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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...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

No more drafts (2)

Not writing "drafts" doesn't mean that whatever you write down the first time is sacrosanct.  Did you ever ask a student to revise a paper and you get only a few changes, the exact ones you have suggested? That is not what I mean at all. Every time I look at something I've written, before it is published, I make some changes to improve it.  

Rather, that the prose you write is basically fine the first time around. It doesn't aim for shittiness or roughness but for smoothness.

Monday, February 26, 2018

March Goals

I didn't do badly with February goals; I never got into the key of E that much, but that's ok. I thought I would do as much as that as in B, in January, but it didn't work out. I didn't get far with the Shostakovich fugue, but learned other pieces instead, like learning to sing "Tres morillas de Jaén."

I rocked research in February, turning a very vague project into something real and doable.    


Write a substantial part of the methodological / theoretical introduction to the musicology book.

Revise the NEH proposal until it really rocks, to be submitted on April 11. Complete bibliography.  

Learn enough of the Mompou "Música callada" to play at talent show on March 30.  

Key of the Month: A maj.  

Continue to average 11,000 steps a day, as I have in February.

I've paid off credit card now. I have to figure out plan for paying off the car to be completely debt-free (again).  

When I am working well

When I am working well I can finish at 9 a.m.  I have written a good page and I am done for the day.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

No more "drafts"

I've decided not to write "drafts" any more.  (I did away with "rough drafts" and "shitty first drafts" a while ago.). What I mean is not that I will never revise anything, or rewrite it if it isn't good enough, but that I will write it the first time in a more or less acceptable form (better than most people's final drafts, in some cases).

When I gave our local humanities grant-writing person my first version of my NEH application, she commented that my "rough drafts" were often better than the final versions other people were sending out.  Yes.  Once again, that is not because they cannot get any better, but because they are not "rough" at all.

This method will help me not to have to have all these half-baked fragments every where, that take more time to sort out later. Of course, when one goes back to work on the document, one fixes things that are wrong in other paragraphs. But once the document is complete it is a shareable document. Then you can revise according to what suggestions you get.

 I believe you shouldn't share something unless it is already in a presentable form. That way, you aren't wasting their time by asking them to correct things that you could have easily corrected. If you want comments, they should be on something that has been worked on enough so that the only comments needed will be substantive. This does not imply stylistic perfection, which you'll never reach anyway, but adequacy.

If you want to bounce ideas off of somebody, then you can do it conversationally, or in a conversational mode like email.


I started to write something and stopped myself at the word posit.  That's a fine academic word, but it marks itself as academic in the first sentence. What if we could write using two or three of those words a page?

These are advanced tips. I would never tell a junior colleague to avoid posit. I would say not to use subtend. As a full professor I have the luxury of choosing my words carefully.  


I remember when I was a young academic and I thought it would be good to talk about William Carlos Williams at the MLA at some point, but every year the WCW Society would have a panel on "Williams and Medicine" or "Williams and Baseball."  It never turned out to be a topic I wanted to talk about. I began to hate that and.

So I would never write a book on "Lorca and Music."  My aim is to destroy the and--if that doesn't sound too pretentious. You can look at music through Lorca, or Lorca through music, but the and is odious. It implies that this is an extraneous topic, like baseball to Williams or insurance to Stevens. I have the same objections to the "words and music" movement. That is why I prefer my own discipline, song studies. In song studies we don't see words and music as separate entities to be brought together through abstruse comparisons or spurious contrasts. I guess you might object to the "studies" part. You should just say you are in song.

You could say that song is the performance of poetry by other means. Song, then, is an extension of poetics, not an arbitrary linking between two separate arts. It would be a little bit like trying to separate dance from music. I'm sure there are dances that don't involve music at all, but they would be a bit unusual. It would be a bit unusual to have a discipline called "dance and music" in which the idea is to bring the two together. We see the pairing as natural. The analogy doesn't hold up totally, but I'm going to hold to that for the time being. I'm going to contend that dance is a musical form, like song. That vocal music is the original kind of music, and that song is the origin of poetry too. These are hardly original ideas.    


I remember making a new year's resolution once to take voice lessons. It didn't happen the year that I resolved to do it, but it is happening now. I am on my second teacher and third year, and the voice is better. (The first year not much improved.) I am in my third semester of choir, my second year of piano lessons, have been composing since 2015.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Process

Step 1: I am not a musicologist; I cannot write this book.

Step 2: I know more about music than I knew I did. It will be ok if I am very cautious.  

