Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Interlocking frameworks

There are several interlocking frameworks I could use to conceptualize what I am doing in this book. In no particular order.

1) Melopoetics. Let's define this as the study of poetry in its own musical forms, and also in its historic connections to music.

2) Word and Music Studies. The idea here is to look at vocal music as a hybrid form (words + music) and look at what the composer does to an already existing poem.

3) Reception Studies. Here we have the comparative literature activity of looking at the reception of Faulkner in France, or the reception of Lorca in the US.

4) Adaptation studies. The idea is to look at the transformations of literature in other media: films, operas, art songs, etc...

5) Interartistic studies. Here the central notion is to compare different art forms, usually literature and visual art, but more generally all of the arts.

6) The performance of poetry. Music is a way of performing poetry, by other means. A natural or unnatural extension of other performance practices.

Each of these frameworks has a particular bias, or way of operating.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Value judgments

On the one hand I cannot make too many value judgments, because my own perspective cannot be too intrusive in the book. If I just reject whole genres and styles, or let my antipathy to particular recording artists prevail, then I am not doing justice to my subject matter.

On the other hand, one thing I am looking at is kitsch, the superficial, depthless, opportunistic response to Lorca. One particular example is quite nauseating. Other artists are interesting limit-cases, who could be seen as kitschy, or not, depending on the listener.  

Adaptation Studies vs. Interartistic

I don't like the idea of "adaptation studies" as the rubric for my work. It seems too linear: here is a work of literature, and we can see it adapted into various other media, like film... I guess that's inevitable in the way I've set things up, but I'm not overly enthused about it.  

Traditions of "interartistic" comparisons or "sister arts" provide another path. Googling this, it is obvious that the majority of work has to do with literature and the visual arts. Comparisons with music and literature are a separate thing, and not very connected with the usual discussions of ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis is mostly about modes of representation or mimesis. The painting is a literary object, telling a story that can be reproduced in a poem, for example. Or a literary painting can be the representation of a pre-existing literary narrative. The comparisons come easily, right?  because you have the same subject represented two different ways.

Writing on song we have the same ready-made comparison: we have the text itself, and the text as lyrics to a song.

What is missing is the idea that the human imagination itself is interartistic. We don't have to posit the various media as very different from one another, and then bring them back again for comparison. There have to be more interesting ways of doing this.  


I'm reading a frustrating book on a trendy topic. It has some good and suggestive ideas, but is so defensive about being anti-academic and striking a certain cool pose that it seldom gets around to its actual points, much less developing them fully. The ideas are buried under mountains of verbiage. It'll say things like "I'm citing this by memory" or put in sarcastic asides and hashtags in brackets [in every paragraph]. The structure is digressive and provokes the response tl;dr.

There is a fallacy at work here: because my subject matter has these characteristics, my own discourse has to mirror those characteristics.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

What have you learned?

This post by Clarissa has been very inspiring to me. I have been obsessing all of 2018 about not being a musicologist and thus being dubiously qualified to write this book I want to write on music.  Clarissa writes:

 I wanted to write an article about film but I was completely ignorant about film theory. So I took a couple of weeks and taught myself film theory.
The article was accepted for publication with cosmetic changes 15 minutes ago. Both reviewers praised my deep knowledge of film theory.
I don't doubt this at all. Intellectual humility is all well and good, but it is possible to learn some basic things to a level of competence and participate in intellectual discourse at a high level after a short time. Thanks to this post I have stopped worrying about my lack of musicological chops.     

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Knowing How

I don't know how to draw, but I developed a technique that consists of making marks on paper randomly until a drawing emerges, somehow, and then making it more drawing-like by emphasizing certain parts of it. Witness my pianissimo caveman.  

What does it even mean to say you cannot draw, though?  Standing by itself, it is a meaningless statement. Everyone can draw to some small degree at least. Some have large amounts of skill and at the extreme there are drawing geniuses, so to speak. All the rest of us range from beginners to intermediate. The least amount of effort possible makes one into an intermediate student. 

So how are people's beliefs about themselves structured? I believe I cannot play basketball, for example. I see at the gym people throwing up shots, without being guarded, and coming nowhere close to the rim. These people also cannot play, yet they are doing so, somehow. 

The belief in oneself as essentially unable to do something normal like this (cooking, drawing, singing) is a kind of protective belief to shield the ego from failure, perhaps. For this reason it is good to assume the position of the beginner or "intermediate" learner. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Meta learning

If you are learning a piece on the piano, you are also learning how to learn, increasing your efficiency. Anything you learn will also be applicable to any other piece that is similar in any way, with similar patterns or techniques.


As an adult, learning is better, in some ways. All the self-discipline and motivation that you have learned from learning to do anything else is applicable here. There is no parent making you take piano lessons any more. It is all on you. Yet there need be no ego involved, either. You don't need to compare yourself to your siblings or some other kid who is more talented. You simply know that vast numbers of people are more talented, and an even more vast number doesn't play the piano at all. It simply doesn't matter.


Of course, people who want to get really good have to start as young children, but I am talking about people who play as pure amateurs. Even with us, it is good to have learned something as children, but the learning process is actually more enjoyable when you are older. The teacher knows you will have practiced and are bringing to bear your full analytic ability to each new task.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Piano notes

There are a few really obvious things I've learned about piano playing. They weren't all obvious when I began.

The level you need to get a piece to to play for anyone else is much greater than the ability you have when you think you can play it for yourself at home. First, there is the added nervousness; secondly, you aren't really playing it at home as well as think in the first place.

To play a piece well, it has to be far easier than your intermediate level. It has to be something that you can play without any hesitation for the notes.  All the attention most be on nuances: dynamics and exact phrasings. This applies to difficult pieces as well. They must seem as easy as a simple child's piece in order to sound good.

Muscle memory and proprioception rules. It is not sufficient, because you can blank out mentally and the muscles won't do what they are supposed to do. You can also engrave mistakes into your muscle memory. Mistakes are not accidents, but things you have learned wrong. You should know where your hands and figures are, always. Looking at the keyboard is not as efficient.

Fingering has to be efficient and consistent. It is hard to have good muscle memory if the fingering varies each time you play something.  

Looking at the written music, by the same token, is distracting from actually playing. You have to get to the level where you either know the piece by memory, and the score is only a reminder, or else be so good at reading the score that there is no difficulty there. Imagine trying to recite a poem you didn't know in an alphabet you could barely read. You would either have to know the poem well, and use the alphabet only as a crutch, or get better at reading that alphabet.      

Linear, right hand patterns are not difficult, inherently. They can be learned slowly, and gradually sped up.  The same goes for linear patterns in the left hand, involving only one note at a time. Most of my difficulty seems to come from playing more than one note at a time.

Even numbered intervals will be written on a line and a space, so a fourth, a sixth, and octave, etc... Odd numbered intervals are written all on lines or spaces, so thirds, ninths, etc... This pattern extends as far as you can count. Intervals, then, look a certain way on the page, and are more distinctive looking than individual note values.

The placement of the note C on the piano is symmetrical.  So it is the next to the bottom space on the bottom, the next to the top space on the top; two ledger lines above and below the treble and bass clefs.

Every note will change from a line to a space or space to line at every octave.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Brought to me by a google scholar alert

The woman in the Spanish society is merely a bearer of children. It is she from whom the land prospers because her sons are the fillers of the soil and the fecundation for the women of the future. Her role is important in this respect. The male’s role in this system is not nearly so severe or as unyielding as that of the females. A true double standard of morality is maintained in this country as in other countries of the world. The man’s procreative powers are revered by the women,for without a man, she is unable to fulfil her mission in life. He is the strength and the power by which the woman survives.

4 developments

I sat down with my friend in a coffee house two days ago and I took some fountain pen notes for two and a half hours, while she worked on her travel writing work. Here are some of the results.  

What are the main development in music in the 20th century?  I have no idea, but these are four that I think are significant.

1) Musical modernism, conceived as serialism developing out of classical harmony but at the same time anharmonic.  This music is defined against tonality, but also needs tonality for its very definition, since you have to know what to avoid. They are also alien to any vernacular tradition.

2) A classical tradition that cites echoes vernacular or folk idioms, following 19th century effort along these lines.

3) The rise of elaborated vernaculars, like jazz.  These vernaculars are modeled on classical music in that they aim toward complexity and sophistication, and develop their own forms of modernism / avant-garde, Neo-classicism, etc...

4) The mass-commercialization of vernacular idioms; the creation and development of new vernacular idioms out of commercial music.

These are not all the developments, just those relevant to what I am thinking about.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Family Synergy

My cousin Michael Barrett is doing a concert of Lorca music in NYC in April, with the NYFOS that he directs with another guy.  I saw Michael in Washington this weekend, where he was doing a Leonard Bernstein concert at the Library of Congress.  


My brother took me to a bookstore, politics and prose, in DC.  I bought this CD set of Miles and Coltrane. Later, without knowing I had already bought it, he mentioned it to me. He had been listening to it on his phone.  

My latest

I never get tired of publishing articles:
Jonathan Mayhew argumenta que el análisis de la poesía no es ya una disciplina muy popular o recurrida en los medios académicos actuales, sobre todo en los dedicados a los estudios culturales, al considerársele un género elitista que tiene, además, un público reducido. La poesía que en el presente más llama la atención en esos círculos es aquella que reclama una posición ideológica clara, o la que versa sobre asuntos sociales. Se obvia por muchos estudiosos, entonces, un gran corpus de creación lírica que en apariencia no pretende en sí misma atender a o contextualizarse en su momento histórico, sino abstraerse de él. Una manera de sortear el impasse, arguye Mayhew, es enfocarse en la lírica no a través del vínculo temático, sino como expresión de ‘estructuras de sentimiento’, un concepto que toma de Raymond Williams. Así se examina la poesía como un reflejo de la sensibilidad individual, definida en su propio contexto cultural, y justificada por éste. “In so doing, we can see the historical relevance of poetry, even when it is seemingly disengaged from historical currents” (Mayhew, «Adolescence» 126).

La poesía escrita por mujeres, durante la Transición y en sus linderos temporales, is “one of the most significant literary developments of the period” (Mayhew, «Adolescence» 110). Él se concentra en dos poemarios, Baladas del dulce Jim, de Ana María Moix (1969), y De una niña de provincias que se vino a vivir en un Chagal, de Blanca Andreu (1981). El primero aparece motivadopor una nueva sensibilidad a finales de la década del 60, luego llevada a su fruición durante la Transición, pero ya relevante en el franquismo tardío, caracterizada por una orientación política de izquierda, una actitud desdeñosa y mordaz hacia el poder o las instituciones, y un jovial espíritu proeuropeísta. Como escribe Mayhew, el elemento común en los poemas de Moix es su sensibilidad punzante y algo insolente («Adolescence» 133). La suya en las Baladas es una poesía en prosa “cortante y juguetona, con esa libertad expresiva y paralelística propias de lo poético, predominando la función emotiva del lenguaje” (Ortega), donde la seriedad de Moix se esconde detrás de una frivolidad engañosa (Mayhew, «Adolescence» 133). Demuestra poseer una comprensión histórica sofisticada de su propio lugar en la España franquista, a la vez que audacia en su cuestionamiento de la sociedad de su tiempo.

Existe un paralelismo entre las sensibilidades de Moix y de Andreu, explica Mayhew. Los poemas de Blanca Andreu retoman la sensibilidad posmoderna que los novísimos habían anunciado en la famosa antología de Castellet, en 1970. Ciertos elementos comunes con Moix refuerzan la percepción de compartir, hasta cierto punto –separados sus libros como están por unos doce años– una análoga ‘estructura de sentimiento’: la postura ideológica de la adolescente, el uso de técnicas disociativas características de la vanguardia, y la formación de una subjetividad individual por recurso de la identificación ‘mágica’ con referentes icónicos culturales (Mayhew, «Adolescence» 133-4). Falta la ironía y el cosmopolitanismo de Moix, empero, como si la Transición, en 1981 tal vez en su apogeo y en su agonía concurrentes, no coadyuvara a tal liviandad. Habría hacia el comienzo de los 80 en el ambiente una tendencia a ‘normalizar’ el ejercicio poético, tal y como la Transición aspiraba a componer el país después de la dictadura. “Hence, the role [it] envisions por the poet is that of a well-adjusted citizen spaeking to similary situated subjects” (Mayhew, Twilight 35).

Moix y Andreu son importantes voceros y precursoras de sus respectivas épocas, así y todo que sus paradigmas hayan sido efímeros, al evolucionar la poesía escrita en España en las décadas del 70 y del 80 por otros derroteros. Pero esa transitoriedad ilumina también no sólo sus personalidades literarias, sino también el medio histórico, cultural y social que las produce.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I don't think I understand English any more

As a follow-up to preliminary information collected by Human Resource Management (HRM), and to effectively diagnose the complex issues happening within the Department of X, the College of Y will be taking the next step of an organizational assessment. This process will be facilitated by Z, an organizational development specialist, facilitator, trainer, and coach with experience working with departments, teams, and individuals at the University of K. This organizational assessment, coupled with interviews of faculty, lecturers, staff, and others, will inform a whole systems approach to address existing departmental concerns.  These concerns may entail insights and assistance from Faculty Development, the Office of Diversity and Equity, the College of Y, the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, and HRM. The hope is that a holistic engagement of university resources will shape an environment for transformational change.

 I really don't understand a word of this.  I mean, I understand the words, but not why this would take place just as the school year is over, when people are dispersing here and there, and in response to unspecified "issues." Five separate units of the university are supposed to provide us with "insight" and "assistance." I think we are screwed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The preface begins

In 2018, after publishing two books on the literary reception of Federico García Lorca, it occurred to me that I could write a third one on musical adaptations of his work. A conjunction of fortuitous events brought this topic to the front of my mind: my daughter Julia, then an M.A. trumpet student at De Paul University in Chicago, told me she would playing in a performance of Silvestre Revueltas’s homage to Lorca. Around the same time, my piano teacher suggested that I look at some pieces by Federico Mompou, a Catalan composer who—I soon discovered—had also set Lorca to music. I began to compile a playlist on Spotify, using what I already knew about this topic from my previous research, along with searches on the usual databases. As this list swelled beyond twenty hours, after a few days, my excitement grew. I had given a talk about musical uses of Lorca in 2015, and I touched briefly on other musical topics in my other two Lorca books, but I had not yet seen the potential for an extended study. Nor had I seen my own increasing involvement in music over the course of several years as preparation for writing music criticism.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

LP and flarf

I spent years defending the Language Poets, because I felt their project was valid, that you didn't have to rule it out of bounds, as so many wanted to do.  This was not out of any belief that all these poets were equally good, or that I myself subscribed to those particular doctrines about writing.  I just wanted to defend them because, well, they had some good work that I liked to read. Some of their work doesn't seem so great, in retrospect, but that is inevitable. What I didn't like, in fact, were people dismissing them because they presumably all wrote in the same way, something that was not true at all. Perloff, too, got lots of grief for defending them.

I also defended flarf.  Some of it was because my friends were writing it.  But once again I think I disliked the idiot critiques of it. You can say you don't like it, but you aren't allowed to make idiotic criticisms of it.

Dream of Obnoxious Lorca

There was a well known language poet in this dream, one whom I know from facebook but am not rl friends with.  We were separated by a large geographical distance but somehow got into a real life conversation. I explained my Lorca and music project to him, and he said: "why do you have to work with such an obnoxious poet?"  In the dream I wasn't offended, but instead connected the remark to certain aspects of Lorca I don't like. It felt very liberating, actually.  I won't name the poet here since I wouldn't attribute that opinion to him, since it was actually coming from a part of my self. Why I wanted to exteriorize it like that is anyone's guess. I guess the Language Poet crowd did not have that romantic impulse that admirers of Lorca have had.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Graeber from CHE

It was a very gentle way of saying, "Don’t be ridiculous." If we had tried to write up a plan, the result would have produced more paperwork than we were all already doing. (In British universities, this even has a name: the "forming committees to discuss the problem of too many committees problem."). 


My writing style was influenced by Flaubert's ideal: a fluid, seamless rhythm with nothing wasted; no needless repetition of words. Sentences and paragraphs are shapely, balanced and varied in shape. There are no poetic rhythms, but the rhythm is carefully crafted as verse. I can easily not write that well, if I am not trying very hard. But the effort does pay off. The Dean told me that several of my letters of support (for a recent nomination) praised the grace of my prose. The grant coordinator told me that my grant applications were far better written than almost anyone else's here.

What Can You Do in 2 Hours?

I could learn most of a page of not too difficult piano music.

Referee an article or two.

Read 120 pages of a novel.

Produce a not too bad drawing of something.

Watch a movie.

Walk six miles.

Shop for, cook and eat a meal.

Memorize two short poems.

Write 8 blog posts.

Write an outline of an article I want to write.

Write an abstract for a conference.

Prepare for and teach an 1:15 minute class.

Listen to music for two hours.

There are many things you can do in two hours. We have 8 hours to sleep, so that leaves 8 blocks of two hours. If you work just four hours a day during the summer, you can do two significant work-related things.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Post Title Would Go Here If I had a Good Title for This Post

Here's an idea I want to try: figure out everything I have control over. Everything for which I am the "decision maker." For an adult, this means discretionary spending, what color socks to wear, what to eat, how to spend free time. For a full professor, it also means allocation of effort on different projects, where I want to focus my attention.

This is what we might call the sphere of personal control or autonomy.  The first revelation I am having is that freedom means that I am the decision maker, not someone else, so freedom and control are the same thing in this sphere.

Having a lot of it is good, but then again it is also more difficult because everything must be decided. The next step would be to exercise optimal choices within this sphere.

You might find that there are constraints that operate within what should be the sphere of personal autonomy.  Suppose you fear wearing colorful socks because people will ridicule you. Also, you would prefer to wear $2,000 suits but there are economic constraints. Autonomy is never absolute.

Then there are cases where you can't really control what you eat, though that should be within that sphere. Or you are addicted to opioids. Then that indicates a problem. Any discrepancy in what is ideally autonomous indicates a level of dysfunction. I can choose to skip a crossword puzzle, or decide that I want to never skip one. If I skip one and feel huge anxiety, then I am addicted.

[This exercise leaves out the things that are not under your sphere of autonomy, ever.  For example, other people's private sphere of autonomy.  We're just not worrying about that right now.  

It also leaves out things from a relationship that impinge on autonomy.  In a healthy relationship, you should still have hobbies that the other person has no say about, things you can go off and do alone without worrying about it.]

What I have discovered, then, is that I do have great personal autonomy, but I haven't quite learned to use it optimally. A lot of the anxiety I have is about how to use time, energy, and money.

The first exercise might be to choose something over which to exercise control over in a week. Start with something easy (for you).  See how difficult or easy it actually turns out to be.  Look for the points of tension.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

More Musicality

My point is that we don't really know what we are talking about when we are talking about musicality in poetry.  I propose this as an analytic beginning:

We can talk about it literally, in terms of the sound and rhythms of poetry, and its direct connection to music in genres of sung poetry / vocal music.

Music is also one of the main metaphorical systems for talking about poetry. But on closer examination it is never merely a metaphor (except in merely conventional references!) because of these literal connections. What I call "deep musicality" is that connection between the central metaphor and the physical embodiment.

My assumption is that we know a lot about this, but we don't know exactly what it is that we do know, so we have to write down what we know and see where we are at.  I'm not sure yet whether there are four or twelve kinds of things that people mean when they talk about poetry as "musical."

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


I think of myself as much more inclined toward music than toward visual art, but this is probably a fallacy, in that it is not really a zero-sum proposition. There was a lot of nonsense about right versus left brain thinking, but really people are not left-brained in the way that people are left handed. You need both hemispheres of the brain to do anything, and the fact that certain areas of the brain have responsibilities of their own is fairly meaningless. There really aren't "visual learners," etc... We are all very visual (those of us with sight) and we all use our sight in more or less the same way. Of course we can train ourselves to make marks on paper that will be two-dimensional representations of 3-d objects.  Some people are better trained to do that than others, or can become trained more quickly.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Gang of 15

Your Choice

Suppose you can't draw, or play the piano.  That, essentially, is your own choice.  If you would like to draw, or play, you can choose do to that, and at the level you want. This does not mean that you will be Leonardo or Art Tatum, or be able to win a game against Federer. What it means is that you get to decide what you want to commit to.

We are told that so much is beyond our choice, and that is true. But everything that is our choice, is the source of enormous power.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Book

If I wanted to publish a book of poems, I would / could do it. It would involve putting effort into that, on a regular basis, and not giving up. The reason I have not done this is that I have not put effort into it consistently enough, and the reason for this is that I have given priority to academic projects. It doesn't have much to do with not being a good poet, because actually I am, or of not writing poems, which I do. I'm assuming that most poets are bad anyway, and that most books of poems are crap, so that this is not the issue at all. In other words, even if I were among the crappiest poets alive, that should not be an obstacle.  When I have tried, I have not been successful, but that is because I tried to do it rather than actually doing it. We only use the verb try when we make insufficient effort.  

The book of poems assumes different shapes at different times in my life, and there may be more than one book that I could publish.

The significant thing here is to take responsibility for the fact that I haven't published. If I directed attention in that direction, it would happen.  

Past selves

Imagine we could go back and tell our past selves something. So we could go back and avoid some mistake we were going to make. We think this is impossible because of the nature of time, only flowing in one direction and all that, but is that the real problem? We cannot listen now to our past selves either, very well. There are certain things we knew as children that we can no longer hear very well. For example, we know as adults that we have lost something, but we can easily attribute that to our superior wisdom as adults, and discount what that child-self knew. If we could really retain that knowledge we would be irritating Peter Pans, always insisting on not losing the magical view of the child. What could be more tiresome and grotesque than that?

The real problem, though, is that we cannot even listen to what our present self is telling us. This present self that could go back and tell the past self what to do, cannot even do this in the present.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

100 rejections

I've had some rejections, including one very discouraging one, but then some things that worked out to, to the tune of $16,000 dollars so far. I've had many poems rejected, to the point that I don't even feel those as rejections at all. (Applied for some internal things in the university that will give me some extra cash for the next three years.).

 I applied to be Associate Dean for Research. I might not get that, but I can just count it toward my 100 rejections. I applied for a conference, got accepted, and then decided I shouldn't go because it seemed slightly off in the way it was being organized.

The rejection therapy project is a kind of dumb thing, but I am modifying it to make it work for me. The way it was proposed was to ask strangers for dumb things, like asking them whether you can photograph yourself playing soccer in their back yards.  I'm not doing to do that.

The 3 musicalities

The first musicality is simply to see the poem as a song lyric.  There is nothing simple about it, but just consider that, functionally, that is what the text is, in this particular case, that it doesn't have much existence out of that context.  We could print the lyric and appreciate its craft, but we never forget that it is a song lyric.

The second musicality is the poem's prosody. This might be a secondary effect of the fact that it was written to be sung, or that it is written in a poetic form identical to that of song lyrics. Here, though, we see that text as musical in its own right, not simply because it happens to be a lyric.  With this case, paradoxically, singing the text might override the subtle effects of the versification, running roughshod over the poet's art. Or, a good setting might respond to that prosody, bringing it out in subtle ways.  

The third musicality is musicality as metaphor for poetics. Here we could distinguish between a merely conventional use of the metaphor, and a deeper poetics. The merely conventional reference to a poem as song-like, or the poet as singer, is simply a nod of the head to that musical connection, but may not involve anything deeper than that.

Update on blind rhythm changes

I've added two elements to blindfolded rhythm changes. One, to do the same thing with my own composition, improvising on it until I can improvise on it successfully, and secondly, to do the same thing on "Don't Blame Me." The idea is not to get stale, and not to learn improvisation in only one key. At some point there will be a breakthrough, in which the improv in these other tunes will be as good as in rhythm changes.

On the classical front, I played one of the Mompou "Música callada" series for my teacher, and she said it was very good, in very specific ways that she could tell me. She is not one for empty praise so I knew that she meant it, and of course she still had suggestions. It feels very good to master a piece at this level. It is not difficult, but I couldn't have played any piece that well last fall.  

I've thought about my goal on the piano as getting to 80%.  But 80% of what?  If I can be at 10% but play well, within that limit, then that is like being at 100%.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oscar Peterson

I had handed out copies of Oscar Peterson's Jazz exercises to my class, but then couldn't justify why I had done so, since it was not a music class I was teaching.


When people don't study literature any more, a funny thing happens to theory.  It is still theory, but not literary theory per se. Theory becomes simply a synonym for "prestigious intellectual whom I am citing associated with some recent trend in the field."  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


I was at my cousins' / aunt and uncle's house. I was lucid-dreaming there, absorbing every detail and reacquainting myself with them. Of course, they didn't look like anything like my cousins and aunt and uncle do in real life, and the house was not their house.  

Nothing to do with literature

We have an annual lecture in the department.  The last four years the lectures have been excellent, and none of them have had anything to do with literature at all. The topics have been entirely sociological, or about some other cultural expression not defined as literary per se. We choose the speakers by consensus in the department, and always nominate good people, and then give them the option about what to talk about. I am not complaining here, since the talks were good, and I'm interest in many things that aren't literature, but I'd like to know whether anyone is still interested in literature out there?

(I'm talking not about a talk in which a novel is used to address a historical or sociological point, but where no novel, poem, or play, or even film, enters the picture at all.).

Or, if you are interested, where do you go to study it?

Monday, April 23, 2018


The new job trend is to adjunct for free (hat tip to Clarissa). Let's hope this doesn't catch on.  The positions are described as "zero time."  Nice euphemism! The University will try to recruit alumni for this, presumably grads of Southern Illinois University who are still in the area.  A zero time appointment, for zero money, is one you should spend zero time on.  People should sign up for it and then not show up. Then, when asked, should say that they are spending zero time, just as advertised.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

By the Swimming Pool

I was going to write a play called "By the Swimming Pool." It would feature characters talking next to a pool, in several acts, perhaps the same characters talking by the pool at different points in time. I'm not sure if this was really a dream at all, or simply an idea I had lying in bed before I got up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Real Estate

By real estate I mean the amount of available attention. It could be conceived of as time, space, or energy, too, but for now let's use the idea of attention, what the mind can attend to at any given time, or on any given day.  

A big project you are working on occupies a lot of it, and it does so even if you are not working on it very much. A course you are teaching occupies a certain amount of real estate, even during the hours one is not teaching it or preparing it. We talk about a teaching "load" as though we are trucks and have a burden to carry on our backs.

Other parts of life occupy real estate as well, relationships, hobbies...  If you imagine a 13-year old boy and 80% of the real estate is give over to sexual desire. A seriously ill person will have most of their real estate occupied by their illness.

With meditation, which I am getting more serious about, you realize you have more real estate than you thought: the mind frees up space by sorting out things that aren't quite as significant and assigning them their proper amount of weight and attention. It doesn't resolve problems, in itself, but shrinks them to their proper size. It is wonderfully freeing.  

We don't want to have a lot of extra real estate unassigned to things. It might make us feel lazy or uncommitted. That is why we might want to take extra things on, even when we don't need to. It is fine to have the attention occupied by something meaningful, and freeing the mind from unnecessary shit helps us to refocus on things we actually might care about.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


I found this nice translation of one of my favorite haiku by Basho, by the Portuguese poet Herberto Helder:

Ervas do estío:
lugar onde os guerreiros


I've probably already written this post in the past, but here goes:

What reading in a foreign language does is to cement the basics. You will see the 5,000 most frequent words over and over again. You need to read long 19th century realist novels that have a lot of words, both in terms of the number of words in the novel (300,000 say) and in terms of the number of lexical items. You will also be memorizing frequently found clusters and combinations of words.

You will be seeing all the words in the closed category of lexical items: prepositions, articles, pronouns, over and over again.  In the open category, verbs, nouns, etc... you will see the most common ones over and over.

You obviously can't start until you have some grasp of some very common words, because the idea is to read fast without looking up words in the dictionary.

Then you will also acquire numerous words that aren't in the first thousand most common. You will be building vocabulary. Reading is much more effective than memorizing words off lists, because reading reinforces the vocabulary as you go along.

You will get an intuitive sense of other things: grammatical structures, rhythms, etc...

I remember as a student reading a lot trying to figure out grammatical structure that hadn't been explained to me.  For example:  "lo buenas que son esas tortas."  The word lo, invariant, plus the declined form of the adjective. It is strange and advanced, but I learned if from reading.

How about conversing? That is very good to, in order to converse better.  A few things, though: it is hard to get those millions of words of input as fast from conversing as it is from reading.

Millions of words is not an exaggeration. Works like Fortunata y Jacinta are 1,500 pages. I read almost all of Galdós's novels of the 1880s as an undergraduate, and he wrote one almost every year.

The rather extravagant idea is to be a literate person in another language. Literate at a fairly high level, like that of a college student.

There is another benefit, perhaps, is that the brain is creating new pathways, it is working hard at creating new pathways, conscious and unconscious inferences.

Monday, April 16, 2018


Usually, the person I will coach or mentor is not doing something that I would do. Often, the ideology or critical method is different, or it is not my own field. Mentoring is not the creation of disciples, but allowing the person to do his or her own work in the best possible way. Having someone who is too close to one's own interest is not ideal, because then one's personal opinions interfere.

At the local Italian restaurant

As you can see, the idea here is that Italian plurals follow the Spanish model of adding ess to the end. But that is not the case. The plural of signora is signore, and the plural of signor is signori.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


I've decided to put more effort into mentoring and helping others. My goal is to be in the acknowledgments of everyone's book, if that makes sense. I am very good at being a mentor, editor, and academic coach. Part of what I've realized is that the excessive emphasis on self-development, however necessary, is not the answer. You can be perfectly put together, but if you can't help other people, then you will always be limited. People who are generous to others are beloved figures, and rightfully so. People who aren't generous, well, they aren't beloved.

I can't say I haven't been helpful to others in the past in a kind of routine way, saying yes to people who ask mostly, and I *am* in several acknowledgments. There are people I can point to and say that I've had a role in their professional development. The point, of course, is not to be on that page, but what your name there represents.

Generosity is also the best way to network. It is beneficial from a selfish point of view as well.  It will make you happier precisely because it will bring you out of your self a bit.  What I'm advocating is also a way around resentment at others doing well, or better than you. A better approach is to want people to do well in general.

[Also, I have been a gatekeeper, saying no to bad articles and yes to better ones, with revise and resubmits.  Unfortunately, not letting bad articles get published is also a useful function. The best thing, though, is the pride I can take when an article gets published and is better because of my input.  Here, your name is not known, since the process is anonymous.]

It depends, too, on a highly developed sense of knowing how to do it yourself.  I wouldn't trust a mentor who hadn't cultivated her own garden as well. So if all your work is for other people, and your own work is languishing, then that would be unfortunate.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What if?

What if the only obstacle were the work itself? If there were no external barriers, even internalized external barriers like self-doubt?  Then whatever difficulties that were there, would be difficulties inherent to the work itself. It still might be very hard work, but all problems of time, money, energy, access to materials, disappeared.

If you could get yourself to that state, then you could probably do the work and have a good time doing it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A white-washed lyric?

In "Lulu's Back in Town" the original version of the lyrics says:

"You can tell all my pets / all my Harlem coquettes."

The White version of the song, though, meaning the one sung by Sinatra et al, changes the lyrics to "...all my blondes and brunettes."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Non-sequitur of the day

"I’m the uncoolest artist in the world, and always will be. But that’s true of the vast majority of artists."


Here's a tip: start the index when you start writing the book. All you need is an alphabetical list.  Then you can do the index very quickly when it is time, simply by filling in the page numbers for each entry.

You can take your bibliography, copy and paste to another document, and then leave only the names and some titles of works. Then you have an outline of the index in alphabetical order.  You can add to the index at the same time as you compile the bibliography.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Humble brag of the day

"English is my fourth language..."  {Written to justify the fact that the person's English writing might need editing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

You are in the acknowledgements

All the regular commentators on the blog are in the acknowledgments of the new Lorca book that will come out soon: Olga, Leslie, Vance, Thomas, Bob... You know who you are.

Sand Bags

Although don't meditate enough, I keep trying. Yesterday I got an insight: that ruminative non-productive thought is both effortful and, well, non-productive.

The image that popped into mind as I was meditating was of the task of moving heavy bags full of sand from one room to another in a house. So say the kitchen needed a bag, and you had to move it from the bedroom, and then another two bags from the living room to the bathroom, and so forth throughout the day, without much purpose.

So many of my thoughts seem to be of that nature. You can work hard at thinking about your life but if it is just moving sandbags around, it is rather pointless, but also very tiring. Productive thought is simpler, without as much wasted effort, and also more productive in that it simplifies problems rather than complicating them.

Learn by doing it

The obvious bears repeating. We learn to do something by doing it. If I want to learn to speak Italian then I should speak Italian. If I want to learn to read it I should read it. Cross-training is good, but doesn't provide the skill that direct training does. For example, speaking Italian won't make me as good a reader as reading does.

I've been trying to learn improvisation, and the thing to do there is to improvise. Studying the theory behind is necessary, but you won't learn until you do it. My technique is called Blindfolded Rhythm Changes, and it involves just playing the chord changes of I Got Rhythm over and over again. I've learned some things about it. For example, the improvisational ideas tend to gel and become compositions, and hence on as improvisatory any more. It can get stale, but these stale bits can become vocabulary items or "licks" that make improvisation easier. Once I get too set in a pattern I have to play something else. At some point I will have to learn the changes in another key.

My idea often sound unhip or unjazzlike. This is fine for now, as long as they are intended, heard before they are played, and with some melodic and phrasal shape to them. I'm able to do some improv over my own left-hand walking base, but I feel my ideas are restricted that way, as opposed to having the right hand play what it wants and the left fill in rather than playing four quarter notes.  Still, a week or two ago I could play the bass line but couldn't do anything with the other hand.

We learn to write scholarly books and articles by writing them. It would stand to reason that someone who's done more will be better, more masterful.  I don't believe in the paradigm of someone who writes and publishes very little and all of it is brilliant.  The mass producer of mediocrity does exist, and is a mystery to me.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


I'm getting a handle on the number of emails a week. Here was yesterday, for example:

Tonight at the Hall center
Graduate research symposium 
Call for teaching award
Congratulations for someone who won something 
KU today
University governance

So let's say 7 a day, for 35 a week and 560 per semester. I'm not counting emails for department business or that are addressed to me personally, only mailing list emails that go to everyone in the university or the college, etc... The university does have a legitimate duty to communicate with us about a variety of things, and each unit of the university also has communication responsibilities. Perhaps we could have "no email Friday," though? 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Failure to accomplish

In my dream, I was with an ex.  The pattern of her criticizing me was showing again, and I called her on it.  Then she said: "Everyone is characterized one personality trait. Your's is an inability to accomplish anything." I was about to point out I had five books...  

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The invisible burden (ii)

Let's say that a professor's time is worth $30 an hour.  Then a message sent to all faculty members and taking 1 minute to read costs $0.50 x the number of professors in the university.  A meeting of 10 faculty members for an hour costs $300! We could monetize our efforts in that way. An hour long sexual harassment training, multiplied by the average hourly wage of the number of people required to take it. That has an economic cost to it. That's not even counting the cost of creating and administering the training, monitoring it to make sure everyone does it. A message from the chancellor to the university community saying he won't fire the football coach has an economic cost to, though it seems trivial. Getting information daily or weekly from the humanities center (each grant you can apply for is a separate message from them!), the college, the graduate school, the office of first year retention etc...    

The fact that each of these things is small, in and of itself, disguises the real costs. In fact, the multiplication of very small items is actually more distracting, than if there were one large thing you had to take care of. You have to be organized in getting all the small things done and keeping track of everything, and that is a task in and of itself. So if I complain about doing something that only takes 2 minutes, you could say, "Oh, that's trivial, that's only two minutes."  But you would be wrong.

It gets worse: it is not just that each these things takes a small amount of time, but that they sap energy and attention, which are more valuable than time itself. They are the invisible service burden that we have just by being faculty members, even if cannot list them as items on our cv.  

All of the goals of the university are significant ones: increasing equity, diversity, sustainability, retaining students, increasing research productivity, improving teaching, reducing time to degree for graduate students, complying with Title IX.  Every administrator charged with one of these areas needs to engage with the faculty in order to further these goals, but nobody is monitoring the total effect of all of it on faculty time, energy, and attention, or working to reduce the cumulative weight of this burden.


Imagine, instead of this, that you had went to a cabin in the woods and did your research for six months with no communications from the university at all, or to an "scholars' colony" on the model of an artist's colony.            

Maple Leaf Rag

A guy was pounding out "Maple Leaf Rag" on a piano with a very heavy touch. I went up to him in a very apologetic way and told him he needed a less muscular approach.  "I'm sure you are better piano player than I am, and don't take this the wrong way, but..."

Friday, March 30, 2018

The invisible burden

Filling out paperwork. Doing Sexual Harassment training. Filling out one's annual review form. Filling out conflict of interest form. Sorting through emails sent by department, college, university provost and chancellor, graduate school, teaching excellence center, to see if any of it is important or not. Applying to internal grants. And many other things...

None of this is "service" work for which we receive credit. Cumulatively it amounts to many of hours spent by many people in the university, either generating these things on the administrative end or responding to them by staff and faculty. And hence millions of dollars. My idea for increasing the research productivity of the entire university is to go on a kind of research retreat, during which nobody would be allowed to do anything except research, teaching, and essential service. Maybe it could be the first two weeks of April?  

It is not that any one of these things is horribly taxing, in and of itself.  Some of the things are necessary, too. But the cumulative burden is quite large, because it increases the amount of distraction  and mental clutter.  We could put a dollar cost on it, by seeing who spends how much time on which kind of things, and then multiplying that by their hourly pay rates. But the real cost is in sapping energy.

audition dream

My daughter was cutting out dozens of orange, card-sized slips of orange paper with scissors. She would first outline the card in a marker and then cut it out of a large piece of the paper. Each of them represented an audition she was going to apply for. I questioned whether she needed to audition so many places but I lost the argument, somehow.

[Real life basis: she texted me last night to say is an official substitute player for the Chicago Civic Orchestra.]

Thursday, March 29, 2018


I am not sure why I cannot get more proud and excited about this book that is about to come out. It's not that I think it is bad, but I am more excited by the book I want to write next. That is good, because it is always best to think the next project is the best one. Your favorite book should be the one you haven't yet written.

Still, I just cannot seem to feel that joy. Maybe I am thinking too much that some people won't like it, or that it won't be as good as Apocryphal Lorca. This is kind of dumb, because the book has good things in it too. I wish I could simply argue myself into feeling differently about it.  This great brilliant guy Jonathan Mayhew they describe in the publicity material just doesn't feel like me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I was at my mom's house. I brought books with me to read, but several books had arrived there for me in the mail, in shrink wrap.  One was a book about the reception of Lorca in 2016, a huge volume.  I was worried about taking all the books home with me on the plane back home.

No No

I was reading a book on Nono while my students took an exam.  I'm sure it is fine for an audience of other musicologists, but describing music in words, with a high level of detail, over the course of several pages in row is even more deadly than detailed poetic analysis. With a poem, at least you have the poem there on the page along with the analysis. Even then, people skip over the analysis to get to the interpretation and the contextualization, the part that makes it meaningful to someone else.

 It's like hearing somebody talk about people dancing or playing sports in abstract terms. It is possible, but you have to know how to do it.

If you don't have a recording handy to play along as you are reading then you just have to take it on faith. Even with a score there, you would have to go to a keyboard and try to play it, which is fine if it's keyboard piece and you can sight-read decently, which I cannot. Even most musicians don't want to read things like that, and might not have enjoyed all their musicology and theory classes in their conservatory training. If musicians think theoretical discussions of music are boring, then ordinary folks will think that times 20.

There are effective ways of writing about music, like Alex Ross in the New Yorker.  And there are musicologists who know how to do this too. The trick is not writing for musicologists. My aim here is not to show people how much I know about music, or how smart I am, but to communicate with an audience.  As Woolf said, to know whom you are writing for is to know how to write.

Maybe I should say I am writing for the same people that the composers are composing for: listeners.

A shift of focus

There is a very determined shift of focus between saying, "settings of Lorca's work include pieces by Revueltas, Shostakovic, and Serrat" to thinking: "why not look at those settings in the same way you would look at translations, apocryphal adaptations by Spicer, etc..." In other words, you are seeing Nono, Revueltas, or Mompou as significant figures in their own right. Now musical treatments or Lorca move from the "see also" realm to the focus of attention. It seems obvious enough, but few have thought to do it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The war on clutter

One of the ways I artificially limit myself is by leaving behind a trail of clutter.  Some of this is creative clutter, like piles of books I am reading for a project, but some is damaging clutter. What needs to happen is to first reduce the piles of clutter, but then, more significantly, change the habits so that the same thing doesn't happen again. This means spending a little time everyday decluttering, so that the clutter will decrease over time rather than accumulating.

I started with my car.  I tend to put books in there to have something to read, but then the book stay then and I have library in my car. Untrashing my car was a first step, then my mailbox on campus, and, today, my office. Then I will work on home office, the most crowded and cluttered area of my dwelling place. After that, clothes in the closet and the kitchen.

The clutter itself is not important, except that is takes on a symbolic importance as my deliberate sabotage of myself, and freeing myself of it is tremendously... freeing I guess.  If I can eliminate it, it means that it is not necessary, that I don't need it to protect myself and that it is actually a negative adaptation.


This article just came in the mail. It was supposed to come out in 2016, and the journal is dated 2016. As it happens, its publication only will precede the book it announces by a month or so.

The Book of Fiction

We are always working on the book. Not to be at work on a book, at a Research 1 University, means not showing up for work, since 40% of our effort is supposed to be research. Yet the book is elusive. There is the first book, that is either the dissertation or a second project written very quickly before tenure. Then there is the post-tenure book, but that might be the last one. People retire with two books, and no more, and three is considered great. What this means is that, really, many people do very little scholarship after the dissertation, and there are often long fallow periods.

So the book is in many cases a fictional one, not a work of fiction one that will never exist at all.  I probably wouldn't have the courage to say that I'm not working on a book. I couldn't say: Oh, I've published 5 and will spend nine years waiting for retirement; I've already done enough.  


Friday, March 23, 2018

The book

Here is the book. It's not out yet, but will be soon.

A theory of musical meaning

I think I have to articulate what my theory of musical meaning is. In the first place, some meanings are tautological. Slow means slow. Loud means loud, soft means soft. Regular beat means dance; singable melody means cantabile. Upward lines can sound uplifting. Melodies that stick to a few notes close together will sound constricted. Simple ones are coded as childlike.

A lot of the basic emotions in music has to do with these kinds of tautological meanings as well.

Structurally, tension and release is basic. That is also tautological, but we can overlay other meanings on top of that tension-release dynamic. 

Musical meaning has a lot to do with setting up expectations and then either fulfilling them or frustrating them.  

Musical meaning is indefinite, as many have pointed out. It seems to be saying something, but we don't know what, exactly. So the meaning can be defined in verbal terms in order to guide listeners to the right meanings. 

Styles of music can stand in metonymically from the place for which they come. So I can evoke Mexico but writing a pseudo-mariachi melody. There are musical clichés associated with particular things, like a trumpet fanfare to announce the entrance of someone important. 

Music can directly imitate other sounds in the human or natural world. Most musical meaning, though, is not mimetic in this case. You have to know the "program" in order to hear program music correctly.   

An example, I keep listening to Ellington / Strayhorn "Such Sweet Thunder." I cannot make any connections between the music and the Shakespearian characters that each part of the suite is supposed to represent. I know the music pretty well but I don't know the titles if I don't look, and I don't relate to it as Shakespearian in the least.

"Negative narratives do not define me"

That's what I wrote today in my journal of positives. A negative narrative can define someone by seeming to identify all the features of an individual with a single trait. (Saying someone is a criminal or an addict, for example.)

I guess that's why I also don't like the tropes about Sylvia Plath or other suffering artists. It is very easy: all you need is one identifying idea and then you understand the artist.  Kahlo's suffering body, Plath's depression, Monk's eccentricity, Bird's heroin, Lorca's sexuality.

Even when the narrative is not negative, it is still a mistake. Don't let yourself be defined by one positive narrative either.  We are multi-faceted individuals. That's what gives us the capacity for growth.


Growth, by the way, is a more useful category than change. Things change all the time, whether we like it or not, and change in itself is neither negative or positive. I don't know whether people can change, but they can grow. At one point I felt myself becoming, always, more like my own core self, hardening in all my preferences. That occurs too as one gets older, but growth is better.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The abject badness of Lorca studies

"It is intended that this dissertation present the fact that Castelnuovo- Tedesco took seriously the poetry presented by García Lorca."  

Actions and Beliefs

Having your actions line up with your beliefs is one of the fundamentals of life. Since I was raised in a religion in which I could not believe, as hard as I tried to (at times), I felt a basic lack of this alignment, in that participation in the religion was forced. Yet I resisted. I told people openly that I did not believe in it, and I left it at 16 rather than accepting the next step of the "priesthood" that I was up for. I simply could not do it. A few years before, on a boy scout camping trip, we were all supposed to stand up and say how much we believed in it (a ritual called "bearing testimony") and I didn't. I was the last one after every other kid had done it, and I just sat there and didn't do it, until finally the leader gave up. It was hard because my cousin was on the trip too, and I didn't especially relish being the odd guy out. The kids who were not especially convinced yet talked about their testimony needing to be stronger, etc... I could have done that, I guess, but I was stubborn in that conviction that it was wrong to say you believed something that you didn't.

If you think believing in something that you don't is a matter of choice, then I recommend that you take something you don't believe and will yourself to believe it. Once you've succeeded in doing that, come back to me and we'll talk. Of course one method of doing this is to stand up and lie and get people's approval until it starts to feel good. Maybe eventually then you will actually be convinced.

I write about this as something that for me is a positive, but that you could turn around and see as negative. Stubborn, anti-social, too convinced of my own positions, etc... I go back to that 14-year old kid and I wouldn't tell him to do anything different. I still think that what I did was correct.  


You only work on poetry.

(How do you teach it, anyway?)

All you know how to do is write your books.

You don't do cultural studies.

You are narrow.

You are dogmatic.

You are too competitive.

You aren't interdisciplinary enough.  

The negative messages you get from others can affect even things that that are actually your strengths. So in my case, specializing in something that presumably nobody cares about, being overspecialized, wanting to be the best at what I do, taking strong positions, etc...

When, in fact, people do care about what I write and recognize my work as interdisciplinary and broadly "cultural." I suppose I should have done a book on historical memory or some other topic that everyone else seemed to be working on.

But actually, books by other people who are also excellent scholars don't follow predictable paths either.  None of us just writes the standard academic book over and over again.    


Before spring break I was looking with my class at this phrase "Y tú te me vas yendo." The translators, literally but without stylistic flair, have rendered this phrase as "And you are slowly leaving me." This line, as is typical in the poetry of Claudio Rodríguez, has a tremendous rhythmic dynamism. The succession of monosyllables would be normal for English, but not for Spanish. The use (rather than omission) of the subject pronoun is emphatic in Spanish, and the "vas yendo" has a stress clash. (The participle yendo is not used for often in Spanish and also has an emphatic flavor.) There is a kind of reduplicative effect caused by the two second person singular pronouns (which alliterate) and then the two forms of the same verb: "you you go going."

The word slowly here is all wrong. It is true that ir + present participle has the sense of something happening little by little, but here it is a dynamic process, and the word slowly works against that. If you heard someone say: "Voy pensando que..."  you would understand her to be saying: "I'm starting to think..."  Not "I'm slowly thinking that..."

The translators in their preface don't comment on any stylistic feature of the work at all.  The treat Claudio's poetry as inspirational uplift, and offer the usual biographical information.

[sarcasm]It is almost as though translating poetry required some kind of understanding of the poetics of the original, as though understanding the words literally were not enough. [/sarcasm]

I thought of this because I was reading a very dynamic account of the rhythmic dynamism of the music of Revueltas.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


If I can play piano I should also be able to draw. They are both manual skills, both "creative" and subject to improvement through study and practice. One is not especially visual, and the other is intensely visual, and so there are differences, but I think the progress I've made in piano is significant. If I put that much into drawing it would pay off, but I haven't, obviously. At one point I did put in some effort and did improve. I don't do other "manual" things except type and write by hand, a little cooking. Ceramics would be satisfying; my mom is very good thrower of pots on the wheel. I am drawn more to calligraphy. Something visual would be nice to counteract my intensely auditory focus. I guess there's nothing wrong with choosing one's art forms and neglecting others, but I believe that everyone should be able to draw at least with a minimal competence and I'm not there yet.  

The Educated Native Speaker

"...also comment on FL programs giving up literary studies. Is there an intrinsic reason why literature has to be what these programs study in year 4? (intrinsic = not having to do with history of discipline)"

This question from Leslie is very good. I would say that the Spanish major (or French major) should have some of the characteristics of the "educated native speaker." Not every native speaker has read much literature, but there is a sense in which you aren't educated in that language if you haven't read some books.

The main place you see it is in vocabulary. You simply cannot be exposed to an adequate-sized vocabulary without reading. A lot. Reading also makes certain grammatical structures second nature. If you have read a lot, you will never write "según a" instead of "según." To be exposed to the sheer amount of input through conversation would be impossible.

Literature also gives you a historical sense of the language that you don't get if you only read contemporary non-fiction. To know what a style would look like from 100, 200, 300 years ago.

If we look at what a degree in Spanish would prepare you for, you can think of teaching (you'd want a  teacher to be able to teach AP literature), graduate study, journalism in which you'd want someone covering the Hispanic world to have some knowledge that educated people do.

Since we don't hand out degrees to native speakers of Spanish without taking courses, we wouldn't hand out degrees in English to all of our students just because they have been educated in English. There has to be some content there. Literature tends to work best because we can't read it in translation, merely for its informational content.    

I caught myself thinking

I caught myself thinking:  Well, I didn't know that much about Lorca when I wrote Apocryphal Lorca, but then I wrote the second part of the Lorca tetralogy, that will appear in 2018, and so now I'm starting to know a little about him. It will take the third book to really become an expert... And I haven't put hard work in the archives with the manuscripts so I'll never be that either.  

That's how it feels from the inside. But from the perspective of any objective person, I am "Professor [of] Lorca" and have been for a long time. Of course I'm continuing to learn more, but the way I learn is to write books about things I'm interested in, so how could my expertise not have increased?  


You don't have to discount good things about yourself. In fact, there are few habits that are as harmful. By discounting I mean reframing a positive attribute as a negative, or explaining it away in a fashion that makes it less salient.

I got almost a 4.0 average, getting only one B in my college career? Not that impressive, since it was a state school and a humanities major. I wrote some books that had a positive response from others in my field? "All you know how to do is write your books." I published in a major journal? Oh, some idiots have published there too. Know a lot about Lorca? No, Christopher Maurer knows far more than I do. I know several languages, have extensive knowledge of music history? That's just a mark of "privilege." And other people know more languages. I can do the Saturday New York Times crossword in under half an hour? A useless skill. A good father? Well everyone love their own children. If you are smart, and know it, then of course you are arrogant or full of yourself.

Discounting is easy to do. There isn't a positive thing that can't be turned around against you with almost no effort.  It's far worse, even, than the negative self-talk, because it doesn't allow you any answer to the negative radio. If you've been psychologically abused, then you will do it to yourself if you don't take active steps to stop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Humanties Woes

Some ailments that afflict our current disciplines. I might be guilty of many of these myself, but not of all of them at once.

1.  Social-scientification.  The social-sciencing of the humanities is the preference for topics that really don't belong to the humanities at all. Everything is displaced onto some other discipline considered to be more real. We are really interested in history and politics, so everything has a political pay-off.

2. Vagueness.  Everything is about the process, about raising the questions, not ever about answering them or talking about why some answers might be better than others. It's about being exposed to great things,  appreciating them, but not knowing how to do anything in concrete terms. It's all about interrogating the conditions about what it means to be human, blah, blah, blah. We pay homage to critical thinking but don't make the student actually think, or defend an actual position.

3. Post-modernification. This is related to the vagueness, but here the vagueness derives from an appeal to certain thinkers who proved to us that we can't really assert anything anymore. Certain fields, like composition studies, basically have destroyed themselves by using left-over deconstruction.

4. De-disciplining ourselves.  In the urge to be inter-disciplinary, we actually have contempt for any kind of discipline. We don't want to think very hard about anything.

5.  Linguification. Want to have the perfect terminology, and often mistake that for a theory.  We are obsessed with language but often use language badly.

"I am committed to personal growth"

It sounds a bit corny, but an idea to turn off the radio voice is to write down a list of things you like about yourself. The first thing I wrote down was

"I am committed to personal growth."

Once I had written that down, I knew I was on to something. If you look at it, that statement is perfect. It is confident and optimistic, but it is not like saying "I am smart and good-looking." It acknowledges any weaknesses that might be there, implicitly.

Then I wrote:

", and I have already made progress; I have shown that this growth is possible, and I am not done yet."

Then I wrote some more things. Some more specific and others equally general. I tended not to write things like "I am a good writer." I think I am comfortable with listing things I am good at, but those things don't tend to dig as deep. I could easily discount a thing like "I can make a good omelet," because it doesn't seem as powerful a statement as "I am committed to personal growth." Lots of folks can fry an egg, after all, but how many are as truly committed to personal, intellectual, and musical growth as I am?


But if you want to start off with just things you are good at, that's fine too.


I have a friend, not a close friend yet but a relatively new acquaintance and part of my larger circle of friends. He is relatively young, tall, good-looking, and personable; he's read a lot of poetry and is very bright. He is smart and easy to talk with, etc... I was thinking, yeah, he's a great guy, it would seem, involved with his children's activities and someone most people would like.

Then the next thought was that I am all these things too (aside from tall and young!). So I sometimes use that as a device to ease up the pressure on myself. Why should I be harder on myself than I would be on my acquaintance?    


Lennie Tristano - Tangerine (Copenhagen '65)

Sunday, March 18, 2018


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a year and see if I can do better.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Hidden Subject

When you are working on a topic you might not realize what the real subject-matter is. For example, in my just-begun project, I am beginning to realize the subject might be modernism in relation to nationalism. It might be "translation, parody, kitsch," as in AL.

Usually the hidden subject emerges late in the process of writing. Then the hidden subject can be the ostensible subject of the next project.


I now realize that my hesitancy about my 2nd Lorca book is due  to the idea that it won't be as good as Apocryphal Lorca, the book that took my career to a new level... combined with my greater enthusiasm for the next two books in my Lorca Tetralogy. Of course one should always be more enthusiastic about the next project than the last one.


I almost never re-read anything I've written in the past unless I have to. When I do re-read myself, though, I realize that I always had it. It being ideas.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Romanian Lied

I got a Lorca google scholar alert with the title "The Romanian Lied."  Of course I first read it as "The Romanian told a lie," when it was supposed to mean "The Romanian art song."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


I had this list of things called "operation razor's edge." Basically, my plan to be successful in everything possible. Yet one kind of goal seems much more difficult.  I can publish more books, for example, but the one goal that is very elusive is called "radical self-acceptance." This goal is diametrically opposed to the whole rest of the razor's edge, because it is asking me to accept the self I already have rather than improving it, as is the point of all the other goals.


Here's the thing. I dread copyediting, because it will make me look up references that are incomplete, and it will bring the book closer to publication, where it will be exposed to reviewers. There's also the idea that my next Lorca project will be better: that's the one I'm excited about, right? Who gets excited about a book that's already done?

But this book is seriously ass-kicking too.  It meant a lot of work, and has my best ideas in the period from 2009-16, or so.  I am worried about imperfections in the bibliography? Things that people will pick at? It seems deeply irrational.

And the copy-editor didn't do a thing to my style, only touched one or two sentences in the whole book of nine chapters.

Monday, March 12, 2018

My genres

I became interested in jazz through a beginning piano book with a boogie-woogie piece that I was playing when I was little kid.  My dad had a few jazz records, and I one had Coleman Hawkin's "Body and Soul." After that, I was hooked on jazz for the rest of my life, when my dad said it was improvised. I like bop, free jazz, and anything by Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn, and also Blue Note music of the 60s and 70s. West Coast and cool jazz of the 50s too.

Along with that, a deep appreciation of the great American song book. Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen...  I thought stupidly as a kid that the jazz musicians turned these banal songs into great improvisations. But they are great songs to being with.

My dad was a big fan of classical music, and my sister became a classical musician (organist and choir director).  My mom played piano and taught piano lessons for years and years.  She still plays. Classical music was always around, and then my daughter decided to be classical musician too, and her favorite is Mahler so I like that too (as did my dad!). My mom would play "Maple Leaf Rag" along with Chopin and other typical piano pieces. Two of my cousins became classical musicians, one a French horn and the other a conductor who was assistant to Bernstein.

Within that, I've always loved Bach. I also like Morton Feldman and Ned Rorem, too opposite styles in contemporary American music. I like chamber music, especially Haydn and Mozart string quartets.  More recently, I am into Federico Mompou. I wish I knew more opera. I like art songs, especially in the tradition of the French mélodie. I've sung in choirs as young man, and more recently as an old one.  

Blue-grass is great. I like its jazz-like improvisatory flavor.  My girlfriend's brother-in-law is some country and roots bands, and I hear them play often. Classic rock is fine with me too. It's not in my top 5 genres but that's ok.  Blues I see as connected to my interest in jazz. Of course I love Bessie Smith. I like classic R&B, and of course Ray Charles is an abiding love. I love Mahalia Jackson too. Spirituals and gospel music are wonderful.

I am not an expert Hip Hop fan.  I like The Roots, but doesn't everybody?  

I tried to hear Flamenco on my Junior Year Abroad.  I had to pay a lot to hear actual music, in a club not for tourists, but it was worth it.  I've always loved Flamenco too. Carmen Linares and Miguel Poveda should be listened to, among contemporary figures. Mairena and La Niña de Los Peines among older styles.    

I got into salsa and Afro-Cuban styles as well. Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente, and Willie Colón and Celia Cruz. I've tried to play hand drums in that style. I do like African drumming.

I've approached "New Age" music mostly as an aid to relaxation. I've had two radio programs that I've liked, "Music from the Hearts of Space" and "Echoes" with John ????.

There is enough music I love that I don't have to bother with things that aren't that compelling for me.   It would be a waste of time to denigrate music that isn't of interest to me, or that I simply haven't had time to explore. I'm sure Indian classical music is phenomenal. I just don't know how to listen to it yet.

I wouldn't try to sing Flamenco, but I would try "My Funny Valentine."  My musical abilities are extremely modest, so my biggest talent is a listener. If you as an eclectic a listener as I am I would love to hear from you--in a non-competitive way, of course.


Miguel Poveda - No Me Encontraron

BFRC (4-6)

The other day I did these actually blindfolded, rather than just in a dark room or with my eyes closed. It makes a difference because I can no longer open my eyes to cheat, and I get the full effect of depriving myself of that one sense. Playing the piano is not a mostly visual proposition. We think it is because we need to read sheet music.  That is fine for learning but not essential for playing. We also think we need to see where the key are. Maybe so, but the hand should know this, just as when I'm typing now I am not looking at the keyboard at all.

If I hit a wrong note I should also know what note it is, and decide whether I have played an E instead of an F, for example. My ears should tell me this.

I should also be able to hear the notes before I play them and sing along in real time to my playing. Surprisingly, I can do this. The ears can be trained even for an old guy.

Then I started playing other tunes to the chords of I got rhythm, seeing whether they fit or not, the 1,6,2,5 of Blue Moon at the beginning for example, which also seemed to work with "These Foolish Things."


I saw a movie the other night, Mr. Church, in which the "magical negro" part is played by Eddie Murphy.  It is interesting that jazz is used as the metonymy corresponding to the "magical negro" trope. The character mostly plays in the style of the 1920s or early 30s. This makes sense because making him a bebop player would be not safe enough for a character who is supposed to represent the dignity expected out of this character, even though the movie itself takes place in the 1970s and 80s!  Of course I object to almost any treatment of jazz in a movie.  I can't help it.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Here's a Lorca sonnet I want to set to music as an art song. The translation aims to be singable.  I want it to be my first "art song":

Did you like the city that drop by drop
the water carved amid the pines?
Did you see faces dreams and roads
and walls of sorrow lashed by the wind?

Did you see the blue crack of broken glass
that the river splashes with crystal trills?
Did the hawthorns kiss your fingers,
crowning with love the faraway stone?

Did you remember me as you climbed
to the silence suffered by the serpent--
a prisoner of crickets and shady vales?

Could you see in the clear bright air
the dahlia of joys and sorrows
sent to you by my burning heart?

My translation might be different if it were not meant for singing, but I think it still stands on its own compared to a random sampling of translations you might find in a quick search.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

On Being Brilliant

All the advice about productivity ignores the process of getting good ideas in the first place. We need to have smart ideas about how to become smarter.

Here are a few things:

Explore other languages. I don't mean only "foreign" language, but also things like mathematics, or music, or visual arts. When you think of aspirations to be inter-disciplinary, think of those other disciplines as disciplines, not fields. (Fields are like other territories, different places. Disciplines are intellectual approaches to doing things.) You can explore other fields too, of course.

Commit to it.  Whatever "it" is in this particular context. An example might be my blindfolded rhythm changes. It's just a different level of commitment to something that might be unimaginable to many people. It might be reading more than the next person, or really learning something well that most people just learn in a half-assed way.  

Catch people in the act of being brilliant.  If you aren't doing this, then you missing out on a lot. You should be able to explain how and why something is brilliant and be in absolute awe when it happens.  So many times I've been amazed when students can read something brilliant and be unimpressed by it. A lot of times the undergraduate students will be more brilliant than the grad students, even when they are taking Spanish for some non-literary reason. You can catch a student being brilliant from time to time. I am difficult to impress, but I am still amazed every day by some piece of human creativity.  

Catch yourself being brilliant. This one is a little tricky, but it is hard to cultivate your intelligence if you can't identify moments when good things happen, so that you can reproduce that phenomenon  again. For example, it might be two ideas that weren't connected to each other come together in your mind, so that you see them together in a relation rather than as two separate ideas. Or you might realize that you have been using the same word about two very different things, but without realizing they were different.    

Turning off the radio

Imagine if you had a radio commentator analyzing every move you made, everything you did or didn't do, in critical terms. "Jonathan is not having a very good day, no.  Look, he's procrastinating again. Why can't he do better, I just don't understand it...." When you went out of the house, you would get more criticism from this radio narrator about yourself, your inadequacies and failings of various kinds, and it wouldn't stop all day long. You would probably want to turn the radio off, right?

A lot of people have that, though, in their own heads, and don't know how to turn it off.  I, for one.  Where is the switch?

Here are some ideas.

*Try to find that other narrative, the one that tells you you great.  It sounds a bit corny and embarrassing.

*Avoid negative people.

*Figure out where that voice comes from.  Parents? Ex-spouses? That voice is not really your "self" talking to you but an interiorization of other voices.

*Get into groove-like activities in which that voice isn't there. For example, when I am explaining my project to my friends, I just feel empowered, and the voice isn't there. Keep as busy as possible, but in good, supportive activities.  

*Meditation is great, but it also gives space for that negative voice to be heard. If you aren't great at meditating (as I'm not) it might be because the idea of sitting there thinking about nothing allows for the worst thing in the world, which is called rumination. You still have to try it, but just be warned that that will happen at times. You can't be afraid of the voice, you just have to gently put it aside every time.    


My daughter is in a trumpet class and they have to criticize one another. She's the grad student and thus senior student in the group. When one kid didn't play well, at all (almost everything wrong in multiple ways), she told me that she said this:  "I think you should play with more confidence. That will help you to play much better and address some of the other issues you are having." This seemed brilliant to me. If she had just listed all the problems with this kid's playing, it would have not been constructive in the least. She said she always says, "what I'd like to hear is..."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

E Halffter

 En el ambiente de aquellos años, aproximadamente desde 1923 hasta la guerra civil, los hombres de pluma y de pentagrama estuvimos muy unidos. Mi amistad con Federico García Lorca fue grande. Era un músico nato. Le escuché tocar cosas suyas en el carmen de Falla, asistí asiduamente a las comidas y reuniones de la Residencia de Estudiantes y a las tertulias del Correos y del Lyon. Federico me dedicó su Cortaron tres árboles; hice música para algunas representaciones de La Barraca, como Fuenteovejuna; instrumenté algunos temas populares arreglados por Federico para La Argentinita, y habíamos proyectado, con Fontanals, una especie de revista.