The new edition of the podcast is here.
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Behold, my podcast.
Go here to download.
(Yes, that is a boring title.)
I’ve been Tweetstorming quite a lot lately, and someone said, “Don’t you have a blog?” This reminded me that, yes, I do have a blog and should probably start using it more. (There was a time when I wrote a blog post every day.)
I love this gig. It’s a great gig with great colleagues, great students, and administrators who more often than not get it. But it is not without challenges. First and foremost is geography. We are 90 – 100 miles from anyplace with more than, say, 25,000 people, and three hours from the Twin Cities. In many fields, that wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference, but since music is so specialized (you wouldn’t want me teaching, say, flute), the six full-time faculty cannot hope to cover all the possible areas of instruction. We rely more on adjuncts than I would like, but we do provide mileage for those coming from more than 10 miles away, and we do also put people up in hotels as necessary.
The problem with this is that it is unsustainable. Not financially, necessarily (though it may be that), but just in terms of building a traditional music program. I wouldn’t want to drive three hours each way every week for no more than four students, but we cannot in good conscience give a student less than the best possible instruction. We have tried some online lessons (through a partnership with MacPhail Center for Music) and that has worked to some extent, but to do that well we would need a large increase in our capital budget to update some rooms with a full spectrum of equipment for those purposes (cameras, microphones, necessary connections). This will be an ongoing challenge.
The other issue we face is somewhat tied to the first issue. Our curriculum is pretty much the Standard Undergraduate Music Curriculum (four semesters of theory, two semesters of history, lessons, a jury, a senior project, and some electives). It is designed to prepare students for graduate study, a teaching career, or a performance career.
But most of our students don’t do that.
We’re a liberal arts college on the prairie. Even though we have a high percentage of first-generation students, who are usually geared more toward music education as a career, most of our students don’t take that path. We have a couple of students who are carving out performance careers, but they are the exception. Same for graduate school. Our students usually end up working outside of music, using the ancillary skills they develop in the program and continuing in music on an amateur or semi-professional basis while paying the bills in some other way. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are days I’d do that. But it doesn’t make sense for our curriculum to reflect an approach that is simply not in line with what our graduates do. Thus, we are making some changes to the curriculum.
They haven’t all been ironed out yet, but when they are, I shall post them for your feedback. Like David Letterman in his Late Night years, the stuff may or may not work, but we’re going to try it anyway. If it doesn’t work, well, it wouldn’t be too difficult to return to the traditional model. But if it does work, we could change the face of music education in a liberal arts context.
Of course, this new curriculum would not likely earn the imprimatur of NASM, but we’re not accredited by them anyway, and many of the top music programs are pulling out. I have nothing against NASM; I worked with them at the last gig, and I think they do what they do very well and they should continue to do it. I just don’t necessarily agree that what they do overlaps much with what we do.
More bulletins as events warrant.
And so here it is, December 31, 2014, approximately 8:11pm as I start writing this.
Professionally, this year was as good as I have experienced. FOUR major premieres (Minnesota Movements, the short opera Bedtime Story, Tenebrae, and the first in the Urban Legends series), more performances of Rational Exuberance, and an article on Morton Gould’s West Point Symphony accepted for publication. One of my works was selected for a performance in Plymouth, IN, and not only did Amanda and I get to attend the performance, both my parents and her parents (along with an aunt and a cousin) were able to attend as well. I go up for tenure/promotion this next academic year, and all signs point to success in that endeavor. I was able to organize my research plan and my compositional output (the aforementioned Urban Legends series), and I really feel like I am at the top of my game.
The polar vortex hit on January 6. Two days later, our beloved Dachshund Julie suffered what was most likely a pretty severe stroke. The little girl held on for a couple of months, but on March 10 a decision was made and that night, with Amanda by her side, she left us. Similarly, our cranky old Hep Cat suffered kidney failure in mid-October (more on the timing of that in a moment), and – true to his spirit – left us on November 11 in the vet’s office while she was preparing to do what needed to be done. (We refer to this as Hep’s last middle finger to the world – “You can’t fire me! I quit!”) The hole in our hearts has not yet healed, nor is it likely to. Julie and Hep were family, and now our family is smaller.
