Since the events of this past election, I find it ever important to be direct. Right now, I'm starting a lot of work in reproductive justice and more organizing. I am also teaching Ethics in Healthcare at a local college. Below is part of the email I sent them Wednesday morning. I'm an adjunct, so I don't really feel like I am endangering my job since it is already contingent. I've also taught at the school for a few years.
I want to add a note about the election. As healthcare providers, you stand as the front line with the public and serve as the human face of public policy and law. You are not powerless to influence or change those laws or ideas, though it may seem so at times. I do not think it is biased of me to assert that Donald Trump and Mike Pence pose a public health risk that needs to be addressed by everyone in the healthcare profession. Pence, in particular, has been directly involved in an HIV outbreak and restrictive health services. The two articles below are a starting point to look into his record:
I mention this as a take-away on what's to come, given the results of the election. You will be serving patients. You are asked to follow medical ethics - the basic tenets - and show non-judgmental care to the community. As I've emphasized before, ethics and the law are not always aligned - and I believe it is part of a healthcare professional's job to uphold ethical standards. This may require you to step outside clinic hours and advocate for public policy that supports medical ethics so that your ethical actions can align with your practice’s policies. While I would say that this has and will always be an aspect of working in healthcare and serving the community, the next few years will require more vigilance and attention in order to defend the progress made and continue working towards higher ethical standards in healthcare and the health of our community. I predict that this will be repeatedly tested in the upcoming years. Go beyond the working day, if you can, and fight to improve access to healthcare.
As I write this, friends of mine are posting instructions on how to get IUD's and the implant on Facebook and social media. Afraid that they will not have access to birth control through an appeal of the ACA or other controlling measures, they are seeking to protect themselves for the next few years.
Lastly, the latest reports from the CDC have declared that STI’s are at an all-time high. These can go down when there’s a combination of education and treatment – preventing and testing/knowing one’s status. Even if you are not interested in treating STI’s or sexual health, these issues intersect with many other health conditions. They are also surprisingly relevant when working with marginalized populations, including senior populations (who often have a high rate of STI’s http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/news-05-2011/seniors_sex_lives_are_up_and_so_are_std_cases.html)
All this said, the fight for healthcare that is safe and accessible is difficult. I think that you are pursing things in the medical field not because you want ‘big paychecks,’ but because you are fulfilled in some way with working with a community and promoting health and wellness in others. We made justice action plans earlier in the semester. Where are you in some of your plans? You weren’t required to pursue them, but I think, at this time, they might be more helpful than ever to approach a changing world.
If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Please be aware that I am not trying to dissuade anyone from their political viewpoints, but rather am sharing medical data that shows public health scenarios that correspond to political action. Many healthcare professionals I am in contact with are nervous, afraid, and bracing themselves for a long fight ahead. For those already in the field, you probably feel it. For others, you are entering a difficult place to maintain healthcare ethics. We need you so we can all stay healthy.
Floyd Collins, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, is a musical about historical figure Floyd Collins and his tragic death in exploring the caves of Kentucky. It is a truly beautiful musical, ranging from bluegrass music to passages reminiscent of Bartok and Stravinsky. I have a lot to say about it, but one thing that burns in my ears and affects me every time it occurs is a musical exchange that happens between the beginning and end of the show.
When the show begins, Floyd has a rather large monologue/musical scene where he is exploring caves. He uses a special yodel-call to measure the dimensions of the caves. He determines he has reached the perfect cave because his yodels echo back to him - and he begins to sing with them. One of the only instances of electronics effects being used in a musical, "The Call" has an extended sequence where the singer sings to their own voice on a loop-pedal. Layering upon itself, the echoes intensify but never overwhelm - a completely consonant exchange.
In finding his perfect cave, Floyd has found his dream. He wants to call it the Great Sand Cave and create a tourist attraction, gaining wealth and security for his family.
Important to note is that Floyd's brother and sister are pursing similar dreams. Nellie's hopes are to support and love her family, but ultimately have caused enough stress to put her in a mental hospital just before the events of the musical (she is released at the beginning). Floyd's brother, Homer, is a traveller and comes back to town soon after Floyd is trapped in the cave driving a brand new car.
The family is divided into sky, land, and earth. Nellie is the 'dreamer' - with metaphors of dreams, the sky, and the clouds in her characterization - and she is never let into the cave. Homer travels - (Oddessy much?) - and only briefly enters the cave, while also being tempted by Hollywood producers to enter the realm of fame (I'd say a similar ethereal realm of sky). And Floyd works in caves and, ultimately, does not survive them.
All of this comes to a head in the next to last number in the show - "The Dream." Floyd, having been trapped for days, begins to lose hope about his rescue. He wakes up from a nap and sees Nellie, who tells him they've finally freed him. Homer shows up in his new car and informs Floyd that the cave is now set to be a tourist attraction and everything is set. Nellie and Homer sing the same musical material as Floyd in "The Call" as they explain this - and as Floyd's excitement directly mirrors the musical development of "The Call" to the cave-echo section.
This time, however, as Floyd begins to sing, Nellie and Homer fill in the two echoes that sing with Floyd. Instead of echoes, the counterpoint is a counterpoint of sky, land, and earth - and a call that all three claim to have inherited from their deceased mother.
As Floyd realizes his dreams have come true, not only for the cave but for the unity of his family, he yells for his Papa to hear the call. Floyd yodels once again and the music suddenly cuts out - silence fills the stage - and Floyd decends into his despair and dying body.
The moment Floyd, Nellie, and Homer sing together gets me every time, upon every listening. At the beginning of the show, Floyd has, what could be seen as, a normal Musical Theatre wish. Economic stability and the good of the family - going up a social class too. His dream, however, betrays a deeper desire - one for belonging, one for community, and one for the presence of his mother. The mother's voice, in the shadows for most of the show, is heard here in her children.
As Floyd dies, he yodels one last time and the echoes follow - along with a haunting violin line - until they all blend and fade away. The source of the echo is gone.
Who hears hope? In Floyd Collins, Floyd has a gift to utter his own dreams and hear then reflected back to him. It could be said that this singing might have been the cause of the cave collapse too - meaning his dream was also his undoing. His dream at the end finds him at the dream's fullest potential as each sibling is able to 'ground' the other via their element - just as their mother did when she was alive.
Why is this of significance, other than my emotionally affective charge? In this case, the 'musical' of musical theatre is not just a narrative device - it integrates into the historical narrative in both the libretto AND self-reflexivity. Floyd's yodels and songs are his "I Want" songs and there is seldom a musical without one. The fact that he can hear it, as music, as well as Nellie and Homer, provides a commentary on the utopian and danger of following one's dreams. Nellie has been in a mental institution, Homer is without purpose or place (too much of a city-boy for home, too country for Hollywood), and Floyd dies in the earth that he wished to explore. The Call, for whoever hears it, is seductive but not unproblematic. It isn't merely 'how do we get our wish' - it is 'should this wish be granted'?
In any case, this moment makes Floyd Collins a contemporary musical that confronts the history of American Musical Theatre's preoccupation with unabashed optimism through the means of its own tradition (I don't think I could call this musical antimusical or metamusical, even though it is fairly dark and I'm claiming it is somewhat referential). Identified by Sondheim as his heir, I expect no less from Adam Guettel and look forward to more works by him in the future.
Hello everyone, I just wanted to make a quick note that the book review I wrote about Andrew Butler's "Solar Flares" book about science fiction in the 1970's has been published. Check out the October Issue of the Journal of Popular Culture and read my first published book review.
I know that I might seem silly about it, but I always find it amusing if something is published or shared. I fully embrace philosophical wonder and this is one of the great side effects - wonder about the randomness that is the academic lifestyle.
Visit the journal here: Journal of Popular Culture.
the Jenna Maroney of 30 Rock, played by Jane Krakowski, is the epitome of narcissistic actress wrapped up in the defense mechanisms that protect and produce her core of insecurity, driving her towards some of the show’s most ridiculous actions and best comedic moments. It is no secret that Jenna is the reason I’ve watch all of 30 Rock – I think it’s brilliantly performed and the fact that Jenna is written as a very real artificial character, constantly walking the line between shallow and depth, that tickles my fancy. In Season 7, she proudly declares "My whole life is thunder!" and nothing could be more spot on in describing the depth but lack of content of Jenna Maroney. (Thunder has no presence, but does indicate the distance of an object to the lighting event). This aural signifier foreshadows Jenna’s final song, “Rural Juror,” and Jenna's character as sound and fury, signifying nothing yet everything all at once.
For those who don’t know the show, in the first season Jenna stars in “The Rural Juror” – an indie film with a comincally unpronounceable name (go ahead, say it out loud). Jenna’s excitement over being a film overshadows any concern over its quality – and the rest of the cast cannot even understand the title of the film to be able to comment on it. The fictional film is a running gag that comes up throughout the rest of 30 Rock, oftentimes when you least expect it. It reemerges one last time during the last episode, “Last Lunch.” This time, we finally get to hear the theme song from the film. The song is the emotional farewell of the both TGS and 30 Rock, bookending Liz and Jack’s arc-conclusion as Jack goes off to find himself, only to return less than a minute later with an idea for clear washing machines. It also happens to cross market Jenna's previous film career, certainly an aspect to Jenna's decision.
Playing off of the initial gag, the lyrics to “Rural Juror” are an exercise in mumbling melody. It sounds as though Jane is stumbling through the lyrics, though in reality she is doing a delicate job in enunciating every syllable without overdoing it.
The Irma Luhrman-Merman murder
Thusfar, I’ve just described everything for you – mainly because I don’t expect everyone to have seen every TV show. (In fact, that’s pretty impossible.) This moment in the show, however, serves such a structurally important moment (the writers knew it was the last episode, and it’s about a last episode) that it’s hard to ignore its final turn into music (and Jenna admitting her next career move will be going back to Broadway) and what it might have to say about the role of music in the show and in how people relate(d) to 30 Rock. A turn towards a musical performance isn’t uncommon for 30 Rock – the series is about performance because it’s literally a backstage television series – so many performances have been a part of storyline.
What’s curious is the emotional connection that the song has generated among fans. On a surface level, the song is a conclusion of a running gag with mumbles for lyrics. Jenna’s character arc is that she’s never arc-ed, she’s remained as wrapped in her self as ever (demonstrated in her marriage where her husband takes her first and last name). Her career choices have remained the same – she starts off Season 1 starring in the film and ends Season 7 by doing the musical version of the film. So it’s one more comedy jab to conclude the series’ metanarrative about the status of actors and entertainment. Yay!
The song itself borrows pretty heavily on emotional cues and easily explained that way. A solo piano introduction and a strong, supportive string section evokes images of the expressive and the epic by alluding to a more classical aesthetic (compared to Jenna’s other hit – “Muffin Top” – which begins with this aesthetic and then turns into a dance beat). The song even ramps up the emotion with a modulation as we come back from Jack & Liz’s scene – along with a repetitive chorus giving Jenna/Jane more opportunity to emote.
The song’s lyrics start of undecipherable, but as the chorus begins we have the first phrase that isn’t part of the same phonetic semblance as ‘rural juror’ – “I will never forget you, rural juror.” If my phonetics is up to par, which it’s not, I’d be able to say exactly what changes – but with “I” the lyrics suddenly embrace an open vowel sound. Previous opportunities for a more nasal sound are overlooked to keep the flow of the music as well as, probably, the joke that nothing is understandable. “turgid error” is a good example – the “-id” and “er-“ of these words could easily have, with a different accent, a more nasal and pronounced sound, but because of the rhythm of delivery, these vowels are hidden and deemphasized. Jane’s singing of “error” seems to emphasize “-ror” to an almost rounded “ahh” sound. So, lyrically, the song switches gears to a more pronounced vowel and the longest note value thusfar: “I----- will never forget you, rural juror.” The sentiment cannot help but be interpreted as Jenna/Jane/writers of 30 Rock expressing their sadness over the show’s end.
The ending really gets me. The song’s ‘joke’ is that the lyrics cannot be understood well, yet are perfectly sensible English lyrics – the chorus suddenly becomes clear and latches onto the many layers of narrative and diegesis occurring between the show-within-a-show and 30 Rock itself – and the song ends with “These were the best days of my ... flerm.” As if to undermine the whole premise of the joke, the last word – which we might expect to be “life” – chooses to embrace a proper rhyme rather than be an actual word. The song (perhaps a nod to how awful the writers of “Rural Juror” were) fails to end with any sort of meaningful message. It’s as if the joke itself was crushed under its own weight.
Normally, this might be disappointing. A great running gag gets mishandled and all of a sudden the artificiality of the gag becomes center-stage, leaving the joke impotent of the magic that running gags need to inspire laughter repetitively over time. But here, I think the last word just shines a beacon of light over the series. A television show with a lot of quirky moments, it also embraced a very eclectic lexicon of bleargs, jags, narfs, and others. Ending with flerm has been prepared by the other weird sounds the characters have uttered. But in all those past instances, they were emotional expressions said in disgust or exasperation. Here is a nonsense word as a song lyric - perhaps a conflation of expression taking over the linguistic in some kind of utopian moment of pre-linguistic authentic communication. (Whoa, I've been reading too much about the evolution of language today).
My first response to this ending was that Jenna, after getting through the song, messes up the last line and reveals the imperfection in her performance (the paradox of her character is that she’s insecure yet thinks she’s the best performer, yet is actually routinely cast as less-than in roles). By ending on a mistake, the show pokes fun at itself through Jenna Maroney – perhaps reminding themselves that now that they’re all big-shot Emmy winners, they are still fallible human beings.
But, my more fanciful philosophical side sees this as a perfect moment where 30 Rock inverts on itself. The ‘rural juror’ joke is a great running gag and is pretty shallow in terms of depth of meaning. "It’s hard to understand! Get it?!" Yet, the show was filled with running gags. I might even say that the show fits the classic sitcom format and structure pretty nicely and moreso that most contemporary sitcoms – heck, there are even fart jokes! On the other hand, the show participates in the aesthetics of ‘meta-‘ of being about a fictional show (which, in turn, is somewhat based on Saturday Night Live and Tina Fey’s own experience as head writer, re: Sun Tea). Watching the show with any sort of knowledge of television tropes, NBC, or Fey’s life would open up a secondary reading that instantly adds a confusing depth between layers of fiction and reality.
So, what if ‘flerm’ anchors the series in its own depth of shallowness? As onomatopoetic utterance, ‘flerm’ fits and continues the ‘rural juror’ joke and literally replaces ‘life.’ Yet, when I watch it, I hear/recognize the expectation for the line “These were the best days of my life.” and, although I know it’s not fitting for the rhyme scheme, I still have the experience of the implied line along with the pleasing musicality of a finished rhyme scheme. In essence, the song gets to have its joke and be sentimental at the same time without, at all, having to compromise its joke-ness. It doesn’t have to ‘break’ character in order to be emotional. Instead, I bear the burden of multiple meanings and interpretation.
Granted, this is probably not how most people – or anyone else, probably – has heard this song. But, it’s how I hear it and sometimes that’s good enough for me. But I also think it might help others understand why a song like this has a structural importance in concluding the series beyond a simple recurrence of a running gag. Otherwise, people would just laugh one more time and turn it off. Instead, the song was nominated for an Emmy and if you search tumblr or youtube, many people admit to crying upon multiple listenings to the song. Yes, it’s the final song. Yes, it participates in common ‘emotional song’ musical tropes. Yes, it’s funny as well. In this case, though, the funny-teary dichotomy is not a comic-tragic spectrum – instead, it’s comic-sentimental at the same time, a feat I haven’t seen very much. And possibly an important thing to notice about the nature of comedy – that it can be combined with the sentimental and still maintain its integrity as comedy. This becomes increasingly important as our entertainment and media become more layered and complex in terms of diegetic realities and genre expectations. If we start to become the conduits of a more complicated affective game, we risk a new form of manipulation or a form of pleasure that can open up new pathways towards fields of experience. Oftentimes, I'd say, this comes in the form of injecting a musical moment or performance into a non-musical narrative, granting a plurality of expressive modes that can handle both complimentary and opposing sentiments.
In conclusion, I think that Jenna's character is one of the most interesting I've found in television - probably because she's a cardboard cutout of the stereotypical actress without any sort of ideologically enforced 'redemptive moment.' Her actions fly by as much as her passions. And her love affair with Paul is both non sequitur, comedy genius, tokenism, as well as romantic, revolutionary, and seems exciting to examine from both Foucault (bodies and pleasures!) and Lacan (le petit object a as your own impersonator? = true love). All I know is that I'd really love to see "Rural Juror: The Musical."
Thanks for reading this – these are notes and thoughts I have that I want to write down for future inspiration as well as to get comments from other people. These are often written in one sitting, so the editing may be rough, but I’m always interested in hearing about ideas and comments about my experiences/interpretations. This is all part of my long term obsession/fascination with how music enters our seemingly non-musical discourse and, in turn, reflects back a meaning of music that perhaps musicians don’t always see and that culture, itself, doesn’t have the words to express.
There are many movies from my childhood that stick with me and, upon further reflection, probably explain why I have such a dark and disturbed demeanor and perspective on life. One of these is The Brave Little Toaster, a 1987 film I owed on VHS and watched pretty regularly as a child. The story of a set of appliances fighting for their master’s approval and for their technological relevance was something that I enjoyed watching over and over again. Not that I thought of it that way when I was a kid, but I definitely understood that they were fighting to be in a world that might not accept them – and that world was the city. (Hmm, maybe this is why I love city living so much, having grown up in the country.)
This all said, the film has one of the darkest musical moments in Disney history (the Disney Wiki lists this number as #2 against the “Hell” song from Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m talking about “Worthless” from the end of the film, as the brave toaster and friends face death in the junkyard (read:graveyard). The song is sung by various cars as they are taken to be crushed into small, orderly cubes – and ostensibly their death, as they lose any sort of anthropomorphic elements indicating their liveness in that form.
Like many journey movies, the real threat of mortality is usually employed to garner a positive and greater appreciation of life. Through the threat of death, life becomes more valuable (when arguing for the superiority of one, safely threaten it with its Other and you can strengthen belief in the one). Another Disney feature, Homeward Bound (1993), uses this concept. Shadow, the older and wiser dog, is injured towards the end of the film and seemingly gives up, claiming that age will finally take him. As the pets (after having thought they were left behind, just as the appliances think) reach home, Shadow is nowhere to be found – until moments later, when he limps over the hill and the family is reunited.
Sound is very important to this scene for dramatic purposes. As the young, Jamie thinks he hears Chance’s bark, the scene’s dramatic trajectory is tied to its aural content. Chance’s bark announces his presence, followed by the shouting of Jamie and Chance (Michael J Fox). Next, Sassy’s meow (unbelievably) carries across a field and she begins changing “Hope, Hope, Hope” – the name of her owner – and they reunite. At this point, the family and audience expect (and want) Shadow’s sound to proceed his presence – only to be left with an significantly long stretch of a repetitive low string gesture. When Shadow appears to the audience, a french horn melody announces the hero’s return – gradually joined by the rest of the orchestra into a full, climactic reunion music. Chance, in particular, learns the meaning of family and home – disciplined, so to speak, to feel the pleasure of the American Dream.
So, what does this have to do with The Brave Little Toaster? I bring up Homeward Bound because it ends quite triumphantly – heroic melodies, the family is together, and there is very little threat behind the problems of the story. The pets aren’t really left behind, they just think they are, and Shadow is momentarily hurt, but apparently got himself out. Moreso, the family is just sad – they were never placed into any harm along the way. The Brave Little Toaster, however, brings the appliances’ owner to the junkyard to be put into the same threatening situation as the appliances. Not only could the toaster die, but also a real human person in the process. To me, the threat of mortality is greater than many other stories told – it is infections, it spreads, and actually applies to all subjects rather than selectively (as in the case of Shadow). The artificial bounds of storytelling for the purpose of affective manipulation (Shadow’s heroism inspires Chance – and, assumably, the audience – into believing in a home that is apart from the ‘squishy stuff’ and more important, read:ideological, to life) is left behind for a very, dare I say it, real moment of mortality and existence. Combine this with the fact that the appliances themselves are in real danger of being replaced – their materiality is an old technology and throughout their journey their functionality and efficiency is called into question as compared to the modern world – and The Brave Little Toaster becomes a movie that is more about the dissolution of technology into nostalgia – the only element that saves the appliances in the end. I welcome any and all ties to Marxism that this story can garner – and, while you’re at it, also to J. Jack Halberstam’s low theory and the politics of early Pixar movies involving anthropomorphized objects and their potential for radical political agency.
"Worthless" - a brief musical analysis
“Worthless” takes us through a story of how easily and quickly these things slip into total destruction. I’ll take each verse as it goes to show how quickly and frighteningly accurate the threat of destruction unravels everything, including the notion that someone can somehow get through the experience unscathed.
The first two verses establish the condition that many of the cars are in; they are old, they don’t start, and they’ve resigned themselves to their fate.
I can't take this kind of pressure,
I must confess one more dusty road
Would be just a road too long
I just can't, I just can't,
I just can't seem to get started
Don't have the heart to live in the fast
Lane; all that has passed and gone
But then, this becomes problematized when the rest of the junkyard repeatedly sings “Worthless” as if it is their mantra. Perhaps these cars were told too many times they were worthless and they’ve been coerced into accepting this fate? The yelled interpolations indicate there is some resistance to the whole process, but they are laments, not calls to action.
(And there ain't nothing you can do about it!)
(Pardon me while I panic!)
Worthless! Worthless! Worthless!
Then the more personal verses occur – the first embodies the mythical South and Americana of Route 66. This car is indentified by place, by where it’s been, and, interestingly, many of these doubly refer to musical places. This verse establishes a very ‘American’ geography that these cars inhabit – and mainly a representation of the Midwest and South.
I come from KC Missouri,
And I got my kicks out on Route 66
Every truck stop from Butte to MO
Motown, New Orl’, Alabama
From Texarkana and east of Savannah
From Tampa to old Kokomo
The next car identifies itself by function – it ran the Indy 500. As a failed participate in the race, the car laments about its ability to be anything other than a winning racecar. A losing racecar, it seems, is not an option - instead of overcoming failure, the car seems stuck in it.
I once ran the Indy 500
I must confess I'm impressed how I did it
I wonder how close that I came
Now I get a sinking sensation,
I was the top of the line; out of sight;
(Out my mind), so much for fortune and fame
A note: some of these verses are broken up by story elements – so the song could be heard as being a lot longer, yet we only see/hear a few of the verses that the camera allows us. Also, because of this, the musical form is like a musical scene rather than a song – which could be an explanation for the dramatic key change before this next verse.
The next verse speeds up the narrative energy. Two cars sing and are crushed together: a limo and a hearse. The limo drove a Texan to a wedding, who ultimately left the marriage because he still felt lonely – thus leaving the limo’s purpose and meaning as an empty dream. Marriage apparently doesn’t create connection. The hearse’s lyrics are even more powerful – this car seems to embrace dying because “it’s quite hard enough just living with the stuff I [the hearse] have learned.” Having been so close to death, actually having dead bodies within it, the hearse is burdened with the knowledge of mortality and seemingly wants it.
Once took a Texan to a wedding
Once took a Texan to a wedding
He kept forgetting, his loneliness letting
His thoughts turn to home and returned
I took a man to a graveyard
I beg your pardon, it's quite hard enough
Just living with the stuff I have learned.
With the image of sunsets, surfers, and mention of Fellini, the next car goes further west into the West – that frontier that is either California or Imaginary, where dreams become reality. Americana is in full force, with hot dogs, bikinis, and surf culture, but it is a certain out-dated mode of American that begs for nostalgia but also recalls the anxieties surrounding this idyllic beach parties (wars, changing gender roles). The pure expanse of American is called upon with the mention of highways – this car had a hand in the expansion and conquering of the American West.
Once drove a surfer to sunset,
There were bikinis and buns, there were weenies
Fellini just couldn't forget
Pico, let's go up to Zuma
Pico, let's go up to Zuma
From Zuma to Yuma the rumor was
I had a hand in the lay of the land
Get up and go hit the highway!
The previous car, then, curiously and powerfully leads into the last car – one that was abandoned as its owners left their reservation to join the city. Mirroring the story of the toaster and its friends, this car was left behind and was told it was “worthless” by its owners. Considering many of these cars are tied to place, the lose of population of reservations concluding a (I think) pretty direct narrative describing the westward movement of Americans in creating the American Dream of the West both geographically and culturally, the song ends with American’s most deeply rooted yet underdiscussed violation of human rights.
I worked on a reservation,
Who would believe they would love me and leave
On a bus back to old Santa Fe
Once in an Indian nation,
I took the kids on the skids where the Hopi
Was happy 'til I heard 'em say...
So, in a quick conclusion – the song maps a lot of signifiers into a fast-paced and dramatic song, one that links a lot of scenes and characters together towards a finale. American’s westward expansion, the atrocities done to Native Americans, and the modern quest of technological progress are placed alongside each other. As the last vehicle says, it was left behind because it was worthless to the new way of life in Santa Fe. Perhaps, this indicates a critique of technological progress that also tells past progress it is worthless. As we drift towards a “Cloud” society of data on computers, servers, and the world becomes increasingly smaller through this technology and the recent revelation of monitoring techniques, many (such as the low-tech and DIY movements) are calling for the old technologies as a means of getting out of the dystopian society ahead of us.
What strikes me, most of all, is that this reading and watching of The Brave Little Toaster is not hidden as much as contemporary films. Perhaps because it wasn’t as relevant then, but the BLT seems to have much more to say now about the balance between nostalgia, home, technology, and uselessness that plague our present discourse. If one boy can risk his life for a toaster, what does this say about our current state of affairs? More importantly, though, this song forces the listener to stop and think about who ends up in the junkyard of history – who is told they are worthless, who resigns to the structures of value as ‘fate,’ and how can one intervene? Ultimately, the appliances are still function and their ‘master’ has a nostalgia connection to them – so they are saved the fate of the junkyard. The story would be much more different today. The radio, in particular, may meet his maker and the television, secure in his place during 1987, would also be on the chopping block and journeying from being left behind.
Comments? Concerns? These are general thoughts - blogging to get things off my chest and also get in the practice of being able to analyze and communicate. Any and all views could be completely wrong and I love when I am politely (or not so politely) told how I can be better.
These past two weeks I had the opportunity to be Professor of Clarinet at the Hartwick Summer Music Festival. A festival for high school students, the camp is a two week program of performances, methods classes, and masterclasses along with the normal fun-times of camp life like frisbee, baseball games, and hiking.
Pictured is Viola Yip's graphic score that I presented in a masterclass on reading graphic notation. Rather than jump into the abstract, I had the campers analyze the graphics of traditional notation in order to connect sheet music to the graphic world of rules and interpretation. Why do we not consider traditional notation a graphic score? With this opening question, the goal was to connect the thought and activity of reading graphic abstract scores into reading traditional notation - an effort against being a passive musician, merely sitting back and not interacting with the music.
From there, the discussion was great and the students had many awesome questions about what they were seeing in the scores and what they we listened to - including Projections II by Morton Feldman. I then had them all perform Viola's piece in groups, yielding many different interpretations and great listening experiences. The creativity in these performers, as I find with many high school students, is phenomenal because they are so open to different ways of thinking.
After the class, I am even more motivated to create an educational outreach program about graphic scores for various grade levels - to both understand the mechanics of musical notation but also rekindle creative forces in students who may be stifled by the rigid structure of traditional musical practice. Classical music is very open to graphic decoding, just as Brian Ferneyhough gives us complex problems to read, and John Cage gives us the openness through almost formal contracts. I'll be developing this over the next couple of weeks to go in tandem with a graphic score concert with Wooden Cities, where we will perform old and new works of non-traditional notation, including Viola's piece and many others. I'll end with a question, however, to get feedback about what would be interesting to see in such an outreach.
What would you do for an educational outreach on graphic scores? What would you like to see young musicians learning about this kind of music?
Welcome to my blog, where I will be posting updates about my amazing colleagues in music and musicology, my own thoughts about performances I've seen, and general philosophical discussion about the arts and music.
It is appropriate to start this now, here, as I get ready to teach at the Hartwick Summer Music Festival. Two weeks of great teaching, musicianship, and working with an amazing faculty can really help you focus your energies.
Plus, I just finished participating in the fresh inc. festival; an amazing two weeks where I experienced life as a 'camper' rather than teacher while surrounded by copious amounts of talent, chamber music, and contemporary music premieres galore!
I also just finished teaching the online version of my "Glee and TV Musicals" course (currently piled under the final papers as I type this). It went well and I'm always excited to hear that my students had no idea what they were in for when they signed up for a class about Glee. Who knew Nietzsche could be so relevant?
It's crazy that within a month I am professor of musicology, professor of clarinet, and clarinet student. And it is important that I keep all of these roles up. Music, especially, is a constant learning curve - new things are constantly being written - each performance could be the tiniest bit more nuanced. It also keeps my teaching in check - where to push and where to pull when it comes to students. I don't think one can be a good teacher without knowing how to be a good student, since we teach ourselves the best.
It's times like these where the many strands of my education and career weave together in new and exciting ways, where even I am not quite sure what will come of it. In the next two weeks, I get to help high school students learn and grow, and I'll be ever more energized from it.