Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Wizard of Ives

Yesterday,  I mentioned finding inspiration for some trivial verse creations in the Facebook post of a former student. Today I'm presenting another social media creation inspired by the Twitter posting of another former student. Thus wrote Wesley J. Newcomb, a talented composer, singer, etc-er.
"I have decided that composers are the closest things to wizards in real life."
Reproducing this elegant statement, perfectly suited to the form and function of Twitter, is reason enough for this blog post, as I suspect there are many of us for whom the transformation of sounds into mysteriously meaningful experiences is nothing short of sorcery. (See, I just used way too many words to say what Wesley said perfectly. Twitter wins.) Coincidentally, I was sitting and watching Sunday afternoon football when I read Wesley's post and had recently seen Grantland's NFL wizard Bill Barnwell post the following insightful analysis of an amazingly well-designed fake punt return (in which a Rams' punt returner used Obi-wan-like mind control to get the entire Seahawks' coverage team to chase him to one side of the field while another Ram fielded the punt on the other side and ran it back for a touchdown):
"Rams then use sorcery to return a punt for a touchdown."
But back to composers-as-wizards. Since I was sitting around fairly idly, I started imagining which composers sported the most wizardly look. I knew that Charles Ives is one of Wesley's heroes, and though Ives' tough-guy, New-Englander demeanor didn't exactly scream swords and sorcery, he did have a beard. So, a little faux-photoshopping later and I had produced the following (using this as starting point):


Sadly, I've missed Ives' 140th birthday by one day, but I'd say there's plenty of wizardry here and elsewhere in his work:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Strings and Arrows

Going a month or more without a blog post always seems to result in a kind of self-perpetuating blogjam - the longer I wait, the more pressure I feel to return with something great - or, at least, substantial. Well, I don't know much about true logjams, but presumably they arise where there are too many logs (blog posts?) trying to get through, so maybe if I mix my metaphors and kick the fire here, something will start burning. In other words, I'll post something insubstantial to fan the flames. Le voilĂ .

It's not like I don't often do silly, quasi-creative (?) things with words that might find their way into this blogstream, but they too often get scattered in the margins of Twitter and Facebook; so here's some stream-of-consciousness stuff that I'm moving from the ephemerality of social media to the relative permanence of a blog.

A former student who plays both violin and viola is now studying in London and wrote a Facebook post complaining about the absurd names the British give to note values. After getting some confusing instructions about crotchets and quavers and the like, her lighthearted comment was:
"I'll just pick these notes and start playing here."
To which I reflexively replied (because it's hard-wired in me):
"'I'll just pick these notes and start playing here' - spoken like a true violist."
Truth is, she wasn't even playing viola, but I learned that too late for me to keep from thinking about the intersections of quavers and quivering violists, so I found myself constructing the following bit of verse:
The violist's bow quivers when faced with a quaver,
Any less than a crotchet brings sure misbehavior.
The composer who hopes for such bows to deliver
had best leave those quavers unused in his quiver.
I now found myself in a mental maze of viola/archery connections, and soon took to Twitter with the following set of couplets:
Archers use bows to deliver their arrows,
Violists use bows to deliver their errors. 
Archers keep arrows for later in quivers.
Violists make errors whene’er they see quavers. 
The archer depends on a string that is taut.
Violists are best when they’re taught to play naught. 
The archer’s string sings when an arrow’s dispatched.
The viola sings best when there’s no strings attached.
So there you go. The blog is back.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Turn, turn, turn...

The calendar has turned many times since news broke for me that I haven't shared here on the blog (partly because I've never been quite sure what "here" is); but with a new school year around the corner, August 1 seems as good a time as any to admit that, for the first time in many years, I don't have a school! (It does somehow make those "back to school" commercials less painful - maybe I needed a break.) Although I'm still finishing up an official paid "leave of absence," I've been denied tenure and thus set adrift as a faculty member. Perhaps at some point I'll explore more the painful process which resulted in what seems to (biased) me to be the wrong outcome both for me and the school (the outcome was certainly met with much disappointment by students and most of my colleagues), but I'm not inclined to tell that tale today. I'm certainly not the first to be met with a disappointing tenure outcome.

Coincidentally, my soon-to-be former employer has become the subject of much controversy and derision in the past month to the degree that some of my former colleagues might almost envy me my early exit! I'm also not going to use this post to explore that painful process or pretend that my situation was in any significant way related. The many, many good things about Gordon College remain good and I will miss them terribly. Like any workplace, there are also imperfections and things I won't miss. Although the media attention has in inevitable ways seemed to exaggerate some negatives (and this has been most unfortunate because it's obscured so many good things), I think the negative attention might ultimately be a good thing in helping the college move forward. The controversy has given voice to many who wouldn't otherwise be fairly heard. Gordon has historically been at its best when it invites open inquiry (what used to be advertised as "freedom within a framework of faith"), and though it has factions that are more afraid of true dialogue,* there's real hope where there's actual communication. 

Anyway, it's on to the future. I'll admit that the tenure experience has been harder for me in terms of self-confidence and embarrassment than I would've hoped, and I'm saying that out loud as a way of being open and trying to avoid hiding, as I've more or less been doing. (It's also, quite frankly, hard to just disappear from a much-loved community.) I've never been quite sure about the "what will you do when you grow up?" question even well past the supposed age of growing up. I haven't been particularly interested in specializing, which is why the job that had evolved for me was so gratifying - I got to teach music history, collaborate regularly as a pianist, conduct operas, talk about art, theatre, and film, etc. - and why it's hard to face an uncertain world where no position like the one I had really exists, at least not until I make it exist. I'm both confident in my skill-set and mystified by what to do with it. Though it's hard to imagine working outside of music altogether, I do imagine that every now and then as well. This isn't the easiest age to experience a new beginning, but new beginnings can be exciting as well. At any rate, the academic year ahead will likely be one more of experimentation and discovery than settling in, but we'll see. Maybe I'll really learn to write code!

I am blessed with an embarrassingly wonderful family and am eternally grateful for that. I also still have my job at this old blog, where I get to do whatever I want, so I hope that having gotten this bit of news out of the way, I can at least get back to work here. In future posts, I might be so bold as to discuss the tenure thing more and to discuss the "Gordon" thing more - honestly, I'd love to say more about both today, but I feel it's a bit too opportunistic to spin such discussions out of my own frustrations. For today, I'm just coming out as a former professor who (probably) hopes to be something like a professor again some day.

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* It is regrettable to me that Gordon faculty voices, which could (and should) speak quite eloquently for the wide range of deeply considered thought on these issues, have seemingly been mostly silent in the past month. Though they certainly wouldn't always agree with the administration, they would be helping to project a much more accurate and honest picture of the kind of place Gordon is in a way that might help to disarm some of the simplistic stereotyping that the school has been subjected to.