Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Journal-Constitution responds...

This is a fair response to Robert Spano, but as Alex Ross points out it isn't exactly crystal clear if the newspaper is downsizing or, as they say, refocusing "staff resources on coverage of local rather than national arts." I'm all for the latter, but not at the sacrifice of good music criticism. Sometimes newspaper writers find themselves spread too thin, critics especially. It is, after all, hard to attend several concerts in a week, profile a local string quartet, and report on what's ahead.

It will be interesting to follow what happens with the AJC and to watch whether other newspapers go the same route.

Music-centered curriculum

Malcolm adds: "Sometimes I use music to do my math. I'll think of adding quarter-notes, half-notes. I put my notes together as math."
Here is an article about a remarkable charter school in Boston that centers its curriculum around music. The children are learning how to play the violin, yes, but also discipline, social engagement, listening skills, etc. Yet, in many public schools around the country, music programs are being slashed and burned. That's because you can't measure what one learns from music in a standardized test. Sure, you could have them identify chord progressions and define musical terms, but you certainly can't measure the skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I wonder what would happen if we handed a violin to every child in every elementary school. I'm not naive enough to consider this a plan to save the world, but I do think it is time to invest in our children with renewed vigor...not by worrying about creating standards by which they should measure their achievement, but by helping them desire to achieve in the first place.

Monday, May 28, 2007

More on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Hopefully, the increased attention in the blogosphere will help convince the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to save their arts reviews.

See Jonathan Bellman and Elaine Fine's blogs for more.

Arts criticism (good arts criticism, that is) has always had a symbiotic relationship with the arts themselves. Critics are important for feedback, yes, but they also represent something even more important: critical thinking. This is a mode of mental operation that is becoming outdated in American classrooms. Many children are fed through a system that rewards them for memorizing state capitals rather than creative problem-solving. If our society begins to throw away the best examples of criticism, we condone the spoon-feeding model of education. Indeed, the arts are emblems of individual expression and criticism too, so one might wonder if we are not headed toward disaster here. If an orchestra is no longer worth writing about...why is it worth paying for a ticket? My point isn't to formulate great apocalyptic scenarious, but to offer that this is a very slippery slope.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Economic Impact of the Arts

In a study released on May 22nd, Americans for the Arts made a case for the economic contribution of the non-profit arts and culture industry. This is important as many of the arguments for maintaining art and music programs in schools have been philosophical, not financial. The concept of "quality of life," while a noble thought, does not seem to resonate with a large segment of the American populace and many members of the government. If it did, global warming would be less of a battle, we'd be focused on the health and well-being of the children who are living as a priority over those unborn, and health care and poverty would be top priorities of any administration.

So, now we must speak in "important" terms.

• 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
• $104.2 billion in resident household income
• $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
• $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
• $12.6 billion in federal government tax revenues

The study can be found here. While quality of life is important to me, we best start translating our needs into economic terms for those who see the world spinning on a dollar.

Maybe someone should send it to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution which has already killed the staff book reviews and supposedly has plans to kill the staff positions for arts and music reviews. Read Robert Spano's letter at the website for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and sign the petition.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Administrative Note

As of today, I am making a distinction between my two blogs. My Live Journal blog will be for more personal, fluffy (and dare I say sometimes even frivolous) posts while this blog will be more substantive, focusing primarily on Music and Mayhem and not so much Miscellanea. For those of you who visit enough to care, you may want to adjust your RSS feeds accordingly.

Oh, and I reserve the right to cross-post whenever it so moves. :-)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hope really DOES spring eternal...

Maybe I'm getting more sentimental to counteract the effects of the weather here on the East Coast, but this particular blog post gave me the best kind of goosebumps. I've been following the trials of the OES after the terrible fire and I tell you, this is a true phoenix, risen from the ashes. I can't wait to hear them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Well, THAT's unpacked!

Four boxes marked: "Unpack quickly! Dissertation!" I'm just grateful I turned in all the library books before I left. Good times ahead. Probably means less blogging for a bit, but who knows?

On the Street Where You Live???

Here in Boston and surrounding areas, there seems to be a city ordinance against street signs. Even our own street is unmarked which has already befuddled the Verizon repairman and the pizza delivery guy. It doesn't help that there is a sign for the street as it continues across the intersection--under a different name! I'm thinking one of my first little projects will be to make a nice little sign to replace the old one and then get a letter off to the Somerville City Council. At least they'll know I'm proactive.

So, as helpful as it is to have a Google Map with all the street names, it doesn't really help you at all once you are in the car. Even major intersections will be missing street signs. This brings me to my great idea:

I think there needs to be a Google Landmark Map...where navigation is done simply by landmarks and is updated frequently. While I know you can find various hotels, grocery stores, donut shops, etc on Google Maps, I'm suggesting that they be the primary indicators (the street names could stay just on the off chance they might be helpful to someone). So, if you needed to get to Whole Foods, lets say, the map would tell you to go around Union Square, pass one Dunkin' Donuts on your right, pass Inman Square and the All-Star Sandwich Shop, etc. I know they sell those touristy maps where all the historical landmarks, big shops, etc are drawn in, but those tend to have accuracy problems. That is why it would be so great to have an online version--especially with the way Dunkin' Donuts sprouts up out here!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bigger is not always better...

WARNING: Fluff post!

While I'm certainly not going to complain about having a bigger kitchen (and truth be told, I'll take it over our old one any day), I have to mention the design of this kitchen makes me think the cabinetry and drawers were a mere afterthought.

We have three drawers (four, if you count the one you can't open unless you open the oven first). Each of these drawers is fairly large (meaning: no real silverware drawer). Presently we have them categorized 1) big pots and stuff 2) baking ware, small mixing bowls, and my favorite, 3)scary utensils drawer. And the latter is scary in that there are knives facing every which way mixed in with our everyday silverware and salad tongs and carrot peelers and bag clips get the picture. Some of the problem will be alleviated once we are able to hang our silverware again.

As for the cabinetry? Well, I can reach them (an improvement), but they are very deep, rendering the back of the cabinet somewhat useless. We also have two corner cabinets which will only be useful with multi-tiered turntables. In the rare instance we were able to find a tiered turntable, the diameter was way too small. We currently have two entirely too small turntables sitting in there with a bunch of stuff crammed around them. If you are going to build a corner a turntable that goes with it!

That, is the end of my kitchen rant for the day. Truly, I am excited about the dishwasher and the increased counter space. I just think it is funny that I actually miss something about my old kitchen (I never thought that would happen!)

I blog this to spare anyone from having to actually listen to me talk about kitchen cabinets.
(Cross-posted at LJ...those lucky folks)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

New Meaning for the Boston "Pops"

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, this past Wednesday's Boston Pops concert featured a brawl between a talker and a shusher in the second balcony. While most news features have capitalized on the incongruity between a brawl and a symphony concert, Jeremy Eichler's thoughtful review in the Globe asks some more important questions.

The audience that night was a mixed bag of Pops subscribers, benefit concert-goers, and Ben Folds fans--not the normal Symphony Hall makeup. In Eichler's opinion, the Pops could have better seized upon the opportunity with their programming of the first half. Instead of the ubiquitous Dvorak "Carnival" Overture, Eichler suggests:

"...a short, gnarly, and exhilarating work of 20th-century music, offering a quick glimpse of, say, the ecstatic washes of color in Messiaen, or the quivering extraterrestrial sound worlds of a Ligeti score?"

As an advocate of contemporary music, I give Eichler's suggestion a resounding "right on!" As a practical observer of concert audiences, however, I'm forced to note that the inclusion of such a piece would probably kill the "pops" ethos. But maybe therein lies the problem.

We tend to categorize and pigeonhole repertoire to such an extent there is little to no flexibility, even when the audience might afford the opportunity. We have "Early Music" concerts, "New Music" concerts, "Pops" concerts (that's where all the film music goes, folks!), and "Classics" concerts. In a recent article in the New Yorker, Alex Ross discusses how Esa-Pekka Salonen has tried valiantly to usher in contemporary music as part of the LA Phil's standard repertoire (with varying levels of success). Maybe the element of surprise should be more standard for concerts nowadays. Sure, reel the regulars in with a big seller, but have a couple of "TBAs" on the program. Vary it: a newly commissioned work (short), a film music suite, an oldie-but-a-goodie. I wonder what would happen if you had audiences coming to see one or two works, and being stretched just a little tiny bit.

It is truly hard to stand outside myself and speculate as to my reaction as a non-music specializing concertgoer. But I think that I'd be quite okay with hearing one or two of the Ligeti piano etudes, even if I came to hear the 1812 Overture or a medley of the best of John Williams. Idealistic? Maybe. Optimistic? Assuredly.

(Cross-posted at LiveJournal)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

We're here!

Well, our lack of DSL means no pictures for another couple of days, but I thought I'd post a little bit of our Boston experiences thus far.

Our phone jack was not working when we arrived, and this of course spelled disaster for me--not for the phone, but for the computer (of course). So we called Verizon (and I mean "we" as it took several calls) and the repairman came out to look at it (we already tested the connection in the Network Internface Device (NID) on the side of the house).

No, I don't plan to detail the excitement of having a phone jack tested, but I did have an interesting exchange with Mr. Verizon Man. After asking about where we had moved from, I replied "California." Response: "Hmm. Whereabouts in California?" I told him Santa Barbara. "Is that near San Diego, like Southern California?" I told him we are considered "Central Coast" (as if that would save me from some sort of disparaging comment).

What was tremendously funny and tender to me was that he looked me straight in the eye and said, with all sincerity ,"It's a whole different ballpark with the people out here, eh? Don't make it nothing personal. They're just like that." I'm not sure where he was from, but I thought I detected a southern inflection to his speech. But I think he was genuinely concerned that my happy-go-lucky California self might be offended by all the cranky Bostonians.

So that brings me to stereotypes. Clearly this man had an idea that all Californians act like Shirley Temple on the Good Ship Lollypop while all Bostonians make Severus Snape look downright ecstatic. While we have run into a few Snapes, most of the Bostonians we've met have been, while not cheery, friendly enough and "no b.s." I think places with harsh weather conditions give birth to a practicality about life that we don't see so often in "Paradise." There is a economy of energy for social niceties. That said, we've run into plenty of folks willing to spare a "hello" as we pass through the neighborhood.

So, so far so good. We successfully visited our Trader Joe's, local supermarket and local KMart, so life can go on.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Picture Post

So, I know I didn't blog about the rest of our trip, so I thought I'd quickly summarize with this picture post. Yes, those blurry spots you see are dead insects on the windshield, of course.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Denver 5-2 to 5-4

Ok, well technically, Thornton, but close enough. Our drive to Colorado was absolutely spectacular. While I'm sure the residents of the area take those Rocky Mts. for granted, I couldn't snap enough photos of their majesty.
Rocky Mountain High

The drive from Utah gave me the opportunity to practice my mountain driving at a 6% grade...not something I had the chance to do in Santa Barbara. I'm actually ok with not doing it very often.

I almost wish we had stopped at this particular rest stop...very tempting:

Thanks for the gracious hospitality of my college roomate and her husband, we stayed in a lovely house with lovely people in Thornton, CO. Happy to have a break from driving, we spent a good portion of the day in Boulder at the Pearl Street Mall. I could not stop photographing the tulips. Spring had most definitely sprung!

We had such a nice visit with K and G and their cutie-pie of a son! (Shout-out to Bixby! ;-))

Now, we are in our second time zone change. The drive to Kansas City, MO was, well...mind-numbingly boring. Even throwing in some more cows would have helped...but the topography was...non-existent. I wasn't expecting much, so I guess I wasn't that disappointed. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised as I was with my first visit to Kansas City, MO. We are staying in the same hotel I stayed in for last year's visit to the Creston archive. It's a quick stay because we are out of here tomorrow and on our way to someplace near Chicago! After tomorrow, most of our drives will be 8 hours or less I believe. This makes me happy.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Zion National Park 5-1-07

Although it might seem glib to say that Zion National Park is the Grand Canyon turned upside down, those of you who know what the Grand Canyon means to me, will understand that this is not just a comment about the topography.

While we saw amazing rock facings at the GC last summer, they pale in comparison to Zion. My pictures won't do it justice, but I've selected a few. Like at the GC, I felt dwarfed, but this time, the huge walls of Navajo sandstone were almost if we were simply nestled in the canyon.

But the neatest element of our Zion experience was the contrast of water with the semi-arid climate. Life was so very abundant. Even the rocks seem to be alive. It makes perfect sense why native American mythology is filled with stories about living mountains.

Springdale, which lies just at the foot of the park, runs a shuttle up to the park which is amazingly convenient and so much better than the situation prior to 2000, when cars and trucks could drive all the way up. Being a weekday, the park was very quiet and for the first couple of hours we saw very few people. We got up to the park about 8:30 and decided to tackle the Emerald Pools (a far more elegant name than the Algae Pools, which would be more accurate). The "hike" was rather moderate and even paved in some areas. The lowest of the three pools was the most beautiful, and the largest. The springline from the mountains create temporary waterfalls which sprinkle down and create these gorgeous and calming pools. On our way back down, we began to see more people which made us grateful that we had hit this most popular trail very early on.

After a brief snack and a visit to a gift shop, we went on the "Riverwalk." It was fairly clear that we were tuckered out from the last few weeks and it was starting to catch up with us. The "River Walk" is a very easy pleasant walk along the Virgin River toward the place where the canyon narrows. One of the highlights was having this guy close enough to touch:

We watched a fairly cheesy but informative 22 minute film on Zion NP and then took the shuttle back to the hotel. There is so much more we'd like to do, but it is going to have to wait for another trip. I'm assuming I'll find my energy again sometime in September.

I seem to have this knack for visiting national parks immediately after a significant loss. And I always find the experience incredibly healing. I know this must mean something. Hopefully I'm not missing my true calling as a park ranger...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vegas, baby.

Four states in one day...not too shabby! Ok, so we basically cut the northeast corner of Arizona, but I'm going to let that count.

We hit the most important spot on the way to Vegas: The Mad Greek in Baker, California. I'm fairly sure there isn't a whole lot more in Baker, CA than the alleged "best gyro in the U.S.A." While the schlock factor was pretty high, we figured it was preparatory kitsch for Las Vegas. I have to say, the fresh strawberry shake was perfect since it was hotter than hell....I mean, Hades.

After our fill of Dionysian pleasures, we headed to Vegas. Our "trip to Vegas" probably registers a high "10" on the great scale of "lameness" but I don't care. After driving down the strip, we finally decided to park at the Luxor (covered parking lot) and check it out. We spent a total of $2 on the slot machines and came out with $2 less. I had a San Pellegrino and H had an iced tea. While I'm sure Vegas is much more exciting at night (and I'd actually like to go back with a few girlfriends), it really didn't do too much for me. I intellectually understand how gambling could be an addiction, but it really doesn't appeal to me. Of course daytime weekdays at casinos usually host the "regulars" who sit in front of the slot machines, their eyes glazed over...where they go, I don't know. All that said, it was pretty amazing to be in a place where people wander around spending money, losing money, making money and all with open beer bottles in their hands. I do regret not going in the evening so I could have seen things like the Bellagio fountains, so recommended by Barnet Bound. But Mandalay Bay and the Luxor were good enough samplings.

We rolled into Springdale, UT at around 8:30pm. We had an awesome dinner at the Spotted Dog Cafe (which was actually a rather elegant restaurant). Of course, with my sunflower seed-encrusted local trout, I felt obliged to try the local brew. And since this is Utah, that would be:

(Actually that's just what was on the glass...I had a local medium ale).

Tomorrow, Zion National Park!


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea