Monthly Archives: April 2011

Why Music Works? Another scientist thinks they know…

From the Science section of the New York Times:

To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons

It’s really interesting.

The whole ongoing search to figure out What Makes Music Moving is probably a worthy one, although I worry that someday someone will decide they’ve figured it all out and have the final answer on it. And I love all the quotes from different musicians in the article. It’s a really worthy read!

My last Triduum as a church musician

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, Tell the whole community of music ministers: On the night of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with no time to cook, you must procure for your family a pizza, one per household unless you eat a lot in which case you might want two or three. You shall not order pepperoni, lest it give you heartburn during the Mandatum, nor anchovies, lest you offend your neighbor.

If a family is too small for a whole pizza, you shall stop at the drive-through for a burger in the evening twilight. This is how you are to eat it: with your concert dress on, organmasters on your feet and your baton in hand; you shall eat like those who are in flight.

It is the Passover of the LORD.”

And I want to go into academia why?

The battle of the adjuncts-vs.-tenured. Wow.

There’s the first one:

Are You Getting Your Adjunct On? A Few Do’s And Don’ts For New Members Of The Adjunct Army

And the first, sarcastic response:

Advice for Adjuncts

And the second, more direct response:

My Real Advice for Adjuncts.

And Clarissa’s blog, which is where I happened upon the whole thing:

I really hope. . .

I did adjunct briefly. It sucked. That’s a large part of why I’m going for the terminal degree, in the hopes that I might be able to obtain one of those coveted tenure track positions. But this trend is scary…

If you don’t have something useful to say…

I participate in a bunch of online forums.

And this one guy is driving me crazy. You know the one–he’s the dude who may or may not actually know anything about what’s being discussed, or know the answer to the question posed by the original poster, or for that matter anything at all. But who feels the need to weigh in. Every time. Over and over again.

I wish he’d stop.

Eric Whitacre: Digging him in spite of myself

I tend in principle to reject what is Popular.

I tend in principle to be suspicious of the Beautiful, the Shining, the Oh-So-Handsome Bearer of A Beautiful Glowy New Message.

Therefore, Eric Whitacre is sort of the embodiment of what I normally exhibit immediate leeriness at. He is sweet, self-deprecating, a Guy’s Guy in artfully faded jeans with Surfer Dude hair. His music is new, yet accessible to the ears of non-musicians. He is Luke Skywalker. He is Blond Neo.

And yet, I, along with the rest of the world, cannot help looking to him with googly hope-eyes–not for what everyone (read: college girls) seems to see him as, but for what he is.

He’s a skilled choral composer with an instinctive understanding of the voice, and even more, the young voice. He is able to marry his inner vision (er…what’s the aural version of “vision”?) to an external expression in the language of the early 21st century Zeitgeist. He is steeped in the world of global communication and social media. He may be the guy who, singlehandedly, is the reason why people like me may still have jobs in 10, 15, or 20 years.

He’s making choral singing “cool.”

Check these out:

His TED talk, with the first Virtual Choir:

And Virtual Choir 2.0, just released this week:

For the record, my deepest and most abiding love is for the lovely warm rich Midwestern Choral Sound, the St. Olaf kind of depth rather than the light luminous English-choirboy sound Whitacre favors, and for which he seems to write. But hell. If he can bring choral music into the consciousness of this generation’s high schoolers and college students, then the playing field will be big enough for all of us for the next 30 years, and there will be room for all kinds of singing.

It’s like he’s starting a choral Baby Boom.

Be fertile and multiply, brother.

Of Higher Education, Barfing, and Feminism

I remember it vividly, that morning about six-and-a-bit years ago. It was near Christmas, way too early, because I had an 8:30 class in the city. I backed out of the garage, then had to pause to put the car in park, open the door, and puke briefly in the alley before I could close the door and continue to class.

I arrived on time. I would have been early except that there was no street parking anywhere. I dragged my big-ass preggo belly (not to mention my big ass) out of the car, up the street, into the building, up the elevator, and into class.  (That was my preggo concession; I took the elevator rather than the stairs.) I managed to focus, to pay attention, to not puke, and to say my requisite Two Intelligent Things near the beginning of the class session, my failsafe way to not get caught for having not prepared well enough. (If you say a couple of intelligent things early on, you can then sit quietly for the remainder of class, allowing the other students the opportunity to step up and answer things and magnanimously choosing not to monopolize the conversation, though clearly you could have spoken up, because you’d already demonstrated your preparedness and lucidity.  Shh. Don’t tell everyone about this one. I’m starting a new degree in 4 months and may need to rely on it a good bit over the next couple of years.)

Going to college/grad school/whatever while pregnant sucks. You are at the mercy of your body, while also being at the mercy of your professors, and if you’re really lucky and this is not your first child, at the mercy of your previous offspring as well.

So reading this post from The Feminist Breeder gave me all kinds of mixed reactions. I should say at the outset that I’m hesitant to even comment, because whatever else might be going on, the woman is 39+ weeks pregnant, clearly miserable, and probably facing life at a level of hormone-abetted emotional intensity pretty much unmatched by anything else that ever happens in a woman’s life.  So I don’t want to come off as attacking or trying to make her feel bad. Because she probably feels crappy enough.

But. This is what went down in her class this week:

“My Tuesday class is a reasonable half hour away, but my Wednesday class is 90 minutes away in traffic.  If I started hard, active labor at school, I have no idea what I would do.  Also – get this – I left class early last Tuesday because I was so sick I couldn’t see straight, and my professor actually had the balls to dock me 20 out of 25 possible Participation points just because I had to leave.  Clearly she’ll be docking me ALL 25 Participation points for each class I miss while I’m doing a silly little thing like trying to have a baby, so I cannot take off a single extra day other than what is absolutely necessary.  (And yes, I am SOOO writing a letter about that.)

And later, in the comments, she says:

The professors know we have lives outside of school and I made it perfectly clear on the first night of class that this pregnancy was going to mean that I’d be missing a class or two. She said that was perfectly fine, and never once mentioned that I’d never be able to get an A no matter what kind of work I turned in because she’d be docking points for every class I missed. Total. Bullshit.

She’s a brand new professor and totally does NOT get it. Everyone in this class complains about her grading system, so I’m sure the school won’t be shocked that their President’s Medallion winner this year has a problem with being docked points for being 9 mos pregnant and trying to take care of myself.”

She also talks later in the comments too about the “accommodations” the prof agreed to with her, and at least from what she describes, it sounds like the prof may be reneging a bit on a previously arranged conversation. (To tell the truth, it reads to me as though the professor has come to find her a pain in the ass, and is by now less inclined to be nice than she was on the first night of class, or feels like she’s being taken advantage of and is responding passive-aggressively. If that’s the case, it’s not to the professor’s credit in the least, but I’ve seen it happen before.)

What gets me, though, even more than her own absolute conviction that the professor should accommodate her illness (and while being pregnant is certainly no illness, it sounds like what sent her home from class that night was), are the other comments on the blog, by readers who can’t understand the professor’s reaction–comments issued before clarification of exactly what the arrangement with the prof had been. Here are some samples:

“I notice a pervasive lack of accommodation for people who have actual lives– commutes (mine’s an hour), full time jobs (I had two part timers this semester… ugh), rent/mortgages, pets, or children. So many students are kids with a full ride and no other responsibilities– of COURSE they have more time to spend on school! Of course they don’t have to ditch class a few times a semester to get to work on time! Or stay home because the kid is sick! Unfortunately, even if a person is as driven as you seem to be, you’re punished for who you are and your life station.

Kudos to women like us who kick ass, take names, and get all As.”

or this one:

“…it is freaking ridiculous your professor docked the majority of your participation points like that. Obviously you gave enough crap about the class to show up in the first place; most students would have skipped regardless.”

or my personal favorite:

“I think you should get points for showing up sick! I am a professor and I have students blow off my class for all sorts of reasons and then get mad at me when their grade suffers (90% instead of 100% participation grade). You don’t strike me as that student. And I think that is way too many points for one class!”

First of all, you have no idea how many total points there are and what actual portion of a final grade those 20 points represent. Secondly, if your students blow off your class and then get mad when you dock them participation points, that’s their problem, not yours, and hopefully they will learn something from the experience.

Third and most importantly, no one gets extra points for showing up sick. Not in the real world, the world that college is hopefully preparing us all to enter. The world I’ve lived in for a good many years. There are no cookies for sucking it up and getting the job done.  That is simply the expectation. No one is going to give you brownie points for not missing the mark as badly as “most” students would, or for having a good reason for not doing what’s expected of you. No one is going to say, “Oh, poor thing, she has kids, that’s why she’s not getting her job done, we just need to expect less of her.”  No effing way.

TFB, to her credit, is not asking for a free pass by any means–she’s ready, willing, and eager to do whatever extra work is required to meet the standards her profs set for her, baby or no baby. She’s highly determined, and God help anyone who gets in her way. Sounds to me like a little more humility and a little less drama might stand her better in the long run, but hell, she can get there any damn way she pleases. Still, those comments from her readers are very very disturbing to me.

I personally chose to take the “delivery semester” off, to birth and nurse and do all that other stuff that would have made studying pretty damn hard. I signed up for summer classes after my kid’s early May delivery, doubled my load the previous semester (the barfing one) and wound up spending the last two months of my pregnancy writing a paper for an incomplete I took because the barfing didn’t go away in the second trimester the way I expected it to, and my doubled-up fall semester was a fiasco. (And that was a very accommodating professor.) I absolutely do not understand choosing to take a course or courses I was pretty sure I could not complete because of a fairly predictable due date. But again, she can do whatever she damn well pleases, as long as her professors and she agree to the terms of her fulfilling the course requirements.

Which brings me to my feminist dilemma.

On the one hand–women are women, we are the ones who birth babies, and the workforce, and hence the educational system, would do well to accommodate the irregularities of our childbearing/nursing needs in order to benefit from what we have to offer.  Maternity leave, nursing breaks and spaces, flex-time, and of course the ever-popular equal-pay-for-equal-work (that we even have to question that one is absolutely obscene)–I’m all for this. And given how many women spend–or would like to spend–a goodly portion of their childbearing years in colleges and universities, this is something that will need to be addressed there. There should not be women dropping out of college because they are pregnant, can’t get health care from their university plan, can’t get cheap (or free!) university child care, and have No Other Alternative. That’s just so many kinds of wrong. And it happens all the time.

But on the other hand, while up to a point we should have our needs accommodated, and the world of the academic institution needs to be a little more flexible than just expecting us to fit lockstep into its set little program without any deviation, is it responsible for us to go into that system with an aura of entitlement, as though we assume that everyone will look out for us and make sure we have what we need? At what point do we accommodate our lives and our schedules to meet the expectations of the institution?

It’s a difficult dance.

I’m about to enter a new degree program, at a school filled with fairly affluent kids. I’m an “adult” student, and a doctoral student at that, the only woman in a male-dominated department. I will be the only student with children. I do not know how this is going to shake down. But I’m fairly sure that whining about “geez, they can’t expect me to do all this and never miss anything, I have a life, I have obligations, of course I’m going to have to ditch class, how dare they, it’s not like I’m one of those 23-year-olds with nothing but school to think about!” is not going to get me very far. I will have to meet the degree requirements. I will have to do what is expected of me. If I fail to do so, there will be ramifications. Period. That’s how it works.

Where is the balance between demanding fair and equitable treatment for women, and not demanding special concessions that create more work for others in order that I be able to be there?

(note: over on Clarissa’s Blog she weighs in from a professor’s perspective…check it out…)

“In the Shadow of the Stars”

This is a really good documentary–I think it won the Oscar in 1991–about the lives of SF Opera Chorus members. Really wonderfully done, and very true to life. I could be watching a show about most of the people I know.

It also reawakens in me my frustrated desire to have worked in an opera chorus at some point in my life. Sigh…methinks that ship has sailed.

If you have Netflix, it’s available on “Instant Play”–not popular enough to come up on any of the normal lists, but if you search for it you’ll find it. It’s a very worthy watch.

Dear Computer Customer Support Email Answerers:

Thank you for your rapid response to my inquiry regarding the poor battery life of my new tablet. Thank you also for your responses to the various issues I have had with various electronics over the past 15-20 years or so. I appreciate your attentiveness to my needs.

However, may I make a gentle request, something that may increase the faith and good will your customers in terms of resolving both the current difficulty and whatever issues might occur in the future?

I realize that the vast majority of “this doesn’t work” emails probably result from consumer ignorance and idiocy, and I can fully understand that you may have a very low opinion of the computer-savviness of your customer base.  But when someone writes a letter saying, “I have tried this, and this, and this, and I have watched no video, and I have listened to no media, and blah blah blah,” is it really necessary to send a condescending email about the level of resources this and this and the other process, like HD video and hi-res music, burns up in the machine?  And then to say, “so please try not doing all those things, and if all else fails, this update should resolve your issues”?

Would it cost you so much, instead, to take the approach of “Wow, two hours of battery life under any circumstances seems low, and we’re sorry this is happening! In case you have not already done so, just to make sure you don’t have to send in your device when it’s not necessary, let us see if this is a software issue rather than a hardware one; this  update might address the problem. ”

Just a suggestion.  Read the email before sending the form response. Respond in a way that at least respects the possibility of your customer not being an idiot, if it does not assume so.

And no offense, but a device that promises 18 hours of video play on a single charge should not, at 5 days old, get only two hours of active battery life under any circumstances.

Grr.