after hour blocked in. I've got no problem with working 14-17 hour days, but it's a little easier to keep ahead of the boulder-rolling-downhill when I can control/structure how my time resources are allocated over those hours. It's tougher now, as chair, because I have outside obligations--especially committee work and supervising grad students--that have to happen during business hours and in tandem with others' schedules. I'm beginning to understand just what my admired Boss's days must be like, when every hour of every day of every week is simply dictated by external schedule factors--and simultaneous constant rolling deadlines.

I find this mentally exhausting. My concentration is usually very good, and I can turn it from one topic to another pretty readily--but it is far easier (for me) if I can dictate when those shifts occur. It's much harder to maintain and protect in the face of the externally-imposed schedule

On the other hand, any day when you can give one student an instrument lesson one hour, shape another's piano pedagogy project next (and help her see that it could actually become, not just a term paper, but an actual publication), buy lunch for a mentored freshman next (and stare down the punk-ass frat guy who only belatedly realizes that he last saw you chasing him while he ran like a frightened child out of the neighborhood from a 2am party months before), teach an Irish folklore class the next, create the online followup teaching materials for that class next, talk through the conclusions of a doctoral candidate's dissertation manuscript next, help a foreign student frame the "Statement of Financial Need" that will win her scholarship assistance so she's able to maintain a bank account exceeding twenty fucking dollars the next, hear a student composition concert where you're thanked as essential to one work's conception the next, come home to a dinner cooked for you by somebody who loves you the next (25 minutes), play a pub session that starts out pessimistic (because the Yammer Brothers are sitting at the bar) but winds up with the place full of old and new fans), and get home safe?

That's a decent day. I've got no cause for complaint.

Friday, February 06, 2009


...and fried, after a hell of a day: hour after hour after hour from 8am until just about 30 minutes ago.

But a good one: helped a lot of people, made some lives a little brighter, saw some old friend, helped some students get some financial assistance, played some good music, made it home safe.

I'll settle for that.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Day 19 (round III) "In the trenches" (placeholder edition)

Really no time for a cogent post today, though there's no lack of blogging topics swimming around up there. Will try to do better tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's the raw repertoire list (e.g., the master list from which chamber groups, individuals, and I will select pieces to be worked-up for the final concert) for the Celtic Ensemble's springtime "big" program, on an Anglo-Appalachian theme:

  • Peter Bellamy: Amazing Grace*
  • De Dannan, I.N. Nick Malor, Jean Ritchie, Sarah Makem: Barbara Allen
  • Martin Simpson: Batchelors Hall
  • American Fife Ensemble: The Brickmaker March
  • The Watersons, Jean Ritchie: Cherry Tree Carol
  • Billings William: Chester - winds*
  • Pentangle: Cruel Sister
  • Roger Landes, Martin Carthy: The Devil And The Farmer's Wife
  • The Watersons: Diadem - winds
  • Peter Bellamy: Edmund In The Lowlands
  • Ewan MacColl: The Elfin Knight
  • Jean Ritchie: Fair Annie of Lochroyan - "The Lass of Loch Royal" - Child #76
  • June Tabor: Fair Margaret & Sweet William
  • The Watersons: The Falling Tear - add winds - canon
  • Jean Ritchie: False Sir John (Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, Annan Water, Young Andrew, Outlandish Knight) - Child #4
  • Fiddler's Dram, Seamus Ennis: The Farmer's Cursed Wife
  • American Fife Ensemble: General Scott's March
  • The Watersons: Gloryland
  • Jerry O'Sullivan: The Gobbyo/A Trip to Killarney
  • Spider John Koerner: The Golden Vanity
  • Jean Ritchie, Jeannie Robertson: Gypsy Laddie (Gypsy Davy, Gypsy Rover, Black Jack Davy, Seven Yellow Gypsies) - Child #200
  • Boston Camerata - Joel Coen: Hallelujah (The Social Harp) - winds & strings
  • Clarence "Tom" Ashley, Sweeney's Men, Jean Ritchie, Peter Bellamy: House Carpenter - "The Daemon Lover" - Child #243
  • Watersons: Idumea
  • John Owen Lardinois: Jefferson And Liberty (The Gobby-O)
  • Roy Harris: The Jovial Hunter
  • American Fife Ensemble: Lady Hopes Reel
  • Maddy Prior & June Tabor: Lass Of Loch Royal
  • Jean Ritchie: Little Devils (The Farmer's Curst Wife, Devil & the Farmer's Wife, Women are Worse than the Men) - Child #278
  • Jean Ritchie: Little Musgrave (Matty Groves) - "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" - Child #81
  • Mary Ann Haynes: Long A-Growing
  • John Reilly: Lord Baker Child 53
  • Jean Ritchie: Lord Bateman (Young Beichan, Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender) - Child #53
  • Jean Ritchie: Lord Randall (Billy Boy) Child #12
  • John McGettigan, Lizzie Higgins: Lovely Molly
  • American Fife Ensemble: Lovely Nancy
  • Paddy Tunney, The Watersons: The Lowlands Of Holland
  • American Fife Ensemble: March Of The 35th Regiment
  • Jean Ritchie: The Merry Golden Tree (The Golden Vanity, Lowlands Low) - Child #286
  • Watersons, Alabama Sacred Harp Convention: Morning Trumpet
  • Patrick Street: Music For A Found Harmonium
  • Alabama Sacred Harp Convention: North Port
  • Jean Ritchie: Old Bangum (Sir Lionel, Wild Boar, Jovial Hunter, Sir Eglamore) - Child #18
  • The House Band, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Dolores Keane: Seven Yellow Gypsies
  • Watersons: Sound, Sound Your Instruments Of Joy
  • Phoebe Smith, Jean Ritchie: Sweet William and Lady Margaret (Fair Margaret and Sweet William, - Child #74
  • Jean Ritchie: There Lived an Old Lord (The Twa Sisters, Binnorie,Cruel Sister, Wind & Rain) - Child #10
  • Peter Bellamy, R & B Dransfield: The Trees They Do Grow High
  • Buell Kazee: The Wagoner's Lad
  • American Fife Ensemble: Washington's March
  • Alabama Sacred Harp Convention: Wondrous Love
  • Geordie Hanna: Young Edmund In The Lowlands Low (Geordie Hanna)
  • Phoebe Smith: Young Ellender
  • Eliza Carthy: 10,000 Miles
They don't exactly pay me to teach this stuff--the Ensemble is an overload--but they credit me with it (further to yesterday's post), and count it toward "Research & Creative Activity."

Which it is.

I am incredibly fortunate, in my supervisors and in my students, that I get to do this. And I won't ever forget it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fuzzy people 50

LOLTigger: I can haz snowman?

White Bengal tiger playing with a snowball. Guaranteed to put a smile on yr faze.

Thanks to the Rev for the fuzzy people appellation.

Day 18 (round III) "In the trenches" (random-things edition)

When I was studying for my doctoral exams, I was repeatedly asked by my revered advisor when I thought I'd be "ready to write the exams." My realistically-paranoid reply was, invariably, "Whenever everybody on the committee agrees that I'm going to pass those exams." I refused to be tied down to a timetable, because I had seen people in the snake-pit that was my graduate school get screwed when they either ignored the indirect cautions of their advisers, or, even worse, were not warned at all by negligent advisers failing to do their jobs.

The corollary was that I met with each of the three musicologists on my exam committee on multiple regular occasions for a solid year in advance of the exams. I was blessed beyond measure that Peter Burkholder, Tom Mathiesen, and Austin Caswell were willing to do this--I know of schools where PhD advisors refuse to meet with exam candidates, and simply expect them to "know everything" on the day they walk in the door (are you listening, A. Peter Brown?!?)--but fortunately my three would meet.

And when we did, I would always open the conversation by saying "OK, here is what I've been working on for the past [two/three] [weeks/months/etc]. This is where I expect to be [two/three] [weeks/months] from now. Are you satisfied with the direction, scope, and coverage I am creating?" and I would wait for a confirmation. The unspoken but nevertheless implicit followup statement was "...because if you as the adviser aren't happy with my progress, for Christ's sake tell me now!" I trusted those three men completely, and I knew they wouldn't screw me, but I had seen it happen to other people and I wanted to be sure to give them regular, explicit opportunity to caution me or tell me to step it up. I was blessed beyond measure that they encouraged me to define the criteria, topics, and skills upon which my expertise would be assessed.

I was reminded of this recently, in the very (seemingly) different environment of Tenure & Promotion. We recently made a new tenure-track hire, who is working out very well: bright, energetic, personable, engaged with students, easy to get along with. However, his arrival has also provided us with a salutary opportunity to look at our "best practices" and their attendant presumptions--not necessarily to critique them, but because aspects of practice and presumption that we three who have been here longer may feel we "know" or "can trust" may not actually appear in any written, much less legally-binding, form.

In the world of academic musicology, criteria for tenure and promotion can vary wildly, but typically certain components can be presumed to operate: specifically, the expectation that the successful candidate for T&P will meet or exceed expectations in 3 areas, usually weighted something like this:

(I) Teaching (50%-70%),
(II) Research (or "Research & Creative Activity") (20%-30%),
(III) Service (10%-30%).

We'll leave until later in this post the impossibility of quantifying what are essentially impressionistic values ("is this journal article worth 0.75 per cent toward 'Research & Creative Activity', or only 0.7 per cent?"), and focus right now on the metrics: in other words, what phenomena (publications, student evaluations verbal or numeric, number of committees served upon, number of regional, national, or international conference presentations, original compositions, performances conducted, ad infinitum ad nauseum) are alleged to be so measured.

Part of what makes this process difficult is that there is simply not enough parity between one individual candidate and another, one department and another. What we regard as "meeting" or "exceeding" or "far-exceeding" expectations in any one or all three of these areas both contrasts, and is measured by different metrics, than another division in our School, another department on our campus, or even than a parallel-sized and -missioned musicology department at another university. So the idea that there is some sort of quantifiable formula which will permit precision and parity in assessing a colleague's performance against some kind of abstract external yardstick is ridiculous.

But, we work for suits and pencil-pushers, some of whom (especially at the level of the Legislature) are as near to functional illiteracy as makes, for this purpose, no difference. These are not people who are equipped to make actual, accurate, case-by-case critical assessments of performance. So we're forced to tart-up some kind of quantifiable measures, and to document them, so that both the process and the individual candidate are protected in the event of suit-driven repercussions.

Hence this process of, essentially, imposing a numerical framework on phenomena that are not objective.

All this is exacerbated, and yet made more urgent, for two other reasons, not usually articulated in the Operating Procedures, but which are in fact much more significant to the actual day-to-day health & well-being of our staff and our department:

(1) because faculty colleagues (new hires, especially) have an understandable concern to be very sure they understand and can work constructively toward the goals that are expected or articulated by the assessment tools. In other words, if a new hire's T&P are going to live or die on the basis of these artificially-quantified metrics, then that new hire is very understandably insistent upon having them spelled out--as s/he should be. That means we have to articulate the procedures and the tools of assessment, and that we must have confidence that, if push ever comes to shove, those tools are defensible, and would provide us the means to make arguments on behalf of a candidate. And the candidate needs to know that too.

(2) because, as is typical in a large state-school-housed conservatory, our faculty colleagues in the School are so massively overloaded, so hour-by-hour day-by-day week-by-week semester-by-semester overworked, that there's really no way that we can presume that our colleagues--that is, the people who will actually have the most direct vote on a T&P decision--will be adequately informed about the range, scope, and significance of what any particular candidate does. Typically, in our faculty (which is far more emotionally and interpersonally healthy than the snake-pit where Dharmonia and I did our grad work), the persons who are most aware of, and eloquent in expressing, the value of a candidate's contribution are that person's divisional colleagues. The winds & percussion people, for example, are most intimately aware of a wind or percussion teacher's contribution, because they work side-by-side in the same ensembles and teaching situations and divisional meetings (and are usually hallway neighbors as well); the conducting faculty will be next-best-informed, because those latter will deal with the teacher's own playing and the impact of his/her teaching in their ensembles (and will typically understand the nature of the national comparative standards for that role); the composition faculty may have some awareness, if they make use of the teacher or the teacher's students in premiering new works; the music education faculty may have some (small) awareness, because in our music-education-centric student body, most of the teacher's studio students will actually be music education students--a notoriously gossipy bunch...

But the divisions which are least likely to really have the full measure of the breadth, depth, and quality of that hypothetical winds or percussion teacher's work are those same divisions which engage his/her contributions least immediately or directly--namely us, the music theory and/or musicology faculty. We on the academic side see the people on the studio and ensembles side, we chat with them in faculty meetings, we attend their concerts as much as we humanly can (pet peeve: academic faculty who don't go to studio/ensemble concerts; studio/ensemble faculty who don't even go to each others' concerts), but the reality is that we do not, day-by-day week-by-week semester-by-semester "In the Trenches," have much time or opportunity for direct experience of that person's contribution.

The converse is also true. Especially in the case of the theorists and musicologists, the vast majority of whose "Research & Creative Activity" actually occurs in venues and/or locations far distant from the local, there is neither time nor opportunity for studio/ensemble faculty to really be up-to-date (except if mandated by committee duty) with the contributions of the theorists and musicologists. Even in the case of a studio/ensemble faculty like our own, who in contrast to some are actually bright, intellectually-curious, well-read people, absent regular and convenient opportunity to work side-by-side with us, there's little chance they will actually know the breadth, depth, and quality of what we do.

I've blogged before about the legitimate need on the part of academic scholars to articulate, promote, and cross-fertilize their own research & creative activity to wider on- and off-campus populations--in effect, to do "audience development" for our fields of academic inquiry--but here, I want to address a complementary insight I was finally able to articulate, in a staff meeting, to our new hire:

He was expressing understandable concern at the remarkably sparse, loose (can you say "gnomic"?) language in which the metrics for assessment are laid out in our OP's. Although I had several times, in the past, expressed to him during similar conversations my sense that he truly had "nothing to worry about," and that the most important arbiters of his performance were going to be the people who'd picked him first-in-the-search, and who worked side-by-side with him inside the Musicology division, I hadn't quite found the way to articulate these reassurances that seemed to address his legitimate concerns.

Until finally he said "well, nobody has really told me exactly 'how much is enough'" (in terms of "numbers of articles, numbers of conference papers, numbers of books published, numbers of grant dollars raised, in the a given assessment period). And he was right--there are departments or campuses or disciplines which will say "well, don't even think about going up for tenure until you have 'The Book' published or 'three CDs completed' or 'X hundred-thousand $$ raised'" but such is not the case in our division or, indeed, within our School of Music. So in the absence of those (in my opinion) dumbass arbitrary metrics of accomplishment--as a result of which a lot of pointless books or vanity CDs or wasted dollars are created or expended--what should this colleague use as the benchmark against which to shape his own performance?

He was understandably concerned at the lack of externally-imposed metrics. And a light-bulb went on in my head: I finally realized why that lack has not yet been--nor do I expect it to be--an Achilles heel in our peoples' timely progress toward T&P. And the insight was this:

The lack of external metrics is not a handicap--it is an opportunity. In an environment of reasonably sound collegiality, our outside-Musicology colleagues will trust our internal assessment: if we say, in the T&P discussions which follow our internal report on the candidate, 'This person is doing a job that exceeds expectations," then--at our school, with its admittedly healthy inter-faculty relations--our extra-Musicology colleagues will believe us. In the absence of anyone outside our division having time, inclination, or expertise to inform themselves at length and in detail about Musicology's metrics, we can define our own. This lack of external definition--the "looseness" which was making our new hire nervous--is a huge channel of opportunity if it is perceived and seized with the right strategic understanding.

When I was hired, I was asked in my statements of educational, research, and service philosophies to define my own research & teaching. And, thank the Universe, I understood at that very early stage that this was an opportunity--that, in the absence of an outside arbiter imposing a definition on what was "enough" or "good" research, I could do it myself. And, that once so defined, the only criteria of performance to which I could be held were of my own definition.

So I started the statements by saying, point-blank, "My research occurs at the nexus of history and performance practice. I am a scholar of performance, across chronological and geographical distance. Thus, it is essential that I engage in performance, analysis of performance, and the pedagogy of performance, in order to do my research."

And, BANG! In three sentences, in a kind of cognitive jiu-jitsu which was enormously significant in how I framed what I do to my colleagues, in my first year on the job, in my first "Annual Report" which is the principal candidate-supplied document on which is based the Director's (my boss's) annual assessment, I had seized the opportunity--the "looseness and vagary"--of the existing OP's, and I had defined what I do, in the single document which, permutated, referred-back-to, read by colleagues and T&P committees and upper administrators, was going to be the principal metric against which my success was assessed.

In other words, precisely because there was no clear external definition, I could create an internal definition, one that felt right to me, the one that I thought most accurate, precisely, concretely, and inclusively established the criteria for future assessments of my success. They cannot fault you for failing to do things you yourself did not include within the criteria which they then accepted. Conversely, if you yourself are excelling at the criteria that you yourself took trouble to define at the right strategic moment, and if those criteria have previously been read into the record, then they must respond that you are [meeting/exceeding/far exceeding] expectations.

Seizing the moment, shaping the discourse, assigning our own metrics of assessment, thinking smart and strategically about the kind of "audience outreach and development" that lets our colleagues actually understand the breadth, depth, and impact of what we do, is enormously important in carving out functional, valued roles for ourselves in a changing academic world.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Good fortune

I don't care if it's sloppy. We are all fortunate to live in a world which contains such beauty:


Note to all those "journalists" and "reporters" who've been bugging me for quotable quotes for the past month--and to their lazy-ass "editors" who don't seem to have any idea except the dumbass slavish imitation of whatever Headline News is touching on for the duration of one gnat's-life-lengthed "news" cycle. Yeah, I know I'm the university's designated Buddy Holy "expert", but try this on:

It mighta been nice if you focused on the man's genius any other time than the necrophiliac 50th anniversary of the goddamned plane crash, or, I don't know, maybe during his lifetime? You ignored him during his career, you exploited his lurid death, you've done shit for his legacy except when everybody who thinks they're entitled to a piece of whatever money there is to be made now that he's dead, despite the rights, courage, and dedication with which his widow has preserved his legacy.

And you might pass that along to the goddamned redneck racist opportunist "City Fathers" who rip off his legacy every chance they can get and then scream about "that Messkin woman" when she calls them on their bullshit.

He had another fifty years of musical creativity in him, and he didn't have to die. Why don't you write that story?


No-gloat zone

No gloating here. The Cards played tough, played hard, and by all reports Kurt Warner is a decent man--even if he and Cards management are a little too ready to presume that Jesus wants their side to win.

But Big Ben and the Steel Curtain, playing backyard football (great line from Roethlisberger in the post-game: "Ben, what do you call in that last series of huddles in the final minute?" "Well, it was mostly 'Go left, go right, get open!') never, ever folded. They never panicked, they never gave up. And Mike Tomlin is the youngest coach and second African-American coach to win the Super Bowl, and he and a whole raft of his players campaigned hard for Obama.

Best play of the game? Unquestionably, and with all due credit to Ben's scrambling abilities and Lawrence Fitzgerald's freakish genetic superiority: James Harrison record-setting plus-100 yard interception and return for a TD. One of the great defensive linebackers in the game, he was hired for strength and guts, not speed, and the last time he sprinted 100 yards full-out he was probably in junior high school, but as he galloped away like a runaway freight train downfield, it was immediately apparent that it didn't matter how many Arizona offense-turned-defenders hit him and bounced off, he was not going down. It was finally left to Fitzgerald, who had also been in the Steelers end-zone when the pick went down, to run Harrison down at the Arizona line and bulldog him to the ground. Harrison flipped over and came down on the back of his head--a tumble that very well have broken the neck of someone with fewer years in the weight room. All the time they were reviewing the play, he was flat on his back in the end-zone, trainers hovering, not moving.

And then he got up and trotted back to his sideline and the hysterical accolades of his team.

Cold weather teams, baby.

Old men:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sneakin' it under the radar

Nugget of pure gold from the standing-around-the-kitchen conversation at last night's going-away party for a senior student:

Yeah, it's a drag the way we get paid--shit money, but still paid--to think and talk and read and write about and play music, right?

Shhhh!!!!...don't tell anybody!
There it is. That's why we do what we do.

I'd trade those nights with Dean Magraw and Moving Hearts and Jaco Pastorius and Robin Williamson and Alec Finn and all the rest of them, any day or week or year or decade, for all the goddamned money in the world.

Money is overrated, anyway.


The tribe

I believe in the Tribe, its sanity, essentiality, and fundamental relevance. I will go to the mat, and beyond, for my people, every time.