September 29th, 2010

Hu design


So I'm in Montreal. I'm giving a paper up here on Friday. It has been a difficult process to get this paper together: lots of battles with confidence and purpose. I'm starting to think that--if this makes any sense--the battles with confidence and purpose have become more intense because I'm technically more competent than I've ever been, so it has become "safer" to let inner demons out of their dungeons every time I have to push myself a little bit in order to complete a project.

At some level, it seems that I have made a decision to face whatever comes up, and so I'm facing whatever comes up, and it has more immediacy than it used to. But then again, once it comes up it tends to pass over me more quickly than it used to.

It's a difficult feeling to convey, but it may have something to do with my mother's passing. As long as my mother was in the body, it seemed as if there were a force that was holding me in place in some kind of dynamic that I just couldn't escape no matter what. Now that she's gone, it's like a graveyard on Halloween and there's all this chaotic stuff flying around, and yet I continue to do my thing in the midst of it all. It's kind of liberating in a way, but I'm also feeling how exhausted I am from trying to "hold it all together" all of these years.

I hit a kind of scary place with this paper on Sunday. It was a kind of obsessive downward spiral, like being rejected by one of my spiritual friends kind of thing. In a word, it sucked. So I started turning my attention to some other projects that I had abandoned in order to get this one finished, and I felt good about some of the progress I was making, although I felt kind of worn out. Then I came down with a cold. At least that forced me to give myself permission to take a couple of naps, and I think that was a good thing.

When I read through the paper a couple of times yesterday, I actually felt energized enough after the second reading to go practice some difficult music on the piano, which didn't turn out too badly.

I've been thinking about this comment that someone at my university made that I have been working on the music of "obscure" composers, and that this might be a concern if I were to go up for promotion to full professor, since it might be difficult to find qualified outside reviewers. I don't like that philosophy, because it makes it seem as if we're allowing the inertia of the profession to determine what kind of scholarship we pursue. And let's face it: scholarship per se is largely a matter of personal creativity and personal sacrifice, since it takes up so much time and energy and is not lucrative--in fact, if often seems to involve a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. On the other hand, I can take this comment as a reminder to try to make good use of techniques that are likely to be recognized by qualified members of the profession, and I think that I have already been doing that to a reasonable extent. This also makes me think about some things that I wrote in my job application essay having to do with my interest in music that has a spiritual or mystical component to it.

As I consider which neglected projects to focus on, I realize that balancing my need to engage "right-brain" consciousness as well as analytical ability means that there will be aspects to the music that I focus on, and even aspects of my work itself, that some people in my profession simply won't "get." And I think I'm just going to have to let that be. On the other hand, there may be people who resonate to the work and its subject matter because they do "get it" and will likely appreciate technically competent work on some of these repertoires (whether or not they really "get" the technical basis of the work).

Some of this started coming back to me when I was trying to contextualize the study of elementary counterpoint to my freshman class. In order to tie in some relatively recent music that makes use of related techniques (and which connects significantly to some very old styles as well), I brought in some Arvo Paert and compared it to what we're doing. Few students, if any, had even heard of the composer, which surprised me since some of them must have done a fair amount of choral singing. I happened to mention that this is some of the music I used to listen to when I felt burned out from my work in graduate school. It occurred to me to revisit Paul Hillier's book on Paert and to consider using some of the music in my graduate teaching and perhaps as a research topic, or at least as a foil off of which to develop some ideas about Tavener as a research topic.

In reading the early sections of Hillier's book, I was reminded of connections to other composers who have been of interest to me lately, such as Satie, Cage, and Feldman. There's a definite "chill out" element to the repertoire that has been drawing my attention. I was into some of this music in graduate school, but I treated it more as a personal indulgence than as a subject for professional study. I'm beginning to think that I might be able to go a little deeper with this music at this point.

I'm also reminded of how I had my first wave of interest in Orthodox Christianity around that time, back in graduate school. There is definitely an aesthetic there--in the music of Paert and Tavener, and also in liturgies I have attended--that I find very compelling. But I'm also facing that direct social involvement in any spiritual group--including Sufism, Amma, whatever--may be something that I need to allow myself to go lighter on for a while than I had been doing over the past several years. It seems that I am in a much healthier place when I am simply at home, in my own space, listening to the music that I want to listen to, allowing my imagination and intellectual curiosity to go where it wants to, instead of running around trying to keep appointments with people and with groups.

So that's kind of where I'm at now. I've been up since 5 this morning: it's 11 o'clock at night, and I'm beat.

Om Kreem Kalyai Namaha,