Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It is right

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?'
Expediency asks the question,'Is it politic?'
Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?'
But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?'
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Scrollworks can shine a light

From John Archibald's blog on
Birmingham, by latest census estimates, is about three-quarters black and astonishingly poor. Median household income in the city limits is $29,251 - $19,200 less than the nation's. Bessemer is just a little less segregated, while Fairfield - at 90 percent black - is a little more.

Then there are the booming suburbs, the Mountain Brooks and Vestavias, the Trussvilles. All are at least 94 percent white. All have a median household income at least twice Birmingham's. Mountain Brook's is almost 3½ times higher.

It didn't take Jim Crow or Bull Connor to get us here. We did it on our own. We don't appreciate our past. We don't see a future together. . .

. . . the No. 1 Darkest Moment in Black History? Well that was in Birmingham 1963: The Four Angels, AOL called it, the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Five for Rashawn

Rashawn slid up to us on his skateboard as we unloaded for the benefit concert at Cave9. He's 9 years old and full of energy. Aaron says Rashawn spends a lot of time at Cave9, so we were not surprised when he was the first person to take us up on our offer of free music lessons. He stayed for the entire open house, thoughtfully absorbing drum and piano lessons with an occasional exuberant improvisation. And frequent skateboarding breaks. He repeatedly mentioned a desire for an MP3 player, so I finally negotiated a deal. If he brought 5 more students the next weekend, I myself would buy him an MP3 player. He left with a bag of grapes and a mission.

On Friday Rashawn arrived as the door was unlocked. I showed him the promised blue MP3 player. He had doubted me, so he was excited--and disappointed that he hadn't done more recruiting. He said the children in his neighborhood aren't allowed to go to Cave9. Rashawn eagerly sat for lessons with Jon, Darnell, and Lauren. During the skateboard breaks, he asked to see the MP3 player again and we debated the value of the various features. Finally, Rashawn's mom arrived with a friend, Alliyah, who is 12. Alliyah was just as eager as Rashawn to learn how to play a rock beat on the drum set and the musical alphabet on the piano. One down for Rashawn. I loved the intent concentration on the faces of both children. No video game could have absorbed them more.

Saturday Rashawn skated along with Aaron as he came to unlock Cave9. Alliyah soon arrived. Rashawn's mother declared her intention to take some lessons. And two young men joined the group as they listened to and discussed different kinds of music. 4 for Rashawn. I had to leave for the orchestra's dress rehearsal but told Rashawn that if one more person came, he could have the MP3 player.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Lauren called with a report on Cave9. She was thrilled. Alliyah had done so well with the piano that she ran home and returned with an audience. Her mom and uncle listened and were very excited about what we were offering: music lessons, caring teachers, a safe place to hang out. They promised to talk to their neighbors. Alliyah's little sister decided to try out the piano. 5 for Rashawn. I gather he was pleased to have the longed-for MP3 player in his hands. I can't wait to see him next Friday at Cave9 and hear his product review. And I hope we've overcome the misgivings of the neighborhood so that Rashawn won't be the only child watching for the door to open at Cave9.

Five for Rashawn is one major step for Scrollworks and the benefits to the community will multiply.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Overlooked Pieces

Frank Oteri has begun a great discussion at NewMusicBox on appreciating lesser-known composers:
But beyond Persichetti's own music, which contains many other gems awaiting recording premieres, the whole issue of the neglect of his music raises even bigger questions about how music becomes part of history and how it gets disseminated to audiences. What causes a composer's music to come back into fashion after years of inactivity? What kind of thing can be done to make the listening audience more aware of the music of a lesser-known composer after his or her death? What other mid-century American composers are sorely in need of a revival?

Who would you suggest?

Monday, February 18, 2008


The science of play:
Of course play is good for something; it is the essence of good. Watch children at play, and the benefits are so obvious: just look at those ecstatic faces, just listen to those joyful squeals. Stuart Brown alluded to it in his library talk last month. ‘‘Look at life without play, and it’s not much of a life,’’ he told the audience. ‘‘If you think of all the things we do that are playrelated and erase those, it’s pretty hard to keep going.’’ Without play, he said, ‘‘there’s a sense of dullness, lassitude and pessimism, which doesn’t work well in the world we live in.’’

In the end, it comes down to a matter of trade-offs. There are only six hours in a school day, only another six or so till bedtime, and adults are forever trying to cram those hours with activities that are productive, educational and (almost as an afterthought) fun. Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A cello at half time?

The Baroque cello would fit in the overhead bin:
In 2004, Kuijken commissioned a luthier to make him a viola da spalla, based on museum instruments. It's adorable: a pint-sized cello, or a large, tubby viola. A strap holds it around the neck - perfect for street musicians. It's tuned to the same pitches as a cello; when Kuijken played the opening of a Bach cello suite on it, the sound was lovely: sweet and round.

Einstein and his violin

From The Myth of the Mozart Effect:
According to recent studies, the motor and auditory skills developed for musical performance may have a long-term influence on intelligence. In fact, brain mapping has revealed that professional musicians have more grey matter in their right auditory cortex than nonmusicians, as if practicing an instrument flexed a muscle in the brain. It seems increasingly likely that the long-term practice of playing music, rather than merely listening, can have the kind of impact suggested by the Mozart Effect. Einstein, after all, organized his mind by playing the violin, not listening to a recording.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Exchange of Gifts

I'm just about finished with The Gift by Lewis Hyde. I have found the book's discussion of gifts, especially in relation to artistic gifts in all senses, to be illuminating and clarifying. However, I felt that the section on Ezra Pound was a bit of a stretch--whether of the argument or of my brain, I'm not sure. I love the following story about Pablo Neruda from the conclusion of the book:
Playing in the lot behind the house one day when he was still a little boy, Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board. "I looked out through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared--a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white toy sheep. . .
. . . I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. . .
. . . I never saw either the hand or the boy again. . ."
. . ." This exchange of gifts--mysterious--settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit," he once remarked in an interview. And he associates the exchange with his poetry. "I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses--that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.
"That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together. . ."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Learning Curve

My aunt sent me a link to the blog of an old friend of hers. Jim Bernardin was involved in Chevrolet ads and apparently has quite a collection of his work. I think it is so exciting when people share their knowledge this way. Check out his blog About Old Chevy Ads.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dorothy's House

Coming to Louisville has given me the chance to look back at Oz from the Kansas side of the rainbow. (Although Louisville is a gracious, almost Old World, city--quite different from Liberal, Kansas where Dorothy's House is. Not to knock Kansas, which has it's own charms.)
I have wondered if we are deluding ourselves, if Scrollworks is an impossible dream. My conclusion: It doesn't matter how difficult the dream may be to accomplish. The concept is too important, the potential benefits too great, so it must be attempted. This article in the Rhode Island Monthly reinforces that conclusion:
Joshua is fifteen years old. He decided to play the viola when he was seven, even though he had never before heard of the viola. But now, as a tenth grader, he has learned to love it and often says things like “Playing music did something to me” and “Music made me smarter.”
But I can see that reasonable, rational, practical people would think Nick and I are nuts. We will have to make the vision real before most people will believe in it half as fervently as we do.

Wet Clarinet

One more way music is an essential element of life. Not just for humans, but for other entities in the universe.
David Rothenberg writes about his attempts to communicate with beluga whales in Orion Magazine:
Over the years, I’ve come to think that animal sounds share more characteristics with music than with human language. Each phrase sung by birds, wolves, cicadas, or dolphins must be performed correctly to convey its message, but we humans can never translate exactly what is said. This has led me to believe that music might be a useful way to communicate with animals, and thus extend human art into the natural world, hoping for a connection, a response. I started testing this theory by playing with birds, and now I’m ready to try it with the most intricate musicians of the wild world: whales. Because they live underwater, there are additional challenges—such as how to do it without getting my clarinet all wet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Quick of Our Being

In a live tradition we fall in love with the spirits of the dead. We stay up all night with them. We keep their gifts alive by taking them into the quick of our being and feeding them to our hearts. --Lewis Hyde, The Gift

The greatest art

The greatest art offers us images by which to imagine our lives. And once the imagination has been awakened, it is procreative: through it we can give more than we were given, say more than we had to say.
--Lewis Hyde, The Gift

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ecstatic Dances

"But no one dances ecstatic dances in the churches of the rich. . . The rich would seem to sense that the more you feel the spirit move in the physical body on Sunday, the harder it will be to trade in cash on Monday." --Lewis Hyde, The Gift

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sharing the meal

"And what is it but my soul that hisses like an angry snake, Fool! will you stuff your greed and starve me?"

--Walt Whitman as quoted in The Gift

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The flow of life

More from The Gift that applies to Scrollworks in particular.

Quoting Harold Pinter:
The thing germinated and bred itself. It proceeded according to its own logic. What did I do? I followed the indications, I kept a sharp eye on the clues. . .

Quoting May Sarton:
There is only one real deprivation, I decided this morning, and that is not to be able to give one's gift to those one loves most . . . The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.

It comes back forever

From The Gift by Lewis Hyde:
Perfect gift is like the blood pumped through its vessels by the heart. Our blood is a thing that distributes the breath throughout the body, a liquid that flows when it carries the inner air and hardens when it meets the outer air, a substance that moves freely to every part but is nonetheless contained, a healer that goes without restraint to any needy place in the body. It moves under pressure--the "obligation to return" that fascinated Marcel Mauss--and inside its vessels the blood, the gift, is neither bought nor sold and it comes back forever.

Louisville Tornado

Talked to my daughter, Molly, yesterday. Last Tuesday she was in the music school at the University of Louisville rehearsing with her accompanist for her recital when the building was hit by a tornado. Tore the roof off the lobby. They didn't realize what happened at first, but she said wind and rain were blowing through the halls. Damaged the adjacent business school, blew out all the windows on one side of a dorm and exploded two cars. She had friends who were driving to a meeting on campus. They were shocked to watch the tornado skipping across campus. It touched down in a suburb and damaged homes, including those of some of her friends.

I am very grateful that, once again, her total immersion in her music did not cause her physical harm.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
On the University of Louisville Belknap campus, about 70 students moved to other residence halls, their homes or hotels while windows in the Bettie Johnson Hall dormitory are replaced. About 100 windows were damaged when part of the roof of a neighboring building flew off and into the dormitory, said Cindy Hess, a university spokeswoman.

Dvorak in America

The Community MusicWorks blog has posted a downloadable essay on Dvorak in America.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How to break free

From Daily Zen:

Those who awaken never rest in one place.
Like swans, they rise and leave the lake.
On the air they rise and fly an invisible course.
Their food is knowledge.
They live on emptiness.
They have seen how to break free.
Who can follow them?

- Buddha in the Dhammapada