Monday, April 09, 2007

Interview by Stephanie

I have lots of stuff on my mind lately; much of it is blog-worthy, and I have preliminary drafts for many of these brain fartlets. In the meantime, though, I have a few more interview tradeoffs to complete.

These questions come via Stephanie of Sweet Water Journal. Steph and Dr. Tess first became friends in gradual school: both are flutists, and later both served as grad-asses in ethnomusicology. Various offshoot friendships exist between us, too confusing to go into here. Suffice it to say that Steph and hubby Eric are dear friends, whose physical presence here in Michigan is greatly missed. Stephanie may be the most creative cook I personally know, and meals with them (and the larger circle of pot-luck buddies) always rank high on my "Gotta do that!" list. We all share a similar affinity for sarcastic, cornball, occaisionally malicious humor, as well as a deep love of political and socially conscious discussion. And, Eric is one of my counted-on smoking buddies. Probably healthier for me if they stay in the Plains, but still...

1. What piece of classical music do you secretly think is shite? (Somebody had to ask the composer!)

Actually Steph, this isn't the greatest question to ask me. Don't get me wrong: like any good musician, I think the Canon in D is utter pap. But - and I say this with more than a little shame - I actually don't feel like I KNOW that much literature! Remember, I may be a pro musician, but I spend most of my LISTENING time on thunderous heavy metal or decades-old radio pop. But, to pick a piece of music that is well-regarded and then opine about it in opposition? That presumes I have a good working familiarity with lots of classics...and, beyond classroom examples, I really don't.

Having said that: I fail to understand why some pieces - and here Beethoven's 9th comes to mind - are continually regarded as "earth-shattering" while other things equally good or better are ignored. Take that symphony, for instance: it's a fine piece. I personally find the 4th movement theme a little ham-handed in its tonality, but, you know, it's fine. I could also name a dozen symphonies written SINCE that time that I think are better. Why isn't Honegger performed more often? When's the last time you saw Messaien or Ives programmed? Note for note, I think Ives says more about the human condition through music than Beethoven was capable of conceiving. I'm against the idea of "old war-horse" pieces being kept on pedestals simply because they've always been there. Kind of makes me feel like there's nothing left to accomplish as a composer, y'know?

2. What do you plan to teach your daughter about God/religion and spirituality/the nature of the universe?

Tess and I actually had some conversations about this before we even really tried getting preggo, and I feel like we came to a pretty good conclusion. Neither of us are aligned with any sort of organized religion. But, we both feel like we want Roslyn to be exposed to a bunch of different philosophies, and then she can make up her OWN mind. 'Course, that sounds great in theory, but naturally she'll probably go by our far-more-subtle day to day clues, and so she'll turn out to be a liberal socialist wiccan heathen tree-hugger too. Damn. I'd like her to believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed once as a real person, and that he preached love and acceptance of all. Makes him a pretty good philospher and humanist. I'd like her to understand that "god" is a blanket term some folks use to define a cosmic "creator" and is generally the same entity in all the world religions. I'd like her to understand that ALL life is sacred, that the universe is a place organized by rules we cannot fully fathom (and therefore contains elements of magic), and that this life is the only one she's liable to have and should therefore try to make it the best it can possibly be.

Toward that end, Tess & I knocked around the idea of spending a couple of years - say, the junior high ones - taking her to a different religious ceremony once in awhile, just so she could get a handle on what many of her friends are probably doing on various holidays. I'd like to go to various denominations of Christian houses of worship, including a good ol' raucous gospel Baptist meeting. I'd like to go to Temple, and understand what Passover and Yom Kippur are all about. I'd like her to see a Shinto shrine, to chant with Buddhists, and to dance in the dew of Mayday dawning.

3. Where in the world do you most long to travel?

Um...anywhere I haven't been? The follow-my-roots guy would like to bike around Scotland and the Orkney Isles, the treasure-hunter guy wants to see the Sphinx, and the lazy-vacation dude wants to snorkel in Belize. Ultimately, though, I really think I'd like to see France. That sounds a little pedestrian maybe, but a week or so in Paris, some time wandering through the countryside and trying a zillion fabulous wines, and ending with a relaxing few days on the French Riviera. Yup. That'd do.

4. Undergraduates: our hope for the future, or rain of pestilence? Explain.

20/80 split. I do get a precious few students who are such a joy to have, either because they're exceptionally talented and motivated, or because they're simply nice people. I try to focus on these folks, because I know they're the ones who appreciate what I'm trying to do for them, which is not so much about filling them with knowledge as it is teaching them how to learn for themselves. Every year or so I'll get a student - generally male - who reminds me very much of me as an undergrad: smart, not especially driven, and definitely more interested in the social aspects of college life than in high achievement in his classes. I give special attention to these people, because I know they'll EVENTUALLY "get it" and I'm trying to prepare them for that day.

But, yeah, a staggeringly disproportionate number of my students are simply clueless as to why they're here in the first place, or what their true role is in the educational diorama of college. I could come pretty close to an infinite list of reasons why I think this, but for brevity's sake (I'm brief?) I'll limit my explanation to just three points:

1) Many ascribe to the "I paid for it, therefore I should get a good grade" philosophy. Pisses me off. This whole attitude is unfortunately NOT helped by the current political focus on college education, with all of the talk about college needing to be "affordable" and how having that degree really gives you a "better chance" at life. Sure, that's true...but, that whole argument equates success in life with being able to pay for college, and that is simply NOT true. The richest person in the world can take all the classes he wants; at the end of the day, though, you either do the work or you don't. Those who don't, don't pass. Got nuthin' to do with dollars.

