Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm pulling my hair out now

Sorry for the lapse in postings, but I have two final projects due tomorrow plus a truck-load of papers to grade, so check back on thursday or friday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Too Hot for Vienna, ca. 1800

I'm sure my students think I'm on crack.

Today in class I described Beethoven's music as being "sexy."
How else to describe it though?
I showed them a clip from Immortal Beloved--the part where Gary Oldman as Beethoven is playing Moonlight Sonata with his ear down on the piano. I'm having flashbacks to the year I lived with Kelly in Crandall Hall and our room was plastered with pictures of Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis and Ralph Fiennes. We were obsessed with G.O's Beethoven and listened to the slow, pulsating (sexy) second movement of his 7th symphony over and over and smoked Galois cigarettes, as a sort of outlet for our mid-CSC-no boy-dilemma.

I played the Pathetique piano sonata for them in class on the stereo, along witht the Andante of the 7th symphony. Did I reach them? Did I make it clear to them just how sexy Beethoven's music is?

Am I being too creepy?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Very Peevish and Bitchy Post

I'm feeling very peevish.

This morning in orchestration class my professor couldn't understand why I hadn't included a brass section in my orchestration of Debussy's Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut. I had explained why before (I like homogeneous groupings of instruments like all strings or all winds or all percussion or all brass--I have a hard time mixing them--like some people have a hard time mixing their peas with their mashed potatoes; also, this piece sounds very bell and gong-like--nothing too brassy or bright). Anyway, it just rubbed me the wrong way (seriously I can understand why he wanted me to include brass, but I get tired of explaining my artistic decisions to him--not that he's not artistic--and I sound like a total pretentious bey-otch here but I don't want any g-damn trumpets muddling up my gorgeous marimba/flute/string vibe I have going on here.

Also, I teach a counterpoint lesson on Monday afternoon to a student who is incorrigible (is that the right word? Or maybe I should just say damn annoying). I know I shouldn't talk about my students that way, but oh my god I'm so sick of him complaining about how counterpoint rules interfere with his genius compositional artistry (he's a freshman). "Why is a fourth dissonant? Why can't I use fourths on the downbeat? Why is it called a 'perfect' fifth? Why can't we use parallel fifths? I feel so restricted! I'm just going to write the most boring music then, to REBEL AGAINST SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN DEAD FOR 500 YEARS.
What. the. hell. I appreciate the curiosity, the questioning, but it really is a moot point isn't it? I can't explain why they didn't like fourths in the 16th century--they just didn't! So live with it! Anyway, I could go on and on but I can't tolerate inane, pointless, irrelevant questions. Some teachers say there is no such as a stupid question but I say there is! And could you not take up my time asking them? And to make it worse he was talking back and getting mad at me for correcting his improper use of dissonances. The point of all this bitching is that I'm sick of having to justify why composers made up rules for controlling dissonances back in the 16th century to a pretentious kid who can't wait to write a symphony and be famous.

I'm really starting to understand why this field is dominated by men. It requires complete and utter belief in your own compositional genius/prowess and the (biological?) need or want to show off that prowess. It also requires insane attention to detail and incredible, left-brained analytical skills. I'm not into any of this, although I know some women are. I really think that the tradition of writing art music down to be performed by professionals is becoming obsolete and irrelevant. General audiences don't care about this sort of music, and professionals don't want to play new music (generally speaking. It takes years to work up to that point. Or you have to go to Juilliard). I think the world needs new music, but not in this way. I think we need to go back to the old days where composers were more like tradesmen or public servants (none of this genius crap). They served a necessary purpose in society--to write new music for church or the court or dancing or street entertainment. It wasn't about this sense of entitlement (oh look at me! I wrote a symphony! I can't understand why no one wants to play it or listen to it). It was about serving their community. Granted, that life sucked in many ways and they weren't able to compose freely, but they were able to make livings as musicians. It really is no wonder that most people prefer to listen to Baroque, Classical, or Romantic music compared to twentieth-century music.

I think I'm done with my rant. But I still feel peevish. I felt peevish looking at the new issue of BUST (I love that mag but am getting kinda sick of so-called "alternative" culture). I'm mad because I lost a library CD (I can't find it anywhere!). I'm mad because I'm sick of school and students who come up with lame excuses for not turning in an assignment today ("I couldn't find the essay questions on the website!" Or "I left class before you wrote down the fourth question," or "I tried sending you an email last week but it didn't work so I'm turning this assignment in a week late because I don't know your office room number!" -----All of which are completely ridiculous. Everything is either posted on the website or on the syllabus). I'm also sick of French manicures (those icky girls who wear slutty expensive-looking clothes and for the life of them cannot go to the bookstore and buy a 3-dollar mini-stapler).

Yeah, sorry about that. What I need to do now is take a nap.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sisley Huddleston is Such a Drip-- and How!

I spent a lot of money today.

We made the mistake of going into a used bookstore and antique store after breakfast this morning. By the way, breakfast was had at Ferguson's Cafe--the restaurant in Benny and Joon where Ruthie (red-haired what's her name) worked as a waitress. Cool, huh!

I bought:
*2 Christmas records: Spokane's own Bing Crosby; and Kenny and Dolly
*A vintage young-adult book: Tom Swift and His Jetmarine
*A book entitled: Paris Salons, Cafes, Studios: by a man named Sisley Huddleston (printed in 1928). In the first few pages, there is an "epistle dedicatory" to W.L. Warden, Esq.
*A cool pink vintage lamp (with an attached bowl thingy in front. Is that for candy?)
*A vintage cocktail set: tall martini pitcher with 6 matching gold-striped martini glasses

I was naughty, but I only splurge on fun stuff a few times a year. So there!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Shut Up! I'm Trying to Compose!

I've been so deliciously lazy lately.

I'm nearly done with my final projects (well, I'm over the hump at least) and have had these last two days off of school due to the music building being taken over by pimply high school jazz students for what is called "jazz dialogue." They take up every classroom, so boo-hoo--there is no teaching nor learning to be done for today (or yesterday). So, I've been sleeping in until noon (literally) because I've been working on about 5 hours of sleep a night. I feel a little hazy today and guilty for not getting up early, but I don't care. I'm going to work on my orchestration project and then walk downtown (I haven't really "exercised" since the wisdom teeth came out on Sept. 1). Then I'm going to watch a movie (feeling an Amelie itch) and play around on the piano (what other people call "composing." If I call it that I feel like I have to write something brillilant).

Other than being lazy, here's what else I've been up to:

1. Watching the Frontline episode about the Jim West debachle (by the way: oh my god. The whole thing, including Frontline's selective coverage, was very f' ed up).

2. After that, PBS re-aired one of my favorite Independent Lens shows. It's called, "A Touch of Greatness," and is about this elementary school teacher from NY, who, in the sixties, had his 5th grade students put on plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, and had spelling bee races, and designed a classroom atmosphere in which active learning (doing) took place instead of passive learning (read John Holt--see below). I love this show and lament that teachers cannot get away with this sort of thing today because of all the ridiculous standards and tests and political correctness. I'm sure this is on Netflix--you must see it if you have any interest in education.

3. Because I watched this documentary, I'm on another John Holt/education kick. I'm skimming through these books (I don't really have time to read for pleasure yet):

"Instead of Education."
"Freedom and Beyond." (both by John Holt)

I'm also looking at these books:

"What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?" by Alfie Kohn
"What's College For? The Struggle to Define American Higher Education" by Zachary Karabell
"How Popular Musicians Learn" by Lucy Green
"Musiking: The Meanings of Listening and Performing" by Christopher Small

I think by reading all of these I should get an honorary P.H. D, or as Kelly calls it, a P.H. Me.

4. I've been sleeping in lately because I missed out on sleep on Tuesday night, when a friend of ours called, inviting us over for a midnight birthday celebration. It was great--we had just finished watching "Art School Confidential" (which was weird and disappointing) and drove over to J's apartment in our old neighborhood. We put on some Mardi Gras beads, ate some carrot cake, played mad-libs (haven't done that since 6th grade! They didn't believe me when I said "fusty" was a word. It is indeed a word and means "fogyish, or old-fashioned." It also means "smelling of mildew or decay."), and set off some bottlerockets in the middle of the street. Incidentally, the young German composer of the Spokane Symphony lives in a condo next door (how do I know this? I'm too embarrassed to tell you. No no it's nothing like THAT). We joked that we might disturb him from his music practicing by setting off the rockets (he has a baby grand--I saw him practicing through the first-floor window). Imagine K mocking the conductor in his best German accent: "Shut up! I'm trying to compose!" God, that was funny.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Sentimental Value of Hot Dogs, Xanadu, and Amadeus

As I was looking across the sea of bored faces in my humanities class this morning, I wondered if it's harder for people to appreciate classical music if they haven't been brought up with it. I was thinking about one of my favorite movies, Xanadu (one of two movies I own--the other one is Breakfast at Tiffany's--both on VHS) and how people either love or hate that movie, depending on if they saw it as a child. I remember watching it on t.v. when I was in first or second grade and thinking I heard my name in that song Olivia Newton John sings when she's roller skating around that empty auditorium (I think it's called, "Magic," and when she sings the word, "survive," it sounds like she's saying my name). I rediscovered that movie in college, when I happened to be working in the paint shop with two other girls who also loved that movie as kids. One of the girls owned it and during our lunch breaks we'd drive to Dairy Queen for 50 cent hot dogs and go back to her apartment and watch that movie (we were a little liberal with our lunch breaks). We felt like we were triplets separated at birth, because it's difficult to find other people who love that movie (it's really pretty cheesy).

