Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

December 8, 2014

A Scene, and a Revelation

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Schuyler's percussion teacher doesn't sign, but rather reads lips. That's not much help with Schuyler, whose lips aren't doing a lot of heavy lifting when she speaks. And so a big part of what Schuyler is likely to get from her private percussion lessons has little to do with drumming and everything to do with communication and information exchange.

February 4, 2013

Sometimes We Celebrate

This morning, over at Support for Special Needs:
"Sometimes we don’t ask too many questions. Sometimes we don’t pick apart the decisions made by the people in her life, or try to look too deeply into those processes. Sometimes we don’t need to hear how a judge might make a choice based on something besides technical perfection or demonstration of proficiency, but instead on something larger, more powerful, and less subjective. We don’t need to know what moved someone to do a kind thing for Schuyler, or to try to measure the exact thing that a positive mark might be recognizing. People make fun of the “A for effort” without realizing that sometimes, the effort is the thing. It’s not the often-mocked “everyone’s a winner” approach. It’s more an acknowledgement that for some, the effort really is Herculean, and the fruits of that effort deserve accolades."

Congratulations to Schuyler, my very own Division I award-winning Valkyrie ninja marimba warrior.

May 28, 2012

But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars (Memorial Day 2012)

Bugles sang, saddening the evening air,
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.

Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.

Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.

( ) dying tone
Of receding voices that will not return.
The wailing of the high far-travelling shells
And the deep cursing of the provoking ( )

The monstrous anger of our taciturn guns.
The majesty of the insults of their mouths.

-- Wilfred Owen

January 30, 2012

A Musical Interlude

To help make up for the sad, gloomy Grim Reapy nature of that last post, here's a little something that Schuyler and I did tonight while practicing her marimba music for her next concert. I asked her if she wanted to share any of it with all of you, and we went through all the clips we shot and found the two she liked the most:

And then we started to have some fun, and ended up with this unedited and unrehearsed forty seconds, which is now just about my favorite thing we have ever committed to video.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Awesome Song:

January 28, 2012

A Different Drummer

Earlier this week, Schuyler and I went down to San Antonio to see our dear friends Jim and Kim, Schuyler's godparents. (Or whatever we agnostic heathens are supposed to call the folks who will take up the feeding and watering of our kid if Julie and I murder each other or get eaten by a sasquatch one day.) I was going in order to work with Jim's trombone class, and Schuyler was along for the ride. She got to see two of her favorite people in the world, and she got to miss two days of school, so it was a solid win for her. It was also an opportunity for Schuyler to get in a percussion lesson with a member of Jim's talented staff, sneaking in some actual learning amongst all the fun truancy.

Schuyler has to work hard in band, but she's staying on top of it. Her band director here in Plano continues to be fantastic. She strikes the perfect balance between accommodating Schuyler enough to keep things realistic for her and at the same time challenging her with a meaningful band experience. I've already shared Schuyler's previous concert experience, with her kind and only slightly narcissistic permission. (I know, she comes by it honestly.) Her next performance is coming up next week, and she will again be playing a multitude of instruments, including crash cymbals, the bass drum (her favorite, by a long shot) and the marimba. That last one is still quite challenging for her, requiring as it does for her to read music, a skill that she's working on and slowly improving upon. Her band director spent some of her no doubt valuable time rewriting a very difficult part for Schuyler to make it more manageable, but it's still hard enough to require a good amount of work. The challenge frustrates Schuyler, but it is also very good for her.

Schuyler spent most of the day in San Antonio observing the bands, including watching her father play, which I believe surprised her; I think in her eyes, I was like Atticus Finch shooting the rabid dog in the street. More importantly for her, Schuyler watched the other kids. They were mostly older than her, but only by a few years, and the music they were playing was harder but not drastically so. She saw how they worked together, and how they helped each other. In short, she saw how they behaved as a community, as friends working together to create something special while having fun doing so. (Disability community, take note.)

When Schuyler took her lesson, I took a few photos and then hid in the back for most of it. I eventually left the room so I wouldn't be "that parent", although honestly, I should have left them alone the whole time. (Well, what are you gonna do?) What I saw when they began was what I've observed countless times before. There was a bit of initial confusion on the part of her new teacher on how exactly to approach Schuyler, but then subtle adjustments as Schuyler showed him how she could focus and work.

Schuyler is good about teaching her teachers how to teach her, if that makes any sense. In circumstances like this, Schuyler's disability comes to the front, but she's also very quick to show that it doesn't get to call the shots. Teaching Schuyler isn't like teaching anyone else, and the good teachers recognize this but don't let it scare them off or cause them to give up on her. This was one of the good ones. She's been fortunate this year in that most of her teachers have been willing to do the work to break into Schuyler's world.

Schuyler presents as neurotypical most of the time, but only on the surface and rarely for long. Her differentness can take people by surprise, and I confess that I judge those people, often unfairly, by how they respond to that surprise. But as she embraces her new role as a percussionist in her school band, I see for Schuyler a path forward, and a way to make her way in the world on terms that are very much of her own making.

Everyone claims to value the act of marching to the beat of a different drummer, which suggests a need for that different drummer. Schuyler's got you covered.

December 3, 2011

A Good Day, with an Asterisk

Yesterday, Schuyler had a very good day.


After a semester of hard work, Schuyler's beginning band class held an in-school recital; in her case, the beginner horns and percussion. Schuyler has been excited but anxious about this performance. I'm not sure she's completely accepted that she was really going to be able to be a member of something like a band program. She's been a little hesitant, as if someone was going to take this away from her. Being able to participate completely and meaningfully in an actual performance was exactly the thing to convince her that this is all for real, and hers if she wants it.

So it was a big deal, this performance.

Still, when I walked into the school, I wasn't expecting to see two of our very best friends, Schuyler's godparents, waiting inside. I actually did an old movie-style double-take when I saw them. Their attendance was no small thing; they live about six hours away, after all. Jim and Kim have been huge supporters of Schuyler's all along. Jim is an old friend from high school who is now an exceptionally talented band director; his wife directs the color guard at their school, the girls whom Schuyler still refers to as her "sisters". When they learned that Schuyler had a rough week with at least one seizure and probably more, and knowing how important this first performance was to her, they simply piled into their car and drove to Dallas.

Just like that.

Schuyler loves Jim and Kim without hesitation or limits. When she saw them, she waved and smiled a smile that was pretty much in evidence throughout the performance. She ended up doing very well on the recital, and loved every minute of it.

Don't believe me? See for yourself:

After the performance, we scarfed up some free cookies and spent some time visiting with to Schuyler's band director. She's an overbeliever; we like her very much. Afterwards we killed some time until Julie got off work and then headed out for dinner.

It was then, in the car, that Schuyler began to unravel.

Julie noticed it first. Schuyler was trying to tell her something, but her speech was suddenly very hard to understand, almost like a baby babbling. As we parked the car, I turned and saw Schuyler leaning lethargically against the door, her eyes distant and her mouth open slightly. I said her name a few times, and she snapped back. She was irritable and disoriented for maybe a minute and remained a little quiet and distant at dinner.

She came back to us, though. For the most part.

We were all a little shaken, as this was the closest any of us had really come to actually witnessing one of Schuyler's absence seizures. But we took our cues from Schuyler, who seemed determined to have a fun evening despite her lingering disorientation and fatigue.

Schuyler had a good day, mostly. At its conclusion, she decided that it should be a good day to the very end, monster or no. We're okay with that decision.

November 10, 2011

Season of Gratitude

Much of the life of a special needs parent involves anticipating the worst case scenarios and avoiding them if possible. It never stops, and it never should. If I want to enjoy the unique privilege of being Schuyler's father and friend, the price I pay is never-ending monster watch, a constant vigilance against this grand rough world and its many harms. And really, even at its worst, that price is a bargain.

But sometimes, our vigilance can stand in the way of seeing the things that are in fact going well, going better than expected. I see a number of friends online taking the month of November to give thanks for the good things in their lives. Now personally, I've reserved November for growing a frightening critter on my face and turning an age that might be described as "thirty-fourteen", but I will take this opportunity to express my gratitude, and my relief, for one very important item.

