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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 26, 2020


Why envy skilled, derivative piano player

master of bebop clichés?  Because I cannot do that.


I document my activities

but there is not documenting

the documenting itself


Far too distractible to follow the form of a sonata

even my own thoughts!

especially when picking up poems by Creeley at the same time

unexpected beauty, from dependable sources

then this poem pops in my head:

"Far too distractible..."  

Heresy of Paraphrase

I think the New Critical "heresy of paraphrase" doctrine is an extension of symbolist poetics of ineffability. Now it is not just experience (of a certain type) that is ineffable (inexpressible in language) but that even the meaning of a poem cannot be expressed in language, other than the original language of the poem itself. Symbolist poetry emulates the ineffability of music, its indefineteness of reference.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


Imagine we had to use an abstruse set of technical terms to describe the colors of a painting. We could say, yellow, or dark blue.

 And then, instead of a more or less adequate reproduction of the painting in our art history book, we were referred to a chart written in a system of technical notation that we couldn't use to visualize the painting unless we has been specially trained in the notation system.


My idea is that people easily understand everything in music except for two things:


Large-scale structure.


I am listening in my car to all my music. I started with songs that started by BA and now I am on BE. I came to the song Bemsha Swing and heard four versions of it (two by Monk himself) and then my own recording of it came up. I did not hate what I heard. I play it slow and with a sweetness to it that is different. Of course I am not a pro, so I wouldn't compare it for a second with other versions. But it was mine and so I wasn't displeased.

Monday, February 24, 2020

My productivity method...

... is to write down what I do. I have three categories: work, life, and music. The music spills a bit into the work category, etc... What this shows me is what I am and am not doing with some clarity.  

Feb. 17. 

            Worked on Chapter 2: up to page 13 [good progress]!
            Read some of Charles Rosen book Critical Entertainments
            Emails re BA program 
            other misc. emails re X’s promotion, etc… 
            Wrote 2 blog posts
            Ran dishwasher
            Noon meditation at zen center 
            Rolling prairie pick up / told them I wasn’t continuing 

            Worked on Autumn Leaves / Mozart     

Feb. 18 

            Wrote 3 blog posts
            Returned to Introduction to add material
            Read more of “Brain on Music” book
            Professional emails: thanked XXX for raise! 

            Noon meditation at Zen center 
            Called Apt complex re: lease and repair of light switch 

            Worked on Mozart / Autumn Leaves / Body and Soul
            Listened to own music starting with the “As” in artists. 

Feb. 19

            Revised intro! Looking good 
            Worked on Chapter 2 
            Class visit for BA program


            Listened to Morton Feldman Piano and String Quartet
            Worked on Body and Soul / Mozart
            Listened to recording of Mozart several times  

Feb. 20  

            Worked polishing intro! Good progress 
            Class visits for BA program
            Looked for AirbnB    / booked one!  

            Listened to Shostakovich prelude and fugue in C major, A minor, G Major, E minor 
            Worked on Mozart / Autumn leaves
            Read some of Mompou biography 

Feb. 21

            Class visit for BA program
            Wrote bog post
            Emailed Mari re BA program
            Listened to Poulenc “L’enfant cherchait sa voix…” 
            Signed Lease! 
            Bought stocks 

            Listened to rest of Disk 1 of Shostakovich
            Worked on Mozart / Autumn leaves / Mompou main gauche
            Piano lesson

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Autumn Leaves

I came up with this little thing yesterday where I play the arpeggiated pattern of Bach's Prelude in C from the well-tempered clavier with the chords of Autumn Leaves. I don't know where that is leading. !  Oscar Peterson's Jazz exercise #8 is cool, with a baroque flavor to it.

I have this other thing where I play the first four chords of One-Note Samba very slowly and improvise over them very fast in the right hand. The idea is to get as much going with each chord as possible. I can play slow and meaningful melodic ideas, or I can play fast, but often if I overextend then it sounds too random (i.e. not meaningful), and sloppy. So the idea to catch myself when I am playing too much outside the changes for it to be meaningful, and rein myself in. At the same time, the random fast playing is not all bad, because it might lead to other ideas. I CAN improvise.  The question is being able to do it meaningfully enough. I can play fast, but if isn't "clean fast" it isn't good.

The Reluctant Pursuer

If you go slowly enough

you won't catch them

Friday, February 21, 2020


I could present real-life waking experiences, or imagined experiences, and label them dreams. Then they would acquire that strangeness just by virtue of that label. I would have to choose them carefully, not overuse the technique. Dreams are not dull, but the fetish of the dream is dull, the gleefulness of it. A dream can be as banal as waking life. Waking life can be as strange as a dream.


I am often in the situation of suddenly realizing something for the first time that should have been obvious to me long before. That is a sign of intellectual growth and flexibility, though it can be "humbling" as well, because it means that there are many other obvious things I don't know yet.  I feel like saying "why did nobody tell me before..." But "they" might not know it either, or "they" might not know that I don't know.

So please tell me what I don't know yet?  Nobody can tell you that.
Words have different weight in different poets.  So

"Now who will behold
The royal captain of that ruined band
Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent"

There is a Shakespearean muscularity that Creeley wouldn't have. Or D.H. Lawrence, "the insidious mastery of song / betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong..."

There the anapests and the polysyllabic words give a different weight to the speech. The only way to feel this is memorize and recite.


What if it is aesthetics [beginning in the 18th century] that make it possible to have all these inter artistic crossing? So aesthetics asks us to think about all the arts as one category of things, comparing, contrasting, ranking the art forms, etc... Before that you could have a few hints of "ut pictura poesis," and the like, but not a more systematic understanding of everything all together. Aesthetics leads to synesthesia in the arts.  [synthetic views taking origin in Wagner, for example]

I think that is why literary music in the 19th century feels different from earlier text settings. I am starting to understand things now in a different light.


It doesn't matter as much what individual philosophers said, but that the debate was an active and one could start asking the right questions. Aesthetic experience is universal, but the philosophical reflection on it is an extra step that brings other things into focus.

It is ridiculous to claim that people did not have aesthetic experience before the word was invented, as Rosen points out. Even today, not everyone uses the word for their own experience, yet they still have experience we would categorize that way. The invention of the term, though, does bring about a different sort of experience on the intellectual level. It is easy to group together visual arts, like painting and sculpture. It is easy to feel that the arts have affinity with one another; but to be able to ask deeper questions leads to deeper developments.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A musical joke

I was playing the minuet to a Beethoven Sonata. At the very end, I inserted my own jazz-like cadence  in place of Beethoven's. My mother laughed from the next room.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

John Coltrane - Walkin' (Live 1960)


I was on my bed, weeping.

Then my meditating mind was watching myself weep on the bed and just observing it.

Vocabulary Lesson

Loom, on which the cloth is woven
Loom--hovering above

Mewl, cry of a cat or bird
Mule, offspring of horse and ass

Moat, circular castle ditch
Mote, tiny speck or flaw

Rhyme, a word echoing another
Rime, crystalline frost

Vice, a sordid habit
Vise, metal tool that grips

No, a negation
Noh, theater of the Japanese
Know, the root of knowledge
No, abbreviation for number
No, symbol for Nobelium...

These are just few of the words you learn to distinguish
that look or sound the same with different meanings.
Our language is tricky, you see, not straightforward.
In such ambiguities there are many lessons for poets


There could be a thought that had enormous power over you for many years. Through meditation you might release that thought, rob it of its power for good.

For example: if you define your worth by whether you are in a romantic relationship,  by how much money you have. You don't have to define yourself that way. Do you get upset when someone has different opinions from you about trivial things? That someone else doesn't share your high opinion of yourself.  

Those are examples of  thoughts controlling you, when you need to be the one choosing which thoughts are most useful. You have a great deal more control over those decisions that you think.


People were discussing whether you should direct your hatred toward politicians whose policies you dislike. Afterwords, I thought that directing one's hate at long distance toward some politician was useless. The person being hated doesn't receive your ill-will; the hater is the one who suffers. Of course, we can disapprove of these people's actions and work against them. But personally hating them? What does that do?

Someone doing bad deeds does harm to themselves, said Plato. Of course, you are hurting other people, but you are also doing damage to yourself by making yourself less just.


I have been thinking about why the most literary century of music is the nineteenth. It would seem that this is when music becomes more "absolute," more divorced from its origins in singing. Absolute conception of music lead to a disparaging of program music, etc...  We have Schopenhauer's exaltation of music without text.

But this is the same period where literary-musical relations get much richer, in fact. The art song as we know comes to fruition right here, with Schubert. This is the century when opera flourishes, as well. For all the disparaging of program music, we have Berlioz... The "tone poem" gets invented at the end of this period. The genre of the mélodie gets invented in France.

There was art song before romanticism, or course, and opera, and vocal music in the liturgical setting.  Music was mostly vocal before the baroque, in some sense. There were madrigals. But the great literariness of music is the product of a period that also features seemingly anti-literary conceptions.

Even Schonberg, I read yesterday, needed the narrative movement of an opera to structure a larger composition. So this dependence on the literary persists through modernism. The literariness of music in the age of madrigals seems like a different thing to me.

So maybe the divorce of music from poetry is what makes this possible? We have to think of poetry as something unsonglike first, before we can set it to music again? That would be the key to everything. I feel like I have made a major breakthrough in my thinking. Lorca is set to music in a period in which there is no natural relation between poetry and music: this connection must be re-forged in new ways, even though he is steeped in one of the oldest art song traditions in Europe, that of Spain.


Also, I woke up to find out I got a raise of 3 large bills. That is rare in my university, and took some special pleading by my chair to the dean. We have a chair from another department this year, and no other previous chair has done this for me. They have done other significant things for me, like proposing me for awards and DP, but have not been able to get me this much (almost 5%).

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ida y vuelta

The process of "Ida y Vuelta" between Spanish and French music is interesting. We use the phrase for a round-trip ticket (going and coming back) and by extension for flamenco palos that return to Spain after being developed in Latin American. In France, there is an interest in Spanish music during the romantic period, and then continuing to the age of Debussy and Ravel. These composers are then influential on the Spanish music of Falla and others. Mompou heard Fauré and then found his own voice as Catalan composer. I don't know much about this, but it is surely significant for the question of what Lorca's own musical culture is.  


To "flatten" a note in music can mean moving it down a half step, like E to E flat, but it can also mean hitting a note in-between E and E flat.

Melisma can mean singing one syllable with various notes, as written out in the music--or it can mean more improvised style characteristic of Whitney Houston, etc..., in which the melisma is an ornamental feature rather than something written into the original song. In the first kind, the notes are more distinct; in the second kind, the singer is moving through glissando-like through various notes.

It seems like some musical terms are rather tricky to define. Those are the two that come to mind, though I'm sure there are others.


A book on the neuroscience of music talks about what emotions the music arouses. You can strap people with electrodes and actually see that.  A book on the philosophy of music speculates about whether music triggers emotions in the first place.

So music can be approaches by a musicologist, from within the literature Western musical tradition. It can be approached by an Oliver Sacks from the neurological perspective; or by philosophers with a particular genealogy of thought about music, etc... There is not much crosswise moment among people interested in talking about music. A literary critic, like me, can read it all.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Sexuality is very complex neurologically and culturally. Let's say it is something barely understood, and difficult to understand  because there is a strong ideological charge to it.

Now music is also very complex neurologically and culturally, and barely understood as well. It involves the entire brain, not just some musical center of the brain in one particular place, and is tied to memory, emotion, and tons of other things.

So the connection between music and sexuality would have to be super complex as well, because it is the connection between two complex things. So the attempt to connect has to take a kind of short cut; how is this connection understood by people in a specific cultural context? Now, because it is just one  context with limits, we don't have to think about all the complexity involved, we can just ask a simpler question.

