mozart in the jungle

A colleague — a theater professor — recommended the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle to me. She said the first couple of episodes are a little clunky, but if you get through them, it’s totally worth it. She has good taste, so I checked it out.

First of all, I see why a theater person would be drawn in right away: the acting is awesome, and the writing is good. The stories… improve as the series goes on.

The most painful thing, right from the start is the awful, terrible, unrealistic fake “playing” of actors pretending to be in an orchestra. Like, the production staff handed an instrument to an actor and gave them zero instruction on how it’s played or how to hold it or anything. Maybe a few of them took the initiative to look at some pictures of how real players look when they’re playing; but some of them didn’t even bother to do that carefully. The bent wrists, the wrong hands, the total lack of fingers moving… it’s so horribly fake that I had to fast-forward through it. It was too painful to watch.

And then there’s the conducting. There are several conductors — all men, though of various ages, races, and nationalities, which is a thing they explore in a pleasant way. There is one sentence that refers to women, and that’s Bernadette Frikkin Peters shrugging, “it’s so hard to find great women conductors.” And then they go ahead and just have all men conductors and never mention it again. So it’s a nice level playing field where all of the conducting is equally terrible — and, oh gods and bicycles, the conducting is terrible. It’s worse than any real conducting student I’ve ever seen. I know nobody likes to see their profession portrayed inexpertly by actors, and I’m sure 90% of the audience aren’t bothered about how ridiculously useless most of the conducting is… but a show about classical music should give a hoot about the quality of performing that goes on. And conducting is the musical task where it really matters what it looks like. So, I wish they cared a little.

The conductors’ acting is really good. The writers exploration of a conductor’s relationship to the score and the composer is even pretty true. Their inclusion of the role of conductor as advocate for the ensemble, fundraiser, charismatic leader, humble servant of art… all of that is really, really interesting and gets deeper and better as the series goes on. I’m so glad they dig into that, and it really rings true. It’s just the arm-waving that is cringe-inducing.

Toward the end of the second series, they start to have real instrumentalists actually playing on camera — including a for-real youth orchestra for-real playing some for-real legit good stuff. With horrible, stupid, fake conducting being perpetrated in front of them by an otherwise very compelling actor. I bet any of those kids could have conducted better than that poor actor.

The first twenty episodes got better and better, so I intend to watch the third season (currently in production, according to IMDB), anticipating it will continue to improve. Further, I hope that the next season will increase the presence of real musicians to include a real conductor (or at least some more realistic conducting) and maybe that conductor will be a woman.

I hope.

But for the record…

 

Dear Mozart in the Jungle:

Please include some women conductors. We exist, we’re not hard to find, and we’re awesome. And if you hire a woman to portray a conductor, give her some damn training so she doesn’t look as moronic as the current actors you have thus far forced to embarrass themselves with idiotic arm waving.

Thanks,

Amelia

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repertoire

I love this time of year, because it’s new repertoire time. Learning new music for next season, and actual time to do it!

Learning new repertoire is a lot like meeting and learning about new people. You meet a stranger, and they mean nothing to you. But once you start to get to know what they’re like, what they have to say, what’s important to them… then they take on meaning. You start to have feelings about them, a relationship with them.

It happens to the choir when they’re learning new music, too. So often, they don’t care about new music, or they even hate it. Then the harder it is, the more they have to work on it, the more they love it by the time we perform it, and they ask to do it again and again.

A wonderful time of the year.

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another conductor commercial

There are two commercials for the GMC Acadia that include conductors. One is a quick shot and pan away of your standard white dude in a tux. The other is about the conductor. I couldn’t find a video, sorry. But it goes like this:

Shot of baton tapping on podium [real conductors do not do this; ensembles find it infuriating]

Voice over: “There are conductors…”

Shot of young black man in a fabulous suit sans tie giving prep. [upbeat… staying up… no downbeat… real conductors do not do this; ensembles find it infuriating]

“And then there are maestros.”

Shot of red SUV driving through tunnel. Cut to smiling, fair-skinned, racially ambiguous couple in car. Man driving, woman in passenger seat.

“He leads with confidence, exactness, inspiration.”

Cutting back and forth between shots of the conductor giving emphatic downbeats (his shoulders are tight, he leans his whole body forward instead of allowing the weight to fall just from his hands, but he is definitely not flailing), the truck driving through scenic places, an Asian woman playing violin, the couple enjoying their drive, an overhead view of the orchestra. Various puns on performance and ovation and whatnot.

Not too bad. Not a jerk who flails. Not even your typical middle aged white dude. I was actually excited when I saw the conductor was black. Progress!

Of course, it’s eye-rollingly heavy handed that there are two men and two women in the commercial, and both men are in charge and both women are just along for the ride. We get it, GMC: men are in charge. No need to hit us over the head with it.

The “confidence, exactness, inspiration” line is pretty good. Better than your average conductor commercial.

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An open letter to the dude I punched in the face:

I don’t know who you are, because I haven’t punched you yet. But once you press charges, you might google me and find this. So I want to take this opportunity to explain while I have the capacity for verbalization rather than the blind rage that lead me to sock you in the jaw.

Sorry, by the way. Punching you in the face was the wrong thing to do. I was just… SO MAD. I usually channel that rage into exercise or work or writing or cleaning or shopping… yeah, look, I have a lot of outlets for my rage, but it’s always a game of catch-up to keep purging it productively.

You probably called me “honey,” or “little lady.” Or you said “all lives matter,” or “white men have it hard, too.” And, though that does make me cringe, you did not deserve to be punched in the face for that.

I just want you to understand that I’ve been hearing things like, “you had a great audition, we just thought he was a better fit for the ensemble” on a regular basis for my whole career. Over and over. And those ensembles don’t know that they are part of a larger pattern shaped by social, unconscious implicit associations between white men and authority. But I’ve seen the pattern because I’ve been part of it so many times. (And if you  just had the thought, “maybe you’re just not as good a conductor as they were,” then that is exactly why I punched you in the face.) None of those ensembles think they are sexist — they support equal rights and Planned Parenthood — so if I pointed out that this may have had a role in their decision-making, they would be offended rather than reflecting on the unconscious, thoughtless, unintentional nature of systemic sexism.

More actively, as a grown woman, I’ve been called “sweetie” by colleagues and hardware store employees more times than I can remember. I’ve been casually belittled under the guise of well-meaning (if condescending) “friendliness” constantly for almost forty years.

So, I probably punched you because you addressed me using adjectives or tone that you would never have used with a man.  Your voice crooned with exaggerated inflection like people do with babies. You dismissed my complaint about being treated differently by responding that you only meant to be polite. You told me I should be grateful to you for maintaining a basic level of civility. You have no idea why I want to be treated the same as a man, because men aren’t necessarily treated better… but that difference over and over all day every day adds up to mountain of sexism.

Maybe I punched you because you rolled your eyes and asked “ugh, why do you talk about sexism all the time???” Since I punched you instead of telling you the answer, here it is: “Because I experience sexism all the time.” Don’t believe me? Because you’ve never experienced it… which is how you know it’s sexism.

Or, on the other hand, maybe you commented to your friend about the body or clothes of a woman near you. Maybe you thought she should take your objectification as a compliment, or that she clearly wanted that kind of attention.

Maybe you made a joke about someone fat or old or non-white or gay. You think those people don’t matter as much as you do, think that “just a joke” makes it okay to demean and insult and objectify someone.

So, yeah. I punched you in the face. Not because you deserved it for that one infraction of genuine compassionate decency. But because I’ve lived in a simmering soup of sexist, racist, sizeist crap for four decades, and you happened to be there when the simmer reached a full boil. Sorry. It was just a matter of the wrong place at the wrong time.

What’s that you ask?

Why, yes, I have been working out. I know, it’s a hell of a right cross, huh? My lats are pumped from conducting. Building useful strength is all about a small amount of weight and a lot of reps.

