Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blogging Hiatus!

I'll be singing (in the Chorus) for Haydn's Harmoniemesse and Die Schöpfung here.
Back in mid-August!


Saturday, July 28, 2007

50 Book Challenge #11 & #12: HP No. 7 and What is the What

No. 11
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling (Scholastic, 2007)

In order to be "spoiler-free" this will be necessarily brief. Suffice to say, I felt this was one of the better books in the series. Rowling did a very good job of tying up most of the loose ends. I did feel she moved too quickly through the last parts of the book, breezing through points where I wished to linger. My harshest criticism of the book is the Epilogue--I found it incredibly juvenile (it brought Harry Potter back to the level of mundane chidren's literature) and unnecessary.

No. 12
What Is The What by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2006).

To call this a "novel" might underestimate its truth and urgency. This is very much a work of non-fiction. The life of Valentino Achak Deng is representative of thousands upon thousands of lives in Sudan in its tales of struggle and oppression. While the book sensitively addresses a topic that is hurendous and heartbreaking in and of itself, the narration is not overly sentimentalized. Eggers and Deng weave in humor, joy, and small victories through the tragedies of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Valentino Achak Deng is both evidence of the resiliency of the human spirit and a beacon of hope for the future. There are moments in the book that call us out of our comfortable existence, and there are moments when we recognize that from which we also seek refuge. It is a compelling read about the human condition and should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to remain ignorant about the struggles of Africa. To ignore Sudan is to ignore humankind.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Edward Hopper at the MFA

Edward Hopper has to be one of my all time favorite artists. The current exhibition at the Boston MFA is fantastic. In addition to what is arguably his most famous painting (Nighthawks, 1942), the museum hosts some of his very early works and some of his prints. Hopper was admired as a printmaker before he became known as a painter.

I was struck by the obvious maturation of Hopper's work. In music, we speak of the "mature style" and I sometimes feel this is unfair, as maturity, in both music and life, is a subjective concept. However, in spite of the subjectivity, we can usually agree that self-confidence is a sign of maturation. In Hopper's early work there is a sense that he is following a model, a pattern...he's painting how he is supposed to paint. As one moves into his works of the later twenties, he seems less afraid to admit shape...using watercolors almost as if they were oils, exploiting their capabilities for the opaque. In these paintings, the natural elements (such as background foliage) are given a more watery texture, whereas the solidity of man-made elements is emphasized.

I respect Hopper's eye. He isn't afraid to let tall edifices soar out of frame. While Uncle Jack's snapshots of the Eiffel Tower without its top don't quite cut it, Hopper manages to extend the idea beyond the page. We don't have to see all of the chimney in order to understand the roof.

The exhibit cited Hopper's interest in "vernacular architecture" as opposed to someone like Charles Sheeler, who, while somewhat similar stylistically, amplified the industrial (factories and the like). His paintings of lighthouses are especially exquisite...extraordinary, but not overly-romanticized.

Hopper's most intriguing paintings are those of women and couples (see Room in New York, 1932 pictured above). The sense of isolation is tangible, but not hopeless. In his famous New York Movie (1939), the usherette becomes the focus, not the movie or even those watching. Dimly illuminated by the aisle lights, we are pulled into her pensive daydreaming...the movie in her mind.

The very last painting in the exhibition chilled me for some reason...all the more ironic given that it is a painting of sunlight. Sun in an Empty Room, painted four years before he died, gave me such pause. Gone are the contemplative nudes and the estranged couples...only two elements remain...the room and light. There is a strong sense of geometry here. The three-dimensionality is subdued in favor of the demarcation of roles: shadow vs. light. The absent figures could occupy either type of space. It makes me want to seek out all of Hopper's figures to note where they stand, sit, or lounge. In the end, when we leave our rooms, the light and shadow remain. We are but visitors, with our hopes, dreams and burdens.

Monday, July 23, 2007

For Exceptional Theses Only...

For those of you out there with mediocre and substandard theses...I'm afraid I don't know where to buy the paper. Do let us know if you find the very least it should be cheaper.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In Memoriam: Jerry Hadley (1952-2007)

Death is always sad. And sometimes it is tragic.
Sometimes we mourn the personal connection.
Sometimes we mourn the talent, and the fact we didn't know.
Sometimes we mourn an idea, a symbol.

But we always do mourn.

Jerry Hadley
Requiescat in pace.

Thank you for sharing your voice with me through hours and hours of dissertation work on Leonard Bernstein's Mass. You always helped me reconnect with the love of my labor. Thank you for your "Simple Song."

Now Listening: Leonard Bernstein's Mass--Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, dir. Kent Nagano, with Jerry Hadley as Celebrant. (Harmonia Mundi, 2004)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Because you never have a second chance...

I've decided to start a weekly (maybe more) feature called First Impressions in New Listening (FINL*).

Ideally, every day I'd like to hear a piece of music I've never heard before. At the present time, that is probably not practical.

The music can be recently composed, relatively "new," or an older piece with which I'm unfamiliar. I'm going to write down my first impressions. Keep in mind they are exactly that--FIRST impressions, based on a single hearing, without a score. My commentary will reflect that which "jumps" out at me (if anything).

If you are familiar with the piece, feel free to leave your own impressions (first or otherwise) in the comments.

This week, we start off with something relatively local:

Pozzi Escot, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra or Chamber Orchestra (1982)
Peformers: New England Conservatory Chamber Orchestra, cond. Tamara Brooks, with Randall Hodgkinson, piano.

