La vie bordelaise est composée de beaucoup d’arrondissements très intéressants. Chacun a son ambiance particulière car le gens préfèrent rester avec ceux de même métier et de même nationalité. Mais souvent, les gens de tous les quartiers se mélangent dans la rue Saint Catherine le samedi après-midi. Il ne manque ni les riches ni les vagabonds. Les magasins de vêtements (haute-qualité sont complets, même McDonalds et FNAC. Pour les restaurants il y a Café des Arts à côté du cours Victor Hugo ou le Thai Box Minute et Mezzo di Pasta pour les goûts plus cosmopolites (mais pas trop cher). Puisqu’il y a toujours des gens le samedi, tous les artistes apportent leurs affaires là-bas avec l’objectif de rameuter le maximum possible de public. Vous trouvez des peintures, des musiciens, et parfois des jongleurs, donc ce n’est jamais ennuyeux là-bas. La vie bordelaise est intèressante pour sa variété culturelle, son climat, ses rues vivantes, mais sa plus notable caractéristique ce sont les personnes qui habitent là: sympathiques mais réservées, cultivées et pui ont le sens de la terre—ils sont inoubliable!
So first you are born and take resources from your family, which means you have to adapt to their standards and their life pain. Then school happens. Sitting in class means yet another set of expectations from the teacher who also wants to control your behavior and has to follow the rules of the establishment. This isn’t anything new. Mark Twain was super aware of this problem and suggested that “it is good to obey all the rules when you’re young, so you’ll have the strength to break them when you’re old.”
The difficulties humans cannot process or describe are projected onto future generations, rinse and repeat.
Having thrived in the 19th century in spite of his bad business chops, the wisdom of Twain still resonates today. Children still have to meet parent expectations and teachers are still severe. Each generation passes the pain it experienced to the next one out of annoyance for the lack of love received, incessant “no you can’t do that” messages heard as a child, and desire to get ahead. The difficulties humans cannot process or describe are projected onto future generations, rinse and repeat.
No wonder a student would cheat to get ahead. All these adults berating and telling you to follow the rules — the process feels exhausting. If you follow Twain’s advice, you simply conform, but what if there are other options? Educational data analyst Zachary Goldman has documented not just the fact that students cheat, but that they are willing to do it to achieve a higher goal.
1. Get that diploma
2. Not embarrass your parents
3. Never deal with that professor again
These justifications sound like something inspired by Machiavelli. The 16th century Italian diplomat would judge actions by their ultimate outcomesinstead of the questionable action itself, but YouTuber Thomas Frank posts that laziness is the biggest threat to making new habits and getting that higher goal in the first place. The reality is that cheating allows us to get ahead in the short term with the option to focus on activities that are easy and feel good.
So if you’re cheating or thinking about it, sit down and ask yourself, “What is the bigger yes I have to achieve by cheating on this course right now?” I’m here to suggest that “easy” and “feel good” are not good enough reasons to cheat. But if the grade is really the most important thing, don’t have illusions that you care about learning in school. Just define your bigger “yes” to follow and dig into that.
In a Google world built to make information “universally accessible and useful,” there are inevitable answer-finding tools in a 21st century knowledge economy. The pandora’s box of answer access is open, and teachers and parents should accept that there is no going back.
No age is too young to think for yourself.
Mark Twain wouldn’t like the idea of cheating while you’re young since you’re supposed to learn the rules before breaking them, but he also lived in a world where the age of adulthood was 10 or 12. So maybe you’re already old enough to break the rules, at least by 19th century standards. Even in the 21st century, no age is too young to think for yourself.
What is your biggest fear? Conformance to something you halfway believe in or the dangers associated with making your own path?
If we constantly jump through hoops to meet the expectations of our parents and teachers, we risk conforming to a system of herd morality. Friedrich Nietzsche hated this trend where people valued things that didn’t really matter instead of trying to become great at something. People were coming up with euphemisms to justify cowardly behavior like calling impotence “goodness of heart” and describing submission as “obedience.” Nobody wants to become a pawn in a system.
If you cheat, know the costs. Getting caught makes it hard to advance in school, hurts your reputation with educators, and might get you kicked out. But the cost of following schools rules can be just as damaging. What if you conform and end up sucking at life with a part-time job and running the rat race with a really great Netflix subscription? Now is the time to ask yourself, “What is your biggest fear? Conformance to something you halfway believe in or the dangers associated with making your own path?”
So if you’re going to cheat, own it. If learning about World War II and trigonometry isn’t good enough for you, then find something better to learn. Cheat with the knowledge of the one thing that really matters. If you’re going to do the bare minimum, identify the place where you will give your maximum. Leverage your desire to get a good grade with a greater need to do something specific with your time. Just make Twain proud and know the rules before you start breaking them.
Madrid has a slowly climbing hill on the west side of the city once you cross the ancient Puente de Segovia towards Puerta del Angel. There are cervecerías and lavaderías on the way up, places to drink beer and wash clothes. You can find locutorios too, dirty internet cafés that charge by the minute for a web connection. Walk another thirty minutes and you start seeing the remnants of an era where Francisco Franco ruled Spain. Drab buildings that all look the same tower over mullet haircuts and dog droppings littered along narrow sidewalks. Orange plastic walls next to rough stucco white buildings.
That’s where you’ll find the Conservatorio de Teresa Berganza next to the Lucero metro stop on line 6. Building seriously needs to be knocked down and rebuilt by American standards, so maybe it makes sense that I learned in that place that there is no such thing as a safe space.
I couldn’t get better without some discomfort.
My teacher’s name was Carlos G. Pérez de Aranda y Ramírez. Which is a mouthful even for a Spanish name. He was a music historian, bald with brightly colored green pants and a severe disposition and looked a little bit like Jean-Pierre Coffe, the very very French supermarket personality for Leader Price. I saw Aranda y Ramírez maybe three times the whole year. Which was fine since working with him was not the point of moving to Madrid, where I wound up dominating this music piece instead. But there I was with el Profesor as a saxophone player tasked with writing a paper comparing 19th century romantic composers. The things we do for a piece of paper..
If you can imagine a 100% caucasian gringo trying to wax Castilian academic from a family that didn’t go much beyond “hola,” “gracias,” and “enchilada,” then you have my Spanish background. There was the research, the editing, and the revision. I wrote that paperon a boxy PC in a suffocating apartment with the bonus feature of well-ventilated windows to bring in the dusty dry Madrileño air. My friends all laughed at that paper with it’s crazy spanglish grammar and awkward saxophone historian perspective, and that’s when I realized I would never be safe to express myself without exposing myself to criticism. Without getting some smirks. Without some WTFs along the way.
I couldn’t get better without some discomfort.
In September 2015, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt released their groundbreaking essay “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The authors describe a safe space as a location where “young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.”
Safe spaces. The evolution of this word still surprises me because it suggests that my comfort as a student is the most important.
Safes space is becoming a loaded and confusing term. In 2016, journalist Oliver Bateman described safe spaces as “an area where subject matter is studied with a full awareness of the students’ own subjectivity kept firmly in mind.” This requires critical student thought in the full spirit of unassuming inquiry. Tressie McMillan Cottom at Virginia Commonwealth University would agree. A “safe space” is all about being safely uncomfortable in classand challenged by new ideas that conflict with previously held assumptions. These descriptions sound nice, but they don’t paint the picture Lukianoff and Haidt describe.
That’s because safe spaces are also intended to shield people from bias, criticism, and situations that might be found threatening. According to some prominent sociologists who wrote a great book on the subject in 2018, safe spaces result in the creation of victimhood culture.
But I don’t see safe spaces happening in other parts of the world, at least not in Europe. Learning moves in the spirit of Quincy Jones, who demands that “You’re supposed to use everything from the past. If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going.” That means confronting the tough subjects and acknowledging their impact on current society. Professors don’t care about your opinions. They value your ability to comprehend previously accepted ideas and critically apply them
I lived in Spain for 12 months, which is long enough to realize that even your bed will be foreign when you go abroad. Air conditioning will be a luxury and the shower will be cold. The guys will have inside jokes about sex and local futbol players that you won’t understand. The girls will act in unexpected quirky ways that you couldn’t guess. You might find a cockroach in your room and thieves on the metro.
BONUS: And you’ll have the language ability of a 5-year-old.
Coming from Kansas as a straight white male, I lived in Spain as a definite minority for the first time in my life. And so the world was not made safe for me. People laughed at my Spanish. Teachers didn’t coddle me. But that’s where some of the greatest beauty in my life came. The opportunity to discover lifelong relationship with others, make beautiful music, increase personal discipline, and develop a new worldview of my making.
None of it could have happened in a safe space. So if you’re headed abroad, here are some tips for integrating into your new adventure and embracing unsafe spaces:
1. Acknowledge everyone you meet. From the grocery cashier to your neighbors and classmates. You will need friends, and you will have only one chance to make a first impression. Make it positive by smiling and speaking their language even if you aren’t fluent yet. Failure doesn’t matter.
2. Be a chameleon. Chances are you will stick out like a sore thumb, so figure out how other people dress and adapt accordingly. Live like your surroundings and embrace the extraordinary exposure to the unsafe space that creates an alternate personality in you and astonishes friends back home.
3. Use learning services. Sites like StudyGate keep students grounded in the details of their learning no matter where they are located. You can easily find a tutor to learn with and stay accountable in your local commitments. Then double down by discussing the concept from your new perspective.
Only when we encounter pressure do we discover who we really are. So if you aren’t in a safe space and headed abroad, count yourself lucky. You’re in a position to grow.
To listen on YouTube, click here. It’s free and accessible anywhere there is an Internet connection, which you can find nearly anywhere these days.
To download In the Hall directly, please purchase the music for $10. You could then hear it on your smartphone no matter where you are. Your contribution will go towards supporting my new album, Between Continents, to be released in January 2016. You can listen to my two singles, “Bad Theology” and “Bumble Beebop,” to get an idea of what that new album may sound like. It’s completely different than In the Hall, but will be well worth the wait.
Seven years ago, the Birdcatchers released In the Hall, a collage of classical arrangements, jazz, and pop music adaptations delivered to entertain and engage the common listener. They were my first real band, and we went way beyond the garage variety. We weren’t interested in snob reproductions or academic versions of the real thing: we wanted good fun music, plain and simple.
Since then, the members of the band all went their separate directions, like so many do. It started with me leaving Tulsa to pursue graduate studies. Pianist Jamelle Houston finished at Oral Roberts University (ORU) and moved to Los Angeles, where he works as a music director at his church. He boasts a blossoming career as a solo artist in gospel music, releasing his solo EP The Journey in 2013. Drummer Joel wood continued to play in Tulsa with various groups before moving to New Jersey to study for a Masters of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Bassist Wes Atkinson resides in Tulsa where he works as a high school band director. He continues to contribute musically at his local church and participates in the ORU pep band.
Even with all the changes that have occurred in our lives, that album brought us together in a way that will last for as long as there is culture and an interest in the arts. As I continue to build my music career, I wanted to share In the Hall online so that as many people who want to hear it can access the music. This album is dedicated to the parents and educators who have poured their time, prayers, and energy in the lives of these musicians.
Thank you for supporting independent artists on their way up! –JH
Bad Theology is a work for alto saxophone and piano composed by Michael. E Anderson.
Whether it’s hot and sizzling or languid and consuming, musical inspiration usually comes from some sort of prolonged focus. It might be a person, the memory of a place in time, or perhaps another great piece.
I met Michael Anderson in 2008 at the University of Missouri while we were studying music together. I had the Romanticism of Glazunov in my ears coupled with the complex and brooding vocabulary of John Anthony Lennon and even some of the polytonality of Charles Ives. It was all packaged into the sound and fury of Leo Saguiguit’s saxophone studio, a group of mostly country kids striving to make fine art music.
Ives once commented that he didn’t want his children to go hungry just because he wanted to compose music. His career as an insurance salesman solved that problem and kept him close to people, which helped make him feel more human. At the time I asked Anderson to consider writing me a piece, I found myself hooked on listening to Ives’s Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano. The violin starts out with this mournful version of the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” I knew Michael had to hear it, and this music served as the point of departure for the attitude I wanted to bring to this piece.
To suggest that the music of Anderson resembles Ives would be a mistake. Anderson’s works stand as veritable compositions in their own right. They somehow appear out of the Bible Belt, decisive and drawn from a host of inspirations like neoclassical Igor Stravinsky (Jaunt) and the shifting soundscapes of Samuel Barber (Wisdom’s Voice). Bad Theology is an indictment of the pre-fabricated solutions pilfered by preachers and politicians in a rapidly changing world. The answers that worked yesterday are no longer enough; people require new ways by which to make their voices heard amidst a digital cacophony of cat videos and hipster selfies.
The music of Bad Theology is jarring in some places; it is at once angry and resolute, vicious, yet pleading. There are moments that seem as if a piano is falling out of the sky onto people picnicking in the middle of a sunny park (1:00). At other points, there is a voice of longing and a desire for reconciliation with some unseen force (8:22). Whatever the mental imagery invoked, Anderson succeeds by bringing a blend of emotions and challenges to perceive music in a new and deeper way.
For the most part, they [executives] are dirty little animals with huge brains and no pulse.
—Hunter S. Thompson
Once the “go” game is going and the clock has started ticking in the real world, time becomes not just a slot to fill but a precious commodity. Without the padded rooms of degree programs and pedagogues, learning and advancements must find autodidactic sources of inspiration. Acquaintances and friends revolve around set pursuits and there is no time to be wasted. One must know immediately what can work and what will be best set aside. It is within this decision-making conundrum that we explore the decisive and often inflammatory actions taken up by great prophets in their search for meaning.
Often within the bastions of Christian fervor, there is a perception among the religiously inclined that Jesus Christ was, as a man, meek, mild, and full of compassion with forgiveness for even the lowliest of sinners. He loved children. He laughed a lot. He probably petted all the animals. Some of the most fundamental stories in the gospels, however, show a very different side of this Jewish prophet. One of his most remarkable characteristics lay in his penchant for bending events to his expectations, impervious to traditional standards set around him. He had his worldview set and shaped the circumstances around him to fit position. There was a striking lack of passivity—JC was a heretic.
Towards the end of his life when he was about to be crucified Jesus was travelling into Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover festivities. His arrival was anticipated as he had spent the past years healing people and antagonizing elitist Jewish authorities. He planned to visit the Jewish temple, and he preferred to enter the city on an animal. Horses were an attractive travel method of choice, and in spite of their low stamina over long distance, the animals represented power for their speed and stature, especially in the Roman culture. Among his disciples, the connection to a noble steed must have been obvious; after all, to them he was their great teacher and “the son of the living God.” Deities should at the very least ride horses when limousines are not available. Jesus was, however, looking for something a bit more simple and instructed his followers: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” The reaction upon his arrival was ferocious—people responded with great enthusiasm. The gospel of Matthew reports that denizens of Jerusalem cut down branches from the trees and took off their jackets in an effort to line the pathway for the arrival of this prophet. Those surrounding him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The reaction shook the city to its core, and word spread quickly that this “Son of [King] David” had arrived. Musicians and athletes often dream of such a generous welcoming by supporters. Naturally enough, I imagine Jesus took it all in stride.
What does this recollection teach us about the pursuits of an artist? After all, Jesus was not a rock star and there were no paparazzi. The lesson here lies in the conjectured affairs of a career: learn to evaluate cultural and musical expectations as a point of departure rather than a model for growth. JC could have made a show of power in this horse vs. ass situation; some of his politically minded followers might have even encouraged him to play a diplomatic hand against the Roman establishment. Instead, Jesus was moved to make an entrance in his own way and on his own terms, social obligations be damned. Often musicians are presented by their peers to paths of conventions and models for growth. Going to college and getting a degree may strike high on the list. Studying with famous musicians in in Europe and the United States could carry attractive appeal. Jesus did not shun the mighty horse because he wanted to shock people. He chose the donkey because he understood who he wanted to be.
Later on after Christ arrived in the city, a bigger shock developed in the center of the public eye. There at that great temple rebuilt by King Herod and which by all accounts Jesus (like most Jews) considered his Father’s house, there were salesmen selling doves, cattle, and other livestock for sacrifice as well as money changers set up for business. Jerusalem, after all, was and still is an international city teeming with foreigners. Where buying and selling occurred, proper currency was essential. Coins must have been rolling on the floor and even animal feces were perhaps present. Jesus wasted no time in adding to the hubbub of this holy place. He made a whip and drove the merchants out of the temple, snapping and slashing away at the offenders. He turned over the tables and further scattered the money everywhere, accusing those working of making the place “a den of robbers.” A matter of religious practicality had been turned into a portal for the marketplace, and Jesus’s reaction was nothing short of violent. He outright rejected this imposition of the free market into a sacred space. In doing so, Jesus provided a clear anti-pacifist portrait of his character. The next day as he was leaving a city not far from Jerusalem he began to search for something to eat. After spotting a fig tree in the distance, Jesus approached it expecting to find a quick snack. When all he found were leaves being that it was out of the season for eating figs, he swore, “may no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Perhaps Jesus had missed his morning coffee.
When we examine such expressions of outburst from a neutral range, we see a man who got quite upset when he found situations that did not fit his paradigm of expectations. Some would say he lost his temper. Others would suggest he was righteously indignant. A young college student might simply point out the prophet needed some food! Once again, there is a lesson here for the artist. In the story of the temple, the man who hesitates to act in the face of confrontation and refuses to respond to his surroundings realizes nothing. Nothing risked requisites nothing rewarded. Christ’s reward was the satisfaction of knowing the temple was fit for worshipping. Jesus extended a visceral response in the face of a parasitic process that was compromising the sacred nature of the temple. He felt compelled to do something. This sense of necessity remains one of the most important aspects of the artistic personality. Urgency itself is what drives us to clearly seek out situations that correspond with our pursuits and values. Without a sense of urgency, the artist remains lukewarm, apathetic, and probably not filling out the fullest of their potential. Each and every day builds on the next, building momentum to act on musical convictions.
It is important to recognize that urgency does not equate a high-stress lifestyle; it means acting with a sense of focus and determination. For example, Jesus rose early in the morning to pray and build a spiritual relationship with his father because this was the key contact point for focusing on priorities—his ministry. Christians might point out that it was this relationship that left Jesus in a position where he could powerfully operate—even if it meant throwing tables around to make a point. Successful people (not just artists) arrive because, over time, they build strong relationships and healthy habits that free them to operate by their convictions. This is the lesson of the thrown table: people who aggressively act upon deep-seated emotional convictions get noticed. I am not condoning violence here; I am condoning aggressive authenticity. People can spot a fake from miles away.
Finally, Jesus sent his disciples out from his company on a mission to spread his teachings. Instructing them, “freely you have received; freely give,” he told them not to accept any money or other form of compensation for their preaching and miracles. The objective was to help others and spread the news of hope to those that had none, especially those native to Israel. Before departing, he left them with some final instructions,
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. . . . I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard.
The cultural context here remains essential for full appreciation of this dust-shaking action. Today, when people are upset in passing or driving on the highway nearly anywhere in the world, a forceful symbol of disdain is the middle finger. It is the ultimate trump card to any grievance; walk away in contempt and flip them the bird. In the Roman and Middle Eastern culture of this time, the feet were the dirtiest parts of the body. In a world without organized transportation, people walked everywhere in order to travel somewhere. In fact, Jewish law happens to be very specific about avoiding animals that have split hooves, so it must be understood in this context that feet were a sensitive issue if not generally distasteful part of the body. To wash someone’s feet was the ultimate act of humiliation, at best a servant’s job. When the disciples inevitably walked out of a town shaking the dust off their feet, they were in no uncertain terms insulting those individuals behind them. In spite of the negativity surrounding such an action, perhaps a more optimistic solution could be searching for positive interactions with others.
In a somewhat jaded fashion, Hunter S. Thompson earned fame by documenting the world around him. The journalist made a career out of following groups of people like the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang for months at a time and then writing news stories based out of his own experiences. After a particularly underwhelming stint in the television industry, Thompson expressively describes the profession as only he could from his “Gonzo” perspective:
The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
Which is more or less true. For the most part, they [executives] are dirty little animals with huge brains and no pulse.
Scores of artists have taken solace in these black words, misquoting Thompson to fit the reality of their own situation and lamenting seemingly unsurpassable misfortunes. Thompson recognized things were often nasty when success was the objective, but he was not the first to see this correlation (although he may have been one of the more colorful personalities to point it out). Even when Jesus warned “be on your guard,” there was an overtone of negative expectation. Problems would come. Complications and even rejection would arise on the path. Good men could die. If and when those barriers arose in the face of set goals, the solution was clear if not blatantly offensive: flip the bird and move along.
In each of these stories, Jesus takes a position that poignantly applies to our world today. As artists of all kinds, it is our responsibility to find venues and opportunities where our work will be valued. When Jesus was confronted with issues that did not match his worldview, he signaled blatant intolerance for the status quo and immediately addressed the situation or moved to a place where his ministry would be accepted.
A different type of voice in the wilderness, Ornette Coleman made a similar choice after leaving his native state of Texas for Los Angeles and New York City. Experiences in the south had not been pleasant; Coleman was beaten up and lost his horn in Baton Rouge on account of what he viewed as having a beard and hair grown out too long and, in a musical parallel, Coleman found it difficult to meet musicians who shared his ideas. Even when he finally began to share his musical voice with the world, critic Peter Welding responded with an attitude much of the general public must have felt at the time, “No one can deny the emotional intensity of Ornette Coleman’s music, but that is all there seems to be here—no logic, nor order, no coherence, no discipline, no imagination, no taste. Why go on?” Such a vicious rebuttal would have taken the air out of a common man’s sails, but Coleman’s resolve to continue came from a deeper voice within.
Coleman has never seemed to be concerned by such notions or chasms between the general proletariat and his hipster audience. Cheered along by John Lewis and Leonard Bernstein, Coleman’s musical voice was based in the Texas blues and often exposed in angular bebop and naked melodies that seemed to tear at the soul. The rhapsodic nature of his playing consistently baffled and captivated his audiences, a quality that led to a perception of his music simultaneously as that of a revolutionary and that of a kook. In spite of the erratic motions, Schuller contends, “it is the strength of conviction of his playing that produces a sense of the inevitable in Coleman’s art.” This unconventional saxophonist cemented a provocative career culminating in a 2007 Grammy award for lifetime achievement. No doubt Coleman will remain remembered for the standard “Lonely Woman” from his third album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). The album stands as his magnum opus and laid the foundation for a burgeoning movement in free jazz during the second portion of the 20th century.
The truth is that all of us must forge forward wholeheartedly if we are to go into the arts. In some individual way, we are called to press limits, think outside of the box, and challenge established norms within our fields. Following the example of Christ usually seems to be about humility, but the outlying stories of his ways also paint a portrait of another path. Always remember that most people are not musicians, painters, composers, or sculptors. They are cashiers, attorneys, doctors, and salesmen; seek to understand them before trying to be understood. It will be the rare occurrence that reality matches up to the preconceived mirages of our artistic expectations. In spite of difficulties, our work is unique and valuable in a quickly evolving world. Keep searching, never stop adapting. Stay positive and look for opportunities to help others. Shake the dust of your feet. Don’t stop. Belief and failure are prerequisites of reward. You can do this.
Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 43.
Matthew 16:16, New International Version.
Matthew 21:2-3, New International Version.
Matthew 21:7, New International Version. King David was the most powerful ruler of Israeli kings in the Old Testament and is often referred to as a man after God’s own heart.
Matthew 21:13, John 2:13-16, New International Version.
Mark 11:13-14, New International Version.
Mark 1:35, New International Version.
Matthew 10:8, New International Version.
Matthew 10:14; 10: 16-17, New International Version.
Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s, 43.
Ornette Coleman, interview (1987) with Michael Jarrett, Cadence.
Peter Welding, quoted in Iain Anderson, This is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 68.
Gunther Schuller, “Ornette Coleman 2. Musical Style,” Oxford Music Online.
Since most foreigners immediately notice an American accent, it is rare that I have the luxury of blending into the crowd and, after living abroad for years, I have noticed a cookie cutter conversation regarding geography that continues to underwhelm me. It goes something like this—New Friend: So, where are you from? Me: The United States. NF: Wow! That must be nice living around New York City. Me: Actually, I am from Kansas City in the center of the country. It is the city where Charlie Parker was born. NF: So how far away is that from California? Me: Well it’s about a twenty-four hour drive east of Los Angeles. NF: Cool. I always wanted to live in Texas.
People seem to characterize the center of the United States as a vast tornado-bitten plain of cowboys and rattlesnakes where everyone loves Tim McGraw and the public schools are filled with Beliebers. Cultural athletes play jazz and snobbish old people stand alone promoting classical music. There is no inbred culture. It is a rare find to come across publically supported local art shows and concerts from upcoming talents and when it does come, it often carries the form of garage band imitations and Thomas Kinkade reprints. Midwesterners do, however, have deer posts and ATVs with conveniently located strip clubs just off the interstate. Many of the people there come from a generation of nineteenth-century settlers that had to fight to survive. Carrying guns was a question of finding the next meal and defending oneself against unknown elements. Harsh winters required a reliance on friends and family in an open plain where death was never far away. How is someone supposed to build a career on the arts based on such forlorn values?
There is a useful element to this distinctly American worldview, and, for all of its stigmas, growing up in the Midwest is not as impossible an experience as people from the East and West coast might imagine. It is easy to criticize such antiquated traditions as gun socials and country music as old-fashioned, but it does nothing to contribute towards building on already proven building blocks of moderation, creativity, and pragmatism. Americans from Oklahoma to California carry an attitude of independence and entrepreneurship. They realize that the onus of success rests squarely on their shoulders if they are to achieve their goals. Instead of blaming others, they look inward for finding solutions. Sitting thousands of miles away from most continents bordered by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Americans have also embraced isolationism starting as far back as President George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is . . . to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.” Our history (all kinds) makes us who we are. Being from the “other” is distinct and deserves to be recognized. It is not a pejorative of individual abilities, it’s a facet of our national personality.
After living abroad for three years, I meet many people that seem impressed when I talk about how and where I have lived. People seem to be enamored with a perception that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence; their particular location is somehow less valid than what lies just out of reach. At the beginning perhaps this is convincing; people in Europe suggest that Milan could never be as captivating as Chicago and citizens of the Midwest openly suspect that Columbia, Missouri holds no comparison to Bordeaux, France. Fear of failure is one reason that people make up fantasies that tell them they truly could achieve their dreams if only they were over there. For most, that reality never arrives and they have their excuse.
In sorting out this location conundrum, I propose a basic view of American expatriate Paul Bowles, a writer and composer who spent the majority of his adult life in Morocco. There exist two kinds of movers throughout the world: tourists and travelers. The tourist moves from here to there and everywhere with a willing suspension of reality. They recognize, whether unconscious or not, that this current living situation is foreign to their sensibilities. It is exotic, exciting, and fleeting. It is also likely to be quite meaningful. The traveler on the other hand views foreign worlds as a catalyst for calibrating sensibilities, reconsidering worldviews and perhaps even learning new languages. The traveler carries a more lonely road of discovering for themself the intricacies of what makes the foreign unusual and what makes them who they are as citizens, friends, and artists. If they return, they remain changed forever.
In spite of such pithy comparisons between colors of grass, traveling abroad essentially teaches the individual that most people live like everyone else. People wake up, eat, work or go to school, have a lover or two, enjoy their friends, take a shower, and go to bed at night. Some of us do this process in English. Some of us live this in Swahili. The caveat to self-understanding lies in finding the 1% difference between our culture and the other. Finding and embracing those distinct differences is part of the challenge of artistry.
Today, we live in a time where location is becoming less important. The world is becoming smaller, and people are more connected than ever before in the history of the world with programs like Skype. With a bank card (or a smartphone), you can pay for anything just about anywhere in the world and have it sent to you. Ideas and innovations are being flung around at a velocity that is truly mind-boggling. Location, at its essence, has been and will continue to be a question of finding people that share common values to network and build connections with. New York City has traditionally been viewed as a place for assertive musicians to launch their careers. Today, there are so many voices in the same place with the same mediums to communicate, it is easy to get drowned and burnt out of the system to say nothing of cost of daily expenses. The economic principle of diminishing return remains in force especially here. The question is now more than ever about being clever enough to build your own way from where you are with what you have on hand. Find something compelling to do at a level that reflects everything else you have been paying attention to, and you will become a wild card, a pioneer who had the courage to try.
