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Monday, October 30, 2006
Midterm Freakout
If the drive for most grad students is "Thou shalt not suck," then I've failed miserably to adhere to that credo. For you see, the snow ball effect that I'm terribly wary of, has gotten me again. In my department at Flat Place U, we don't have a week of midterms......we have about a month. Which would be great, if you only had one midterm a week. Instead, what most grad student get is a month of freaking out about exams, papers, and playing tests. And while other schools get that nice, sanity restoring Fall Break, we get Midterm month (what I've taken to calling the spiral of doom). And it's not just the students who get completely trashed mentally......all of the Profs end up looking like they've been run over by cars.

So back to the spiral of doom. I got my midterm exam grade for one of my classes back, and while some people would be happy with it.....if I was it just wouldn't be me. So while my head is saying....."Get a grip Mac it's only one test," the rest of my body is screaming failure and the top of its lungs. So that instead of practicing for another midterm today, my head is mostly occupied with trying to fix the problems with the first class.....and I end up going down in flames on the second midterm. Ain't grad school great?

Again....I should just get a grip. None of the midterm grades I got necessarily mean that I still won't get the grade (and boy do I hate it that I'm so grade obessessed in the first place!) that I want. After all, that's what midterms are for....to help you reassess your efforts. But what I can't get out of my head is that I'm surrounded by all of these fabulously talented, genuinely good people (profs and students alike), and I want to be like them. I want to be able to hang with these guys, and these grades tell me that I need to redouble my efforts. Or at least modify them. My Soo Bahk Do instructor once told me that failure is an underhanded gift. And we can either use it, or we can drown in our own ego.

Empty your cup.

Peace, love, and tunes,
posted by Mac Tíre at 12:55 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 1 comments
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
So after a fairly successful traditional Irish music recital, finishing my ethnomusicology midterm (not the best I've ever done), turning in my bibliography for my Performance Practice class (again not the best I've ever done), having a decent gig with the Celtic Ensemble, seeing my dad off, and getting positive responses for the three different proposals for my thesis topic, and successfully getting a reprieve on my classical flute technique midterm you'd think I'd be happy about last week. But the problem that rears its ugly head is that I had time to think for the first time in a little over a month.

When I lost my mother as a 14 year old, I never thought I'd feel whole or happy again. The topic isn't one I tend to talk about a lot as it's still rife with regrets and what ifs that I still can't touch. Over the past eight years I've lost my mother to heart disease, one of my mentors from middle school to cancer, a friend to the war in Iraq, an old floormate to cancer, my maternal grandfather to gradually deteriorating health, and recently my paternal grandmother to complication due to heart surgery. Sometimes it's hard to see the world as anything but a great cycle of loss and pain, and sometimes it's all I can do not to drive out and find a nice cave in which to become a hermit.

My grandmother never really got me, but that didn't stop her to brag to everyone who would listen about her one and only granddaughter. So let me brag for just a minute about one of the women I come from. By the time she was 18, she was married with two children, and even though it was tough to pay the bills in a one income household she made sure there was a complete set of encyclopedias in the house for my father and his brother to use. She made biscuits every morning that she lived in that little house in Snyder for a wild donkey, just so he would have something to eat. And in her 70's she started to study both the piano and tai chi, and when she was laying in a hospital bed and couldn't even feed herself, she was still planning to go to Ireland so she could see what I saw. My grandmother was kind, and generous, and strong. She was a hell of a woman, and I couldn't be prouder to be her granddaughter.

Memories are weird. There are two concrete things I can always remember about my mother. There's a particular night when she tried to teach me to sing alto harmony, and she played piano. Every single time I sing I hear her voice in my body. The second thing is her perfume. That smell on any other person can stop me still, because it pulls me into some of the last times I ever talked to her. My mother cared for people. She worked as a case worker at a local organization in my home town devoted to mentally handicapped adults. And what I remember most about that, was her belief in their right to a quality of life. She shared their celebrations and their mournings, and gave me a sense of caring for others more than yourself. My mother was socially conscious. She testified in one of the Civil Rights trials in my early childhood even though there were pressures to do otherwise. This descendant of John C. Calhoun, who doesn't think that's ironic, did what she thought was right. My mother was brave. I saw her face hurricanes, tornadoes, and all other measure of maladies to help her family, friends, or people she didn't know. The last words she spoke to me were, "I love you." To this day, she remains the person I want people to see in me.

I have become a guardian of their lives. But more than that, every time I do something, those qualities that I see in them question me. What would they have said about this whole semester? About my thesis topics, my recital, my friends, my mentors, about me? Questions I'll never answer, but that will always stay with me. And as I lose more and more people that I love, more and more people get added to that list. I can't say that such thoughts do anything more than hurt. But I made a promise to myself when my mother died. I wouldn't be that bitter person, although as friends can attest I broke that promise momentarily when my grandmother died. But more than that, fear of loss wouldn't limit my ability to love. I know it will hurt to lose them, but maybe I can eventually just be happy to have known them and to celebrate their existence and positive effect on my life. Here's a piece I wrote after my senior year in high school.


Dark thatch and quicksilver evening, painted with a disconcerting comfort.
Just enough to make me want to go and bend knee to immortal memory.
Thai-spiced tears trying to say–
Like I could speak of star-meant truths or glassy images of God. As if I condoned wisdom, or the lack thereof.
Walking up to darkness, rich with a tangy-bitterness, and challenging its presence. As if somehow I could confront the plague of mankind and force it to play my hand.
Maybe it belongs here more than the rest of us.

Coexisting timelines, somehow naively hoping they would shake the comfortable grief I hold close like a child’s toy. Wishing it could prolong the inevitable shattering of familiarity .
Shadows of grief without–
So what if I’m not immortal, and the hand that once held me lies beneath dirt and time and distance.....painful distance that I long to leave......

It does not matter: because I will come to die, just as she had come to die, just as they will come to die, just as–
memory itself will come to die.

Rememories burn, scald like wax that seals in pain and keeps truth far away from my delicate soul.
A bittersweet pain that I long to keep, wondering how my soul will rest once even immortal memory pays time its dowry and dies. Leaving me alone.
That’s accepted, among other things. And all I want to do is let them in. Show them simple words that can’t be spoken, because a voice inside my mind yells


How can three words have so much meaning how can I hide this from them why does life have to be so much of a struggle when will it all make sense where are the answers why won’t my mind be silent where did all of these questions come from did I truly love her because my memories are lost and suddenly I think that if I had remembered then maybe I would know and why can’t I just say

i miss her

Three words, so deceivingly simple. Holding all the pain and animosity and lack of peace I’ve carried for years, hidden within my own dark passages. What I’ve really wanted to say, I’ve avoided. Enshrouded myself with darkness to become recluse from the three words that would start me on a journey to.....Heaven or Hell I never knew, nor cared to know just as long as it was somewhere besides my disquieting complacency......just as long as it wasn’t here.

And now what do You think of Me, now that it’s all laid bare? How do you fight paper when it’s calling for you own peace? Here I am, holding the doorknob, imagining the stars outside. Let me be the outsider for once, and maybe some of their serenity will trickle down and say, “Hush, listen to your elders.” And among that whisper, hear a voice that sounds familiar.

Peace, love, and tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 12:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Dharmonia's Extra Questions
So I'm taking this course in performance practice from Prof. Dharmonia, and we got one of our assignments back. Can I just say I love it when professors actually give you useful comments/things to think about? Anyway, the article was about authenticity in early music, but since said professor knows that I'm obsessed with traditional music as well she posed two questions that I thought I'd share and respond to.

Food for thought: I was particularly struck by Taruskin's statement that "we seem to have paid a heavy price indeed for he literacy that sets Western musical culture so much apart and makes its past available in the first place." Do you think that this statement can be applied to traditional music as well? Since we have a literate culture that has been "collecting" traditional tunes for a couple of centuries now, issues of "purism" come up in that world as well. Do you think that taruskin's call for a reconciliation between "the authenticity of the object performed and the authenticity of the subject performing" could also be brought to bear on the world of traditional music as well as early music?

Paid a high price for our literacy: Definitely applied to traditional music. I think people have serious issues about getting into the tradition, even skilled musicians who have been playing for years, because in western society we train the eye and the fingers before we train the ears. I was like that. I grew up in a household full of folk music/musicians. My parents could and did make music based on what they heard. I was fortunate to get any type of musical training I wanted (and nothing I didn't want), but it was all classical music centric. I would hear all of this great music, and it never occurred to me that all I had to do to make those sounds was sit down and play. What a revelation when I finally got into traditional music! If I had been trained to get away from the notes on the page a little earlier, I might be further in the tradition right now. In the same breath I think too many websites/books/learning aides offer instant gratification in the form of notation of tunes. Admittedly, it's how I learned my first tunes, but not my best tunes. I used to study a martial art called Soo Bahk Do, and I studied with a great man by the name of Master Steve Diaz. Sa Bom (name for a master teacher) always used to remark about how there were certain standards that made you grow as a martial artist/person. He used to tell a story about how certain studios wanted to make Dan testings easier by changing the break required. The alternative was so insanely easy that Sa Bom said, "Why not just have them bake a cake?" We all laughed, because we'd seen the products of such tests. My home studio was not always the model for Soo Bahk Do, but because we'd been grounded in the history, techniques, discipline, and tradition of our art we were competent practitioners who knew what the art was about. Notation seems to me, to have taken a great deal of the struggle that is inherent in the tradition. A struggle that grounds us in the past and trains our ears and memories to be vessels for something far more important than our individual gratification.

In Regards to Purism: The above might make me seem like a purist, but I'd amend that to a traditionalist. Purism is a tricky subject. The traditional music that I've played isn't necessarily a concert music, yet this Saturday I'm giving a full recital of traditional Irish music. The context has changed, and so the music has adapted. I'm not for going back to pre Dance-Halls act playing styles. For one thing people's instruments and technique have gotten better and I like that. But in a tradition you need to know your past and respect it. As to the idea of the object performed, I think the most important thing for traditional musicians to realize is that there is no object. There is a sonic event that have been passed from one person to the next for generations, which with recording technology we've objectified into vinyl, CD's, mp3's, and all types of video. We owe it to the preservation of that sonic event to stay in the ballpark. But I think the cool thing about an aural tradition is that we all put our handprints on the tunes that come into our care. One of the poems I wrote in high school had a line that said something like, "Add our line to this play that we call life." I sort of think of traditional music like that. Because it's got a little bit of us it's going to adapt and change and that's okay. The point is not to make ourselves the focal point. The music is more important than us, we're just stewards.

More food for thought: Taruskin's contention that virtually all artistic movements since Romanticism (including authenticity) have shared in a "contempt for the public as arbiter of taste" is quite a condemnation. Do you think that fact has contributed to the widening gap between "art" music and popular/traditional music in the last 150 years?

Definitely. My friend in Wisonsin and I have had conversations about this particular fact. She's a comparative lit grad student, and one of her personal crusades is against the hordes of academics who think the public has no taste. I think this bias on our end is the reason there's such a dichotomy between pop music and "classical" music. I have a sincere bias against most pop musicians (Britney Spears, the boy band obsession, etc.) because they aren't good musicians. They're great marketers and sometimes business people (more often than not they just have great managers), but they just don't have the chops. More and more however, you're seeing a brand of musician that lies somewhere in between. They appeal to a certain part of the public, but they have the musicianship to back it up (Melissa Etheridge, Francis Ferdinand, Daryl Worley, Nickel Creek, David Wilcox). And you're also seeing a return to some of the greats who have endured (Ramones, the Who, the Kinks). I think we've alienated the public so much that they go in wanting to hate us. We're aristocrats who do something completely irrelevant to their lives. We pay homage to dead white guys who wore wigs and tights. And worse than that, our sub-society reeks with the idea that we have to educate/save the poor uncultured masses. If classical music is to survive, if we want the chorales and symphonies to stay a normal and productive part of society, then we need to adapt. We need to play music that's entertaining not just for us, but for the audience. We can play the greats, but if the only reason to programme a piece is to "educate" the audience, throw it out. We have to be innovative and remember that a musician is a performer, and just like every other type of performer musicians must entertain. That doesn't mean we can't play complicated music like Stravinsky or Cage or Webern. It doesn't mean we have to play only the pieces people recognize. It might mean we have to change the rituals associated with classical music performance (haven't you ever wanted to play Rite of Spring in jeans and a t-shirt?). It means that shroud that separates performer and audience needs to be ripped away. Music is about connection and classical musicians are famous for distancing themselves from their audience. It also means we need to advocate arts education more. Kids need to go to the symphony and the opera and the ballet like they go to the movies. It needs to be fun and available, and not dumbed down for them. Kids are young, they aren't stupid (obviously some topics are innappropriate for kids, I don't think I'd take an eight year old to see Don Giovani and want to explain all of sexual situations, on the other had my class had it's first field trip to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet in 5th grade, by middle of sixth grade we had made our way through A Midsummer Night's Dream).

In in other news, I've narrowed down my thesis topics to three choices: role of women in Sufi mystic music, fife and drum culture in New England, and blues fife and drum in Northern Mississippi/Tennessee. If I had a million years to do this thesis I'd probably go for the role of women in Sufi music because it's relevant and incredibly cool. I don't have a million years, so maybe it might be better to save that topic for a possible PhD dissertation topic. In the meantime I'll get the skills I need to do such a study (first of all learn the language). Other than that, it's midterm week(s). Insanity ensues. List of stuff to do:
Study for Ethnomusicology Midterm
Finish Bibliography Project for Performance Project
Do more fieldwork
Give Traditional Irish Flute Recital
Gig on Sunday with the Celtic Ensemble
Practice for Classical flute Technique Midterm
Memorize first movement of my concerto for the Concerto Competition
Grade the Midterms of my Flute Methods Class/get their grades dealt with to give to them
Clean my Apartment because my Dad is coming into town

Anyway, I'm off to finish the top two before tomorrow.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,
posted by Mac Tíre at 10:09 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Friday, October 13, 2006
Issues of Identity
So my promise to start blogging on a regular basis has been decimated by the insane course load I've weighed myself down with this semester. Add that to the fact that my group project for my ethnomusicology course had to start over from scratch, and I'm pretty close to having regular panic attacks. I've had several thoughts to blog on in the past couple of weeks (I guess sleep deprivation will do that to you), but I guess the one that has been on my mind the most the past month has been something wholly depressing, yet insightful as to who I've become in the past year or so.

My grandmother died about a month ago, and while it hasn't completely ruined me like losing my mother did, it still hurts quite a bit more than I'm willing to admit. But the insightful thing about who I've become/am becoming, is how I responded to the event. I finally worked it out with my dad that I WAS flying home for the funeral, so then all there was to do was to decide what to play. Because that's how I make it through funerals. It's a social role I understand and take comfort in. It's how I dealt with my mother's funeral, and it's how I dealt with this one. So what's interesting, you might ask, dear reader? It's not THAT I played, it's WHAT I played. All the way home (including my 2 hour delay in Houston) I was wracking my brain for something I could play....and the only thing that came to mind and to the ear was this one lament I'd heard earlier in the year and have a recording of. To those of you unfamiliar with a lament, it's a type of slow air in the Irish/Scottish tradition played to mourn someone who has died. I find it enlightening because if you view ethnicity as a type of constructed identity, more than DNA and something that's enculturated just as much as something you're born with, then I've started to identify completely with the Irish culture. In a moment of grief, I turned to the culture I've started to adopt as my own. I got that message a little more forthright when the guy who taught me the basics of Irish flute told me, "You play the music like a traditional musician would." For someone who used to be a wannabe who only really played classical music, it's a point I never thought I'd actually reach, and a journey I don't ever want to end.
posted by Mac Tíre at 12:44 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Brand New Blog
The blog that used to be

New posts to come!
posted by Mac Tíre at 6:48 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments