Sunday, December 8, 2013

Transferable skills

We interrupt this thesis-blogging procrastination (I said I'd do it every week, and have ignored this for 3 or 4 of 'em...sorry) to take stock of what we're doing and why we're doing it.

Kris Shaffer tweeted the other day asking about possible non-PhD options for Music Theory MA grads. I have a lot of thoughts about this, so I'm answering publicly. This is the first time I'm really organizing my thoughts about post-grad options other than "find job doing something I can stand behind," so I welcome comments from across the board. I'm pretty much mentor-free at the moment, and post-ac careers are taboo subjects in my corner of the academic world, so feel free to step in and offer some suggestions. As someone in year 2 of a terminal MA program in musicology, I'm often asked what I'm going to do with my degree. The only thing one would actually "do" with a musicology MA would be to go into a musicology PhD program. Even though I once really wanted to do that, I've changed my mind*, and I'm looking to enter the aptly scare-quoted "real world" and find a job so I can have some version of the middle-class bougie life in which I was raised. With the economy being what it is, I doubt it'll happen that way, so I'd like to at least get by, but with a much healthier work/life balance than I currently have. So when people ask me what I'm going to do with my degree, I tell them I'm going to hang it on the wall. (Sometimes they laugh.) I'm thinking now about what I'm going to do with my education, including the education I get from my TA duties. I have some additional cards in my hand from a paid research internship at the Library of Congress, and my current job as a teaching artist at the Seattle Symphony, though I assume anyone actively planning to do something non-academic has some sort of non-academic professional experience in one area or another.

It seems the most successful way to go about getting a job after a master's degree in the humanities is to do temp work and apply widely. Since I was very young, my mother has (rightly) told me that it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you like your co-workers. I can't tell if this is new, but my generation has been told time and time again that we can do whatever we want (we can't), and that our work should be fulfilling and challenging. Elizabeth Keenan has been writing and tweeting about this sort of stuff a lot. Without engaging in the "having it all" debate, I'd like to propose that a job can be amazingly fulfilling and challenging, or it can be tolerable and allow room for exploration of hobbies and relationships (of all sorts). With that in mind, the temp-and-apply-widely advice feels less like settling and more like exploring. Thanks to the ACA, I won't need to worry (much) about health insurance, and saving/investing can happen when it happens.

So, what kinds of jobs will I get? I'm not sure, but I'm betting no employer will be looking for someone with a bachelor's and master's degree in musicology. Still, I have a set of skills that I've acquired/refined since beginning my MA in late September of 2012.

  • Organization 
    • With a department structure like mine (and lack of colleagues in my degree program to double-check anything with), I've been the primary person responsible for making sure all my boxes are checked.
    • I've TA'ed for a 200-person lecture course, and been responsible for these crazy things we call add codes. Distributing them to everyone trying to get in the class (with varying degrees of English proficiency) over email, and keeping track of students' grades is a lot more difficult than I assumed, but I figured out a system and it worked.
  • Project Design & Managment
    • Twice, I've designed and taught my own writing class, having no prior experience solo teaching (especially for a full-term), and little training for the assignment. Writing a syllabus, planning each class, and seeing students' progress through a full term of a writing class has been a huge learning experience, even if it has caused some of my work to suffer. Which brings me to...
  • Prioritization
    • You just can't do everything, and still do it well. Grad school has taught me how to pick my battles and spend time where it would best be spent. I've come to think of this as non-medical triage.
  • Self-awareness**
    • Landing in a new program can be a lot like starting a new job. You think people know you based on your application, but they really have no idea (and they've probably forgotten your application by the time you arrive). Being in a new program means figuring out who you are and what you bring to the table, and how to do it while working effectively with other people.
  • Research and Thinking
    • This is what the humanities are about, and I think employers get it. I won't link to one of the many pieces I've read about how millennials don't know how to think, but I'll say that all of my colleagues excel at thinking independently and problem-solving, even if we disagree with one another.
    • While the type of research I do as a grad student is pretty specialized and doesn't have much application beyond the academy, I've had some opportunities to do musicology for the public, and it's been really great. Thinking about presenting work to diverse populations forces you to think about what people are are interested in, rather than what is innovative scholarship. Tailoring research to reach diverse groups seems like a pretty transferable skill!
    • I'm good at finding stuff! I used to be decent at it, but I've gotten a lot better at it now that I have nobody feeding me sources or ideas.