Choosing a place to live is all about making the choice. Once that is complete, move on with the plan and build on what has been started. It becomes quite simply a question of jumping in with an educated guess, odds be damned, and going for it. Significantly, moving around a lot does not necessarily equate progress. However, it almost certainly will involve closing and opening a lot of boxes, paying tolls, purchasing gasoline, or passing airport security. Have the wisdom and the creativity to take your own gun and stake a claim. Whether it is on a “sexy” tractor or a profound truth, if it is well located, it may succeed.
Just consider the 1998 hit “Kenny Chesney–She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” YouTube (23 November 2009), posted by KennyChesneyVEVO.
George Washington, quoted in “George Washington on Foreign Affairs * September 19, 1796,” Library of Virginia, lva.virginia.gov/lib-edu/education/psd/nation/foreign.htm.
Paul Bowles, “The Sheltering Sky,” (New York: Ecco Press, 2005), chapter 2 .
The law of diminishing return states that if all factors of production stay the same, output will decrease over time if another factor (such as population in a concentrated area) is increased. For example, the Harlem Renaissance was spearheaded by people like Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday, but the movement eventually lost its revolutionary nature over time for multiple reasons, not least of these being oversaturation.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the demand for electric power has never been greater. With developing countries like China and India far outpacing most Western populations, there is no simple path to energy independence for all. Some countries like Venezuela and Qatar benefit from vast mineral resources and an energy glut while others like Japan and India depend on the political benevolence of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, scientists continue to pursue the mastery of fusion technology without industrial-grade success. As energy industries in solar and wind power gain public support and government subsidies, real-world needs for nuclear power remain unchanged. Less than two weeks ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that “global energy demand will increase by one-third by 2035, driven nearly completely by emerging and developing economies. . . . As the energy sector is responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, much of the burden of mitigating climate change will fall on this sector and these countries.”c In this brief article, we will examine some of the common diversions to avoiding the advantages provided by nuclear power. The demand for energy however, cannot be ignored; in the United States one average nuclear power plant generates 12.2 million megawatt-hours per year with minimal greenhouse gas emissions outpacing the entire American solar power industry currently generating 6.9 million megawatt-hours anually.
Environmental advocates correctly point out the dangers of nuclear energy use. Each plant generates waste that requires careful disposal every eighteen to twenty-four months. What politician wants to publically accept the stigma of nuclear waste in their state? In addition, the IEA rightly pointed out that developing countries will inherit the responsibility of combatting escalating global greenhouse gas emissions. In a world of pirates and conflicting worldviews, who can seriously envision successful nuclear plants with uncompromised security in places like Mogadishu or even Tehran?
The Beyond Nuclear organization, based out of Takoma Park, MD, highlights the ongoing issue of disposal: “no country has an operating repository for radioactive waste.”b Indeed, the proposed use of Yucca Mountain as a national repository has been shelved by the Obama administration leaving nuclear waste sites scattered across the country. Although nuclear waste poses a threat to human health and safety, its daily danger often gets exaggerated for effect—Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker wrote that some scientists believe people receive five times the radiation from sitting in front of television screens and computer monitors over their entire lives than they do living next to a nuclear power plant.a Regarding security, nuclear power plants will not solve every country’s energy needs. Playing favorites with the technology, however, will only lead to resentment among countries, further heightening political tensions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) exists to enforce and maintain the high standards required for the utilization of this dangerous technology. Countries unwilling to cooperate with IAEA guidelines should not and will not benefit from the energy advantages acquired with nuclear power.
In the heat of World War II, nuclear science was born from violence and the threat of obliteration. Today, this power of fission, whether promoted for peaceful energy or for the death of enemies will never simply disappear. Rather, we must act to peacefully regulate it for the betterment of mankind. This Pandora’s box will not close any time soon.
a-Johnston, Barbara Rose., and Holly M. Barker. Consequential Damages of Nuclear War: The Rongelap Report. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2008. Print.
b-Ten Reasons to Say No to Nuclear Power. Takoma Park: Beyond Nuclear, n.d. Beyond Nuclear. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
c-World Energy Outlook. Issue brief. Climate-I, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
After cheaply throwing about musical and philosophical mandates via my all too convenient internet blog, I eventually ran into a wall of questions considering my writings. Why do I write? What am I trying to prove? Who am I writing for? The answers centralized in expressing and refining a worldview that could stay meaningful through time and serve others in their journey towards becoming better musicians, or at least enlighten and amuse them along the way. Concerning the blog, I eventually ran out of one-stop shopping list ideas to coherently discourse about save the occasional interesting trip recounted in a literary fashion. I began to reflect on what was important to me and decided that my interest in music needed to be disseminated, not based out of some intellectual glut of superiority but out of practicality, a carefully considered perspective for guiding someone else who might dare to try something along the same lines as I do. I found myself surrounded by teachers who encouraged in the details of knowing the score at hand without addressing in broad brushstrokes the challenges of a modern career. It is precisely that issue which I craved to grasp: a twenty-first century blueprint, a thoughtful proposal for the path of an artist. For all of my one-cent concerts and thousand-dollar recitals, diploma-laced essays, independent investigations, and continent hopping travels, I still had not launched out my ideas and taken off my pants to world criticism for all to see.
Ready, Set, Go: Why Intelligence Trumps Intellect In the Arts is not about nasal lectures and cerebral discourse nor does it consist of magical formulas and ninety minute fix-it programs. It is made for people who want to do something musically meaningful in their life, but might not have any idea how that could develop. Like the main title, this book has three parts to it. In Ready, I aim to cultivate a mentality and worldview that is worthy of the career to which the reader feels compelled to pursue. In a world featuring many shades of gray, the artist must take a black and white stance towards their pursuits. Indifference and indecision remain one of the most damaging positions one can take in the world of music; this attitude of not knowing what is good and what is not suspends decision-making and leads to aborted musical encounters. The artist must prepare themself in advance. Set will set the table of experience to place the reader in a position to succeed. At this point, the chapters will concern taking surrounding elements such as friends, resources, and the community to the highest level of efficiency. This is not about using people, it concerns engaging others in order to build and improve on abilities. Any success obtained comes in no small degree from the help of others, and this reality drives to the core of this discussion. It is the people around us that make us the individuals capable of completing the work required to achieve our goals. Go does not concern instant success, but it will discourse a way for forward progress. In this section, I begin by discussing how to know when the time is right to leave behind the apprentice mentality, the value of location in building successful projects, and model notable examples of other artists gone before.
Ultimately, this book is written with one goal in mind: to empower the musician to find their own solutions. Successful performing in the arts does not require a fine arts degree or the right teacher; it requires an evolving work ethic and a keen ear. Ready, Set, Go will make provision for those important details along the way.
One recent performance by the Eastman Saxophone Project (ESP), a transcription by Dannel Espinoza of the Rite of Spring, has recently gone viral on YouTube with over 11,000 views in two days.* Thirteen saxophonists along with five percussionists join together to interpret this Stravinsky masterpiece in a riveting performance dedicated to making century-old music in a new way à la timbre of the saxophone. The execution is compelling, the memorization shocking, the interpretation rampant and unrestrained. No longer a ballet nor orchestral work, Espinoza has effectively transformed the Rite of Spring into chamber music. Such a charismatically executed performance speaks volumes concerning the state of the modern affairs of the saxophone—an adaptable instrument demonstrating a capability for authentic recognition in most Western musical settings.
Perhaps today, the response to this rendition remains comparable to the premiere of the work and the uproar caused by the Parisian audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913. In that commotion, the tradition-embracing aristocratic elite found much to differ with in the enthusiastic position of the bohemian revolutionaries also in attendance (paraphrase of the Wikipedia entry on the subject). The conflict between the groups eventually directed its way towards the stage and while Steven Walsh contends that such outbursts were “targeted as much at Nizhinsky (whose choreography of Debussy’s Jeux two weeks earlier had been disliked),” (quote found in the Grove Music Stravinsky bio) the music made a primordial exhibition of the angular accent placed over ostinato phrasing.
One hundred years later I find myself pitted against a posh musical milieu interested in revering the past by performing chic saxophone arrangements of Bach, Handel, Khachaturian, and Stravinsky; ESP is certainly not the first to do this although they may be among the most talented to realize it. In my experience such concerts often receive enthusiastic audience approval, but what does such a performance truly accomplish? Rather than proposing original repertoire that builds on the standards of great musical predecessors, these musicians choose to bask alongside those same whitewashed cadavers and blinding legacies of tradition. History will not remember such parasitic endeavors! The reward for such a performance finds its full and fleeting weight in thumbs-up YouTube votes and friendly backslaps found in a far too often innocent and undemanding public.
No, the solution for the concert saxophonist cannot nestle in the repertoire and history of other instruments, but rather must embrace its own reality and potential in classical music. Saxophonists accomplish nothing by ogling at outlying performance settings and glorifying the history of a genre not their own; an inherently versatile instrument does not necessarily merit its exploitation into every possible performance situation. Such musical masturbation may be useful as a learning tool as I imagine ESP saxophonists now know the Rite of Spring better than most orchestral musicians, but the end result still leaves me yearning for the real thing.
*Since the publication of this article, Boosey & Hawkes music publishers has eliminated the video from YouTube on grounds of copyright infraction.