2) Many are not emotionally mature enough to warrant being here at all. Some of this comes down to life experience, and I believe that societally we shield children in this country from a lot of everyday life realities. We try to make sure kids "feel good" about themselves, and so they're treated as if LOSING isn't an option. (This was hilariously sent up in Meet the Fockers when DeNiro says to Hoffman: "I...wasn't aware that they MADE medals for 7th place!") But, I expect voting-legal 18-year-olds to act like the adults they relentlessly claim to be, and so I often force them up against this unpleasant truth: there are consequences for your actions. This may mean that, yeah, if you didn't study the material, you'll probably fail the test...maybe the class. If you didn't get your homework turned in on time, I won't take it; the whole POINT was to do it BEFORE the test, and if you didn' missed that point. And NO, there is no such thing as "extra credit." What is this: high school?!? I feel like too many of them are emotionally stunted by this cultural protection, and things can get ugly when they perceive life as being "unfair"...whatever that means.

3) Bad manners. Okay, I'm not exactly Mr. Etiquette in this regard all the time myself, but: turn your stinkin' cell phone off when you come into the classroom; don't stand around in clumps in the hallways to bullshit with your buddies and fuck up the flow of traffic; and keep your voices down as you get out of class, some people aren't done yet and you're pissing us ALL off. Simple, simple things that show you're aware of the importance - existence? - of other people.

5. What are the three worst movies you have seen in your life?

This is kind of a loaded question to ask me, because I have this frightening habit of seeking out movies that common sense should indicate are spectacularly awful. My friend Mac once started this game with us about movies, wondering "What movie, if it comes on TV, will you watch EVEN IF you already own it?" Most people coughed up various guilty-pleasure movies, casting downward glances lest they have to see the shameful head-shaking of the group. Lots of those movies listed were fairly decent, I thought: Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and my personal TNT fave, Roadhouse. (Hey! Those are all Patrick Swayze films! What are the chances...?) So, I'll watch some really horrible dreck and not blink an eye. I generally do this when Miss Tessmacher leaves town for her symphony gigs; I get the weekend alone, and so I slink to the video store to rent films that have conceptual potential, but end up kind of generally sucking.

For me, a movie is "worst" when I either 1) consider turning it off, or 2) actually DO turn it off. I'll watch Grease 2, Corvette Summer or Xanadu all the way through, repeatedly, because I wallow in the kitsch. Here are three films that can't even muster that dubious honor:

The Last Days of Disco: I was following my 70's-obsession by renting some disco-themed films. I picked up Boogie Nights, 54, and this one. The first two were decent films; actually, Boogie Nights was GREAT. ("Dirk Diggler...great name.") And 54 was interesting for the interior shot attention to detail. But there was NOTHING redeeming about The Last Days. One of the few movies I actually quit was that bad. Shitty writing and deadpan acting helped make sure this stinker will wallow in 99ยข bins for all eternity.

Roadie: The obsessive completist in me cringes that I'm not keeping this movie...but, I'm not. It SHOULD be "great," in that sense of "so-awful-it's-awesome" way that Rocky Horror is. The basic concept is that Travis Redfish (played by Meat Loaf) falls for a crooked-toothed groupie, and goes on the road with her in her quest to lose her virginity to Alice Cooper (played by himself). Along the way he becomes...the greatest roadie in the world. Yeah. That's pretty much it. Even the inexplicable casting choice of Art Carney as Travis' dad or the fair amount of screentime given to the delightfully slutty Debbie Harry can't make up for the weird plot holes and stupid-ass acting. Fugh. Still, it DOES have the greatest tagline in the world: "The bands make it rock...but the ROADIES make it ROLL!"

Catwoman: I shouldn't even have to argue that a feature-length film about Catwoman OUGHT to have starred Michelle Pfeiffer. Hell, even Julie Newmar! Don't get me wrong: Halle Berry is great, lovely, fantastic and looks killer in the suit. But...then what? Oh, right, you mean there needs to be a basic plot and somewhat believable writing? Whoops, guess we forgot to tell the SCREENWRITERS that!! This cinematic turd needs to be scooped out of the litter box and unceremoniously dumped out the back door.


Blogger Suze said...

2 things:

I think another problem with undergrads, esp music students, is that they are often told that if they believe in themselves and work really, really hard, they deserve to succeed. If you have no talent, though, you're SOL, and many of them don't know that or don't believe it.

Re: bad movies. You obviously have not seen "From Justin to Kelly" starring the two American Idol finalists from the first season because it is not on your list. (Ask me how I know how bad it is...)

7:46 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Delightful reading as always, Scott.

Whenever you decide it's time for Roslyn to be exposed to the worship of the Mennonites, I would be happy to escort her and attempt to keep my cynical mouthiness to a minimum in order for her to form her own opinions.

For worse movies ever I have to put in a word for Madonna and Rupert Everett in The Next Best Thing. i.e. Madonna's Yoga Phase Movie. Have you seen it? It is horrifying. More and more, I just hate Madonna and wish she would go away and have her little cultural misappropriation flings in private.

Sorry, I think I co-opted your blog there for a second...

9:03 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hey there, back to blog reading again. In response to question #1, something to think about: Is Beethoven considered great because the composition stands the test of time, or is it that the composition was great in it's historical reference? I mean, Monet is considered a great painter but if a contemporary artist painted gardens just like his it would be couch art. So in evaluating compositions, don't forget to factor in the state of the world at the moment of the piece's creation. It can be just as important as the composition itself...

1:23 PM  

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