I'm sure there are more buzzwords I could throw out about skills I've acquired in my MA program, but this seems like a good place to start. Like I said, I would welcome feedback and comments. I won't be job hunting until the summer, so we'll see how these things pan out eventually.

*This could be a long, heartfelt post on its own, but probably won't be.
**This could be a multi-volume book, but probably won't be.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coffeeneuring trip #7 and wrap-up

I can't believe this is my final report for the Third Annual Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge. I've really enjoyed participating in it, and using it to explore my city and to challenge myself to go places by bike.

Here's a recap of my first six trips:

  • Trip 1, 10/6
    • Location: Starbucks in Magnolia
    • 9.32 miles
    • Grande Passion iced tea

  • Trip 2, 10/13
    • Location: Caffé Umbria, Pioneer Square
    • 6.37 miles
    • Soy latte

  • Trip 3, 10/20
    • Location: Great Harvest Bread Company, Lake Forest Park (my first out-of-city coffeeneuring trip!)
    • 30.87 miles
    • Drip coffee, some sort of delicious savory pastry

  • Trip 4, 10/27
    • Location: The Bagel Deli, Capitol Hill
    • 12.14 miles
    • Drip coffee, an everything bagel with scrambled egg, cheese, and tomato (and a half-dozen to go!)

  • Trip 5, 11/3
    • Location: Mighty-O Donuts, Tangletown/Green Lake (if you don't consider Tangletown a real thing)
    • 10.5 miles
    • Drip coffee, pumpkin spice & french toast doughnuts (organic, vegan, non-GMO)

  • Trip 6, 11/9
    • Location: Empire Espresso, Columbia City
    • 14.89 miles
    • Soy cayenne mocha, sweet potato bar

  • Trip 7, today, 11/16!
    • Location: Neptune Coffee, Greenwood
    • 22.49 miles (all in jeans & boat shoes, might I add) This brings the coffeeneuring total mileage to 106.58.
    • Some sort of fancy pour-over coffee that was tasty but a bit cold, and an egg & cheese breakfast sandwich (at around 2pm)

It was too loud and crowded to be productive, so I thought about going to the Greenwood library, but I ended up heading north on the Interurban trail, and wound up in Shoreline (no longer Seattle, in case you're keeping score). It was going to start getting dark soon, so I decided to head back down toward home, stopping at the Broadview library to cross it off my self-guided "visit all SPL branch libraries" challenge, and pick up a novel. When's the last time I read a novel? Summer. Maybe it hasn't been all that long. There's a few spots on the Interurban where it's actually a trail and there's these flipbook art installations. It's hard to see, but each sign is roughly the same image, but moving toward something different. Public art like this is a reason to love Seattle. 

One of the installations
As I was heading home, it was getting dark, and I knew the ride would be mostly flat and downhill. I started without anything warm on--just jeans and a relatively thin cardigan. Piece by piece, I ended up in gloves, a hat, and a scarf. I never ended up needing my zip-up hoodie, though!
A tired coffeeneur
Coffeeneuring has been a whole lot of fun. To be honest, I had hoped it would be a community-building experience. It probably could have been, but I've been way too busy these last few months to make it happen. Many of my coffeeneuring trips were done before or after work, so I was fairly limited in availability. I'm just glad to have used it to drink good coffee and have an excuse to go to different places. Thank you for organizing this challenge, Mary!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bloggin' the thesis, day 1.

I've been enjoying bike blogging, I have a MA thesis to write, and they say blogging your dissertation can be amazingly helpful. I make no claims that an MA thesis even holds a candle to a PhD dissertation in terms of amount of research, length, and tendency to life-suck its author, but they're both independent, long-term projects during which very few people care what it is you're doing. I really enjoyed writing my undergrad thesis, and I was pretty self-motivated to do the work for it. Still, having a real human to check in with once a week who was genuinely interested in my project and academic development probably helped quite a freaking bit in getting the project done. So as I've had a tendency to do since moving to Seattle for grad school, I'm outsourcing interpersonal communication to the internet (because the guinea pigs, while wonderful and cuddly, aren't a great academic sounding board). Each week, on Wednesday, I'll publish a post here about what I'm doing or finding interesting as it'll relate to my MA thesis. Wednesday works for two reasons: 1) I thought of this today, a Wednesday, and 2) Wednesday was my favorite check-in day in college, both for cello lessons and research-y meetings.

