Wednesday, August 29, 2007

50 Book Challenge #14: City of Ladies

50 Book Challenge #14: The City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (trans. Rosalind Brown-Grant, Penguin Classics, 1999).

Christine de Pizan, writing in the year 1405, writes a treatise on feminist equality by way of a dialogue with personifications of Reason, Rectitude and Justice. These three "sisters" help Christine to edify and fortify her "City of Ladies" wherein women are able to celebrate their full potential, unhindered by the malevolent misogyny so prevalent to the time.

While Reason, Rectitude and Justice rattle off a laundry list of historical female exemplars, the real value of the treatise lies with Christine herself. While the Christine in the book plays the part of the virtuous, but naive, young woman, the subtext makes clear that Christine de Pizan is an intellectual force with which to be reckoned. She demonstrates a knowledge of literature, philosophy, and rhetoric that was inaccessible to many women of the time. If her argument fails in any sense, it is only in that she fails to address how women might rise above their station.

And while Christine focuses on negating the misogynistic assertions of other writers, her own feminist thought has its limits. She admits, through the voice of Reason, that it would "not be right for [women] to abandon their customary modesty and to go about bringing cases before a court." It is, however, necessary for Christine to abandon her own modesty, which she does in several instances, particularly through self-referencing her earlier related works. The dialogue style enables her to do this without too much self-aggrandizement.

While none of the ideas contained within The City of Ladies will shock the 21st century western mind, the larger lesson on the power of the word is invaluable.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Quiz from Soho the Dog

Matthew Guerrieri offers another musically-minded quiz to aid me in my procrastination.

1. What's the best quotation of a piece of music within another piece of music?
Quote from Haydn Symphony no. 94 in Die Jahreszeiten. It certainly isn't the "best" but it happened to just come up on the iPod.

2. Name the best classical crossover album ever made.
I don't know about best, but I'll cast another vote for Yo-Yo Ma's Soul of the Tango (sorry, Elaine). Also a big fan of the Swingle Singers.

3. Great piece with a terrible title.
This is a tough one. I'll have to modify it to great piece with terrible text. I'll go with Kirke Mechem's Five Centuries of Spring which requires singing the following text: "not only underground are the brains of men, eaten by maggots" courtesy of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Ah...I know! Marais' Le Tableau de l'Opération de la Taille.

4. If you had to choose: Benjamin Britten or Michael Tippett?

5. Who's your favorite spouse of a composer/performer? (Besides your own.)
It is a pity Alma is taken. I'll say Felicia Montealegre.

6. Terrible piece with a great title.
decline to state

7. What's the best use of a classical warhorse in a Hollywood movie?
Again, "best" is perhaps not the word I'm looking for. Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey deserves mention since most of the world knows it as "the 2001 theme."

8. Name the worst classical crossover album ever made.
Worst? Probably something by Il Divo. I'll also submit Vanessa Mae's Storm.

9. If you had to choose: Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye?
Sam Cooke

10. Name a creative type in a non-musical medium who would have been a great composer.
Milan Kundera (I'm still hoping). I don't know if he counts though, since he formally studied composition.


For early-music nerds: Name a completely and hopelessly historically uninformed recording that you nevertheless love.

I don't "love" this, but it is worthy of mention...the "lounge-chant" version of Haec Dies on the eighth edition of the Norton Recordings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sound vs. Sight