Step 3:  I can write this book in a better way than the hypothetical musicologist I had in my head as being better at writing this book, because I know how to write for people who don't know about music in technical terms. (And I know how to write.) A musicologist might be writing for other musicologists, but that is not what I want to do. I don't have to include fragments of scores in the book, because that would be intimidating to my readers, and a technical analysis of music, in the way that I would attempt it, would also be criticized by anyone with more technical knowledge than I have. So that would be a way of alienating all my readers at one fell swoop.

I can also see that musicologists borrowing from literary theory often don't know what they are doing.  For example, they borrow from postmodernism and poststructuralism, but without realizing that that makes musical meanings more indeterminate. Thus they cannot really be as confident as they want to be about their conclusions.

I realize what I have been calling impostor syndrome in my own case is not really that at all. It is not that I think I am an impostor and everyone else knows what they are talking about.  It is that we are all pretty much impostors. Some are the real deal, and I am still aspiring to that.  Maybe I've hit that a few times in my career.  But I see younger people in my field and think, no, you don't have impostor syndrome, you are an impostor.  You are so far from being the real deal that you don't even know it yet.

Advice is Useless

I once thought that I could show people how I do things and that that would allow them to do what I do.  It doesn't seem to really work like that, does it?  You have to be smart and well-trained, and smart enough to train yourself when need be ... and then be in circumstances where it is possible to do the work. (A frequent commentator on this blog,  the profacero blogger, has been saying this to me for years.)  The advice only works once you are there, but isn't it superfluous then? Usually, when someone  has benefitted from any help from me, it is because they were already where they needed to be, and just needed to know it was possible for them to have an active research program with tangible results.

Of course, I can look at what you write and give you a critique, tell you how to make it better, but that is editing, not "advice."

It isn't about work ethic or time management, even. I will be the first to tell you I am lazy and disorganized.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Plain Style

[This is one of the "pages" on this blog, but I thought might revisit it] 
Bob Basil, in a response to my comment about one his posts, called me a writer "devoted to the 'plain language' style of writing." I hadn't thought of myself that way, but I'll accept that characterization with pride.  Stupid Motivational Tricks propounds a model of writing that is clear, concise, elegant, and free from unnecessary jargon. Needless to say, not all academic writing strives to embody this ideal. I went to graduate school in the 1980s, at the height of the "hegemony" of theory, and the plain style was not in ascendence during those formative years. 

This mode of writing does not really require a defense, but I will offer one anyway by responding to a few common objections. 

Some writers feel that plainness suppresses individuality. They want their stylistic choices to be distinctively quirky. The plain style, though, allows multiple options: long sentences or short, a range of emotional tones from the comic to the serious, and various personalities. I feel my writing voice is distinctively my own even within its seemingly dull plainness. Convoluted, pretentious styles often do not reflect the true personalities of the writers who use them to start with. These styles are more like costumes worn so the writers will fit in in the academic environment. 

Others contend that literary criticism, like any other discipline, has a technical language of its own: nobody objects when a physicist uses the "jargon" of her field, the argument goes, so why can't the literary critic do the same? I do not object to technical terms used appropriately and correctly. To speak of "extradiegetic" music in a film, for example, you have to use that term if you want to distinguish music from the film score from music that forms part of the diegesis of the film: a character singing or playing an instrument, for example. The jargon that readers object to, however, tends to be language used without the precision of true jargon. 

Finally, inexperienced writers (and some experienced ones) sometimes fear that writing too plainly will make them sound unsophisticated. Maybe their ideas really are not all that sophisticated, and they are afraid to expose their simplistic thinking to sharp scrutiny. In this case, the preference for a less transparent style reveals a weakness, not a strength. 

My best positive argument in favor of the plain style is that academic prose can be very unpleasant to read. (Ok, I know that doesn't sound very positive.) I myself skim it as quickly as possible just to see what it's about. If it's not in my field and it's not pleasurable to read, I spend very little time with it. I really want to write so that my readers will savor every word. That's the only way that I will truly communicate anything of value. If I care about the argument I'm making I want my audience to have a clear idea of what that argument is and why it is important. Even a clearly presented argument is liable to misreading, but I want to maximize my chances of effective communication. 

Anonymous | Tres morillas [Villancico á 3; Ensemble Accentus]

Carmen Linares - Las morillas de Jaen (Zejel)

Music Notes

Doing a major scholarly project on music allows me to use parts of the "scholarly base" that I didn't even know I had. Those 7,000 "songs" on computer, for one thing. (Or 7,000 things). I put that in scare quotes because a song might be a movement of a string quarter or a symphony. All the thinking about music I've ever done my whole life. Instead of viewing my lack of musicological expertise as a great obstacle, I'm now seeing that letting this limited expertise into my scholarship on Lorca is like opening up a floodgate.  Other clichés that come to mind are "pay dirt" and "the mother lode."  There is nothing like tapping into something that profound. And instead of being a pure ego thing (though the ego is there too), it is more like knowing that my life is not wasted by listening and thinking through music. It is a profound connection. I think I needed to start playing and composing to really get there, that listening alone was not enough. Or listening with the score in hand.

I'm playing sections of an extended series of compositions called "Música callada" by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, an homage to San Juan de la Cruz. It is very beautiful, and the access to that through one's own fingers provides a different kind of understanding, even though my piano playing is worse than mediocre. Just getting to an 80% tolerable version of a very simple piece is tremendously satisfying. As is singing the "Tres morillas de Jaén."

I cannot use my own taste as a guide for a scholarly project like this.  I am just one guy and the amount of musical intelligence and feeling in all the music dedicated to Lorca is enormous. Charles Rosen, reviewing Taruskin, says something like: he writes better about the music he loves.  Well, yes, there is that. I also don't need to denigrate anything, or privilege one kind of musical understanding over another. I'm not in it for some culture wars pay-off.    

Monday, February 19, 2018

An Interesting Ruse

Lorca, in a book of interviews I have recently purchased, talks about his success, and says that he, personally doesn't care about his triumphs.  He only cares for the sake of his friends. They will be disappointed if he doesn't have great success in his plays, and he can please them if he does.

(Now Lorca is not exactly a modest man, and he had to play the role of a celebrity.  As Christopher Maurer points out, very astutely, in his preface to this book (Palabra de Lorca), the celebrity interview during this period was a new journalistic genre, and Lorca had to figure out how to present himself to the public. He was gregarious and could do this, but you can also see the toll it must have taken on him. If you read all the interviews straight through, you see he has to repeat himself, and present a fairly consistent image, even though Lorca himself was mercurial and had a private side. They mostly want to interview him about theater, not poetry, which is understandable because theater is more public, and because during the years Lorca became famous, it was more for the theater, and he wasn't writing as much poetry [the 30s rather than the 20, and not as much in the early 30s before Bodas de sangre].)

So, of course, the adulation of a smaller group of friends and admirers is more meaningful than the adulation of thousands of strangers. That much is easy to see, and probably sincere. But it turns out that this adulation of Lorca's friends depends on his adulation by the larger group. His friends need him to succeed with the larger group. So the result is that the claim that he doesn't care about success for himself, but only for his friends, is transparently spurious. Of course it for himself, even if it needs to go through his friends as well.    

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Walking and Thinking

I walk in the gym, because it's been cold out. I walk outside, too, if I want to get somewhere.  My goal is the proverbial 10,000 steps a day, and I'm meeting that goal (as of now, for this calendar year). I will often decide to think about something in particular, develop ideas as I walk around and around the track. An hour is a good stretch of time; you can develop some ideas in that amount of time. Today I was thinking about how to assume my new role as someone who actively thinks of himself as a top scholar, rather than a bum, but still not be an asshole or arrogant prick of the kind I hate, especially in myself.


One rule, for example, is not to be a professor at all out of context, unless very irritated by someone, to the point at which you need to get professorial on their ass.

 Another would be to worry about being a prick. The real pricks don't worry about it, or if you point it out will have some excuse or not even see the problem.  

Another rule would be not to write in a way that is designed to make you seem smart, at the expense of the reader.  You can be smart, if you have a smart point to make, but you can't write just in order to make yourself seem that way. You cannot condescend either, or even practice false modesty.  

You might depend on friends to tell you not do it. And you should listen to them.

You might pick and choose your times for making a point, or showing someone else. A colleague was all excited in the meeting a few days ago for having invited a slam poet to campus. I said nothing, even though slam poetry is inherently crappy. If you pass up opportunities to try to make a point like that, you will find it is easy just to let most things slide.  

You might look at your motivations: competitiveness?  A sensed of being aggrieved, and not getting your due?  Anger?  Frustration?

Let me know if you have rules in order not to be an asshole.

Some people just aren't that way anyway, and don't need rules to keep themselves from assholic behavior.  Sadly, I am not in this category.  


It is hard to walk 10,000 steps a day (on average) if you don't walk at least that most days, because if you walk 5,000, then you need a day of 15,000 to balance that out, and that is harder to do. It is hard to accumulate 10,000 simply by walking where you need to go.  You have to take a walk of some substantial length, at some point. Otherwise you will be in the 3-7k range. So if you walk at least 10 a day, you will average more like 11.

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Mind

I like things like prosody, grammar, and music theory because I like to look at how things work as systems.  I guess literary too, but not as a series of buzz words* as it now is, but real theory, where the theory actually explains and predicts things. I've never understood language learners who didn't want to understand the grammar inside and out, or who actively dislike understanding syntactical relationships, or musicians who want to play but don't want to know what it is they are playing. What I like about the jazz harmonies is that the player knows what the chords are and their relation to each other: they aren't just reading notes off the score.  I'm not a good improviser at all; I like it because I like how it makes sense structurally.

A musical rule is, for example, that the fourth tone of the scale sounds bad against a major seventh chord. So play C,E,G,B in the your left hand, and see if F sounds good. It doesn't. Now you could F if you wanted to, if you trying to find something very dissonant, but you wouldn't use it if you were going after a different effect. A grammar rule is that you would say the big red barn and not the red big barn, or "Never have I seen such a thing" and not "*Never I have seen such a thing."

I should actually be good at math, but I am not.  I think it was because I didn't see myself as talented in that, so I tuned out at a very early age from it.

So I don't always think like other humanists do. I guess it is a good thing that I am accepted in my field and not seen as some crazy person. I can sometimes see right away why someone is wrong, and I get impatient and want to cut through the bullshit.


*By a buzz word, I mean a word that does all the theoretical work just by sitting there as a point of reference.  That's what I see in a lot of job candidates. They say, I will be using "Mayhew's theory of the subtextual valence," quote the theory, and then analyze the text in the same way they would have otherwise.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018


"Jonathan Mayhew helped me polish Chapter 1 with his superb editing skills."

Yes, I will be in your acknowledgements.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Not a bum

I made a significant decision the other day.  I will no longer think of myself as some bum who happened to get lucky and publish some things that gained me some measure of academic respectability.  I will fully inhabit my non-bumness. For example, I won't have a book sitting in a drawer for a year without seeking a publisher, as I did with the last one. I will apply for everything, seek out intellectual and academic connections with no trepidation.  

Meta-interpretative Sandwich

Word and music studies is like translation studies in that it is meta-interpretative. You interpret a text, then interpret what the composer has done with it, producing another verbal object comparing your interpretation of text with your interpretation of the composer's interpretation of the text.

The music the filling on the sandwich, there is text before and after.

The problem is the degree of arbitrariness, because you aren't really comparing words to music, but rather your interpretation of a text to your interpretation of the composer's interpretation.  Thus L. Kramer in something I was reading last night was comparing "Goethian" and "Schubertian" interpretations of a poem by Goethe. But, of course, Schubert's reading of Goethe is as Goethian as Kramer's.

I've already written of the melodramatic mode of music analysis, the anticlimactic descent into the tonic and the startling diminished chords, all that jazz. Does anyone listen to music like that? It makes a good story...  What I'd like to propose is to look at cultural and idiomatic relations between musical and poetic styles.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


This word, as reported by Clarissa and by Spanish people on my facebook feed, makes no sense, feminist or not.  Let's review the morphology here.

porta + voz falls seems to fall into the morphological category of 3rd person verb + noun. These nouns are masculine and invariant for singular and plural.  

Usually, the noun is plural, like "el sacacorchos"    ["removes corks"].  In the plural "los sacacorchos." The cork remover or the can opener (abrelatas). There are many such words, like aguafiestas (throws water on the party, the spoilsport.). Some refer to people, like "perdonavidas," [bully.].

But portavoz uses the singular form.  The curious thing, though is that the word voz is feminine. The idea that we could make it more feminine by saying "voza" is stupid beyond belief.  The noun is masculine because of the morphological pattern, not because of the word voz.  Why don't we just use the elegant solution and say "la portavoz" [the spokesperson in female gender] instead of "el portavoz."

We don't say "persono" or "víctimo." Certain nouns just don't correspond to the gender of the person we are talking about. Or "Juan es buena gente."          

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Candidates from diverse backgrounds are particularly encouraged to apply"

A person cannot be diverse. A group of people all the same as each other is not diverse, hence there is no such things as a "diverse background," unless what is meant as having grandparents from four different racial groups.

The only thing that can be diverse is a group of people from backgrounds different from one another. So you could have diverse freshman class, but not a diverse member of the freshman class.  I don't know why I have to keep explaining this to people.

Canción de Cuna (Silvestre Revueltas)

Here's the lullaby from Bodas de sangre composed by Revueltas.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Song Studies

I invented this field a while back. I didn't realize that "word and music studies" was a thing.  But song studies is better than word and music studies, because of that troublesome word and. Word and music studies first separates the words from the music, and then tries to put them back together again.  No.

Song studies says that there exists an artistic form that already has both words and music together. It is grounded on the intuition that poetry arises out of music, and that vocal music is the origin of music itself. Hence song is the originary point of poetry and music. It is ethnopoetics 101.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Practice routine

When I first decide to play a piece on the piano, I work on it for 1 hour on one day.  Then I work on it for half an hour for one day, then 15 minutes for several consecutive days. It takes concentration and discipline to work on something for an hour, but then if you know its notes fairly well you can spend less time. After a while, I can sit down and play the piece by memory a few times over in much less than 15 minutes. I like working on very easy pieces that I can learn this way. If I spend the first hour and don't make headway, then I need to choose something easier.

Friday, February 9, 2018


I saw Juliana Spahr read two nights ago. It was a good reading, and now I've just read a book I bought there, called That Winter the Wolf Came.

I noticed a technique in the book I'll call hedging. When the socio-political charge get to heavy, or there is too much danger of direct statement, then there will be a distancing effect. For example, in one poem she talk repeatedly of the "non-revolution," where a less hedging writer would write "revolution." Or, when she talks about some oil-rig workers killed, she tells us how she won't talk of the tender children they left behind. Or she uses the cliché "children are the future" but in this way:  "I won't say that children are the future, but..."  You get the idea. Her answers to questions at the reading were also similarly hedging. Of course, all the questions were about politics, not any kind of poetic techniques.

I've like Spahr's work for many years, and continue to like it. The hedging comes off as a kind of ironic distance from her own political commitments. Or maybe not.  I'm not trying to be negative about the work at all, but the issue of irony / distance is quite interesting to me. If she were a less experimental poet she would just write a poem denouncing Trump, or something. What she does instead is a kind of hybrid writing in which the avant-garde techniques pull in a different direction from where the politics seems to be leading.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

George Herbert, surrealist poet

 Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, 
God's breath in man returning to his birth, 
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth 
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r, 
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
The six-days world transposing in an hour, 
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; 
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 
Exalted manna, gladness of the best, 
Heaven in ordinary, man well dress, 
The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, 
The land of spices; something understood.

Someone on facebook was saying they didn't like George Herbert. I remembered this poem.  It is list poem, so the elements involved have no logical order: it is prosody and some invisible rhetorical principle that determine the arrangement of the elements. It has rhyme but not reason. 

It is a series of metaphors for prayer, conceived of as the union between the human realm and the divine, or the natural world and the supernatural. The surrealism comes in the juxtaposition of elements, and the way that, even though each element is a metaphor for prayer, there is very little connection between the apart from that. There are probably other metaphysical or baroque poems that are also surrealist in this sense. 


The big contradiction is to have a discrepancy between what you truly value and what you actually do. So if you say that your priority is to have friends and socialize, but that unfortunately you don't ever do this because you are busy at work, then you will be unhappy... Unless, of course, it is actually the work that makes you happy and the other thing is just a thing you say to conform to other people's expectations.

You cannot make yourself happy by making someone else happy. Now, all of a sudden, what you truly value is placed on hold in accordance with what someone else values. For example, if I had gone on a mission like my mom would have liked me to, I would have been miserable.

I've had to decide which Lorca book I wanted to write first. I decided it had to be the one that spoke to my deepest convictions, the one that grabbed me by the lapels and forced me to write it. This is not the easiest choice, because I have been anguishing about my low level of musical ability. And yet... There had to be a reason why I have been playing and composing music every spare moment since Fall of 2015. Lorca and the Death of the Subject could be a book, but it could be a few articles too and nobody would complain except me. Things have to be books for me because I have a lot to say, but that doesn't mean that anyone else would miss them.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Five Questions

1. What is your project?

2. Why is it significant? [usually it has to be material of inherent interest combined with a promising approach to the material.]

3. What are your main ideas about it?

4. Why are you qualified to do it? [not just qualified, but uniquely qualified, if possible]

5. What is the outline of the constituent parts of the project?

There are other questions, like when are you going to do it (timetable of completion); where the material located that you have to find, etc...  Those questions have to do with the pragmatic of completing it, not with its initial set-up.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Today my goal is to think of 5 ideas about "vernacular" musical approaches to Lorca. That is the best word I can think of so far for what I am trying to get at in one of the major sections of the book. So far I have a chapter planned as an intro, in which I discuss axes of contrast (vocal / instrumental // classical / vernacular etc...) along with a musicological rant.  Then a chapter on Lorca "himself," so to speak. Not his "knowledge of music" but a deeper reading. Then a chapter on vernacular settings, and then a chapter on "art" settings.  Then an epilogue. This might work.  My Feb. research goal is to have the book thought out more or less, with five ideas for each part, and have an NEH proposal by April.

I worry because I hate dilettantism. If I include musical examples (scores) in the book then anybody's not a musicologist eyes will glaze over. Plus I can't really do that kind of analysis anyway and I am writing for people in my own field.  I've thought of doing an edited collection but I think I can do this project better than anyone else from the Lorquismo perspective, at least.

Also, what happens to Lorca III which is well on its way to being written as well.  I have to reorganize my whole life in order to write even more than I am. At least the music will not suffer.
Books for my project.  A book on "Samuel Becket and Music." It's kind of a miscellany.  Of course I love it that Morton Feldman wrote a Beckett opera. Nothing very useful methodologically for my project, except a reference to a Lorca piece I didn't know about!

Another one on Celan. Written by a single author (a Swede) rather than an edited collection, which is good. A good precedent for my project, though Celan is mostly set to music in Europe, it would seem. No discussion of vernacular traditions in music. A book on Lorca and music would be much richer in its raw materials.  

There is a book on Walt Whitman and modern music I haven't looked at yet, edited by L. Kramer, no surprise. What I'm looking for has a very precise library of congress subject heading:

Last name, first name of poet--musical settings--criticism and history.  I have to guess what poets or authors have a lot of musical settings, then search for them one by one. Another possible syntax is 'poet's name--knowledge--music.'  I'm not studying Lorca's knowledge of music, though.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Música callada

I'm listening (and playing part of) Mompou's "Música callada." It is a hauntingly simple composition based on St. John of the Cross. Needless to say I thought of the poem of the same title by Claudio Rodríguez as well.

There is no place to hide

My scholarly projects always cannibalize my creative ones. There is no place to hide. I can go into my music room but my cv comes in and finds me and demands that I write about music too.

Art Song

The assumption of the Art Song (in the musicological literature) is that the text comes first, and then the setting later, so that we can study the text itself (By Schilller or Goethe) and then see what the composer  did with it. I guess this is accurate, and yet...

1. The experience of the listener is simultaneous. The reader does not first read the poem, interpret it, and then hear the musical setting. She might encounter the melody before the words, if she's heard instrumental versions before hearing the song sung (as happened to me with "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin.).

2. In the popular song tradition [in many vernacular traditions], we don't give priority to the text over the setting. We simply don't care whether the lyricist wrote a lyric to a melody, or whether the lyricist and  composer worked simultaneously, or whether the composer and lyricist are one person, or whether the composer set a pre-existing lyric to music. In folklore we have songs that come with their words and melodies together, and nobody cares what came first.

3. Words are not prior to music ontologically, then. Putting words first is the artifact of a particular musical tradition.  Nevertheless, this tradition is extremely significant, because, well, we have very significant poets being set to music by equally significant composers. Aside from the Lied, there is the French mélodie.

4. Do we put more value on the music than the words? It depends.  If we have Baudelaire and Debussy... Do we have to think that George is greater than Ira? (Because Ira's rep as a poet is less than George's as a composer?). I admire song lyrics because I cannot write them very well.  

Self Improvement

The point of self-improvement is not to reach some ideal self, but not to stay in the same place or get worse. So suppose I hadn't started to write music, hadn't taken piano lessons or sung in the choir.  I would be the same person, but without whatever growth I achieved from going into music more seriously.  I didn't need to learn to read Italian: I would have been fine without doing so. I could give up crossword puzzles and still have a satisfying life, without trying to do them faster and faster every day.

The idea that I need to find new research projects.  I could easily just coast the rest of my career, and teach things I have already learned rather than come into the classroom with things I have learned in the past few years, as I like to do.

Without self-improvement, though, the world narrows rather than expanding. I would find it difficult to imagine being in a teaching situation in which I couldn't be a learner myself. It would go stale pretty quickly, and I think the students would notice too.