Saturday, June 25, 2005

CLASSICAL CULTURE: Saving Our Orchestras

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My minor in college was Music. I played the cello for many years. I fell in love with it when I was a child. Why?

We went to Chicago to see "Fantasia". The only part of fantasia I really liked was the Beethoven Sixth. I was struck directly by a very powerful lightning bolt that hit the tree outside the open window of my bedroom at Yerkes Observatory. Since I loved the pictures of Pegasus in the observatory rotunda, I felt that Pegasus flew down to save me when I was hit. So I was amazed to see the flying horse families in that cartoon.

When the first one flew onto the screen, the music swelled with a beautiful, playful theme. "What are they playing," I whispered to my mother. "Cellos," she answered.

I never achieved cellohood, not being blessed with sufficient talent, but I love music a lot. From the NYT:
All over the Western world, the alarm is sounding that classical music is in trouble. Orchestra subscription sales are dropping widely, in some cases by as much as two percentage points a year. Ensembles are not balancing their budgets. Audiences are getting older; young people are turned off by classical music. The Chicago Symphony can no longer sell decently even at its own festival. So, at least, goes the refrain.
This is true. As pop music fills stadiums, the orchestras, which used to be loud and daring thanks to having a huge number of musicians, declines. This is due to many factors starting with amplification of noise. Orchestras started out really small 300 years ago and they played rather delicate music. Mozart is a fine filigree of sound. Then Hayden and Beethoven came along, two titans who, being boisterous Germans working with equally boisterous and uppity audiences, made loud, crashing music. It sounds delicate to our ears, plummeled by artificial boosters, but in its day, they were startlingly loud. The orchestra doubled in size during Beethoven's revolutionary life. Each symphony he wrote required a bigger and bigger machine until the great ninth which roars in the ears, a shocking sympathy.

Wagner took the Beethovian orchestra, put it in the pit and charged it up to the max. The final opera of the Ring der Niebelungen ends with Goetterdaemmerung's crashing, terrifying explosive ending. The arc of this development, most of which happened in Germany and tracked Germany's rise and fall, reached its apex as Germany flexed imperial muscle and started WWI. Gustav Mahler, the end product of this great arc, died as the first guns lined up for the German Goetterdaemmerung. He reversed Beethoven, his first symphonies loud and brash and then quieting down until the ninety which sighed and whispered into nothingness.

Arnold Schoenberg took over. His Guerrelieder is patterned after master Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand, a full, giant packed orchestra and huge chorus. Very beautiful, hairraising music. Sitting up in the rafters of Carnegie Hall, awash with the full bellow of the 50 man male chorus, I shivered with delight. But WWI shattered Schoenberg and he had a vision as awful as the one that possessed Hitler the same year: he decided to murder music.

Yes, kill it outright. So he reduced it to nearly nothing, smashing the symphony orchestra, reducing it in size. All the other composers like Stravinsky joined in this tragic demolition derby. Stravinsky relented in the end and tried to refind Mozart and rebuild it. Richard Strauss continued with the mass orchestra, harnessing it to Hitler's mad dream. He utterly destroyed it the the holocaust of Nazi Germany. When he was interrogated by my father and the group of American OSS/translators all of whom were music lovers and loved his music, they asked him about why he did his crimes. He cried. He knew about the concentration camps. His wife's mother died in one! He couldn't stop things.

He went into seclusion, wrote "Four Final Songs," a terribly sad ending, the music harkens back to his first Tone Poems, and then sighs and dies. As he did, in despair.

When I studied music, I wanted music to play. Forced to go into the past, I found in Germany, some neat cello duets written by an unknown German and we played those. New stuff! But asking for new music was to despair. What was written for us was hideous. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my professor gave a concert of music he wrote. It was a writhing, dissonant pseudo-Schoenberg mess. I warned him, I would not like his music. He ordered me to listen. My daughter woke up and began to bang against my stomach with her feet in protest. The more he played, the more she kicked. Groaning, I rose and left and he refused to talk to me again.

My daughter has excellent taste in music.

Across the planet, musicians and orchestras desperately tried to force us to listen to hideous stuff that set the mind in despair. Ouch! Losing audience rapidly, they did a u-turn and played tons of old stuff we have heard a thousand times. Everywhere, lassitude and despair set in as audiences were literally dying.

My other love: anime. I adore Japanese anime. Like any massive form of entertainment, it has a full spectrum of divine to stupid, crass to spiritual, bad art to breathtakingly beautiful, detailed art. Trolling through anime, one can find anything. Including very classical stuff like this season's "Emma". This week's episode in Japan, Emma's boss, the old lady she tends, dies such a beautiful death, quietly in bed of old age, I wept the entire last 15 minutes. All of Japanese anime uses music often very expertly. They use classical, modern, even Schoenbergian music to heighten the emotions, in one series, they will alternate jazz with classical with ancient Japanese to rock and rap all in rapid succession, seamlessly. I cock an ear to the music, marveling at the tour-de-force of the composers in Japan who make this all up! They don't clip music, they compose in multiple styles!

Wow!

This music is so amusing, so fresh, so new, they have begun to not only sell it separately from the shows, they hire the Tokyo Symphony to play it in public! Yes, they have concerts....of video game/anime music. And these concerts are sold out. And get broadcast. And are enjoyed here in America as we pass the music around with each other either on line or buying it in stores or at conventions. Years ago, listening to Nadesico, a goofy space anime, I laughed at the composer cycle rapidly from Mozartian quartets to goofy kid's music to Stravinsky sarcasm to Wagnerian blasts and then a shocking small piece of sad music for solo cello and orchestra, the cello saying goodbye to a destroyed childhood, I was crying, I couldn't bear it, the beauty and the sorrow pierced my heart.

American orchestras found that if they play Star Wars music, they suddenly get an audience. Do they follow this trail further?

No. Instead of our media/amusement complex feeding each part as they morph over time, a great divide yawns ever greater. Obviously, eclectic music that is tied to popular entertainment is fun. So why aren't we doing this a lot more?

The mysteries of life.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

DON'T TOUCH

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I sort of looked like this at 5 years old. My favorite color was red.

During the 1980's there was this witchhunt for child molestors working with very young children. It got so out of hand, all sorts of obviously innocent people were sent to prison on very flimsy charges. Since then, rules have sprung up which are, I think, pretty inhuman since they preclude any sort of normal human touching which all children desperately need to grow up sane and happy.

Like all things on earth, touching has good sides and bad sides. In the effort to eliminate all bad side effects, the baby has been tossed out with the bath water.

Here is an example from England:
I find Ruth Kelly's plans to open hundreds of after-school clubs and the government's pleas for more men to work in them a complete joke. What happened to me when I was a playleader demonstrates why men steer clear of these jobs and why they are right to do so.
There could have been few men better qualified for the part-time job I took at an after-school club for four-to-11-year-olds. I was always a very active father and, when mine grew up, I missed that involvement.

I adored the job, but the restrictions imposed on me became unbearable. I have never been accused of abusing a child, but I was judged to be "too tactile". I lost my job, in effect, for being a man playing with children.
This poor man details how he was given demerits for touching children or letting them climb into his lap. Women teachers were allowed contact and lap sitting but not he! As if he were toxic. He was not allowed to hug children, either.

I used to work with children. Hugging and holding small children is what makes them sane. They crave this and need this and Mother Nature hard wired them for this. To prevent childmolestation charges, we always did everything in a group. So no one was ever alone.

This teacher in England was never alone with the children but that wasn't enough for the New Puritans. They wanted him to be the cold father figure, forbidding and distant. This model quite frankly, is a Frankenstein construct. And it is very harmful for boys, for example, to see this as their role model. Fathers who can't play with their children are a nightmare to live with. Most people who had to endure such a childhood usually have to deal with the alienation and anger well into adulthood. Why educators want this is beyond me. Hysteria.
I learnt in training about "inappropriate touching", being told that piggybacks were all right, but men shouldn't take children on their laps. Children would want to climb on my knee but I'd immediately stand up and push them away.

Last spring the committee told me I was "getting too close" to some of the children. They said I must stop holding children around the waist and only take their hands. It wasn't easy teaching children to skate that way and it was unpleasant to feel I was being watched and under suspicion.

One day a girl of nine ran up crying, saying she had been bullied by two boys. She leant her head on my chest and I put a comforting arm around her. For that I was given a written warning. Apparently, when she put her head on my chest it was "child-led touching", which was acceptable, but when I responded it was "adult-led touching", which was not. I was told that if it happened again I should fetch a female playworker.
How cruel. Heartbreaking.

Now for a confession: I was raped, yes, not touched, raped, when only five years old. This trauma was bad enough but the real damage is what happened to me afterwards: all adults who knew about this ceased touching me. Here I was, in great physical and emotional pain, everyone wanted to fix it but no one, not a soul wanted to touch my physical body. I remember very vividly crouching on the ground wailing my eyes out and feeling a finger touch me and then retreat. I knew I was doomed. I described my childhood in a diary at 16 as "a desert wider and drier than the Sahara and as devoid of life and love," and seriously contemplated suicide. When telling this, again, the sorrow, and sincere words of encouragement and at least three feet of space seperating me from my own parents. No touch. I was the family leper.

I have discovered an interesting thing ever since I regained the memory of this assault (this isn't fake, the man was put in an insane assylum for five years and he confessed to me when I was 40 years old)---if I tell someone about what happened to me, they will express horror and sympathy and not touch me. Period. Indeed, the physical withdrawl is quite visible since I am tuned into it.

My point here is this: even after being raped, I wanted to be held, held and comforted and touched...yes, by my father and by men in general. I wanted desperately to find safe haven in that particular port. When I read "The Scarlet Letter" I nearly screamed with rage. Like Heather, condemned to live alone in awful rejection?

This is why, when the sixties happened, the Summer of Free Love literally saved my life. I didn't have a boyfriend, the habits of being a nonentity all my childhood were hard to break so I did anonymous sex...but only for a short while, for I finally found men who wanted to touch me because they loved me, not because they wanted sex.

And so I was able, after much suffering (as well as surgery!) get married and have children and be happy.

This is why I pains me greatly to see men being treated like they are all child molestors. I was unlucky enough to meet one of those but 99.9% of the men in the world are not child molestors. I would gladly put up with the bad to be able to enjoy the good. I don't want women locked away like in Saudi Arabia nor children treated like they are toxic waste. We have to live with the bad to live for the good. A perfectly safe society is a prison.
I felt I was being victimised for being a man. I didn't think it inappropriate to hold children around the waist, but I agreed to adopt a "no touch" policy and withdrew from the children to concentrate on office work.

One day last June, I was suspended. Someone had allegedly overheard two children talking about me and had made a report to the police. I have never been told who it was, who the children were, or what they said.

The police never contacted me and when I rang them after six weeks they said they had no record of any investigation. It's impossible to defend yourself when you don't know what the charge is or who is accusing you.

But the fact a report was said to have been made led Ofsted to tell the committee to ensure I was always supervised when I returned to work last September.

I was asked to resign but refused. They produced a document citing "causes for dismissal", containing statements from eight people relating to incidents which they said supported their case.

Some of them were true, such as when I cheered up a girl of five who was miserable on her first day by holding her hands and helping her jump. One statement said the girl's skirt was flying up, "clearly displaying her underwear". The mother had given me a "look", but I didn't stop.

Other incidents were equally minor or could not have happened. A boy told his mother he'd seen me with a girl on my knee and my fingers in her trouser waist-band. I had never taken a child on my lap.
My best teacher in grade school was a man. In the fifth grade, he could see I was really messed up. So he began to give me books. He introduced me to Tolkien and to Don Quixote. He let me sit nearby while he graded papers, letting me read books. He weathered my outbursts of childish rage. I still remember him very fondly.

I hated all my principals. Their response to my sufferings was to beat me with sticks, this being the fifties. The cold, hard, Big Father, grim and vicious. Grrr.

Enough of this. Sorry to load this stuff on anyone...

Friday, June 17, 2005

PROPAGANDA/CORPORANDA

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The British web site, Mr. Snaffleburger...a great cartoon
Back in the stone age, when NPR and PBS were first launched, they were supposed to be a counterweight to corporate American media, aka, "The Great Wasteland." I am old enough to remember the hoo-ha about the study that showed TV land was not exactly an intellectually stimulating place. I do remember the very old days when RCA, for example, hosted Leonard Bernstein's Philarmonia Orchestra's Children's concerts. I adored that series and he inspired me to study music harder. I even remember regular TV channels running operas and high quality plays! Wilco Theater, anyone?

And the very scariest character on TV was the Bardol saving cream cartoon character. He terrified me.

Well, buy 1968, all the high fallutin' stuff was gone with the wind and we were hee hawing our way to stupifaction. So PBS was started. It was a DC conglamoration of all those college stations across the nation and the very first thing they sponsored and paid for came from that hot bed of culture/liberalism: NYC.

I vividly remember the first Sesame Streets for I was raising my niece, Gale. She took to the show which was only 1/2 hour long, like a fish to water. I spent the show laughing my head off at the Muppet's antics.

When I moved to NYC, I got to meet Jim Henson. A wonderful, delightful man who was truly charming to children all so naturally. His death was a sad day for us all.

And now this! This news really annoys me. As if the tentacles of the American corporate machines aren't already prying apart the bricks all over the place! Now this! N is for NAFTA, S is for Social Security Privatization and T is for Tax Cuts:
Yesterday, Sesame Workshop announced that it has teamed up with Merrill Lynch to teach kids about globalization and financial matters.

Maybe this is part of the new corporate takeover of public television. Merrill Lynch employees were big donors to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign.

As a part of the Sesame Workshop plan, "Merrill Lynch employees in North America, South America, Asia and Europe" will teach children in "pre-schools, community centers and child care agencies in their communities."
OK. What can I say about this? Blech? Geezus f*rking whoosis? Is Oscar Grouch going to be the Repro Man?
"The sooner you become familiar and comfortable with the concepts, the better able you are to be a responsible and successful citizen," Merrill Lynch's Chief Executive Stanley O'Neal told Reuters in an interview.

"The world is no longer a world of fixed interest rates or very slow moving interest rates, fully amortizing mortgages and easier choices in terms of retirement plans. It is much more complicated and much more personal."
Hahaha. Seriously, if the plan is to teach tots to not get trapped by corporate America, I will send them my resume and be one of the writers for Sesame Street!

For example, we can have Big Bird get a credit card solicitation. "Don't use it!" yells Mr. Schuffleuppagus. "It is a credit trap!" Then they sing, "Compound interest is compound trouble, every month your rates will double." The mind reels. The "personal" stuff is funny. Bert and Ernie discover they over drew their draft and now can't pay the mortgage and must declare bankruptcy only to find, "The big bad wolf is at the door and we can't go bankrupt anymore, Ernie!" Ernie then says, "I hocked the bottlecap collection, Bert! We can pay them off today!" The next episode, Bert sells Ernie to a bordello in Morocco.

Geeze. No more mamby pamby stuff for tots! We could show them little films instead of farm animals, kids in kindergarden being arrested for being unruly in Florida! Or tots being tasered for throwing temper tantrums. This will teach the little buggers the meaning of obedience!

I know that Jim Henson would never work with a proto or openly fascist organization. It wasn't his temperment. He did his own thing his own way. Now, it is all about making money as fast as possible. The Sesame Street thing went long ago from being a liberal oasis to being a corporate entity. This latest devolution is merely one more nail in a coffin that was built long ago. Don't let your kids watch a lot of TV.

It is a wasteland.

Friday, June 10, 2005

THE BRAIN DRAIN

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One of many brand new Universities rising in China, we build military bases in lands that loathe us and they build intellectual palaces for their own people.

Once again, the Chinese are giving us the boogeyman blues even as we embrace them ever harder.
China, whose surging growth feeds an incessant appetite for U.S. technology, poses a growing intelligence threat that the United States may be ill-equipped to combat, current and former U.S. officials say.

With the Bush administration embroiled in Iraq and the war on terrorism, intelligence experts fear it may be ignoring a determined Chinese strategy to acquire sensitive technology with commercial and military applications through informal spy networks with potentially thousands of operatives.

Such efforts could eventually erode U.S. economic and military prominence, officials and analysts said.
OK. When will they hire me to be an official analyst? Seriously, the "intelligence threat" is strictly on our side, namely, a deficit in our own ability to think about anything rationally. First: breaking news for the analysts. Hate to clue them in, but China is already challenging our power because they are rapidly building an awesome industrial base at roughly the same speed we are dismantling our own! Geeze!
The FBI lack resources to cope, they said. Also, U.S. corporations face business pressure to transfer key research and development facilities into China in exchange for promised access to its massive domestic market.
You know our rulers are pulling our legs about the war on terror, China, the whole kit and kaboodle. As readers of this blog know, they verbally attack China here and then fly off to that place to smooze and to conspire to make things even worse then they fly home and feign, yes, pretend to be surprized and horrified at what is going on. Our media conspires to cover all of this in such a sly way that even smart Americans are fooled. I have debated about this for years and only this year, made any headway in convincing anyone that we are being set up for a vast betrayal. For starters, we doubled the FBI budget, we increased spy vs spy powers and money and etc and every month they cough up this crap about not being ready, not having enough money, not enough power to stop what is going on! Well....duh.
China has about 3,000 "front" companies in the United States that exist mainly to obtain sensitive U.S. technology, according to government estimates cited by experts.

Some 300,000 Chinese citizens and 15,000 Chinese delegations visit the United States annually. An estimated 150,000 Chinese students are at U.S. universities; many are destined for jobs at high-tech U.S. firms or national research facilities.

The Chinese government assumes such individuals "will be intelligence collectors. And many are," said I.C. Smith, a former U.S. counterintelligence official.
Front companies! Hahaha. Like...IBM? Gads. Name names! There are all at the pinnacle of our industrial giants!

Why are we assisting and even paying for all these "dangerous" Chinese nationals to come here and take all those courses in college that make them more powerful because we need them, desperately. They get an excellent lower school education and come here eager to learn and easily best the best of the American student body which has funneled the best minds into medicine and business and law which is where the money is, not nuclear physics or astronomy or electrical engineering. The "hard sciences" languish in America while being cherished by the Asians.

I remember when Americans took courses in rocket technology. Then NASA didn't hire them! Then we started Star Wars but made the work so odious that former rocket experts who were young switched careers, I watched this happen from the front lines! This is why our rocket programs now stink. Working on hyper-secret stuff is no fun. It is awful, actually. The security has shot up the last five years making it a very unhappy place to work! And a slip up means prison?

The best minds fled this dark, coffin like box. Worse for great brains is your work can't be published nor talked about. Intellectual stagnation=dying interest in rockets.

The Chinese leadership made a collective decision after Tiananmin Square: they let their intellectuals pretty much free to go where ever. Previous to that, only people with children kept in China were allowed to study overseas. Now, pretty much anyone can. This freedom of movement is how they keep the lid on at home, scholars won't attack the Central Committee if they have intellectual freedom while the censorship of the internet at home clamps down further, the freedom abroad increases for the elite.

China is much bigger than the USA. It can lose 50% of its top intellectuals and still have more than twice as many as we have. They love the fact that we have to import Chinese and put them in increasingly powerful positions because this spreads Chinese power in significant ways. Since overpopulation is their problem, taking over more parts of the earth is OK with them just like the Europeans spread all over previously. It is a natural part of what a rising empire does. When Germany was rising, they allowed emigration of intellectuals with a shrug because they churned them out at a frantic rate.

So we do, indeed, have an "intelligence problem" and it isn't a thing more money to the FBI can fix.