Saturday, November 12, 2011

AMS San Francisco 2011 Saturday, November 12

What a pleasure to attend an entire session and to enjoy all four papers! The Cage and Friends session was very engaging and I enjoyed the recollections of Gordon Mumma, who served as the session's co-chair. He requested that the questions be kept concise, that they should actually resemble questions, and that the answers should likewise be kept short. I'd love to see these rules printed on a banner and posted in every session. People observed these guidelines for the most part, and the net effect was that I rather enjoyed the Q and A portion of each paper. See my previous post for a list of the papers.

The session also worked well because there was a fair amount of cohesion, making for a rather lovely academic symphony. The outer movements, if you will, were papers by Brett Boutwell and Phil Gentry. What I enjoyed most about these two papers is how they addressed larger issues within musicology, using Feldman and Cage as examples. Boutwell explored the genesis of Feldman's Projections, and how Feldman transmitted and attributed a variety of influences on his work, and his ideas for graphic notation. Phil Gentry's paper on Cage's famous book Silence, adressed issues of autobiography and how we may be too quick to dismiss interpretations of these works with which their original authors might have disagreed. The paper looked at the "covert values" of Indeterminacy in Cage's "narrative" and most importantly, noted the lack of focus on 4'33" within the book. What writings Cage chose to include or not include is perhaps as much a part of the autobiographical narrative as the work itself.

The two inner movements were also very fascinating, and I appreciated the humble confession by You Nakai regarding his slight nervousness presenting in front of Gordon Mumma, who entertained with numerous yet relevant anecdotes about the creation of these pieces and Cage's life in general. Richard Brown's paper taught me much about Richard Lippold, a sculptor about whom I knew little. Most intriguing was his investigation of curatorial strategies and their impact on art, particularly the reception of the artist.

Friday, November 11, 2011

AMS 2011 San Francisco Introductory post

Well, it is that time of year again, when musicologists from North America and beyond converge in a city to hear papers on myriad topics, eat, drink, and generally be merry. I've always maintained that there are two best case scenarios for a conference: a boring conference in a fantastic city or a fantastic conference in a boring city. This year might be challenging because there are plenty of papers I'd like to see, is San Francisco! As a California native, I have very little excuse for not knowing this city better than I do.

I missed the one paper I really wanted to see yesterday due to less-than-stellar registration/maintenance issues at the hotel. However, I did dine at Gary Danko...thought to be, by many, the best restaurant in the city. I will write a detailed post about that dinner on my cooking blog, complete with photos. Suffice to say, it was an amazing meal, but I should have trained myself to eat such a large volume of food. More on that later. I am blessed to have AMS be an extension of my birthday celebration every year, and my annual dinner with my best friend is worth the trip across the country, even without AMS.

Today, I plan on attending an entire session. This is rare..usually I jump from paper to paper. From 9 to 12 I will be at the John Cage and Friends session listening to the following papers:

Brett Boutwell, "Morton Feldman's Projections Origins, Development, and Spin"
You Nakai, "To Imitate Their Manner of Operation: John Cage's use of Technological Media as Metaphorical Models in the 1950s and 60s"
Richard Brown, "Hearing Through, Seeing Through: John Cage, Richard Lippold, and Open Sculpture"
And then finally a paper by my friend and fantastic fellow blogger Phil Gentry, "Writing Silence

As I prepare my Cage seminar for next semester, I am excited to have the opportunity to hear some of the most recent research on Cage. A full report will follow.

Very happy to be here.

