Saturday, October 28, 2006

A cello player who writes

I don't just enjoy writing, some part of me needs to write. I spent much of the early part of the week drafting a very long proposal on the behalf of a committee on which I serve at DePauw. The proposal is the culmination of over a year and a half's work, including much disagreement within the committee. The process was so infamously contentious that the committee which must review my committee's proposal requested a recounting of how we reached our decision.

And so the proposal needed to not only present the arguments for our recommendation itself, but also given an even-handed and fair account of the disagreements and how they were eventually resolved (or at least moved past). It took many hours to draft; overall it was a fascinating and enjoyable process. There's a certain satisfaction that comes from doing a significant piece of writing, especially when it was well-received by my colleagues, many of whom expressed their appreciation.

One of my colleagues was so impressed with the draft that he honestly asked me why I was a music professor when i could write so well. (OK, no pretension of false modesty here. And once I wrote a document for another committee, which included members of the Board of Trustees, one of whom said, "If you can write like this, what the hell are you doing in the School of Music?") I remarked that had I not gone into music, I think I'd have enjoyed being a lawyer. I love developing arguments and being an advocate.

But a few days of being absorbed by this process, as interesting and enjoyable and satisfying as it was, left me feeling not really myself. Why? There wasn't time or energy left to really practice. And it came after a week out of town, where I did some playing and had beautiful experiences doing so with my relative who is recovering from a stroke. It was a fairly limited amount of playing, and no actually practicing or working.

When I don't practice and play a lot, when I don't feel really in shape as a cellist, I get somewhat miserable. (Can one really be only somewhat miserable?) People who live with me discover this rather quickly. My former father-in-law was the first to name it. "If Eric doesn't practice, he's pretty much impossible to live with," he explained with a sigh and a smile--and combination of exasperation and paternal pride (he is a musician, too) that I've never experienced before or since.

And so there it is: when I'm not being a cellist, I don't feel myself. It's something I recognized back in my senior year of high school. I was faced with the choice of going to a conservatory or going to a university. My academic teachers wanted me to major in literature or philosophy; my music teachers urged me to pursue performance. (False modesty thrown to the wind, I'll also mention that of my father's law partners said I was one of the smartest people he'd ever met--which surprised the heck out of me, since it seemed to me we'd had too little contact for him to have any sense of me); he told my father he couldn't understand why I'd even consider going into music when I could become a doctor or a lawyer.)

I wrestled with the decision. (If you've read this blog much, you know that I'm an agonizer and have a hard time being decisive about important decisions.) This was a hard one, at least as long as I tried to figure out what I should do.

Then somehow I realized something which made the decision for me: that I felt the most alive, the most fully myself, when I was making music. 30, 31 years later, it's still as simple as that. I'm most alive, most me, when I'm playing and practicing and making music.

So as much as I like writing, I think it's safe to say I'm a cello player who writes, not a writer who cellos.

The Interent: It's not just for porn anymore

The Internet can be just amazing. The other day, I was in dire need of a cello part for the Mozart G minor viola quintet (that's one with two violins, two violas, and a cello). The DePauw library didn't have it, the libraries in Indianapolis (including Butler University) didn't have it, and the violist who organized the performance I'm participating in Monday night couldn't find his copy. I posted a message in the Cello Chat forum at the Internet Cello Society, and within a couple of hours two kind people had emailed me PDF files of the part. And one directed me to a web site that has PDF files of public-domain copies of all the Mozart string chamber music.

And like many gay men and lesbians, I was very interested to not just learn about the New Jersey Supreme Court on same-sex unions. Within minutes of the decision being announced, I was able to download the entire decision (including all the concurring and dissenting opinions) from the court's website. "The Internet is for porn," goes the hilarious song from Avenue Q. It's also very good for democracy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Who writes the headlines at "N.J. Court Rejects Gay Marriage" is what the site chose to run over its article on today's decision. Rejects gay marriage? The court said the legislature has 180 days to either include same-sex couples in existing marriage laws or create civil unions with the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex marriage.

NJ Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Unions

One more step towards equality. From today's opinion in Lewis v. Harris (note: PDF file):

HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed samesex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under tecivil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to samesex
couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.
Great news at the end of a long day. The downside is that Republicans may be able to use it to rally the evangelical base in some races. But after 6 years of a president supposedly in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, most of it with solid Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, will this carry as much scare power as such decisions have in the past?