Anyway, I've been having the students do little presentations on Romantic period composers where they share some biographical information and bring some listening examples for the whole class to hear. The group today brought in some Bruckner, who wrote some gorgeous symphonies. We listened to a few minutes of one, and I while it was playing I realized that this music could really sound boring to people who haven't listened to classical music before at home as children or teenagers. They're used to classical music being elevator music, or something they study to, or something they hear on commercials or movie scores--always background music, if they notice it at all. They recognized Wagner's Ride of the Valkries (sp?) and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet because these themes have been used numerous times in commercials or cartoons. But when it comes to something that's unfamiliar to them like a Bruckner or Mendelssohn symphony, they automatically tune out and their eyes glaze over and they start chatting and rustling papers and coughing. It's almost like a Pavlovian response: an unfamiliar orchestral piece comes on over the speakers and they start drooling (or dozing or coughing or sighing with boredom).

I think I really love classical music because it has sentimental value for me. When I was a kid mom had the Amadeus soundtrack on cassette tape, and for a period of a few years, that's all we listened to at home. It was Mozart, 24/7. I remember specific instances. I was in third grade and we were living in Grand Island, NE in a small apartment building. I knew we must have been poor because the carpet was ugly and brown and I had to wear hand-me-down clothes from my cousins, and we didn't have a piano, so I was not able to take piano lessons like I wanted. Instead, the carpet served as my keyboard. I knew the Concerto for Two Pianos inside and out, and would sit on the floor and pound out all of the notes, convinced I could play it for real if a piano materialized in front of me. I also remember putting together a terrarium for a science fair project and singing along to Don Giovanni.

Now, whenever I listen to the Amadeus soundtrack, which is on my iPod, I am instantly taken back to that time when Mozart helped us get through a tough time. I know the order of the songs, and I can sing them by heart. But unless my students have experienced a similar scenario where music was played at home, I doubt they can connect with the music in the way that I can. That music is written in an old and outdated language they don't understand. It sounds completely different from Tupac or Alicia Keys or Britney Spears or Vince Gill, songs of which last a few short minutes with catchy and provocative lyrics and flashy guitar riffs or techno beats to keep them dancing or singing along. Classical music, on the other hand, requires a long attention span, deep listening skills, and a comfortable chair to hear all the nuances and subtle orchestral effects. It takes time to absorb a piece--it doesn't offer instant gratification like popular music. And for them to be exposed to classical music for the first time in a big, fluorescent-lighted, concrete-walled, no windowed, bland white dirty choir room with no comfortable desks or chairs to sit in--it's no wonder they space out and text-message their friends during class. I would probably do the same if I were in their shoes.

There has been no precedent set for them--no reason for them to consider music written by "dead white guys" hundreds of years ago. Classical music is something rich old people listen to. What could it possibly have to do with their lives? The fact that it is beautiful is not enough. They have no point of reference, or sentimental attachment. I honestly can't think of a reason they should listen to classical music or attend symphony concerts, other than transparent arguments that it makes them more "cultured," or because it's beautiful, or it feels satisfying to listen to. They've already got their music that feels satisfying to them.

I feel like I have to sell them on classical music before the end of the quarter on Dec. 1. How will I do it? Is it possible? Should this be the purpose of the class or should they be allowed to sit there bored out of their minds, making a few chicken scratches in their notebooks as I lecture about the difference between a fugue and a toccata, or what sonata form is? Should I care that they don't care?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Miscellaneous (did I spell that right?)

Nothing to report. Must go to bed. Here's a few freebies:

I'm reading Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (local author) and will start reading The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch after that.

Quelf is a fun game.

I learned how to say "I dance like an elephant," in Russian, last night at a party.

I want to have a "Sixteen Candles" 30th birthday party where one would find t.p.'ed trees and pizzas on the turn table and Anthony Michael Hall trapped underneath the coffee table.

After I graduate I'm planning on playing in a rock band, a small Baroque ensemble, a cafe-accordion duo with a singer, a Klezmer/Eastern European ethnic ensemble, and a contemporary music ensemble.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The process of de-institutionalization starts now

Last night I saw a great band at Whitworth College--Norfolk and Western from Portland. They played here last spring, and I got a chance to talk to their girl drummer. She teaches at the Rock n' Roll camp for girls (Portland, every summer. They even have a rock camp for women too), and painted a cute crow beating a drum on her kick drum. The band is really cool--there's a lead singer/guitarist, bass guitar/2nd guitar, drummer, and guy who plays violin, banjo, guitar, bass, theremin and musical saw. Totally great sound and live band. I went to see it with my future band members (friend T, and K) and we decided that I will be the multi-instrumentalist. T has a viola, which I hope to learn promptly (either that or I will rent/buy a cello!). We already have two accordions, keyboards that make helicopter sounds and samba beats, two guitars, two banana shakers and two harmonicas. I think we'll be making a trip to the hardware store for misc. percussion and saw parts. Anyway, I think being in a band will be a good way to de-institutionalize myself after I graduate. I've had all I can take of teaching millenials and being taught by overworked and jaded professors.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Things that make me weep

I'm sitting here at school, on my lunch break, listening to Vivaldi and reading some of Kate DiCamillo's online journal entries (there is a link to the right). Damn! Her entries are making me weep. And by weep I don't mean gushing heart-wrenching tears but enough moisture balling up at the ends of my eyelashes to make me want to dab my eyes politely with a lacy hankerchief.

So I've been thinking of other things that make me weep:

1. The opening credits and music from Anne of Green Gables
2. The opening credits of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
3. Vivaldi's Summer and Winter (this also makes me feel punk rock, if you know what I mean).
4. Cather's My Antonia
5. Gillian Welch's Orphan Girl
6. The ending sequence of American Beauty (I wailed, not wept, for 2 hours afterwards).
7. Cafe Latte's Raspberry Cream Torte or Grandma B's buttermilk chocolate sheet cake
8. Playing Katherine Hoover's Winter Spirits on flute
9. The choral version of Barber's Adagio done by the Dale Warland Singers
10.That one aria from Turandot I can't remember the name of but it is sung by a tenor.
11.Any opening or ending movie sequence with gorgeous music
12.Rachels' Music for Egon Schiele.
13.Greg Brown's Spring Wind
14.When the Mutts cartoon does its shelter stories

Sometimes when I'm singing in the car along with a song I'll choke up for no reason (or maybe there is a reason: a beautiful chord progression or lyric?) and won't be able to sing for awhile. Does this happen to you or am I a weirdo?

Be-wigged Vivaldi Beauties

Boy, I'm glad I didn't send that email to my composition prof. After I wrote that I went downstairs and played some of my parlor music from the 20's on the upright piano ("I Would! If I Could! But I Can't! Why? Because I'm Married Now" is the actual title of the piece). From there I started messing around and came up with a beginning to my women's choir piece, which is based on the Fontbonne Pool at CSC. I'm hoping it could eventually be sung by the CSC choir in the actual pool. That's my dream. If you don't know about this obsession, ask me about it sometime.

Anyway, I've been into Baroque music lately because I've been discussing this period with my humanities students. I remember a Rick Steves episode where he goes to watch a concert of a period-costumed and be-wigged all female Vivaldi chamber orchestra. That's my dream! To play in that orchestra. But I have to learn how to play a string instrument--I'm thinking cello or viola because everyone plays violin. I also showed my class snippets from Monteverdi's Orfeo opera, and the music is really gorgeous for that time (1607!).

Also new: I discovered that a classmate of mine is fluent in Spanish--she studied abroad in high school--and wants to get together and practice her Spanish, so I think I might try and pick it up again (took 4 years in high school). She loaned me some books and DVDs so maybe I'll be writing my next post en Espanol.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Warning: Intensely Personal and Embarrassing Blog Entry

Can I get something off my chest (in other words, this entry will be good therapy for me, but boring for you)? Even if it's intensely personal and somewhat embarrassing?

All day, I've been crafting a letter in my head to my composition professor, which would explain why I've only composed 3 pieces since I've been in grad school (since January 2004). This was all sparked by two things: and impending composition lesson tomorrow in which I have nothing done (again), and, seeing how much my fellow students are composing in a composition seminar today.

Here's what I've got so far:

Dear Dr. ______,

I'm not sure why I haven't been setting time aside to work on my composition projects, but yet again I have nothing to show you for tomorrow. However, I have a couple theories, which might explain my behavior.

1. I need lots of physical and mental space to feel safe enough to create. As you know I have two large humanities classes to take care of, and every moment of my day is taken up with lesson planning, grading, maintaining the class website, and thinking about how to make my class better, how to make my students care, and what to do with students who turn in late papers and "forget" to do their presentations. In some ways I don't think it's quite fair to throw grad students into teaching when they have their own classes and grades and papers to think about, no teaching assistants to help with grading and photo-copying, and no guidance whatsoever on how to even teach material I don't know well to a large class of 50 non-music major freshmen. Besides this, I have a large orchestration project that's due on Nov. 15, a piano pedagogy project that's due on the 29th, a women's choir piece to write by Dec. 1, plus misc. minor things that still take time, such as working part time while attending school. As you can see, I have no mental space for the creation of musical works. My brain is all used up and I have trouble remembering which key opens my front door, what the copy code is at school, and where I put my chapstick. As far as physical space, I have a nice piano in the dining room, but there is no privacy there. It is just a few feet away from the television. That was the only place to put the piano--it is the only inside wall downstairs.

2. I don't compose as prolifically as my fellow grad students because I don't have the same strong music background as they do. Both of them have been composing and performing for a long time and both have undergraduate degrees in composition. My b.a. is in art education. What classes in my past life have prepared me to write abstract sounds down into a concrete form? The last theory and ear-training classes I had were in 1997. My friends already have craft. I am still at the first step and need to gear up to write something down. It's like I'm trying to write a novel in Russian when I only know three words in the language: cat, pencil, and battery. There's only so many variations on these three words. Also, I know my colleagues have as little time as I do (one of them has 3 kids! The other one has numerous performing and teaching gigs), but they can just sit down and spew out music in a few hours. I'm not to that point yet.

3. Do I really want to write music down? I think one of my problems is motivation. My primary musical interests lie in the education, therapy, and ethnomusicology realms. did I choose the wrong major? Aren't there enough contemporary art music composers out there? How much quasi-tonal "woo-woo, pluck-pluck" postmodernism can the American concert audience take? Should music even be written down anymore, now that we have highly advanced recording equipment? Besides, a score is not music--it is a picture of music. Real music exists in space. The pieces I would write (and spend hours on!) would only exist in space for a few minutes and then get dusty in some drawer or on a shelf in a forgotten section of the library. Does contemporary art music help anyone? Does anyone care?

4. If I really liked composing, wouldn't I just do it and stop whining about it? Some composer said on a blog I read recently: Self-discipline is a natural trait for composers because they want to spend as much time creating as possible. Or something like that--I don't have it quite right, but you get the idea. I'm afraid self-discipline has never been one of my strong suits, even though I enjoy creating in a language I'm familiar with. As a fourth grader it was so easy to sit on my bed and write short stories or make up fashion designs in my sketchbook. I never analyzed what I was doing--I just did it and it didn't seem like work at all. I was just playing. I like the playing around part of composition, but I don't like the more analytical, detailed work that goes into editing and refining. I loose interest by then. I am by nature what Barbara Sher calls a "scanner." So the question is, do I go against my own nature or try to shape it and change my habits?


and so on.

Blah blah blah, I'm so whiny! But these are questions I struggle with everyday. I want to get out of school and get on with my life.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Too much, too little, too late (hey, that's a 70's era Johnny Mathis song!)

I totally agree with Gintastic on the warm fuzzies one gets with this sisterhood of interbloguality. It's a fun experiment. If I can stick with this for a month, they say it takes 21 days to change a habit, so maybe the writing habit will stay with me....

Anyway, can't blog too much right now. I just got home from a (pathetic) composer's concert (we only had 3 pieces on it) and now I have to preview some Baroque operas to pick out some clips to show my students. I'll also be showing a clip from "Farinelli," that movie about a castrato. Hopefully they'll find these somewhat interesting, although sometimes I feel I have to be as entertaining as Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society to keep them from falling asleep or playing solitaire on their laptops. Seriously! They expect so much out of me and I can't give it too them. I'm about ready to throw in the towel and just say, you know what? We're just going to watch Amadeus and Immortal Beloved and Impromptu and eat popcorn for class. None of this trying to care if they learn about classical music crap. They're all visual learners these days anyway, right? Is there a Mozart video game out there? Gee, look at me, I'm already jaded and I'm not even a real professor! Ha!

On a more upbeat note, Sammy Davis Jr. was on Charlie's Angles tonight and played two characters, one of which owned a chain of liquor stores and dressed like a pimp with very poor fashion sense (a long long blue plaid suit jacket with matching pants and red shoes). I only caught the last 30 minutes or so but that sure made my night. By the way, I've been noticing strange parallels between Nancy Drew and Charlie's Angels. I think this might be another topic for another blog...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blue-hairs singing 4-part harmony in church! Just imagine!

I'm listening to a new record right now: The Carter Family--I Walk the Line. On the cover is a picture of the four ladies (June, Anita, Mother Maybelle and what's the fourth one's name?)in blue and white striped scoop-necked 60s party dresses and bouffanted hairdos. K found it at Value Village today. I am listening to it on my portable vintage record player (thanks Jen!)on top of K's new amp.

Yes, K is playing music again. Our friend T wants to start a band and wants K for backup guitar and bass. I would play misc. instruments. K's been practicing electric guitar for an upcoming show that T will do this coming thursday. K's really quite good. When I first met him he would play a six-stringed blues guitar while laying on his twin bed. He also had an acoustic 12-string and an electric guitar and would jam with the guys he lived with in his first apartment in Minneapolis. When we moved to Eugene and he started going to grad school he sold his amps and guitars--all except the electric guitar. I tried to talk him out of it--what if he wanted to play again someday? It was the end of an era in a way, and I couldn't understand why he couldn't be a journalist and play music (at the same time!). Well, we were also poor and had to eat and selling the miscellaneous instruments made sense.

