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Friday, May 21, 2010
Breaking Frames
I've been blessed with good teachers all my life: my parents, my 2nd grade teacher, my middle school science teacher, my high school AP junior english teacher, and most recently my two mentors from FDP, Dharmonia and Coyotebanjo. I think many of the teachers surrounding me now will join that group of people.

This week was hard, in a lot of ways. The world is so full of truly awful things and it feels as if there's nothing substantial a single individual can do against that onslaught. What I'm learning is that we all have to find our little world-improving patch of ground and hope that others do the same, and teaching is proving to be at least part of my little patch of ground.

After 8 weeks of a Music and World Cultures class several of my kids turned in an assignment using pejorative, evaluative terms about a culture they "othered." What I've discovered this week is that my teaching priorities are threefold:
  1. Introduce my students to the music I love, and the music I don't love so much, because I truly believe in the power and beauty of music as a vehicle for positive change in the world.
  2. Advocate tolerance of difference through the study of music and culture, because kids need to learn that different [sound] doesn't automatically mean bad, or ugly.
  3. To help kids identify how their media is framed, and to break frames I find particularly destructive, because everything is spun and people need to realize the difference between spin and data.
How does that apply to this week in teaching?

I broke some damn frames. Particularly the Self/Other frame.

In case of emergency: BREAK FRAMES
  1. Ask students why we study music and culture (or why we study at all in the age of The Google).
  2. Tell students that knowledge/data/media is mediated through frameworks (very often in an entirely subversive way)
  3. Identify a major framework as the self/other dichotomy, particularly the notion of defining ourselves and our culture by what we're not
  4. Self: White American Middle-Class Straight Christian Male
  5. Other: Minority African Lower-Class LGBT Islamic Female
  6. Identify the evaluative terms that cause a positive gut-reaction often associated with Self: Cultured, Educated, Hard-Working, Pure, Moral, Civilized
  7. Identify the evaluative terms that cause a negative gut-reaction often associated with Other: Lazy, Immoral, Feminine, Dirty, Uneducated, Classless, Primitive, Hypersexual
  8. Show how these terms are used to describe certain groups of people, even though these evaluative terms have NOTHING to do with the actuality of the people represented: African/Primitive, Lower-class/Lazy, American/Moral, Islamic/Uneducated, LGBT/Hypersexual, etc.
  9. Ask again, why do we study?
  10. We study to break the frame (erase self/other and evaluative terms, leaving only people).
  11. Empower your students to question their frames.
Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 7:09 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 2 comments
Monday, May 17, 2010
Arcing towards Justice
Buddhism tells us that life is inherently painful. Not all of life is suffering, but life is inherently full of attachments and conditions that cause us to suffer. Really, I try to be optimistic about life and the world, and the change and progress I believe we're capable of, but it seems as if the news cycle is against me.

My home will probably not recover in my lifetime.

Nashville's gonna take a while to clean up.

Arizona's f***ed (see both Papers, Please legislation as well as the banning of ethnic studies).

Liebermann's introduced legislation that would strip people of their citizenship based on who they associate with.

And while we're fighting for LGBT rights, it doesn't seem as if we're gaining any ground does it?

Add that to the fact that I had three students tell me that certain people in Africa were primitive (no wonder we ignore any and all problems in Africa....we've othered them to the point of no return) in papers for class and the fact that I'm inputting cases for the ACLU where police are incredibly trigger happy with their tasers (including against 18yr old kids).

The sense of utter hopelessness is a bit overwhelming.

More than anything, I want my life to mean something (after all, we're all looking for our purpose in life, aren't we?). I also feel like I've been given things (an education, the ability to think and argue, an artistic voice that allows me to cross boundaries, mentors in a tradition of artists who use that power to create positive change in the world) that make my voice powerful, if I can just figure out how to use it. If I can just make sure it doesn't get squashed by hopelessness, hatred, or doubt.

I've recently been reminded of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery....or should I say marches. It took those marches three tries to get to Montgomery, and Bloody Sunday had to happen first. And when they finally got to Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. gave the "Arc of the Moral Universe" speech.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. ... Our dreams will sometimes be shattered, and our ethereal hopes blasted...When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

We're gonna build a better world. And when I doubt that, when my resolve fails, let me remember Selma. Because it took them three tries, but they made it.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 1:47 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Week 7
So for those of you keeping score, it's week 7 in the Spring term--end of my first year of my PhD program. If anyone's wandering, the quarter system is indeed BRUTAL. It probably doesn't help that for Spring term I'm carrying my heaviest load since starting the program here (2 seminars and a survey plus a pretty heavy teaching load).

Anyway, good things and not so good things happening out here.

The Good:

I'm learning a lot (although sometimes barely keeping my head above water).

I love my classes (except when I feel completely unprepared...I got back ahead of the curve this week): Women in Music in Medieval Germany, Medieval Survey, and Historiography of Black Music.

I love the final projects I'm working on: The Hirsau Reform in 12th c German-Speaking Women's Monastic communities, Medieval Sephardic Music, and Negotiation of the "Folk" in Black Music: A Case Study of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. It feels like good work, y'know?

I love my students (I hit the jackpot this term).

I have people willing to help me build a traditional music community here. Slow session has at least 4 regular attendees.

My blues class has 13 kids so far for this summer....this is the first year that I will be an employed musicologist for the entire year (ie no crappy summer job).

I am working on a folk music project with senior faculty at my university (it's grunt work, but again, it feels like good work, y'know?).

The Bad:

I am barely keeping my head above water. Seriously. This week is better, but I've taken on too much. Must figure out how to make sure this doesn't happen again.

That's most of the bad actually....except for:

I have my first bad seed (here after referred to as BS.....fitting don't you think?) in the slow session. BS is a beginner (very) fiddle player (retired ex-professor). After his second slow session, BS wrote me an email detailing his problems with what I was doing. First off....SLOW SESSION IS FREE...you don't like it, DON'T COME! As my former roomie said, "You're outta the herd!" His main complaint was that is wasn't as "satisfying" as the first time he attended (ie it wasn't catered entirely to his playing/learning level). His first slow session, he was the only melody player, so I taught the Kesh Jig (easy, basic tune). BS had come in, and wanted to play tunes he already knew. I explained what a slow session was, and wanted to teach him a new easy tune because he had a really hard time playing in time (he compresses the beat like crazy). His second slow session I taught a harder less well-known tune because there were other melody players. In his email complaint, he also complained that I wasn't sure about the name of the tune. He said, "a name is really important." What is it with people and their obsession with tune names here? He also told me the way I was leading slow session was impractical.

I waited a week and then replied to BS, basically telling him that this is the way I learned the tradition so that's the way I'm passing it on. In addition, I explained the fluid nature of tune names, and the idea that the pedagogy of the tradition developed this way for a (good) reason.

BS returned to slow session last week and was combative in his attitude. I'm giving him one more week, and then I'm going to flat out tell him that these are free group lessons taught in a very specific way for a very specific reason, and if he doesn't want that, he's free to leave and go learn somewhere else. Any advice?

Also, it feels completely insane to me that _I'm_ the one passing on the tradition. I feel inadequate, because I know how far I need to go to be the player I want to be (especially because I'm talking to people in both the melodic and accompanying parts of the tradition). I don't know how to stay in the shallow end do I?

Ah, the politics of community building....

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 12:59 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 2 comments
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Stepping Up
About a year ago, I was trying to figure out where I was going to spend the next four-ish years of my life. I had been accepted to two schools (three if you count FPU) and hadn't heard anything about money. The cycle of acceptance/rejection letters was really hard. My top two choices (most notably the Fulbright, and a second expected rejection from U Michigan's Ethno program) were both no's, but I got two really good acceptances from both PNWU (where I currently attend) and an Unnamed Midwest Institution. I have to admit the Fulbright hurt a lot, and for a lot of different reasons. Not the least of which it was the first response of all of the applications I completed. More importantly, it was the thing I wanted the most, and there are very few things in my life that I have gone all out for and still been told, "No, thank you."

Ultimately, I got a great offer from PNWU, I felt really confident about friends' experiences there, and the professors seemed willing to invest their time and energy in me from the very beginning (which is really important to me). So I finished my thesis, packed up my life, left people who had come and still mean the world to me, and moved to the Pacific Northwest. In retrospect, moving there a full two months before school started (with nothing to do and knowing exactly four people) was probably not the best idea. Before I left FPU, Dharmonia told me that "the universe will put you where you're meant to be." I have to admit I'm a skeptic. She's never steered me wrong, but still, my brain was very quietly saying, "Are you sure you're meant to be here and not Ireland?" Surprise, she was right.

Sometimes where you need to be, and where you want to be are two different things. This move, and this institution has done a lot of things for me that I needed. One of my greatest fears revolved around my misplaced belief that I wouldn't keep up with my playing/songwriting. Here I was, put in a situation where I don't play with people regularly, and in a town where the Irish scene is not what I envisioned. And so I came to a point where I could either step up as a musician and a community builder or I could lament things and sit at home waiting for my community/musical opportunities to change. So I stepped up.

I'm running an Irish slow session every Saturday, just like Doc Coyote taught me to. I'm playing open mics in the hopes that I'll eventually get to play/perform on a regular basis (I have an art gallery gig in July for their version of First Friday Art Walks). And I'm being myself, and learning to never apologize for who I am.

Is it perfect? No. But I do feel as if the Universe put me where I needed to be, specifically to give me the opportunity to Step Up. Stepping up is hard, and some days I really doubt myself and my ability to do this, and I still miss FPU and the people there a lot (although I feel a lot more confident that those relationships will last even though separated by great distances after spending a week there over Spring Break). But in order to be an active force in creating the world I want to live in, it's vital. And I feel like PNWU is where I'm meant to start doing just that.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 4:14 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 1 comments
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Wow. It's been awhile.

Winter term came and went. I'm currently at FPU over spring break, trying to relax a little before the spring term comes. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for gearing up for a third cycle of insanity before summer "break," but that's the idea.

Last term I took a seminar on Balinese music (with a final paper on Balinese cosmology and music), a seminar on History of Theory, and a seminar on Repertoire and analysis (Schubert and Brahms....). I also played in the Balkan ensemble, which proved to be insanely cool.

Next term, I'm up for Black Music Historiography, Medieval Music seminar, and a seminar on Women in Medieval German Music. I'm really looking forward to all three, and hoping I can keep my sanity while also TA-ing for the World music course.

Things I'm thinking about: possible dissertation topics.

Subjects I've recently become really interested in:

1) American Folk Revival-->I'm really interested in post-revival folk music communities.
2) Music and Politics--> I've become really interested in politics again, and lately I've been interested in look how music is used as a tool for community building and how that might lead to an effect on public policy.
3) Queer Music Studies--> Interested in queer identity and the resulting music communities

What do they all have in common? Music as a tool to build community. Just some thoughts during spring break (this proves my geek level is off the charts....thinking about dissertation topics over spring break).

Also, I'm trying to get into some political activism (lefty political rabble rousing). Before the music thing, I was really into politics....so much so that I actually wanted to work for the State Department. Now, I'm thinking I want to get involved in a little rabble rousing given that I'm have a renewed interest in politics.

Anyway, here's hoping there'll be a little more posting this term.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 3:41 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 1 comments
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Dar a Luz
Winter's a dark time of year, even more so for the PNW. In addition to that, it seems as if this has been a particularly dark year for everyone. It seems fitting to me, to remember that while it seems dark, there's a lot of light out there.

In Spanish, to give birth can be translated as "dar a luz," literally to give to the light. There's been a lot of that going on this year, so Ollie, Colin, and Gabe (and all their mamma's), this one's for you guys.


Free file hosting from File Den

Here's to the light, and those who give to it.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 8:25 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Monday, December 14, 2009
What's up with Glee?
I must admit, Glee has become kind of a guilty pleasure for me. It's hard for me to admit it for several reasons. Glee combines the awkward humor that's become so popular, stereotypical characters, and pop songs arranged for a fictional "show choir." I think the characterizations bother me the most. There's the popular football player who happens to have a good voice, his pregnant girlfriend (pregnant by another popular football player also in the choir but he doesn't know that until the fall finale) , the token black soul/r&b singer, the token gay guy who dresses well and loves Wicked, the token uber talented spotlight grabbing annoying choir girl (raised by two gay dads), and a host of other characters that fill out the harmonies and dance numbers. Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester is by far my favorite character, playing an evil head cheerleading coach bent on destroying the Glee club.

And yet, for some reason, I kind of like it. The overall story is a bit much for me. Too much drama, and most of the comedy is awkward (however if you watch it on Hulu, you can skip most of this). What's most surprising? Glee seems to have become a full-fledged pop culture phenomena.

Why? Why do I even like it? What's up with Glee?

First off, despite the less than superb characters the play, the cast has remarkable actors/singers. Most notably, Lea Michele, star of the 2007 masterpiece Spring Awakening (Tony Award for Best Musical). In addition, Amber Riley lends a remarkable voice well grounded in the soul/R&B genre. With a hard core New Broadway style female voice as well as a soul female voice, Glee is allowed to go in quite a few directions musically. I'm assuming Jenna Ushkowitz also has a great voice, seeing as how she was in the Broadway revival of The King and I as well as understudied for two role in Spring Awakening. We just haven't heard her (really) yet. Noticeably lacking is the presence of equally strong male singers. While five of the male actors have taken their spot as soloists during the shows opening half-season, none of them have the strength of these two strong female leads.

Secondly, Glee stands up to the jukebox musical stereotype. I'm not really a fan of jukebox musicals, but they've become exceedingly popular. Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Mama Mia, and to a certain extent The Producers, and Spamalot (in the sense that both had songs the general audience was already familiar with), all are recent jukebox musicals nominated for (or winners of) the Tony Award for Best Musical. I think this reflects a trend in the way music is consumed. Playlists and ipods allow us to make soundtracks for our lives, inserting random often unrelated songs together. This is the Glee soundtrack, although they're all dressed up with show choir vocals and dance moves. I think it's become so popular with adolescent audiences, because the show speaks to the high school point of view that we're all the stars of our own stage production.

Thirdly, they occasionally perform Broadway standards. These are my favorite moments: Michele and Kristin Chenoweth singing Maybe this Time from Cabaret, Defying Gravity from Wicked, I'm Telling You from Dream Girls, and Michele belting out Streisand's Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl. I like my Broadway....and I guess it's apparent I like it even out of context.

My main criticism, besides most of the writing, is the over-production apparent in the singing (especially with the guys). Stage productions, and live music for that matter, offer no opportunity to disguise talent. It is a transformative experience to feel the energy and virtuosity of a live performer. It's what I want to be able to do as a performer, feel the audience in the palm of your hand and move them. Unfortunately, when you overproduce (rampant auto-tune correction anyone?), you lose any power these performers have.

So again, what's up with Glee? I guess for me, I wait around for Lea Michele and Amber Riley to sing. But, if I had to guess, for most of the adolescent population it's about the portrayal of a group of misfits that bands together, and takes their moment of stardom (which is what I think American audiences love about American Idol as well). In addition, Glee doesn't demand audiences to be familiar with other repertoires, it puts music (and dance routines in the case of Beyonces Single Ladies) they're already excited about, dresses it up in Broadway (or show choir) clothes, and uses it in a function we're familiar with (accompaniment to our own melodramas).

Like it or not, I think Glee is here for awhile.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 2:31 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 2 comments