I'm genuinely interested in my topic, even if I see its life in my hands ending with a ProQuest submission this spring quarter. It seems that some people in my internet circles think I have a cool topic, and might be interested to see what's up (and even comment? That may be asking for too much). Really, I need a bit of accountability, and to at least have the possibility that I'll be writing for people interested in what I'm doing for reasons other than being on my committee.

*     *     *

I got into musicology in the first place because classical music and the United States have a very strange relationship.* Learning about that relationship sheds a lot of light on classical music as a conglomeration of genres, and also on the US and its capacity for taste-making. I'm interested now in how the US is musically constructed through Coplandia, music that sounds like a watered-down version of Aaron Copland's populist ballets and chamber music. It works through film music history, something I didn't think I would find interesting but am now seeing as a gold mine. For me, the most self-aware instance of this was in John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts," for Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.
Barack Obama was the first president I voted for, and though I was out of the country for his inauguration, I sure as heck knew about this piece when I returned. Anne Midgette rightly pointed out that this is hardly a new composition, but rather a really transparent copy of Copland's treatment of "Simple Gifts" in Appalachian Spring (1944), and also a musical exaggeration of Obama's campaign message. Before the "Simple Gifts" melody enters (in the clarinet, just as Copland had introduced the melody 65 years earlier), and after it ends, there is a generic post-Romantic film music sound. It's not the Americana of Coplandia, but it is tonal, palatable, and accessible.

My project has several angles, and I haven't entirely figured out how it will play out. I'm more interested in the body of commercial music I'm calling Coplandia than in Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts," and see the two existing in a sort of type/token relationship. One step in figuring out how everything comes together is exploring the compositional sources of Coplandia, and their work in constructing part of the American classical music canon. I'm thinking about the way that canon gets gendered in a seminar this quarter, and currently preparing a project on masculinities in mid-century American classical music. That'll be the focus of my next post, where I'll hopefully be able to explain why gendering of this particular canon matters.

*Actually, that's a lie. I got into musicology because I wrote a hermeneutic analysis of the scherzo movement of Beethoven's A Major cello sonata for a music history class, and found that super fun. Don't ask me why.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Coffeeneuring #6

I went to Empire Espresso in Columbia City (they don't have a functional website, but here's their blog that is marginally organized). My ride was just under 15 miles round trip, but check out the elevation changes throughout. I've heard people say that South Seattle gets the short shrift on bike infrastructure, but I rode with sharrows/protected lanes/quasi-neighborhood greenways almost the entire time. The real barrier to biking in South Seattle is geography! Oh, the hills. I had no idea what the best route would be, so I tried a different suggested route each way. The way down was nice on 31st, with a great view of Lake Washington/the Cascades, and occasionally even the Olympics. Getting to 31st on Yesler was fun--big hills! I got off and walked part of it in the ID, but otherwise made it up & down in low gears. There were some interesting green boxes that made me not have to drive parallel to streetcar tracks (is there a streetcar there? was there? will there be? I don't know), so that was nice.  I should have taken pictures, but I didn't. I didn't enjoy the last few blocks on Rainier, but having read this post on privilege, taking the lane, and such a few days ago with regards to that same road (though I only was on it for a few blocks, not the entire way from i-90). On the way back, I took Beacon Ave until I saw signs directing me downtown, and then through the ID (stopping at Uwajimaya, because it's the best), back up 4th, through the Seattle Center, and back home. Next time I'm heading that way, I'll do Beacon both ways--fewer dramatic hills. I'm actually surprised by how not exhausted I am, but I'm sure I'll feel it later.

Empire Espresso
8oz soy cayenne pepper mocha (light on the chocolate)
sweet potato bar
14.89 miles round trip

Only one more trip to go!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Coffeeneuring trip #5

I had planned to do this trip a few weeks ago, but got delayed. I finally made it to Mighty-O Donuts in Tangletown, home of non-GMO, organic, vegan doughnuts. I clearly live in Seattle, in case that wasn't evident. This is the kind of vegan food you give to your omnivorous relatives and don't tell them it's vegan until after they're done licking their fingers. Oh-my-goodness. I had one french toast and one pumpkin spice, and they were great. The french toast was just delicious, and the pumpkin spice actually tasted like pumpkin, not just cinnamon and nutmeg. The coffee wasn't great, but I more-or-less expected that. I didn't care; I was there for the donuts and to see if I could ride up Stone. I also finally bought a Bicycle Benefits sticker ($5, sold at any BB participating business), which made one of the donuts free. I wasn't very productive during this trip, which I'll attribute to the small, loud-ish shop, and the weak wifi signal. Worse things have happened! I still have 2 more trips to do, and 2 more shops in neighborhoods I rarely visit but really like on my list. Hoping to get to them for this challenge!

Ride details:
10.5 miles, from home back to home. My usual route to Fremont (which is part of my daily commute) includes Dexter, but I wanted to save myself that hill, so I went the extra block or so over to Westlake and rode through the parking lot. I got honked at by a middle-aged woman in a SUV at the corner of 34th and Stone for existing on a bike and trying to turn left, waiting for the red turn arrow to turn green. She threw up her hands once we stopped (for the light), and I gestured that I was turning left and the light was red anyway. These things shouldn't bother me, but they do. I rode up Stone, which was a long, but not too steep, hill. I welcomed the flat road once I got to 45th or so. I didn't expect 55th over to Keystone to be a hill, though. On the way back, I took part of the new(ish) Wallingford Neighborhood Greenway, from Meridian back to Stone on 44th & 43rd. I like the idea of these SNGs--lots of signage directing bikes (and peds too, but not primarily) through quiet neighborhood streets instead of taking bike lanes (or not!) on busy arterials. They work well in north Seattle because of the low density--they wouldn't work so well downtown, or in busier cities. Crossing Wallingford Ave was a bit awkward, as was turning left to go back down Stone. Otherwise, I'm a fan!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Coffeeneuring #4

I write this with sore knees and a sense of mental & physical burnout. It's been a hectic two weeks. Last week's 30-mile coffeeneuring outing was the only free day I had had in weeks, and I needed to burn off a lot of energy and see lots of pretty things. This weekend, I didn't have a free day, so I decided to build coffeeneuring into my grading and writing flow. Writing this blog post is one also built in there somewhere.

I gave the pre-concert talk for this weekend's Seattle Symphony concerts, so I've been busy there. I showed up to the first one with helmet hair, then got smart and didn't ride my bike on Saturday. Today (Sunday), I rode very slowly, and only from home. I was determined to go coffeeneuring afterwards, despite this terrible knee pain I've been having lately. I think I pushed it too much last week, speeding up and down Eastlake/Fairview between UW and downtown so many times in addition to my normal commute. I've also been playing with seat height, but it hasn't seemed to make anything better. Maybe I'll pop into the shop and ask for advice. If I have time.

Today's trip included a stop at Benaroya Hall for the pre-concert talk, then it took me to 15th on Capitol Hill. Even though it wasn't the best route, I opted to try the Broadway cycle track from Pine through its northern end at Denny. I like cycle tracks. We should have them everywhere. I headed over on Thomas to 15th, and had to walk from 12th. I didn't have the energy to sweat up the hill.

Coffeeneuring details:

The Bagel Deli on Capitol Hill (best bagels in Seattle, fwiw)
Drip coffee
Everything bagel with scrambled egg, cheese, and tomato
My route
My tweet

They played The Velvet Underground and other Lou Reed solo stuff the whole two hours I was there. When I was leaving and I bought some bagels to go, I expressed my appreciation to the cashier, who told me they started the marathon before they knew he died. Eerie.

I went back home the slightly long but very scenic and pretty flat way, through Interlaken Park, across the Burke-Gilman to Fremont and down Westlake. I take Dexter usually twice daily if I'm just going between home and school, but I wasn't in the mood for the hill. I'm so in support of a Westlake cycle track--it's nerve-wracking that the entire route is an active parking lot. I'm still pretty new to biking, and already strangely comfortable riding with cars. But there's no reason why we can't have a more connected infrastructure system for bikes. As this city or any city gets denser, it becomes more difficult to get around by car. Why not encourage people to leave a negligible footprint, save a ton of money, and get some exercise on their journeys across town?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

coffeeneuring #3

Guest Coffeeneuring Blog Post Questions, prompted by Chasing Mailboxes.
1) Where do you live?
Seattle, Washington, on the south slope of Queen Anne.