We're having Coming Out Week here at DePauw. I've been wearing a sticker with a rainbow cow and with white letters "C O W" superimposed--United DePauw handed them out. The best, the most effective, perhaps the only truly effective way to make changes for LGBTQ people is for us to come out, be known, and insist on full rights.

And now I'll go read the decision.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Healing Music, II

I got to spend a lot of time with my beloved stroke-patient relative today. He is making such fast recovery that even the hospital staff seem genuinely amazed. The stroke happened not quite four weeks ago; it was massive and the result of a split in a major artery. That he survived is, perhaps, a miracle, and the prognosis at first was most uncertain. Actually, the prognosis for recovering the use of his left side was initially quite certain: he wouldn't. But he's now able to stand up unassisted, to walk with a cane, and was even negotiating stairs in his therapy today. His ability to carry on a conversation is quite normal, and he's making great progress with his speech therapist on reasoning and analysis tasks that involve the parts of his brain that are recovering. In his early forties, he's a brilliant and increasingly well-known research physician, a leader in his field. Each day the probability that he'll be able to fully resume this important work increases.

My role while visiting this week (while on fall break) has been to help with the kids, be a moral support to his wife, and to just hang out with and play cello for him. The just being there is the most important thing, it seems to me.

This evening, our last, was perhaps our most intimate. After his wife and their four-year-old twins had gone home, I sat by his bed and we talked of various things until he was sleepy. And then he asked if I would be willing to play him a lullaby and if I would mind if he fell asleep. I joked that audiences do that all the time at my concerts, so I'm used to it. (At first he thought I was serious, so I reassured him that this was not the case and I'd be happy to play him to sleep.)

I softly improvised, mostly pizzicato, for a while. He was sleeping, perhaps lightly, I thought. I played the Sarabande of the Bach C Major Suite and the Allemande of the G major, both pizzicato, as gently as I could, until I was sure he was asleep. Then I put the cello in its case as softly as possible, turned out the one light in the room, and crept out as quietly as I could.

It was a uniquely beautiful moment for me. It was such an open and trusting request for him to make.

I hesitated to write about it here, because it was so personal. But I want to remember it. And for those musicians who still read this blog despite my recent political rants, perhaps reading this story will affirm an inner sense that there are many possibilities for making music beyond traditional concerts. I used to play quite often in hospitals and nursing homes, and then got preoccupied with other things. I'm going to do more of it. What better thing is there to do as a musician?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Thanks be for evangelical diversity

I mentioned the green evangelical movement in my last post. Here's an MSNBC story about it, as well as, the website of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Creation Care magazine.

And just as there are green evangelicals, there are gay-affirming, Bible-believing evangelicals as well. Evangelicals Concerned is a national, gay-affirming organization, or maybe organizations; I can't tell if this or this website is more official than the other. The Metropolitan Community Churches combine elements of many Christian traditions; those I've attended tend to have a strongly evangelical, even somewhat Pentecostal tone. Jeff Miner, the pastor of Jesus MCC in Indianapolis, which I briefly attended, co-authored a book, The Children Are Free, which makes a very strong biblical case for affirming same-sex orientation and committed relationships.

I am not a "Bible-believing" Christian. I also recognize and value the importance of love, kindness, forgiveness, spirituality, community, shared values, social responsibility and justice, rituals, and mythology. I'm more of a mystic than a believer; my point of view is probably more similar to that articulated by Matthew Fox than anyone else. And I think it's self-evident that rigidly-held, fundamentalist beliefs are the greatest danger facing the world today. (I've been reading a lot of Sam Harris lately.)

But whatever, whomever God is, I thank him/her/them/it/us for the growing diversity among evangelicals.

How things change . . .

I wrote an earlier post about the damage done to the Republican party by the Mark Foley scandal (not just Foley's actions but the coverup). It's revealed to the evangelical "family values" swing voters that the upper echelons of the national party are filled with privately gay-positive or gay-accepting people who have been taking publically anti-gay positions and using scare tactics to get the evangelical/fundamentalist swing vote out to the polls. Even President Bush, who no one doubts is a genuinely "born again," Bible-believeing evangelical Christian, is said to be privately kind and respectul and supportive of the gay and lesbian people--including couples--he knows. And yet he's repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, always at get-out-the-vote times.

As this Washington Times story points out, the evangelical community is realizing it's been had. While these crucial swing voters are not becoming liberal Democrats, their growing disenchantment with this hypocrisy on sexual issues, combined with a growing recognition that the Bush administration has bungled the Iraq situation so badly that nearly everyone who originally supported the war is horrified and sickened by the results, is creating a distaste for the Republican party and its incumbents. And so they aren't going to turn out and swing the vote as they used to.

The growing "green" movement in the evangelical community isn't helping either (I watched a fascinating Bill Moyers piece on PBS last week about the growing number of theologically conservative evangelical Christians who are deciding that global warming is a real phenomenon and that as stewards of the earth they need to take responsibility for the planet's health).

As best I can figure out, those who have cozied up to the evangelicals without genuinely sharing their values have done so in order to be able to put into place economic policies which are extraordinarily pro-business and pro-wealthy people. The "family values" agenda, which is so real to so many evangelicals, seems more and more clearly to have been a ploy by many Republican politicians.

Without the evangelical swing vote, a lot is up for grabs. Once rightfully disillusioned and disenchanted, those evangelical "values voters" aren't going to be coming out and swinging elections. And so their disproportinate political power is going to diminish and, in all liklihood, evaporate. Republicans may have to become more moderate, and fiscally responsible, to get elected and stay in office.

They may even find that they need the lesbian and gay vote. And Democrats will find it easier to take positions solidly in favor of equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation.

So it's going to be very interesting to see what happens in next month's mid-term election, and over the next two years as the 2008 presidential campaign gets going. I'm an independent, more interested in LGBT rights, human rights, and fiscal responisibility than who is in what party. The Democrats have a unique gift for blowing great opportunities. But if the evangelicals stay disenchanted with the Republican party, and stop being a swing vote, who knows what can happen in both parties?

Some very good things may be on the way for the environment, for the economy, for LGBT people, for human rights, and for the rebuilding of the United States's relationships with the rest of the world.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Healing music

I've been playing for my beloved stroke patient, in the hospital. And last night a wonderful Native American flutist stopped by his room and played for all the family gathered there (the hospital has a program in which professional musicans make room-to-room visits).

Making music in this setting, making music to sooth and heal (which can include playing the hurt and pain and anger) feels so right to me. Playing concerts often has so much ego involved. Playing to heal and be healed is something different.

The music of the flutist, and of his beautiful flutes, was exquisite.

A reminder of the many things right with the world

I'm out of town, visiting a relative, whose husband recently had a stroke. He's making a wonderful recovery; it's also becoming clear that the recovery will take a very long time and that there is much hard work and frustration ahead, as well as many joys.

It is wonderful to see the commitment and love that shine through so many members of his family his friends and colleagues, and the extraordinary health-care professionals working so hard on his behalf.

There are so many frightening and frustrating things going on in the world. It's too easy to forget how many great and loving things are going on. I'm grateful for the reminder.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why the Foley Scandal is so Bad for Rebublicans

As each piece of news trickles out about Foley's long-standing flirting with and sexual harassment of male pages, my understanding of the real significance of the Foley affair, the actual scandal with so much political trouble for Republicans, takes shape. (Andrew Sullivan is great about posting each additional nugget of Foley's creepy behavior.)

The Family Research Council and others have been suggesting that a secret homosexual network in D.C. has covered up the Foley scandal to protect its own. No, it seems more and more evident that powerful Republican leaders have covered things up, knowing that this sort of scandal would bring to light the fact that most Republican congressmen and senators are actually pro-gay in private life, have "contempt" (as Tucker Carlson is quoted in my post below) for evangelicals, and have hypocritically championed anti-gay causes to manipulate evangelical voters.

Ick. That's all I can say. I respect someone who honestly believes that the Bible proscribes sexual relations to a husband and wife only. But people who don't believe this pretending to, to get evangelical votes? That's really creepy. I remember how angry guys like James Dobson got when they realized the the Regan and first Bush administrations were paying the lip service on issues like abortion but taking no action. I wonder how they are feeling now.

Jon Stewart v Bill Bennett

Andrew Sullivan has been making some good points lately about the hypocrisy among many important Republicans. Something about the Mark Foley scandal--especially the homophobic nature of the response my many conservative Christian groups--has been bringing to light (or out of the closet, so to speak) the fact many Republican politicians and political advisers who are pro-gay in private life have not only used the anti-gay paranoia of the Religious Right for political advantage, but been open (in private) about their contempt for evangelicals.

In a recent post, Sullivan quotes this exchange between Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson:

Tucker Carlson was brutally honest on the Chris Matthews' Show about the dysfunction and hypocrisy at the core of the current GOP:

CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in ...

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. they live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.

There are many gay men and lesbians working in all aspects of the Republican party, and evidently some of the most publicly anti-gay Republicans have warm and supportive relations with their LGBT staffers, colleagues, and, in some cases, children. Sullivan also posted this amazing interview of Bill Bennett, who wrote books on morals while gambling aways millions of dollars, on the subject of gay marriage. Most telling to me was Bennett's response to Stewart's comment that even the arch-conservative Dick Cheny is in favor of same-sex marriage. "That's because of his experience with his daughter," Bennett replied.

Exactly. People who know LGBT people aren't afraid of them. It's the stereotypes, used intensify fears and "energize the base" of evangelicals, that the Religious Right is concerned about, not the reality.

Jon Stewart is the most brilliant political commentator of out time. His humor is the velvet glove covering his razor-sharp intellect.

All I have to do

is to watch that kid cello-synching to the Gulda cello concerto and I laugh. It's amazing how humor can brighten one's day. Kato Havas used to teach, "That devil can't stand laughter!" She had a good point. Anyway, I watch about 30 seconds of "Sherman Freakando" and can't help but be in a good mood--at least temporarily.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Another cellist not quite in control of himself

but much more amusing. And I'd love for him to come to DePauw--we could fix that bow arm pretty quick.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Power of Nice

A friend and colleague and I had a bit of a public spat (in a faculty meeting) recently, after which I went to his office and, well, told him off. Then I later received an email from him of the sort I am always sorry I actually sent.

What to do? Counterattack? Let it escalate? That is, after all, what so many of us tenured college professors do.

But I felt bad. I was correct, I think, on all the issues, but it was really unfair of me to blow up; I should have communicated my mounting frustration sooner, before it led to an explosion. I spent much of the weekend angry with him, angry wih myself, and not sure what to do. And then I saw somewhere the title of a book: The Power of Nice.

Oh. Be nice.

I had already made an appointment to speak with him. So before going to work this morning, I stopped by my next-door neighbor's house. She buys great wine, and I bought a bottle from her, explaining the situation. She suggested putting the bottle in a gift bag. All she could find, however, was an enormous Oscar the Grouch (Sesame Street) bag. That's perfect! I realized.

I went home and made a "speech bubble" from white paper that said, "Me--Eric the Grouch--is very sorry for losing temper! Can I come out of can now?" (Oscar lives in a trash can.) I taped that to the bag. And put the gift bad in a brown paper bag.

So then I showed up for the meeting and told my friend I had brought a peace offering. I pulled out the oscar the Goruch bag. He had a great laugh, was delighted with the wine, and we had a warm and productive conversation.

This nice stuff works.

Monday, October 09, 2006

YouTube of the day

The person who pointed this video out to me says the cellist is Amanda Forsyth, who is also Mrs. Pinchas Zuckerman. As you watch, you'll see the orchestra and conductor screw up pretty badly; it's easy to have empathy for the frustration Ms. Forsyth felt in the situation. The question is, though, how do you comport yourself on stage in such a situation?

We all have our bad days. This one is too much of a meltdown not to share.

Update: A number of cellists have confirmed that the soloist here had a memory snafu; the breakdown came after she skipped 30 or 40 measures. The comments in Cello Chat and on my class blog are uniformly disapproving of the soloists manner. On YouTube, they are mixed.

Friday, October 06, 2006

And the best thing about today?

I'm working with my new students on how to shift with ease and security, and to stay mentally calm and focused rather than panicking and grabbing for the next note. In a lesson today, one of them was starting to really get it. And that's what is great about teaching: passing on the great things one's learned, seeing them take hold, knowing they'll make a difference, and that the generation just learning them now will pass them on, hopefully improving on them, and that the process will continue forever.

Gay Unions Get Strong Support From Spitzer

Gay Unions Get Strong Support From Spitzer the New York Times reports. I wish I could vote for him. I'm tired of Democrats who won't take a stand--especially one of my own Senators, Evan Bayh.

Gay and lesbian people exists. We deserve equal rights. End of story.

OK, I understand that New York is one of the few places where a mega-poular attorney general can run for governor and endorse same-sex marriage and get elected. But we need leaders in this country, leaders with the guts to tell the truth and take a stand.

Jesus Died So I Might Tell You How to Live

[Note: This post has attracted a surprising amount of interest, which caused me to reread it and discover, to my chagrin, that it was full of typos and grammatical errors. This is a slightly revised and edited version, reposted on 10/18/06.]

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers is a story in today's New York Times.

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

According to the article, most of the evangelical leaders blame the temptations of the liberal, secular culture.

I suspect, though, that the (supposedly) easy sex and drugs out there are not the main reason evangelical churches aren't holding on to their teens. Most evangelicals churches I've attended, and the ones I watch from time to time on television, focus on what might be called "what God can do for me." Accept Jesus as your savior, and your emotional problems will be healed, your physical ailments may be cured, and, most importantly, you'll make more money! God favors "His people." The ones who have become registered (so to speak) born-again-Christians at a public altar call—those are “God’s people.” Everyone else—well, they’re just not God’s people.

And then there's the demonizing of gay and lesbian people and other sexual minorities. If there's one thing being a teacher and a parent has taught me, it's that teenagers, while lacking the maturity that making mistakes brings, are also much less encumbered by prejudices and stereotypes. Teens being brought up in evangelical churches are meeting more and more openly gay and lesbian friends and teachers and parents of friends, and they see that on the whole we are kind and loving and good people.

These teens see their churches practice a sort of selective fundamentalism: a small handful of out-of-context passages used to condemn gays, while explicit prohibitions against divorce, for example, are rationalized away with a "these things sometimes happen, sadly" shrug. They see the complete and dangerous folly of abstinence-only sex education.

They see, just as those outside the evangelical/fundamentalist culture do, the hypocrisy of self-righteous moral champions who have had divorces, affairs, who are emotionally abusive to their spouses and children, who suffocate their kids with impossible-to-live-up-to rules and regulations, etc. One of the great tragedies in my town is a conservative pastor's son who has a severe drinking and drug problem widely discussed by his friends, yet evidently ignored by his parents (how would it look if the pastor’s son was acknowledged to have a drinking/drug problem?), and which, judging from his father's bizarrely angry behavior at soccer games, in all likelihood stems from a home environment if not emotionally abusive at a minimum emotionally oppressive.

Virtually evangelical adult I know, and there are many I know and like and even love in many ways, has a "Christians are better than other people" vibe; one that's often smug. If your family is “Christ centered,” your kids won’t get into drugs and drinking and sex. And so if they do . . . deny it. I can understand why a conservative pastor would go into denial about his son’s problems; it would seem to undermine everything he’s been preaching about Jesus the cure-all, Jesus the problem-solver, Jesus the ultimate “fixer” for “His people.”

I had a conversation today in which an evangelical acquaintance explained to me that her sister-in-law (whom I know), who has bipolar disorder and anxiety/panic attacks, and is recovering from growing up in an emotionally abusive alcoholic household, simply needs to stop taking her medications, turn her life over to Jesus, and all will be well. It reminded me of my evangelical uncle who once sent a letter to the entire family explaining that my drug-addicted, mentally ill cousin should accept Jesus and he would be healed.

As far as I can tell, what the historical Jesus taught was honesty, love, forgiveness, and justice. I was at one time a “born-again” Christian and in many ways still consider myself one, although my theology has become so progressive and interfaith that I'm not always comfortable calling myself Christian.

But one thing keeps me thinking of myself as a Christian. The message of forgiveness, and the call to be kind to each other. Jesus understood that we are all fucked up. We all “sin.” We all do less than we could. We get angry and jealous and petty and we cheat and steal and do things we are ashamed of. Most of all, and worse of all, we are almost continually and inescapably unloving to others, often to those whom we love and who love us the most. And yet God--whoever or whatever God is--forgives us and loves us anyway, and calls us to forgive and love each other. Anyway.

In my limited experience of other religious traditions, I haven’t found this expressed in the same way; I haven’t found to be the core message. But this simple, profound truth, that we all screw up, and the only answer is forgiveness and unconditional love, rings so true, proves itself over and over in my life, that if there is any tradition I can identify with, it’s the Christian one.

Being a Christian, as I understand it, is not about being or becoming better than other people. It's about accepting that I can’t be better or superior. And that I don’t have to, or need to, try. I’m flawed. I’m weak. I’m human. To be a Christian, in this sense, is about being able to be honest about my flaws and weaknesses and the bad things I do, and to be able to admit my errors to others, and apologize when necessary, and to do what I can to make up for damage I cause. Because somehow I am loved and forgiven anyway. That experience is so profound, so joy-giving, that it makes me want to extend that love to others. And as my life becomes more about forgiving and loving, I find I’m a more positive presence more often.

There's a smug-sounding bumper sticker I see occasionally: "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven!" And the implied, "and non-Christians are not forgiven, so I, a Christian, are better off than you," comes through loud and clear.

There are Evangelicals who are not on a God-loves-me-more-than-other-people ego trip. There are Evangelicals who understand that they are as screwed-up and sinful (I word I'm not entirely comfortable with but since it's part of Christian vocabulary I use it for this discussion) as everyone else. And who get that having had a born-again experience doesn't give them license to judge everyone else.

But they seem to be in a distinct minority. The overwhelming number of evangelicals seem to take the attitude, "Jesus died so I can tell you how to live." Jesus died for my sins. I’m forgiven and going to heaven. And guess what? All your problems? Just accept Jesus as your personal savior and poof! your problems will vanish. Bipolar disorder? Gone. Drug addiction? Gone. Not going to accept Jesus? How dare you! Well, we the members of “God’s people” will tell you how to live. And as the “God’s person” with whom you are interacting, I will tell you how to live.

Well, having as much admiration for teenagers as I do, I'm not surprised that so many of them are turned off by evangelicalism as it is so widely practiced today.

One of the great tragedies of our society is that there's not much of an alternative. The mainline, moderate-to-liberal Protestant churches with which I'm acquainted tend to have services as stultifyingly boring as evangelical services can be emotionally overwrought and manipulative. Mainline Protestants tend to be as hypocritical as anyone else, talking about conservative evangelicals--as people--with disdain.

Which may be what I’m doing here myself. The disdain, the contempt, that can creep into my being—that I’m sorry for. I’m no better, and no worse, than my “I’m-part-of-God’s-people-and-you’re-not” friends and neighbors. Life can be impossible to deal with, and what seems to me to be an evangelical fantasy is an attractive refuge.

But fantasies are fantasies. And teenagers are pretty good at spotting bullshit, no matter how well-intentioned and genuinely convinced the bullshitters are. And so the fact that teens raised in evangelical churches aren’t buying isn’t a surprise to me, and is a source of optimism for the future.

Coffee smile

Another reason to start the day with coffee! Thanks to "rarecellos."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's the meetings, not the teaching

that drive most college professors crazy. I was at a meeting today that made me want to quit my job. And how did we survive before Xanax? Oh, I know--by becoming alcoholics. Imagine Who's Afriad of Virginia Wolf if George and Martha were mellowed out on anti-anxiety prescriptions. No fun at all. But much more peacefu;.

But the teaching? Well, it's great. Most of the time, it's so enjoyable that I'd do it for free. Since I'd teach for free, that means I'm getting paid very well to endure contentious and unproductive meetings. And today's meeting would have been much more enjoyable had I remembered to bring my laptop. Our campus is one enormous WiFi hotspot; I could have been surfing the web and writing blog entries while looking like I was taking notes.

I just had to write something positive about my job before going to bed. My students are great. Interested, open, receptive, cooperative, earger to learn. And that's the thing to keep remembering, and not take for granted.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My ex-wife and I are both so upset about the Bush administration's zeal for using torture in interrogation of suspected terrorists (a practice opposed by, as I understand, most of the military and guys like Colin Powell) that one morning we discovered we had each come up with the idea of being publically waterboarded as a protest and an awareness-raising event. She's like to see a mass waterboarding in Washington D.C. as a protest.

Meanwhile, someone younger and healthier than us
has created this video. Is this what the United States stands for?

(Gasp) Yo-Yo Played a Modern Cello with . . .

the Chicago Symphony, no less.

How dare he! is the reaction of some, including one much-admired-by-me member of the CSO who is a frequent poster on the Internet Cello Society Cello Chat forum. He felt it was an insult to the CSO that Yo-Yo didn't play his Strad or Montagnana.

Another member of the CSO posted that Yo-Yo had explained that traveling with one of those great instruments was a constant emotional strain. It sounded like Yo-Yo ends up feeling more like a bodyguard than a musician. And these days, I'll add, sometimes even with a ticket you can't get the cello on the plane and you either miss the flight or have to check the cello. That presents a real dilemma if you are traveling with a multi-million dollar irreplaceable antique instrument and have a concert that night.

And Yo-Yo reported also explained that he wants to make an actions-speak-louder-than-words statement about playing new instruments. One of the things I've always loved about Yo-Yo is his support and encouragement of other artists. If he can help dispel this nonsense idea that you have to have a "great" instrument to be a great artist, more power to him.

I love great cellos, especially when they are played in small, resonant spaces in which one can relish the nuances and depths and complexities of timber. But when it comes to making music, the music made is what is important, not the instrument. I'm much, much, much more interested in what someone does with an instrument than what the instrument is.

Now some of my ICS friends feel that if you pay a lot of money to hear someone like Yo-Yo, who is being paid $80,000, you should also get to hear a multi-million dollar famous cello. And that applies even if he's only getting $50,000!

But my point of view is different. When I heard Lynn Harrell with the Boston Symphony in the summer of 2005, I wished he was playing a Luis and Clark carbon-fiber cello; I think we would have heard him better than on his Montagnana. Be that as it may, I'm glad Yo-Yo is doing some big concerts on a modern cello.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Eric, be nice to the Republicans

And a quick clarification to my remarks about Republicans. There are some great Republicans, and, assimilationist that I am, I have much in common with some of the old-fashioned limited-government, balanced-budget, fiscally conservative Republicans. I'm an independent; I've never been one for joining clubs, let alone political parties. As a college professor, I meet more and more young gay-affirming Republicans.

One of the panelists at tonight's discussion described himself as "gay, Catholic, and Republican." How can that be? was the question on many minds. I see how it can be. And we need more assertive, proud LGBT people in both the Catholic church and the Republican party. Gay-positive moderate blue-state Republicans like Rudy and Arnold give me great hope that the Republican party can shed itself of much of its opportunistic gay-bashing of recent years.

The student coming out as a Catholic gay Republican gave me an opportunity to come out as an Andrew Sullivan fan. Gasps and mock outrage from my lesbian/feminist queer colleagues!

Which brings me back to the hysteria over now ex-Congressman Foley. What's a 50-something congressman doing trying to seduce 16-year old guys over the Internet? Of course he should know better; hitting on pages is inappropriate.

But what happens when a 16-year-old gay teen represses his sexuality and tries to escape it and never integrates it into his life? The rest of him ages and becomes middle aged. But the horny 16-year old is still inside him, having never grown up. And has become frustrated and needy. And the grown man is undone by the petulant inner teen.

This is no excuse for sexually harassing pages and interns. But the societal answer to this sort of behavior is not more homophobic repression of all things gay, as the reactionary conservatives would have us believe. The societal answer is creating a climate in which young people attracted to their own sex can grow up affirmed and healthy, with their sexuality integrated into their personalities. Healthy, out, self-affirming gay adult men aren't driven to having or trying to have sex with kids in their mid-teens.

Queer? Me?

Sometimes this is a cello/music blog, sometimes a LGBTQ blog, and this Foley thing and an event at DePauw this evening have my thoughts centering on the LGBTQ stuff. If you come here for the cello stuff, don't worry, it will be back soon. But meanwhile . . .

United DePauw, our campus group (formerly self-described as the "gay-straight alliance" and now I'm not sure what the terminology is) that forms the core of our "queer" community hosted a panel discussion: the "Rainbow Panel" of faculty, staff, and students answering questions about "queer life at DePauw." I, as one of the few openly gay faculty at DePauw, and someone with a long institutional memory, was one of the panelists.

Just a couple of reflections:

A first-year student on the panel, who's in one of my classes, just blew me away with his ease with himself, his openness, and the entirely unconflicted vibe he projects. He's just the sort of healthy, well-adjusted, out gay teenager I've known I'd start meeting some day. I was so glad to encounter this dimension of his being; it confirmed to me that the world is changing. Slowly, to be sure. With advances and losses. But its changing and its going to work out in the end. You can't encounter a kid like this and still think that homosexuality and emotional problems have an inevitable link, causal or otherwise.

I also found myself a bit sad and envious. I grew up so full of self-loathing, and have never met anyone my age who doesn't show the after-effects of intense internalized homophobia. What would it be like to reached my late teens an been at ease with my sexual orientation?

Then there's this "queer" word, which is now being used in so many ways that no one could define it. For a while, it seemed to be attached to the anti-establishment, joyfully transgressive elements of our community. Now it's becoming a handy, one-syllable term to replace the mouthful of LGBT or LGBTQ.

