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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...

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.

Another ruse

Another great ruse by Lorca. He quotes Halffter to the effect that the "three greatest musicians in Spain are Manuel de Falla, me, his disciple, and Federico García Lorca." But of course Haflfter is just reduced in this quote to being a Falla disciple, so that leave Falla and Lorca. But Since Falla is obviously the best composer of that time in Spain, it lets Lorca be the greatest musician, even though that was the career the didn't pursue. He can be the greatest poet and dramatist and the second best musician.

Blindfolded rhythm changes (3)

I did some BFRC this morning before I went in to work, mostly with eyes closed. I explored some of the bop ideas I found last night.  To me bop means two things: lots of chromaticism, and fluid combinations of swung 8th notes, 8th note triplets, and sixteenths, with some sixteenth-note triplets too.


I had a dream that my colleagues (or some group of people) had voted a certain way, against hiring someone for example, because they did not understand two fundamental concepts: that literature is metaphorical and that is fictional. So I very brilliantly explained those two concepts to them to encourage them to change their votes.

Then when I got up I realized that this was actually a basic point that people forget often. There are three main ways in which we define literature:

Fictionality: refers to a world that does not exist.

Figurative language: the language refers to something, but it is talking about something else, not what it refers to.

Musicality: the work is distinguished by structure, form, sound, and other aspects comparable to musical structures and sonorities.

Fictionality and figurative language are clearly linked, even though they are separate concepts. For example, a poem could be about a real pigeon, but the pigeon might be a symbol. Or a novel could refer to someone who does not exist in reality. Those are different things, but the mistake my dream-colleagues were making was literal-mindedness in both cases.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blindfolded rhythm changes (ii)

Today was the first day. I didn't use a blindfold, timer, or metronome yet, but that will come. I made some progress and for the first time in my life felt that I was playing bop-like phrases. I learned most of "Anthropology" and just stole some phrases from that when improvising. The idea is to do this 365 times. It might take slightly longer than a year, but that's ok. I'm going to count this as day two, since I played some rhythm changes the other day in the dark just to see if I could.


When I got back from Chicago from hearing Julia play in the "Homenaje a Federico García Lorca," I found that I was a better piano player, even having not played for a few days in a row. I suddenly was better at reading music, learning, and playing with confidence. Yes, it is possible to improve on the piano as a relatively old guy (57).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Book on Beckett and Music by multiple authors.  Some good things, some anecdotal material. The idea that Beckett's work is already so perfect that you can't set it to music without destroying it. An analysis of Feldman's "Neither" that loses sight of Beckett for pages at a time.

Book on Celan and music. Based on idea of an antipathy to musicality and distrust of music in Celan's poetry.  Mostly set to music in a European context. The book is good, though with too much passive voice for my taste. Musical examples and dense analysis. Has a central thesis.

Book on Shakespeare and music. Too much of a survey; little attention to music itself. Takes a larger view and isn't that helpful methodologically (for me).

Book on Baudelaire and music. Very technical on prosody and song-setting. Musical examples and some dense analysis; charts and drafts. I haven't read enough to know how good it is.  

Book on the Spanish Copla and Conchita Piquer.  No attention to music or even performance style. An analysis of how the lyrics to the songs may have had a therapeutic affect on listeners during the Franco period. An entire book that's an analysis of a few song lyrics; lyrics not especially complex. This book won a prize from the MLA as best book in Hispanic studies that year.  

I haven't found the methodological model for my book, but then it would be my book, wouldn't it? I want to write a book for those that skip over the part of the music book with examples from scores, but still wants to read about music, not about everything except the music.

It could be that the choice of subject makes a certain kind of book inevitable, or not.  It is not the same thing seeing Schubert setting Goethe as Fauré setting Baudelaire or Feldman Beckett.  

No more drafts (3) + My greatest weakness

By not writing drafts and by having an organized bibliography from the very beginning, I will write this book much faster than the others. This is almost an unstoppable combination, because when I finish writing something it will be done.

It will slow down at some point, but it will slow down because it would anyway. I am not rushing in the least. I just want delays to be substantive ones, not because I get bogged down in incoherent notes or have to go back and figure out what the citations are supposed to be.

Baudelaire in Song

I got this book out of the library, BiS.  I immediately knew that it is a serious work, but nothing like what I want to do, being too technical, both musically and prosodically. "Analysis of the number of breathing spaces in this score reveals..." The author is Helen Abbott.

I do like the title. I'd like to steal it: Lorca in Song. I won't, because it would be stealing.

Lorca in Music.
The Musical Afterlife of .... 

In my mind I think of it as Lorca Music. That just might work.  My project is larger than song, because it has instrumental music as well. Eminently googlable.


We are understaffed so the service burden is growing, but one colleague suggested that we give more teaching releases in order to do service.  Really? Then who is going to teach our classes? I don't really want to teach any less, or do any more service than I am doing. As of now three out of twelve people are teaching less (chair, associate chair, language program director), and so should we have a few more do this? That would be half the department. When you add in sabbaticals, parental leaves, etc..., then you really don't have people to teach.  

A year of blind-folded rhythm changes

Here is a very simple idea: Play rhythm changes on the piano every day, blind-folded, for a year. The blind-folded part is probably the least important. The idea is to increase one's proprioception, that nice little sense that tells you where you fingers are without looking at the piano. I can play ok without looking, so that's the easy part.

I know the chords, so that's not particularly onerous. My weakness is in the improvisations, which sound very square to me, relying on a few cheap tricks. But I figure with a year, I can find some ideas.    

The "year" and the "every day" part are what's difficult. Since I already play piano every day, I could do this, but I also want to play other things. And then, the experiment might fade in interest for me after a few weeks or months, rather than lasting a year.

Still, it is a good concept. The idea would be to change it up if it got boring, so you could do only bass line for a week, or do it in a weird key, or work on a particular song with rhythm changes as its basis.

[The chord changes to "I got Rhythm" by Gershwin is a standard vehicle for improvising in jazz, and for writing new tunes with the same changes, or variations thereof.]

Monday, March 5, 2018

My Biggest Weakness

My biggest weakness as a scholar is a lack of organization in my citations.  So for the new project that is going to be one of my strong points. I'm going to put in all the citations and bibliography as I go along, rather than fixing it at all at the end, and sometimes doing so imperfectly.

The reason for this is because I work fast, in order to write down all my ideas, so I cannot be bothered to stop and cite something. This is obviously the wrong way of doing things, and I have no excuse except that I can sometimes get a way with it a bit.

Now I will see bibliography as the hard part, and put in my work there.  That will make the writing all that much easier.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Dream of music making

We had received musical instruments in the mail. (I was living in a household with other people.) Mine were a set of cymbal-like instruments, in thin rectangular metallic sheets hanging down from some kind of apparatus. I began to play a rhythmic pattern on one, using the top of an ordinary ball-peen hammer. Because of the harmonic qualities of the metal, the ride pattern I was playing also produced its own, inherent melody, which I was able to manipulate depending on what part of the cymbal-sheet I was playing in what geometrical pattern. For example, I could go diagonally to the four corners to improvise a different melody, or move the hammer in figure-eights.

 My time was perfect in this particular dream, and the instrument was designed so that there were no wrong notes, so to speak, only valid melodic combinations of the cymbal's harmonics.  The other members of the household were present in the background, and I knew they were listening, and enjoying my playing, but otherwise they had no firm roles or identities within the dream.  When I woke up I had an aural image of what this sounded like, and it ended up being like "rhythm changes" played on the piano the way I had been attempting to play the evening before...