Just a little weight. A lot of reps. That’s how it builds.

Sorry, though.

 

 

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equality

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s oped in the NY Times is called “What Should a Powerful Woman Look Life?

And that’s perfect, because people don’t know. But they absolutely know what powerful men to should look like.

And that’s how we know women don’t have real equality.

Since we don’t know what powerful women should look like, women are scrutinized in ways men aren’t. They need to look powerful — that is, they need to look like men — but they should also be conventionally attractive.

And that’s how we know women don’t have real equality.

…An archetype for a powerful woman doesn’t exist in our culture. Without a monarchy, we don’t have queens, as Europe does. Our nation was founded on Christian ideals, and we see our God as male. By contrast, India abounds with powerful goddesses. Our holidays that honor leaders are about men — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents’ Day and the Fourth of July for our founding fathers. Our most prominent national celebration of women is Mother’s Day — hardly a hats-off to women’s roles as statesmen. (Consider that last word.)

I want to pull quotes out of her article and expound on them at length — how piquant they are, what perfect illustrations. But really, I’d just end up quoting the whole thing. So you should just go read it.

But I want to refer men to the experience of what it’s like to swim in this ocean of patriarchy. It sucks. And every time I say out loud, “being a woman is harder than being a man,” men will gladly tell me about how women get preferential treatment in certain circumstances blah blah blah. But, look, men — especially white men — just take for granted that they have access to all the positions of power. Women have to push and insist and wade through knee-high bullshit feedback about their appearance and the sound of their voices, held to a different and more expensive standard than men, criticized for being things that people assume they are (“high strung,” “high maintenance”) whether or not they actually are those things, whether or not those things are legitimate points of criticism. So, when we arrive at a position of power, we’re covered in the residue of the struggle we endured to get there. And then we’re criticized for our failure to remain unsullied by the struggle. Because the people in power didn’t have that struggle and therefore don’t even believe that it exists. 

When you make art, the art is made of you. It’s inseparable from your biology, which is inseparable from your experiences, which are inseparable from patriarchy… unless you intervene at some level, take the time and energy to hose off the bullshit and get back to yourself. But once you’ve taken that time, your male colleagues have advanced, and they assume it’s your fault you haven’t advanced as far because you aren’t willing to work as many hours. But if you want your art to be authentic, it’s absolutely imperative that you hose off the bullshit or it will end up in your art. And then your colleagues will say that you haven’t advanced as far as they have because your work isn’t as good. Which it isn’t. Because it’s covered in bullshit they and the rest of the dominant created and perpetuate.

Dude, that oped simultaneously broke my heart and put wings on my soul.

Seriously, go read it.

 

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training and artistry revisited… again

This article from a couple of years ago made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter recently. “Conductor or automaton?” I was painting my house, so I didn’t get around to writing the response that was burning a hole in my brain.

The article complains the young whipper snappers with their highfalutin academic training who are conducting orchestras these days just aren’t as good as conductors were in the good old days, when demagogues on podiums threw concert masters to the wolves with no preparation at all.

Has my tone already given away my perspective? Good.

I don’t think conductors now are less musical than they used to be. And I don’t think a system of academic training denies artistic enrichment.

Let me tell you about a conductor I know. He’s a band guy, so most of his repertoire is less than a hundred years old. He told me that, at his audition for doctoral school, the conducting professor told him his score was gorgeously prepared — it was even color coded! And this conductor (let’s call him Maestro Bandguy), believed it was his responsibility to serve the composer, to do everything the composer marked on the score.

Remembering that Maestro Bandguy’s repertoire can be relied upon to provide this information, which centuries of choral and orchestral music cannot.

So, Maestro Bandguy gets into the doctoral program, and his professor, Dr. Fancyband, challenges him. What, Dr. Fancyband asks, about his perspective? What of Maestro Bandguy’s heart? Experience? What’s not on the page that matters?

And Maestro Bandguy argues that composers put everything on the page. Then his doctoral work requires him to write his own arrangements, to struggle with the problem of notation. He also has to analyze repertoire outside of his fach, recognize that the page is just the beginning. And Maestro Bandguy becomes an artist. Because he performed for audiences? Because he got reviews? Because his mentor was famous? No. Because he had a teacher who gently lead him to the water and said, “do you think maybe you’re thirsty?”

Dr. Fancyband was my instrumental conducting teacher, too. He’s an artist and a sensitive, unassuming, razor sharp pedagogue. A scalpel wrapped in a tea cozy is Dr. Fancyband.

In general, if people are seeing more low quality conducting, it’s because they’re seeing more conducting. There is more media coverage of everything in the information age. Conductors’ abilities exist on a bell curve, and the larger body of the bell curve has become more accessible to view. Back in the good old days, only the tiny upper end of the bell curve was put in a position to be seen and reviewed. Now, there are more conductors as there are more college educated people, and more people in general. That means there are more mediocre conductors, sure. And it also means there are more excellent conductors. So, no, conductors aren’t any worse than they ever were. And the system doesn’t need to go intro retrograde (or retrograde inversion. Ha! That’s a contemporary music joke.) to make conductors as good as they were in the old days.

We need to give young conductors a chance to turn into the artists they have the potential to be. The good ones will drift to the right edge of the bell curve in due course. What helps them get there, what matters in becoming a conductor, is training and artistry.

A whole lot of either will make you at least competent. A generous dose of both, and you got yourself a Fancyband in the making.

 

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unruly

Democrats in the House of Representatives are sitting in to demand a vote on gun laws. They are violating the rules and procedures that govern a democratic system. It isn’t even likely to result in the passage of a gun law. But I totally think it’s the right thing to do.

Sometimes the rules are wrong. I’ve found that, generally, rules are made to preserve the status quo and slow down potential change. I’ve seen it in academia, the music industry, education legislation…

If I had followed the implicit rules laid out by the larger culture, I would never have become a conductor. Because there weren’t women conductors when I was deciding to become one.

Women are called “unruly” more often than men. I suspect this is because women have more rules imposed on them than men — socially, politically, professionally. How to act, what to wear, when to speak, what to say. But among men, black  men have more rules imposed on them than white dudes. Just ask Rep. John Lewis. That’s a man who has learned when violating the rules is the right thing to do, when it may be the necessary thing to do in order to force the status to stop all its quo.

That feeling you get when the world around you is WRONG, that the law and the rules say it’s okay, that TV and magazines are reinforcing an idea that is toxic. When you see that playing by the rules has only earned points for the team that’s trying to defeat you. It’s a burning, angry fire. The rage inspired by injustice when children die in their school because the NRA pays senators to keep assault weapons legal. The disbelief when an Attorney General who opposed gay marriage says her thoughts and prayers are with dozens of gay citizens who are gunned down in her state, but whose spouses would not have had the right to be their next of kin if that Attorney General had had her way. And she refuses to discuss gun control.

It’s fire. It burns. But it doesn’t consume. It pushes you to ACT. And when the rules are designed to keep you helpless, you gotta use it as fuel to burn up some of the structure that oppresses. So it doesn’t burn YOU instead. You gotta be unruly.

I wrote a song about this, and I sing it to myself when I know I’m pushing a boundary that doesn’t want to be pushed. It’s more appropriate than punching anyone in the face. And it reminds me to celebrate being an unruly woman. And to remember I’m not alone.

And neither are you.

 

Unruly.
Standing in the fire that fuels me
Burning, breathing,
Brandishing my power while you whine
That you find me

Unruly. Unruly.

Unruly.
Choosing not to go where you shoo me
Shining with the colors of my flame
Since I found it’s a friendly.

Unruly. Unruly.

Unruly.
Surrounded by the people who truly
See me, know me, love me,
And cheer me when I play
For my own team.

Unruly (4x)

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