Roger Bourland posits, "Music has to be SEEN nowadays, and not just heard." He is understandably frustrated that people more readily click on YouTube video clips than mp3 examples. I also find myself discouraged by our increasingly visual culture.
While there is nothing wrong with visual arts, there does seem to be an unfair emphasis on the visual over the aural. I assert to my music appreciation students that while they are good hearers, they are not necessarily good listeners. Hearing is a sense, but listening is a cultivated skill. A parallel might be made between looking vs. seeing. With the increasing amount of input in today's world, I think listening and seeing are both falling by the wayside (bedfellows with critical thinking). However, a typical non-music major, when given the option between the two, will chose seeing over listening. I would also submit, that when an aural element is paired with a visual element, it is usually the former that gets short-changed. It is easier for most people to focus on the visual element and put the aural in the background. Perhaps this is because the aural (in particular music) is so often the background of our daily existence.
There have been many times I have had to close my eyes to remove a visual distraction in order to focus fully on my listening. I often have my students close their eyes (always an interesting exercise in self-consciousness) and nine times out of ten, they report being able to "hear" better. While I'm not sure wearing earplugs would necessarily enhance the visual experience (at least not immediately), this business of sensory isolation is important. It has long been agreed that people who are blind, deaf, etc...often have other enhanced senses to compensate. I wonder if those of us with all our senses compensate by dulling all of them. We couldn't possibly give priority to our smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and listening all at the same time. So, we are forced to make choices.
More evidence that we prefer the visual over the aural is presented by the absence of those elements. More people will readily choose silence (some crave it, actually) over darkness. Not that absolute silence OR darkness are easy to come by, but it is relative. Silence in contrast to sound is discernible. Some film makers have inserted blank screens as sort of visual "grand pauses." But even then, the darkness is confined to the screen.
In the end, there has to be room for both seeing and listening. But until people become more practiced listeners, the visual will often overcome the aural. So what does this mean for music?
In the case of film music, I don't think the relationship is exactly symbiotic, even if it is meant to be. If I show a student a film and ask him/her to describe it (outside of a music class context), rarely do I hear anything about the music. Sometimes, when asked about the music directly, students will have something to say, but most often they tell me they've got to "watch it" again. Many composers (of operas, of films, etc...) wind up writing suites of their scores. Ostensibly, this is because it gives the music some sort of form and context outside of the film or opera. But does it then become something different? I think about Corigliano's Red Violin for instance. I wish I could erase my memory of the movie (just once) so that I could listen to the suite without superimposing images from the movie. I feel enslaved to the visual. While I recognize that the original material was composed to accompany the visual, it seems that the visual is forever bound to the aural, even when presented in isolation (as with a concert suite). Maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing (in the case of film music), but I for one, would like the option.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ketchup (or "On the Value of Blogging")

Ok, so that should be "catch-up" but I'm sure you will forgive my jet-lagged version of wit.

While I deleted a few of my blog feeds, I still came home to over 200 posts and was reluctant to delete them indiscriminately. This was a concern I had voiced before I left and it proved to be true. I have a feeling my reluctance to delete without reading is akin to the need I had, as a child, to stay awake all hours whenever my parents had a dinner party. I would creep out into the upstairs hallway, with my face pressed against the staircase railing, and strain my ears to hear conversations which I never understood in the first place. In the case of blogging, comprehension is not an issue, but I do wonder why I am so scared to "miss out."

One of the more relevant discussions to take place while I was busy working on my German Latin and eating healthy dishes like Somlauer Nockerl and Eispalatschinken, was the discourse about the value of the blogosphere. Drew started it (at least this round) over at Amusicology, and Phil Ford (Dial M) and Barnet Bound picked it up. I posted a response over at Dial M, but realized the converse of my argument also applies.

My general advocacy of the blogosphere is based on the lack of censure and the speed at which information can be relayed. I realize now, that my general complaint about the blogosphere is based on the lack of censure and the speed at which information can be relayed. Occasionally, ignorance may be bliss. Of the several hundred blog posts I've sorted upon my return, I'm fairly certain my life would continue in its generally positive direction without them. I am, however, still plagued by the fear of being a Johnny-Come-Lately. Just as I wouldn't dream of attending a AMS conference without having read the latest issue of JAMS (well...I might dream of it), I'm reticent to jump back in to blogging without knowing what has happened while I was gaining umpteen pounds singing in the Haydnsaal.

All the same, like various other projects that have been on hold for the last two weeks (dissertation, articles, job-hunting), I'm diving back in. I'm going to be giving a lot of thought to the value/dangers/benefits of blogging (thanks to the aforementioned blog authors) and look forward to your thoughts.

Ah, yes...and one more link for those of you who are GTD-minded: Why GTD will allow you not to use GTD on your summer vacation (my title).


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea