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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Decade in JM's Life

I published two books and got promoted to full in 2009, right before the new decade began.  So the entire decade I have been LORCAMAN. I gave five or six lectures, all on Lorca, and published the 2nd Lorca book in 2018.

The salary has not gone up by more than few thousand dollars in this decade. I need to do something about that.

I directed two Barcelona and two BA study abroad programs, something I had not done in previous decades.

My daughter graduated from High School, then College. That's what a decade will do.

I got some ideas for the third and fourth Lorca books. Got a lot written on both of them at the tail end of the decade. I published some miscellaneous articles, not too many book reviews.

I was president of the University Senate at one point. I won't do that again.

I got separated from ___ in 2011, met someone new in January of 2010, and we are still together. I guess I have spent a lot of time working on myself in this decade.

My musical activities began in earnest in 2015, and I taught myself to compose music, joined a choir and sang in Carnegie Hall.

My sister's husband died, she went to live with my mom in California, then was diagnosed with an early non-Alzheimer's dementia. She has gone from functional adult to not knowing how to stand, sit, or feed herself.

I am a totally different person! My hobbies are different, my way of relating to others. I am less socially awkward. I meditate. I no longer have acquaintances only of academic stripe.

Yet I feel I am at the beginning of things, still. My new decade resolution is to develop the adult superpowers. Things like equanimity, humility, generosity, attention and mindfulness. I do want to be a composer after retirement, so I am working toward that goal as well. Studying music for the Lorca book should help with that.


I just realized the other day that musical structures are not complicated.  Well, they can be, but in a kind of arithmetic way, not algebra or calculus.  Phrases can be 4 bars, and put together with another complementary one, and you get an 8 bar question and answer. Forms can be ABACADA, like a rondo.  The structures are containers; you still have to put something in them, but the structures themselves are not super hard to understand, except for a few more advanced kind of things. Most of musical form is repeating things, varying things (repetition with variation) and development / extension. If a novel were a symphony chapter two would tell you the same story again, but with a different ending. Then the last chapter would be always seem like it was about to end, but stuffing in a few extra things before the real ending. The essence of music is this    |:    :|  


I got a very good insight from Bernstein's lectures for young people. Musical motives for longer compositions aren't fully formed melodies like I was composing.  They are shorter and more malleable, and sometimes not even great melodiically.   To write something longer I have to go shorter first, then expand the short motif outward.  I can write melodies fine, so I should be able to write motives.

It should be super obvious, I guess, but it isn't if you aren't a composer.  I was trying to write "Body and Soul" and was wondering why I was stuck with the 32-bar song.  Well, it was because I was trying to write "Body and Soul." If I had been trying to write a Clementi Sonatina then I would have written that instead. The best I've done with longer forms is putting together related songs as a suite.  That works too. It sometimes works even better with shorter songs, like my Lorine Niedecker ones.


I was reading Edmund Wilson on how Proust was influenced by Wagner, and that is why he talked so much about this "themes." It reminded me that themes used to be a thing in literature, not themes like the "theme of death in Lorca," but as in recurring musical motives. It doesn't even occur to Wilson to talk about "themes" in the dumb high-school way we were taught.  Theme as "subject matter."

That was one of the worst examples of a "bad" meaning of a word taking over from a more interesting one.  Nuance used to be nuance, now it means considering another factor along with the ones you already have (Kieran Healy). Postmodernism was a movement in literature, now it is bad poststructuralism.

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