The reason we had to leave town in mid-October, when Hep suffered the beginnings of his final illness, was because of another loss. Jay Flippin, the greatest total musician I have ever known, lost his battle with liver cancer on October 16. Dick Cheney still breathes air and Jay Flippin is dead – it makes you angry. Jay was and is who I want to be when I grow up. A true polymath, he spoke several languages and was as at ease discussing theology, science, and history as he was behind a piano. There are very few people for whom this is true, but in Jay’s case it is true: This world is better because Jay Flippin was in it.
My beloved wife had some health scares as well; to respect her wishes, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say there were long stretches of existence on pins and needles. She is fine now, thankfully.
November brought a loss of a different kind; a good public servant named Jay McNamar was voted out of office and replaced with a decidedly less good public servant. Jay was (technically, as of this writing, still is) my state rep, and I’m glad he got to serve. My anger over this and other events (like Ferguson and Eric Garner) led me to say some pretty heated things, and at least three family members have severed their relationships with me. But I must and do stand behind what I say.
I don’t know how much more blogging I’ll do, but I don’t think I’m done yet. I have some plans to make my web presence (something I should have more of as a composer) stronger, and blogging might fit into that. I don’t want to spam everyone, though.
Also, a lot of people on Facebook want me to be Secretary of Education, so I got that going for me.
So now it’s 8:45pm CT. 3 hours and 15 minutes to go in 2014. Here’s hoping 2015 continues what 2014 started professionally, and wipes the slate clean from the personal annus horribilis. Good luck to one and all in 2015, and let’s leave everything a little better than we found it.
Looking through the files, I see my “On Academia” post still gets a little love now and then. Maybe I should write a sequel. There’s no shortage of material.
As you probably remember, in June I took part in the Morris Area Climate Dialogue. This was a fascinating experience in which I and 14 other Morris-area residents sat down and discussed the challenges and opportunities facing west-central Minnesota with regard to changing climates. We did not attempt to rehash the debate over whether it was happening; rather, we tried to address how to handle what is happening. We came from widely divergent backgrounds, statuses, and viewpoints, but in the end we produced what I think is a solid document and starting point. (That document can be viewed here.) You get to see a couple of pictures of me as well, including one right on the front, and there’s a quote from me in there. See if you can find it!)
Earlier this week, I got the chance to spend a few minutes talking with Kyle Bozentko, the executive director of the Jefferson Center, an organization out of St. Paul which seeks to expand citizen involvement. The Jefferson Center sponsored the Morris Area Climate Dialogue, in conjunction with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. We had a nice conversation, and it got me to thinking about what I can do, what you can do, what we all can do to fix our broken system.
Then I started wondering just why the system is broken. The simplest explanation is the presence of nearly-unlimited cash in the electoral process. While the phrase “you cannot solve a problem throwing more money at it” is often used to excuse not only inaction but also harmful cuts, in this case it is absolutely applicable. But that’s not all. Money has to be used toward a purpose, and I think I’ve discovered the purpose for all this campaign cash.
We assume that the tons of cash thrown into the electoral process is designed to get you to vote for someone or something. I believe that to be a false assumption. However, I also believe it is wrong to assume that the cash is there to get you to vote against someone or something. Rather, I believe the current political system is designed to get you to stop caring. The media, which is mostly corporate-owned, helps perpetuate this cynicism with the nonstop search for “balance,” which is narrowly interpreted to mean “we must find something bad for Team Red if we show something bad for Team Blue and vice versa.” The recent decisions increasing the rights of corporations over actual human persons as well as declaring money to be equal to speech tie into this as well. From all sides, the message is clear: You don’t matter. So have a Coke and a smile, and don’t try to change anything.
My experience taking part in the MACD with the Jefferson Center showed me that, even if you have differences that appear to be unbridgeable, you can still work together to change things – but only if everyone is acting in good faith and admits that things need to be changed. This is clearly not the case right now in Washington, and that attitude is affecting our state capitals, county courthouses, and city halls as well. These attitudes are hardened by gerrymandering and by the promise of easy campaign cash (or a post-election or post-term sinecure on K Street) for any candidate willing to, say, parrot the Koch Brothers. You have a group of people who are so cynical, they don’t believe government can work at all, and then they get elected and try to prove it. They dress this up with lines like “we believe in Constitutional government.” They then ride roughshod over the needs, desires, and hopes of actual human persons in their slavish devotion to corporate cash. Seems I Timothy 6:10 is still relevant here.
So what can we do?
Three words: Stop being cynical. The process will be frustrating. Take part anyway. On many issues there may not be that much difference between candidates. Vote anyway.
You will lose more often than you win. Get involved anyway. Our Constitution was written for idealists with a realistic streak (or possibly realists with an idealistic streak). It was not written for the cynical, and we should not let it be hijacked by the cynical.
It won’t be easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. I’m not going to lie – it is hard to be an informed, engaged citizen in a time when so many people are doing so many things precisely to keep you from being that. But our Founders knew that the only way this works is if we believe in it. I’ve joked about modern finance being the scene in Peter Pan when Tinkerbell tells the audience to clap harder, but – and this is a little scary when you think about it – clapping harder is exactly what we need to do to keep our representative democracy alive. We must invest ourselves fully and without question or pause in the belief that this thing called America is worth supporting and fighting for. You will lose more than you win. Get involved anyway. And always follow the advice of Molly Ivins:
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
If you want to learn more about the Jefferson Center, please visit their website at www.jefferson-center.org.
45 years ago today, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module Eagle and into forever.
It cost approximately $355,000,000 to make that happen, and that was just for Apollo 11. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $5,850,000,000. That’s 5.85 billion with the “B.” And again, that’s just for Apollo 11. You have to figure in the total cost of all previous Apollo missions, the Gemini missions, the Mercury missions, all the satellite, dog, monkey missions, all the way back to the formation of NASA. Put simply, that’s not cheap.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Should we do more of it? Unquestionably.
I admit to a certain pro-space bias. I grew up close to where Gus Grissom grew up. Star Trek was on my TV screen from a very young age. I suspect I am not alone here – we’ve all seen the majesty of the “Earthrise” picture and felt the power of the image of the Pale Blue Dot. And everyone knows how much I loved both versions of “Cosmos.” We need to go back to the Moon, and then we need to go beyond. We have a Rover on Mars right now – why not go walk alongside it for a spell?
Back to Apollo 11. We went to the Moon with less computing power than what is in a late-model Honda Accord. Think of how far beyond that we are today. Just, for a moment, consider the possibilities. We have the technology. Why not the will? We lost the will somewhere, and we all suffer for it. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is wrong on just about every single topic, but he is absolutely correct when he says we need to go back into space.
Had we kept up with the pace of transformative change and discovery maintained during the Apollo era, I propose that we would have colonists on the Moon right now and be looking at Mars colonies within the next decade, if not already. What wonders would we have in our everyday lives with that kind of technological, scientific, and humanistic brainpower pumping away?
For that matter, why not the will for further scientific exploration here at home? Why not the will for investigations of the human spirit in art, music, literature, history? What are we afraid of? Why do we fear knowledge and learning so much?
Every last one of you reading this comes from a species that has always looked somewhere – up, over, down, inward – and wondered “Why?” We need that wonder back.
We need it in our science. We can tackle the problems of climate change today. We can find new, renewable, clean sources of energy today. We can stop the pillaging of places like Alberta and Appalachia for coal, oil, and gas today. We can cure disease and end famine today.
We need it in our education. We can educate people to think critically today. We can uncover new ways of looking at our culture today. We can create powerful new works of art, music, theatre, literature today.
We need it in our diplomacy. We can put a stop to the petty striving that tears nations, cities, and families apart today.
We can do all this, and we can do all this today – if we have the will.
“I haven’t seen him. But I suppose he will be a pain. A birth-pain, perhaps, but a pain.”
“Birth-pain? You really believe we’re going to have a new Renaissance, as some say?”
– Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
Tomorrow marks the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; today is the 151st anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg. I have always been a Civil War buff – you may recall my meditation upon the Burnside Bridge at Antietam – so I like to filter American history through that conflict.
So much has happened this past week that I am only now able to process it. Part of this is due to some personal things (which remain nobody’s business but ours, though I will say that I think we’re on the far side of it now), and part of it is because it, on the surface, seems so antithetical to everything I hold dear. We’ve seen the Supreme Court of the United States decide that corporations are not only people, they have more rights than actual people. This same SCOTUS has created the possibility that any non-tax law can be ignored or broken if the person – well, in actuality, the corporation – has “sincerely-held” beliefs on a topic. As if to rub it in, the same decision attempted to vacate that possibility by claiming only one belief was subject to this ruling.
Essentially, the majority of Justices have proclaimed that religious freedom only truly applies to one issue, and even then only if you take the most conservative stance on that issue. At the same time, they have left the door open to allow corporations the right to (a) refuse fair compensation if the corporation feels the money is supporting a cause in which the corporation does not believe, and (b) ignore or disobey laws that do not take the most conservative viewpoint on a religious issue. This is not “freedom of religion.” This is a clear favoring – perhaps the term “establishment” might be more appropriate – of one particular religion over others. I am neither a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar, but I tend to recall one of the early Amendments to the Constitution frowned on that sort of thing. And as we’ve seen, it’s already gone way past just Hobby Lobby.
Here’s the thing: this actually has nothing to do with religion, much as everyone – including the victors – is trying to make it about religion. It’s about the expansion of corporate power and money at the expense of regular citizens. It started with Citizens United…no, it started with Buckley v. Valeo…no, it started with the Santa Clara cases and the misbegotten and ill-applied doctrine of corporate personhood. Others have written more informatively about the effects of corporate personhood, both intentional and otherwise, and I will defer to their words. Rather, I choose to focus on what can and should be done.
WE CANNOT HALLOW THIS GROUND
The line of American history can be read as one of expansion. We can easily visualize this in terms of territory, as we’ve all seen the sixth-grade maps showing how first we were just at the crest of the Appalachians, then to the Mississippi, then the Pacific, then our noncontiguous lands. We called this Manifest Destiny, and to be sure, it didn’t end well for a lot of people who deserved way better. The expansion of which I speak, however, is an expansion of the rights contained in the Constitution to all of us. This expansion began almost immediately, and continues to this day. Sometimes, it’s a fairly smooth process. Other times, blood is spilled – as mentioned above, this is the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
There are always those who fight the expansion. I am reminded of Sen. Richard Russell (D-Georgia), who, when told he was fighting nothing more than a delaying action against civil rights, replied “I know, but I am trying to delay it – ten years if I’m not lucky, two hundred years if I am.” We have seen this fight before – in the marches of Susan B. Anthony and over the Equal Rights Amendment (a still-incomplete battle). We saw it in the factories of Pullman and Detroit, in the front of the bus in Montgomery, in the farms of the Central Valley of California, in the streets of Greenwich Village, and anywhere one person has stood up to say, “I count.” Now we have seen the beginning of a new fight. The pushback against the expansion is coming from a different sector this time – corporate personhood. In an attempt to limit the rights of actual human beings, those who have always opposed the expansion have found a new path. They can claim the mantle of expansion for themselves (for are they not giving rights to a new class of “people?”), and wrap themselves in the Bill of Rights and in the flag, while in truth they are doing their level best – as they always have – to limit the rights of the rest of us. In this cause, they have been ably assisted by a network of organizations devoted single-mindedly to the limitation of our rights as citizens in the name of acquiring ever more of our shared inheritance. And, like Sen. Russell, they know that delay can turn into denial; we, however, know that delay can turn into victory, when the outcry is strong enough. My job – our job – is to raise that battle cry: “I count.”
I honor the memory of those who gave blood, toil, tears, and sweat to rally around that battle cry. Our words alone can never do proper justice to their memory. Our actions will show how we honor them, by taking up their fights as our own. And even though we may not win every battle – this week was proof of that – I maintain faith that Dr. King’s arc still bends toward justice. So we must keep fighting, even though the odds are overwhelming, even though we are tired, and saddened, and angry, and hurt.
OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE
I fight because the story does not end. Each generation remakes the United States according to its interpretation of the ephemeral idea of “America.” The Founders were brilliant men, though it should be stated for the record that their idea of the “common man” was a white male landowner. In this, as noble as their intentions and as good as their plans were, they fell short. The rest of the story is how succeeding generations took the promise of the Constitution – government of, by, and for the people, forming a more perfect union – and expanded that to include more and more of their fellow-citizens. “We cannot escape history,” said Lincoln, and that is as true today as it ever was. Through war and reconstruction, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and now the fight for full equality, the story goes on. I know not when it will end, but I hope – even in the darkest moments – that infinite chapters, developing all that is best in our collective plot, will continue to pour from the pens and keyboards of We, The People. For after all, we are the true authors of our liberty and of our history. We should never want to escape history; it is our story, and we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to write the best possible story we can.
(I put this on my Facebook wall. Figured this would give me a better link.)
This is not an end point. I’m not even sure it’s a starting point. But it is what it is, and I welcome discussion.
I love what I do. I love where I do it. (This wasn’t always so.) I have great students, great colleagues, and an administration that seems to actually care more about education than cost-cutting, “disruption,” or being a toy of the Board of Regents. I recognize I am, in every sense of the word, one of the lucky ones. Having said that, Academia-with-a-capital-A is in trouble in many places. In 30 years, tuition has gone up over four times the rate of inflation, and fees have increased by a significant margin as well. The local community college, one of the few places where you could go cheaply and get a solid foundation or job training, has become unaffordable; four-year public institutions have seen a precipitous drop in state funding, and private institutions are now, in some cases, pushing $60,000 a year for tuition alone. For-profit institutions have been created to do nothing but suck up grant and loan money from ill-prepared students and saddle them with “degrees” that are less than useless. On top of that, even politicians I support on every other issue are woefully shortsighted, trying to apply the same “test-and-rank” methodology that has all but destroyed P-12 public education to the Academy.
And that’s just what you see on the outside. Inside, tenure – and the concomitant job security* and academic freedom – is rapidly becoming extinct, as adjunct positions, once set aside for a very few who had distinguished themselves in the field but outside Academia, are now often the only positions available. Those who would run Academia as one would Business love adjuncts, because (a) adjuncts cost way less, both in terms of salary and in terms of benefits, and (b) adjuncts are employed in a contingent fashion, so they fear for their jobs and will not cause trouble for the management classes. Since so many Trustees/Regents come from the world of Business, they see this as A Good Management Practice To Strengthen The Bottom Line, and reward those administrators with larger salaries, titles, and sinecures.
We in the Faculty are not blameless, though. We have contributed to this in two key ways.
First, through our disciplines, we took the idea of research and/or creative activity that will add to the body of knowledge in the discipline to an extreme. Through our scholarly organizations and our intradisciplinary promotion and tenure committees, we created “publish or perish.” Take note: I am not arguing for a removal of the research/creative activity requirement. What I am arguing for is balance and perspective. When I read that a community college – an institution that is geared towards teaching above all else – is now requiring publication credit for tenure, I worry. There simply aren’t enough outlets for all the knowledge we are allegedly creating, and it is getting more and more difficult to get into even a third-rate journal. (The ranking of journals is a topic for another time.) In addition, through peer review as it is now constituted, in many disciplines knowledge production becomes stilted and inbred intellectually, as the relatively small number of acceptable journals often have sizeable overlap in their editorial board (if not in actual fact, in intellectual history; certain programs dominate certain disciplines), so an idea that is not within the mainstream of that discipline’s thought has a much harder time seeing the light of day. Finally, a journal is a time-consuming and expensive thing, though the material costs can be much lower if it is online. (Of course, several disciplines still have a strong bias against online journals.) This emphasis on publishing more and more research in fewer and fewer journals has required the Faculty to spend a disproportionate amount of time doing research that, if it even gets publish, will reach a decreasing audience. And of course, research can mean grant money, so Administration loves to see that.
Second – and this is tied to the first – we have abdicated our role in shared governance. This was brought home to me in a recent post on Jennifer Jolley’s Facebook page, when a hale fellow named Steven Baker (a mid-level college administrator, from the looks of things), said the following:
“My one (obligatory, being an admin) response is that the disciplinary complex for faculty that has inflated basic requirements to be considered a “good” scholar has forced academics to shed a lot of their administrative and student-directed responsibilities they held for so long in order to feed the beast that is peer-review that admins need to fill those gaps. There are worthless admin positions, but done of us are just as overworked (and definitely underpaid) as many professors.”
Put another way, we don’t have time to do the shared governance things properly because tenure/promotion/grant money has overtaken everything else, including pedagogy. Nature abhors a vacuum, and into that missing governance unscrupulous administrators and staff are all too willing to step.
Once again, I am most assuredly not saying “research is unimportant.” Far from it. My research and my creative activities have made me a better teacher. We in the Academy have a singular responsibility to create and disseminate new knowledge and new ways of looking at things. What I am saying is that we have to be careful to not let our search for new knowledge become so all-encompassing that we allow the Academy to be overrun by charlatans and grifters. If taking a more active part in the life of the college means one less paper on motivic manipulation in Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah**, then perhaps that is not the end of the world. The paper will still be there. If we rotate and share duties, then no one person need do too much work.***
I am taking my fellow faculty members to task here because we ultimately can do something about this. Instead of buying in to the system, stand up to it – especially if you have tenure already. This is one of the reasons tenure exists! Then we can devote our energies to other problems, like legislators and Trustees/Regents meddling in curriculum, politicians and professional rabble-rousers using higher education as both a whipping boy (see the slashing of state budgets in the name of a false “fiscal conservatism”) and a fiefdom (see Florida State University), and the copious problems facing our compadres in P-12 education. But it can’t begin until we stop running good people out of the club.
*Once again, “tenure” doesn’t mean “you can’t be fired.” It means “you have rights of due process to make sure your termination is for a just cause.”
**Of course, I’ve already got that paper written – I just can’t find anyone who will publish it.
***We do that pretty well here at UMM, for the record.
What: Selections from River Songs (2009) for soprano or mezzo-soprano and piano at a concert celebrating composers who grew up in rural areas
When: Saturday, June 7, 2014, 7:00pm EDT
Where: Lincoln Junior High School Auditorium, Plymouth, IN
I shall be there with many family members. If you’re in the area, come by!
Continuing with the twin themes of Richard Nixon and resentment as a political tool, here are two links which have been on my mind recently.
The first article makes me think – what happens when someone willingly embraces the stereotypes of that group, and then uses those stereotypes as a marker of culture? Do the stereotypes become self-generating at that point? Is it a matter of “You think I’m a redneck? I’ll show you a redneck!” There is a natural human response of wagon-circling when a member of your tribe is attacked, to be sure, and I suspect there’s some of that at work here. But it can go to far, and ideology can obscure reality. (Read that link, by the way. It is outstanding.) Sinclair Lewis hit on this when he wrote Main Street. In an insular community, outsiders – or more specifically, ideas promulgated by outsiders – are rarely accepted or even tolerated. I found this out earlier this year when my hometown was in the news for less than good reasons. Even though it was home in a technical sense, I never felt like I belonged there, much in the same way that Lewis never felt like he belonged in Sauk Centre. Yet, that is where his ashes are buried, and it is not beyond the pale of possibility that my earthly remains will at least in part end up back home as well. I have felt the resentment of those who accepted things as they were, and I have also nurtured strong resentments myself at those same people. I love my family, and I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything, but Bedford is not home. It is simply where I am from. (Short form: having a non-majority temperament or views in a small town is tough. I doubt I’m alone in this.)
This politics of resentment is how Nixon captured the White House in 1968. He was careful enough to not be openly resentful in the way that George Wallace was (and arguably having Wallace in the race, instead of splitting the Right, allowed Nixon to use better code language and secure his position as the “Center”), but he still tapped into that. His language throughout his term in office (“Silent Majority,” the constant allusions to a giant conspiracy during Watergate) sent dog-whistles to the resentful base. And as we saw in yesterday’s post, he came by this honestly and at an early age.
I get Nixon. But for differences on political issues, I could be Nixon. In many cases, so could you. And that is why, as much of a populist as I am on economic issues, I have to keep it in check. Because when unchecked, it turns a President who was truly masterful at many aspects of foreign policy* into a punchline, a paranoiac, and a cautionary tale.
This has been a rather rambling excursion into my brain. I hope it resonated with at least some people.
*I propose that Nixon did what he did domestically (EPA, price/wage controls, Keynesian economic policy, etc.) to keep the heat off his foreign policy, making him the mirror of LBJ (who was hawkish in Vietnam to keep his opponents on his side, allowing him to pass his domestic policies).
Recently, I have been reading several things that make me think about Richard M. Nixon, the uses of power, and the politics of resentment.