More of a "concerto" in the sense of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, this mini-concerto (just under six minutes) of three movements could be a single movement.
The opening movement is the yin to the yang of the closing movement. The first movement draws out a motive in the trumpet, like musical taffy. The final movement takes a related motive, but squeezes it and condenses it in a rush to the finish. The piano makes rather abrupt statements, but at no time is there ever a sense that there is one soloist.
These outer movements flank an inner movement of a more obligatory inward nature...atmospheric strings (recalling Ligeti) punctuated by the piano. This slower middle movement is most revealing of the concerto conception.

I enjoyed this piece and will listen to it several times. The texture is dense, so there is much to be unearthed.
*The irony of the acronym is unintentional.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I've been tagged to ponder...

Well, I consider myself tagged, for a meme, that is. Normally i wouldn't engage in such frivolity (stop laughing--all of you!), but because this one came from Barnet Bound, I feel I must oblige. Of course the fact that I've taken this long to do so is a clear indication of my inner struggle (sure, it is).

Like BB, I'll be limiting my selections to four. The first one is something I have pondered, and I suppose I still am. The other three are more current.

1. When Terminator is dubbed in Spanish, what happens to the line "Hasta la vista, baby"? Answer: Allegedly, the line becomes "Sayonara..." Can anyone confirm or deny?

2. Why does chocolate taste so vastly different in the UK (and Canada too!) than in the US? Answer: I've got my own ideas and opinions, of course, but here's what the NY Times had to say (just in case you tire of reading about the state of the world).

3. Why now, after moving thousands of miles away, do I have this incredible urge to visit The Presidio? Answer: Pure nostalgia.

4. Do they grant PhDs in Endurance? Leave your answer in the comments.

If you read this blog, consider yourself tagged and do what you will. (Yes, I break chain letters too...I know, I know.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

On Teaching (Part I)

As someone who has taught and wants to continue to teach, when I read things like THIS it makes me terribly sad. While I know that particular example was meant as satire, it is not without a grain of truth. Academia seems to have a love-hate relationship with teaching. At some universities there is definitely more hate than love.

While I do not have vast years of experience, I do have a good sampling of different teaching a teaching assistant, as an instructor of my peers, as a lecturer for 300 students, as an instructor of record for 7 music majors at a small Christian liberal arts institution, and as an instructor for 25 non-music majors at the same institution. I have looked upon each of these opportunities as a learning experience. I hope that this does not change even when I have tenure somewhere.

I must say, I love the seminar model. While I have witnessed many wonderful lectures, my preference is for interaction...among the students and the professor. One of the best seminars I ever had was one where the professor gave an angle to the course with which he wasn't totally familiar. While "Women in Music of the Italian Renaissance" was a topic near and dear to his heart, we investigated some feminist theory which he admitted was a "stretch" for him. In the end, I think we ALL came out of it with more than if he had merely regurgitated the same syllabus of "standards" with which he was familiar.

I'm struck at how often a TAship has very little to do with merit and everything to do with financial aid. This is a huge disservice to the students and to the TA. I happen to think I've become a pretty great teacher, but I certainly didn't start out that way. When I was given my first TAship, I didn't even know what a TA was! I had never had a TA in undergrad. And there I was, expected to guide students who, in some cases, were merely a year behind me. I understand that first year TAships can't exactly be based on experience, so I'd revise my statement to say that continued TAships should be merit based. And merit? What does that mean?

The "merit" of teaching
Here are my top 5 indications of good teaching:

1. Never claiming perfection (but no self-deprecation either)
2. Willingness to learn
3. Seeing each class, no matter the subject, no matter how many times the course has been taught, as a new experience.
4. A student-centered model (as much as possible--difficult in large lecture classes).
5. A desire to teach in the first place (!) not just viewing it as an obligatory side-effect of being paid to do research.

So while it might be easy to fall into the cynicism expressed by the folks over at Rate Your Students (see first link), I'd much rather go the way of Barnet Bound.

Part II coming soon!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

50 Book Challenge #10: Audacity of Hope

50 Book Challenge #10: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (Crown Publishers, 2006) 362 pp.

This book demonstrates eloquence, understanding, and an intense passion for this country and what it should stand for. Obama writes beautifully, with focus, but with the intensity of someone who is anticipating the arguments before they've been made. And that isn't such a bad thing, particularly for someone who is running for President. He does, however, need a better editor. Obama relies too heavily on anecdotes and sometimes gets a tad formulaic in his presentation of each chapter. The points are made, but then at times, run into the ground by an overabundance of examples.

That aside, the book is very well-structured. He wisely ends with "Family" to leave the reader with the best impression of a man who isn't afraid to extol his wife's domestic and professional abilities, but without the sense of hero worship. He's not afraid to express his love in real terms or to admit the struggles in their marriage. It is in this final chapter than the anecdotes ring most true.

However, for those that believe Obama is too "green" to be President, I'd hold off until you read this book. He has a better understanding of history, law, politics and social justice than most people on Capitol Hill. He's managed to move forward (up?) in his career, but has always had one foot firmly planted in the neighborhoods of his constituents.

It is a shame that those who do not support Obama are unlikely to read this book, as it is a revealing portrait...not set on changing political views, but opening up an honest dialogue...a dialogue very much absent from current American politics.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Zen Habits

Recently, I've started following Zen Habits and have found it to be a wonderful resource. Leo has started a new forum for us Zen Habits readers and I've signed up--specifically to participate in the monthly challenge.

For the month of July, you pick ONE goal you'd like to maintain (daily exercise, reading, eating right, etc...) and there is a thread where you can check in daily with the other folks participating in the challenge.

My goal for July? An hour of German every day. Starts today.


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea