Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Fond Farewell to 2006

A quick note before I go off to a couple of New Year's Eve parties.

We often use January 1 as a time to make "resolutions," which most of us tend not to keep very long. I have made one resolution--to switch to a (primarily) vegan diet. I'm overweight and a prime candidate for diabetes, given my large belly and family history.

A long-ago friend recently got in touch with me and in the catching-up phase of our email exchange said he's had a great life since we last saw each other 28 years ago. I loved that--a "great life"! So much of the time I am focused on what's wrong with my life. So inspired by my friend, I thought I'd use tonight and tomorrow to celebrate the year that past.

  • My teenagers are in great health, have wonderful friends, are doing great in school, are wonderful musicans and actors, and one dances and the other swims. Neither drinks nor smokes nor seems to have any built-up resentments against their mother or I. How did that happen!
  • My parents are in good health, and my mother is starting to enjoy her retirement.
  • My brother-in-law had a horrible stroke that we thought would kill him or leave him severely mentally and physically disabled. In a near-miracle, he's walking and conversing intelligently and continuing to make great strides in his recovery.
  • I've made many new friends through my improvisation work, organized a successful summer chamber music series, and had one of the best musical years ever.
  • I love teaching more than ever, too.
Oh, I just realized I've blogged one of those Christmas letters.

Life is good. Celebrate the joys in your own life, and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Might as well lie back and enjoy it

My paternal grandfather, a brilliant man and shrewd business executive, spent his last ten years or so, after my grandmother died, doing basically just four things: grocery shopping, cooking, watching television (lots of television) and a small amount of reading. My father, a brilliant retired lawyer, does pretty much the same, to the chronic frustration of my mother, and the occasional judgmental comments of his children. What a waste it sometimes seems.

Today, I slept in late and then spent most of the day in bed, doing what? Watching television. It was a Smallville marathon on one of the cable networks. I've never seen that much of the series, but as a boy I was enthralled with Superman and Superboy comics, and so Supermanish things have an attraction for me. I might never have gotten out of bed had it not been for a private student coming for a lesson at 5:00 PM.

In the midst of all this, I had another of those horrifying mid-life realization: I am not just "turning into" my father, I have already become my father.

I was feeling bad about this (not bad enough to turn off the TV, though), when it hit me: I was quite enjoying this slothful afternoon of rest, in all its delicious, lowbrow irresponsibility. And my father is not unhappy. On the contrary, he seems to quite enjoy the balance of his life now. There is no denying that he did much good for many people during his career, and that he was a good provider and is a faithful husband and loving father. If he likes watching Jeopardy and reruns of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and All in The Family and Gunsmoke, so what? And my grandfather--he, too, seemed quite content in his later years.

So I'm a little less worried about the fact that I may spend much of my later years watching television, cooking, eating, and driving my children to frustration. If that's my destiny, well, I might as well relax and enjoy it.

Say, where did I put that remote?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, RIP

I was just 16 when Gerald Ford became president. I had mixed feelings, and some suspicions, when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

I have no memory of the remarkable event I just watched on C-Span: Ford's October 1974 self-initiated, voluntary appearance, under oath, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee to explain his reasons for granting the pardon and to answer questions.

What a truly remarkable event in the history of government of, by, and for the people.

In my final years of high school I gave little thought to politics, and never developed much of an opinion about Ford; the media caricatures of him as a stumbling, not-too-bright guy had some effect on me. What I just saw, a sitting president testifying (intelligently, articulately, and and with an authentic air of principle, patriotism, and passion) to a Congressional committee at his own request to explain and defend a highly controversial decision, has given me the highest respect for this man. And what a remarkable contrast with the slick evasiveness and public lies of President Clinton (whom I greatly admire in other ways) and what appears to be the tragic disconnect with reality of President Bush (whose good intentions have paved the road to the hell of our Iraq debacle).

Surely President Ford realized that the pardon might cost him election in 1976, yet he firmly believed it was the best thing for the country, and did it despite the potential political cost. He was an honest, decent man who acted as a statesman at a time when we so needed it.

Every once in a while something reminds me of the greatness of this country. Watching Ford's stunning testimony was one of those moments. Thanks, Mr. President, and rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Acts of kindness

I'm visiting my parents in Tampa, and have two nice chain-reaction kindness stories to share.

On the flight down, a mom and three kids (10, 5, and 3) were among the last to board our sold-out Southwest open-seating flight. I had a nice window seat, because I wanted to nap. The middle seat was empty. Be nice, my better self told me, and so I smiled and offered to move to a middle seat a couple of rows back, which would make at least a pair of seats available. That started a short chain reaction. The lady sitting on the aisle in my original row was sitting across from her husband. The middle seat beside him was open, so she did her good deed and moved to it. Voila! All three kids could sit together. The man in the aisle seat directly behind the kids moved to the middle so the mom could have easy access to the kids. Then the guy in the aisle seat across the aisle offered to switch to that seat, and now the mom and kids could see each other.

It was such a lovely energy; actually heart-warming. And we were all repaid when the three children spontaneously began singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with such innocent happiness that everyone smiled that special smile that only comes when adults are around happy children doing something delightful.

Then, as the engines revved up as we were about to take off, one of the kids started a countdown: "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . . . . . BLAST OFF!" And not quite two hours later, when they saw water beneath the plane, came the shouted announcement, "WE'RE IN FLORIDA! WE'RE IN FLORIDA!"

Best flight I've ever been on.

This afternoon, my mother and I went to Barnes and Noble to do a bit of browsing and and have some coffee. The wife of the retired-age couple ahead of me in the Starbuck's line was delightfully friendly and chatty with the, oh, what do they call them, the barrista. Then a few minutes later she invited a man by himself, who was looking for a table without late afternoon sun glaring on the table, to join them. He declined, but I was happy to see someone so open and friendly that I went to their table and invited them to help themselves to the half-priced box of mini biscotti I had purchased for Mom and I to have with our coffee.

The friendly couple invited us to join them. I accepted; my mother gave me a look tinged with suspicion and irritation, but came over. We ended up having a wonderful time. The husband is a retired history professor. My mother is a recently retired music professor, and so there we were, three professors and the really fun one, the professor's wife. We must have chatted for two hours. The friendly couple and my mother exchanged numbers, and a new friendship may be developing.

Last night, my parents and I watched The Bishop's Wife on TCM. Cary Grant plays a very handsome angel sent to help an Episcopal bishop (David Niven) deal with a spiritual crisis as well as some marital problems with his wife (Loretta Young). At one point, Grant's character says, "I just wish human beings would act more . . . like human beings."

It's nice to be part of it when we do.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Teaching kids, living in fear

From an anonymous poster, commenting on Dealing with the Baggage:

I am a gay elementary school teacher, and let me tell you, I work in an unbelievably hostile environment. I am NOT safe, and the proven positive results I have attained at work DO NOT make my job secure. All of the work I've done could be ripped away from me at any moment, and I feel positive that absolutely no one would be willing to defend me. I don't mean to be overly negative about this, but I'm telling the truth.
The essay to which he's responding focused in part on the horrible effects of government-sanctioned propaganda, particularly that which defined homosexuality in men as a "sickness" and equated it with pedophilia and ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers) and a compulsion to act on such feelings. The effects, and those of the rhetoric of Religious Right alarmists and those pandering to them, are very much still with us.

The man who wrote this comment is probably a great guy who has a gift for teaching children and is making a positive impact on their lives.

And he lives in fear.

Current Reading


Greg Sandow has another episode posted in his online book-in-progress on the future of classical music. We'll, he's still dealing with the past, on modernism now. Understanding the past and present is key to developing ideas for the future, of course, and everything Greg writes is fascinating.

DePauw music education student Chris Simerman has started a blog, Music and Music Education. It's a great opportunity to watch a really bright young man who is really in love with music and really dedicated to being a teacher develop his thinking and share his insights.

I often feel frustrated that more of my colleagues don't share my view that many of our students are as, or, in some cases, more, bright and talented than we are, and that with fresh eyes and youthful energy unhampered by the failures, disappointments, and desire to repeat successes that creates the particular glass through which all adults peer, they have much from which we can learn. Of course, age brings experience and knowledge worth passing on and here's one tidbit. Click on the third icon from the left in the toolbar at the top of the window for entering text on the "create post" page, Chris, and it will spellcheck your post.

Heavy-Reading Department:

I'm engrossed with Linda Goehr's fascinating book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, and also digging into The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction, a compilation of symposium essays edited by Michael Talbot, inspired by Goehr's thesis, that the idea of the fixed, inviolate musical work is a construct of Romantic thought. Her ideas, and the elaborations on, objections to, etc., them are having a great impact on my developing thought on the role of improvisation in the WECT (Western European Classical Tradtion--an acronym developed by Leo Treitler (from whom I almost took a course, named simply enough, "Rhythm," in graduate school; I dropped it after one session because I couldn't begin to follow what the graduate theory students were saying; they would expound, Treitler would gently explain that they were spouting bullshit [of course, he didn't use that term], and say something I could understand; nevertheless, I figured I was either out of my league, or that it would be a frustrating exercise in academic blathering, or both).

Reading the Goehr and Talbot books is part of a long detour into works on musical philosophy and aesthetics which began when I first began skimming through Bruce Ellis Benson's The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, which was the first book to show me that the diminishment of improvisation (of actual notes) in the WECT was a result not just of an evolution in practice and increasing skill in notation, but even more a reflection of a profound shift in the understanding of music and of the roles of composer and performer. It's now nearly nine months since Benson's book sent me on an intellectual detour which brought the writing of my book on improvisation to a virtual halt. And what a fascinating, absorbing, and exciting journey it has been.

I Love Questia:

I'm reading The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction online, via Questia. I just love Questia. I can afford the twenty bucks or so a month it costs, and it makes it possible to read so many works immediately, and, when traveling, without dragging them around. I found the book through an Amazon search, saw it looked interesting and relevant, and in a few moments had the entire text available to me. The "Internets" are amazing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Matthew Barley

Matthew Barley is a terrific Brit cellist. I love his CD Silver Swan, which I've had for a while. In terms of really fascinating and well-done multi-track recording, he's right up there with David Darling and Maya Beiser.

I just came across his website. Fabulous. One of the best websites of any classical/post-classical performer I've ever seen (only criticism: if you are going to start a blog, then blog). And a great article on improvisation (which is how I found it).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mr. Bigglesworth

Just after I bought my rundown 1888 Victorian-style house in 2002, I hired a couple of guys to mow the overgrown lawn. They found a tiny kitten, more the size of a large caterpillar than a kitten you'd expect to find on its own. My kids and I literally got an eyedropper with which to feed him (we also found that dipping the corner of a washcloth in the formula worked, too). We doubted he'd make it, but he did. It wasn't long before he was out getting into fights and we had him neutered.

I was stumped on what to name him. My son was in a Monty Python phase at the time, and chose "Knigget." I went along with it, since I couldn't decide on anything else. The kids called him Knigget for a while, but it wore off, and we took to addressing him as "kitty" and referring to him as "the cat." We tried various names on and off, but nothing stuck.

I developed a serious relationship, and my partner started calling him "Mr. Cat." That was perfect, we all agreed. It worked well until my partner moved out without notice, leaving me dazed, confused, angry and relieved all at once. The words "Mr. Cat" would triggering all sorts of post getting-dumped feelings. So the poor thing (actually oblivious and indifferent to all this) was back to "kitty" and "the cat" and, on formal occasions such as trips to the vet, "Knigget."

But now tonight, a private student just left. During her lesson, the cat was weaving in and out of us, rubbing against me. I picked him up and spontaneously said, "come here, Mr. Bigglesworth."

Now that feels right. I don't have that much of a Dr. Evil air about me (or so I think), but like many arts types I live in my own egocentric universe. For tonight, anyway, Mr. Bigglesworth he is.

(If you don't get the "Mr. Bigglesworth" reference, well, you are even more out of touch and uncool than am I!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We are all human (inconsistent intonation)

Anne Midgette gives cellist Efe Baltacigil's recent Weill Hall recital a mixed review today.

Efe Baltacigil, a young Turkish cellist, is a personable performer. On Friday night he came onto the stage at Weill Recital Hall with a dark, mottled cello, an agreeable manner and an accompanist named Anna Polonsky, then settled into Bach’s Sonata in G (BWV 1027) like an adept conversationalist — all ears, visibly responding to what the music was telling him.

The music was delightful. Mr. Baltacigil’s tone was warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch. Bach lilted and danced; Mr. Baltacigil danced along.

What a great description of a cello sound: "warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch."

She obviously loved his music making in the Bach G Major and the Franck A Major sonatas except for one issue: some intonation problems. "Mr. Baltacigil’s uppermost notes weren’t quite right, and the final movement of the Bach sonata kept drifting slightly flat," she noted about the Bach. And in the Franck, "Mr. Baltacigil appeared to reach the pinnacle of his expressivity. Yet again the tang of faintly sour notes wafted from the emotive phrases. The music finished with excitement but out of tune."

I have great empathy for Efe. To have reached his increasingly prominent position in the cello world, he obviously can play in tune in the high registers of the cello. You don't get into the Philadelphia Orchestra, in any seat, otherwise.

So what happened? Nerves make the hands too tight? Not quite enough practice? Overwhelmed by the rest of his schedule? Tired? Or just really going for the creative, expressive aspects and some of the intonation getting a bit off?

I can play dead in tune, and often do. But any of the above can result in some intonational lapses in my own playing, especially in thumb position (the high registers) with pieces new to me, or if I'm so busy with other things (that full-time college professor job and the three teenagers can make life overwhelming) that I don't have enough time or energy to practice as much as I'd like. Good intonation was the most difficult thing for me to achieve in my cello playing, and it is the first thing to start to slip if I don't practice regularly.

I've heard plenty of well-known cellists play out of tune, so Efe and I are in good company--as are all the other fallible human beings playing the cello (and other instruments).

