Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

One of the most important centers for neurological research, and specifically into how the brain processes music, is located at my old alma mater, McGill University in Montreal. The Independent has a report on the latest: Scientists zapped people’s brains with magnetic pulses and it changed their taste in music. Unfortunately, the account lacks the detail to find out exactly what they did and what the results were:
The circuitry in question is found in a part of the brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Previous brain imaging studies have demonstrated that stimulation of this region leads to the release of a substance called dopamine, which acts as a chemical 'reward'. Other studies have show that pleasurable music engages reward circuits in the brain.
But this is the first time anyone has manipulated this circuitry to change the way people think.
When the scientists used ‘excitatory’ stimulation on the target brain region, the participants reported that they liked the music they were listening to more, and when ‘inhibitory’ stimulation was used they liked it less.
Other studies of this kind gave enough detail to enable some sort of critique, but here all we have are the bland claims. The original study is not accessible without a subscription. But one wonders what they mean by changing people's taste in music. Is it like compelling you to suddenly prefer Olivier Messiaen to Justin Bieber? Or is it more like encouraging you to like a Katy Perry song more than a Taylor Swift song?

* * *

Very sad news, the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away on Wednesday, age 55. He had been suffering from brain cancer.

* * *

Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić is planning his return to the concert stage after having to cancel a couple of seasons due to what was called a "severe movement disorder" which usually means injuring the hand through either over-practicing or faulty technique. Miloš is not quite the be-all and end-all of classical guitarists as the comments at Slipped Disc imply. He is a pretty good guitarist with a powerful publicity campaign based partly on his good looks and partly on his willingness to do some crossover repertoire. In more serious repertoire he is not terribly compelling. Here listen for yourself.

But that being said, it is wonderful news that he is able to develop his career which was really just getting started!

* * *

As my readers know I am rather a fan of the no-holds-barred critical review because it is usually a nice antidote to the usual fare in the mass media which is little more than a publicity puff-piece. So this review by Joshua Kosman of the new John Adams opera is worth a read:
Imagine being on the receiving end of a Thanksgiving dinner monologue by a veteran of an earlier era — let’s say Grandpa Abe from “The Simpsons.” His stories about life in the old days meander on and on, full of nebulous detail and the occasional sense memory, often without arriving at a point. Sometimes the tales trail off entirely; sometimes they’re interrupted by impassioned howls of outrage at some real or perceived injustice. 
Finally he falls asleep, his face in the cranberry sauce.
That pretty much sums up the experience of “Girls of the Golden West,” the operatic tofurkey from composer John Adams and librettist-director Peter Sellars that had its world premiere on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at the War Memorial Opera House. Bloated, repetitive, self-righteous and dull, this commission by the San Francisco Opera (in partnership with the Dallas Opera and Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam) represents a miscalculation of astonishing dimensions.
The writer does not hesitate to praise where it is deserved and is an admirer of Adams' previous operas, but doesn't hesitate to point out flaws in this latest work.

* * *

The ever-sensationalist Slipped Disc directs our attention to this concert and implies that it will be performed in the nude:

In reality, that is just a poster and the actual concert is a benefit for the poor just before Christmas. Each audience-member is asked to bring a shoebox with around ten food and beverage items that will be distributed to the poor.

* * *

This article by John Burge, professor of composition at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, offers a look at the details of what it is like to be a student composer in Canada. The good news, I guess, is that there is a government program, Canada Summer Jobs, that offers funds that can be used to commission music from student composers. Here are the details:
the process was actually fairly simple and the Canada Summer Jobs application was easy to complete. While the hourly rate was fixed at $11.50, everything else could be tailored to the choir’s needs.
The choir wanted the student to compose a four- to five-minute unaccompanied composition for a soprano, alto, tenor, bass (SATB) choir, perhaps setting a poem written by a Canadian poet or capturing some other aspect of Canada.
The board, led by the choir’s artistic director, Gordon Sinclair, decided the job would require 30 hours of work per week and run for seven weeks for a total salary of just over $2,400.
It is worth comparing this total fee to the Canadian League of Composers’ suggested minimum commissioning rate for professional composers. For an unaccompanied choral work of this duration, the rate is $475 per minute. This makes the student salary align with the minimum fee that a professional composer would be paid. Of course, it can be assumed that an experienced composer would not take over 200 hours to write a similar piece. Still, this kind of payment is a significant boost for any emerging composer.
As I interpret this, a student composer, someone who is on track to soon be a creative professional, is going to be paid less than one would as a restaurant worker. According to this site:
Food Service Worker Salary  (Canada)
A Food Service Worker earns an average wage of C$12.00 per hour.
Well, sure, this is a student job and it is far better to be paid to compose than to sling hash, but at least with the hashslinging you get tips.

* * *

 For our envoi today let's listen to Hilary Hahn play the Sonata No. 5 "Danse Rustique" by Eugène Ysaÿe:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ten Books and Ten Books

I just ran across a little post about the ten books everyone should read. Here they are:

1) The Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer
2) Plato’s Dialogues
3) The Aeneid, by Virgil
4) The Confessions, by St. Augustine
5) The Summa Theologica, by St. Thomas Aquinas
6) The Divine Comedy, by Dante
7) Shakespeare’s plays
8) The Penseés, by Pascal
9) The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky
10) The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Talk about overwhelming whiteness! I guess a lot of present-day academics would be severely triggered, but so much the worst for them. Now what about music? What would be the ten books on music everyone should read. Ok, let me take a stab at it:
  1. The Oxford History of Western Music, by Richard Taruskin
  2. Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions, by Richard Taruskin
  3. The Beethoven Quartets, by Joseph Kerman
  4. The Art of Fugue, by Joseph Kerman
  5. The Classical Style, by Charles Rosen
  6. Sonata Forms, by Charles Rosen
  7. Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, by Charles Rosen
  8. New Essays on Musical Understanding, Peter Kivy
  9. Aesthetics, by Monroe C. Beardsley
  10. Life of Beethoven, Alexander Thayer
I'm looking for books that are detailed and informative without being excessively technical and obscure--ones that the general reader with some musical knowledge would find interesting and stimulating. I also lean towards those few authors who combine both excellent writing skills and profound knowledge of their subject. There are lots of other possibilities: I was tempted to include biographies of Bach and Shostakovich and some collections of essays on Sibelius and Shostakovich. There are also several collections of essays by Taruskin that are well worth reading. But these ten books are the ones that I have, in recent years, found the most valuable.

For our envoi, let's have the Sonata in A major, op. 110 by Beethoven performed by Hélène Grimaud:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Shoehorning it in

I've been so critical of the folks over at Musicology Now that I lean towards trying to find something nice to say. I mean, there have to be some good posts, right? I did just run across an interesting one: Building a Better Band-Aid by Gwynne Brown. It is about the difficulties of teaching a music history survey course. Of course, survey courses come in various guises. I remember one professor bemoaning the ever-increasing difficulty of his survey course--20th Century Music--because when he started teaching it, in the mid-70s, the century was a whole lot shorter. Every year, it got longer (needless to say, this was a while back).

Now, what with the demands that music survey courses be "de-centered" away from purely classical repertoire so as to include jazz, world music and popular music, the task has suddenly become much harder:
I was daunted by the logistical challenge, but also excited to teach a class that combined virtually all of my favorite things. I divided the semester into thirds. The first, on art music after The Rite of Spring, concluded the prior two semesters’ overview of classical music history. The second unit attempted a concise overview of the “official version of jazz history” so ably identified and fileted by Scott DeVeaux in “Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography” (which I assigned).[2] The third provided a swift introduction to the field of ethnomusicology, followed by a taste of Shona mbira music and South Indian vocal music, chosen largely because these were of particular interest to me. 
Since the catalog had promised that the course would include popular music, I shoehorned it in. There was obviously no point trying to survey every major pop style in three class meetings, so instead I explained that our goal was to sample some of the different methodological approaches in pop music scholarship. I assigned three readings that ranged widely both in their authors’ scholarly perspectives and in the music under consideration. We had particularly lively and worthwhile discussions of Jeffrey Magee’s revelatory song biography of “Blue Skies” and Peter Mercer-Taylor’s dazzling and eccentric analysis of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People.[3]
On the whole, that first semester went smoothly, but by the end it was clear to us all that we had plowed through jazz history, pop music scholarship, and two non-Western musical traditions at an almost comically accelerated pace. The students were openly critical of the disproportionately lavish amount of time the music history sequence had bestowed on Western classical music. My new third course, designed to improve the inclusiveness and diversity of our music history curriculum, had rendered unmistakable that curriculum’s ongoing imbalance—not to mention its overwhelming whiteness.
Well, yes, overwhelming whiteness is certainly going to seem a problem. It is not, however, a problem exclusive to classical music. I watched a really interesting history of mathematics the other day and, guess what, every single figure mentioned, from Pythagoras to Euclid to Descartes to Leibniz to Gauss to Gödel was, you guessed it, not only white, but male. (I have to qualify this just a tad: Arabic and Hindu mathematicians were mentioned, largely because that is where our number notation comes from.) I can hardly wait until math survey courses start figuring out how to change their curricula for the sake of diversity and inclusion.

The solution musicologists seem to be drifting towards is to make it all about them and their methodology:
When I abandoned comprehensive stylistic survey as a realistic goal, I discovered the advantages of calling my students’ attention to the diverse values, goals, and tools that musicologists bring to their work on the music they care about. I have made this “meta” perspective a unifying theme for the semester. Major styles, canonic repertoire and recordings, and important individuals and groups remain important, as one would expect in a typical music history survey. However, when students consider questions like “What kind of evidence does the author use?” and “What relevant topics does this scholar leave out?” they gain additional knowledge: that music history is constructed, brick by brick, by individuals with particular priorities, strengths, and limitations.
The great advantage here is that because you are prioritizing the methods and interests of current musicologists, who are a pretty diverse bunch, you can mostly ignore the embarrassing fact that the great classical repertoire of Western music is, like the history of mathematics, almost exclusively the creation of white men.

So far as I can see, the students who come out of this course are going to know a bit more about jazz, world music and popular music, and a whole lot less about classical music. I guess that's ok with them.

When I took a music history survey course myself as an undergraduate, the professor took all of the fall term to get to Monteverdi. In January she began with the post-Monteverdi Baroque and she had to tack on an extra class at the end to cover the 20th century: Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky all jammed into one class! And, of course, she didn't even mention jazz, world music or popular music. That you can explore on your own. So for our envoi today, we will listen to the Magnificat by Claudio Monteverdi:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Tunku Varadarajan at the Wall Street Journal, conducts a lovely interview with Zubin Mehta, musical director of the Israel Philharmonic and in the process we learn about the history of both the maestro and the orchestra.
The Israel Philharmonic has evolved along with the country. When Mr. Mehta first arrived, it was an orchestra of very uneven quality. “It was still mostly the orchestra that Huberman had put together,” he says. “The strings played beautifully, because they were from Vienna and Poland. But the brass and woodwind”—here, a pause in search of euphemism—“was not so good.” Jewish émigrés from Russia in the 1970s and ’80s brought a new excellence. “Thank God for the Russians!” Mr. Mehta says. “But we never hired them because they spoke Russian and carried a violin. They were all chosen after blind auditions from behind a screen.”
Those Russians have all retired; they came to Israel in their 30s and 40s. Today’s orchestra is predominantly Israeli. “We have,” Mr. Mehta boasts, “probably one of the best woodwind sections today, anywhere. And the brass section is magnificent. All of that never used to be the case when I first joined.”
* * *

I have to confess that a lot of the talk surrounding the British superstar conductor Simon Rattle leaves me a bit rattled. What I have heard of his work has left me unimpressed. But still... This review in The Spectator makes me think I really should have a listen to his Rite of Spring:
No masterpiece is harder to pull off than the Rite. So often it deflates midway and never regains its shape. Rattle made his name with the piece when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, taming the brute, slowing it down, prising open its interior, allowing us to inspect its fangs, look straight down its snappy gob.
Here, the beast was unleashed. Rabid brass, uncontrollable winds, strings scything through the rabble behind. Key to the pungency was the bite of the percussion, allowed to go to such extremes my eyes began to water. The LSO can come across as a bit slick. Last Sunday they were monstrous. Before letting loose their inner animal, they delivered an invigorating Firebird and a Petrushka that sounded (in the best possible way) like they’d passed the vodka round early.
Now if only I could find someone to translate that into English for me.

* * *

A commentator sent me this: Misattribution of musical arousal increases sexual attraction towards opposite-sex faces in females. Wait, what? Let's quote a bit from the abstract:
only women in the fertile phase of the reproductive cycle prefer composers of complex melodies to composers of simple ones as short-term sexual partners
Well, ok then!

* * *

I always suspected this was the case: What music do psychopaths like? More Bieber, less Bach.
Despite the film industry’s depiction of psychopaths, classical music is not their go-to soundtrack in the real world.
“In the movies, if you want to establish in one shot that a monster has a human side,” said Pascal Wallisch, a psychology professor at New York University, filmmakers play a certain kind of music. There’s Beethoven in “A Clockwork Orange” or Mozart in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Wallisch and Nicole Leal, a recent graduate of NYU, wanted to find out if a preference for certain musical genres is correlated with psychopathy, a personality disorder characterized by manipulativeness and a lack of empathy.
They don't know their Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lector was listening to Glenn Gould's recording of the Air to the Goldberg Variations by Bach. Not Mozart. And if you read the whole article it seems that they really don't come up with much in the way of findings anyway.

* * *

The Wall Street Journal has a big piece on the new "gatekeepers" in music. It turns out that, basically, three people control what we all listen to. Well, not you and me, but you know, everyone else.
“It’s a brave new world,” says David Jacobs, a music-industry lawyer whose clients include the rapper Aminé, DJ Martin Garrix and Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis. “We’re consolidating 60 years of regional tastemakers, spread around dozens of markets around the country and the world, into one system. Basically, three or four people.”
The most influential is Tuma Basa, according to several music-industry experts. The global head of hip-hop at Spotify curates RapCaviar. With around 8.3 million followers, the playlist sets the agenda for hip-hop the way New York radio station HOT 97 once did, says Larry Miller, who heads the music-business program at New York University’s Steinhardt School. “He’s the most important gatekeeper in the music business right now,” says Mr. Miller.
Just a few years ago wouldn't have statements like these been greeted with, well, horror? Here is one of the tunes that Mr. Basa picks for our musical edification: "Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B:

* * *

Some sad news via Slipped Disc: a friend and colleague of mine at McGill University in Montreal, Winston Purdy, has passed away. Here is the more extended obituary from the university. I was lucky enough to have done a number of performances with Winston. We did a program of 16th and 17th century songs for voice and guitar from Spain and France that was broadcast by the CBC. But the most memorable was a performance of El Cimmarón by Hans Werner Henze. This is a kind of chamber opera for four musicians, baritone, flute, guitar and percussion, that takes up an entire evening. Everyone, including the singer, gets to play percussion at some point. It was a hugely challenging role for Winston and he did a terrific job. He was a very generous man. I recall learning a large set of variations for guitar by Petr Eben that required the performer to sing an old Czech folksong, the theme, while accompanying himself. Winston offered some really helpful coaching. I'm sure he will be greatly missed at McGill.

* * *

And now the article we have all been waiting for from Forbes, How To Make It In The Music Business Today: Improvisation All The Way.
Being a professional musician takes practice—lots of practice. But those looking to make a steady living as a musician have to pay much more attention to the networking and management aspects of their careers than they used to.
Last year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that there were just over 40,000 people in the nation employed as musicians or singers. Their pay, the bureau says, stood at an average $34.56 per hour. But how do full time musicians go about finding work?
At one time it was common for musicians to have managers who would book them jobs playing live. Established recording companies were also a source of steady income for some, and wages earned for recording music could help a professional get by. Now many musicians manage themselves, and recording companies’ revenue streams have been upended by streaming technology that allows consumers to access music cheaply or at no cost. And the money a musician can hope to earn from services like Spotify is slim.
“Artists need to know a lot more than they needed to know twenty years ago or ten years or five years ago,” says Richard Kessler, dean of the New School's Mannes School of Music in New York. “They need to know social media, they need to know publishing … they need to direct their own careers.”
You should read the whole article. What interests me is the erasing of an important distinction. Imagine that this article was talking about the visual arts instead of music. I suspect that the point would be made that there are two rather different career paths: the one is commercial art where you design imagery and visuals for commercial advertising. The other is fine art where you produce aesthetic objects that are not for some immediate commercial purpose. I'm sure we all understand and appreciate that distinction. But notice that here, talking about music, the idea of producing musical aesthetic objects for no immediate commercial purpose is not even mentioned. Musical artists today are either commercial artists or they are nothing, is the implication. The really horrifying item in the article is that blandly stated statistic that, in a nation of more than three hundred million people only just over 40,000 are employed as musicians or singers. And they make an average of $34.56 an hour.

* * *

I'm not sure that El Cimmarón by Henze stands up to the test of time. It was composed in 1970 and the musical language of that time sounds rather dated today. I have to say that it was a lot of fun to play, though. Everyone gets to play various percussion instruments and the guitarist gets to use a cello bow and to play the mbira or thumb piano. Here is a 2013 performance of Part One:

Henze wrote a lot of music for solo guitar as well. Here are his Drei Tentos from 1958:

Later he wrote two large sonatas for guitar based on Shakespearean characters. This is Ariel from the First Sonata played by Julian Bream:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Philosophy, Science and Scientism

I just read a succinct article on the philosophy of science that is worth having a look at: Why philosophy is so important in science education.
Each semester, I teach courses on the philosophy of science to undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the students take my courses to satisfy general education requirements, and most of them have never taken a philosophy class before. 
On the first day of the semester, I try to give them an impression of what the philosophy of science is about. I begin by explaining to them that philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone, and that the philosophy of science is the application of this approach to the domain of science. After this, I explain some concepts that will be central to the course: induction, evidence, and method in scientific enquiry. I tell them that science proceeds by induction, the practices of drawing on past observations to make general claims about what has not yet been observed, but that philosophers see induction as inadequately justified, and therefore problematic for science. I then touch on the difficulty of deciding which evidence fits which hypothesis uniquely, and why getting this right is vital for any scientific research. I let them know that ‘the scientific method’ is not singular and straightforward, and that there are basic disputes about what scientific methodology should look like. Lastly, I stress that although these issues are ‘philosophical’, they nevertheless have real consequences for how science is done.
 If you follow the link from the word "problematic" in the above paragraph you will be taken to another interesting paper on the concept of "statistically significant" and why it often means very little.

Now let me offer a little free-wheeling philosophical speculation. Science, in its hunt for facts, depends on two things: the ability to turn witnessed phenomena into numerical statements, and the ability to understand these numerical statements as being an index of causality. In other words, we have to be able to measure a phenomenon and record it in numbers. Then we have to be able to analyze these numbers in terms of causality.

The first idea explains why scientific study of music so often falls short or tells us things that we already know with no new insights. The aesthetic experience of music is not measurable with numbers and every time we see a study that attempts this, say, by asking questions of a group of listeners, we see the inadequacies. They tend to start by designing a question that can be answered by means of a psychological survey--this supposedly captures an aesthetic experience in numbers. I talked about this a bit in this post: A Theory of Scientism. I quote Roger Scruton as follows:
This is the sure sign of scientism — that the science precedes the question, and is used to redefine it as a question that the science can solve. 
The second idea is the notion of causality understood as statistically probable, which has its own inherent problems, largely with false positives. Whenever I hear about a study or diagnosis that results in a false positive I think that there is a real, if seldom acknowledged, problem with the understanding of causality. As David Colquhoun writes in this paper:
The aim of science is to establish facts, as accurately as possible. It is therefore crucially important to determine whether an observed phenomenon is real, or whether it’s the result of pure chance. If you declare that you’ve discovered something when in fact it’s just random, that’s called a false discovery or a false positive. And false positives are alarmingly common in some areas of medical science.
Aristotle had a quite different notion of causality and while it is not applicable to the problems of medical research, it is certainly a refreshingly different concept of what causality is. For Aristotle you cannot understand a phenomenon until you know why it occurs, in other words you look for an explanation. He looked largely at things that result from human action and distinguished four kinds of cause. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes them as follows:
 In Physics II 3 and Metaphysics V 2, Aristotle offers his general account of the four causes. This account is general in the sense that it applies to everything that requires an explanation, including artistic production and human action. Here Aristotle recognizes four types of things that can be given in answer to a why-question:
The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.
I wonder if any of this might be of use to modern science. Certainly it encourages one to look deeper than a merely statistical result. If you give a new drug to 100 people and 95 of them feel better, this is called "statistically significant" but we certainly lack an explanation of why or how the drug worked. It is possible that the 95 people felt better for some other reason than the drug. In other words, statistics, when used properly (as often they are not) offers no explanation other than a probability. Unfortunately, with the kinds of phenomena that are usually observed in modern science, Aristotle is of little help and we turn to the statisticians like Thomas Bayes.

For our envoi, let's listen to some music by a near-contemporary of Bayes, C. P. E. Bach. This is his Symphony No. 1 in D major conducted by Ton Koopman:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Galina Ustvolskaya

I am surprised at how very large Russia looms in the history of music over the last hundred years or so. It is particularly striking to me as a Canadian, the other very large northern nation, because Russia leapt ahead and developed a deep musical culture while Canada still seems to be struggling. Very different places, of course. Russia was importing European composers and culture for a long time, dating from the 18th century at least, while Canada had to make to with the thin gruel of 19th century British musical culture. Early classical music in Canada tended to come from composers in Quebec, with a French musical influence, but the British conquest of Quebec in 1759 severed that connection.

Throughout the 19th century Russian music grew enormously starting with Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857) whose overture to the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila is justly celebrated. This is the Orchestra Of Mariinsky Theatre - Director Valery Gergiev (who looks like he is conducting with a toothpick):

Then came the "Mighty Handful" of five brilliant and original Russian composers:  Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. All lived in Saint Petersburg, and collaborated from 1856 to 1870. I have put up a lot of posts on Russian music since then, most recently my series of posts on Stravinsky.

So today I want to fill in a gap. I have just recently become aware of Galina Ustvolskaya (1919 - 2006) a student of Shostakovich and yet another native of St. Petersburg. Just last month a large scale festival and symposium on the music of Ustvolskaya was held in Chicago. Among the scholars giving papers was Richard Taruskin. Ustvolskaya's music was largely ignored during the Soviet period as it was too "modernist." Indeed, it is only recently that she has begun to be recognized as an important contemporary composer. Here is a piece written in 1959, the Grand Duet for Cello and Piano. The performers are Cello - Mstislav Rostropovich and Piano - Alexei Lubimov:

That is certainly uncompromising music. Shostakovich said about her: "I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance."

Ustvolskaya typically used very unusual instrumental combinations. Her Composition No. 3 (1975), for example, is for four flutes, four bassoons and piano:

Wikipedia says:
Her specific idealism is informed by an almost fanatical determination; this should be construed not only as a typically Russian trait, but also – in terms of Dostoyevsky – as a 'St. Petersburgian' one.
Let's listen to another piece. This is her Symphony No. 3 from 1983, subtitled "Jesus Messiah, Save Us." The performers are Valery Gergiev conducting the Munich Philharmonic. At least one commentator claims that this is not a good performance.

Here is the only other one on YouTube so you can compare:

Well, yeah, that seems far superior!

The only composer that this even vaguely reminds me of is Olivier Messiaen, whose dates are not too distant--if he were Russian, not French.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Now Cluck Like a Chicken

I often express disagreement with post-modern theory on the blog and sometimes I even manage to say why. But I just ran across an excellent article that does it so much better than I have. The writer is Adam J. MacLeod, an associate professor of law at Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama and this is a talk he gave to his students. It is preceded by a brief explanation and titled: Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials.
I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.
Here is what he said to his students:
Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.
Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.
Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”
Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.
We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head.
You really need to read the whole thing as it is chock-a-block with wisdom. My title comes from this passage:
So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.
1.  The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.
2.  If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.
3.  If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.
 Our envoi must necessarily be the Symphony No, 83 in G minor, nicknamed "The Hen" (because of the second theme in the first movement) by Joseph Haydn. The performers are The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, dir. Sigiswald Kuijken: