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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cool*

The longest business relationship that I've had in my life, even longer than my marriage (25 years this year), is with my insurance agent at State Farm (no, his name isn't Jake). He's seen me through good and bad times, high points and low; he's always been there. We even have a "Facebook friendship" that started after he retired. We've never socialized, sat down for a beer or dinner, (and I would if I had the opportunity), but was always dependable and gave top-notch service.   I trusted him, and he never gave me a reason to reconsider that trust.

I know that not every insurance agent or company, nor every business of any kind, is like that.  It can be disappointing, even devastating, to realize that the relationship was not what it seemed.  I'm not naive enough to think that people (and business models) don't or will never change, it's just that when it comes down to really needing the significant other, be it business or personal, to be there for you, to be in your corner, it turns out that the positivity, well wishes, and words are just a facade to get you to go along.

I'm not going to mention the department in or the name of the institution involved (it isn't State Farm) but I have to say that I am indeed VERY disappointed in their lack of transparency, their lack of cooperation, and their seeming lack of effort in matters concerning members of my family. 

We are not blameless. Perhaps we didn't accomplish necessary tasks with the expediency expected of us. However, we have been more than patient with this department--perhaps too patient.  I'd love to be able to say the institution's name, but you know how negativity in social media goes these days.

To Be Continued...

*--from West Side Story, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Bernstein, Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents, 1957.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Off the beaten path*

I've been thinking about patron service a lot lately.

We're on spring break this week, here at Lincoln, and between preparing a Music and Dance Libguide and working the LP collection, the lack of decent inexpensive restaurants nearby has me going (too) often to the McDonald's in the next town.  Two recent experiences make me wonder about the level of people providing customer service these days.

1) I was at one Mickey D's last Sunday evening. They had a (presumably) new self-service kiosk, the first one I've seen outside of Wawa and Sonic.  The line at the counter had more than a few customers so I tried it out. Everything was explained on the screen, and I ordered a McChicken and a coke, grabbed a table ID tag, and went to a table and waited for them to bring my food.  I watched a party of five order at the counter, grab their drinks, sit down and get served while my one sandwich (and no drink) sat at the counter...and sat...and sat.  If I hadn't flagged down the counter person while she was delivering to the party of five, I might still be sitting there.  I showed her my receipt (and, I will confess, my annoyance) and she retrieved my sandwich.
"where's my drink?"
"oh, you get your cup at the counter"
"but I didn't go to the counter, I ordered at the kiosk"
"oh--what did you have?"
Sigh.

I finally received both items, but my conclusion is that the counter help was either 1) new and undertrained or 2) severely undertrained. In any event, they were understaffed and undertrained.  I promptly took the survey offered on the receipt. I have yet to hear back from them.

2) Another Mickey D, closer to work, this morning. I got in line behind half a dozen people with--you guessed it--one person at the counter.  After she took the order for a group of five, she left the counter unattended for (in McDonalds time) what seemed like forever.  Her back was to the waiting customers nearly the entire time. Didn't say anything this time. Got my food, sat and ate, went to work. Neglectful? Maybe. Understaffed? Definitely, and this was at 8 am--peak hours for breakfast in my estimation.

A third experience at our local chain grocer (Giant, not to be confused with Giant Eagle) was not the first time I've had trouble with them. Between inaccurate signage, poor quality food (frozen chicken wings with razor-sharp shards of bone), and just plain rude behavior have me going to a competitor.  Yes, I filled out their survey too, and have yet to hear back from them.  Maybe I've used up my lifetime supply of good will.

Yet another:  Stopped at the Red Roof Inn in Cranberry PA for a room for the night with my wife and adult daughter.
Me: I need a room for three adults.
Them: Will that be one bed or two?
+
EWWWWW...

Look--I get that service jobs, especially in the fast food and retail industry, are thankless and low-paying, and that you're subjected to the worst, cruelest, and condescending in human behavior. I've been there, I know.  They're entry level, and ideally should lead to bigger and better things within a given company.  Even if they don't, trainers and training managers--all managers, really--need to take training their people seriously.  Don't wait for your corporate office to mandate how to be nice, how to be considerate, how to take customers issues seriously (or with a grain of salt in many cases).  Too many generations of parents expected that of the public schools and look at how that turned out.  Former Secretary of Education William Bennett was right--K-12 education (and by extension, corporate training programs) aren't a one-stop solution where all of society's problems can be fixed.

Here's some simple rules to follow:

1) don't assume.
2) answer questions as though it's the first time you've been asked that day (thank you Disney).
3) treat people the way you would want to be treated.
4) don't make excuses. just do your job. rattling off a litany of excuses just rubs salt in the wound created by having a negative outcome in your transaction.

Now get off my lawn!
Onward.

*--Justin Moore, Off the Beaten Path,  2013.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Varsity*

Varsity, down the field,
Never yield, raise high our shield,
March on to victory for Michigan! (and the Maize and Blue)
Oh Varsity, we're for you,
Here for you to cheer for you,
We have no fear for you, oh Varsity!*

No songs for the junior varsity or the freshman squad, certainly not for the middle schoolers or beginners...

Why doesn't anyone want to teach any more? It's a fine thing to work with young people, to be sure, but at what level are you and your skill set most needed? What boxes do you check off at the end of each practice, each rehearsal, each performance, each season? How do you measure individual and group success?

I see sports programs all over the place but very few places of real learning. Ample evidence of game playing, but where is the learning about personal fitness at the earliest years?

George Cavender, long-time band director at the University of Michigan, had it right. In one talk he laid out a case for how music education should take after their counterparts in physical education in terms of marketing their product (with the all-important caveat of having steak to go with the sizzle).

If there was one place where you would find ample evidence of the truth in the saying, "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey", you would find it in N-12 music education.  Why do some high school bands flourish and thrive, while others are held together with "spit and sealing wax" (Robert Culver, Professor emeritus of Music Education, University of Michigan)?

The schools that "get it" understand the process, from top to bottom. Their teachers, parents and staff understand the value of early intervention in music literacy, what music literacy is, and what it takes to climb that seemingly never-ending staircase to excellence. They understand the value of having people who can function as adults in the "scrambled eggs" chaos (Tom Millard, retired music educator, Ann Arbor (MI) Public Schools) that is the years of upper elementary and middle school, regardless of the subject matter.

A dear friend of mine who worked for many years in the music publishing business once said, "There's a special place in heaven for elementary and middle school band directors" (Jean Anne Shafferman).  There's a hilarious story to go along with it, and I don't tell it nearly as well as she does, but I'll try.  She was attending an elementary school holiday Christmas program where the band was playing "Silent Night". The young man playing bass drum had obviously been told to make sure the audience heard the bass drum on the third beat of the second measure. So the first verse rolls along:

Si-i-lent Niiight....BOOM like a cannon shot! Jean Anne said, "I about fell out of my chair laughing", recalling the moment with unadulterated glee.

How does one make the case for differentiated instruction? For individual instruction? For teaching how to "Work and play well with others"?  It's even an integral part of NAfME's national standards for music education. Is the large-ensemble model with its foundations in the pre-WWII years still viable today?

I have so many questions but so few answers.

*--Earl V. Moore, Class of 1912 [Text: J. Fred Lawton, Class of 1911]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Another Opening, Another Show*

I’ve read several accounts of how the Ithaca (NY) High School planned stage production of Disney’s full-length feature animated version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was cancelled by a school district (in part) because of complaints that the girl cast as Esmerelda was perceived to be “too white”.  In my estimation there are larger questions to be asked of not only the Ithaca High School community, but of K-12 school communities across the country.

1)      Why did the school choose to produce this property, and what is considered by the Adults in Charge when selecting a property for production? Ideally three things go into the choice of a show: First, thoughtful consideration of the available resources—people, musical forces, facilities, in other words, what is; second, thoughtful consideration of the work involved and the time available; and third, envisioning the outcome—what can be as well as what is desired.

2)      Is the story being told in a way that maintains Hugo’s intent and the integrity of the story? This particular property is a Disney creation. As such it must be assumed that liberties have been taken with the original story, as it does with most Disney re-creations. Without casting aspersions on Disney (although I will freely admit I’ve already done so), the point of view the script, music, and cinematic images of these productions are often jarringly at odds with the original work.

3)      Can that intent and integrity be maintained in the face of current social mores? Much noise has been made in recent years about the wholesale destruction of artifacts and relics in the Muslim-controlled nations, but rewriting of history isn’t limited to those countries. Here in the United States, artwork, statuary, and even songs have fallen victim to someone’s narrow view; people who disagree are branded infidels, racist, sexist, misogynist, etc. and people who want to speak out, even mature, sensitive, reasonable voices,  are effectively silenced.

4)      There is the issue of artistic autonomy: How much discretion is given to the person/people in charge to propose, justify, cast, and produce a play, probably an extra-curricular activity, and who or what is owed justification for that adult’s choice? I can’t help thinking that there is a slippery slope to be navigated when choosing, justifying, and producing any theatrical property these days.

5)      People get nervous when conventions are put to the test. Call them ideas, traditions, sacred cows, or things of value, people will rally around what they believe in or believe to be important—as well they should.  The problem comes when the premise of that convention is flawed, as I believe it is in this case. 

6)      Since someone else will probably do it if I don’t, I’ll make the inevitable comparison to sports. Football coaches get tons of advice year-round—some of it asked for—but yet very few question their autonomy in choosing their assistants and training the players to compete in the sport of football (unless of course he and the team fail to win on a regular-enough basis).  If the coach is people-savvy, he’ll surround himself with the right people, ask advice of knowledgeable folks in not only the local community but the coaching world and beyond, and establish and maintain a good working relationship with the people placed in charge of him.  As a former K-12 educator and interested observer, I would want to know if the play director/advisor/faculty member in charge had that structure in place, and if he or she had that working relationship with the powers that be.

7)      Is the play part of the school curriculum? Then there are (or should be) structures in place to provide guidance as to what is appropriate content, and how material is presented in the classroom and to the community.  This goes back to #4 and the autonomy given to the adults in charge.

8)      To what extent has the community’s view of the play (and how it should be presented) been influenced by the Disney animated version? As a former musical director for community theater productions, I can say that Hollywood has a strong influence on how people, whether they’re actively involved in theater or not, view stage productions. For example, in one production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in which I was involved, it became clear early on that more than a few of the cast members didn’t approve of my musical choices because “it wasn’t like the album” or “it wasn’t like the movie”.  In fact I specifically avoided listening to or watching any other recordings because I was not involved in re-creating a music video.  I was working with live people in live theater. The recent spate of made-for-television musical theater productions and the buzz around them is ample proof of this.  Many people are just becoming aware that the stage versions of The Sound of Music and Grease are markedly different than what appeared at the movie theater, and are noticeably upset.

9)      What part, if any, did race play in casting? According to NYS Department of Education statistics, Ithaca (NY) High School’s enrollment by ethnicity (their words) is 66% White, 13% Asian, 10% Black/African American, 6% Hispanic, 6% identifying as Multiracial, and less than 1% Native American. I have no idea how many students tried out for the play or the various roles, or certainly who was encouraged by whom to audition for that play. I would like to know if statistics are available on the makeup of high school theater participants.

10)   Even if your 1st grade teacher said “time for music class” as she walked you to the music room or waited for the teacher to arrive to your classroom, after which she sprinted to the breakroom for that life-giving dose of caffeine, it is a fact that early training in the arts leads to greater willingness, confidence, and success in later participation and support of the arts at whatever level one finds oneself. Attitudes towards the arts—especially one’s individual view of their own artistic gifts, talents, and achievements—develop early, often influenced by the expressed and implied attitudes of those in charge of children.  

The situation at Ithaca (NY) High School is not going to be addressed or solved by slapping a coat of social justice rainbow paint on the current state of affairs.  Increasing artistic and expressive opportunities begins as it always does—with sustained, appropriate education and opportunity at the earliest possible age, parents and other responsible adults willing and ready to help the children in their care access that education and opportunity, and an unwavering commitment to the highest level of individual and group achievement.  Development of ideals in the public interest is not an overnight phenomenon.


I hope that this will be an ongoing conversation, and that reasonable voices will prevail.

*--from "Kiss Me, Kate" by Cole Porter;  opened on Broadway in 1948.

POSTSCRIPT: Florida school shooting all but took the Students United Ithaca group off the front pages, and that's just fine.  We have bigger fish to fry right now, right now, then who's getting a part in a forgettable Disney-version school play.

UPDATE (March 25, 2018): I was curious to see what show was being done by the young upstart theater company, and they have not only changed the show to "Hairspray", centered around an "American Bandstand"-like TV show in 1960's Baltimore, but--surprise, surprise, they have their director of choice, and many of the SUI 5 have leads in the show.  Exchanging one clique for another. No progress here.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Daughters*, part 2

After I finished this afternoon's post, I realized that the title might lead one to think of the recent scandal at Michigan State University, so I will do my best to write something coherent and helpful.


I'm lucky, I guess--I have a mom, two sisters, and female cousins all over the country, and I know how angry I'd be if they had an encounter with someone like Dr. Nassar.  The Christian I'm called to be says to be forgiving, especially if I'm for giving him a punch in the nose (and a few other strategic places). 


Not to dismiss the hundreds of young women's suffering, but I wonder if half the fuss that was made at MSU would have been made if it was members of the women's basketball team instead of pretty, white, well-heeled, Olympic-level gymnasts (and I don't think I'm stereotyping here). 

I'm a University of Michigan grad (BM '82), and proud of that fact; nonetheless I empathize with the students of MSU in their time of anger and uncertainty.  The depth and breadth of what happened is nothing short of mind-boggling, and heads have rolled, from the university president to the athletic director (with more sure to  follow). The MSU Board of Trustees did themselves no favors by eschewing comparisons to Penn State, especially that knothead Joel Ferguson. Ironically, the more he sounded off, the easier it was to make the leap between the two scandalized schools. I can only imagine that the Board will look a little different come the next election. A breach of trust of this magnitude may well have the students and alumni wondering who to believe (and believe in). Like their fellow land-grant institution, I believe that lasting change at MSU will not come easily, if at all. School ties run deep in Michigan. People I know out here on the East coast are always amused when I tell them that families break up over the U-M/MSU rivalry, but I'm pretty sure that if you spend enough time in the state, you'll learn at least one related story. If the MSU Board of Trustees had any sense, they would do well to take a long, reflective look at PSU, to ascertain if its entrenched institutional exceptionalism in any way parallels their own recent words and actions.

Michigan's three largest research institutions of higher educaton--U-M, MSU, and Wayne State University in Detroit--have their respective boards of directors chosen in the primary and general elections, and their place on the ballot is generally only of interest to the higher-ups in the two political parties and the respective university communities--at least until now. Recall election, anyone?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Daughters*

This post did not start out to be about library work but I'll do my best to bring it around.

I've always had a sense of urgency about my life. Whether it was schoolwork, deadlines at the various jobs I've worked, learning a new piece of music, there was always a push to finish, and to finish well.  Part of that I will happily blame on my summer of Youth Conservation Corps in 1976, when I traveled to Michigan's Upper Peninsula--specifically, the University of Michigan forestry camp (Camp Filibert Roth), near Iron River, in the Ottawa National Forest.  It was there that I acquired an almost rabid desire to work hard and finish well, whether we were constructing hiking trails, pruning pine trees, or competing in the Conclave at the end of the summer. That tenacity has paid off handsomely in my adult life--not in terms of financial wizardry (Heh! I wish!), but in earning the admiration and respect of coworkers and musical associates.  In the words of one conductor (who wishes I didn't always play so loud), "(I) leave it all on the court".

Which comes around to not only my current job but the current situation with my daughter.  She's a senior, looking to go to college next fall, specifically music school.  She's a talented young lady, and when she wants something bad enough, she'll work for it.  What's monumentally frustrating for me is that 1) she frankly doesn't rise to the occasion nearly as often as she should, 2) she doesn't ask me for help (I have two degrees in Music and can make things a LOT easier for her), and 3) as a result, she doesn't look as good on paper as she should.

You may find it cold-hearted of me to describe my own daughter in this way, and I've said many times to different people that I make Simon Cowell look like a cast member of Up With People when it comes to being cynical about people who sing.  I recognize her talent.  Compared to where I was in high school, she's a hundred times further ahead in terms of developing her musical gifts and talents.  I really feel like she started with more than I did and I have done my best to be supportive--and I've had a tough time letting go, but I don't feel that this is the time to do that just yet. I feel like I have to keep pushing until all those applications and sign-ups are done. She did the Common Application but not all of her schools use that, and it's maddening to not see any action from her (or evidence thereof).

Right now she's waiting for answers from schools to which she's applied--and I've resorted to getting her mother to ask her about applications and audition sign-ups.  She has deadlines to meet. She's already missed two major schools and she's in serious danger of missing others. I'm about to hang a shingle out saying I'm a dentist, because it's like pulling teeth to get any answers out of her. 

If she goes to a Rowan or NJCU or even IUP I should be happy (West Chester, Temple, or Western Michigan would be better), but it is FRUSTRATING beyond belief to see no action and hear no reports. Does every parent of a senior go through this, feeling the strain, wanting to scream?

She's at PMEA District Choir today and tomorrow. Saturday we start all this again. Onward.

*--John Mayer, Heavier Things, 2003.

PS: So I didn't bring it around to the Library Science world. To paraphrase Emeril Lagasse, "get your own blog".

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Same Old Auld Lang Syne, chapter three*


This is an excerpt from our 2017 Family Christmas letter. It's been edited for length.

So I was out of work from my job at the Free Library of Philadelphia as of mid-October, and spent the next four weeks seeking a new position.  I had phone interviews with the University of Alabama, a public library in Willow Grove PA, and with the institution that eventually hired me, Lincoln University, near Oxford, Chester County, PA. It’s an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), the oldest such institution in existence, and counts Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall among its alumni. Like many other HBCU’s, they struggle with dwindling enrollment and the resulting baggage, but as I told the committee in my on-campus interview, the students at LU are no less in need of the information they need to realize their hopes and dreams than their peers at other institutions, whether it involves formatting a research paper, finding that essential article, or figuring out the answer to a complicated question.

My official title is “part-time reference librarian and special collections assistant” so in addition to helping solve educational issues, I help the university community (as well as outside concerns like CNN) with their research on the history of LU. My current project involves organizing old phonograph recordings that belonged to the LU radio station, WWLU, with the goal of making the collection searchable online, and possibly allowing a portion of it to circulate.  There’s an astonishing variety to this collection; in addition to LP’s, we have a few 45’s and even some 78’s of jazz and classical works.  There’s a significant number of Gospel recordings—including a couple by Tammy Fae Bakker—and a LOT of promotional recordings. I’m keeping a daily log of my work, and will have student workers do the same when they return. Will I publish? Stay tuned… 

*--Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age, 1981.