Apologies for the lack of italics... I'm still figuring out how to use my iPad. :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In memoriam Milton Babbitt (May 10, 1916 - January 29, 2011)

The tributes and musings are many:
Matthew Guerrieri
Steve Hicken
Lisa Hirsch
Allan Kozinn
Norman Lebrecht
David Mermelstein (Bloomberg)
Miss Music Nerd
On An Overgrown Path (Pliable)
Alex Ross
Tim Rutherford-Johnson (The Rambler)
Sequenza 21 (Steve Layton)

I'm not sure what to say. All I know is that there was a day back in 1997 when "20th-Century music" no longer mystified me, and I knew I wanted to focus my research on all it had to offer. Milton Babbitt's name loomed large--as a god in a pantheon not wholly formed. I was fortunate to hear many tales of "Uncle Milty" from my graduate school adviser, but will forever regret never meeting him in person.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tending our gardens

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." ~ Leonard Bernstein

In the wake of the events in Tucson, several of my friends posted this quote to their Facebook profiles, and it gave me pause, mostly because I felt rather uncomfortable. Part of me thought, “Yes, Gabby Giffords, you are in critical condition due to a bullet through your head, so I'm going to choir practice.” Then I batted snarky, cynical Rebecca off my left shoulder (or is it my right?), and listened to the more present Rebecca who teaches too many classes and is exhausted all the time, but holds back tears every time she plays the finale of Stravinky's Firebird or Josquin’s Ave Maria for her students.

Bernstein’s statement was made after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 (and if anyone can give me the exact source I’ll be indebted), and I wouldn’t be surprised if non-musicians, entrenched in their grief, might have had a mixed reaction to the statement at the time. But I hope that they took some time to really mull it over, as I have, because it has forced me to think a lot about what I do and my place in the world.

Sometimes making music and teaching music history seems terribly self-indulgent. Yes, I happen to think teaching is a very “noble profession” but at the end of the day, whose life am I saving? I’m one of those people who cringe on the airplane when they ask, “Is there a doctor on board?” because I know I’m not the kind of doctor they need. Yes, I know I have an impact, and I’m not claiming that we all have to be rushing into burning buildings for a living to have our work be meaningful. I watch my students bloom and grow over the course of a semester in ways not even remotely related to the subject matter. But sometimes it is difficult to see the value of what I do in my little flower garden, when it is such a tiny part of a global landscape that is covered in thorns.

I do believe in responding to violence with beauty, rather than hate, of course. As one of my friends noted, it isn’t a solution, certainly, but it is a response. But I think it is Bernstein’s directive to make music more “intensely” that is important here. We’ve all heard performances that are “intense” (not “tense,” mind you)---maybe you had tears in your eyes, or found yourself at a loss for words. In a way, it is a rather vague word because “intense” can have very individualized meaning. One might even argue that the alleged gunman who claimed six lives on Saturday was “intense.” But the intensity of which Bernstein speaks is so potent precisely because it DOES have the power to be beautiful, to stand up against the violence of the world and say, “I’m still here.”

So, in the end, I think Bernstein asks us to engage with beauty in a way that reaffirms its presence in the world. And I don’t think this is limited to music, or even the arts. Violence claims not only lives, but it plants seeds of further violence—especially when we are focused on being angry. Anger is important, yes…but only as a means to an end. I’m terribly angry when I think about Christina Green, and how she will never grow up to live out her potential. I’m angry when I see how our political battlefield has consumed our lives to such a degree that while Gabby Giffords fights for her life, we are screaming at each other about whose rhetoric is to blame, rather than seeing how we are all responsible for rhetoric running our lives in the first place. But that anger is intensity and I have a choice of what to do with it. I have the choice to create beauty. I have the obligation to create beauty as a musical professional. I think we all have that obligation. Every day at work is an opportunity to be generous, one that we probably don’t take as often as we should. I consider myself very lucky that what I do for a living is, for me, a large part of what it means to live. So, I choose to maintain a healthy perspective—no, teaching music history isn’t going to stop a very sick man armed with a gun from opening fire on a crowd of people. And I’m certainly not going to cloister myself away from my rights and responsibilities as a citizen to speak out against injustices and what I regard as irresponsible legislation. I am, however, going to value the opportunities I have to be intensely devoted to creating beauty, because, to borrow from Bernstein, that is the way to make our garden grow.


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea