Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the year reflections

Like almost everyone I know, I live my life by the academic calendar. "Last year" refers to junior year of college, not 2010. But 2011 seems worthy of its own separate reflection post; it was a really important year. Here it is, month-by-month.

January:

  • Spent the month in hand therapy, which fixed my pinched nerve & tendonitis. I came back from it appreciating my ability to play instruments and with magically improved cello technique.
  • Worked part-time in the "real world," and realized that I can't do that--at least in hometown suburbia. I need more culture and conversation.
  • Read a ton of books. Went out on a limb and made a (somewhat) quick decision to abandon Beethoven for Bernstein.
  • Listened to a lot of public radio and got back into caring about the world.
  • Gave up coffee.
February:
  • Realized I only enjoyed one class and flat-out dreaded the rest. Also confirmed that I would never be a middle school band teacher, but that was never really in the cards.
  • Realized giving up coffee was dumb and started drinking it again by the barrel.
March:
  • Went to a regional music theory conference to check it out, and decided not to be a theorist. But on the same trip, I instantly fell in love with DC (and in hate with Baltimore). Also heard about Sacred Harp singing for the first time, and I'm still waiting for the right opportunity to learn more/participate.
  • Spent a few days in Atlanta, and fell a bit in love with that city as well. Realized that "I hate cities" only applies to New York. (Later, I realized that "New York" only applies to Manhattan. I'd probably do well in Brooklyn.) Went to the world's largest aquarium, which is absolutely my idea of a good time.
April:
  • Quietly turned 21 and wasn't ID'ed at midnight on my birthday. Brought it in--one drink, each--with two very special people in the quietest corner of the least bro-y bar we could find on a Saturday night in Newark.
  • But the day BEFORE my birthday, our long-time-coming Baroque cello arrived, and I got to play it, and instantly fell in love with the instrument.
May:
  • Played the most memorable and emotional orchestra concert yet. It was the end of an era, in more ways than one.
  • Finally finished the miserable junior year, and moved out of the toxic apartment.
  • Cut my hair short(ish), which was an excellent decision.
June:
  • Put on the "researcher" hat, which meant spending a lot of time on the couch reading or watching DVDs. Also went to the gym a lot. There wasn't much else to do.
  • Went to the Library of Congress (twice!) and played around in the archives. Didn't get an authorized reader card, though, because they were out both times. I'm still pretty bummed about that.
July:
  • Worked out a lot; read a lot; watched a lot of Netflix. Realized that spending the entire summer alone was a mistake.
August:
  • Changed my major, meaning not having to do things I dreaded (more teaching band, student teaching, education classes) and getting to do things I actually wanted to do (grad-level music courses, liberal arts classes). The only downside would be two semesters of German, but it's good for me, and I eventually got the hang of it. Spoiler: I started the semester with an average in the 70s in the first few weeks and ended with an A. I worked REALLY hard in that class.
  • Battled cabin fever and busted out a chapter. Presented at my first conference (even though it was just the end-of-summer undergrad research symposium at UD), and said "good riddance" to the summer.
September:
  • Started writing about musicals, failing miserably. Decided to cut the chapter and revisit the old one, this time infusing it with Adorno, my best & worst frenemy.
  • Heard my friends talk about teaching band, and felt pretty amazing about my switch.
October:
  • All recital, all the time. I spent a ridiculous amount of time in CFA practice rooms. Came up with this crazy idea to have an interactive recital, and made a website. The audience live-tweeted, and I loved reading it all. I was initially upset about the remarkably small audience, but consoled when I realized that the quality of the audience is really what matters. I'm truly thankful for those who were there.
  • Ended the month with a snowstorm. That's completely normal...right?
November:
  • Went to San Francisco for AMS, didn't want to leave San Francisco. The experience confirmed a lot of things: that's an amazing city and I would love to live there some day; musicology is right for me; there's an entire culture that takes pride in knowing and learning. 
  • Took a day and went to SEM, found it fascinating. 
  • Sent out a bunch of applications, prepared myself to wait an eternity.
December:
  • Participated in an Occupy Philly rally, my first act of civil disobedience. Thoreau would (might?) be proud. While I can't explain the movement, I get it.
  • Had the least stressful end-of-semester yet (although I did get sick during the few days I set aside to write a final paper...oops). Managed to pull a 4.0 for the semester, which was pretty amazing.
  • Wrote a semi-successful draft of chapter 2, and finally learned my lesson about not writing about minimalism. I'll keep this chapter, but always remember not to do any projects involving minimalism in the future if I can avoid them. I should have learned that in the spring when I wrote about Einstein on the Beach, but it took me until now to actually get it. Also learned a few meta-lessons about the senior thesis process. This whole thing is an exercise in research and writing, and I'm ridiculously glad I have this opportunity.
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2011 was a roller coaster, and I'm so excited for 2012. It will be the best year yet, without a doubt.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

the food I don't eat

Dear reader:
This post contains absolutely nothing about music or academics. Consider yourself warned.

I stopped eating animals in March 2008. My decision had been a very long time coming. When I was little and made the connection that chicken comes from chickens, beef comes from cows, and pork from pigs, I became uncomfortable with eating meat. Fish always grossed me out, although I went through a phase that involved loving crab legs.

The more I made the connection between the food I ate and how the food existed before I ate it, the less I could conscionably stomach. I was always "allowed" to not eat pork, but I wasn't allowed to have any other dietary restrictions. My parents didn't want to have to shop or cook for restrictions, which was annoying but reasonable; they're busy people and restrictions are restrictive.

During my senior year of high school, my conscience outweighed my need to be easy to cook for. I would be spending the summer in Oneonta, then leaving for college in August. There were only a few more months left of living at home, so I cut out animals and cooked for myself to supplement what was already being served. I had already spent the previous summer happily meat-free, and ate meat only at home during the beginning few months of that school year. At first, the only thing I missed was the honey BBQ chicken melt at Friendly's. Once I realized that I could order a grilled cheese sandwich and ask for sauce on the side, that feeling subsided.

Cutting out meat was one of the best decisions I've made to date. I lost weight, felt physically and mentally healthier, and stopped feeling like a horrible person every time I ate. I know that there is plenty meat that is plenty healthy, so I can't say that being vegetarian means getting healthier. That's a dumb argument, and everybody knows it. However, I will say that becoming more conscious about the food I eat caused me to choose healthier foods in general, improving my physical and mental health. Also, plenty of the food I eat is unkind. It's shipped from tropical climates, probably harvested by laborers struggling to feed their own families. The long-distance travel uses oil, and supports economies of countries that treat their citizens like dirt. There's too much fertilizer, and there's harsh chemical pesticides. I can't do much to change the course of global food production, but I feel like less of a dirtbag not eating animals. It's my own schtick, and I don't want to impose it on anyone else (although sometimes I think it would be fun to have a vegetarian friend, just so someone would "get it").

Almost every time I eat with someone new, I get asked the same two questions. Why are you a vegetarian? and How long have you been vegetarian? Sometimes, I get asked if I eat fish. The answer to that last one is no, I don't. Vegetarians don't eat fish. Pescatarians eat fish. I always give the same answers to the omnipresent first two. I've been a vegetarian since my senior year of high school, and it's because I don't like eating animals. Also, I'm not a vegan. I probably will be at some point, but it's horribly inconvenient in my current stage of life, and I happen to enjoy dairy products in small doses. I also eat eggs pretty regularly, but I only buy eggs from local free-range chickens. It helps me sleep at night. My ideals point me to veganism, but my Delawarean collegiate lifestyle does not.

In case you've never dined or shopped for groceries with me, here's a little snapshot: I scour the label of every processed product I consider. I'm ok with buying products that disclose being made on equipment or in factories with meat/fish/etc. But I won't buy products that contain those ingredients. You'd be surprised how much food contains anchovies. Because I read so many labels in the store, I know what to ask about at restaurants, or what to warn other cooks about. Eating at other people's houses is nerve-wracking to begin with--try adding ideological dietary restrictions! It can be a nightmare.

There is one food I miss dearly; it's a restaurant food that (in my opinion) has no need to contain meat: french onion soup. Everybody makes it with beef stock. If I were to make it, I'd use vegetable broth, a bunch of caramelized onions, some bread, and some sort of medium/hard cheese. But the problem with french onion soup is that I can't make it, because I don't have bowls that can go in the oven. However, my mother does. So I asked her to make french onion soup--she loves cooking and I love eating.

About a third of the way through eating my bowl of soup, my father asks how she made the broth. Veggie broth mix, red wine, and worcestershire sauce. Something's up. I've heard of this unpronounceable sauce, but I have no recollection of ever using it, myself. So I check the ingredients, and in big, bold letters, I see ANCHOVIES.

The culprit
This little fish-thing is listed like fifth or sixth on the label. In the entire pot of soup, she used a tablespoon of the sauce. If I was able to separate my soup into its fundamental parts, the amount of anchovies in my soup would have probably fit on the point of a pencil. 

Knowing about animals in my food turns me into an unbearable drama queen. Normally, I'm really good at going with the flow and not making mountains from molehills. That doesn't happen with food. I read the ingredients and unsuccessfully tried to choke back tears with three full glasses of water. I couldn't eat any more of the soup (which was delicious at first, BTW), and I could barely eat the rest of dinner. This kind of thing makes me miserable, and I hate that I'm so sensitive about it. It's just something I can't help at this point.

I often get asked if I miss certain foods, or if I ever get cravings for meat. Those questions are usually about bacon, the smell of which makes me want to throw up. My answer is always no. For me, knowing that food is an animal is enough to completely turn me off to it.

Le sigh...

I just realized I'm still hungry...good thing there's apples & peanut butter in the fridge for later!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

LvB

I sometimes wonder why I have no blogging audience, but it really makes perfect sense. I hardly have any posts and I don't actually publicize. Maybe I'll start tweeting new posts. Dear reader, will you be my audience? As of this writing, Google Reader tells me I have three subscribers (and I'm one of them, my best friend from high school is another--who is number 3? Comment if you dare!). I'm not quite sure how any of this statistical stuff works--maybe that's only people using Google for RSS feeds, but it's still small. Looking at traffic sources linking to my blog, it seems that most of them are Russian spam. But I really shouldn't worry about an audience. This space should be for my own benefit; if others want to read, that's wonderful.

(and back to your regularly scheduled programming...)

I'm here to talk about Beethoven, and how hopelessly unoriginal that can be.

Before I start B-bashing, I need to make something perfectly clear: I freaking love Beethoven. He's the first composer whose symphonies I've cared enough about to put in preference-order (7-1-5-6-3-9-2-8-4, in case you're wondering). The first paper I truly enjoyed writing was about one of his cello sonatas (scherzo mvt of opus 69, in case you're keeping score). For a while, I considered the second movement of the Pathetique sonata greatest piece of music out there. The violin concerto is the first piece of music featuring an instrument other than the cello that I cared to care about. My thesis was going to be about the five cello sonatas, before I got sidetracked by Bernstein (incidentally, another LB). I absolutely made the right decision about the thesis, but Beethoven will always hold a special place in my heart.

Evidently, Beethoven will always hold a special place in the hearts of everybody with a pulse. In November, WQXR, New York's classical radio station declared Beethoven Awareness Month, complete with Twitter hashtag #obeythoven. Posters plastered subways, and LvB's music piped through the airwaves. When I heard about this campaign, I was pretty angry. If there's any composer who doesn't need an awareness month, it's Beethoven. Personally, I was pulling for a Shostakovich month, but that's just me... But I was also pretty surprised to see absolutely no backlash from the online music community. Maybe I'm not as connected as I think I am, but everyone I follow was either unaware or in support of the Month.

But the Month was hardly the extent of the reign of Beethoven.

Today alone, I found three compelling references to Beethoven's relentless hegemony in popular culture. First, the SNL sketch (yes, that was yesterday, but past my bedtime). The year is 1824, and Jimmy-Fallon-as-Beethoven premieres the ninth symphony, kind of. Beethoven is a cheesy jazz club conductor, who introduces the musicians in his "band," and they riff on the "Ode to Joy" theme. At the end, J-F-a-B makes a joke about being deaf and about a rivalry with Mozart. As much as I always appreciate some classical music humor, I'm mostly surprised that SNL even dared to go there. Although I suppose that my point is that Beethoven is universal enough for an SNL audience (caveat: this sketch was at the very end of the program, where they typically stick the not-so-entertaining material). But all in all, it's a pretty funny sketch; I do recommend watching it.

Second, this article in the New York Times about Michael Broyles' new book Beethoven in America. It's rare that the Times cares about a piece of "real musicology," so there has to be a good reason for this article. My guess? Because it's about Beethoven! I'm willing to bet that a book about Bach in America wouldn't make the cut. I'd also be interested to read the book--it probably renders this blog post completely useless. So, dear reader, stop reading my blog and read that book (or buy me a copy and I'll churn out a summary). But seriously, buy me that book? Or just buy the UD library a copy and I'll check it out...either way!

And third, the Slate article (published a few days ago, but I just found it this afternoon) about the guy who's recording all 32 piano sonatas. It's funny how performance practice-y people get about Beethoven. Everybody gets so worried about offending B with an unstylistic accent or crescendo or fermata or (insert musical technique here). I never hear people get more pretentious about performance practice than when talking about Beethoven. It's like his ghost is hovering over all performers, judging.

So, my question: why Beethoven? Why do we care so so so much about this particular composer, so much more than we care about any other?



I can't figure it out. And I'm just as under his spell as the next person.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reading day. Does twitter count as reading?

As a general rule, the productive part of my day ends when the sun goes down. I'm a morning person. I know that makes me a freak, and causes people ages 12–50 to instantly not trust me, but that's just how it is. Sure, I'll be productive at night if I need to, but I prefer the morning. It's 5:30ish and it's completely dark out; I'm accepting my complete lack of productivity for today. Classes ended yesterday, so today is reading day: the day to cram a semester's worth of slacking into a single day of productivity. I don't subscribe to this philosophy because cramming is far too stressful for me. I can cram if the stakes are super high, but I'm much more comfortable spreading my work out.

I have a lot to do. It's manageable, but there's a lot to do. I have 14 listening assignments to make up (yeah, so much for thinking I was caught up a few days ago...), 2 short essays for a final exam critiquing gender/theory, a presentation about spectralism to prepare, the German language to understand, and a thesis to write.

But I need a break. Sometimes, a full day of non-productivity is essential, and today is one of those days. For a bunch of reasons, yesterday was an emotionally exhausting day. There's a few things that I don't want to get into, but there are some worth sharing.

The day before yesterday, the first wave of being acknowledged as a graduating senior happened. There's still another semester left, but there was a special circumstance that caused this particular announcement to happen now. I was caught off guard and left a bit emotionally unsettled. Then, at another concert, seniors graduating at the end of this semester and those student teaching in the spring were acknowledged as leaving. If things didn't change in August, that would have been me. It was strange, because I was incredibly relieved but also slightly jealous of the sense of community amongst future student teachers. The downside of being the only one in my major is that I'm the only one in my major. The rest of them have parties celebrating the things they have in common. I suppose I'm always having my own party for folks in my major, in that case. It's also just the thought that the two people with whom I've had almost every college class until this semester will be molding the minds of k-12 students in the spring instead of taking classes on campus. It's a strange pill to swallow. I was supposed to be doing that, too, but I'm not. I'm thrilled that I was able to make the switch, but realizing that these two people will be doing something so different from what I'm doing is very odd. We came to college being so similar, but we're all so different now. I think that's a good thing.

Things are changing, but it's a good thing. Who woulda thunk that I could find a way to be happy in my senior year at d-where? Certainly not me. But, alas, things are changing for the better. Some are bittersweet, but I'm focusing on the sweet and the silver linings. All this change and reflection has inhibited my brain from actual productivity, so I've been on the couch watching a certain TV show I have on DVD and have seen countless times in its entirety, and refreshing twitter and facebook pretty much all day. Tomorrow, I hit the library again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflecting on quasi-productivity

I'm actually in the library right now, and it's actually pretty dead in here. Classes end tomorrow, so I was expecting a madhouse. Lucky me! I also tend to hate the library, but I needed a place to work besides my apartment and I'm tired of paying for coffee when I can make it better myself for cents on the dollar.

As of yesterday, I have a word document with prose for my second thesis chapter. In theory, it should be the third, but I scrapped musicals. That was a pretty excellent decision. On Sunday, I made an outline. Yesterday, I started writing actual prose. Yesterday, I also made a bunch of mistakes. I also made a bunch today; thank goodness for the delete button!

Here's what I'm learning/doing right/doing wrong/thinking about:

  • Yesterday, I tried to start writing about the most abstract concepts in the chapter. That was dumb. Today, I started with nitty gritty details, and it's much more manageable and rewarding. Small now, big later.
  • "Trust me" and "because I said so" are not acceptable footnotes. This is a no-brainer, but I sometimes need to remind myself that there are certain claims I can't make without some sort of evidence.
  • The language doesn't need to be polished in the first draft--that's what editing is for. For now, I just need to get the writing out and edit later.
  • The hardest parts of the last chapter were both starting and finishing. I assume I'll feel that way about everything I'll ever write. Knowing that, I can force myself to write something not so great the first time around, and be emotionally removed from it when it needs to be deleted in revisions. I'll worry about finishing when it's all of a sudden January and I realize I need to cram in more writing time.
  • I like to create lots of loose ends and tie them up later on. This type of process seems to work well for me, and I plan to use it until it fails.
  • There really is something special about minimalism in music. I can't normally listen to music when I work because I focus more on what I'm listening to than what I'm writing or reading, but that's just not true for minimalism. I also don't think value judgements should be associated with the concept of "wallpaper music." I'm really digging it. Strangely enough, I did the the most productive work of the morning (so far) when listening to It's Gonna Rain.
  • On a similar vein, I had a lot of fun telling Microsoft Word to ignore-all "gonna."
  • I read that the library has lockers available to students and I'm going to try to get one. My books aren't heavy, individually, but six of them plus a computer is not fun.
  • I sometimes can't remember if I save things to Dropbox or Evernote, so I should probably have a better system. However, Spotlight always tells me exactly where everything is, so there's really no need! I love my Mac. I also love Dropbox, Evernote, and my new external hard drive.
  • My thesis is super fun because it's diverse. Most of my "research" for the last chapter was watching old recordings of Leonard Bernstein the New York Philharmonic, but now, it's reading books & articles and listening to a lot of music. I like that I'm doing different things to reinforce a single concept.
  • Books and articles that don't follow Chicago-style citation format or something similar are incredibly frustrating. Give me numbered footnotes/endnotes!
  • While I only have about 2-3 pages of actual content so far for this chapter, I know where I want to take it and more-or-less how I plan to get there.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Unsolicited advice for no one in particular

Good morning, internet! I'm sitting here with some semblance of authority, proctoring the department audition day theory placement test. It's a very difficult task; I have to figure out how to play the CD (which happens to be way more difficult than necessary given that the technology here is unnecessarily complicated), check off names, and be peppy on a Saturday morning. I haven't helped with audition days since winter 2010, when I was a sophomore. I didn't think I'd miss it, but there is something fun about talking to high school seniors considering a major in music. I want to warn them not to, but I can't, because I don't actually regret it at all (with the exception of that one semester when I consistently slept 4-5 hours per night--that was a mistake). Instead, I just try to answer their questions and make them laugh (no, there is no good coffee in Newark).

In the last few months, I've read countless blog posts from other people telling me (well, not me specifically...) not to go to graduate school and not to go into academia. But I don't think I've come across anything talking about being an undergraduate music major in a school at which the music department is so close-knit. This is certainly not the only school with a department of that character--I think every school I applied to has this kind of community. It's this smallish department within a large university, around 200-350 majors, with a heavy emphasis on music education--the type of department that was unbelievably attractive to me when deciding to go to college. And it absolutely works for the majority of people. It really did work for me, too, though, in a weird way.

Let me reiterate--I don't regret my decision to be a music major or my decision to come here. I've learned some ridiculously important life lessons as well as some super salient academic ones. Nothing's perfect, and I've found a way to exist here in a productive way. Three and a half years in, and I'm finally figuring out how to find my way.

I applied to music education programs fully expecting not to get accepted to any. I had been playing cello since third grade, but I only took lessons beginning late spring of eleventh grade. In other words, I had been playing cello badly for a very long time. It was ok, though, because I had a backup. I would major in environmental science and see where that would take me. Fun fact: finding schools that offered manageable minors in environmental science/ecology/geology was an important factor in compiling my college list. One reason UD was so appealing was that it has the optional winter session, in which I originally planned to complete a minor in one of those fields. The second I got to school, though, I learned not to have interests outside of music. I blame myself and my previously weak spine for that assumption--diversity is what makes us interesting. Anyway, I was pretty excited when I got into some programs, and more-or-less fell into school here. Knowing what I knew at the time, it was absolutely the right decision.

I wish I could tell everyone that it's impossible to know what you want to do with your life when you're a a high school senior. I'm also pretty sure it's impossible to know what you want to do with your life when you're a college senior. Better yet, I'm willing to bet that it's impossible to ever know these things. I remember being a high school senior and absolutely certain that I wanted to be an elementary school string teacher. Funny thing how that changed. Dr. Crazy, my blogging idol, just wrote about process and product, in relation to her scholarly writing and analogous to knitting. I think that we should all think about life in terms of process rather than product. I started as a music education major, and fell in love with this musicology thing--"the dark side." But on the way, I tried a bunch of things out and found some I liked and some I didn't. My knitted hat has some imperfections, but it still keeps my head warm--or: my life hasn't been completely smooth, but it's getting me where I probably need to go. Key word: probably. I am as certain as I can be that I'm on the right track, but I'm also certain that I can't know for sure.

I also wish I could tell everyone not to try and fit into something because you think it defines the people you want to be like. At the risk of sounding like an after school special, I think it's important to define yourself individually, taking cues from surroundings, but ultimately being an individual. Remember that there are always options, and "fitting in" shouldn't mean conforming--it should mean being accepted. I started to feel like myself when I stopped trying to conform to convention. And those people I thought I wanted to be like? They are individuals who defined themselves--they didn't just imitate others around them.

Apologies for the amount of cheese in this post, but I'm in one of those moods.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Homework?

Today, I was given the best--and still challenging--homework assignment ever by a professor who isn't teaching me this semester. I was told to go do fun things, because soon, there won't be time for that.

Challenge: accepted.