But it's so cool to see him jamming again--just like old times. On a related note, we (my family and I) gave my stepdad a guitar for his 51st b-day just last week. Last year he bought himself a harmonica, so we figured he would like to branch out a little and try something we could always see him playing. He has a deep Johnny Cash voice and with a couple chords under his fingers he could totally have a Cash cover band. People in NE would go apeshit for that. But I guess he's psyching himself out about learning it--and is putting off lessons. I think this is a symptom of a sickness that's plaguing America--a musical sickness. Yeah, that sounds cheesy but here's the thing: there are billions of bad music teachers out there that tell people they have no musical talent, can't sing, and can't dance. I think everyone can say they've had a bad music teacher at one point in time. Those harsh words stay with people--it's like a bad seed that's been planted--and from then on people swear off music forever. I have an aunt who never sings--not even in the car--because some mean nun in the 50's told her she was a terrible singer. It's really sad. That's one of the reasons why our culture is so musically underdeveloped, in terms of amateur vernacular musicking. We need more people playing guitar and piano and dulcimer and fiddle at home for their families and on the street corner. We need people to sing four-part harmony in church. We need people to dance more. I think people forget that humans are inherently musical (if you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance) and that musicking does not mean playing dead-white guy Western art music, and most of all that music is supposed to be fun. Anyway, that's my soapbox speech for the evening.

Yesterday I got the opportunity to play Tibetan singing bowls. You hold them in your hand and rub a wooden stick around the edge (the set looks kinda like a metal mortar and pestle) which sets them vibrating and emitting this other-worldly hum, like wine glasses. The vibrations actually feel really good. They're supposed to affect your chakras or something new-agey like that but they really are relaxing and beautiful-sounding. We're playing them in a composition concert tomorrow night. Maybe I'll save some money and buy a set and open a vibrational healing shop. Kelly could read tarot and Gintastic could bake some ginger wheatgrass cookies and we'll dress like hippies and make a fortune! It'll be great.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bachelor Flats

I'm not even sure where to begin.

I had the most surreal experience today. The backstory is this: this rich old lady donated 100,000 dollars to our music department, and in her honor, her neighbor, a rich old man, threw a party for her for donating the money, and for himself for throwing the party. They wanted some students and professors from our school to play some chamber music for their soiree, so I played accordion in a trio a fellow composer friend wrote. There was a little program made up, and whomever put them together listed me as "Zamina, accordian." They forgot to include my last name, so it looked like I was trying to be Madonna or Prince or something. My classmates and a few profs that were there thought that was pretty funny and gave me hell for it. So we played our piece, and the two profs that were there, a married couple, played some bassoon and cello duets, and a student soprano in a fancy dress sang Schubert's Ave Maria along with a student accompanist (also in a fancy dress). It was very Anne of Green Gables all of a sudden, where they are staying with that rich lady and she takes Diana and Anne to see this opera singer singing for a similar soiree. It was all very 19th century salon-ish. We played on an open second-floor landing near a mahogany baby grand piano and a victorian-style floor lamp with tulip-shaped glass bulbs. A dean of the college asked to touch my accordian. I think she was really into it.

This is one layer.

This is another layer: when you walk in this house (which was in a gated community on the South Hill--a very well-to-do area of town, which has marvelous views of Spokane), first you see the marble floor and oriental rugs. Then you look up and see massive amounts of blue plates hanging on the dining room wall. Then you see shining crystal goblets, vases that look old and valuable (from the Ming Dynasty?), Asian sculptures, crystal chandaliers, tapestries, and Queen Anne style chairs covered in shiny navy brocaded fabric. There is so much to see that your eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. Gradually everything becomes more clear as you adapt to the lavish surroundings. You start noticing more things: a wall devoted to Renaissance-era religious art in huge gilded frames, an ornate Asian-style china cubbord filled with small jade and ivory and brass Buddhas that you would expect to see in the Chicago Institute of Art, Japanese scrolls, Chinese brush paintings, crystal-baubled wall sconces. You walk downstairs and see what looks like ornate wooden doors from a 10th century Chinese noble's house, attatched to the wall. You see big oil paintings with cowboy-western themes, and a bar filled with booze and decorated with models of vintage cars and hot-wheels in their original packaging. In the corner you spy a voo-doo walking stick with what appears to be real human hair tufting out of the top, and an animal's brushy tail hanging on the wall next to the ornately carved dark-brown stick. There is not one surface of wall left uncovered in the upstairs or downstairs areas or the in-between areas. There are collections of glass, crystal, plates, figurines, miniature paintings, large paintings, and so on and so forth. You wonder how one person has collected so much art, and how much that vase on the pedestal costs (50,000 dollars?). You imagine the crew of Antiques Roadshow running through the house and shrieking orgasmically. You feel sorry for the maids who have to dust and vacuum this house. Your first thought upon walking into the house was one of complete and utter shock: someone actually lives like this? Your second or third thoughts might be: how much is this man really worth, and how can he live like this when people can't afford food and healthcare and education?