So let's take the scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice where Garfield is sitting at a lunch counter. We hear a noise from the ground, and Garfield looks down: the camera cuts to a lipstick rolling on the floor. He picks it up and the camera moves over some shadows of windows frames on the floor and stops at Lana Turner's feet. We don't see her, just the feet, and the camera goes back to a reaction shot. Then we get some sultry jazz-like music to signify "attractive woman." Then the camera shows the entire length of Lana Turner's body.

So the music here just means "entrance of sexy woman" and nothing more. It is a cinematic convention, easily understood and not very deep. We could call it a form of mickey-mousing, where the music just follows what's happening on the screen. It goes together nicely with other cinematic tropes, like the metonymy of the lipstick, the "checking out" of the woman's body beginning with the feet.

If we heard the music in isolation, without the movie scene, we would still have the cultural association with noir music, maybe, but not with the particular characters in the scene. We could use the same music in a neo-noir movie and make the scene about two men, or two women attracted to each other, and it would work equally well.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


My partner doesn't blog about poetry much, but her is her post on Basho.


Here is what I am learning. This is a good method for tracking one's activities. I can see that I am not lazy. Note that I do not need to put down how much time I spend on something. All these people are running around talking about how many hours they work, but isn't the important thing how much you get done? Something that takes less than a minute, like making a phone call, can be significant, in that NOT doing it could have bad consequences. 

I am modifying my record by noting whether I made good or bad progress. Making not much progress on a long-term project, like what happened to me yesterday, is not even a bad thing. It is just part of the normal ebb and flow of life. In fact, I would argue that it is good to have bad days. It is just a sign that you need to slow down for just a short period of time so you can attack things more freshly. 

Feb. 10 

            Worked on Chapter 2: 11 pages
            Wrote 3 blog posts 
            Emailed Alesha re serving on a committee
            Re-Audition at Audio Reader
            Noon meditation at Zen Center

            Cleaned front-hallway
            Cleaned living room
            Cleaned kitchen
            Downloaded tax forms for xxxx account 
            Worked on Mozart Adagio / Mompou Prelude 6/ 1-Note Samba 

Feb. 11

            Worked on Chapter 2: not much progress  
            Booked flight for Beth for Spain trip
            Lunch with full professor mentoring group 

            Worked on Mozart [memorized first page]/ free improv 

Feb. 12 

            Worked on Chapter 2: up to 12 pages
            Worked on preface!  
            Emailed George Crumb through his own web site
            [a good work day over all; good energy] 
            Called in maintenance request for light switch
wrote the blog post you are now reading, dear reader

            Worked on Mozart Adagio / Mompou prelude 6 / one note samba

Monday, February 10, 2020

From Left to Right

I'm sure it's happened to many people. They consider themselves mostly liberal in their leanings, but maybe have a contrarian streak. There are some ways of stating the liberal positions that are off-putting. Generally, these will be minor annoyances at first. These people consider themselves open minded, so they welcome the more intelligent commentary from the other side, and are willing to consider other points of view. We know the saying about a liberal not being able to take his own side in an argument.

At some point, the intelligent position on the other side starts to seem appealing, in some ways.
The person starts a lot of sentences with, "I'm liberal, but..." For some people, there will a tipping point, where the old liberal positions don't seem as appealing. They will be former liberals.

Because of the structure of political opinion, it is harder to stay in the middle. People with  liberal views will line up with every other liberal in a predictable way,  and the same goes for the conservative side. There is a certain coherence, or seeming coherence, in the views of all the issues. This is because the opinions are not really held as beliefs, in many cases, but as markers of identity in a political faction. That is why someone can change factions and then change all their beliefs at once.

This hasn't happened to me. I do get annoyed, but in part it's just my natural crankiness.


There are infinite ways to write a poem.  A given literary culture, though, will settle on a few viable  options. Within these options, some will seem too old-fashioned; others too strange for mainstream consumption; others just in the middle. But what will be missing are all the possibilities people just have not thought of.

Most people are not very original. At best, they will put their own personal spin on an option that is similar to what other people have done.

The literary culture is correct, in its own way. Infinite possibilities are too endless to do anybody any good. Even in a fragmented literary culture like ours, what little cohesion that does exist arises because people get together to limit the possibilities in a few major groupings. And the reasons why people say you have to write in a certain way make sense, up to a point. If you want to do something completely different, people will give you very good reasons why it is a bad idea.

What people mean by good or bad is mostly a question of conformity to a given period style. The best predictor of what poem in a magazine will be like are the other poems in the same magazine. This is also why writing programs lead to more uniformity of style: you are in a group of people with a teacher, and the goal is to be published in that magazine.  The writing workshop will reinforce the most prevalent ideas about writing.

Of color

Someone in my facebook feed wrote a scholarly article about how Antonio Banderas is not an "actor of color." He posted a link to his article and someone else started arguing with him.

And yet the notion of defining what being "of color" is a meaningless semantic game. We get to coin terms and try to convince others of sharing our delineations of them.  There is always an ideological agenda at play, precisely because we can't fix the definition in non-ideological terms. The whole point of terms like that is to be porous. Skin-color becomes a proxy for ethnic identity, but then we get the absurdity of having to picture someone's exact complexion in our mind in order to place the person. But it is only the existence of racism in the first place that makes this possible.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Daily Reports

If you look at your daily reports for a week you will be able to see what you are getting done. It will become very clear.  For example, it is obvious I am not exercising or writing poetry right now.

I am spending time with responding to requests for me to do things, or actually doing them.

Now that you know, you can either continue in the same or change what you want to do.

It's not about the time. A really simple thing like stopping paper statement for a bank account might only take a few seconds. I got substantial progress on a chapter with only an hour of writing. Of course, if I am really productive writing, there will be few other things listed for that day. I am putting an exclamation point when something is really important, like buying a plane ticket for a significant trip.  

Friday, February 7, 2020

Instead of a to do list

I've been reading my usual slew of productivity advice. I found one suggestion that instead of having a to do list, you should have an "already done list."  The idea is that you just write down everything productive you do. Here is mine for today. I  divide it into professional, personal, and musical.

The advantage is that you never write down something that you haven't already done.  You never have to cross something off a list, or have something hanging over you. I am assuming that you actually know what you have to do, so the problem is not forgetting something. Also, you can see what you've done easily, over the course of days, weeks, and months.

Worked on Lorca IV intro, made substantial progress: divided into sections
 Worked on book review of Baroque Lorca: substantially complete
 Purchased ticket for Spain trip / forwarded receipt to office
Submitted travel request
Various emails about BA program 
 Wrote saying no to Hispanic Review book review request
Looked at proposal for Canadian govt. grant I am refereeing
Emailed Latin American studies with publication per Marta’s request
Paid bills for Feb.
Added to “meditation insights”
Bought pants
Blog post
 Had piano lesson  
Worked on Mozart adagio & “Summertime”

Wednesday, February 5, 2020


Kivy would seem to be a leading philosopher of music, but I don't find him convincing in the least.  For example, he argues that emotions always have an intentional object to them. So fear must have a tiger or some other dangerous object, you have to be sad about something, etc.. So these "garden variety" emotions, as he calls them in his jargon, are not the ones aroused by music.

Yet I often feel sad, anxious, or satisfied, content, as a mood, without an intentional object in sight. It is clear, too, that music arouses moods, like whimsy, tension, triumph, relaxation, melancholy. I can refute his theory by accident just by laughing at a musical joke, or feeling my body tense up at a particular moment. If he doesn't want to call these moods "emotions" or "garden variety" emotions, that's his choice. He wants to just say that we recognize those things as properties of the music, without actually feeling them. But how can we recognize a feeling if we haven't felt it?

He goes on to admit that the object can be missing, but he treats that an unusual case, the exception that proves the rule.  But since it is precisely the absence of that object that leads him to his theory, that seems like cheating to me.  

The whole debate seems not very intelligent to me. He's arguing against someone else who seems to be saying that there is only "sad" and "happy" in music, but it's obvious that there are dozens more moods, like awkward, conclusive, anticipatory, incongruous, graceful, sweet, ethereal, plodding, distracted...  

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

George Steiner

Steiner has died.  The New York Times reports

In 2009, in “My Unwritten Books,” he described the seven works that might have seen the light of day but remained in his head. “It is the unwritten book which might have made the difference,” he wrote. “Which might have allowed one to fail better. Or perhaps not.”

Saturday, February 1, 2020


I was telling my friend I didn't want to write negative book reviews any more.  This is true. I will never write a mostly or primarily negative review of any book. If I find myself doing it, I will back off and have someone else do the review.

She asked why, and I gave a fumbling, stumbling answer, but thinking about it more, I decided I don't need to be a negative force about anything. I could worry that some bad book was not sufficiently chastised, but what good would that do?

It feels good to be negative, sometimes. When I got together with colleagues recently, to complain about others, it felt genuinely cathartic. If it weren't pleasurable, we wouldn't do it. But I have to think beyond that gratification.


Kyle Gann says that for him the difference between pop and classical is duration. Over a certain length, music  becomes classical, while a short Schubert Lied for him is a pop music.

This is an interesting perspective. I was thinking about the attention span for classical music. It is true that you typically need to pay attention to longer.  But there are Chopin pieces, parts of Bach's cello suites and violin partitas, and Schubert Lieder that are very short. Also, sections of Mompou's Música  callada.  Movements of classical string quartets can be brief as well. I tend to like short pieces, both as player and listener. Of course, there are long pieces too, like Mahler symphonies, but I see no reason to disdain the miniatures either. There are composers like Feldman who have very long and very short pieces.

Of course, my own poems are very short, and I like Basho...


February will not bring in new habits, or breaking old ones, but consolidating January's changes.  As we remember, in January, I joined the Zen center, stopped mindless surfing of web, turned my email off most of day, and introduced two minor personal habits nobody else wants to hear about.

That is literally all I have to do in February.  Maintain those habits.

Mozart- Piano Sonata in F major, K. 280- 2nd mov. Adagio

Mayhew's Fallacy Revisited

I'm learning an adagio from a Mozart sonata, and I was reminded of Mayhew's fallacy, or the idea that people who like inferior things simply don't know enough of the good stuff to even know that what they like is not so good. I forgot who termed it Mayhew's fallacy. I am glad to view it as a fallacy, because, while I do believe it, I don't expect anyone else to share my belief!

It seemed to me that Mozart (or Bach) when you see what it's really about in any detail, you realize it really is superb in an almost objective way. You can just see that Mozart uses in this adagio these weird harmonies in an unexpected but still seamless way. I had been playing a Beethoven Sonata that is easy, and not quite as subtle in what it does, and I saw after a little while that this Mozart piece had more than that Beethoven did (not one of Beethoven's greatest, though.). It is in a short binary form, with two themes; in the second part he takes the themes in another direction, then comes back and resolves it all in F minor.  

So that someone who thought Clementi or Telemann was the culmination of music, well, maybe they hadn't heard Mozart or Bach. I think Clementi is fine too. In other words, you listen to him and the music makes sense and is memorable. It is excellent in its own fashion, just not superb. There are just several other layers in Mozart so that you don't even have to consider them in the same category.

Kyle Gann in an old blog post said that there are various values in music. Craftmanship, depth, innovation, etc... and that subjectivity comes into play in deciding which of those values you value. But he argues that you can demonstrate more or less objectively which composers have those particular values in what degree. This seems convincing to me, though I can't analyze music well enough to make those judgments about those particular categories.  

When you just go immediately to the position that all value are simply relative and contingent, you lose out on the value of the Mozart epiphany. If you haven't had the Mozart epiphany (not necessarily with Mozart, but with any artist in any medium) then you almost don't get to take part in the conversation. It's easy to believe there is no such thing as greatness if you have never had the experience of greatness.