30 December 2007

2007 Year-end

1) New Year's Eve concerts
2) Teaching update
3) Year-end Reflection

1) My New Year's Eve concert this year is "Great Melodies from Movies" with compositions by Bonfa, Tarrega, Rota, Albeniz, Myers, Debussy, Couperin, Chopin, Bach and myself. While some pieces represent the main theme from a movie (such The Deer Hunter or Romeo & Juliet) others are pre-existent works chosen by great (and perhaps not-so-great) film-makers. Thanks to the internet I know that the Prelude to Bach's First Cello Suite as well as Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude figure into at least eight films each. This recital theme unites some of my favorite, but otherwise unrelated, pieces -- and will undoubtably have a nostalgic appeal for some listeners. The performance takes place at the Baptist Church in Rockport -- part of "New Year's Rockport Eve" -- which is at the corner of Broadway and Mt. Pleasant (which most of us would call Main St). The first show will be 8:00-8:45 PM with a repeat at 9:00-9:45.

2) "Changing Winds" never ceases to be the appropriate title for my newsletters; as change has been a constant in my musical life. I returned to the Metropolitan Opera Guild's Urban Voices program this past Fall, where I have enthusiastic choral students at two welcoming schools. Akin to a residency, Urban Voices is designed to reach new students every year, and therefore one cannot do the kind of program-building that results from working with the same students for consecutive years. In Peabody, I am at a Catholic school, where I work with the music teacher and (mostly white) students who come from relatively stable homes. In Lynn, I work with six classroom teachers and a more at-risk, ethnically diverse population. While I did teach a similar demographic last year at Chelsea High School -- and even though students met with me daily rather than weekly -- I feel more effective in Lynn both because students are younger and I am better supported by administrators and teachers. I also appreciate the professional development and supervision offered by the MOG.

I also taught, at MassBay Community College, a course titled "Rock & Roll and American Society, 1945-1980." This opportunity came up suddenly when teacher there had to abandon the class after three meetings and the Assistant Provost found my resume at higheredjobs.com. It just so happened I had for some months been planning a class like this without any idea where I would teach it. I stuck with the readings that were already assigned in two textbooks -- and the writing assignments -- but otherwise personalized the curriculum significantly. The hardest part was deciding what to leave out in this survey of 35 years' worth of popular music and its times -- sifting through hundreds of songs that (I believe) played a role in the remarkable evolution of musical style. I was excited by the challenge of lecturing and leading discussion on much of my own life's soundtrack. It gave me an excuse to supplement my collection of recordings and to articulate ideas I had stored away for decades. Youtube and Wikipedia both proved invaluable resources. Students were engaged by my personal recollections -- particularly of attending Woodstock -- and patient with my forays into music theory. I had a guitar on hand to demonstrate concepts and occasionally lead singing. If I had it to do over, I would have worked in more assignments aimed at improving students' expository writing; and if I were planning the course from the ground up, I would allot two semesters.

3) As mentioned, preparing these classes gave me cause to research and archive the music of my youth. This professional excuse launched a personal quest, akin to an adoptee's search for his/her biological parents. But now that the course is over, I've continued collecting period songs for the next as-yet-unknown opportunity to teach on this material. Wherein lies this pull to resurrect and enhance my understanding of the past? Is it a mid-life pursuit of lost youth or bona fide scholarship?

Paul Krugman (born the year before I), in the opening to his new book The Conscience of a Liberal, writes "It's only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation's history." Although he is referring to socioeconomic matters -- a time before the undoing of the New Deal, when the Common Good had support within both parties -- I carry a similar feeling about the music. The young people I've taught connect with this 60s and 70s music in ways I never connected with music of my parents' generation, and there clearly are aesthetic reasons for this. But I don't think this particular music would continue to have this hold on me if it did not date from my own youth.

For it just so happens that the time of greatest idealism within the society and its music was also the time of greatest idealism within myself. Many of us "boomers" grew up certain we would be changing the world for the better, but only a small percentage outwardly appear to have kept that fire burning. Others of us have settled for seeking to better our immediate world, such as family, school, neighborhood, twelve-step community, etc. I wonder if the large market for boomer memorabilia has as much to do with lost youth as with lost idealism . . .

I have heard talk of disappointment in today's 20-somethings for their lack of activism. Reasons may include: 1) Without a draft, there are not enough of us affected by the Iraq/Afghan war to generate a significant movement. 2) Though millions may perish from the effects of global warming, the water is not yet lapping at our doorsteps. 3) The foreclosure crisis brought on by unregulated financiers is too much of a moving target to strike at. 4) The suffering of so many abroad or in our poorer neighborhoods does not translate into suffering most of us experience firsthand. 5) Technology, in spite of the many communication options it provides us, removes us from community. 6) Or perhaps, as the case with most adults, we're busy just staying afloat.

As a younger person I was naive and ill-equipped to foster the changes I wanted to bring about, but I believed I could. This level of belief -- a faith that anything is possible -- is reflected in much of the music I listened to. Young people today are probably less naive and better equipped, but probably don't feel they can change things. One of the things I owe them is to share what I have come to understand about the music and times of my youth so that they may bring the best of it with them into the future.

Peace, Jeffry