Queer. Transgressive. Unorthodox. I've been thinking about this. I've been a rather assimilationist, middle-class, white, Protestant, well-educated father for many years that I being gay is way down the list of how I describe myself to myself. ("Assimilationist" is a label used, often pejoratively, to describe a gay or lesbian person who embraces the conventions of mainstream, straight society. "Assimilationists" endorse same-sex marriage, frown on promiscuity and drugs, often attend church, and generally present and understand ouselves as being part of mainstream culture except for being attracted to the same sex. "Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation" is the subtitle of a book I have somewhere. That sort of queer revels in being different and often embraces a more liberationist approach to sex, one not focused on monogamy as an ideal.)

Musically, though, I seem to be getting queerer each day. Screw the rules of a classical concert--dance if you want and make noise if it helps you get into the music. Classical music students, drum and dance and improvise and express yourself. Create music that express the deepest parts of yourself and think about how you can use music to change the world.

So I think I'm more queer than I had realized. But I'm still too overwhelmingly conventional to retitle this blog "Queer Cello." But it would be a catchier title.

The Foley Scandal

I am so disappointed with what the combination of a Republican president and Republican control of both houses of Congress has done to the U.S. that it's hard not to take some pleasure as the Republican party self-destructs. The Mark Foley scandal is amazing; once again, it's not so much the crime but the evident cover up (or lack of follow through) on the part of the House leadership.

On CNN last night, someone from the Family Research Council tried to blame the whole thing on proponents of diversity, suggesting that those promoting LGBT rights have somehow created a Washington culture in which the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives was too intimidated to properly address this issue of sexual harassment, soliciting sex from 16-year old pages, etc. I understand from Andrew Sullivan that the Wall Street Journal has been trying out these talking points, too.

LGBT rights organizations do not promote or defend sex between adults and minors, let alone congressmen trying to seduce congressional pages. And what leads to this sort of behavior is not acceptance of homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexual orientation. It's the sublimation of sexuality, not its healthy and holistic integration into one's life, that causes this sort of inappropriate acting out.

Andrew Sullivan, with whom I see eye to eye on so many things that some of my nonconformist queer friends and associates regard me as somewhat disturbed, put it very well in one of his first posts on the scandal:

Equally, the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal. There are many still-closeted gay men in D.C., many of them working for a Republican party that has sadly deeply hostile to gay dignity. How they live with themselves I do not fully understand. But I have learned you cannot judge someone's soul from outside. That I leave to them and their God, and some I count as good friends and good people.

What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go, and for which they have to take ultimate responsibility. From what I've read, Foley is another example of this destructive and self-destructive pattern for which the only cure is courage and honesty.
Well put, Andrew, well put.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sometimes, I'm sick of "classical" music

Yesterday, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Meridian Music organized a terrific event: a "college prep day" for area high school students. String faculty from 6 or 7 Indiana college music programs listened to about 20 or so students play "mock" auditions. We each wrote a comment sheet which will go to the student and his or her teacher. They also took theory and ear-training tests, and at the end of the vent was a reception in which the students and their parents got to speak with the teachers, view displays from the various schools, etc. And it was a wonderful networking event for we teachers, who rarely gather in one place.

What a great opportunity for the students to get all this feedback before taking "real" auditions.

Despite being delighted by the event itself, I also found myself a bit frustrated and depressed. The music is all the same. A movement of solo Bach, if the student is up to it, or an easier Baroque sonata if not. And the most standard of standard string repertoire. Bruch G minor violin concerto. Faure Elegy for cello. Koussevitsky bass concerto. J C Bach as arranged by Cassedesus for viola.

They're all wonderful pieces, and new to the kids. But I've heard these same pieces at SO many auditions over the years that I don't know how much longer I can go on hearing them.

So many of the students are so talented and I didn't get the impression, speaking with them, that any of them are doing anything truly creative (improvising and composing) outside learning all this music by dead Europeans. One of the cellists "doesn't like" contemporary music--a response given when we were talking about the challenges of professional life for classical cellists and I was speaking about the great opportunities for people who are entrepreneurial and creative and work to develop new repertoire and new audiences.

As a while, we string teachers are doing little if anything to develop our students' creativity, to interest them in new music, to encourage them to create new music that people will like.

And we wonder why "classical music" seems to be in deep trouble.