Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Music and Education

Half a dozen years ago, studies on music and its impact on education began to be seen again. One showed that regular music for preschoolers helped them in cognitive function, especially in math and spacial reasoning. Another showed that music in elementary grades helps children function in social situations. Another showed that those in high school choirs and band got better grades.

Now, as school boards deal with shrinking budgets, the first things they cut are music and the arts. When will they get the facts that musicians have known for years? When will they do the research?

The state of education in the United States is poor because it is too specialized. Classical education demands that all students take art, music, history, grammar, literature and foreign languages, not just science and math. We have persons who have received terminal degrees in engineering, math and science that have never taken an English literature course. These people can not be called "educated;" they must be called something else.

Classically educated persons are more tolerant of differing ideas. They are more sensitive to controversial topics. They are less prejudiced.

So, let us think twice before cutting the most important subjects in our schools.

Be sure to watch this link:


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Small World Stories

Everybody has one: proof that the world is growing smaller. Usually a small-world-story is about some amazing coincidence, like running into a friend in a foreign country or on a cruise ship.

I tell one about a family reunion: I was living in North Carolina; I went to Virginia for my wife's family reunion, and saw a familiar face that belonged to someone who had married one of my wife's cousins. He was from a town in Texas that I had never visited. We talked, and discovered that we attended the eighth grade together in South Carolina.

But now the stories are changing. Technology is making the world a much smaller place, with people world-wide a cell-phone call away. It's even smaller since many calls are covered in "circle" or "fave" plans, or since many of us just get all long-distance calls covered in our plans.

Last week I got a call from Colleen, my daughter, who is a student at NYU in New York (city). She asked me if I had heard anything about something happening in Times Square. She said people were talking about a blast there. I hadn't heard, but I told her to hold on a sec; I'd Google News. I read her an article about a small bomb going off at 3:45 a.m. in front of a military recruiters' office in Times Square. It seemed to provide her with a bit of clarity. (I assume that she was walking between classes at the time, somewhere around 8th St. and Lafayette St.) She said thanks and hung up.

It's now a small world when a person in New York calls Richmond, VA, to find out about something that has happened about 35 blocks away from her.

It's a small world when a soldier in Iraq can call home several times a week. Or when we can see exactly what's happening there as it happens on TV or our web-enabled cell phones.

And, unfortunately, it's a small world when malicious gossip about politicians or celebrities is spread around the world nearly instantaneously by any poor grouch with a differing political opinion or a grudge.

Being in such a small world requires more judgment that we used to need. We need to know who to trust, and we need to not believe everything we see on our computer or cell-phone screens. Places like www.snopes.com help, but don't replace good judgment or a forgiving spirit.

The world will continue to grow smaller. May we meet the challenge with judgment and grace.

Friday, June 8, 2007

On New York and Actors

There's something about New York and actors: seems they belong together. First, there is no better way to develop your craft than to do it on stage. Acting with an audience has Instant Feedback.

Second, New York has the largest conglomeration of actors in the world. (Only vain actors actually live in L.A.; most live outside of the L.A. area.) And they actually talk to each other.

Third there are more actor support personnel in New York than in any other place: Producers, directors, playwrights, musicians, stagehands (hey, don't get sensitive), etc.

Fourth, there are more theaters in New York per square mile than any other city in the world. (And places to work if you aren't acting.)

But everyone already knows these things; what really makes New York The Place for Actors? It's not just opportunity or availability of practice there; there is something else.

The first time I went to NY was in 1956. I didn't get to see a Broadway show, but I saw a movie in Radio City Music Hall, and it had a floor show. The movie was High Society, with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong. When I heard Louis play, I knew - knew - that I was going to be a trumpet player. I was nine.

I didn't return to the City until 1971, after I got out of college. An acquaintance of mine was producing jingles in the jingle mills and called me up to play, and later, to sing. The City was dirty in those days. Time Square was porn shops and hookers. They told us to take a cab, not the subway, or we might lose our horns. I joined the Local 802, AFM. Union scale was good in those days, especially if you DIDN'T MAKE MISTAKES. Luckily, I didn't make many.

After a hiatus for grad school, I began subbing in the pits on Broadway. You couldn't see down there, and you couldn't hear very well either, but you weren't there for that: watch the conductor and play. Still, I suddenly wanted to sit in the audience; so I found time to do just that. There was Fiddler on the Roof, and Grease, and No, No, Nanette (I played it, then had to see it), and Company; such a variety of moods and subjects! I played in the City occasionally until mid-1979, when my job prohibited such travel.

I began going back to the City in 2005 when my daughter got interested in seeing Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (the Revival), on Broadway. The City was changed: it was clean; it was more friendly. We saw Sweeney in November of that year, and Colleen saw it eight (8) more times, including its closing performance. It captured her. It changed her life. It gave her life new purpose.

Just as that show changed mine so many years earlier. Colleen is now studying directing at NYU. She, of course, loves living in the City.

Of course, by the time I returned to New York, I knew there was something about the City that makes art. It made me an artist at nine, and my daughter one at 16. It transforms ordinary people into extraordinary artists. It inspires, invades one's spirit, opening vistas of possibilities, laying out plans for success, and perhaps a few failures, too. It multiplies talent.

I've been to, and worked in, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Nice places, but not New York. There is nothing in those places that inspires and motivates artists like New York.

So, I think it must be some unmeasurable, perhaps mystical quality. Perhaps it's the spirits of millions of artists who have lived and died there. Maybe it's the atmosphere of the tens of thousands of artists and actors working there now. Maybe it's the freedom of expression that exists there to a degree that doesn't exist anywhere else on earth.

Or, maybe it's just the air.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Musings

I'm musing over the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I am a recovering Southern Baptist - recovering from a long and harsh battle between the narrow-minded and everyone else. I wrote an interview in 1988 for "Southern Baptists Today," a newspaper organized by "moderate" Southern Baptists. It was an interview with the chair of the AAUP chapter at Southeastern Seminary. That interview put me on a "black list" with the then-new "conservative resurgence." It cost me much heart-ache and kept me from serving some churches where I might otherwise have had good ministry in music.

I survived by changing denominations and finding secular work. But many, many professors (all of whom were conservative), many pastors, and many missionaries have lost vital ministries because of the behavior of those persons in the leadership of the SBC who still call themselves "Christians," though their behavior belies that title.

What brought this to mind again here in 2007 are blogs which show amazement and concern over the resignation of a professor of Hebrews at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who was shown the door because of her gender. I am certainly not surprized, nor should anyone who has history with the SBC dating to the middle 1980s. This behavior is not new.

Baptists are, and have historically been, a confessional group. That means that each person is responsible for the development of her/his own spiritual life, with help from the church and individual members of it, personal research, Bible study and prayer, and any other means he/she pleases. They confess their belief in Christ to each other and the world, but they abhor creeds. The "Baptist Faith and Message" (BFM) is a confessional statement; that is, it is a statement of the general beliefs of the denomination, but not a creed that all must believe. Unless, of course, you are employed by the denomination as a missionary, professor at a seminary, or appointee of the convention. For them, then, it becomes a creed. It is my personal opinion that the leadership of the SBC since the completion of their take-over in 1989 would prefer to make it a creed for all members of the denomination.

Part of the rewriting of the BFM has reflected the core beliefs of fundamentalism in American Christianity. Self-professed "conservatives" within the denomination object to the term "fundamentalist," but a brief look at similarities between SBC conservatives and fundamentalists is in order.

Man is leader. The "family" section of the BFM reflects the male as the leader of the home and the female as submissive. This carries over into non-family matters, too, as is the case where women are teaching men "doctrine." In both fundamentalism and in the SBC, man is leader. Scriptural "proof texts" are provided for everything done.

The liberals are demons, or at best heathens. It has always been the case that fundamentalists demonize the opposition. Only since the "conservative" resurgence has the leadership of the SBC demonized "liberals." Calling someone a "liberal" does not make that person a liberal. Early in the conservative resurgence, liberals became demons; they still are so.

The Bible is inerrant. Period. There is no discussion about this anymore. In the late '80s there was much discussion: some said that only the "original manuscripts" were inerrant; others said that God gave us the inerrant version, and that it was the King James Authorized Version. Soon thereafter, the leadership lost the distinctions, and now the Bible is just inerrant, period. (For a lengthy discussion of the "discrepancies" of Scripture, see Beyond Fundamentalism by James Barr.)

The Bible is what we make of it. Which Scriptures do we use and believe and which do we discard as dated? Both fundamentalists and SBC leaders have similar favorite Scriptures, while ignoring others. In probably a dozen or more times in my life I have been verbally attacked for admitting that there were parts of Scripture that I did not accept (like the requirement that women wear head-coverings in church). I asked those that attacked me if they believed the Bible and tried to follow its teachings; of course they said, "Yes." So I asked them to give me all the money they were carrying, because Luke 6:30 says, "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back." (NIV) No one ever gave me a dime. See how much they believe the words of Jesus himself?

What about the rank-and-file Southern Baptists? Many simply follow the whims and dictates of their pastors. Others don't. The most conservative of the group have always thought homosexuals were perverts and heathens.

As a musician (and a heterosexual), I have been in professional relationships with Christian musicians who also happen to be homosexual. They most often have been devout men and women who love Christ fervently. I would never condemn them like many "loving" conservatives do. I view the hatred of homosexuals in the same way that I viewed white Christians hating black Christians: simple prejudice. Any serious study of the sexuality issues in the Bible will reveal all sorts of discrepancies in use and meaning of the words translated as "homosexual." (It will also reveal rather disturbing views of heterosexual understanding.) Fundamentalists and the SBC leadership hold similar views on homosexuality.

As a husband and father, I am well aware of womens' issues among Southern Baptists. The WMU was a force of strength, a movement of Spirit, and a force of missionary zeal in Southern Baptist churches in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. It has lost much of it's passion because of the decidedly non-Christlike actions of the SBC leadership since 1989. In todays SBC, Lottie Moon would not be appointed a missionary. (For those of you who do not know, Southern Baptists have a Christmas missions offering named for Miss Moon, an early missionary to China.) Fundamentalists and the SBC leadership hold similar views on women.

In my musings here, I am wondering what really separates the SBC leadership from the fundamentalists. Millenialism? No... Dualism? No... Messianism? No...

Nothing comes to mind.