If you know anything about Nixon’s college years, you know that there was a group of well-heeled upper-class types on the Whittier College campus known as the Franklins. Nixon would have never been accepted as part of this group, coming as he did from a working-class background. So he created an alternate group – the Orthogonians. Throughout his life Nixon set himself in opposition to the elites, even if – nay, especially if – they were from his own party. He was, if it is possible to be such a thing, the consummate outsider. At the height of his power, at a point when he was quite literally the single most powerful person the world had known up to that point, he used that power in ways both subtle and obvious to take (in his opinion) the elites down a peg.
He wasn’t the first outsider President; his immediate predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, was also from the wrong side of the tracks. LBJ grew up in a formerly stable family that had fallen on hard times. Like Nixon, he could not afford to go to a major university (Nixon went to the local college; LBJ went just down the road to what was then a teachers’ college and is now Texas State University – San Marcos), and like Nixon, he was all too willing to believe that his humble origins were the subject of scorn and mockery by the wealthier, the smarter, the better-connected.
In both cases, perhaps there was a kernel of truth to the fear. Robert Caro speaks of the Kennedy loyalists referring to LBJ (though never, to be sure, after the assassination) as “Rufus Cornpone.” Film critic Pauline Kael was famously lambasted for elitism after expressing surprise at Nixon’s victory since “no one I know voted for him.” And hey, everyone on the political spectrum from George Wallace to Occupy Wall Street finds “the elite” to be a suitable target for opprobrium. Where it gets dangerous is when Populism – an honest political movement, and one with honorable intentions and goals – crosses a line into what might be termed “elitism of the lowbrow.” When that happens, knowledge and expertise are themselves suspect, since they come from experts. (See this recent article in MacLean’s for a Canadian take on the situation.)
There more coming here, though I’m not quite sure what yet. I suspect it will have to do with feeling an outsider (something I know all too well) and what counts as acceptable prejudice (see this article for more, but don’t read the comments).
Below is a proposed rubric for my MUS 1102 (Music Theory II) final. I am giving this in 10 days, and am trying to hash out a rubric (which the class will be given ahead of time). Any and all comments are appreciated.
The final examination is in four parts. Three of the parts will be sent as a take-home preparation for your oral final. The fourth part will be a series of listening questions that will be given when you actually take the oral final.
Part 1: Figured Bass Realization. This will be worth 50 points. You will be given a short figured bass and asked to complete it in four parts with good voice leading. You will also be asked to give a Roman numeral analysis. Finally, you will be requested to add two embellishing tones to your realization. Grading will be as follows:
Correct pitches for the figured bass – up to 15 pts
Proper voice leading – up to 10 points
Correct Roman numeral analysis – up to 20 points
Proper preparation and resolution of embellishing tones – up to 5 points
Part 2: Analysis, W. A. Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Act II, sc. 1, “O Isis und Osiris.” This will be worth 75 points. You will give a complete Roman numeral analysis, and prepare to identify phrase structures at given points. I will ask questions about your analysis (“why did you choose this Roman numeral at this point?” etc.), and you will be graded on the logic of your answers in the context of the rest of your analysis. Grading will be as follows:
Appropriate Roman numerals – up to 45 points
Demonstrated understanding of phrase structure – up to 15 points
Responses to oral questions – up to 15 points
Part 3: Analysis, J. S. Bach (attr.), Clavier-Büchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach, selected excerpts. This will be worth 50 points. You will give a complete Roman numeral analysis and a complete phrase analysis. I will ask questions about phrase structure and your harmonic analysis (“You’ve identified this as a secondary leading-tone chord. Tell me why you did this.” etc.), and you will be graded on the logic of your answers in the context of your analysis. Grading will be as follows:
Appropriate Roman numerals – up to 30 points
Demonstrated understanding of phrase structure – up to 10 points
Responses to oral questions – up to 10 points
Part 4: Listening. This will be worth 25 points. There will be five listening questions, each worth 5 points. They will be in random order, and will involve the following concepts:
Identifying the inversion of a chord
Identifying the embellishing tone used in a musical situation
Identifying the type of second-inversion chord used in a musical situation (passing, neighbor, cadential, arpeggiating)
Identifying a period as parallel or contrasting
Identifying a secondary-function chord in context
Grading for these will be based on accuracy.