And one thing's for sure--I'd rather hear a fully-alive, creative performance with some occasional intonation mishaps than a dull, safe one that is note-perfect.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Those Colorado Closets Keep Opening

What's going on in Colorado? The New York Times reports another conservative pastor has resigned from his church (this one with "only" 2,000 members, not the 14,000 of Ted Haggard's former church) because he's been having gay sex while in an opposite-sex marriage and, surely, preaching against same-sex marriage and the dangers of the "homosexual agenda."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Just weeks after the senior pastor at a huge Colorado church was fired over gay sex allegations, the founding pastor of another church in the state is quitting for similar reasons.

This time it's Paul Barnes, whose suburban Denver congregation saw a videotaped message yesterday. On it, Barnes acknowledges having gay sex, saying he's "struggled with homosexuality" since age five, and has been "begging God" for help.

Paul, it's OK to be gay. Love yourself as you are.

And once again I have much empathy for his family and for his struggle.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Existing Career Skill Programs for Classical Music Students

As noted in my previous entry, I'm beginning to research what various conservatories and schools of music are doing to equip their students to "create their own careers," as my DePauw students and I have come to phrase it.

Curtis Institute:
Curtis requires all BM and Diploma students to take “The 21st Century Musician,” described on its website as, “This class examines career-oriented topics such as obtaining a job, management, orchestra life, medical matters and record-keeping.”

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music has not quite the best-designed website in the world; it's hard to determine from it what, if any, career development services are offered. It's not far from where I live, though, and I haven't heard about anything through the grapevine. It does offer an “Introduction to Music Business” course which I understand is quite popular

Eastman School of Music: Eastman, among other resources, hosts the Institute for Music Leadership, with a fascinating array of programs for performers, arts administrators, etc., including an Entrepreneurship in Music program.

Juilliard: Juilliard offers Career Development Seminar (MSMUS 505) and Business of Music (GRMUS E610; students must complete one of them to be placed on the schools Professional Artists Roster. Juilliard also has a Career Planning Services office, which offers Individual Career Consultations, Career Seminars and Workshops, Speaking Up! (a weekly public speaking club), and Performing Resume Software. Juilliard also offers Greg Sandow's course "Breaking Barriers: Classical Music in an Age of Pop," which inspired much of my first-year seminar work this fall and seems quite groundbreaking in looking at creating a new paradigm for performing art music.

New England Conservatory: NEC has what looks like a fabulous program: the Career Services Center. It's run by my former Stony Brook cello classmate Angela Myers Beeching, who wrote Beyond Talent: Building a Successful Career in Music, and who teaches a four-course "Professional Artist Seminar" sequence. Here's a conservatory taking post-school life seriously. Looking at the table of contents and an excerpt from Angie's book on Amazon, I think I can say that it is a book every aspiring classically-trained performer should read, and I've ordered it--both for myself and the DePauw library.

Oberlin has an Office of Career Services, but I don't see where they offer any courses or workshops in career building, entrepreneurship, etc.--so someone correct me if I'm wrong.

More to come! And please feel free to send me other links and descriptions.

Creating Your Own Career

As my first-year seminar “Creativity, Non-Western Music, and the Future of Classical Music” progressed, the students and I eventually came to reframe it as “creating your own music, creating new audiences, and creating your own career.” The students had two-week rotations with other professors on Dalcroze Eurythmics, Writing About Music, The Effect of Technology on Music, and training sessions on music technology (especially notation software) and library skills. It was quite a tour for the students, and so my section and I had only six weeks of fourteen together. Non-Western music, unfortunately, ended up getting short shrift. We learned to play several drum parts of a West African festival piece, “Jansa,” and discussed in a basic way differences between much traditional African music and "classical" music, but focused mostly on improvisation and their final concert project, described in the numerous “Musical Buffet” entries below.

The "creating your own career" aspect of this just-concluded seminar, and some recent presentations I’ve heard, got me wondering about what other music schools are doing in preparing performance majors to create their own careers. Adult classical musicians have known for decades that there are very few full-time performing jobs for classical musicians; the idea that if you just get really good and take enough auditions you’ll land a job was unrealistic 30 years ago and is even more so now. There are so many amazing players and so few job openings that even for the top players it's more of a lottery than a traditional job search. Young musicians need to know this as well.

While that seems lile bad news, many young musicians taking an entrepreneurial approach, not just to creatively marketing performances of traditional classical music, but to creating new repertoire and new audiences. I’ve always felt that the string quartet Kronos was the best example. There are many more, newer, role models out there (Anonymous Four, Bang on a Can, Eighth Blackbird, etc.).

I started a summer chamber music series two years ago, and so I’ve been thinking more and more about the organizational and business side of music. Since we don’t yet offer a course on career development, concert presentation, marketing, etc., for performers here at DePauw, I find I’m getting quite interested in developing one. (A case of wanting to teach what I need to learn more about!)

So I’ve been looking around at what some of the big conservatories and schools do. In my next post I’ll start posting what I’ve found.

Canon in D: The Cellist's Nightmare

This is just hilarious. I can't think of any piece more dreaded by professional classical musicians than the ubiquitous Pachelbel Canon in D. Pops concerts for symphony players, of course. And for those who make a big part of their living playing weddings, wedding receptions, and background music at parties, it's inescapable.

Back when I played a lot of background music gigs (and I'm eternally grateful to DePauw for making it possible for me not to have to do them any more), I had the simple 8-note bass line, which repeats over and over, so internalized that I could play it and do something else--like read. I had a string trio in the early 1980s which had a regular Sunday brunch gig at a restaurant in Baltimore's Harborplace, an upscale shopping mall right on the harbor. I'd buy the New York Times before we started or at our first break. Then during the inevitable Pachelbel, I'd set up the magazine section on my music stand and read an article, usually Safire's "On Language" column, while we played.

My sympathies to all who still have to play this regularly. Worst thing about it, of course, is that I still like the piece, despite myself!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Musical Buffet: The IPod Poster

As I described yesterday, my first-year seminar class at DePauw was charged with presenting a concert that would draw in non-music majors to hear some classical music. They also had to develop a publicity/marketing plan, part of which was posters they designed themselves and were then professionally printed (one class member's father has a printing business). So here are the three posters, which proved to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, starting with the "IPod" one. (One demonstration of their effectiveness was that several of my class members reported non-music major friends asking them, "Hey did you see the posters for the Musical Buffet thing? Are you going?")

Musical Buffet: The Retro Poster

The Musical Buffet:: The Cow Poster

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another Experiement in Creating New-Audiences

For their capstone project, my first-year seminar class at DePauw this semester was given the task to conceive, plan, organize, publicize, and present a performance that would:

  • include some classical music, but not be necessarily limited to it
  • attract non-music students who would not otherwise voluntarily attend a performance of classical music
After much brainstorming, discussion, market research, etc., and with encouragement from me and indirectly from Greg Sandow, they decided on the following:
  • hold the concert in the last week of class as a study break
  • hold it in the ballroom of the Student Union building, near the food court, so as to capitalize on walk-by traffic
  • include free food as a draw (see, they know what will attract a college-age audience)
  • not use the word "classical" anywhere in the title or publicity (a result of getting focus group feedback from other students)
  • have a mix of audience-participation drum circle, classical music, and pop music
  • use really eye-catching posters, which they designed themselves and had professionally printed
  • use Facebook to invite friends and friends of friends
  • do heavy word-of-mouth publicity and invitation
They named the event "A Musical Buffet, with a Side of Punch and Pie." "Punch and pie" is a reference to the South Park movie. They got funds from the university and had 10 pies, several cakes, and countless cookies, as well as 15 gallons of punch. (So, unlike the South park movie in which punch and pie isn't served at the meeting on how to save the world, they did serve dessert!)

The event was Tuesday night, and a grand success. The classical pieces were as warmly cheered as the pop pieces. The audience was huge--beyond their expectations--with the majority non-music majors. And the class members told me today that they were delighted that none of them recognized a majority of the audience--so it wasn't just their own friends and classmates who came.

Everything went off without a hitch. Response from students, faculty, and administration has been enthusiastic.

I'll write more soon, and post some video.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Non-Decline of Classical Recording?

I'm continuing to Google around, looking for statistics on whether or not the number of new releases of classical music has declined in recent years. As I wrote in my last post, Scott Spiegelberg found data that shows that new DG releases (including rereleases) are way up. No more statistics yet, but here's an interesting quote from a 2004 Alex Ross post in which he suggests that classical recording is not an industry in decline:

Tony Tommasini wrote in the Sunday New York Times: “For too long, the troubles among the major record companies and leading performing arts institutions have been taken as proof that the entire classical music field is struggling to engage an uninterested general public.” Yes. The former leading labels may be struggling to justify themelves to the corporate (non)entities that own them, but Nonesuch, ECM, Hyperion, and Harmonia Mundi have defined the category "major" out of existence, and there seems to be no end of new glories. I dithered over a dozen rave-worthy releases before picking René Jacobs’ Figaro, the Anna Netrebko recital, and Till Fellner’s Well-Tempered Clavier for my CD column last week. Here are six other recent discs that are evidence of something other than an industry in decline:
Follow the link to read his list. And I would add Naxos to his list of labels.

Rumors of Classical Recording's Death Exaggerated?

My DePauw colleague Scott Spiegelberg wrote an excellent followup on his blog, Musical Perceptions, to my post on the assertions of the "death" or "decline" of classical recording. It turns out he's been researching this subject himself. Among other information, he includes this, which I found startling:

I couldn't find any industry-wide data [for classical new releases], but I looked at Deutsche Grammaphon's catalog to tally their number of releases each year. Here it is:
Year # of releases
1982 8
1983 18
1984 29
1985 38
1986 19
1987 75
1988 52
1989 72
1990 56
1991 39
1992 53
1993 72
1994 86
1995 120
1996 90
1997 88
1998 94
1999 109
2000 85
2001 77
2002 116
2003 129
2004 145
2005 235
2006 273
Scott notes that the huge increase in recent years includes many releases of older recordings. Both Scott and I (and others, I'm sure) are on the hunt for broader industry-wide statistics on both the number of releases and the number of new releases. In her comment on my post, Elaine Fine reports the following:
The November/December issue of the American Record Guide has 244 pages of reviews of new recordings, and there are roughly three reviews per page. That means that there are roughly 730 new releases represented in that issue. Multiply that by 6 (the number of issues of roughly the same size that come out per year), and you get around 4390 recordings for 2006. Those are just the ones that the ARG reviewers felt were worth reviewing.
I'm inferring that these are all classical recordings.

As I suggested in my original post, I imagine that as the major labels have been bought by companies more interested in profit than mission, so that the model using some mega-sellers to subsidize smaller-sellers has nearly vanished, there's an enormous increase in performer-produced recordings on small labels. I have several friends, for example, who have funded the recording/editing costs of projects which the label Centaur has distributed. CD Baby and other online distributors have tons of interesting self-produced classical recordings.

I imagine the next big boom in major-label new ecording of traditional classical repertoire will come when there is some new technology that is a big step forward from digital stereo (CDs, MP3s, Itunes, etc.). SACDs, which use surround sound, don't seem to have taken hold anymore than "quadraphonic" recordings did in the 1970s, probably for the same reason: it's expensive and cumbersome to set up a really good surround-sound system. And stereo is much more like one's experience in a traditional concert than is surround sound.

So until then . . .

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Death of Classical Recording? Looking for Data

(12/7: some slight editing added)

"Classical music recording died several years ago," asserted the speaker, with a touch of rhetorical hyperbole, at a talk I attended recently. A skeptical college professor in the audience asked for specific data to back up the claim. The speaker, perhaps caught off guard, suggested that this is something "everyone knows" but wasn't able to come up with any statistics or anecdotal evidence, although he made what I believe is the correct assertion that there are many fewer classical recordings being produced, and the undeniable observation that there are fewer stores selling classical recordings. (I have noticed over the past five years the steady shrinking of floor space for classical CDs in the music departments of the Indianapolis-area Borders and Barnes and Noble stores; 10 years ago Best Buy had a huge classical selection, now hardly anything.)

So I believe the speaker was right, at least when it comes to classical recording as we used to know it: big labels recording major masterworks performed by big-name artists. As major record labels have been bought up by big conglomerates not committed to the cause of classical recording, new classical releases have been diminishing to the point that classical recording as it was in the 60's and 70's is for all intents and purposes dead. That's my sense of things anyway. But I have no statistics at my fingertips, either, although I do have some anecdotes.

Having a bit of free time this morning, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a little time this researching the question online, and I invite my readers to add specific resources in the comments section. Here's what I've come up with in a couple of quick Google searches:

In January 2004, Greg Sandow (to whom I turn first when researching the challenges facing classical music) referred to "the decline (surely too weak a word) of classical recording." A little over a year later, he wrote a blog entry "The Crisis" which gave a more nuanced discussion of the issue:

3. Major classical record labels hardly record classical music any more. Again, this to some extent reflects a changed corporate climate. Major record labels are owned by huge media companies, which expect serious profits from each of their divisions. Plus, looking back a generation, record companies learned in the late '60s and the '70s how much money they could make from pop (when bands started selling millions of albums, instead of just millions of singles). The companies may well have wondered why they should settle for smaller profits from classical. But this is more than corporate greed; again we're talking about a change in cultural weather. Back in the '60s, and of course earlier, it seemed natural that large record companies should support serious classical divisions. They did this not simply for money, but also for prestige, and out of genuine interest. In the '40s, after all (and in earlier decades), classical radio broadcasts had reached millions of listeners, and NBC (one of the big radio networks) had even created an orchestra for Toscanini. Some of that spirit lived on into the age of television, but as the decades marched on, the record companies cared less and less. Not long ago, a spokesman for BMG, commenting on the Sony/BMG merger, turned out to have no idea that BMG had legendary classical artists in its catalogue. Classical music, it seemed, didn't matter to him at all.

4. Going along with a decline in major-label classical recording is a decline in classical record stores. Only a decade ago, there were five serious classical record departments in New York, at the two Tower Records branches, at two HMV stores, and at J&R Music World. J&R has decimated its classical department, the two HMV stores have closed, and Tower teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. The classical department at its downtown store is smaller than it used to be. More to the point, though, is the complete disappearance of stores selling any large number of classical records in smaller cities, and even some large ones. There simply isn't a market. And when I go to the Tower Records classical departments in New York, and see how comparatively empty they are, I wonder how Tower can sustain them. How can any store -- especially in a city where real estate costs as much as it does in New York -- afford to maintain so much space that generates so comparatively few sales?

5. Classical records are now largely subsidized. This is the dirty little secret of the classical record industry. Look at a serious classical recording -- especially something large-scale, like an orchestral performance, or an opera -- and you'll usually find private sponsors. Even the Metropolitan Opera's commercial recording of Wagner's Ring was at least to some extent privately funded. (Or so the Met's press department once confirmed to me, while remaining cagy about exactly how much of the cost the private donors paid.) What this means is that very few classical recordings are actually commercial, as, back in the 1950s and 1960s, almost all classical records (even on small labels) once were. It's important to remember this when you look at the vast array of small classical labels, many of them putting out notable, even compelling releases. How many of these labels are actually paying for those recordings? Or, maybe more to the point, how many of these recordings earn what they cost to make? Most, from everything I've heard, aren't even expected to earn much money. Instead, they're financed by the musicians who make them. Or else the record companies themselves are non-profit entities, supported by private funds.

Greg doesn't reference any specific sources--which one wouldn't necessarily expect in a blog entry--to document his statement that, "Major classical record labels hardly record classical music any more."

And, sad to note, Greg was wondering then how Tower records could survive, and now it's gone.

Norman Lebrecht wrote a 2003 blog entry, "Look Who's Been Dumped" in which he discusses artists being dropped by major labels. Along these lines, I know of anecdotal evidence, through a friend whose ex-wife was a classical producer for Phillips, that even Jessye Norman was dropped by that company for having sales too low.

Terry Teachout, in "What to Learn from Howard Stern: Can Old and New Media Coexist?" writes, "Mind you, I’ve never predicted the End of Classical Music, but I did see the end of the classical recording industry coming down the track many years ago, and wasn’t even slightly surprised when it finally came to pass." Terry goes on to muse about the possibilities of new delivery systems, and how many artists are successfully bypassing the whole crumbling structure of major labels with outlets like CD Baby and digital delivery systems.

What I haven't found yet, Googling around (I haven't gone to some of our academic online databases) are actual statistics along the lines of: "In 1980, there were X new classical releases; in 1990, Y; in 2000 Z; etc."

If anyone has those figures, please send 'em to me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

ISIM--and a blog of improvisations

I'm at the International Society for Improvised Music conference at the University of Michigan. My presentation Friday on how I've used my experiences with Music for People and also Arthur Hull went well. And I've been to so many fascinating, stimulating presentations which have given me new ideas and new perspectives that I feel greatly privileged to be here. I'll write as much as I can about this on my improv blog as soon as I can--of course we are now in the end-of-semester crush, so time is quite limited.

Speaking of improv blogs, Eric Barnhill, a wonderful pianist and Dalcroze teacher who also gave a presentation at the conference, has a blog of actual improvisations. He told me about it this evening; what a great idea! He describes his musical language as having a strong Brahms and Schubert influence. I've just listened to a few of his pieces, and he's right. And his music is wonderful. It's a wonderful discovery for me to find someone who improvises in a traditional common-practice language--it shows that one can indeed improvise in any style.

Take a listen.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Listen to Dad, or Pay $1600 for Spaghetti Sauce

My dad taught long ago to always check the contents when buying something in a box, especially something expensive. He was right, as he has been about so many things: The New York Times reports today that instead of a $1600 camcorder, a couple found spaghetti sauce in the box.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Rittenbergs planned to shoot family movies with a new camcorder. They may have to settle for a family pasta dinner, instead. The couple paid about $1,600 for a camcorder at a Best Buy store in the St. Louis suburb of Ellisville last week. They said when they opened the box, they found something they hadn't pictured: a jar of Classico pasta sauce where the camera should have been.

''The only thing I thought was, 'you've got to be kidding me,''' Melisa Rittenberg, 36, of the southeast Missouri town Perryville, said.

Best Buy is still deciding what to do.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Improvisors Hold a Conference

I'm giving a presentation at the inaugural conference of the International Society for Improvised Music later this week. Improvising musicians tend to be so right-brained and, well, improvisational, that it is something approaching a miracle that the society has been formed and the conference has been so lovingly and efficiently organized by Ed Sarath, Sarah Weaver, and others.

There are so many presenters that aside from the keynote sessions, there will be that frustrating simultaneous-presentation phenomenon. I feel so sorry for everyone else presenting at the same time as me--they won't have an audience! (Just kidding. I hope it is not the other way around.)

The conference is at the University of Michigan. I love Ann Arbor and haven't been there for a while, so I'm really looking forward to it. Here's the blurb on my presentation:

Humanistic, Pan-Idiomatic Improvisation: Using Approaches of David Darling and Arthur Hull in Working with College Music Students

The humanistic approach to improvisation developed by David Darling and his colleagues in Music for People has profoundly influenced many musicians and educators. DePauw University cello professor Eric Edberg will discuss/demonstrate how his training with Music for People, and also with Arthur Hull (author of Drum Circle Spirit), has created opportunities for transcending classical perfectionism and fostering creativity and panidiomatic improvisation skills in himself and his students. The session includes music making; instruments welcome.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Badass Cellist

It's official: I'm a "badass" cellist--or at least the classical music in jeans concert was. (Thanks, Alek.) Now I finally know what I want my tombstone to say. (Or would say, if I was going to have a tombstone, rather than have my ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico--which sounds like a much more enjoyable place to spend the next billion years or so than a hole in the ground.) Pushing 50 and still badass--that really made my day!

The concert, and the idea behind it, has gotten renewed attention since Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, mentioned it in his blog. The harpist Helen Radice recently wrote a fascinating post prompted by the concert and my ruminations on it, too. Her thoughts are particularly perceptive:

This is the problem: the deeply in love, and the rest. It always has been: I can't think of another art form that is so divided between those who simply could not live without it, and those for whom it couldn't be more irrelevant, who would, as Edberg says, rather "watch TV, or play cards, or smoke a joint, or drink a case of beer, or play Ultimate Frisbee, or hang out with friends, or even study...or...could go and listen to (what [they] assume to be) boring music and have to stifle [their] humanity." That is why opinion so divides over concerts, like Edberg's experiment, designed specifically for non-musicians. Some non-musicians dance in the aisles, but the musicians can't bear it. When the musicians are on their feet cheering, often the others are too, heading for the nearest exit.

Edberg is right that musicians should care about what our audiences will enjoy. But, because the division outlined above is the problem in the first place, a similarly divisive solution that either, but not both, the audience or the musicians like, may be a good first jolt, but is not sustainable. As a musician, that is, someone who doesn't "just love to make music, [but] need[s] to make music... if only 50 or 20 or 10 people come...[he doesn't] really care", I would argue Edberg recognises this. His concert is an emergency measure: "if it takes letting them dance to get new audiences in, let's let them dance. I can't think of anything better to do in a crisis."

Crisis measures are sometimes necessary, but they are short-term. "Accessible" concerts are about novelty, gimmicks to catch the eye.
It's well worth reading the rest of her remarks. The thing we who are interested in the future of art music need to continue to explore is how to make concerts accessible but not gimmicky. Greg Sandow (who might be my patron saint if he weren't still so very much alive and well) has written about this recently, here and here.

I'm probably the only person who has thoroughly read through not just all my posts about my concert experiment but also all the comments posted about it, both on my blog and elsewhere. It's a lot of reading; but taken together the various responses are quite informative--such a wide range of views.

By the way, the piece in the video clip is the last movement of the Haydn-Piatigorsky Divertimento in D Major. Gregor Piatigorsky, the great Russian cellist (1903-1976), arranged it from (as I understand it) a work originally for baryton, viola, and cello. Two of my teachers, Denis Brott and the late Stephen Kates, were students of Piatigorsky and quite fond of the piece.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Savage remarks

Andrew Sullivan has posted some bizarrely hateful anti-gay ramblings by Michael Savage with the invitation to substitute "Jew" for "homosexual" to see how scary the guy is. At least this sort of thing is out in the open and not being fed to children by the government, as was that awful Sid Davis film (below). How can anyone think the sort of stuff Savage does? Or is it just an act? "They want the full subjugation of this society to their agenda." Right. Equal rights for everybody. If you don't want that, then go ahead, be afraid. Be very afraid!

Dealing with the baggage

I often wonder, with some wistfulness, what life would be like had I not grown up hating myself for being gay. So much of my adult life is taken up with managing the genuinely profound emotional/spiritual damage--anxiety, depression, social phobias, internalized homophobia, etc. My greatest, and most difficult, accomplishment is just having survived. There are many blessings that have come with being gay, but there is still so much baggage that must be repacked and rebalanced every so often that it can still be exhausting, even after all sorts of therapy and support and coming out, etc.

The darkness, the sickness of the sort of homophobia I was surrounded by and absorbed as I grew up is occasionally made newly clear. I know now how much of it was the result of government anti-homosexual, anti-communist propaganda, and I've read that the government worked to make homosexuality socially unacceptable to prevent men from claiming to be gay to get out of military service during WWII and the Korean and Vietnamese wars. And then there was psychology run amok.

Exgay Watch just posted a link to the YouTube video below, on the occasion of the death of its producer. This is the sort of thing my parents were taught to believe: that "homosexuals" were "sick" men driven to seduce, molest, and even murder young boys. That's what homosexuals were back then. That's what I was taught. And so when I began to realize I was attracted to other guys, not girls, I was horrified and terrified and did everything I could to stop it.

I watched much of this video yesterday afternoon. Sickening. No wonder I have so many issues, I realized anew.

Then last night, I had the immense good fortune to be channel surfing (see, that's one addiction that can pay off sometimes) and come across the documentary A Touch of Greatness, about the extraordinary teacher Albert Cullum, on PBS. One of the most inspiring things I ever saw.

All the clips of Cullum show him to be one of the most stereotypically gay-acting people I've ever seen. Neither the documentary nor any of the hits I found in a quick Google search said he was openly gay. But I found myself wondering if any of the parents of the children in the film ever worried about him. And then I was horrified with myself for projecting that, because some corner of my brain still cannot erase the programming that conflates homosexuality and pedophilia. And I remembered that once my son (the paradoxical wonderful result of running away from my same-sex attraction) had a rather effeminate piano teacher whom I didn't want to be alone together with my son. I feel ashamed for having felt that way. And horribly angry at all those who produced the sort of crap in the clip above. And angry that nobody told me or my parents that there were great people, people like (most probably) Albert Cullum, who were homosexual.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fall colors and noise pollution

One of the WORST inventions ever invented is the leaf blower. What horrible noise pollution! Now the fall colors bring sonic annoyance with them. I suppose if I had a soundproof house it might be better, or if I lived in a neighborhood with fewer tress. Meanwhile, urrrrrrrrrrrgh.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stealth classical music?

"Classical" music, like all labels, may have outlived its usefulness.

My first-year seminar class is putting on a concert in a few weeks as a class project. The goal is to get non-music students in the door, to an event that includes at least some classical music.

They have decided to hold the performance in a large room near the food court in the Student Union Building, and to have free desserts, so there will be somewhat of a coffee-house atmosphere. Or what a few of them think of as a coffee-house atmosphere. In doing some "market research," asking friends what they though of various titles for the concert, my students discovered that few of their friends knew what a "coffee house" is. In this age of Starbucks, where the music is not live (usually) but the CDs being sold, the association between a coffeehouse and live music no longer exists.

They also discovered that nearly 100% of their non-musician friends said they wouldn't go to something with the word "classical" in the title. (They had been thinking about "so you think you know classical music.")

"Classical music" supposedly refers to everything from Gregorian chant to Steve Reich and Kronos. It is an increasingly counterproductive label.

My students are calling their event "A Musical Buffet," and will emphasize the inclusion of jazz and African music and not use the word "classical." And they'll do some of that formerly-known-as-classical music, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Curioser and curioser

Oh my gosh. It hadn't even occurred to me that Ted Haggard's homosexuality might have been an open secret among, or at least self-evident to, top evangelicals. Now Andrew Sullivan has posted that this in fact was the case, at least according to Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

It reminds me that there is this sort of dichotomy going on with the fundamentalists/evangelicals I know personally. There are a few with whom I have a friendly acquaintanceship, through DePauw or through my kids' school and friends. The woman I know best has always been extremely kind and respectful to me, and to other gay men and lesbians with whom she's had personal contact. And yet she believes, as a matter of faith, in all the ex-gay stuff Focus on the Family and others promote. And the pastor of our town's biggest evangelical church, who I had speak in a class on gay issues once, is very friendly to me when we come across each other in a restaurant or elsewhere in town. (I'm told his wife once made him apologize, after a particularly virulent anti-gay sermon, to a teenager in the congregation who had just come out.) And he actually seemed surprised when I told him that most gay and lesbian people would find it offensive to hear him continually compare our sexual orientation to alcoholism.

I don't understand how some people can seem to accept that some people are gay, and be nice to them, and see how truly, well, gay we indeed are, and then believe that all someone needs to do is to accept Jesus, pray, and learn to feel more masculine or feminine and that will be that.

Oh, well. There's a lot about fundamentalists/evangelicals I don't get--and a lot of people who are of that religious persuasion whom I love.

Not signing on to this potentially losing cause:

James Dobson, arch-conservative founder and head of Focus on the Family (which promotes the idea that sexual orientation can be changed through counseling and prayer), has decided not to help counsel Ted Haggard (the evangelist dismissed from his church after being outed by a male prostitute) after all--too busy, Dobson says.

Or maybe he doesn't want to be associated with the country's highest profile would-be "ex gay." As the good folks over at have pointed out, Haggard's resignation letter implies he's already tried some form or forms of therapy or counseling. With an unsurprising regularity, ex-gay leaders turn out be more gay than ex. So the odds that Haggard would be a long-term success story are virtually nil--something that Dobson surely knows. (Ex-Gay Watch has a great section on "former ex-gays," by the way.)

What could possibly be worse than Haggard claiming to have "come out of homosexuality" (or something like that) and than messily fall off the straight wagon again? I wouldn't want to risk being associated with that either.

Daniel Gonzalez at EGW recently posted about two evangelists taking opposing positions regarding whether or not sexual orientation can be changed. But even Tony Camplo, whose remarks (quoted from a CNN broadcast) urge honesty, doesn't suggest that it is easy or necessarily even possible to change orientation; Campolo seems to be referring to getting control of one's sexual behavior. Gonzalez emphasizes the key point: "he's going top have to live with that orientation."

CAMPOLO: [Haggard has] said all the right things up to this point. The real question is, when he does get counsel, when he does enter into this restoration process, will he be forthcoming and honest about everything? Will he just say, I have a little problem on the side? Or will he begin to face the fact that maybe I have a sexual orientation that does not offer an easy fix. And if he does turn out to be homosexual in his orientation, he's going to have to live with that orientation and figure out what this means for the rest of his life, because there's not an easy fix for that. And to suggest that a few prayers and a few spiritual things, some scripture reading, is going to solve the problem, it won't. That's a good beginning. But -- and with God's help, he can go beyond that. But I have to tell you, you do have to go beyond just a spiritual experience in the process of restoration.
The choice is to live as an integrated, whole, self-accepting and affirming gay or bisexual man, or to continue to disavow an integral part of himself and to compartmentalize this aspect of his sexuality. As someone who's "been there, done that," I can tell you the latter course is very difficult.

Some social conservatives use the existence of ex-gay ministries and the anecdotal testimonies of (what usually turn out to be temporary) success stories to suggest that it would be not just possible but fairly easy for a gay or lesbian person to change. Look at how hard it is to change something like one's eating habits--we are a country literally eating ourselves to death. The obesity epidemic grows and grows. Think Kirstie Allie won't put the weight back on once her NutriSystem deal ends? Has Oprah ever kept weight off long term? (OK, I watch too much television.)

Sexual orientation is surely even more hard-wired than the desire for sugar and fatty foods. Dobson, no fool, is smart to distance himself from an attempt to de-gay Haggard. Which is actually good news for Haggard, who now may be one step closer to getting the love and help he needs to be who he is, not who the anti-gay evangelist movement would like to turn him into.

Weekend Reading: Sandow and Ross

Greg Sandow has a new episode posted in his The Future of Classical Music online book. As always, worthwhile and important reading. And he's been blogging up a storm lately, too.

Speaking of worthwhile blog reading, Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, did a blog post today about the classical-music-in-jeans experiment Stephanie Gurga and I did at DePauw back in August. "Classical chaos," he calls it.

I found out about Ross's post from a notification if a new comment posted to my morning-after invitation for feedback from the audience.

I'm a classical musician who's very comfortable with applause between movements, casual dress, performers talking before and/or after pieces, and other breaches of conventional concert decorum. On the other hand my colleagues and I work hard to learn what we do, and we're pretty good at it--good enough, anyway, that we're not embarrassed to charge admission. What I saw on the short video clip (linked from Alex Ross' blog) was two musicians who know what they're doing, and a cluster of people who can't dance and were just grandstanding. Doesn't ability make a difference? If people who know how to do the waltz feel like waltzing to the second movement of the Arensky D minor piano trio, go for it. If klutzes want to upstage the musicians with an improvised quasi-polka, no thanks. . . .
Here are all my relevant blog posts, if you are just joining the discussion (in order of appearance):
Let's see, it's almost mid-November. The colleague who stopped speaking to me for a while after the "chaos" concert is being friendly again. I won't forward him the link to Ross's post!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bye, John

The embarassment of living in a district represented by John Hostettler is coming to an end. And he was trounced, 61-39, in a district gerrymandered to be Republican, in a historically Republican state. The video below, starting at about 3:00, shows just one example of why his defeat is such a relief.

What year is is it, anyway?

Um, I don't quite know what's going on in my neck of the woods (Greencastle, Indiana). Today is November 7; the local cable network, Insight Communications, just ran an add on Comedy Central for an event on November 2. Right, five days ago.

And our local paper, the Banner Graphic, ran this today:

It's time again for local businesses to break out the tinsel, lights and ornaments and get creative for the holiday season.

The Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce is now accepting entries for the 2005 Spirit of Christmas Award.
I guess we've decided time is relative.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I've got Dexter

under my skin.

How can I be so in love with a television show about a serial killer? With such an absurd premise as a serial killer trained to be efficient by his policeman foster father, and committed to using his drive to kill as a force for good (he kills only murderers who would otherwise kill innocent victims)? And who is finding his ability to feel emotion being brought to life by his relationship, initially faked, with a woman who is a domestic violence survivor? And is playing a mutually fascinated cat-and-mouse game with a "bad" serial killer, whose skill he greatly admires?

Ah, love is a strange thing. And Dexter is a fascinating, creative, entertainment.

Years ago I read Walter Winks Engaging the Powers, in which he makes a strong case against what he calls the "myth of redemptive violence." I thought I did not embrace redemptive violence. And yet Dexter makes me question myself. It's a smart, urbane, Miami version of a "Dirty Harry" sort of ethic.

There is a redemption going on in the story which has nothing to do with violence, an unfolding love which Dexter's secret life throws into relief. It's an allegory, I know. But it's still kinda spooky that I like it so much.

With Dexter and South Park and Weeds, all I can say is who the hell thinks this stuff up?

"Fishing" for answers?

In his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish wrote a piece on October 22 in which he narrowly defined the role of a college professor.

I am trained and paid to do two things (although, needless to say, I don’t always succeed in my attempts to do them): 1) to introduce students to materials they didn’t know a whole lot about, and 2) to equip them with the skills that will enable them, first, to analyze and evaluate those materials and, second, to perform independent research, should they choose to do so, after the semester is over. That’s it. That’s the job. There’s nothing more, and the moment an instructor tries to do something more – tries to do some of the things urged by Derek Bok or tries to redress the injustices of the world – he or she will have crossed a line and will be practicing without a license. In response to this trespass someone will protest the politicization of the classroom, after which a debate will break out about the scope and limits of academic freedom, with all parties hurling pieties at one another and claiming to be the only defenders of academic integrity.

But the whole dreary sequence can be avoided if everyone lets go of outsized ambitions and pledges to just teach the materials and confer the skills, for then no one will be tempted to take on the job of moralist or reformer or political agent, and there will be no more outcries about professors who overstep their bounds.
His comments have generated plenty of debate, at least on the Times site. There were lots of comments posted in reply to Fish's original piece, and to his reply to those comments.

One of the strongest arguments against Fish's position is that the attempt to be an impartial, disinterested facilitator of discussion and critical thinking is, for many of us, and in many areas, an impossible goal. There's always going to be some bias, even unconscious bias. No matter how much one may try, one's biases are going to shape and frame the conversation one guides. So there's more intellectual honesty in making one's opinions known.

"As I used to say to my students, I don't care if you agree with my answers. The important thing is to see that there are questions to be asked." That's from a 1995 talk by musicologist Christopher Small.

A lot depends on context, of course. With some groups of advanced and motivated students, I imagine one could stick to the role of intellectual provocateur without revealing any of one's own views. But with many of the undergraduates I teach, it's pretty difficult to teach without honestly sharing one's enthusiasm for the subject.

Of course, the sort of teaching Fish is talking about deals with the analysis of texts and the debate of abstract ideas. Much of what I do as a music professor is coaching students and deals with the nature of their process in the activities of listening to, relating to, performing, and creating music.

How would one effectively teach, for example, a course in the "appreciation" of classical music without sharing one's own enthusiasm? You've got, often as not, a bunch of kids who have never listened to classical music, think it's boring, and are taking the class pretty much involuntarily, to fulfill a requirement. Is it really inappropriate to share experiences and perspectives, as well as structure a series of experiences for the students, with a motive of helping than experience the tremendous experience that listening to classical music can be?

There was a newspaper ad many years ago for Teach for America or some other educational initiative that showed the face of a teenage boy with an on/off switch on his forehead. I don't quite remember the caption; the point was that kids don't come with a switch that easy to access. Many students need that switch of intellectual and personal engagement turned on, and many of us, especially those of us teaching on the primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels see at least part of our job as doing everything possible to turn those switches on.

I put that ad on the outside of my office door so I'd see it every morning when I went in.

Fish takes strong exception to Derek Bok's idea that colleges should do thinks like “help develop such virtues as racial tolerance, honesty and social responsibility”; “prepare … students to be active, knowledgeable citizens in a democracy”; and “nurture such behavioral traits as good moral character.” I haven't read Bok's book Our Underacheiveing Colleges, from which Fish quotes. I'm no proponent of pressuring students to adopt any particular view.

On the other had, I'd have a difficult time arguing that colleges should not promote racial tolerance, honest, social responsibility, and active, knowledgeable participation in democracy. You don't have to hide your own views to teach critical thinking and to help students learn to think for themselves. Modeling those activities, being open about ones views , can go hand in hand with encouraging students to think for themselves. As Small suggests, if a teacher makes it clear the students aren't expected to adopt the teacher's answers, there's no harm in the teacher sharing his own answers.

All that said, I imagine Fish is an engaging teacher. He certainly got me thinking on this issue.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bearing False Witness

As usual, Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head:

For those who still - amazingly - believe that being gay is somehow a "choice," consider Haggard. If he could have chosen not to be gay, don't you think he would have? Even though he apparently believes being gay is "repulsive and dark" (while it is, in fact, just another wonderful way to be human), he still cannot prevail against it. It is integral to him. It has been "all of [his] adult life".

. . . What is dark and repulsive is dishonesty.

There is no commandment not to be gay. There is a commandment not to bear false witness. Haggard bore false witness - to himself, to his wife, to his traumatized kids, to his fellow gay men and women. repeatedly, pathologically, self-destructively. The right response for Christians is compassion and forgiveness. But also hope: hope that this will help spread the truth about what being gay actually is.

Haggard's nightmare may be far from over

Ted Haggard's statement to his congregation has been published, as has a letter from his wife (both .pdf files). Ted's statement says, in part,

The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.

For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I've sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn't want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn't a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual,emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.
It sounds as if he's going to stay trapped in the nightmare. The nightmare is the fantasy, in which so many evangelical/conservatives are invested, is that same-sex attraction can be prayed/counseled away, that with the help of a supernatural, personal God one can change something this fundamental and hard-wired. The nightmare is believing that one's same-sex attractions are "repulsive and dark" and "dirt." The problem nightmare is not his attraction to men, but what he has been taught and has been teaching about homosexuality.

In my last post, I said I don't consider everyone who is (primarily) same-sex attracted to be "gay." It's clear that many "ex-gay" people continue to be attracted to the same sex. They just distance their identities from this part of themselves, just as Haggard is continuing to do (although he can no longer do it in secret). They are no longer "gay," they say; they are just tempted by sin. Virtually everyone I've met, or known online, or read about, who considered themselves "ex-gay" to one extent or another, eventually realized that same-sex attraction is just part of who they are and that it was more realistic and healthy to accept themselves rather than to continue to try and deny and change themselves. You find very few genuinely long-term (i.e., over 10 years) "success" stories in the ex-gay movement.

"I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom," Haggard writes. Oh, how many times did I, and so many others, think this same thing. "Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires . . . " that he succumbed to. It does tremendous damage to say about a profoundly integral part of one's self that this is not me. Haggard is evidently going to continue to do that, at least for a while. Look at who's guiding him: listed first, James Dobson, that cruel moralist who wears a pleasant smile. The nightmare cycle of repression and denial, then the eruption of buried feelings, will continue until he can accept all of himself.

One can be deeply and even rather evangelistically Christian and openly, proudly, self-affirmingly gay or bisexual. There are thousands of members of Metropolitan Community Church members who can show him that. And you can love and be committed to your wife and children and be a wonderful, involved father, and yet choose to live separately and even divorce--while remaining loving and committed (ask my ex-wife and me). Haggard and his wife have a lot to explore. It's going to be all the harder if Haggard's primary counselors through this have strong agendas of their own. Could James Dobson ever say, "Look Ted, if you are gay I love and support you in living an honest and open life. You can be a loving and involved father to your children and a loving, committed friend to the woman now your wife. The form of your relationship may change, but your love and commitment need not."? I doubt it.

I imagine Haggard is now destined to be a poster-child for ex-gay "therapy." My condolences to him and his family. Acceptance of reality, combined with a commitment to unconditional love and unending forgiveness, is the only thing that I've ever seen be genuinely healing. Faith-based pseudo-science, wrapped in a Bible, can cause deep and lasting pain.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Proven without a doubt"

Well, Haggard's been fired by his church. Here's the .pdf file of the statement. "Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct."

The whole thing is sad to me. There is some sort of justice in it all. The man's arrogant, self-righteous preaching on homosexuality has undoubtedly caused extraordinary amounts of self-torment in countless of his followers who are attracted to the same sex.

In my thinking, "gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual" refer to a persons conscious identity, not the fact of same-sex attraction; it's a long story. So I don't think of Haggard at this point as a secretly gay man; I think of him as someone who now has the opportunity to create a healthy, integrated identity as an openly gay or bisexual man.

Oh, wouldn't it be nice if he becomes the next Mel White (a fundamentalist minister, speech writer, and ghost writer for Billy Graham and Pat Robertson who came out of the closet, developed a gay identity, and now is an important gay activist who founded the organization Soulforce) and recently wrote Religion Gone Bad)? I fear he is probably so enmeshed in the fundamentalist/evangelical world, and will be under so much pressure from those invested in the "ex-gay" fantasy, that it will be doubly difficult for him. On the other hand, if anyone has enough self-possession to break free, it's probably him. (Of course, I'm just speculating.)

There's a line in The Godfather Part III where the cardinal to whom Michael Corleone has confessed many things, including having his brother killed, says, "it is just that you suffer." It is just that Ted Haggard suffers. It is not just that his wife and children suffer--especially his children. "The sins of the father are visited on the son."

This personal tragedy for the Haggards (I mean the trauma to the life of the family; that Haggard, or anyone else, is same-sex attracted is not a tragedy, of course) has the potential to trigger a major rethinking of attitudes towards homosexuality in the evangelical world. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.