PhD Attained!

I am pleased to announce that last week—Wednesday, December 12 at 8:21pm—I completed the last hurdle between me and attaining a Doctorate of Philosophy in Music from UCSB!

  • The signatures have been given.

  • The forms have been filled out.

  • The fees have been paid.

  • The online surveys have been completed.

  • The dissertation is absolutely enough.

I feel so happy at bringing this monumental achievement to it’s conclusion! I’m thankful to all who have supported me in my journey and look forward to new horizons!

Boom! (I understand the pun, but it’s not in the best taste given the Procrustean Bed of proofreading that I just put into my dissertation.)

Boom! (I understand the pun, but it’s not in the best taste given the Procrustean Bed of proofreading that I just put into my dissertation.)

A Parent's Guide to 'A Young People's Guide to the Orchestra'

Perhaps you haven't heard... toddlers have some pretty strong opinions! Lately my two-year-old, Penny, has been weighing in on everything from who gets to screw on the lid of her water bottle (her), what we should eat for dinner (strawberries with yogurt), where we should go for an afternoon outing (Target), and who should sit in her car seat (me, but eventually her, but then she gets to put on the shoulder straps and buckle the top clasp no matter what!). It makes sense—her world is daily expanding through new experiences and experiments, which means this young person is in a state of continual boundary creation, testing, and maintenance. Sometimes all at once. No wonder she tries to up the number of bed time books to six!

Musical preferences are no less subject to the toddler's strong opinions. By and large my daughter's tastes tend toward "children's music": a fluid genre that includes, among other things, African American spirituals, nonsense songs, English Puritan nursery rhymes, anti-war songs by Pete Seeger, Japanese folk songs, and newly-composed works about everything from public transportation to families of ducks, and personal hygiene to lovable arctic aquatic mammals and their daily schedules. This music is characteristically catchy, repetitive, and singable (and on many occasions has miraculously deescalated tantrums during long car trips).

Penny playing impromptu side-table "drums" on clearance at Target, her favorite store in the world.

Penny playing impromptu side-table "drums" on clearance at Target, her favorite store in the world.

Penny feels much differently about "daddy music", by which I basically mean "classical" (though there's also a good mix of Gaelic EDM, Hungarian folk bands, and whatever freaky magic Matthias Loibner does with his magnificent Drehleier). Often the act of turning on flute fantasias by Telemann in the car results in a flurry of protestations from the back seat followed by heated negotiations. Indeed, "classical music" tends to be a hard sell for toddlers; very broadly speaking, the sort of musics that fall into this category tend to be long, developmental, enigmatic, and played on a wide range of old instruments.

This is not a post about the aesthetic merits or shortcomings of "children's music". It's also not about the "Mozart effect" and scientific or pseudoscientific arguments for guilting parents into playing more Eine kleine Nachtmusik. It's not even about how Raffi is somehow still recording and performing, and how his eponymous "Down by the Bay" is a song that maddeningly straddles realism and nonsense! This is a post about how I shared something I love with my two-year-old daughter, something that, because of a little parental participation, she has come to enjoy. Here's my guide for engaging your toddler with "classical music".

I started with a specific piece of music: A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra or as I call it in this post YPGO written by British composer Benjamin Britten in 1945. Despite the clear appeal to children in the title and Britten having written it on commission for educational purposes, it seems unlikely that my daughter would choose it over, say, Elizabeth Mitchell's "Little Bird". At face value, YPGO sounds "classically" complicated: it's a twenty-minute series of thirteen variations and a concluding fugue based on a rondeau by seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell written by a twentieth-century composer performed by a room filled with about twenty-five different types of acoustic instruments under the leadership of a stick-waving interpreter!! Sheesh... #canibeexcused

Take courage! What I discovered with Penny was that those very complications listed above which seem to discourage toddler (and sometimes adult) involvement are exactly those things which can hook the young person's interest. You could say that this piece of music has a lot going on. Rather than be intimidated by that, try to see that as the very point of the game. Here's how:

  1. Active Participation or Make it fun! The first thing to do is ditch the audience etiquette we associate with "classical music" concerts, namely, sitting silently in a darkened concert hall in detached cerebral contemplation waiting for the right moment to applaud. Rather stifling, even for adults. My solution is to hold off on the live concert experience and instead find a high-quality video of YPGO online to watch at home. This way you can interact with you child and the musical experience with as much enthusiasm as is necessary to keep things interesting. Penny sat on my lap, I opened a YouTube window, and these are the ideas that I kept in mind to actively participate with my daughter and the concert.
  2. Performative Listening or Use your eyes and say what you see! I developed this idea from teaching "Music Appreciation" to undergraduates at UCSB [link to post]. An orchestra is such a visual experience: bows gliding up and down, gleaming metal surfaces, dancing fingers, crashing cymbals, gesticulating conductor. It's well worth drawing attention to these things as the camera pans around the ensemble and focuses in on a particular section. These observations do not need to be particularly profound or insightful. Penny and I talked about how some instruments were big and some small, some performers had curly hair and some wore glasses, how some instruments were brown or silver or gold or black, and how some instruments are tucked under chins or held between legs or laid upon laps or held in front, etc. etc.
  3. Physical Mimicry or Use your eyes and do what you see! Who doesn't love to "air guitar"? #bohemianrhapsody Observations of how performers hold their different instruments easily morphs into a game of charades. All it really takes is for the parent to initiate by moving their hands and arms or with the use of a prop like a pencil or spoon. Moreover, the panning of the camera to different instruments will keep the game fresh and dynamic as you and your toddler quickly switch positions from sliding trombones to transverse flute to sawing violin to enthusiastic xylophone.
  4. Intuitive Listening or Use your ears and say what you hear! I also developed this idea from my collegiate teaching. The human auditory system comes prewired to detect even the smallest changes in sound. It's how we detect sarcasm in a person's speech patterns, the location of someone talking in a building, the presence of an ambulance. In the case of music, "classical music" in general is known for wide variation, often utilizing every shade of fast-slow, up-down, loud-quiet, happy-sad, etc. Once you notice a change (and in YPGO they are rather blatant) describe it using whatever words or phrases you can. It does not need to be technical. It can simply be descriptive. Or emotional. Or pictorial. The cool thing with watching a video of a concert is that often when there is an important change in the music the cameras will highlight the source of the sound giving a visual correspondence to an aural event. Here's some examples from my time with Penny:

"Wow, that sound was high like a bird!" [Camera focused on piccolo.]

"Those ones play very low because they are so big." [Group of double bassists.]

"They are going a lot faster now!" [Bows jerking up and down quickly.]

"Those ones play loud and strong!" [Group of brass players.]

"This part is very quiet. I wonder when it will get loud again." [String players motionless.]

"It's like they're swinging on a big swing!" [Clarinets alternately playing up and down.]

"I think it sounds like galloping horses." [Trumpets and snare drum clipping along.]

"I'm lost at this part. It sounds like lots of people whispering at the same time." [???]

That last example is extremely important. Whatever you do, don't make it seem like you are only participating in this experience because you have complete confidence in what's going on at all times. In fact, it's best if you aren't for the sake of your toddler. Sometimes the music will sound vague or overly-complicated and you will get lost. Own it! Show your toddler that it's ok to be lost. It's musical hide-and-seek! It's part of the game!

Below is the video I used with Penny. The music starts at 2:00 and they didn't get as good a shot of the percussion section in action as I would have liked, but besides that, I would highly recommend it! Good camera work, lots to see and hear, and very well played. If this one doesn't strike your fancy, find your own, for whatever reasons suit you.

My hope is that this approach to listening to "classical music" with a toddler sounds doable to any parent out there. You don't have to be a musicologist to do it. You don't even need to know the names of the instruments. Or the form of the piece. Or the socio-historical context of YPGO and its meaning for England at the close of WWII. All you need to do is actively participate with your toddler on a visually and aurally interesting journey. If you don't know the way, be attentive and courageous in the face of the unknown and point out all the things you notice. Show young people that life is full of wondrous and exciting things and that given a context of safety, curiosity, fun, and empathy, everyone is equipped to make something of it. #babysteps

Music 15: Teaching and Learning

This last week marks the last time in my UCSB graduate student career that I will teach "Music 15", more commonly known as "Music Appreciation". The concept of "Music Appreciation" has a long history that presents particular problems to twenty-first century graduate students and their undergraduate pupils. Around the beginning of the 1900s philharmonic orchestras in Europe and the US began to cater to wider audiences by offering pre-concert lectures aimed at giving unfamiliar listeners—children, lower-class workers, etc.—the active listening skills, musical nomenclature, and conceptual frames necessary for making sense of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Listz's Les Prèludes, and other "great" works by "great" composers. A good example of these efforts is the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, lovingly developed in the 20s by conductor/composer "Uncle" Ernest Schelling who used "PowerPoint" presentations done on illuminated glass slides, developed silly mnemonic devices to recognize themes ("This is the symphony that Schubert wrote and never finished..."), and made use of various props. (Interestingly, the early Soviet government initiated a massive Music Appreciation program to involve the proletariat in "high" art, even during the famine and winter of the Civil War following the October Revolution!)

"Uncle" Ernest Schelling (1876-1939) and his well-dressed dog. He seems to have the sense of humor necessary to appeal to an audience of children. I'd  love  to write a book on this guy and spend some time in the University of Maryland archive collection.

"Uncle" Ernest Schelling (1876-1939) and his well-dressed dog. He seems to have the sense of humor necessary to appeal to an audience of children. I'd love to write a book on this guy and spend some time in the University of Maryland archive collection.

A century later, we still have Music Appreciation, both as part of educational outreach at orchestras, such as the New York Phil, and as undergraduate courses at universities, such as UCSB. I have taught this class (which has a capacity of ~70 in the summer to ~450 per quarter during the school year) seven times as a teaching assistant and six times as the lecturer/associate. In the summer of 2015 I spearheaded the department's effort to revamp the course and I've been fine tuning it ever since in the hopes that it's future will be bright. Here are some of our pedagogical concerns and solutions.

  • Music + Culture: Often "Classical" music is touted as a timeless, universal music, which has tends to make it untouchable and unrelatable. It was important to put this music back into a historical and cultural context to show how musical choices had value for those making and consuming it. This approach speaks to me because context is one of the things that excites me about music, it was possible get away from historical teleology by making units based on cultural issues, and it allowed me to get away from canonical pieces and composers (I developed a Music and Childhood unit from sections of my dissertation).  
  • Four Ways of Listening: It wasn't enough to have students learn to recognize selected "masterpieces" by ear using terminology (eg. melisma, sonata form, pizzicato, Klangfarbenmelodie) that they could barely define, not to mention use in a cogent sentence. Not to say that critical listening isn't important, but it should be taught in a more holistic way, which I divided into:
  1. Technical/Intuitive Listening: The use of any technical language a student may have from exposure to music—there's always one kid who raises their hand and starts talking about cadential hemiolas!—but also encouraging students to make attempts to put words to what they hear the music doing in an intuitive sense—getting louder, speeding up, building in energy, getting confusing, playing a singable tune. All of those observations are an attempt to interact with the development in the music and it's vital to encourage the innate human ability to notice sonic changes. Specialized language can come later.
  2. Performative Listening: We always try to either do live demos or watch high quality videos. Noticing the performers and the audience—how they are placed, what they look like, how they're behaving, what they're playing—emphasizes the human agency of music, reveals cultural values, and adds visual interest to a sonic experience. (There's nothing quite like seeing a small bass drum player pounding away for the end of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony and have to leap upon his instrument in the end to mute the sound!)
  3. Extra-Musical Listening: Words, costumes, backdrops, stories, expressions, pyrotechnics! Some genres (opera, character pieces, tone poems) revel in the extra-musical combination of media. Other genres (absolute symphonies and chamber music) go out of their way to try to avoid these things. Noticing either stance gives us more insight into cultural values and context.
  4. Cultural Listening: This is the backbone of Music 15 as I taught it. I always tell my students that the stories we discuss are only part of the complex story, but also that knowing about the context of a piece provides a frame of reference that can change how you hear it. Palestrina's beautiful a cappella masses go hand in hand with Counter-Reformation views of Catholicism's role as spiritual orthodoxy. Berlioz's creepy finale makes sense in a context of Romanticism and gothic novels. Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositions mesh with the cultural disillusionment in the wake of WWI and the advent of composition as an academic discipline.
Conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) directed the NYPhil's Young Person's Concerts from 1958-72, which were broadcasted on TV. Iconic.

Conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) directed the NYPhil's Young Person's Concerts from 1958-72, which were broadcasted on TV. Iconic.

 Good luck Music 15! May future graduate students appreciate you (in all senses of that word).

I.L.L.-mortal Beloved

I know most people think that musicologists lead a charmed life, but hopefully this epistolary post will show the world some of the trials and tribulations that effect musicologists everywhere. 

28 May 2017, 11:28pm

I'm freaking out! Through no fault of my own, UCSB has put my library account on hold and blocked me from ordering I.L.L.s (Interlibrary Loans)—Just like that, I'm cut off! What about all my books? And the sheet music? No more photocopies from Munich or London?!

I have so many intense emotions right now, emotions that I believe are best expressed through the riveting lyrics and choreographic wizardry of "Makes Me I.L.L." by *NSYNC. Thanks to Jess Roy for giving voice to my pain (and for knowing all the lyrics by heart). "You can say I'm crazy if you want to / That's true, I'm crazy 'bout you / You could say that I'm breakin' down inside / 'Cause I can't see that my lending account is blocked for something I'm pretty sure is all your fault!"

#heartbreak #librarydrama #gradschool #snafu #bookwithdrawal #godhelpmeacceptthethingsicannotcontrol #labcoats

29 May 2017, 4:12am

Thanks to everyone for their support through this trying time. Your sincere concern is what keeps me going. I still haven't heard from I.L.L. Maybe because they're ignoring my constant texts and phone calls. Maybe because it's the middle of the night. Maybe because it's a holiday... who knows!?!?

Alissa "Aune" Aune alerted me to this song by Run-D.M.C. "You Be I.L.L.in'" which captures my state of mind as I grapple with the feelings that come as a result of the library having "left [me] standin' in [my] I.L.L.in' stance."

#wheresmyclosure #hatersgonnahate #buggin #dignifiedweeping #musicologistshavefeelings

29 May 2017, 1:32pm

Well, the folks at I.L.L. have finally contacted me... and things just keep getting worse! They say I didn't return the book before the due date and I say that I did! Can you believe it?!? But you know what? I'm going to decide to put a bold face on it. No more weeping over cereal in the kitchen in the middle of the night for me! I'm going to brave this new chapter in my life with all the heroism I can muster! That's why this Gaelic folksong feels so right: "'I.L.L.ean bithibh sunndach" enjoins Scottish immigrants to be happy as they sail across the ocean... leaving their beloved books, I mean, country behind... and to embrace their new adventure like...

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!

I can't do it!!!! Please I.L.L., check your stacks again! Don't send me to the metaphorical Canada of booklessness!

#acceptance #poiseinthefaceofadversity #gaidhlig #harsh #happymusicsadlyrics #afraidtocheckemail

31 May 2017, 9:31pm

Um... This is all quite embarrassing... It turns out I may in fact be responsible for this little I.L.L. snafu after all...

You see, I turned in a book by Sándor Balogh entitled Moldvai csángómagyar furulyás dallamok és énekek on May 26. The only problem is that that book wasn't due then. The one that was due was by Sándor Balogh entitled Moldvai hangszeres dallamok... Which I found on my shelf yesterday after the nice people at the library emailed me.

...

I blame the California public school system!! Yeah! If I had been given more quality instruction in Hungarian in my teens, this sort of thing wouldn't have happened! Come on Proposition 98! I thought you had my back!!

...

You know what? Enough finger pointing! This is silly. I accept the blame here. I also admit that I acted rather rashly the past couple of days. I said things to the UCSB library, terrible things. I only hope we can patch things up. We used to be so close. We used to have such great times. Remember all those books you lent me? And then how I returned them in a timely manner? Those were the days! I want to have that again! Here's a song to express my hope in a future with you: "I.L.L. Be There" by Jackson 5. "Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter / Togetherness, well it's all I'm after, / Just call my name, and I.L.L. be there."

#imsorry #givemeanotherchance #missinyou #songsaboututopianegalitarianism #outofexcuses #agoodhardlookinthemirror #hungarianflutemusic #beginningtohopeagain #agglutinativelanguagesarenojoke

I hope this story shines as a light to anyone who has gone through or is currently going through serious book withdrawal. Just take it one day at a time.

Good for Them, Not for Me

I've been told by several people throughout my schooling that excellence, be it studying for the SATs, performance on a musical instrument, or musicological research and writing, only comes at the expense of normal life. Should an academic make that mistake to get married, it shouldn't effect their study or career. Same goes with parenting. To be the Man of Steel (read: PhD) one needs a Fortress of Solitude (read: Ivory Tower) and nothing should impede your labor. There have been times when I've attempted to live this out. But I'm not very good at it. I won't give up on spending time (or even wasting time) with my wife or my daughter or other loved ones.

Don't misunderstand me! I've gone to school for 23 years. I've worked extremely hard. I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I'm excited by what's coming. But to some, I have not gone about this right. I haven't suffered enough. Or fretted enough. Or regretted enough. Or picked a boring enough dissertation topic. To them I will quote the great Amy Poehler: "Good for them, not for me."

To this end, I am letting go of my grand vision, The Mumford & Sons Project (for now). You may have noted a slight half-year hiatus in the this blog's writing, and the reason is that the M&S Project was meant to be a chill, low-stress sideshow that would give me relief from dissertating and parenting. Yet, in fitting Matthew Roy fashion, what it became was something that I found inspiring, interesting, complex, subtle, and deserving of intense thought, consideration, nuance, and footnotes. Not exactly a side project. And I have a toddler whom I love. And the dissertation sometimes feels like a toddler, whom I also love.

This blog also began to feel like it was another place to prove that I am an academic. (People, serious, scholarly people, may see my unpolished writing!) But it's not. It's a side project. In the future I will inevitably talk about scholarly things, because I truly enjoy investigating the world that way. I will also likely betray my penchant for jocularity and nerdiness. (If you doubt the scholarly as well as soulful importance of laughter, take a look at Mikhail Bakhtin's introduction to his study on Rabelais.) First and foremost, it will be an outlet. And I will perhaps begin to enjoy it once again.

Perhaps you will to!

One Moment to Breathe

Today a year ago my wife and I discovered that we were pregnant. Forty-some weeks after that Jess birthed our sweet, little wonder, Penelope, a healthy, feisty, strong infant with bright, blue eyes. In the three and a half months since we brought Penny home, Jess and I have been privy to a constant spectacle of discovery: smiles, car rides, lip-quivering cries of fear versus ear-splitting cries for attention. Jess and I are both more exhausted than we have ever been and we are grateful to those who have helped us and stood with us through this challenging, life-transforming time.

The Family with Penny in her (daddy's) favorite TMNT onesie. #wishihadone Photo probably by sister-in-law K8 Weber.

The Family with Penny in her (daddy's) favorite TMNT onesie. #wishihadone Photo probably by sister-in-law K8 Weber.

I am hoping to have some time this summer to write more often. Penny's arrival came at the very end of a year-long battle with COMPS, and actually overlapped with me creating and presenting a "Music Appreciation" course for a summer session at UCSB. There hasn't been much time. :)

Next time I will be continuing my coverage of my adventures in parenting by talking about music for infants. What is its purpose? What type of music is preferable?

See you then.

Comps!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I've passed my comps!

Hello, horizon! (John Bauer) Not sure if the Comps are the geese flying into the distance, the horse I'm riding, or the body-sized sword slung to my side!

Hello, horizon! (John Bauer) Not sure if the Comps are the geese flying into the distance, the horse I'm riding, or the body-sized sword slung to my side!

For those of you who don't know what this means, let me elaborate. "Comps" or "comprehensive examinations" (alternatively known as "compies", "the Thirteenth Labor", "cromps", or "the Grinding Ice of Helcaraxë") are a series of capstone tests in which the doctoral candidate demonstrates a level of mastery over their academic subject. I had been studying for this event for almost a year, refreshing my general music history knowledge, paying particular attention to five specialty topics for which I would need to have deep historical and scholarly knowledge: Counter-Reformation, French Opera (Lully to Revolution), Nineteenth-Century Character Pieces, Soviet Music (Revolution to Death of Stalin), and Genre. My comps were administered over the course of four days: I spent two days writing lengthy and detailed essays on my specialty topics (A Questions) and on general music history (B Questions); a third day was devoted to score identification where I had to use sheet music excerpts to make inferences on mystery pieces' style and history; and the last day, scheduled for the week after, consisted of an oral examination with my committee of three musicologists. All in all, about 19 hours worth of comptastic excitement!

Of course, every discipline and every institution has different methods for measuring and assessing said mastery, but once passed, the candidate is declared ABD, that is, a PhD in "All But Dissertation". It's a big deal. Having emerged victorious from this ordeal here are some thoughts on the process. Hopefully they may prove helpful, not just for those of us whose comps are yet on the horizon, but for anyone considering doing something intimidating, complicated, and absolutely worthwhile.
 

  • Seek Out Guidance and Support


The challenge I faced in comps not only concerned needing to establish the scope of my project early on, but to continually assess the project as it threatened to overflow its boundaries. Any progress I made inevitably expanded my horizons, a sensation simultaneously thrilling as it showed me exciting new paths yet to take, and mortifying as it emphasized how much further I had yet to go. The only way for me not to be derailed by the details or overwhelmed by the big picture was to seek out people who could guide and support me. Doing so requires admitting your confusion, fears, and limitations, a difficult exercise that turns an academic requirement into a stretching opportunity to mature on a variety of levels.

 

  • Be Careful Who You Talk To


Just as important as opening oneself up to others for help is the need to guard against negativity. With my mental constitution pushed to its absolute limit there were enough negative voices in my own head without adding outside influences. Whether they come from well-meaning but frightened people or from outright jerks (aka mean spirited and frightened people) these sorts of comments end up being nothing but distractions from doing your best.
 

  • Get Organized and Know Yourself


With all the moving parts that make up comps, a big part of my process involved figuring out how to organize myself and discovering how I work best. In these endeavors I found that it worked best to pick a method and roll with it. Some particulars included taking hand-written notes on lined paper, organizing my A Question notes in color-coded binders, writing out my reading assignments on a wall-sized calendar, and distilling authors onto notecards for quick reference. At the same time I would regularly assess the effectiveness of my workflow and make adjustments if I had gotten into a rut. My wife Jessica (an organizational goddess) and my colleague Luke (an insatiable optimist and pragmatist who was studying for his own comps at the same time) were essential in this regard.
 

  • Love It


In order to pass your comps you have to work very hard. It is difficult to conceptualize or evaluate the many hours that I've devoted to this monumental project over the past ten months; the strains that it has put on various aspects of my mental, personal, and social life; and the extent to which it pushed me further than I had ever been pushed before. While I definitely can't say that I enjoyed every minute of the process (my tailbone particularly disliked prolonged hours in uncomfortable chairs) comps have more than ever solidified my personal conviction that this is what I was made to do. Many of us have passions that seem crazy to others and it is in times of extreme testing that you might realize just how deep that passion goes.
 

  • Embrace Real-World Distraction


Doing something amazing and difficult naturally involves stress. It reminds you that you are growing. Yet throughout my comps process my wife occasionally marveled at my lack of completemental breakdown beneath the strain. I attribute this overall, foundational-level calm to a variety of factors, but I'd like to particularly mention the value of cultivating a perspective that sees beyond the present moment. Occasional reality checks grounded me and made me more excited and able to devote myself to studying. Just some of the most helpful distractions include:
 

  1. Pregnancy: It's hard to freak out about comps when my wife is due to deliver my first child a month after they're done! Birthing classes, breathing exercises, rearranging the house, setting up the crib, beach walks, driving my pregnant wife everywhere, attending baby showers... nothing gets you out of your own head as much as stepping up to fatherhood!
  2. Birthday: My wife planned a veritable extravaganza at our home for my thirtieth birthday which happened to fall on the weekend between the written and oral portions of my comps. Friends, family, food, twinkle-lights, a Costco cake bigger than my head... so fun!
  3. Multiple Illnesses: The week before comps I came down with a nasty cold. Then I broke out in partial body poison oak rashes due to a hiking incident from the week before that required the administering of mood altering steroids... Not fun! However, and I'm serious, it ended up helping my nerves, forcing me to relax, drink liquids, and take it easy.

 

  • Be Thankful


The night before comps I was struck by the propitiousness of my situation: I was on the brink of doing something extremely difficult, I had worked diligently towards mastery, and I felt confident in my abilities to succeed. And I knew that I had not gotten to this point alone. My present moment was due in large part to the long line of supportive, patient, and enthusiastic teachers who had encouraged and guided me along the way: family members, piano teachers, choir directors, conducting coaches, band leaders, theory professors, composers, musicologists. In their own way they helped to guide me along my way and I count myself greatly blessed at having been their student. I find that the things worth saying are rarely said often enough. Now as a teacher myself I cherish those rare moments when students articulate the difference that your teaching efforts have made on their lives.

C.S. Lewis' Dufflepuds know how to party! (Pauline Baynes)

C.S. Lewis' Dufflepuds know how to party! (Pauline Baynes)

  • What has been a monumental capstone moment in your life or an important project you see as a turning point?
  • What got you through your trial?
  • How do you take time to savor victory before plunging into your next adventure? :)

At the Piano: Academic and Performer

Here's a little story to illustrate the richness that comes of melding scholarship with performance:

To crush my comprehensive examinations in the upcoming academic year I am spending some time this summer nose-to-book, building mental monoliths of specialized knowledge. (In case you don't know, comprehensive examinations, or "comps,"* are the last hurdle a budding musicologist must climb before they can start writing their dissertation. Imagine becoming an expert on five enormous topics, feverishly scribbling essay-length answers in an examination room for days on end, identifying scores and audio examples, withstanding oral questions from a panel of experts... Kinda fun!?) While focusing my research on one topic a month, June has been spent exploring something that particularly interests me, piano character pieces of the Romantic era. A collection of essays entitled Nineteenth-Century Piano Music edited by R. Larry Todd gives a great overview of key issues and concepts from a variety of intellectual viewpoints. This topic touches a variety of intellectual buttons for me (history, historiography, genre, technology, performativity), but it also speaks to me in practical terms because of my history and training as a pianist.

James Ensor's  Russian Music  (1881) Looks like either a very comfy carpet or a very uncomfy one.  Image source

James Ensor's Russian Music (1881) Looks like either a very comfy carpet or a very uncomfy one. Image source

For the past two years I have played piano at a retirement community here in Santa Barbara called Samarkand, specifically in the skilled nursing facility section of the complex. Performing on the piano is nothing new to me and I am grateful for the opportunity to keep up my chops, but there are undeniably unique challenges in playing for a room of retirees, the majority of whom labor under some form of dementia. I've played in the midst of roving wheelchairs, inchoate audience outbursts, impromptu audience participation (good thing I can sight-read), and all manner of alarms sounding from doors, medical machinery, or loudspeakers. The number of listeners fluctuates within a half hour span as some are taken off for check-ups or to physical therapy sessions, while it is often quite difficult to ascertain who is awake or asleep or somewhere in between. Once I even gave a concert to an empty room, due to the fact that none of the residents could be in such close proximity to each other because of a flu quarantine, although I was told they would still love to hear the music wafting into their individual rooms. It is impossible in this setting to insist upon the pious, silent, respectful, and meditative reverence that we usually associate with classical music concerts. (Thanks a lot, A.B. Marx!) Rather than see this as a failure, I look at these performances as wonderful opportunities to make classical music a life-affirming rather than life-conforming activity.

I have found that the most simple and sincere way of doing this is to attempt to share your true self with your audience: talk to them, look at them, share what you enjoy about the next piece, show them how the sheet music you have is from your grandmother's library and was $2.00 back in the 1950s, invite them to participate by imagining a picture in their minds, ask them who has ever been to Poland before, play a hymn and welcome any sing-alongs. The other day I found myself diluting some of the thick, academic research I had just read in an essay by Jeffery Kallberg on the music of Frederic Chopin. Contemporaries of Chopin were struck by the "otherness" and "strangeness" of Chopin's music, especially the mazurkas, but were able to stomach it in large part by appealing to his "Polishness." The stop-and-go melodies, dynamic disjunctions, and haunting, hymn-like middle section of Mazurka in A-flat Major op. 7, no. 4 for instance find a sort of justification in this nineteenth-century interpretation of cultural difference. Right after Chopin I took out Kinderszenen op. 15 by Robert Schumann and suddenly recalled Anthony Newcomb's essay on the stylistic ambiguities and compositional contradictions of that composer. Contemporaries also heard Schumann's pre-1840s piano strange, but couldn't explain the effect through a paradigm of cultural difference seeing as the composer was German like them. Schumann's strange disjunctions and rhythmic complexities stemmed, rather, from the writings of Jean Paul and E.T.A. Hoffmann, German authors that by the 1830s and 1840s were largely considered old-fashioned, mannered, and bizarre. As a result, Schumann's early works remained little-known to the public, an economic fact that probably helped prompt a change in the composer's style once he became a financially responsible husband and father. (At the same time, today the pieces heard in concerts today are the early, bizarre ones, praised for their forward-thinking complexities. The pendulum keeps rocking.)

In my attempt to speak honestly and clearly to my audience I found myself making an interesting connection between two academic arguments while presenting it in an understandable and succinct manner to nonspecialists. I felt as though it breathed new life into my research by revealing its usefulness and accessibility through public speaking and performing. It also enriched my performance by giving me the opportunity to genuinely share of my intellectual and emotional gifts with a group of people in great need of human connection and empathy.

I find performing to residents of a skilled nursing facility very rewarding, but, again, not in the traditional sense. It is with a heart-wrenching combination of frailty and strength that an individual bent with Parkinsons straightens up at the end of a piece to clap twice before settling back into their wheelchair, or that someone slowly and repeatedly shares the highlights of their career as a touring concert pianist in the 1930s, or that a woman dressed in a snowy-white nightgown drifts ethereally into the room and kisses me on the cheek after a final cadence only to shuffle out of sight.
 

  • To the academic: Who is your research for? How do you communicate it? Do you seek to build bridges or build barriers?
  • To the performer: Who is your audience? What do you expect from them? What of yourself do you share? Again, bridges or barriers?
  • To both: Why do you not work in harmony together more often?
Kate Gasser's  Young Girl at Piano . And approachable performance.    Image source

Kate Gasser's Young Girl at Piano. And approachable performance. Image source

* In her book Get It DoneSam Bennett suggests overcoming the impersonal abstraction of large projects by renaming them. Therefore, in my own head, rather than call them "comps" I have dubbed them "Crossing Helcaraxë," a reference only a serious J.R.R. Tolkien fan would understand. :)

Books used:
Bennett Sam. Get It Done: From Procrasticnation to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day. Novato: New World Library, 2014.
Todd, R. Larry., ed. Nineteenth-Century Piano Music. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Sumer is icumen in!

Happy summer everyone!

Rackham perfectly capturing the feeling of making it through finals...

Rackham perfectly capturing the feeling of making it through finals...

Graduate school gives summer an extra feeling of arrival and victory. As of today, all grades have been finalized, all papers have been turned in, all boxes have been checked. Now is when we finally have the opportunity to turn to those things which we haven't had the time, mental energy and spiritual fortitude to enjoy. Here's what I'm excited about this summer:

  • Reading more George MacDonald just for fun
  • Playing more piano and chamber music with some friends
  • Actually visiting the beach, and improving my freestyle stroke
  • Meeting up with friends more often
  • Make new friends to improve German and French skills
  • Take naps!

This summer feels even more different from previous ones because not only is my wife no longer working in a job that had her busy the whole summer, but we just moved to a new house! It is such a beautiful, small, functional building with a wonderful landlord who lives on the property. Everything feels so full of life!

What are you doing this summer?

Crying Wolf

Even while school activities have continued to mount (classes starting at Westmont, finals nearing for UCSB summer session) I've continued to ride the sweet, sweet wave of fairy tale criticism that has been become nothing short of a hungry passion. This has been expressed particularly through interaction with the research-collaboration-project blog Subverting Laughter, a truly wonderful chapter-by-chapter exploration of MacDonald's Light Princess from a variety of angles and approaches. I've also been reading Jack Zipes' Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion which is challenging and thought-provoking at every page. I originally picked this one up for it's chapter on George MacDonald, but, now that I'm going through it from the start, it's amazing to consider the broader, cultural ramifications of fairy tales in terms of how they "civilize" people, or teach them to acceptably integrate themselves into society.

Doré's illustration for Perrault's  Le petit chaperon rouge . 

Doré's illustration for Perrault's Le petit chaperon rouge

One of the themes that has jumped out at my through these activities is the symbolism of the wolf, its uses as a villain, as moral watch-dog, as devil, as splanchnon, and as a symbol for ravenous, devouring hunger. Here are some thought-provokers from this past week:

 

Zipes, Chapter 2: Setting Standards for Civilization through Fairy Tales: Charles Perrault and his Associates:

  • (Talking about "Red Riding Hood" in its earliest, oral, folk tale manifestation, before Perrault used it for his own cultural purposes.) The brave little peasant girl, who can fend for herself and shows qualities of courage and cleverness... proves that she is mature and strong enough to replace her grandmother. This specific tradition is connected to the general archaic belief about witches and wolves as crucial for self-understanding. Hans Peter Duerr has demonstrated that "in the archaic mentality, the fence, the hedge, which separated the realm of wilderness from that of civilization did not represent limits which were insurpassable. On the contrary, this fence was even torn down at certain times. People who wanted to live within the fence with awareness had to leave this enclosure at least once in their lifetime. They had to have roamed the woods as wolves or 'wild persons'. That is, to put it in more modern terms: they had to have experienced the wildness in themselves, their animal nature. For their 'cultural nature' was only one side of their being, bound by fate to the animallike fylgja, which became visible to those people who went beyond the fence and abandoned themselves to their 'second face'." In facing the werewolf and temporarily abandoning herself to him, the little girl sees the animal side of her self. She crosses the border between civilization and wilderness, goes beyond the dividing line to face death in order to live. Her return home is a more forward as a whole person. She is a wo/man, self-aware, ready to integrate herself in society with awareness.

MacDonald, Photogen and Nyctaris:
 

  • Watho: There was once a witch who desired to know everything. But the wiser a witch is, the harder she knocks her head against the wall when she comes to it. Her name was Watho, and she had a wolf in her mind. She cared for nothing in itself -- only for knowing it. She was not naturally cruel, but the wolf had made her cruel. She was tall and graceful, with a white skin, red hair, and black eyes, which had a red fire in them. She was straight and strong, but now and then would fall bent together, shudder, and sit for a moment with her head turned over her shoulder, as if the wolf had got out of her mind onto her back.

Padel, In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self:
 

  • In darkness we see what we cannot see in light. Darkness is the unknown... Darkness is where we are most likely to encounter gods. And where we meet their prophets... Fundamental to Greek ideas of prophecy, and of the mind, is the idea that knowledge can be found in, and from, darkness... Like the Sirens' song, passion is destructive but illuminating.


And just because it sprang to mind, Mumford and Sons, Whispers in the Dark:

  • You hold your truth so purely,
  • Swerve not through the minds of men
  • This lie is dead
  •  
  • This cup of yours tastes holy
  • But a brush with the devil can clear your mind
  • And strengthen your spine
  •  
  • Fingers tap into what you were once
  • And I'm worried that I blew my only chance
Van Gogh's The Starry Night  (1889) —all a swirl.

Van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889)—all a swirl.

 

The way of talking about the wolf in these contexts reminds me of Ruth Padel's investigation of the splanchnon: as a place of blackness; the embodiment of emotions, hunger, personality; the crossroads between beast and god... I feel like we don't have characters like this anymore... Maybe Gollum, or Severus Snape... There is a contradictory loss of innocence and gain of awareness and strength... And the witch Watho consumed and lost to the wolf within herself... the awakening of hunger and power, but the need to overcome it... Jack Zipes continues to show how fairy tales, from Perrault to Disney, have continued to try to downplay the presence of the wolf, the need to contend with it, favoring instead a wholesale suppression of all that could potentially ruin us and threaten society's stability... Our culture continually downplays psychological therapy, one of the few remaining arenas where we are given room to contend with our inner wolves... Paul Angone in 101 Secrets for Your Twenties points out that those who don't deal with their wolves and grow out of them, tend to grow into them... With Watho-like results?...

And how is music wolf-like? St. Augustine explores music's discomfiting and otherworldly beauty, "a certain sound of joy without words, the expression of a mind poured forth in joy..." Does/can/should music also be poured forth in the emotion of the wolf? Can music provide a relatively safe place to explore these realms? And what music?

What do you think?

Apples Falling From the Baum

Amidst TAing an “Enjoyment of Music” summer session at UCSB and preparing to teach “Survey of Western Music” at Westmont beginning next week, I’ve been getting in a little last-minute reading. This summer has been an enthusiastic adventure through a variety of books concerning fairy tales: from Propp’s morphological theorizing and Todorov’s definition of the “fantastic” to bios of George MacDonald to fascinating contes by seventeenth-century, female, French writers like d'Aulnoy and l’Héritier, and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s bizarre Der goldene Topf. I recently finished a book entitled Out of the Woods: The Origins of the Literary Fairy Tale in Italy and France, a collection of essays by prominent fairytale scholars, which gives a wide swath of perspectives and analytical positions to consider and apply in my own thinking. I’m having fun!

With this exploratory thought-lust in mind, I’ve made some preliminary observations concerning one of our read-out-loud-while-my-amazing-wife-prepares-dinner books: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Since I’m currently diving into a chapter entitled "Inverting and Subverting the World with Hope: The Fairy Tales of George MacDonald, Oscar Wilde and L. Frank Baum" by Jack Zipes, which is sure to give me a lot to think about, I’d better get out my initial perspective out now before anything else happens.

Illustration by W.W. Denislow

Illustration by W.W. Denislow

What initially struck me was Baum's introduction, a short one-page disclaimer in which he advocates for fairy tale modernization (particularly doing away with old European motifs, characters, and gruesome scenes) and aims at creating stories of pure, juvenile entertainment (Dorothy's innocence is a constant theme throughout the book). This strikes me a a pretty gutsy and bravura move and it brings a lot of questions to mind:

1. Does Baum succeed in divorcing himself from European tradition? His narrative structure seems particularly Proppian; his characters, though packaged differently, function much like those from a stock fairy tale; and the amount of gruesomeness tends to rival that found in some Grimm stories, for instance Dorothy viewing a decomposing corpse upon entry to the Land of Oz, as well as frequent and well-nigh habitual decapitation and dismemberment by the Tin Woodman's axe. Even as I write this, however, I wonder if there is a symbolic gesture involved in the violence. What if the Wicked Witches of the East and West somehow stand in for European tradition itself, something that Dorothy's purity must somehow (effectively yet simultaneously innocently) eradicate, both by the fall of the house (building something new over old foundations?) and through the cleansing power of water...

2. What about the dialectic between childish entertainment and moralizing symbolism? Baum's self-conscious story advocates for the former, but his pugnacious introduction, seemingly directed at adult purchasers/readers complicates matters. It makes me critical of the fantastic elements in the story as I attempt to understand their potential purpose and position. It seems like the fantasy can act in at least three ways:
     A. As pure childish fancy: primary colors, glittering objects (so much you have to wear protective eye-wear), wondrous exoticisms, delicious fruits, soft sheets... in effect anything that gives a sense of delightfulness and potency as wonder-inducing symbols for youth. Seen in this light, it would seem that Baum's choices are nearly random. Does it matter that the Munchkins like blue and the Winkies like yellow? Why a Stork? Why Wolves and Bees? Why this appearance of symbolism, of potential? Why does unmasking the power structure (the Wizard as a humbug) accomplish so little in the paradigm of the story?
     B. As cultural critique: I read somewhere that Baum may have had a "yellow-brick road = money power structures" vendetta. Maybe also an American/democratic, anti-monarchical message? But in the end, despite the Wizard's banishment, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion all become monarchs... I don't have any biographical knowledge that could enrich this idea as of yet, plus ideological application is so tricky.
     C. As a tongue-in-cheek, adult-directed message: the brainless Scarecrow a great thinker, the heartless Tin Woodman constantly crying and sighing, the frightened Lion facing death to protect his friends. Where is Propp's Lack? Where is the real problem that must be fixed? Also, the use of "magic" seems extremely complicated: sometimes mere smoke-and-mirrors; sometimes, genuinely borrowed from Europe (Dorothy's silver slippers and petit Poucet's seven-league boots); and sometimes so random as to appear ridiculous (the Good Witch of the North balancing her pointed hat on her nose and counting to three, as it turns into a writing tablet)... Does magic exist here or not? Is it powerful or not? Does it matter? Who makes things happen? Who has power?

3. Lastly, why has it become such a powerful American cultural symbol? The MGM movie, The Wiz musical, Wicked the book and the musical? Does it contain something potent after all it's deconstruction?

What do you think? What pops out at you when you experience this story? What do you like, dislike, not understand? Why did they change the color of her slippers in the movie!?!?

Two Observations on Plato, Aristotle, and Harry Potter

I'm taking a Dramatic Theory seminar through the Theater Department this quarter. In addition to the outrageously comfortable conference room chairs and meeting a new group of colleagues, Dr. David King has us wandering through an etymology-strewn, philosophy-riddled history/mind/soul-scape including the Caves of Lascaux, Nietzsche, Horace, Ruth Padel, Benjamin, and so many others. We have one session a week, almost three hours long, after which my sluggish mind, waterlogged with knowledge and hopefully a little wisdom, wants nothing more than to go home and read Harry Potter out loud (lautlesen) as my wife makes dinner. Yet, you can't really halt rumination, and here are two small connections that cropped up:

Aristotle and Plato from Raphael's  School of Athens  probably deep in conversation about why Harry decided to wear the horcrux around his neck rather than put it in the mokeskin pouch  around his neck . 

Aristotle and Plato from Raphael's School of Athens probably deep in conversation about why Harry decided to wear the horcrux around his neck rather than put it in the mokeskin pouch around his neck

  1. The word mimesis is outrageously difficult to define. It can imply imitation, or representation, but also ideas like copytranslationinventionillusion, or lie. It's often used in dramatic theory to talk about the theater as a crossroads of reality and fantasy, not only in terms of whether or not the plot is historically accurate or realistically feasible, but whether or not one thinks of the actor as actor or as character, the prop or the object. At one point Plato, who has an extremely complicated view of theater, uses mimetic in conjunction with the word diagetic to talk about ways of delivering a text. A diagetic delivery involves simple reading of the text, word for word, in your own natural voice; to read in a mimetic manner means giving different characters different voices. Essentially the former is Madeline L'Engle in her audiobook for A Wrinkle in Time (quite monotone), and the latter is Jim Dale reading the Rowling's Harry Potter series or Phillip Schulmann reciting C.S. Lewis' Narnia books (inflected, character-full voices galore). While one is not necessarily better than the other, I am definitely of the mimetic cast, a trait I inherited from my father's inspired readings of Verne, Lewis, and Twain when I was a child. In my mind, it's simply a lot more fun! However, Plato adds an aspect to mimesis that has some of that ancient world magic to it: the mimetic reader, as they invoke the voice of the character they are portraying, will actually, in a way, become that character and even feel what that character feels. A powerful idea! What do you give of yourself when you enter into a part? What might you receive? I caught myself thinking of this as I spoke Voldemort's "high, cold voice" and in a way count myself thankful that I got through it alright.
  2. A smaller observation stems from the intensely etymological exegesis of Dr. King. Two words: splanchnon and peripateia. The first, dealt with extensively in a reading we did by Padel, is regularly translated as stomach or guts. For the ancient Greeks this is the place of emotions, of black fear, of the touching point between mortality and the divine. (Next time you get stressed and feel your stomach clench, that's your splanchnon ringing with the sound of eternity!) The second word, peripateia, is dealt with by Aristotle when he's laying out the proper disposition of a theatrical plot. It involves the moment of a plot's change of direction or reversal or twist, and constitutes an extremely important, catharsis-rich moment in a performance. After reading the Poetics and basking in the import of these two ideas, my eye was quick to pick up on a passing, but perhaps pivotal moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: literally, Harry's "stomach turned over!" There it is! His splanchnon peripateia-ed! Blammo! ... (This is when Jessica shrugs her shoulders and allows me a moment of intellectual nerding-out, before we continue the thrilling saga and and she resumes crafting our dinner (which will soon end up right in my splanchnon!!!!))

Here's to the beginning of Week 6. Cheers!

Boris on Butterfly Beach

The past week and a half has been quite eventful. Jess and I pulled the trigger and came down from Roseville to our new duplex in Santa Barbara. We made due for the first few days with two chairs and a mattress on the floor - just until my bargain huntress of a wife found a free dresser, free bed frame and box spring, free couch, and $10 bookshelf. Things are starting to look like a house. Santa Barbara is starting to look like a home as well, with familiar beaches and streets, new discoveries and surprises, and the constant bumping into old friends in the most providential places.

Butterfly Beach Sunset Arch  by Chris Potter. 

Butterfly Beach Sunset Arch by Chris Potter. 

Amidst looking for summer employment and networking, I'm trying to keep loose by brushing up on my German ("shadowing" and "dictation" with a podcast), rereading some history books in preparation for the UCSB placement tests (history, theory, and musicianship), and going on very long walks with Jess and Numi on various beaches and through various parks (Numi is a complete nutter for the waves!). Check out Jess's blog for upcoming pictures that attempt to capture something of the outrageous beauty that overflows everywhere in this place. I'm going to write a bit on Boris Goltz and his Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 2 (1934-35), getting some mileage out of my thesis and keeping up those writing and analyzing skills for the two months before school starts.

Boris Grigorevich Goltz (1913–1942) was born in the city of Tashkent. I wish there was more information on his family - their ancestry, how long they had lived there, why, what they did during the 1916 Basmachi Revolt, or where their sympathies lay in the violent anti-Bolshevik riots that lasted into late 1920s. All we know (thanks to a short monograph by Rafael Frid) is that thirteen-year old Boris moved to Leningrad in 1926. He worked, like Shostakovich several years earlier, as a silent movie accompanist, and took piano lessons, again like Shostakovich, from Leonid Nikolayev. It wasn't until the Leningrad harmony professor Venedict Pushkov saw the young pianists sketches for twenty-four preludes that Goltz gained the confidence to pursue composition. He graduated from the Conservatory in piano in 1938 and composition in 1940. Within that time he had composed or sketched out quite a wealth of pieces (almost all completely lost), got married to a piano colleague, and had every mark of excelling as a composer.

In 1941 Russia entered into WWII. Goltz, apparently not senior enough to be shipped off to one of those artistic refuge communities in Siberia, joined the Baltic Fleet Political Administration, a group of composers stationed in Leningrad, charged with the task of writing patriotic songs and plays for performing groups and military choirs. His songs in particular enjoyed wide success, one-hit-wonders like “The Song of Anger,” “The Song of Vengeance,” and “Shining Star in the Heavens.” Despite the idealized texts, Goltz and his colleagues worked in debilitating hunger and cold, crammed into a small room and composing without the aid of a piano. Seven months into the Siege of Leningrad, Goltz died of malnutrition.

It's a little ironic to write about the tragic, 1942, shivering-in-the-Leningrad-winter death of a Soviet composer with the sunny Pacific Ocean breezes wafting through my 2012 window. I can only hope that as I write about this composer and his music that I not be disingenuous and that I attempt to come from as good a place as I can - that of breathing a small measure of life into the memory of a nearly forgotten, but ultimately noteworthy individual.

The Writing of a Master's Thesis: A Series in Nine Photos

Someone discovered Instagram filters! And also wrote his Master's Thesis! Eternal thanks to my wife for reminding me to eat.

The thesis begins in relative cleanliness, nourishing itself on a diet of tea and succulent fruits.

The thesis begins in relative cleanliness, nourishing itself on a diet of tea and succulent fruits.

The chaos of disorder is held at bay by the addition of decorative flowers.

The chaos of disorder is held at bay by the addition of decorative flowers.

Though at first sight suspect, honey-avocado sandwiches give the thesis the energy it needs.

Though at first sight suspect, honey-avocado sandwiches give the thesis the energy it needs.

A battery of orchids, cinnamon-swirl bread, and inspirational quotation pictures buoy the thesis in perseverance. 

A battery of orchids, cinnamon-swirl bread, and inspirational quotation pictures buoy the thesis in perseverance. 

Cue the Joe-Joe's! Maybe the bag of rock-hard dry apricots balance out the jolt of sugary goodness.

Cue the Joe-Joe's! Maybe the bag of rock-hard dry apricots balance out the jolt of sugary goodness.

Peanut butter/banana smoothie... fresh in the blender!

Peanut butter/banana smoothie... fresh in the blender!

When the sun comes out, the thesis would be completely daft not to take advantage of it. It feels perfectly at home with other animals, such as the noble, grass-devouring labrador, with whom the thesis has a symbiotic, don't-bother-me-now relationship. 

When the sun comes out, the thesis would be completely daft not to take advantage of it. It feels perfectly at home with other animals, such as the noble, grass-devouring labrador, with whom the thesis has a symbiotic, don't-bother-me-now relationship. 

At this stage in the life of the thesis, trail mix can either be eaten by the handful, or all the dried cherries can be picked out individually. Just be careful of drinking water with all that dried fruit.

At this stage in the life of the thesis, trail mix can either be eaten by the handful, or all the dried cherries can be picked out individually. Just be careful of drinking water with all that dried fruit.

The printed thesis seems harmless enough. All the books, blenders, cups, plates, and orchids have been packed. Even the table is being sold. Look for your own copy of the thesis wherever unpublished academic resources are sold/loaned/provided online.

The printed thesis seems harmless enough. All the books, blenders, cups, plates, and orchids have been packed. Even the table is being sold. Look for your own copy of the thesis wherever unpublished academic resources are sold/loaned/provided online.

Children of the Sun

Yesterday I read online that the word Spokane means “Children of the Sun.” I thought to myself, “That’s amazing! What a cool city name!” In our visit to the town last weekend I we were challenged and graciously corrected by the locals in the exact or disputed pronunciation of such streets and parks as Manito and Tekoa. This sets my mind a’ thinkin’ and before you know it I’m deep in a linguistic and cultural tangent. And here we are, 24 hours later with a little blurb on Npoqínišcn or Spokane Salishan, the language of the Native Americans of the Spokane area.

Photograph of man wearing traditional Salish dress by unknown photographer.

Photograph of man wearing traditional Salish dress by unknown photographer.

I know very, very little about Native American languages: Paiute Code Talkers of WWII, Kostner in Dances with Wolves, a few words of “the language of the Aztecs” via my brother. My brother also imparted upon me a sense of the difficulty of these languages grammatically, phonetically, and the writing system.

Information on this language is frightfully scarce. The closest I could find to a tutorial is a small Language Program site set up by the Spokane Tribe of Indians. It has sound files, phrases, the alphabet, some songs, and a terrifying tale of a frog and a snake in which the frog ends very badly despite his insistent “Hoy, hoy, hoy, hoys!” This isn’t a language that you’ll find a Teach Yourself… version of. Apparently it is spoken by only about 50 people, that out of a 1,000 total ethnic population in the year 2000. Extremely sad. I was pretty bummed out about that today.

Chiefs witnessing the completion of Colville Dam in 1941 ( source ).

Chiefs witnessing the completion of Colville Dam in 1941 (source).

Still we do what we can and celebrate what will all be gathered up by loving hands someday. Sarah G. Thomason has written a very didactic paper that summarizes the challenging characteristics of this language group. Challenging is a rather loose term. Maybe horrifically Herculean. Or sadly Sisyphus-ian. Here are just a few of the linguistic characteristics:

A. Tons o’ consonants:

          1. Ejectives (or glottalic egressives): some sort of explosive, coughing “k”

          2. Lateral obstruents (or voiceless alveolar lateral fricative): a breathy “l” with a dash of “w”

          3. Voiced velar fricatives: think hard, gargly Gaelic “gh”

          4. Voiceless glottal stop: just what it sounds like

          5. And a phyrangeal approximant: choking

B. Consonant clusters:

          1. Take for example the simple word for “thank you”: lemlmtš

          2. Or “Where is the store?”: čen ɬuˀ sntumistn?

C. Oh yeah, and it’s written in American phonetic notation with all manner of crazy phonological import

D. Grammatical issues:
          1. Agglutination: prefixes, suffixes, and infixes that make one word say a sentence

          2. Some sort debatable nounlessness

          3. Loose word order

As you can see it’s quite baffling. There’s nothing like looking into the world of Npoqínišcn or Old Irish to make you appreciate the relative simplicity of German or French. Check out that Spokane Language Program site and hear the native speakers. It’s quite amazing.

With that I’m off to memorize my key phrase of the day: “I’m going to Spokane!”:

čiq xʷuy č’ sƛ̕etkʷ!