main: November 2004 Archives

This article by Mel Gilles is the most solid advice for the Democrats and the Democratic party I've seen.

November 30, 2004 10:42 AM | |
The music classroom of the future, they say, will possess a computer on which the professor can scroll through a menu and select any significant piece from the history of music, click on it, and have it immediately heard over the classroom sound system. I forget who “they” are, or where I heard or read this, or who was supposed to upload the utopian CD collection, nor do I yet know of anyone living in this fantasy world. The technology is there and would be easy to install, but my department isn’t putting the money into it yet, nor is anyone else’s I know.

But, taking matters into my own hands, I’ve come as close to it as anyone I know of. For my birthday (which I share with Coleman Hawkins, composer Judith Shatin, Rene Magritte, Bjork, Goldie Hawn, Marlo Thomas, and Voltaire, you could look it up) my parents bought me (I was very specific in my request, and went through my tech-literate brother) a 250-gigabyte external hard drive. (I’ll give the commercial: the brand is Maxtor, and it’s really sturdy-looking.) The device advertises the capacity to hold 4100-plus hours of music MP3s, and I’m putting it to the test. As of this writing I’ve filled 13 GB with more than 1400 tracks, trying to think of every piece I’ve ever used in class or even mentioned to a student. This is going to be the iPod from hell, and I’m planning to carry it into class knowing that there’s no piece I could possibly want to play that isn’t on it. I’ve loaded it with all the Mahler symphonies, the last seven Bruckner symphonies, the last four Sibelius symphonies, the complete Berwald symphonies (don’t ask), most of Haydn’s symphonies, the complete Nancarrow player piano pieces, all of La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano, two of Sorabji’s complete works including the four-hour Opus Clavicembalisticum, the complete Beethoven sonatas, the complete Mozart Piano concerti, most of the Brahms piano music, the complete Hummel sonatas, all the available Dussek sonatas, lots of Josquin, most of Stravinsky, lots of Cage, and so on and so on. It will be my push-button repertoire machine. I’ve already tried it out - a major-minor motive in the Brahms first concerto reminded me of a similar moment in a Mahler symphony, and I played the beginnings of several movements before getting the one I wanted, the fourth movement of the Mahler Seventh. For years I’ve walked into class fumbling a tall stack of compact discs. Now I walk in with my laptop and Maxtor hard drive, and play anything from my CD collection I can think of.

The question is, of course, given 4100 hours of music storage space, what do you select? (Afterthought: I guess for people whose CD/vinyl collection doesn't reach the five-digit range, this wouldn't sound like a pressing concern.) Having copied more than 200 hours of music and only filled five percent of the disc, it’s not really an issue yet, but it will be. This is not a complete classical repertoire disc. There are composers I never refer to. I don’t see any reason to include Dvorak or Puccini, and I never mention Tchaikovsky in any flattering way. I play Mozart’s concerti and operas, but rarely his sonatas and never his symphonies. The name Verdi, though respected, goes unheard in my classroom. On the other hand, less new (postclassical) music has gone on the drive than you’d expect - as much as I love their musics, I don’t often get a chance to talk about John Luther Adams or Beth Anderson. It’s kind of a very generous desert island problem, preparing not the playlist that I’d want to listen to the rest of my life (though that inevitably goes into it), but what I can use to point out interesting things to students. And in case I want to play The Well-Tuned Piano or Feldman’s six-hour Second String Quartet, I have the luxury (if that is the proper word) or doing so without having to change CDs.

And so once again I spend dozens of hours changing formats for my recording collection: in youth I taped records on cassettes, in the ‘80s I bought compact discs to replace vinyl records, in recent years I transferred cassettes and vinyl to CDRs, and now I’m putting all of those onto one mega-drive. A composer friend of mine has gotten rid of her CDs altogether, after storing all of them on a similar hard drive. I worry that the entire culture is gleefully relinquishing something in terms of audio fidelity by settling for MP3s; if a new, more audiophile format emerges, I will doubtless spend yet more hours transferring once again. I’m not selling any CDs, because (as a frequent writer of liner-notes myself, after all) I need and enjoy the packaging. A colleague to whom I showed off my hard drive innocently asked whose recordings of the Mahler symphonies I selected, and I struggled to remember, with only partial success. With every transfer, it seems, something is gained, something is lost, and access to contextual information always seems to decline.

In the current climate, of course, an additional advantage forces its way to mind. In case the Bush administration succeeds in equating liberals with terrorists and outlawing them (which they certainly give every impression that they’d love to do), I may need to escape over the border to Montreal in a hurry. In that exigency, the Maxtor 250-GB offers a respectable fraction of my CD collection that I can carry in my briefcase when I’m forced to leave everything else behind. In the meantime, my teaching may be considerably enriched.

November 28, 2004 6:29 PM | |
Having just had performances in San Francisco and Berkeley, I then had one in Seattle, and have one coming up in Pasadena on November 19. I meant to tell you about the one in Seattle, but I thought it was on Nov. 17 and I just noticed that it was Nov. 12. Anyway, the Seattle Chamber Players played a one-minute quartet that they asked me to write, in a series of such brief works to celebrate their 15th anniversary. So I decided the piece should be in four movements, and called it Minute Symphony. I haven’t heard how it went. Anyone hear it?

The Pasadena performance is this Friday. The ensembleGREEN kindly asked me for an instrumental arrangement of my sampler piece So Many Little Dyings, based on a Kenneth Patchen poem. The result will be performed Friday night at 8 PM, at the Neighborhood Church Chapel, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, CA. Here’s the program:

Arthur Jarvinen: DLL Canon (1993)
Mary Lou Newmark: Identity Matrix (2003)
Arthur Jarvinen: Brahms (1979)
Bruno Louchouarn: Flux (1999)
Henry Rasof: Witchita Falls 1
Frederick Rzewski: The Waves (1988)
Tom Johnson: Swena Lena (1976)
Philip Glass: “KneePlay2” from Einstein on the Beach (1975)
Tom Johnson: WoloYolo (1976)
Kyle Gann: So Many Little Dyings (1994)

I won’t be there, but let me know if you are. It all reinforces my feeling that I'm a West Coast composer trapped in the body of an East Coast composer.

November 15, 2004 11:27 PM | |
This is too good not to spread around. I found it here first, but it's scattered around the internet:

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack, or count himself lost. His one aim is to disarm suspicion, to arouse confidence in his orthodoxy, to avoid challenge. If he is a man of convictions, of enthusiasm, or self-respect, it is cruelly hard…

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even a mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second or third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts' desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

—H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

November 14, 2004 6:35 PM | |
After a short hiatus, I’ ve finally gotten back to working on Postclassic Radio, and there are new pieces up by Linda Catlin Smith, Nicolas Collins, Molly Thompson, Paul Bailey, Joseph Koykkar, Dave Smith, Paul Dresher, and others. There was an article in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday, Nov. 7, about my station and Robin Cox’s Iridian Radio, due to our both winning the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. I couldn’t access the article without subscribing, but author Chris Pasles kindly sent me a PDF of it, and Cox e-mailed me the text. It quotes us as follows:

For Cox, the reason to start a station was simple: He couldn't find the music he wanted to hear on the radio.

"For all the possibilities that the Internet may provide, what was actually out there was still very much what you would hear over the airwaves much of the time," he said. "The best you could hope for was a John Adams piece squashed between early 20th century works.

"I'm putting what I consider the essentials out there. It's been a good exercise going through all the music I love and picking out the desert island discs I feel most strongly about."

Cox plays music by not only Adams but the Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson. He bills it as "music that's smart but still warm to the ears," and he has a playlist of more than 100 pieces.

For Gann, the issue is more serious.

"When I was younger, classical radio was the way I discovered a lot of new music," he said. "It was extremely important. Today, you can't turn on the radio and hear any of this stuff."

What he and Cox do, he said, "points out the utter emptiness of most radio and most classical radio. Certainly, it points out how much better a job can be done on anything when commercial considerations are taken out of the picture."

Long Beach composer Carolyn Bremer agrees. She considers both stations "extraordinarily important because they are giving voice to a niche in music that generally requires a lot of work to find. If this multiplied, it would be the best thing that ever happened."

Well, I guess there are some even better things that I can imagine happening - world peace, perhaps - but I appreciate the sentiment. A friend commented that what he likes about the stations is that they are curated. There are ways to get on the internet and hear music by a hundred random self-promoting composers, and that's great too - but sometimes, to get a more contextual and less splintered sense of the scene, you need to hear someone’s personal vision of the best of what’s going on.

Meanwhile, it’s been difficult to write about music or even think about it. In classes, for the first post-election week, I would start to teach, and end up just standing there, wondering if the guys in the class would be trudging through the deserts of Iraq carrying rifles in a year’s time; or if in 20 years they’d be living in caves somewhere, trying to escape the disasters of out-of-control climate changes that happened because the U.S. did nothing. What good would it do them to know how many ways Wagner came up with to resolve the Tristan chord? But I also think of the woman Alfred Brendel (I believe) wrote about, who survived the German concentration camps because she had all the Beethoven string quartets memorized and kept running through them in her head. Music is a survival mechanism, and we’ll need all the mechanisms we can get.

You’ve all seen it by now, but I’ve been kind of mesmerized by the Sorry web site, all those thousands of people speaking for the six billion willing to stand up against the 59 million American bigots and Jesus freaks who want to keep spreading hate in the world. (The Christian Right doesn’t want to be called the Christian Right anymore, so the old term Jesus freaks, which seems more appropriate than ever, should do just fine.) I like to think that Postclassic Radio is somewhat of a musical analog to Sorry Everybody, a survey of people who don’t want to cling anymore to the bad old ways of thinking, who’ve evolved beyond the need for pissing contests, musical, military, religious, and otherwise. No wonder the Jesus freaks don’t want evolution taught in the schools: as the man says, if evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve. At Sorry you can see thousands of the people who’ve evolved, and at Postclassic Radio and Iridian Radio, you can hear some of them.

November 14, 2004 2:26 PM | |
If you find profanity offensive, you will not enjoy the message to our Southern brethren at, but I find it heartwarming, which I suppose completes my transformation into a Northeastern liberal.

November 10, 2004 8:25 AM | |
Young composer Keith Corbin has written a rather nice Elegy for America, inspired by what he correctly calls the horrible catastrophe of November 2, 2004: "59,459,765 Americans said that they favor a policy of Violence over Peace, Intolerance over Justice, Large Corporations over Economic Sanity, and Fear over Freedom and Liberty." You can hear an mp3 of the MIDI version of Corbin's piece, based on a funereal variation of our national anthem. One thinks of Charles Ives's song "An Election: Nov. 2, 1920," lamenting the country's similarly cynical and ill-motivated election of another nobody, Warren G. Harding. Is November 2 a particularly inauspicious day to hold elections?

November 9, 2004 7:42 AM | |
On November 3, the day after the election, 250 Bard College students staged a peaceful protest in the neighboring village of Red Hook. They sat down in the street in the town's sole intersection, delayed traffic, attracted curious onlookers and a few insults, and left. That was it. Somehow the event came to the attention of the Kingston police force in neighboring Ulster county, across the river. Thirty Kingston police came to escort the students away. Twelve students were walking back to campus together, when one stepped over the white line on the curb. That was the signal for the 30 cops to jump out of their cars and begin beating the 12 defenseless students. One girl, upset by the violence, fell to the ground and a cop put his boot on her neck. Three students were charged with resisting arrest - one for putting his hand on the arm of a cop who was beating another student. One student ended up in the hospital with a concussion, others were bloodied and bruised. The local press claims that the students provoked the police, in direct contradiction to descriptions by adult witnesses present who are connected with the college. And this is in the relatively liberal enclave of Red Hook, NY. The coming police state has begun, and the only thing that keeps me from anticipating another Kent State is the fact that riot police use rubber bullets these days - I think.

November 8, 2004 10:47 PM | |
Composer Lawrence Dillon, grad and former faculty of Juilliard but now living and teaching in North Carolina, cries out for the 25 million red-staters who voted for Kerry and sanity:

Don't you think we've been depressed enough this week without taking all the blame for Bush's resounding victory? And how do you feel about the 2.8 million New Yorkers who voted for Bush -- more than in North Carolina and Arizona combined? What exactly is their excuse for being so stupid?

On the night of November 3rd [with my North Carolina colleagues] all anyone could talk about was how depressed they were, how hard they had worked in support of a losing cause, how completely stunned they were by the results. We had no idea that the next few days would bring about a situation in which every Dem in a state that scored 50% or more for Kerry would call us arrogant assholes for living in states where we represent something less than that magic 50% figure....

Kerry got 52% of New Jersey, 44% of North Carolina. That's the difference between a majority and a minority, but it sure as hell isn't the difference between enlightenment and ignorance.

Granted, and if it weren't for the dumb electoral college, we wouldn't be talking that way. I understand the logic of the electoral college, but more and more it seems like a relic of the day when state's rights were an important political issue, when the people of Virginia had more in common with each other than Richmond did with Philadelphia, which is no longer the case. I've got cousins in Waco, Texas, medical doctors, who are just as horrified by Bush as I am. As for those 2.8 million New Yorkers, I suspect a lot of those are not so much stupid, just the fabulously wealthy voting their... short-term, perhaps,,, economic interests.

So here's some sympathy and gratitude to the 25 million out there trying to talk sense into the bigoted and uneducated. I do too easily appreciate living in a precinct that voted for Kerry more than 6-to-1, where I can say anything I want about Bush and get only smiles and nods in return, and if my performance this past weekend had been any place less liberal than Berkeley, I would have cancelled. If I lived in a red state right now, I'd be in the hospital recovering from all the fist fights I'd started. I'm so pissed off at the religious right that I'm ready to marry another man, and I'm not even gay.

November 8, 2004 10:06 AM | |
This concession speech by Adam Felber seems to me to strike exactly the kind of conciliatory tone we should take toward our mighty red-state conquerors. You should read the whole thing, but I'll provide my favorite excerpt here:

There are some who would say that I sound bitter, that now is the time for healing, to bring the nation together. Let me tell you a little story. Last night, I watched the returns come in with some friends here in Los Angeles. As the night progressed, people began to talk half-seriously about secession, a red state / blue state split. The reasoning was this: We in blue states produce the vast majority of the wealth in this country and pay the most taxes, and you in the red states receive the majority of the money from those taxes while complaining about 'em. We in the blue states are the only ones who've been attacked by foreign terrorists, yet you in the red states are gung ho to fight a war in our name. We in the blue states produce the entertainment that you consume so greedily each day, while you in the red states show open disdain for us and our values. Blue state civilians are the actual victims and targets of the war on terror, while red state civilians are the ones standing behind us and yelling "Oh, yeah!? Bring it on!"

More than 40% of you Bush voters still believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. I'm impressed by that, truly I am. Your sons and daughters who might die in this war know it's not true, the people in the urban centers where al Qaeda wants to attack know it's not true, but those of you who are at practically no risk believe this easy lie because you can. As part of my concession speech, let me say that I really envy that luxury. I concede that.

Healing? We, the people at risk from terrorists, the people who subsidize you, the people who speak in glowing and respectful terms about the heartland of America while that heartland insults and excoriates us... we wanted some healing. We spoke loud and clear. And you refused to give it to us, largely because of your high moral values. You knew better: America doesn't need its allies, doesn't need to share the burden, doesn't need to unite the world, doesn't need to provide for its future. Hell no. Not when it's got a human shield of pointy-headed, atheistic, unconfrontational breadwinners who are willing to pay the bills and play nice in the vain hope of winning a vote that we can never have. Because we're "morally inferior," I suppose, we are supposed to respect your values while you insult ours. And the big joke here is that for 20 years, we've done just that.

Healing, yeah. Bend over.

November 6, 2004 4:59 AM | |
I’m writing about politics now not because I believe I know more about it than anyone else, but because after November 2 - an even darker day for America than September 11* (better 3000 Americans killed than 59,000,000 voting their approval to genocide and sexual torture) - I couldn’t find anything on the internet to make me feel better. For many hours there was just nothing, then the articles started rolling in, predictably, by Democrats blaming themselves. The Repugs eat this up, that every time they cream us we act like it’s our own fault. I refuse to play into it. We can discuss strategy and what to do next time, but before we take the slightest iota of blame on ourselves, let’s be very clear about one thing: anyone who thinks it’s a bigger crime for two men to get married than to invade a country and kill 100,000 of its citizens to get its oil is just SICK. Sick, sick, sick. We can later get really cynical and figure out how to attract sick voters, but bewail how we failed to reach high enough moral ground? Puhleeeeeeeeeeeze.

So I’m trying to throw out some tidbits to comfort the sane and thoroughly depressed. Including a couple of poems, the first by Mikhail Horowitz of Bard College’s publications office, cleverly based on the all-too-familiar letters of its subject:


Betrayal! United States has
Been usurped, stolen, hustled
By ugly shrub! He
Bamboozles us, sets his
Battalions upon Saddam Hussein
But undermines social health
By unhappily sanctifying Homeland
(Bullshittin' us?) Security. His
Bromidic, unintelligible speech hides,
Barely, undiluted slyness; he'd
Bomb Utopia, serving his
Beastly, ultrafascistic Satan. He's
Bellicose, unbalanced, shameless; he's
Breaking Uncle Sam's heart.
Brothers, unite! Sisters, help!
Band up! Stop him!

- Mikhail Horowitz

And on a calmer, more thoughtful note, one sent to me for consolation by composer John Luther Adams, from the poet John Haines, who wrote it before the 2000 election:

The Last Election

Suppose there are no returns,
and the candidates, one
by one, drop off in the polls,
as the voters turn away,
each to his inner persuasion.

The frontrunners, the dark horses,
begin to look elsewhere,
and even the President admits
he has nothing new to say;
it is best to be silent now.

No more conventions, no donors,
no more hats in the ring;
no ghost-written speeches,
no promises we always knew
were never meant to be kept.

And something like the truth,
or what we knew by that name-
that for which no corporate
sponsor was ever offered -
takes hold in the public mind.

Each subdued and thoughtful
citizen closes his door, turns
off the news. He opens a book,
speaks quietly to his children,
begins to live once more.

– John Haines

*A friend warns that I'll be jumped on for this comment, but it's based on a moral principle that I, an acknowledged liberal, believe in: that the evil a person does is more damaging to that person than the evil that is done to him. Terrorists can hit us and we can still hold our heads up high in the world, but if we perpetrate the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, I insist that we no longer can. In fact, I think that our national willingness to commit any crime, ignore any moral law, sweep aside any international treaty, rather than risk another 9-11 is an unparalleled example of national cowardice. If you disagree, then of course 9-11-01 will seem like a much worse day than 11-2-04, and maybe you sleep better than I do.

November 5, 2004 4:27 AM | |
One thing I’m not going to do is take part in the Democrat circular firing squad, wringing my hands about what wasn’t done, or where we went wrong, why our message didn’t get across. Why not? Because I’m from Texas. Unlike most of my New York friends, I don't have to give red-staters the benefit of the doubt. I was raised devoutly in the Southern Baptist Church - in fact, First Baptist of Dallas, the south’s largest Baptist church, and the one Billy Graham belonged to. I know these people who voted for Bush. Some of them are bullies. Some are outrageous hypocrites, girls who would savage each other’s reputations and then get up in front of the choir and give the most sincere-sounding pious homilies. Many use their so-called Christian “faith” as an excuse to assume their own infallibility and never examine their own motives - just like W. When I was 15 I was taken to a week-long convocation, in a huge stadium filled with believers, called the Bill Gothard Seminar. Gothard was a charismatic guy who preached that the Christian life consisted of sound business practices, and that if you lived it, God would make you rich - in fact, you could tell who was really godly, because by the logic of the belief, they had the most money. I was thoughtful enough at 15, and familiar enough with what Christ was actually quoted as saying, to be somewhat horrified by this as it sunk in.

One of the things I’m most ashamed of in my life is something I did for the Church. The First Baptist Church of Dallas grouped us choir members in pairs and sent us out on the streets to proselytize. We were handed sheets of questions, and instructed to tell passersby that we were conducting a survey. So the nice people would stop to be helpful by answering our questions, and we would gradually lead up to trying to convert them, getting them to pray there on the street and dedicate their life to Christ. It was really embarrassing - lying to strangers as instructed to by the church. Bait ‘n’ switch is a perfectly acceptable strategy to the Southern Baptist Church - no wonder W. doesn’t understand why anyone should object to it. The absolute desirability of the end always justified any means, no matter how dishonest, which is exactly the pathology we see in the White House today.

My break with the church came in several stages. One turning point came in 1976, when I came home from college, went to First Baptist, and the pastor Wally Amos Criswell instructed the congregation not to vote for Jimmy Carter, who was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, but the Republican Gerald Ford. Another was a few years later when NBC aired a made-for-TV movie called The Day After, about the speculative aftermath of a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Fundamentalist church groups protested the movie on the grounds that it might scare away Americans from continuing the massive nuclear buildup we'd need for Armageddon. That's when I realized that the church wasn't merely a harmless anachronism, but the actual enemy.

Of course, only 64 percent of Texans voted for Bush, and you can’t tar every resident there with the same brush. But the state is populated by enough smarmy, dishonest, arrogant, bullying, jingoistic, homophobic, bigoted people that I’m not going to flagellate myself wondering why they didn’t go for someone as noble, introspective, intelligent, and fair as John Kerry. They went for the arrogant asshole created in their own image. No broader theme, no simpler message, no more quotidian concerns would have ever won those people over - it would have taken an army of psychotherapists, some straitjackets, and a few cattle prods.

And so it really pissed me off tonight when I’m sitting here listening to WAMC, our local NPR station, in hopes of some comfort, and some guy starts lecturing Democrats on how Bush won because he had a “moral vision,” and the Democrats didn’t come up with any “moral vision.” What moral vision? Invading a country that posed no threat, and killing 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children? Outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent for revenge on her husband? Sneaking around the Geneva Convention to torture and sexually humiliate Iraqis randomly dragged in off the street? Stripping people of their civil rights to spy on them? Suppressing minority votes? Lying to destroy the reputations of war heroes? Raping the environment? Well, I don’t know if you’d call it a moral vision, but it’s certainly the Baptist Church I recognize from my youth. And while I admittedly wish Kerry were going to be president, I feel better knowing that my liberal friends in New York and I occupied the moral high ground in this election, than if we had sunk to Bush’s level to win. We had our own moral vision, which genocide, election-stealing, and lying played no part in.

Sorry, my European friends, this is no aberration: you’re just finally seeing the real America, or at least half of it. People steeped in a warped religion prefer the warped guy, and the unscrupulous rich do the rest. Maybe Clinton won because Bush 41 and Dole weren't warped enough, and Clinton looked like enough of a good ol' boy to maybe be a little warped underneath. What were we supposed to do this time, convince them that Kerry is more warped than he looks?

UPDATE: Here's an article by someone at who agrees with me about the "heartland."

November 3, 2004 11:13 PM | |
I’m hearing whispers in blog forum conversations that the exit poll percentages match the final vote percentages in areas where voting took place with a paper trail, and do not match in areas where voting was done on paperless electronic machines. I can’t yet find any hard numbers or analysis, but it’s early, and people were up late last night. I certainly hope it’s true, because I am reluctant to think that 58,000,000 hateful bigots whom I am obliged to call my countrymen decided to proclaim to the world that the torture at Abu Ghraib was acceptable; that killing 100,000 Iraqis, most of them innocent women and children, was a good policy; that there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. unilaterally imposing its will on the rest of the world; that a political party that systematically works to disenfranchise minority voters deserves to be voted for; that it’s fine to destroy the world’s environment in order to make a few phenomenally wealthy white men even richer; and that Americans no longer possess the “decent respect for the opinions of mankind” that Thomas Jefferson once assumed. The more of those votes that turn out to have been supplied by Diebold, the better I’ll feel about my country.

We’ve fought the bastards for four years, and we’ll fight them for the next four - not only the unscrupulous politicians, but the 58,000,000 minus: the greedy corporations, the America-right-or-wrong bigots, and their hateful, lying, homophobic churches. I’ve been criticized for turning a music blog political, but every vote for Republicans is a vote for increased corporate power, and every increase in corporate control tramples the living creative arts further underfoot. You can’t have a healthy artistic scene in this fascist climate. The Bushites will learn that we do not flip-flop.

UPDATE: Apparently the buzz-du-jour on the TV stations (and I don't get TV, which is one of the nicer things about my life) is all the talking heads' surprised bemusement about how wrong all the Florida and Ohio exit polls turned out to be. Why it just discredits the whole idea of exit polls, doesn't it?

Sort of like Florida four years ago, when the exit polls said Gore, and the votes said Bush. Hmmm....

Anyone thinking about it yet?

November 3, 2004 9:50 AM | |
Allow me to scoop all other publications with the results in my home precinct, the Barrytown section of Red Hook, New York:

Kerry/Edwards 522
Bush/Cheney 82
Nader/Camejo 20

Four years ago it was something like:

Gore 243
Bush 80
Nader 160

Indicates something about how far Nader has descended in the collegiate milieu.

November 2, 2004 10:27 PM | |
For my last theory class prior to election day, I took the subtle precaution of teaching a hymn whose words (and also harmonies, as I needed a minor-key piece with a homophonic texture, and they’re rare) were appropriate to this particular election week, Be Glad Then, America, by our founding national composer William Billings (1746-1800):

Darkness and clouds of awful shade
Hang pendant by a slender thread,
Waiting commission from God the upholder to fall,
Fall, fall, and distress us.

Great God, avert th’impending doom,
We plead no merit of our own.
For mercy, Lord, we cry.

Bow down thine ear to our complaints,
And hear from heav’n thou king of saints,
O let thine aid be nigh.

Still, I’m optimistic.

November 2, 2004 9:44 AM | |
The votes are in: in my criticism class, I mean. I have two kinds of student writers. One kind is very good at style and atmosphere. They can talk about music in relation to their lives, tell how certain songs make them feel, relate their likes and dislikes. The other type knows musical terminology, and can describe music in intelligent detail. The first type of writer is entertaining to read, but ultimately merely subjective; the second is more persuasive, but a little dry and lacking in color and emotive effect. Almost none can yet combine the best of both worlds. The first type are almost all pop music aficionados; the second type tend to be classical and jazz musicians.

The big question for me is, is this an inevitable correlation? Are pop-music preferences necessarily subjective, or could they, given the criteria of a certain genre, be grounded in objective distinctions? Can one prove, if only on paper, song by song, that the Beatles were better than the Stones, or vice versa? What I sometimes love about the subjective pop style is its sense of how important music is to listeners. They really love the stuff, it’s crucial to their sense of self-identification. The classical/jazz people are better at proving they know what they’re talking about, but less good at making the music sound important to them. There is a rather obvious correlation here to the music business in general. Pop music accounts for something like 94 percent of all CD sales, classical and jazz for about 3 percent each - or at least, that was the case a few years ago. If classical and jazz writers worked harder at identifying with the music, making it sound life-consuming and identity-defining (as, God knows, it generally is), could those percentages improve? Do classical music and jazz stay under the radar because they inspire a technical, specialist sensibility? or just because we talk about them that way?

Rose Rosengard Subotnik, a musicologist at Brown University, is the leading inheritor of Theodore Adorno’s musico-sociological methodologies, though she’s a lot less snobbish than he was. She’s written persuasively (and I’ve written a lot about her saying) that what “normal,” i.e. lay, listeners want in music is a reflection of their values, an externalization of the qualities they care about in the world. “What the public hears,” she wrote in her book Developing Variations, “is what is always heard, not autonomous structure, but the sensuous manifestation of particular cultural values.” One girl loves Guns ‘n’ Roses for their rebel attitude. Another loves Pearl Jam because their music helped her release the anger she felt as a teenager. They listen to the music, cling to it, wear T-shirts advertising it, because it crystalizes and thereby ratifies their inner feelings. Likewise, people who fancy themselves serious intellectuals listen to Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt, not because they understand the music necessarily, but because it reinforces their self-image.

Classical (and postclassical) music express personal values as well, if perhaps or perhaps not on a different plane, but we don’t talk about that as much. To take a work that’s been crucial to my own self-definition (so much so that I keep an MP3 of it on my computer): Roy Harris’s Third Symphony. When I write about it, I tend to emphasize Harris’s mastery of one-movement symphonic form (and less competent handling of multi-movement form), the way he can crescendo within a texture to the point of exploding into a different texture. That has to do with technical expertise, but not much to do with values. What I more secretly get from that work, which I consider music’s The Grapes of Wrath, is its vision of America as a thrilling tragedy, its epic sweep and nobility in disillusionment. It seems to embody the promise of America’s westward movement in mid-century (Harris’s parents were Okies who sought greener pastures in California), a glorification of activity and hard work, yet at the end a realization that, human nature being what it is, America’s promise of transcendence is fated to remain merely an elusive yearning. I get a sense from the Third Symphony that, even if humankind is not perfectible, one is ennobled by the struggle - and, perhaps even more, the piece’s broad orchestral strokes and suggestions of grand emptiness evoke a landscape that attracts me (more than, say, Copland's busily detailed urban rhythms).

We don’t talk about classical music this way much, and I’m not doing a very impressive job of it now. To do so sounds like an old-fashioned music appreciation text, in which Beethoven’s Fifth represents Fate knocking at the door. We're a little too embarrassed these days to write that the "Jupiter" Symphony gives listeners a sense of noble optimism, but that's probably what's most important about it for nonmusicians. Ultimately (and this is my nagging pedagogical point), I feel that criticism reaches its greatest strength in linking the objective and subjective, when it can point to specific moves in a piece of music and pinpoint their expressive power in inevitable subjective reactions. This takes some modicum of musical training, and also a quasi-naive recognition of what music expresses in its most visceral qualities. For a critic, or any musical commentator, to merely react to music’s energy on a naive emotional level is not enough - but it’s necessary, and an awful lot of musicians forget how to do it.

November 1, 2004 8:36 AM | |

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