This shit's good enough, and pretty enough, to make it onto the list for my next dinner party, but also easy enough to be on the workday rotation....
I learned piano very much in the traditional you-learn-pieces-and-perform-them-at-
Dude rocks my fucking world, I tell you what.
Partly, this is because I'm an adult and I've been exposed to the theoretical underpinnings of teaching (I always know when a teacher is using a particular pedagogical technique on me--which interestingly doesn't always make it less effective). I learn differently now and with a different understanding of what "learning" is. This is the place where Csikszentmihalyi has been extremely helpful to me, because I can recognize how a successful learning engagement works. ("Learning experience" would be a better phrase, but it already has connotations that are really kind of the opposite of what I mean.) And the pressure to learn pieces for recitals is mercifully off, which helps, too. But partly it's because this guy approaches music completely differently, bottom up instead of top down.
But the thing that has changed my relationship with my piano is something my teacher said (and I can't for the life of me remember what it was) that made me understand--quite literally for the first time in my life--that fingerings aren't arbitrary and they aren't just put in music so that teachers can judge whether students are obeying them or not. Here's where playing the piano is exactly like rock climbing:
The notes in the score are like the hand, finger, foot, and toe holds used to set a route in a climbing gym. You work the fingerings out yourself, the same way that a climber works out her own solution to how to get to the top of the wall using the holds available. And he said, "This music is for playing." A weirdass chord progression or run is like a difficult sequence in a route; it's a game, a puzzle that a musician who's been dead for 100 years set for all the pianists who came after him to solve. You work out the fingerings (4-5-3-5 WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK) so that you don't hang yourself out to dry, the same way that a climber works out her holds so that when she has only her right hand free, the next hold isn't three feet to her left. When you make a mistake, you laugh and pick yourself back up and go up the wall again, because it isn't a pass/fail test. It's a game. You have a sense of glee that you share with the route setter about solving this incredibly intricate puzzle almost--in a weird way--together.
What that means is, (1) playing piano, which I have always loved, is now infused with a sense of fun that it truly has never had; (2) I know what I'm learning--not just "music" but the route up the wall, the game that underlies the performance; (3) when I'm fumbling through a new chunk of music, I know why I'm fumbling. It's not because I'm stupid or the music is stupid; it's because my brain is trying to process so much new information that it gets overwhelmed. That's why I miss easy chords and consistently play that damn C-sharp when the piece is written in G. Because THAT'S WHAT THE LEARNING PROCESS LOOKS LIKE.
But honest to god the idea of music as a game being played between composer and performer, and not a game like tennis, but a game like riddling--riddle set and riddle answered--is a seismic paradigm shift for me. Everything looks different now.
Jordin Kare died yesterday, from complications of aortic valve replacement surgery. I am still somewhat in shock. He was younger than Colleen.
There is not much to be grateful for on this Thursday, but I am profoundly
grateful for Jordin's music, which has been part of my life's soundtrack
since at least the early 1980s. He was one of the founders of Off Centaur
Publications, publishers of the Westerfilk songbooks and many fine filk
tapes. (Jordin did the typesetting for Westerfilk I using
troff, which led to a number of typos involving single
quotes, which troff treats specially if they're the first character in a
Last night Naomi and I sang a few of his songs -- "Fire In the Sky", "The Designer" and "The Engineer", "Waverider", and all I could remember of "Kantrowitz 1972". It wasn't until this morning that I found the lyrics for that and "Sail for Amber", Colleen's favorite.
I just ...
My first Doctor was the 4th Doctor played by Tom Baker. I loved the show. There was something about it that struck me as wonderful. To be able to travel through time and space and to be home in time for dinner. To see wonders and fight monsters and to always work for the good of humanity. I loved the show for many reasons. However, as a military brat, I loved Doctor Who most because of the TARDIS itself. For a kid who had to move every 2-3 years, the idea of having a house that you could take with you was beyond wonderful. It was magic itself.
Because of this, I was the kid who kept a packed backpack by my bed. I was ready for when the Doctor came and offered me a place in that wondrous blue box. The one that always knew where to go. I wanted to be a companion because I wanted to travel in the TARDIS.
The first time I saw the Doctor regenerate, I realized that maybe, someday, the Doctor could be female. That instead of being the plucky companion, a girl like me could live in the TARDIS and choose her companions. But, being the cynical child that I was, I knew it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
I disliked the 6th Doctor so much that I stopped watching Doctor Who altogether. I ignored it for three seasons when the new Doctor Who came out. It took Rich Taylor, one of my best friends, a legion of fans gushing about it, and a music video to get me to watch. I went to Netflix and found the episode “Blink.” Rich had described it as “The episode I would point people to if I had to describe what Doctor Who was without getting into the long history of the Doctor.” After I watched “Blink” and admitted I liked it, Rich told me to watch “The Empty Child” next. That’s when Eccleston became my new Doctor. He’s still my favorite.
At least for now.
After Tennant, I wanted a woman or non-white Doctor. I wasn’t picky. I just wanted the Doctor to regenerate into someone who wasn’t white and male. Someone a tiny bit closer to me. After Smith, I was so disappointed that Capaldi was chosen. (Note: Capaldi did a fantastic job as the Doctor.) The world kept telling me “No.” Once more, I was back to focusing on the TARDIS itself as my favorite.
On this 13th (or 14th, if you want to be pedantic, because of the War Doctor), I wanted a woman or a non-white man so bad. My cynical side said it wasn’t going to happen. They were going to get Kris Marshall and he would do a good job and that would be that.
I did not expect my visceral reaction to the discovery that a woman, Jodie Whittaker, would be taking on the titular role of the Doctor. I felt my cheeks flush and my heart beat faster. I punched the air and ran to the Husband’s office to tell him. In those scant steps between his office and mine, tears sprang to my eyes as I formulated the words to tell him, the new Doctor would be played by a woman. My voice cracked when I told him. It was like the world had changed in some indefinable way.
It’s taken me a week to figure out what that way was and why this meant so much to me: Finally, I’m no longer just a guest in the TARDIS. I don’t have to the companion who will eventually be left behind. The TARDIS can be my home, too.
Now, thousands upon thousands of little girls and boys will see Jodie Whittaker as their first Doctor. The potential for them will always be there in a way that wasn’t for me until now.
I can’t wait for this next season of Doctor Who.
I wrote about my friendship with Jordin when recounting my history with filking a couple years ago. But some of that could bear repeating.
Jordin appeared at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1978, a new grad student in physics fresh out of MIT. He'd been involved in the heavily-organized science-fiction fandom of the Boston area, and sought out such fandom as existed in the Bay Area. He tried out my on-campus club (I was a senior-class undergrad at the time); he became vice-chair of the Elves', Gnomes', and Little Men's Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society (the old-line East Bay fan group) for a while; but what most interested him was filking, the singing, composition, and collection of humorous and serious original songs and parodies about SF, fandom, and space exploration. Organized filking, as a fandom of its own and not just something fans occasionally did at parties, was just getting started in our area then. Jordin was used to organized Massachusetts filking, where they had things like the NESFA Hymnal, a full-scale songbook, and when he found that we were disorganized, yet had songs known not in Massachusetts, he formed the idea of a west-coast songbook. He proposed this at a local housefilk and asked if anybody wanted to help. Teri Lee and I volunteered, and that's how we became the three editors of The Westerfilk Collection. There turned out not to be time to compile it before the 1979 Westercon in San Francisco, though we did produce some songsheets then, and it came out the following year.
Ah, we had some great times creating that with the primitive technology of the time. The three of us did most of the layout on evenings and weekends in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab office, up the hill from campus, which Jordin did his physics work out of. Teri hand-drew the sheet music (yes, really), and I - who had the most secretarial experience - typed up all the lyrics on the finished sheets with one of the office Selectrics. Jordin kept the work organized. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. There was of course much more than that - there was choosing appropriate songs and getting rights to them, organizing the contents, getting illustrations, and then printing and distributing, and Jordin was the principal in most of this, as well as the guiding spirit who kept it all focused on a vision.
Then it was published, and for years it was the basic bible of West Coast filking as it was intended to be. Jordin got more involved in filking. He learned to play the guitar, to sing (after a fashion), and to compose songs, some of them heroic ballads of human longing for space, and others corrosively funny. I could tell you of a lot of these songs, but others can do so more authoritatively than I, so let me just mention one, a parody to a hoary old folk tune (so you should know it) and one of his very first. Around the time these movies were new, Jordin expressed concern that, while there were a lot of songs about Star Wars, there seemed to be a dearth about Close Encounters. So he wrote one.
They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come
They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come
Devil's Tower is their mountain
For their taste there's no accountin'
They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come.
And many more verses equally silly.
Then I went off to grad school and eventually dropped out of filking. For a while I didn't see much of Jordin, but a lot happened to him. First he and Teri parlayed the success of the Westerfilk into Off Centaur Publications, the first major filk publishing outfit, even more important for its concert and studio tapes than its songbooks. Jordin actually recorded a couple tapes of his own songs. After several years of great success it all broke up in recriminations and lawsuits, sometime around 1987 (I was no longer around, but I'd known most of those involved, and doubt very much Jordin or some others were at fault), but Jordin kept on in filking.
But meantime he also got his Ph.D. in 1984, describing a method of automated search for supernovas - how exciting! - and began a career in high tech for some impressively well-funded startups. His specialty was laser propulsion of space travel, and he actually got some test rockets up. It expressed the same organizational skills he'd displayed in editing the Westerfilk and, more importantly, it was a step towards realization of the dream he'd expressed in his serious filksongs.
(Jordin's scientific papers all used the middle initial T., which he once told me he'd made up so that he would have one.)
By the time I saw Jordin much again, he was married to Mary Kay, a long-time fan and library cataloger (also my profession) originally from Oklahoma, and he was busy with his fast-moving career, shutting back and forth between the Bay Area and Seattle. He and Mary Kay lived in the Bay Area for a while, then they moved to Seattle because more of the work was there, then they decided they preferred the Bay Area, then they tried living in both places at once, then they moved back to San Jose. My relationship with Jordin had become a casual acquaintance, not the closer friendship of our Westerfilk days, but I'd see him at parties and he'd tell stories of working with Elon Musk and the like.
And then he needed to get his aortic valve replaced and
And we have lost a visionary - who strove to convert his visions into practice - and a creator and a wit and a friend.
Having downloaded a bunch of public domain books, I then went looking for the proper cover art. Interestingly, although I am convinced I owned mid-1970s editions of both Blackman's Burden and Border, Breed nor Birth, I can find no evidence those editions actually existed.
Another interesting thing. This is the list of science fiction books on PG and this is the list of science fiction works by women on PG.
Fortunately the first two concerts have been over at the CPA, which is the high school auditorium across town, and which is actually large enough for just about everybody who'd like to come. The first concert was Italian Baroque, and I covered that for the Daily Journal, which won't be out for a few days yet; and the second was high Classicism, which I covered for SFCV and which is up.
In case you wonder, as one did, what the "Hob." in Haydn's work lists is short for, it's "Hoboken." Anthony van Hoboken was the scholar who cataloged Haydn's works, as Ludwig von Köchel did Mozart, though Hoboken's is more of a classified list where Köchel's is chronological.
I wish I'd had more space to discuss Gibbs' lecture, which was fascinating. He began by discussing the rise of professional playing and the need for textbooks to teach it. In 1756, the year of Mozart's birth, he said, an influential violin textbook appeared, which he quoted from. Two decades later, the author wrote Mozart a letter encouraging his violin playing, even though we think of Mozart mostly as a pianist. By this time I had been waiting patiently for Gibbs to reveal the punchline, which is that the author had reason to be concerned with Mozart, as he was Mozart's father, Leopold. When Gibbs did unveil that tidbit, it amused the audience greatly.
Gibbs has compiled a list of the repertoire at Ignaz Schuppanzigh's 1820s set of chamber music subscription concerts, the first set of their kind, and found that 86% of the music was by one of the trinity, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. That's what really set them off as the founding composers of what we now call the classical repertoire. The rest was by younger living composers, starting with George Onslow (a Frenchman I've heard of but know little of), and also including Spohr, Hummel, Andreas Romberg, Carl Czerny, and oh yes, a fellow named Schubert. Why did Schubert write his String Quintet with two cellos, instead of two violas as Mozart and Beethoven did? Well, probably because he'd been listening to Onslow, who did it that way, like this.
Thank you for speaking out against Senator McConnell's methodology, which looks suspiciously more like tyranny than democracy. I hope that you will publicly refuse to vote to repeal the ACA with nothing lined up to take its place. McConnell's plan is catastrophic and could only be put forward by someone who neither knows nor cares anything about the healthcare needs of his constituents. I am strongly in favor of bipartisan reform for the ACA, and I hope that you will reach out to your Democratic colleagues to make that happen.
I know I will never persuade you that you are wrong about the effect of the free market, but, because I choose to believe that you are acting in good faith, I have to--in good faith--try again:
The problem with the free market is that it erodes ethics. Free-market capitalism says that ethics are irrelevant--if they're not actually a liability, making you less able to compete. This is why it is crucial that the government regulate corporations. The government doesn't need to worry about corporations making money. They'll take care of that part themselves. The government needs to ensure that they don't run roughshod over employees and consumers in the process. Deregulating everything and trusting to the free market to solve the problem is like opening all the cages and trusting the tigers to solve the food supply problem. Corporations, like tigers, will solve the problem for themselves. We need the government to make sure the problem is solved for everyone.
This is why we need government. This is why government should never be run on the corporate model. It is not a corporation, and if it is to succeed in providing justice for all citizens, it cannot be a corporation. It has to be the balance to the corporations, to keep their untrammeled free market competition from literally poisoning everything they touch. In the past fifty years, America has proved repeatedly that deregulation is not the answer. Deregulation only and always makes things worse, because--hey, wait for it--our country is not a corporation. Treating it like one merely destroys it.
This is why ethics are not something that can be discarded. Because without ethics, you get the Trump administration, and I have to tell you that, no matter how it looks from where you are, from where I am, all I see are tigers.
There's also email to Governor Walker about why isn't he one of the governors speaking out against ACA repeal?
Sometimes when I wish to amuse myself, I go and read some of the numbered list articles at Cracked.com. Here's one from 2010 that I just came across: "6 Great Novels that Were Hated in Their Time," and by "hated" they mean "hated by critics and readers alike when they first hit shelves."
Well, maybe not.
I've read all six of them. One I found merely uninteresting, two in my opinion deserve every negative review they ever got (I'll let you guess which two), but the other three really hit me strongly when I read them at a tender age, and I still consider them masterpieces of their kind.
But were they hated? Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, for instance, did get a lot of political criticism from the right when it appeared in 1939, but not so much critique for its literary qualities. It was a huge bestseller, majorly talked about, and that successful movie adaptation the write-up mentions came out only nine months after the book was published. That was really hot stuff, even then.
And then, at the end of the list, comes The Lord of the Rings. The entry quotes the Drout Tolkien Encyclopedia as saying that "No 'mainstream critic' appreciated The Lord of the Rings," but besides the fact that this comes from one of the less reliable contributors, what it seems to mean is more that they weren't in a position to fully appreciate its greatness, not that they didn't like the book. Because in fact, while the book did receive its share of severe pans (most famously from Edmund Wilson), it also got many strong positive reviews (most notably from W.H. Auden and Naomi Mitchison). It also got readers, selling remarkably well for a three-volume novel of a highly unusual kind from a basically unknown author. Most of the really hostile critical commentary on Tolkien dates not from when The Lord of the Rings was new, when the kind of people who didn't like that sort of thing mostly ignored it, but from more recent years when its popularity has become massive.
Among the negative reviews the article quotes is one from The New Republic describing it as "anemic, and lacking in fiber." That puzzled me, since The New Republic's review, which you can read here, concluded with unsurpassable enthusiasm, "There are very few works of genius in recent literature. This is one." (A famous line, given that it was quoted in innumerable blurbs for decades afterwards.) Did it also call the book "anemic, and lacking in fiber"? It did not.
I had to do a little digging, but it appears that this quote comes not from any review when the book was new, but from a New Republic article - called, with oh so brilliant originality, "Bored of the Rings" - from January 2002. That's right during the hoopla attendant on the release of the first installment of Peter Jackson's movie adaptation a month earlier, and not far in the wake of all the mass polls declaring Tolkien's book one of the most popular of its century. So, rather than a critic not recognizing a new and untried book as a masterpiece, this is someone spitting in the wind in defiance of a long-established masterpiece.
There's more. In the context of "mainstream critics," calling Isaac Asimov a "heavyweight" is laughable, even before knowing that Asimov denied any critical ability and hardly ever wrote book reviews. The quote in any case is not a quote from Asimov, but a paraphrase quoted from the same unreliable article as the line about the "mainstream critics," and while Asimov might have said something of the sort as a cautionary note, he was actually a great admirer of The Lord of the Rings, which he read several times. (Interestingly, Tolkien himself once named Asimov as an SF author he liked, so there was a mutual admiration society there.)
Since I've actually been compiling together a list of early reviews of Tolkien - it turns out that each of the standard bibliographies has items that others missed - I ought to measure also their grades of the book, and see how it came out. But I do know that a lot were favorable.