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Monday, October 28, 2013

I Walk the Line*

"The title Icarus comes from the Greek myth involving an ambitious young man whose father, Daedalus, gives him a pair of

wings made of wax, wood and feathers. With this gift came the stern admonition from Daedalus not to venture too close to the sun, or the wax would melt and Icarus would fall. And of course, ignoring his father's warning, Icarus does indeed fly too high and comes crashing down.

"I saw the appropriateness of this myth as a metaphor for our time in America – particularly in the last 8 to 10 years. The striking resemblance between the behavior of Daedalus and Icarus to George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush is ironic, if not tragic.

"The story of Icarus also acts as a metaphor for the current state of American culture and its economy. The age-old myth warns all civilizations of arrogance and ignorance and most of all, the sometimes lethal combination of the two together."

– Richard Danielpour, 2009
The above is from program notes for a musical selection performed by The Western Winds, an ensemble of faculty and students of the Western Michigan University School of Music.  This was the opening to a concert that featured the same composer's An American Requiem,  which was dedicated to the victims of the events of September 11, 2001, performed by the WMU Symphony Orchestra and Grand Chorus. 
I scarcely know where to begin.
In the movie Amadeus, Emperor Joseph II warns young Mozart of the dangers of raising the ire of the establishment. I'm not denying Mr. Danielpour his free speech rights, no matter how misguided his statement are; rather, I question the wisdom of the WMU School of Music simply reprinting Mr. Danielpour's words and not coming up with original program notes.  I'm not certain how that works; perhaps permission to perform those works comes with the caveat of control over what is said about them.  For example, Irving Berlin (and later, his estate) was very particular about arrangements of his works, down to the typeface size on the cover. I could see if the work was a premiere, then the composer's words would literally be the last word (and the first).  But to leave them, unadorned, smacks of laziness.
When I was a music educator, one activity that gave me and endless source of bemusement was reading the descriptions of music for concert band in the JW Pepper catalog.  I think their writers must have received a bonus for using the phrase "exceptionally nice", but more to the point, people who are mass-producing band music have gotten into the habit of not only adding gimmicky sound effects into their music but then also explaining in great detail their symbolic significance.  To wit:  the "helicopter" in Robert W. Smith's "Inchon".  I had to constantly be on guard to not let my audience talks extend beyond the duration of the music being described, never mind the audience's tolerance for such talks.  One parent (and assume that there are thousands more) even saw fit to write to Instrumentalist Magazine about "the piece".  Pre-2000 music educators, especially band directors, will know what I mean.  The letter caused a ruckus, and alarmingly on both sides of the issue.  (In case you were wondering, I'm on the side of letting the music speak for itself).
But the fact that the WMU program notes passed muster seemingly without comment gives me pause. I'm not going to go so far as to call for a boycott; the School of Music did serve me well for a year and 9 months of my life when I earned my first master's degree. I will respectfully ask however, that people responsible for programming, especially those with terminal degrees, actually take the time to
WRITE YOUR OWN DAMN PROGRAM NOTES.
Onward.
*--Johnny Cash, 1956.

Friday, October 25, 2013

So Much To Say*

My brother married in 1988--five years before me.  I was an usher, along with one of his co-workers and a college friend of his, and it's something that college friend said that resonates even more strongly today.  We had been at the wedding rehearsal earlier that evening, and the Episcopal priest had been unflinching in his demand to do things a certain way, in spite of my soon-to-be sister-in-law's protests.  It had to do with the recessional, some picayune point, and the answer he gave smacked of "because I said so", as though we were children.

Later, while we were having a beer at a local watering hole, Tom held forth on what he thought of clergy, saying something to the effect of "people who don't get what they want in life become clergy so that people HAVE to listen to them", no matter how petty or fatuous their demands, no matter how self-serving their prayers and sermons. I have to confess that he made a lot of sense, and it applies to using social media responsibly.

I've seen people spout forth on topics across the spectrum--people who should know better--and exposing their intolerance of opinions veering more than a degree or two from theirs. I think I find that more aggravating than any puerile, ignorant rantings they might be spewing at a given point in time. 

1) I try not to say anything here I wouldn't say in person.
2) I try not to bash on individuals or groups without cause.
3) I generally don't name names, unless they're a public figure.
4) I don't get dramatic unless it's called for.  I'm not a fan of purple prose, but I AM a fan of Norman Maclean ("shorter by half").
5) People have the right to strenuously disagree with me.
6) I have the right to disagree in return.
7) Disagreement doesn't make the other party evil (I don't use the term "hater")--just different (with certain exceptions).
8)  By nature I am not a sound bite kind of person.  Weblogs are perfect for working out issues. 
9) I do wish more people would respond to my posts, and I think I've done my best to get the message out there, but I don't obsess over it.  It makes new responses all the more special.
10) As long as there are unbending old farts (or young ones) who give me a hard time in customer service, unjust situations in the world, or kids on my lawn, there will be fodder for this blog. Heh, heh...

51 days till graduation.  Onward.
Cheers.

*--Cedric Dent and Mervyn Warren for Take 6, So Much to Say, 1990


Friday, October 18, 2013

She's So Unusual*

Think back to your high school days--math class to be precise. There was one in my Algebra II class, and if you think hard enough you'll remember that person in your class too.  No offense to the feminine gender, but she was a girl.  Does this sound familiar?

1) "doesn't get the teacher's instructions"
2) asks 1000 seemingly vacuous questions, and repeats as many as possible.
3) bats her eyelashes at the teacher and any male student within her field of vision
4) asks male students for help
5) still doesn't get it
6) test day--outscores us all, freely making use of all the help we gave her.

Sound familiar, does it?

Well, she's still out there. She always will be.  And, my good fellow fellows, we will be like so many lambs to the slaughter and help her the next time she "doesn't get it". I'm kind of torn between being a teacher and assistant by upbringing and instinct, and putting up the "closed for business" sign, the next time she asks.

On the other hand, if you see yourself in this description, shame on you.

Cheers.  Onward.

*--Cyndi Lauper, 1989.



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

the way it is...*

I participated in our twice-annually professional development yesterday.  Out of 120 registered, it's safe to say that 80% of them were white, young or middle-aged women. Maybe10-12 women of color (mostly Asian), and the rest guys like me. Hardly what you'd call a diverse group, at least by the standards of conventional wisdom--but that's not why I'm posting today.

One of the sessions had to do with how a library employee treats patrons who are known to be or appear to be mentally disabled. As I've written here on several occasions, I am being treated for bipolar disorder and Parkinson's disease--not a pleasant combination by any stretch of the imagination.  I decided to sit and listen to what the Chester County crisis management team had to say.  I'm glad I did.

About 5 minutes before the presentation started,  one of the visiting librarians started to sit with her friends.  One of the two already seated said to the one joining, "guess what the topic is here?"

Pause...

"mental illness"

The woman stopped still, rolled her eyes, and repacked her things, with the remark,

"I work with those people all day",

in such a disparaging tone that there was no question about her opinion on the subject. She then (presumably) walked out of the room to attend another session, maybe a subject on which she wasn't an authority. As she was leaving, I asked her, out loud, which people she was referring to--twice.  She didn't hear me (or pretended not to) but I know her friends did; one turned towards me after I said it.

Now I didn't mention before that she was African American, working in a town (Coatesville, Pennsylvania)that had recently had a fiasco at the highest administrative level of their school district regarding racist texting that resulted in the superintendent and the high school athletic director no longer being employed by the school district.  I think it's fair to say, based on my own experience and observation, that if I'd made a major mistake like that in speaking of African Americans (referring to them as "those people"), she would have been on my case like flies on roadkill, and that I would not have a job.

Ever the gentleman I try to be, I sucked it up and listened, upset, through the presentation, listening to people basically admit that all their professional training didn't amount to a damn when it came to mentally disabled patrons. I contributed here and there but I stopped short of telling the assemblage about my condition. There's a lot of stupid people out there with antiquated, foolish ideas about mental illness.  What do I do to change hearts and minds?

I've got enough material for two additional posts in me right now, but classwork beckons, so I will close my post with this.

Coatesville Public Library staff, SHAME ON YOU.



*--Bruce  Hornsby and the Range, The Way It Is, 1986.