Sunday, January 29, 2012

My fictional future

This assignment drove me crazy when I first saw it. Writing in German isn't much of a problem, but tangibly thinking about the future is something I simply refuse to do. I know what kind of career I want to have and the steps I need to take in order to get there, but I have no idea how life will happen along the way. There are just far too many variables. I've never bothered to envision a wedding or any sort of home life for myself in the future. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it's the truth. The nice thing about anything related to my German class is that we're given full license to "make it up," as long as we use proper German. So here's a rough translation of my fictional future that's supposedly happening ten years from now:
In ten years, everything will be awesome. I have a small dog and no kids. I live in San Francisco on Lombard Street and I work in a small bookstore. In the evenings, I play music with my friends in the bookstore. On Mondays, we play folk music, and on Wednesdays, we play Baroque music. My job is amazing. My boss is really friendly and his wife also works in the bookstore. There's a coffee shop next door and it's splendid. I love coffee, especially in San Francisco. My boyfriend works in the coffee shop, and he's really nice. We're both vegan. On the weekends, we volunteer at an organic farm outside of the city. Life is good.
Does that not sound at least a little bit amazing? Completely unrealistic and just a bit hipster, but definitely a pleasant daydream.

P.S.: When my sister was in 7th or 8th grade French, she had to write directions from her house to school en Français. She couldn't do it in English (it's literally three turns once you get out of our driveway). This assignment reminded me of her middle school difficulties.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't hate the player, hate the game (higher ed edition)

I have a genuine question about college and undergraduate degrees, and I know asking it is going to make me seem like a self-important jerk. I'd like to think I'm neither of those things, but I'm not sure if I can convince you, my massive audience of that.

In case you're wondering, I'm always serious unless I'm sarcastic. I probably also seem like a ginormous suck-up, which is also not true. But that's not the point of this post.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about the purpose and process of higher education. It has been prompted by several unrelated situations all happening in a short amount of time. Really, this has been more-or-less in the last few days.

First, the conversation with one of my best friends about music education. He's a music education major, like I was until August; he will be student teaching in about a week, and then hopefully landing some superb job teaching youngsters. In every instrumental music education class (group of students graduating together, not a single course) I have seen so far, almost everyone wants a high school band job. In our freshman music ed course, we were asked why we chose to become music education majors. Almost everyone referred to a particularly influential high school teacher, and it was clear that almost everyone was aiming to be that influential high school teacher. In all honesty, most of my classmates still want to become the second coming of their high school band teachers, whether those teachers. [Have you noticed my exclusive use of "band" in discussing instrumental music? That's because I was the only string player in the class until I ditched for musicology.] At any level and in any subject, an influential teacher is a blessing; I have no agenda against amazing high school band teachers. However, I do have an agenda against amazing teachers existing solely in high school. I'm fairly certain, although I have no data to support my argument, that it is more important to have amazing teachers in elementary and middle schools, at least in music. If a student has an amazing elementary school teacher, she will want to continue music in middle school. If the middle school experience is garbage, she will hold out for the next great musical experience. I know, because it happened to me. My elementary school general music class was--without a doubt--my favorite "special," and learning to play cello from a passionate, warm, inspring string teacher (albeit a violist--my bow hold wasn't halfway decent until college) was amazing. My middle school experience was barely ok. I hated orchestra, but I found choir. I stayed with the cello because I knew high school would be better, and it was. But would I care as deeply about music as I do if I didn't have such passionate teachers in elementary school, when everything seemed new? There's really no way to know, but I'd think not.

So here's the question about music education. Are you ready? Ok. What is the point of K-12 music education? I don't know. NAfME, the National Association for Music Education (formerly MENC)'s mission is "to advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all." What a vague mission! What does that even mean? The way the system is set up, the purpose of music education is to produce more music educators. It's pretty much a self-feeding cycle. So a student who has a great school band experience decides to major in music education in college. He takes instrumental methods, music theory and history courses, music education experiential learning courses, takes private lessons, plays in ensembles, and student teaches. What's the point? Most of my classmates remember almost nothing learned in any academic courses, and hardly remember what they learned in their music education courses before junior year. The funny thing is that many of them will go on to become great teachers. Maybe not status quo-changing superstars, but their students will love them and love music. The ones who paid attention in all their classes will be the real game changers.

The music education community loves talking about the purpose of music education. Recently, there has been a shift toward less emphasis on traditional ensembles and more on informal learning. Informal learning is big right now in all fields, and music didn't wait long to get on the bus. Middle school students learn how to play guitar and form their own groups and write their own songs. They like this more than they like sitting in band and playing formula pieces. So what need does a music education major have for a 20th century music theory course? How is that going to help him teach his 13-year-olds how to play three chords on the guitar?

I could go on about this forever and a day, but I'm ready to move on for now. Stay tuned for a later post for more criticism of the longitudinal system.

Second, a small anecdote from German class. Today, I goofed. I forgot that I had German homework until I was pouring my coffee to get out the door and go to class. I managed to check the syllabus and noticed that there wasn't anything to write for today, just some reading. When I got to class, I expressed my screw-up-ness to my classmates who told me that they haven't done any homework all term. These are smart, on-the-ball individuals, but they haven't done homework since day 1. They just don't feel the need to do it, so they don't. Go figure.

Third, the grumblings of my peers in the class I've been blog-whining about all January. After spending an hour or so of the four-hour class peer editing, we watched a film about Hildegarde. I know that I have a special interest in this film, because of her being "THE FIRST FEMALE COMPOSER" and all that. The movie was also in German with English subtitles, so I was excited to test my translation both ways. Not the point. The point is that everybody was so grumpy, growly, and moany about having to sit and watch a movie. At Tuesday's meeting of this class, while in discussion groups, everyone was moaning about having to do any work whatsoever for the course. There were also some interesting discussions of leaving comments on ratemyprofessors and cursing out "bad" professors on course evals. From what I gather, a "bad" professor expects his or her students to do work and learn. Such a jerk move, amirite?

These situations bring me to two different questions. I think Question A leads nicely into B.

Question A: I know I'm an academic outcast at my school. While there are exceptions, the average student here shows up for a degree, not an education. It's unfortunate, because there's so many wonderful opportunities, but it's true. What kind of school should I have chosen if I wanted to "fit in?" Or, what kind of school do students attend as undergraduates who show up for an education and are invested in learning? How many of these schools exist, and percentage of college students in the country legitimately want to learn? I know everybody must want to learn a little bit, but I'm wondering about learning as much as possible--instead of turning up a nose at a docudrama about Hildegarde, giving it the benefit of the doubt and trying to get something out of it. I highly doubt my attitude towards school is unique, but I haven't managed to find likeminded undergrads at my current place of learning. Where are they?

Question B: If so many people are so unwilling to learn, why do so many people go to college? Well, that's an easy answer; you can't get a decent job unless you go to college! Probably. Maybe. If you ask me, the system should change. My generation is full of smart people who could learn on-the-job, saving them (their parents) thousands upon thousands of dollars.

As I'm writing this, I realize that I'm writing myself out of a job. Fewer students would mean fewer professors. I'm still an undergrad, but not for much longer...

The problem is the system; too many people go to college because it's practically compulsory at this point. "Going to college" isn't nearly as special for us as it was for our Boomer parents, if they were lucky enough to attend. We take advantage of the four years, give or take, and many of us coast. We're entitled to our degree, and we're entitled to a perfect life. Except that we aren't. I'm torn, because on one hand, I think professors should have to be more responsible for individual students, but on the other, I think students need to grow the eff up and realize that learning is important. I can say that because I woke up after freshman year and really paid attention. No, I'm actually not torn. If you want to be a successful, contributing member of society, you need to make the decision to care about learning all you can. No one's going to stop you on the street and put a gun to your head if you can't name two composers associated with the Notre Dame school, but knowing about good ole Leonin and Perotin means knowing about interesting history!

So who still learns for learning's sake, and where do these people do their learning?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I should be writing my paper instead of writing about my paper

My "write a paper" paper is not as much of a "write a paper" paper as I originally thought. Sure, the topic's up for grabs, and I grabbed an interesting one. But the problem is that I'm being told how to structure a paper, and I don't like that. I'm not the Greatest Writer Ever, but I know how to structure an argument in a 5-7 page paper for a 200-level course. I've done it more times than I can count...probably...I can count pretty high, so it's hard to know.

I just want to write my paper; I don't want to have a "question" paragraph, an "answer" paragraph, and a "significance" paragraph. I don't want to have a bibliography and divide it into primary and secondary sources, and I especially don't want to have separate bibliography entries for different chapters in a single-volume anthology.

I'm used to being trusted to write a decent paper on my own. (or write a not-so-decent paper--that should be my choice as the developing student) The most I ever learned about writing through writing was from a paper that had no prescribed structure whatsoever. All I want is some more autonomy over my own paper.

This is frustrating, but it's not the end of the world. This class meets three more times, and I only have one more intro-level "fulfill a requirement" class to go after this one. Soon, there will be different challenges.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, Susannah!

I'm really glad that James Taylor was on The Colbert Report the other night. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that some of my favorite artists exist, and that I need to listen to their music. I've been looping Sweet Baby James for a few hours, now. I really love the whole album, but my favorite track is his cover of Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susannah." It's my favorite song on the album, and my favorite version of the song.  Here's a link to the song on Spotify, which just adopted a new anti-listener policy. I suppose the service really was too good to be true...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Live blogging CNN debate

I have no idea how to live blog. I'm just going to write this as it happens and publish it later. I'm trying not to tweet this one, so here's what you would have seen on Twitter if I didn't try to restrain myself.

I have a feeling I'd produce far less internet-based content if I had a dog.

8:13. Like Hebrew National hot dogs, Rick Santorum answers to a higher authority.
8:17. "...the departed Rick Perry." Wait, did he die?
8:18-:21. Romney: passive aggressive schmuck "This president is the biggest impediment to job growth in America." ORLY? Also, I respect your belief that capitalism works, but please don't force your ways on the rest of us. And yes, capitalism mostly works, but more greed isn't going to work *CROWD CHEERING PROFIT*
8:22. Close-up of sleeping audience member. Proof that Santorum really is just a bad dream. Wait, did he just refer to "Reagan Democrats?" Let's have an oxymoron contest.
8:24. 2nd reference to WWII. Ron Paul just spoke but I was far too distracted by his right eyebrow to hear anything he said.
8:26. I paraphrase Santorum: Obama cutting military spending means spitting on veterans. How 'bout cutting military spending means fewer soldiers involved in unnecessary wars?
8:29. I'm about 103% sure that none of these candidates have their numbers correct. Why? The numbers keep changing.
8:30. Ok, so government spending is EVIL, unless it's for soldiers. I have sincere respect and admiration for soldiers and veterans, but why should they be the only recipients of government spending?
8:32. Mitt's jab against the USPS and Amtrak hurt, but he's slightly right about those two institutions.
8:34. Gingrich appealing to citizens, I paraphrase: YAY YOUR KIDS WILL MOVE OUT OF YOUR HOUSE.
8:35. SO GLAD to have a view of Romney's face as Santorum attacks Mass health care (Romneycare). Thank you, CNN camera operator.
(8:36. I could use a break--I ran home from class and am starving/in need of the bathroom)
8:37. Rick Santorum: "playing footsies with the left." Best line of the night, so far.
Santorum "I was fighting for health care reform while these two" (Mitt and Newt) "were playing footsie with the left."1m
I'm not the only one who loved that line.
8:42. I feel bad for Ron Paul, too. Poor guy just isn't getting enough airtime.
8:42. God, Gingrich is such a dick. 
I concur.
8:48. @:I understand why GOP candidates showup for these things. Why do I? I could be sodomizing someone right now. What's wrong with me? 
8:49. aaaaand we're back.
8:50. Santorum just said that he loves Gingrich. Two questions: really? and why?
8:51. Wrecking public policy since Santorum was in diapers. Maybe. How old is he, anyway?
Santorum: "I'm solid." Not always. Sometimes you're a liquid, Rick.
Dan Savage has officially won the debate. He's absolutely and unquestionably the winner.
8:55. I get it, Gingrich. You're "experienced." That's a euphemism for "old," right?
8:56. Mitt Romney has lived "on the streets of America?" erm...
On a more serious note, though, I have much more respect for this audience than the one at Monday's debate.
8:57. Romey's facial expressions after he speaks reminds me of a toddler who just found out s/he did something right despite shady intentions. and SHUT UP about being in business.
8:59. That Ron Paul's token statement that makes me temporarily like him, RE: personal finances, public obsession with candidates' personal lives
9:00. Yes, Mr. Romney, Barack Obama's golf hobby is sending us straight to hell in a handbasket.
And I'm pretty sure Romney has something to hide. Money in the Cayman Islands, perhaps? Yeah, we heard about that yesterday. Gingrich, I agree with this little statement right now.
9:02. Santorum playing up those good ole family values: doing is own taxes on his computer. Who needs accountants, or accounting software? Certainly not presidential candidates... (what is wrong with these people?)
9:05. Since when does Obama endorse #occupy? According to Mitt Romney, the 99%/1% rift is Obama's domain.
9:08. I'm falling asleep, here. This is a problem.
9:10. Just googled "right-to-work." WHADDAEUPHEMISM.
9:11. Gingrich's reason for being anti-SOPA: being anti-liberals in Hollywood. I'll take it.
9:14. Santorum just looks so uncomfortable talking about IP. I'd feel bad for him if I felt bad for him.
---banana bread time---
Y'know, I actually do feel bad for Santorum. Being so hateful must be lonely. Of course, there's an easy solution to that problem...
9:21. Gingrich regrets not letting his freak flag fly earlier on. I can relate.
9:23. Paul regrets lack of theatrics. I appreciate that jab against all the other candidates.
9:24. Me to Gingrich: what does "control the border" mean? Like, what would that look like? Inquiring minds wanna know.
9:26: Gingrich: "the federal government's useless." OH NO HE DIDN'T!
9:29. Santorum only values patrilineage. This feminist is irked.
9:31. Romney: Valuing an ideological freeze over zeitgeist-related adaptation. Woo hoo!
9:33. Every time Ron Paul suggests government programs, an angel loses its wings. Or Bach kills a kitten. You decide.
9:36. PRO CHOICE ISN'T PRO ABORTION. Get it right, Gingrich. I'm currently enraged.
But really, why are all these people called by titles they held in their former offices? I don't think that's fair. Just call them by name, please.
9:39. Why are they so insistent upon forbidding the right to abortion? Roe v. Wade was nearly 30 years ago, friends. Your religious beliefs should not preclude my right to disagree with them.
9:43: I am pro life too. Women's lives. 
OMG my internet froze just when Ron Paul was saying something juicy about abortion. Comcast, I'll never forgive you.
9:46. I'm so angry about this pro-life business. So angry.
---break 3/3. Almost into the home stretch, folks.---
9:51. Is anyone else hearing the Jimmy Stewart-like speech impediment coming from the moderator? #oldschoolsexy.
9:53. Gingrich: Obama is a dangerous, radical president. Also, whose lifetime is "our lifetime?"
9:54. Mitt argues for pursuit of happiness. Back up 10 minutes--what if I'm pregnant and my view of happiness doesn't involve an infant? Too bad? Oh, ok.
9:55. Romney wants to keep America "shining city on a hill." I could be wrong, but I thought that was Jerusalem.
:God, Romney is such a repulsive dickweed. 
9:57. Again, with the Reagan democrats. Stop confusing my affinity for his good looks with actual political empathy.

Well, that's all folks. As I said earlier, Dan Savage won. We can all go to sleep now (yeah, right).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

There ain't no cure for the (winter) time blues...

I'm taking a class that ends with a "write a paper" paper. It can be anything as long as it's a well-constructed piece dealing with women and religion. The "write a paper" paper is a mixed blessing; I can write about whatever I want, but I need to choose a topic. In the end, though, this type of assignment is always my preference (especially because this time it's in lieu of a final exam). My original idea was to tie it into music and write about Meredith Monk's lastest album in relation to Buddhism. Then I realized how much work I absolutely need to do to stay afloat, how much work I should be doing on other things, and how much extra work that kind of paper would require (considering I know almost nothing about Meredith Monk or Buddhist ritual).

I don't like to take the easy way out, but I'm all for reconsidering and adjusting if it will make life easier and happier. So that's what I'm doing...

During class last night, I my brain drifted through a series of potential topics, until it somehow finally landed on the Catholic convent as a closet. I'm not sure how I got there, but it's where I landed. I don't have a "question" yet, but I do have "at least one primary source" and several secondary sources. There are a lot of baby steps required for this class. Baby steps I haven't taken since middle school. Maybe I should try to see this as nostalgia-inducing...(I hated middle school; that would be dumb.)

I feel like the biggest poser in the world in doing this paper. But the inability to identify with my topic doesn't mean I shouldn't do it. It's a challenge. I've been sitting in the library reading (the introduction and first chapter of) Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet and feeling like I have no business reading it. This goes along with me being afraid of tackling issues that might offend people. And that's also dumb. Besides, I wrote about Butler last semester, and that was kind of fun.

I made exactly two New Year's Resolutions this year. I have accomplished the first one (eat mushrooms), and now I need to follow the second, which is more complicated. The second is to not let fear of rejection--by any person, group, or institution--stop me from acting. I'm a student in a class, and my task is to write a paper. A 5-7 page paper. On a good day, I can sneeze out a 5-7 page paper. Seriously--just sneeze, and out comes a paper! Basically, this isn't a big deal at all so I'm trying to chill out about it.

Well, back to work. Winter session is so compressed that I have a day to get this proposal written and study for meine Deutschzwischenprüfung. (Small anecdote: I was taking notes in English during German class today and I started to combine multiple nouns into single words. That was fun.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Doubts, perhaps?

This senior thesis thing is incredibly alienating. I have this enormous part of my life that I can't share with my friends or my family. My friends are absolutely wonderful people, don't get me wrong, but they tend to passively listen just for the sake of listening if I need to talk something out. I'm actually pretty thrilled that none of them have hit me yet. Research isn't their world, just like teaching band or choir isn't mine. Especially in this upcoming spring semester, we're all immersing ourselves in our worlds as much as we can. Coming from a non-academic, non-musical family doesn't help, either. My mom said she might want to read this when it's done. I wouldn't fault her for not wanting to at all. I'm jealous of my friends at schools that require all students to write a senior thesis. I'm also jealous of my future self who will have a group of friends doing different things, but similar types of work.

I'm really stuck on this last chapter, and a lot of issues have been playing into it. Problem 1: I'd rather sit and listen to the music I'm writing about for hours on end than actually write about it. I'm thinking that writing about music I love this much is something worth avoiding in the future. I'm also thinking that multi-genre work isn't the best way for me to use my brain, but it's a great for now, because I'm figuring out what types of things I do like to write about. Problem 2: This is my third and final content-based chapter. I don't want to say that I'm over it, but I'm over the cram. When I took the 2 and a half months off from thesising in the craziness of the fall semester, I gave myself more than enough time to miss it. Really, 2 weeks or so would have been enough, but this fall got crazy, fast. So Problem 3 is really that I didn't have time in between chapter 2 and chapter 3. That's really my own fault, because I'm forcing myself to churn out all my rough draft content before spring semester starts. I refuse to fall into the trap of getting pushed into the summer, and I know something is bound to come up in the spring. Problem 4 is that I'm writing without an argument, because I just don't have one yet for this chapter. I'm forcing myself to put out content that I can spin when the lightbulb moment happens. If it happens. It will happen. And Problem 5 is one I assume would be common in pop music writing; there's hardly any literature, except anecdotal biographies. Wait, I lied. There's a lot about Graceland, which I personally care about, but my thesis doesn't care about at all. I almost forgot about Problem 6, which is that I'm taking 7 credits this winter session, which is actually a lot of work and very draining. When I get back from a 2 or 4 hour class, especially a difficult one, I need time to recharge. By the time I recharge, my brain shuts off. It's a bad process.

And that's why I'm here in the library on Sunday at noon. It's incredibly empty in here, and there are no librarians to be found. Go figure that the one time I need a reference librarian, all the desks are closed. At least I have a nice spot on the first floor near an outlet and with plenty of table space. If I wanted to, I could claim about 7 large tables without disturbing anybody. I actually really like the library when it isn't around finals time. I'm trying this new system: write 2 pages on days without class, and 1 page on days with class. That way, I'm less likely to put this thing off until February. At some point, I'll start working on my term paper for one of these winter classes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


So, what would you do if you were conductor of a top orchestra playing Mahler 9, and somebody's iPhone started ringing, and didn't stop?

Wait, no, I have a better question.

W h y - d i d - s o - m a n y - p e o p l e - w r i t e - a b o u t - i t ? ?

I can't claim to have read all those articles. There are just far too many, and I have classes and a thesis (and a life). I just did a Google news search for "Mahler," and clicked on some of the dozens of hits. Some might have been the same article on different sites, but there's still tons of chitter chatter about what happened yesterday. So much chatter that I can't resist chiming in.

So, here's my take on Mahlergate, as someone on Twitter called it...Alex Ross, probably.

The New York Philharmonic's pre-concert announcement was recorded by Alec Baldwin, who happens to have an infamous temper. The owner of the cell phone should have been more afraid of disobeying him than anything else.

Where were the ushers on this? Yeah, people claim that they should have done something about it, but put yourself in their shoes. Would you have interrupted the concert, sauntered down into the orchestra level, and traced the cell phone? Nope, you'd claim it was somebody else's job. You'd probably also be scared out of your mind, hoping it wasn't actually happening.

During my freshman year of high school, we took a music field trip to see a weekday matinee performance of the NYPhil. These performances tend to attract a fairly senior audience. I can't remember the program one little bit. I probably didn't care; I was just excited to get out of school and go on a trip. But I do remember that the last piece on the program faded out to nothing over a long period of time. As the fade-out began, someone in the orchestra level's cell phone went off, and rang until it went to voice mail. These were the days of those ugly "poly" ringtones--synthesized versions of pop songs. If I never hear another one of those, it'll be too soon. The cell phone owner didn't realize it was happening, nor did my hearing-impaired percussionist friend up in the balcony with me. All those people realized was that they were listening to the end of an orchestra concert. The music didn't stop, and the conductor didn't turn around. That was it.

Last season, I went to a performance of Mahler 2 at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. Not one of the nation's top orchestras, but not bad, either. There were some people a few rows away from me in the balcony who thought it would be fun to applaud after each movement. Their applause was loud and rambunctious, and clearly intentionally breaking the concert etiquette rules they knew existed. The rest of the audience was appalled, and conductor David Amado stuck out his hands behind him in a "don't go there" sign by the end of the third movement. After that concert, people were extremely upset. How could these audience members ruin everyone else's concert experience?


The thing about live performances is that life happens. When you go to see a live performance of something, you can't expect CD quality. You shouldn't, really. If you wanted to listen to a CD, you could have saved yourself the ticket money and the thought of looking presentable, and dealing with parking and people. For me, the whole fun of live performances is relishing in the imperfections. That's why I don't care about who the best orchestras are--I'm not going to a concert to see everything be performed perfectly. A computer can play music "perfectly," but I'm there to see the emotion and the imperfection. At least for me, that's the best part. I don't get angry when people applaud when they aren't "supposed to." Maybe the people at the DSO Mahler 2 performance applauded because they were thrilled with what they just heard. Maybe not, but I'd give them the benefit of the doubt.

All I'm trying to say is that people need to lighten up about this stuff. Pretentious concertgoers are contributing to the downfall of the culture they claim to love. Maybe one of the reasons people don't go to classical music performances is that they're just too intimidated by the fans...

Back to Gilbert and Mahlergate last night:
I have no idea what I would have done if I was in his shoes. I'm also not a professional performer, and never want to be one. But I do know that this thing has been blown way out of proportion. It is just music, after all. Nobody died because of this...

And one last question:
Why do scandals have to end in -gate? The Watergate is actually the name of a hotel in D.C., but Mahlergate isn't the name of a symphony. Muffingate isn't the name of a breakfast supplier. Wikipedia's useless on this one.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wait, we still have living composers?

My new favorite music critic Zachary Woolfe wrote this criticism of the New York Philharmonic's programming, rightfully complaining that Alan Gilbert is not programming enough living composers. I went to post a link to Facebook, but I found that I had much more to say about it than my Facebook friends would appreciate. That's why I have a blog--people won't stop being my friend if I write somewhat lengthy criticisms of things they don't care about themselves.

At least that's the hope. It's recently occurred to me that the more I know about people, the more drawn I am to them, whether I empathize with their ideas or not. So, yeah, blogging is a way for me to put more of myself "out there." It's also an incredibly handy procrastination tool. I have another chapter to write before spring classes start, and I have yet to even open a Word document. I've noticed that whenever I begin a new long-term project (or just a new stage in the current one), I spend the first week doing absolutely nothing. Tomorrow's the start of a new work week, and the launch of #chap3. It's also the day I get serious about applying for some summer programs. It all begins with a visit to career services...I need to figure out what a "resume" is... Anyway, tomorrow begins my getting serious about work, so less time doing nothing on the internet. Or, realistically, more time. But less internet content-producing.

That being said, I encourage whatever audience I may have to comment! Tell me you think I'm crazy, or brilliant, or just plain strange. Well...tell me those things about my opinions--it's a bit of a stretch to apply those opinions to my entire personhood.


Call me old-fashioned, but I really care about orchestras. Hearing about "the death of the symphonic tradition" feels like a personal attack, and I have grandiose visions of personally saving the institution of the orchestra. Right after I cure cancer, end war, and stop world hunger. I'd be the oddest Miss. America...
(for the talent portion, I'll send awkward tweets to less-than-D-list celebrities)

But I do really care about orchestras. I care about orchestral music, conductors, musicians, support staff, and audiences. Because, really, audiences are the whole point. Ideally, audiences mixed of musical civilians, experts, and the spectrum between the poles should get excited to go into the city and see their local orchestra play some awesome music on a regular basis.  Unfortunately (at least IMO), that doesn't happen anymore.

So what's the deal?

Argument A: ticket prices
People complain that ticket prices for orchestra concerts are too steep. I can't even give this argument the time of day. For anyone with a student ID, concerts are equal to or even cheaper than the cost of going to the movies. Even without, there's always seats in the back that are cheaper than any other type of concert. He isn't on tour now, but I remember hearing about Paul McCartney tickets costing well over $100 each for the worst seats in the house. Far more expensive than any top American orchestra. To sum up: orchestra tickets are relatively inexpensive.

Argument B: the repertoire
I buy this argument--that's why I'm making it. We're tired of hearing the same ol' Beethoven symphony, Mahler cycle, or Schumann overture, but that's all that's being programmed. Few living composers bother writing orchestral music since so few orchestras program newer stuff. It's really a downward spiral. In Woolfe's piece, Alan Gilbert, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, discusses his thoughts on programming:
“I do feel that we have a responsibility to play new music, and I feel personally responsible to create an enthusiastic, energized atmosphere around the subject of composition. But...I don’t start out when I’m making programs thinking: ‘All right, let’s get a lot of contemporary music into the season. Let’s make sure we do a certain amount of music by American composers or New York composers.’ We’re not going for quotas or that kind of thing.”
His argument makes sense to me. Having some sort of formula for programming music from specific time periods seems both stifling and tedious. But is it better to take the "easy" way out and play the stuff that sells? Well, not if it doesn't sell.

I subscribe to ArtsJournal's RSS feed, and Woolfe's piece came up with an alternate title: "Hey NY Phil, Did You Know We Have Some Living Composers--And Could You Please Program Some?" My first reaction to that title is that they do program at least some living composers--Thomas Ades gets played pretty frequently. But then I remembered a Skype conversation my contemporary music class had with Kyle Gann last semester. If I remember correctly, he argued that when orchestras look to program new music, they look for attractive, young composers who look good on billboards. It's funny that he isn't wrong. I don't necessarily mean that the composers need to be movie star attractive, but young and presentable seems to be a requirement. Either that or old and famous (see Boulez at the Contact series).

Basically, my university orchestra programs more living composers than pretty much any American professional orchestra, and that's sad. It's nice that I get to play alive music, but it's bad news for the professionals.

Argument C: it's not cool
I also buy this one, but it makes me sad. Argument B is at least somewhat fixable, but this one really means the death of the tradition, and probably within my lifetime. Sad.

Going to the symphony just isn't the fun thing to do, unless you're a weirdo like me (and most of my closest friends). Back in that midcentury golden age, it was something to do to appear more high-class. Talk to me about #chap1 for more on that. (I'm just so cool, using Twitter hashtags outside of Twitter...) But the inevitable truth is that people just don't care about going to orchestra concerts anymore. The musically civilian in my age bracket don't care about the old favorites, and there are much more approachable new works in other genres.

Professional orchestras now attract audiences comprised of older individuals and younger musicians-in-training. Soon, those older individuals won't be with us anymore. The audiences will just be professional musicians-in-training or professional musician-wannabes. It'll take a while, but it'll probably dwindle to naught. It's really sad, but everything has an expiration date. For now, I'll just enjoy orchestras while they still exist, and work on that plan to save them from their own demise.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I'm not even a Pastafarian anymore...

I decided it would be fun to fulfill my group b requirement with a class in women and religion. The class is ok--I could go on a blogging rant about how micro-managed and patronized I feel while in the class, but there are more productive things I can do with my time.

To start, I can tell you (my hypothetical audience) why I decided I really needed to learn about religion from an academic perspective.

I don't subscribe to a religion, or any sort of mono/multi-theistic system. I used to belong to a religion, but I've never actually believed. I pretended for a while, but it got too tiring. I completely understand and respect that others believe, and I actually think it's kind of awesome. I just can't relate.

I've said on a few occasions that I hate religion, which can sometimes be true, depending on the context and implications. Belief, worship, and celebration are great. I'm pretty jealous that I never got to celebrate holidays that were actually happy. As the only religious school teacher I ever really liked and respected told us, our holidays can be boiled down to: "they tried to kill us; we won; let's eat." I envy my friends and neighbors who, growing up, actually had happy holidays. In high school, I once celebrated Christmas with a friend's family and it was warmer and happier than any holiday I'd previously experienced.

No, my problem with religion is the institution. I'm bothered when people use their religion as a basis for forming their opinions or justifying their actions. If my nonexistent identical twin needed a kidney, I should decide to give her one of mine on my own will, not because my religion told me to. And that's just a personal issue. I don't need to remind anyone of the large-scale hatred in the world justified by one religion or another; it's impossible to miss.

I thought this would be verbose, lecturing rant, but it really is that simple. I just don't appreciate religion as a crutch.

I'm taking this class to (fulfill a requirement and to) learn more about institutions that I don't understand. I'll let y'all know if I have any attitude shifts by the end of the term. Until then...