In some very significant ways, Schuyler is thriving at her new school. And her teachers believe in her.

We had the opportunity to drop in at the end of the school day yesterday, in order to pick up the band fundraiser pizza kits we ordered. (Cheese pizzas were a little iffy, but the cheesy bread? I am powerless.) When we walked in, the school was a swirling mass of preteen chaos. I felt a little like Richard Dreyfuss at the end of Close Encounters. And when we found Schuyler, things at first glance were not very encouraging.

We walking down the hall and looked for her near her locker. We only found her after the kids thinned out a bit, for the simple reason that Schuyler was sitting on the floor, her belongings spread out around her as she loaded them into her backpack. For a moment I thought that she had been knocked down Chumbawamba-style, her books scattered by some bully, but when she looked up and saw us, she greeted us cheerfully.

Turns out that's how she does it every day. And for some reason, no one in the crazy busy hallway seems to mind. They just work around her.

As we walked down the halls, I could see once again that as I mentioned elsewhere, Schuyler mostly stands apart from her neurotypical classmates. But what I saw clearly yesterday was that although she's not entirely or even mostly part of their world, they are very much a part of hers.

Schuyler walks down the hall like Mayor McCheese. Every few feet, a student or a teacher says hi to her. One tall girl who had to be two grades older greeted her unhesitatingly with a big hug. Schuyler isn't deeply involved in the social fabric of her classmates, and perhaps it was a silly dream to hope otherwise. But I don't think she's being bullied, and I don't think she's being ignored. If she remains something of an enigma to her classmates, she's an intriguing one, and a mystery worth exploring.

Talking to a few of Schuyler's teachers gave us more information. Schuyler participates enthusiastically and with increasing accuracy, and she gets help from her classmates. As her confidence grows, so does the quality of her participation. Her band director is especially excited about Schuyler's work. We were all ready for Schuyler to require a great deal of modification in her band class, and there's been some. But not as much as any of us anticipated. She's playing independently on the marimba in particular, and yesterday was playing her part by herself in a group. Jolly Old St. Nick, she's got your number.

The thing that more than one teacher expressed that surprised me a little was how rarely Schuyler uses her speech device at school. Not because she's a rotten kid or isn't being supported or feels self-conscious about using it.

She doesn't use it because people understand her.

I've never given up hope, perhaps foolishly, that Schuyler might one day speak intelligibly, and I should be clear. She isn't, not yet, anyway. But the verbal speech that she has and the inflection that she's mastered, along with her signs and her writing, these have given her enough communication ability that she can make herself understood under her own power much of the time.

Schuyler's adapting to her new school environment, but I'll be damned if the school isn't adapting right back.

We've learned not to take this kind of thing for granted, and there's at least one teacher who might not be on board as much as the others. And we've certainly seen a good school situation go sour, so we're not inclined to let it surprise us again. But what we're seeing with her middle school teachers is incredibly encouraging. I feel like Schuyler is on track, and it's been a while since I really felt that was true.

After we talked to Schuyler's teachers, we discussed what was happening, and why things are different now. This school district is one of the best in the state, and Schuyler moved up from one excellent school to another. What's different now? It's an important question. Here are a few thoughts.

Schuyler loves change, and middle school was a huge one. Many special needs kids thrive on routine; Schuyler is almost the opposite. She still needs a lot of structure, but it's a little like eating her vegetables. She's energized by new faces and new places, and every day in middle school provides plenty of both. Even when it trips her up (and it does frequently), the chaos also excites her.

Schuyler's new teachers are looking for her possibilities, not her limits. There is very little "I don't think she can do this" talk going on with her teachers. When modifications are needed, they are made, but they are rarely a starting point.

Her band director in particular is working hard to keep Schuyler on par with her fellow percussionists, and the payoff is Schuyler's bursting joy when she finds herself playing just like everyone else. This week, Schuyler was playing one part of an ensemble piece by herself while her classmates played different parts. When she realized that she was the only person playing the second marimba line, AND she was playing it exactly right, Schuyler apparently lost her mind with happiness.

The result of this new confidence is that she's speaking up in band class more, and approaching the director more frequently. And the director was happy to note that she can understand what Schuyler says.

There it is again: People are understanding Schuyler's communication. When I type that out, something stirs in the center of me, like a dream I dare not acknowledge, the idea that Schuyler is making herself understood without her speech device. When she first began using an AAC device, that was very much NOT the case. She was almost completely unintelligible, and the reaction she got from the world was predictable. Schuyler isn't communicating; her value is therefore diminished.

Well, I believe she WAS communicating. But she wasn't being heard. Certainly not by her teachers back in Austin, and probably not by her family either, not entirely. After six years of verbal modeling with her speech device and the language skills that it helped to teach and re-enforce, Schuyler is seen as a person whose speech is hard to understand, perhaps, but there and waiting to be unlocked. It's still hard work, for her and for the world around her, but she's making it happen. Every day, in ways large and small, Schuyler is gradually taking the wheel.

Schuyler's teachers are excited about working with her, and they are learning how to teach her. I think that's the most important factor with her recent success. It's not just that they are good teachers, although they clearly are excellent educators. She's been failed by more than one good teacher in the past, at previous schools. Now, however, I feel like they are searching for Schuyler's potential, not her ceiling.

Most of her teachers have stayed in close contact with us, keeping us informed of her progress and just how that progress is being made, and asking questions when she stumbles. I can feel their pride when they reach her. Schuyler can be a puzzle, and a challenge, and if you think of her that way rather than focusing on what she can't do, then you start to find her pathways to learning. I feel like that's happening now.

Will it last? Schuyler is a lot of work for teachers, and her middle school experience is just beginning. We've certainly watched as a dream situation has soured in the past. But we dare to hope, because that's what we do. And we dare to believe in someone besides Schuyler, and in all the possibilities that her new school seems to be unlocking.

So in this season of gratitude, I am thankful for Schuyler's new teachers, and her new school life, and the new pathways that are opening up for her, even if they still lead off into a foggy future.

September 8, 2011


I've had a piece of music in my head for a few weeks now, and I thought I would share it with you tonight because, well, it's on my mind. That's all. Sometimes that's reason enough, you know?

I poked around online and found a performance on YouTube, of about four minutes of music that is, I do believe, the most beautiful music I know. That's really true, and it's not small praise, either. Not to be too arrogant about it, but I know a LOT of music. Furthermore, my taste often runs toward this sort of big, weepy Romantic stuff, meaning that my head is full of a lot of Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams and Mahler and Schoenberg (the Gurrelieder Schoenberg, not so much the "I hate you, audience! You must suffer now!" Schoenberg). And yet it's this little four-minute stretch of this little-known symphony that gets to me, and gets to me every single time I hear it.

Most people know Josef Suk, if they know him at all, as a composer of fairly light stuff. His name is funny in a middle-school-boy kind of way, and he looked sort of like a chubby little Hitler. (Not really his fault; he died in 1935.) But his Asrael Symphony was different. It was named for the Islamic Angel of Death, cheerfully enough. Suk began the symphony as a tribute and celebration of his late mentor and father-in-law Antonin Dvorak, but as he was working on it, his beloved wife died, and Suk was plunged into despair.

Buried in the middle of this gigantic, heartbreaking symphony of pathos and pain are the four minutes that I'm sharing with you. (There's more after that four minutes, and the whole symphony is fantastic. You could do worse than listening to the whole thing.) And if I played it ten times in a row tonight, I'd find myself teary-eyed ten times.

The thing is, for some reason I associate Schuyler with this music. When I listen to it, I hear pain and I hear longing and love and regret, sadness and joy stuck together like red and blue Play-Doh, forever infused but not assimilated. I hear these emotions all at the same time, as if the yearning and the love is answered by the regret and the pain mid-phrase. All those emotions, all swirling together, not mixing, not resolving, but just existing together. There is sorrow, and there is happiness floating on top of those sad waters. Or maybe it's a sad boat bobbing on the surface of a happy sea.

And now that I spell it out like that, suddenly my association with this music and my sweet, mostly joyful but sometimes sad, broken but perfect Schuyler isn't so inexplicable after all.

January 19, 2011

"Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones..."

All parents have a narrative for their children. Some are blatant and perhaps a little horrible, like the ones on a television show that Julie and I have recently become addicted to, about the parents of kids who play sports and who live out their own past failures or glory days through their own children. The rest of us watch them and say, "How awful!" and "My little girl is going to chart her own course, she’ll decide what her future's going to be all about, not me." But in our secret hearts, we whisper, "I hope she plays the trombone...." (No, I really do. I suspect Julie's secret heart and mine are whispering different things.)

-- excerpt from Schuyler's Monster

I'm not usually so prescient...

The photographic evidence is a little misleading, I hasten to add here. Schuyler is not in fact playing the trombone, and I am realistic enough to admit that we might be over-reaching, or at the very least reaching in the wrong direction. But we're giving it a try.

In a few weeks, Schuyler and the rest of her fifth grade class will pile on buses and travel the roughly five hundred feet to the middle school (which sits on the other side of a soccer field from her elementary school) for their introduction to the middle school music programs.

(Note to school: When you're done putting the kids on the bus, perhaps after feeding them fried burritos, go to your office and Google "childhood obesity".)

(Note to readers, regarding my own raging hypocrisy and delivered in a Homer Simpson voice: Mmmmmmm. Fried burritos. Do they even serve those to kids anymore? Do I have to drive to a rural gas station to find one?)

But I digress.

Being the busybody parents that we are, Julie and I will be attending this field trip. Schuyler will be introduced to the music ensemble programs, including the orchestra and choir, both of which are areas poorly suited for her particular monster-affected abilities. String instruments require a level of finger dexterity that she would find extremely frustrating.

And choir? Well, yeah. Moving on.

Schuyler will also be visiting the band program, and this is an area where we think she just might find some possibilities. A couple of months ago, Schuyler and I drove down to San Antonio to visit with two of my closest friends. (You might remember the last time we went to visit them.) Jim is a band director, and an excellent one at that, at a high school in the area, and Kimberly directs the color guard for his program. We spent the day doing band stuff. I taught the trombones a master class in the morning (don't laugh, haters), and then we accompanied the band to a marching competition, followed by a football game that evening.

Schuyler had a fantastic time. She bonded with members of the color guard, referring to them as her sisters (she's actually stayed in touch with one of them via email), and she made friends with a young lady who played the tuba, which planted in Schuyler's head the fun (and appropriately Schuyler-weird) idea of playing the tuba one day. We carefully noted how the kids responded to Schuyler, and how lasting her impression of that day has been. The experience made us realize that beyond our own musical aspirations for Schuyler, which may or may not be reasonable, joining the band could very well provide Schuyler with a whole level of support, protection and most of all acceptance far beyond what she is likely to find amongst the general student population.

It's tricky, though, for a few reasons. For Schuyler, there are physical limitations from her polymicrogyria that present some daunting challenges. Her limited finger dexterity probably rules out woodwind instruments, for example, as does the issue she has with weak facial muscle tone. But that very weakness might also benefit from the techniques required to build a brass embouchure, and the trombone requires hand and wrist coordination, but not so much fingers. Her weak facial muscles probably rule out trumpet or horn, but tuba or trombone might be workable.

And I can teach those instruments to her. She already has a trombone. And Julie has a degree in music. If it works out, it feels like a natural fit.

Less within our control is the band program itself. I have, in my years as a trombonist, performed with a great many conductors. I've worked with and known some amazing directors who inspire me to this day, but I've also worked with some, well, you know. There's an old joke that sums up the rare but memorable experiences that many of us had from time to time. ("What's the difference between a bull and an orchestra? On a bull, the horns are in the front and the asshole is in the back.") As far as public school band directors go, there are a lot of them, I'd say most of them in fact, who love working with kids and who take their work as educators extremely seriously. But it's always that nasty handful, the ones who mostly cared about winning competitions and impressing their peers at the expense of students who needed more help, that former band nerds tell stories about years later. A great band director can change a kid's life; I had several who did just that for me. But the opposite is true as well.

I have no idea how Plano will shake out in this regard. The Plano schools are deeply committed to their special education students. And the Plano bands are extremely competitive. It really could go either way.

It's early to worry about that sort of thing now, though. For the time being, Schuyler is trying the trombone, contemplating her choices (percussion is high on her list as well), and dreaming of joining her sisters in the color guard.

As for me, I'm just imagining Schuyler surrounded by people who care for her and who would fiercely defend and encourage her. Because if there is one thing I've seen consistently from band kids, it is how they treat their peers with disabilities. It might be that band doesn't ultimately work out for Schuyler. But I can't tell you how much I hope it does, for reasons that mostly have very little to do with music.

December 17, 2007

Box Days

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
The monster was unusually present this weekend, albeit held at bay. Schuyler participated in a caroling party with other kids who use AAC technology, and while it was a fascinating and occasionally heartbreaking experience, it also involved a lot of other people whose stories aren't mine to tell. I'll simply say that it was yet another one of those experiences with other, more broken kids where I felt despair, while Schuyler just saw an opportunity for seasonally appropriate merriment. (At one point she decided to take over and conduct the performance.) One day, I'll learn to see this grand rough world like Schuyler does, rather than in my old sad bastard way.

I recently heard from a magazine editor who wanted to do something on Schuyler's Monster for the magazine's February issue. After he got a copy of the book, he suggested something different. Rather than a standard minireview of the book itself, he wanted to do a story about us and the book, but with a twist.

He wanted to interview Schuyler, on her device, via email or instant message.

I initially hesitated, although I'm not entirely sure why. I mean, I try to insulate Schuyler from all of the book spazzing and hype, but that's perhaps a little naive, considering that she is the title character of the book, her face splashed across the cover. For better or for worse (better, I feel pretty sure), Schuyler's along for the ride on this. Furthermore, I dig this magazine, which is both a little fancy and a little shit-disturbing at the same time, and I like the executive editor, whose writing I am familiar with from his days at a now-defunct Dallas weekly alternative paper. It was an interesting idea, one that simultaneously triggered my defensive dad reflex and my curiosity. After consulting Julie and Schuyler, curiosity won out.

In the end, we opted for an interview conducted over email, partly because I wanted to be able to take time with Schuyler to make sure she understood the questions, and partly because I wasn't entirely sure how to make the Big Box of Words work with an IM client. (Incidentally, it turns out that it is stupidly easy.) I won't go into the details of the interview itself, since that's obviously for someone else's publication, but I felt like it went pretty well. Schuyler was very careful and particular in her unusually long-winded responses, and the only help she needed from me was in spelling some words she couldn't find on her device.

There was a question about her dreams, and while I'm not 100% sure she entirely understood it, I was nevertheless interested to see what she'd have to say. Schuyler's dreams have always fascinated me, mostly because of all the parts of her life that we are occasionally privy to, her dreams remain the most unreachable. She has never shared them with us in any meaningful way; I can only think of one time before now, after she was troubled by a bad dream about monsters of some kind. But even then, she didn't seem frightened, only very sad, and she wouldn't share any details.

That's how it is with Schuyler. As she gets older, some doors open up to us, and we can see parts of her world that were closed off to us before. But she can slam them closed whenever she wants, and sometimes she makes that choice, particularly when she's pissed off. She stops using her device, throws her arms in frustration, and starts jabbering in a stream of Schuylerese that is two parts Martian and one part whine. Schuyler can be a pill when she chooses to be.

Even when she's happy, though, there are doors seemingly forever closed to us. Her dreams are her own, and so are her songs. She breaks into little melodies of her own creation, with lyrics that go forever untranslated. I'm learning not to ask her about her music, as that is the fastest way to make her stop singing. When Schuyler sings, you listen and you take the part that is meant for you, the sweet and untethered melodies that flit around like moths, never landing, always moving. The lyrics we just have to live without. They are hers alone.

November 12, 2007

"Paths of Glory"

"Paths of Glory"
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I haven't written about this before now, mostly because I know how my writing about music tends to make crickets chirp and the baby Jesus cry. However, I thought Veterans Day presents a pretty good occasion to explain why I am boycotting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Money concerns force DSO to drop concert

Britten's 'Requiem' 'very expensive'

One of the headliner concerts promised for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's 2007-08 season is being scratched. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, which was to have been performed under principal guest conductor Claus Peter Flor, will be replaced by another program because of money concerns.

"We were reviewing the budget for next year, and we determined the need to make a few programming adjustments," says Fred Bronstein, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association. "It's a very expensive piece to produce, and we just determined it would be prudent to postpone it."

You know, I understand that the War Requiem is an expensive piece to perform. It requires a full orchestra, a chamber orchestra, a full chorus, a boys' choir and soloists, and it's still a rental piece. It's modern and difficult and probably not a huge audience draw, although every time I've seen it performed, it has been to a full house.

However, in a time of war, when the message of Benjamin Britten and Wilfred Owen is as relevant as ever before, and particularly in a community as conservative as Dallas, in which support for the president's increasingly unpopular and idiotic war remains inconceivably high, it is, in my opinion, impossible to cancel a performance of this piece without covering yourself in the stink of artistic cowardice.

I mean, the War Requiem didn't get more expensive to perform in the time since it was programmed by the DSO. But the statement that it stood to make about the futility and pity of war? That just becomes more relevant and desperate (and controversial, at least in this town) by the day. The War Requiem is a vastly important work, one that an audience has much to learn from. It represents the very best of what a contemporary symphony orchestra should be trying to accomplish, bringing music of the highest quality and most significant social relevance to a community. Canceling a performance like this one, even for financial reasons (or perhaps especially so) doesn't just disrespect the veterans who have faced these issues in a slightly more harrowing setting than a cushy concert hall. It disrespects art.

Because I have become a grouchy old man, I sent an email saying as much to the DSO back in May. After getting a response from an anonymous Patron Services Center representative (a response that felt like a canned response, which I found to be a hopeful sign since it suggests I'm not the only person who responded negatively), I sent the following, which pretty accurately represents my current thinking about the issue and the responsibility of artists in troubled times.

I did not receive a response. I did not require one.


Subject: War Requiem
Date: May 21, 2007

I understand the financial difficulties of putting together a performance like that. But it is also unfortunate and frankly suspect timing that this piece should find itself on the block in the midst of a controversial and politically charged time of war. Britten's piece is divorced of politics, addressing instead the undeniable horror, futility and suffering of war, topics that go beyond politics and patriotism and force the listener, no matter what their partisan beliefs, to look deeper. Regardless of the financial reasons for doing so, canceling your performance of this piece in particular sends a strong message, and not a positive one.

Music matters. The artistic choices that an orchestra makes send a message to a community. If this is a matter of purely financial concern, then I and a great many other will be watching your choice of replacement repertoire with great interest. I wish you the best of luck in maintaining your organization's artistic integrity as you make that choice.

Robert Rummel-Hudson
Plano, TX

February 16, 2007

Armchair Apocrypha

Speaking of music I like, NPR is featuring Andrew Bird on their website. Specifically, they're focusing on a song from his new album, Armchair Apocrypha.

Let's take a hypothetical scenario for a moment. Suppose a hypothetical but extremely cool reader sent me a hypothetical copy of the new album, due out in a month or so. What would my hypothetical opinion be?

I'd say it was awesome, with a move away from the acoustic sound of his most recent stuff but once again totally unique.

You know. Hypothetically.

(Edited to make it clear that I have (hypothetically) already been sent the cd. This wasn't an attempt to weasel free stuff out of anyone. Don't worry, you'll know when I'm mooching.)

February 14, 2007


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I know I've been quiet lately. I suspect that's not going to change any time soon.

Want to know what I listen to when I feel quiet? I found a short excerpt of one of my favorites.

Old & Lost Rivers, by Tobias Picker

I'm listening to it now. It's funny how the loudest noises in the head can be drowned out by something as quiet and ethereal as this.

I hope everyone's having a nice Valentine's Day.

September 25, 2006

Happy birthday, dead guy.

100 years of Shostakovich
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I would be a bad bad Prophet of Dmitri if I didn't take note of the 100th Anniversary of the birth of my favorite composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.

There's not another artistic figure who has had as great an impact on my musical life as Shostakovich, but that's not the whole story. He is also a personal hero of mine, someone who lived in the most oppressive society in human history and managed to not only survive but also to create a body of work that expresses the reality of life in Stalinist Russia with an emotional honesty and clarity that would have been impossible in any other artistic genre.

When Schuyler was a baby, I promised her I'd take her to Russia in the summer of 2006 to celebrate this anniversary with her. Obviously, it ultimately turned out to be undoable. I would feel uncomfortable traveling in Russia with a non-verbal child, and I'd feel uncomfortable traveling anywhere in the world thanks to our non-sentient president. But I'll be listening to Shostakovich's music today, and reflecting on his life.

So there you go. Some artsy fartsy music jabber for you.

May 2, 2006

What I'm Listening to Tonight

Tables and Chairs by Andrew Bird

If we can call them friends we can call them on red telephones
and they won't pretend that they're too busy or they're not alone.
If we can call them friends we can call,
holler at 'em down these hallowed halls,
but we can't let the human factor fail to be a factor at all.

Don't, don't you worry
about the atmosphere
or any sudden pressure change.

'Cause I know
that it's starting
to get warm in here
and things are
starting to get strange.

And did you
did you see how
all our friends were there
drinkin' roses from the can?

How, how I wish I
I had talked to them
and wished they
fit into the plan.

And we were tired of being mild.
We were so tired of being mild.
And we were tired.

I know we're gonna meet someday in the crumbled financial institutions of this land.
There will be tables and chairs,
there'll be pony rides and dancing bears,
there'll even be a band.
'Cause listen after the fall there'll be no more countries
no currencies at all.
We're gonna live on our wits
gonna throw away survival kits
trade butterfly knives for adderal.
And that's not all.
There will be snacks, there will
there will be snacks!

And we were tired of being mild.
We were so tired of being mild.
And we were so tired.

So don't you, don't you worry
about the atmosphere.

March 9, 2006

There will be snacks.

Powerlines at sunset
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Tonight is my last night as music manager at The Monolith.

This weekend I am shooting a wedding, and this time I'll be shooting it solo, not as part of a team. I'll simply be the photographer, or as I'll be thinking it in my head, The Photographer.

And next Wednesday, I start my new job as Coordinator of Communications for the School of Architecture at the University of I'mnottellingyouwhere.

So while this hasn't been a great day (I had to cancel my diabetic nutrition class because it turns out that my insurance won't cover it, so I have to fight with them again, and some snotty little North Dallas kids were nasty to Schuyler), I am nevertheless feeling hopeful and excited about the future.

One of my favorite Andrew Bird songs, Tables and Chairs, describes the world after the collapse of financial institutions, when there will be no more countries or currencies. In this world, Bird says, we'll throw away our survival kits and be free. There will be tables and chairs, pony rides and dancing bears and a band. Best of all, he sings, "there will be snacks".

I like that.

Here comes the devil

The Red Stick Ramblers
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I have a musical confession to make today.

Do you know the old big band chart Sing Sing Sing? It was originally a Louis Prima song, but the version that everyone knows is the Benny Goodman arrangement, with that sexy tom-tom drumming by Gene Krupa that runs through it. You'd know exactly what I'm talking about if you heard it. You hear that drumming in some arrangements of Duke Ellington's Caravan, too.

Well, my confession? That style of drumming makes me crazy happy. If a song has it, chances are excellent that I'll like it. Love it, even.

One good example is the Old 97's song Four Leaf Clover, from their album "Too Far To Care". When the drums start up, I become totally fixated.

The reason I bring this up today is that I've got a new one that I've been listening to, from a jazz/cajun/whatever group down in Louisiana called the Red Stick Ramblers. (I've written about them before.) The song is called The Devil with the Devil, and in addition to those drums I dig so much, it features the catchy lyrics that the Red Stick Ramblers are known for, inasmuch as they are known at all.

So there you are. Red Stick Ramblers. Go get you some.