Imagine me, walking around with a crystal glass of Chardonnay in my hand, peering at the art as if I were at the MIA or the Smithsonian, and trying to mingle with old rich people; chatting with my fellow music friends, feeling underdressed (a dark denim skirt, black-grey argyle tights, black flats, tan corduroy western-style fitted jacket, dark blue and black scarf decorated with piano keys and treble clefs) while men sport ties and suit jackets, and the women wear heels and pearls (I had no idea it was dressy dressy). Upon hearing of the real animal tail hanging on the wall, the associate conductor of the Spokane Symphony and I rush down to the equally ornate lower level to find it, like little kids who are exploring the professor's house in the Narnia series. I think surreal and pompous and lavish and over-the-top are the operative words here. But what shocked me more than the expensive art collection was the strange juxtaposition between high and low art: in front of the fireplace sat a collection of homemade felt mice-dolls in bonnets and pioneer-style prairie dresses with those cheap-looking wire frames one finds at Hobby Lobby perched on their noses. The backdrop for the dolls was a medieval-looking worn tapestry hanging from a brass rod. Similarly, two church-bazaar-looking crocheted pandas sat atop a black antique jewelry box (or was it a radio? I can't remember. But it was old and expensive-looking). Tom Clancy paperbacks were peppered throughout the house, next to gold figurines from Thailand. Miniature asian sculptures and colored glass grapes sat upon a huge flatscreen t.v. A cheap-looking robin's egg blue velour couch, complete with needle-pointed pillows, was placed below the exquisite collection of religious Renaissance art. The more I looked, the more I realized the place was badly decorated. Objects and paintings were just thrown around with no sense of aesthetic placement. You'd think for how rich this guy is that he could afford an interior designer who could inject a little feng shui into the house. It's all so misleading at first: the expensive-looking ancient art and crystal collection throws you off-guard and makes you believe for a while you're in the most exquisite palace when really it's just a new house with flat white walls and vinyl windows and dark-stained wood details to make it look fancier than it really is. I do have to admit that the view was gorgeous, though. And tonight Spokane was all misty and navy blue with rain.

Other notable things: apparently this professor (he really was a retired professor) had almost married the daughter of the Shah of Egypt (or was it Iran?). Apparently.

I was afraid to sit on the fancy-looking brocaded silk chairs, so I stood the whole time. I drank decaf out of a gold-rimmed china cup, which I almost knocked over while laughing.

The upstairs bathroom was filled with some woman's beauty products (Mary Kay?) and electric roller set. I thought this 80's something guy was single. He called his place, Bachelor Flats. "Have a look around Bachelor Flats," he says.

January 4, 1989, apparently

On an electronic sign outside of a strip mall by our house it tells us that it is January 4, 1989.

I forgot to mention that yesterday was our first snow of the season. I was driving to a piano lesson and had to turn my iPod to Vince Guaraldi's "Christmastime is Here" song. I find myself listening to that song a lot--even during the summer. It's a good song to play when you're feeling bored/down/wistful--all at the same time.

Today we had a plumming disaster. Poor K woke up with a stomach bug and had to deal with it on his own while I was trying to deliver a lecture on secular Renaissance music to a room full of bored, chit-chatty students. However one of my students gave me a chocolate bear with a red heart. I spent the better part of the evening making sure our sink was cloroxed out enough to wash dishes in it. K is still sick but feeling better. After I cleaned the house I ran to the grocery store for the second time today to pick up some 7-up, spaghetti-o's and chocolate pudding per K's request (I think his stomach is feeling better....) and in the cleaning products aisle John Lennon's "Woman" came on over the loud speakers. That song always makes me happy for some reason, as if I heard it in the womb and I'm remembering something lovely and distant.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Cowboy Bus Driver

I realized this morning that my morning bus driver looks like he belongs more on a horse on a ranch in Wyoming than driving a city bus in Spokane. He kinda looks like Paul Newman and could totally be an actor playing a cowboy in some Hollywood western. So from now on I'm going to imagine that he's wearing a cowboy hat and a denim shirt and holding a lasso. As he's driving the bus. Just for fun.

Today I looked at Bored at work? Check it out. Sorry, I'm too lazy to provide a link.

Today I introduced my one piano/art student to watercolors. He's a 13-year old homeschooler who is very polite and will probably grow up to look like Kevin from The Office (but not as fat). I swear they have the exact same mannerisms and laugh. Anyway, he was worried about spilling paint and water on the carpet downstairs so we painted upstairs. I noticed that he was very meticulous with his watercolor cakes, cleaning them off with paper towels so the colors didn't muddy from mixing and double-dipping. He says please and thank you a lot. For all our carefulness I ended up spilling water all over their counter and nice hardwood floor. Of course they didn't mind--they are very nice people from Crawford NE, and the mother gave me a recipe for Runza Casserole. If you don't know what a runza is you must find out. Anyway, we commisserated on how no one outside of NE understands the beauty of this particular food. It's nice to know people like that. People who understand NE instead of saying, "Oh it's that really boring flat state, isn't it?"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the anti-school school

I'm going to try this blog everyday thing for the month of November. It sounds like a fun challenge. This is also the home stretch to the end of the quarter so we'll see how well I hold out. I'm pretty excited because the last day of graduate school classes ever (ever! well, at least here) coincide with my 30th b-day on Dec. 1. You can all bet I'll be drinking heavily that night to celebrate.

Today started out pretty well. I woke up half an hour before my alarm, which gave me time to finish an assignment I had procrastinated on all week. On the bus I read an article about the musical brain (for my piano pedagogy class) that said everyone is born with some capacity for music and music-making, and it also said that people are subconsciously drawn to music that mimics proportions in nature. This nature idea was later brought up in class, but in a more round-about way. We were discussing how it is better, in performance to have correct rhythm than correct pitches, because uneven and unsure rhythm makes us feel nervous. This led to speculations about the rhythms of nature, i.e. the regularity of our own heartbeats and a predilection for even, steady rhythms. Then a classmate interjected by saying that she has an uneven heartbeat, and does this tie in with her inablity to keep a steady pulse while playing piano? Someone else mentioned that if you put two old-fashioned metronomes together, on the same speed but start them at different times, that their beats will eventually synchronize. Very deep thoughts for a wednesday afternoon, but it's all pretty fascinating if you think about it. I'll have to try the metronome experiment sometime and get back to you.

More drama in the classroom. I posted, on my class website, that I was concerned with their grammar skills and tendency towards plagiarism. I got an annonymous comment from a student who was appalled that I didn't state this policy in my syllabus and how could I possibly grade down for that? So I wrote back that it goes without saying that whatever written work you turn in for school needs to be at least somewhat grammatically polished and not copied from another author. I haven't heard back yet, but hopefully they get it now. It's so frustrating. I see why they're frustrated. High school did not prepare them to be good writers and thinkers, but plagiarism? My god, K was just telling me that in 3rd grade he learned what plagiarism was because he had copied an oral report out of an encyclopedia. Am I being too mean to these students? Am I asking too much?

Along these lines I'm currently reading a book called, "What's College For?" and in it the author mentions that today's college students feel entitled to receive A's and pass classes just because they pay tuition. It's a business venture--I pay you, you give me a degree. This may be one of the reasons college today is dumbed down--deans feel pressured by parents and students to ease the load so the college can continue to operate and keep their enrollment high. This is probably a gross oversimplification, and there are definitely other factors involved, but this book is really fascinating and makes me see higher education in a whole new light. It is really a business--it has nothing to do with learning or education at all. On the other side of this all, I've been enjoying teaching because it makes me mad and makes me want to do something about it, but can I really go through the bullshit of another graduate degree just to teach a subject to students that feel a sense of entitlement, who don't care about the subject, who work full-time jobs (because they can't afford to go to school AND feed their families or pay rent), who are visual learners instead of aural learners--who would rather sleep or chit-chat in class or watch a video or play solitaire on their laptops or listen to their iPods with one ear-bud in their left ear (all happened)---and the worst part of it all is that I understand because I am a student and I've been in painfully awful classes and seen ineffective teaching. Well, I hope I'm not too terrible of a teacher, but I can't be worse than some profs. But how do you teach a large lecture class that meets everyday a subject like music history where the only option is to give boring lectures everyday because no one reads the textbook (which I didn't pick out by the way--it's embarrassingly dumbed down--large pictures, containing over-simplified and sometimes incorrect music-historical information). There is no opportunity for active learning, deep listening, or intense engagement when people are worried about their next paycheck, or they're sleeping because how does Renaissance polyphony relate to Alicia Keys and Tupac? You can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn, and feels entitled to receive an A just because they paid tuition. Out of a 50-something class, only 20 have been showing up. How can I not care about that? How can I keep going when I know they don't care no matter how hard I try?

I want to work in the field of education, but it's all so messed up. I think I'm going to start my own school: the anti-school school where you pick out a few subjects you want to study, and you read about them on your own, and you make robots and puppets and go on field trips to learn about dairy farms and talk about current events and put on skits. This is actually what it was like in "gifted" class in 5th grade (I hate that word because everyone is "gifted" in some way). Why can't school be like that?