I cannot ride up the hill to where I live (just above Aloha street), in case you were wondering. Twice, I've ridden up the north slope on 3rd west. Both times, it took everything out of me. The second time, I got passed by a jogger.
2) How did you decide to coffeeneur?
I saw it posted by the Seattle Bike Blog, and thought it would be a great thing to do to combine activities I already do and love. 
3) What bike are you using as your coffeeneuring bike? What makes it a good coffeeneuring bike?

My coffeeneuring bike is my only bike. It's a Kona Hoo-Ha that people who know about bikes give me lots of compliments on. That's a good sign, I suppose. I bought it at Recycled Cycles in May, and I love it. The poor thing tried to kill me a few times, but we're over it. I think. Like its human, my bike is a feminist machine.

4) Where did you choose to coffeeneur for this coffeeneuring trip?

I went to Great Harvest Bread Company in Lake Forest Park, Washington.

5) Is the coffee shop beautiful and the coffee delicious? Tell us a little about your coffeeneuring locale.

It's more of a bakery than a coffee shop--my coffee was drip, out of one of those press-down carafes. It was pretty good for something like that! Some of my coffeeneuring trips are for the coffee, and some are for the ride. I really didn't plan on going here, I just took the Burke-Gilman from Seattle to the West Sammamish River Trail until I got to the Redmond library, and then over to the transit hub (approx. 30 miles from my home, see map here), and stopped when I got hungry and there were businesses around. I got lucky and ran into the Lake Forest Park farmer's market, where I ate some samples, and bought a salted caramel macaron and an amazing pink lady apple.

6) What other types of riding do you do besides coffeeneuring?
Almost all of my riding is commuting. It makes me like my day a whole lot more, and feel better about having to be stuck sitting still for most of the time that I'm at my destination. Over the summer, I did a bunch of fun, casual rides with friends. Now that school's in session, it's harder to find time.
7) What else did I forget to ask you that you want to share?
I coffeeneur in jeans. Usually. This time, I wore padded shorts, and threw on a pair of cotton H&M tights over the shorts--it worked perfectly!

I also got my first and second flat tires this week. Here's what happened for the first one. When I replaced the tube (on my own, thank you, internet), I messed up and put the tube back on the rim, not into the tire, so the tube folded over on itself. Two and a half days of commuting later, I got a pop/hiss flat, which I later patched, and it has been holding up well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Coffeeneuring #2

I had to combine coffeeneuring with errands & going to work, and I didn't want to go on too much of an adventure this weekend. I have longer trips planned for weekends when there's more time & energy.

My second trip was to Caffè Umbria in Pioneer Square. I'd been once before, and it was amazing. It was a classy joint, so I knew to dress to impress (by which I mean "no clothing with words"). The weekend crowd was a lot more relaxed--lots of folks stopping by on their way to the Seahawks game. Also saw a Seattle by Foot group finish their tour with some espresso.

This is the delicious soy latte I drank while knocking out not nearly enough on my to-do list.

I tweeted to make my presence known, and I mapped it (with the detours to Uwajimaya and work included).

If anybody in the Seattle area is linked here from Chasing Mailboxes, I'd love to coordinate some trips!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Coffeeneuring, trip 1

This long-silent music/academia blog might be morphing into a bike blog. It will for the next seven weeks, and we'll see what happens later.

Coffeeneuring is the next big thing for figuring-it-all-out cyclists like me, especially those of us (me again) who live in the coffee capital of north America.

I got back from an awesome weekend in Vancouver, which meant spending most of today on a Greyhound bus. I got back and needed to move, so searched for a coffee shop open past 6 on a Sunday. Found one in Belltown just over a mile from me, and decided to take a nice sweep through the Elliott Bay Trail before landing there. I ended up in Magnolia, and decided to forget about Belltown. There's pretty much nothing commercial in Magnolia, so I ended up at Starbucks in Magnolia Center. I ordered a grande passion iced tea (unsweetened, duh), and caught up on email. Here's the route I took, here's twitter proof, and here's photographic proof.
33rd & W McGraw

Friday, May 31, 2013

In memory of Marcie the guinea pig

Dear Marcie,

You were the sweetest little guinea pig. You were the first guinea pig I ever held, and the first one I saw at the shelter this past January. I got you to start liking me by holding you in my lap with your sister and giving you lots of cilantro.
You were my scared little pig, but you were so soft and cuddly, and you seemed to really "get" me. You always loved sitting on my shoulder. One time, you bit my earring out of my ear, and I thought you swallowed it. Lucky for you, you just liked biting but not eating, and I found it on the coffee table a few minutes later. You were an especially good neck-pal when I was reading Rousseau.
Sometimes, we'd just hang out and take pictures together.
There was this one writing binge at the end of winter quarter when I had so many papers to write that I just sat on the couch all day with you on my lap, next to my computer. You just sat there, saying "I'm so cute! Look at me all day! I'm so much more fun than Viennese Classical music!" You were right, and it helped me churn out a paper or 3. 

I took you to the vet last Saturday, because I thought you and your sister might have had mites. He said you were two perfect little guinea pigs, and were oh-so cute. Then, on Sunday, by the time I woke up, you were not well. I took you to the emergency vet, who said your time was up. She saw just how much your sister and I loved you, and that we didn't want to lose you, but that you were in a lot of pain because that sometimes happens to guinea pigs. One day, they're perfect, and the next, they're gone. We were only together for a few months, but I really loved you a lot. I miss you, babe. Hope they have lots of good veggies in piggy heaven.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Brief Reflections on the Rite

Today is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and everybody is excited about it. I don't have a lifetime of experience with the Rite, but the piece holds a special place in my heart as a cellist, which means something special. I consider myself an erstwhile cellist at this point, since I haven't had much opportunity or desire to play the instrument since my senior recital in October 2011 (sorry, Larry). The cello is a wonderful, beautiful instrument, and I'm incredibly grateful for my years playing it, but playing it just isn't for me, anymore, at least for now. My identity as a cellist was mostly social; I loved orchestra and my cello section (well, for the first few years of college, at least).

During my junior year of college, our conductor Brian Stone decided we would take a break from rehearsing our programmed repertoire, and spend an evening doing a reading of the Rite. We would invite faculty to sit in with us, have the parts in advance to practice, and see what would happen. The idea of inviting faculty was to have performing faculty help the wind players, but the fun part for me was the inclusion of academic faculty who happened to be string players. My stand partner, Jeff, and I fought for a while in advance—which one of us would get to sit with Dr. (now-called-Danny) Stevens?  I won that round, and I'm very glad I did. See, string players are notorious for having terrible rhythm, and I fit that bill. For this reading, I lucked out and got to share a stand with my aural skills professor, who gave great cues when my rhythmic abilities fell short.

For me, the Rite is a cool piece. It's music, it's dance, it's costumes. It revolutionized compppppppppppppp (sorry, I got so bored parroting the Rite's praises that I fell asleep. Let me start again.)

For me, the Rite is experientially special. I was the orchestra manager at the time, so I set up the orchestra for all those extra winds. I played it in a casual setting, surrounded by my cello section at its (socially) tightest, with my awesome conductor, sharing a stand with my awesome professor. The internet-world is exploding because it's the 100 year anniversary of this piece that Changed Everything, but for me, it's just a chance to reflect on a good experience I once had in college.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why We Need Critical Theory

The following image represents twelve scenes of telephone pictionary. It reads left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
The game is simple. Start with a statement, then the next person draws it. The next person captions the previous picture, and the next person draws that statement. Each person only sees the most recent statement or picture, so it's like a game of telephone. Twelve people played this game, so there were twelve stories at the end. This is just one of them.

So, start with the phrase "The ukelele is difficult." The first illustrator drew a person strumming an instrument. Most of the pictures and captions are very similar to one another, so the story doesn't go very far. Until the bottom row. The bottom left caption reads "(sad) Blues guitarist," so the illustrator drew a person looking sad, playing a guitar. That bottom-left person's face is shaded in, signifying that he is a person of color. The final captioner wrote "Hobo slumdog loser," to which the final illustrator responded by drawing a hobo by a train. Moral of the story: when a (literally, in this case) white person holds an instrument, that person is some sort of contemplative musician. When a person of color does the same thing, that person is a hobo slumdog loser.

This is what happens when one plays telephone pictionary in a room of ethnomusicologists.

The end.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dinner with Lenny

It's rare that I see an AMS new book tweet that instantly gets me on my library's webpage searching the catalog, but I was incredibly excited to see Jonathan Cott's new book Dinner With Lenny: The Last Long Interview With Leonard Bernstein. I hadn't heard anything about the book pre-publication, so I was really just excited to read an account of something I could only do in my dreams. Literally. Whenever I've been asked one of those "who, dead or alive, would you have dinner with?" questions, my answer has long been Leonard Bernstein.

I'm in a self-directed RA appointment this quarter designed to give me time to do a lot of reading and preliminary research to explore topics toward my MA thesis. I spent the first few weeks of the quarter frustratingly trying to expand and develop a paper I wrote last quarter on Leopold Stokowski and the early history of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but it turned into me banging my head against the wall, repeatedly chanting "I don't enjoy this work." So, I cut my losses! I might come back to that work later (thank you, Evernote), but I'm moving on and doing a bunch of reading in a few areas, hoping something will stick. I'm at the beginning of moving in two directions, neither of which have any framework, details, or...direction. One direction is completely new for me, but looking at a few composers I've always known to be awesome, but have never known well. It's not substantial at this point; for the moment I'm just doing a lot of listening to get the sound in my ears.

The other direction, most excitedly, is a return to Bernstein. My undergrad thesis came out of an interest in Bernstein and the Young People's Concerts, and I enjoyed that work a whole lot more than the rest of the project. I've reflected elsewhere on the process of writing that thesis, but I'll quickly remind anyone reading this that the whole thing was a tremendous learning experience. For example, if I can help it, I'll never write about minimalism again. But since I finished the section on Bernstein, I wanted to go back to it. I still can't articulate just what it is about Bernstein that draws me in, but I'm hooked and I don't think it's a hook worth resisting too strongly at this point. I know all about the dangers of getting stuck with a single topic and never really digging into anything else, which is why I'm also exploring other directions. But for now, I'm going to continue seeing if this goes anywhere.

Leonard Bernstein died when I was about 5 months old, so all my encounters with him have been secondhand at best. Cott's new book, a transcribed marathon interview, is another secondhand meeting with Bernstein. It's a very quick read, and my (non-large print) copy uses something like 14-point font, which makes it all the more fun. I love Bernstein for his populism, and this book avoids academic pretention at all costs. Aside from myself, I'm not sure what type of person this book aims to reach. Still, I do enjoy it.

A few issues confound the interview. First, the more-or-less superficial, and something incredibly close to my heart.
Leonard Bernstein: So help yourself, Jonathan.
Jonathan Cott: Uh oh! I'm afraid to tell you that I'm not sure I can eat that.
LB: It's just a chicken pot pie.
JC:  I don't eat poultry or meat.
LB: Baby, it's just a little chicken!
p. 86 
I spent an unreasonable amount of time contemplating what I would do in this situation, given my vegetarian diet. I have no interest in eating any animals, so I wouldn't cave, just because it was served in the company of the one and only Leonard Bernstein. Instead, vegetarian dinner guest etiquette suggests humbly and apologetically informing one's host (or host's secretary, if that's the case) of one's particular dietary restrictions.

Just before Cott refuses Bernstein's chicken, Bernstein denies his ties to the Black Panthers, as Tom Wolfe famously accounted in 1970.
It's a legend and it dies hard. It wasn't a party, and I didn't give it. What happened is that my wife hosted a meeting in our New York City apartment for the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with its defense of thirteen Black Panthers....At our reception were one Black Panther to answer for them, a lawyer from the ACLU, and someone from the other side, as well as two pregnant Black Panther wives who hadn't been allowed to see their husbands. p.85, emphasis Cott's.
The interview for this book happened about 13 years after that "party," and it's hard to know what to think. I'm wary of Bernstein's memory, and believe he wasn't completely aware of the repercussions of his own political actions at the time.

Dinner With Lenny is quite unremarkable in content. We don't really learn anything new, scandalous or otherwise. But that doesn't matter! The point is being a fly on the wall while Lenny does his thing. I'm impressed that both parties were able to sit down for a twelve hour interview, and I don't envy the work Cott did transcribing that much dialogue. It was interesting to get a peak into Bernstein's thoughts so late in his life. Even if the book doesn't offer much on an academic plain, I'm very glad to have read it.