Posts Tagged 'george list'

So, that happened.

If we complain loudly enough to the management, can we take 2016 back for a refund? Or exchange it for a model that isn’t broken? The one and only saving grace of this year is that it started with the birth of my daughter, Katherine Claire Barrett. She is amazing and beautiful, as is the rest of my family. My wife is strong, graceful, beautiful, and brilliant; my son is strong, full of life, and curious; my newborn daughter is a person of wonder. Thank God for my wife and children. I, on the other hand, am a goddamned wreck.

I have spent most of 2016 being exhausted. Exhausted because of a new baby, exhausted because of a job in which, when push comes to shove, “Oh sure, take whatever time you need when the baby is born” works out to being “You understand you’re back the day after the birth, right?”, exhausted because of trying to figure out how to pretend to rich people  — who live in an area of New England where they know full well they’re rich and expect to be treated as such — that I’m sufficiently one of them and that I understand their interests well enough that they want to give money to my employer, exhausted because it’s a job that wears me out before I ever even get a chance to think about doing anything I want to do, including spending time with my family, exhausted because stress causes shingles, exhausted because, well, how about that, my sleep study shows 81 incidents per hour with blood oxygen saturation levels at something like 71%, exhausted because my body knows that my thirties are mere weeks from being over, exhausted because I’ve put on something like 40 pounds since Katherine was born, exhausted because having two kids where you have no family and a majority of friends who are in an impenetrable bubble that you are no longer in yourself is isolating, exhausted because we’re broke, exhausted because in all of this I’ve also been looking for and applying to jobs, and exhausted because whoever said “it’s easiest to find a job when you have a job” was out of their friggin’ mind.

Latest development: I got a job offer over the summer, despite an initial gut reaction that it was a bad idea and that I was being talked into something I already knew I didn’t want to do, I had been convinced would be a fantastic step forward and would be an initial step in a direction that would allow me to make a difference in some areas where I really hoped to make a difference. That turned out to be a big mistake, and I am now unemployed. (Well, underemployed. I have a chanting position, and I’m also adjuncting, but these don’t exactly pay the bills.)

Gah. <Very, very, very bad word>.  Seriously, 2016. Give me something to hold on to here, please.

So, Theodore is an energetic kid. He is always on, and he is always turned up to 11. What’s starting to go along with that is that his little will is developing into something to be reckoned with, too.

I see memes on social media all the time like “an uncoachable kid becomes an unemployable adult”, which says to me that our society only values you to the extent that you can make yourself a cog in the wheel. Such memes make me worry about Theodore a lot. I worry about the issues a strong-willed kid might develop in our world. I worry about the difficulties he might create for himself in terms of finding a place where he can thrive and grow, and really, where he can be himself.

But that’s the catch-22, right? If he’s too much himself, then he’ll never find someplace where he can be himself?

My parents raised me to be my own person. To think for myself, to have my own taste, to make my own choices, to forge my own path, to stand up for myself, and not to put up with bullies, with nonsense, with petty tyrants. Not that there would never be consequences for being my own person, but that being my own person was first and foremost what I had to do to be able to look myself in the mirror.

It’s certainly never been an easy path for me. In elementary school it meant getting teased mercilessly for being a bookish kid who used words like “educational”, carried a briefcase to class, and wore a trenchcoat and deerstalker hat, with the bullying ranging from verbal abuse to getting sprayed in the face with glass cleaner. It freaked my parents out that they couldn’t keep up with what I was reading.

Being raised with the conviction that I should be my own person, however, meant somehow that I instinctively made a lot of The Right Choices. I got out of high school without having gotten anybody pregnant, without having tried drugs, without drinking, without having left Christianity (even though Evangelical Protestantism was already feeling like an awkward fit), and with what seemed to be reasonable prospects for college.

I followed my dreams, making big bets on them. I pursued being an opera singer seriously for a good 13 years; it took me getting beaten into the ground and having my 30s loom only months in the distance for me to say, at long last, “This isn’t going to happen.”

Orthodox Christianity had transformed my interests by this point anyway, and I shifted gears to church music and history. Here, my willingness to stake claims, put myself on the line, and persist paid off; I published early, and I distinguished myself.

You maybe know the rest up to here from other things I’ve written. When I came down with shingles and the sleeping problems became impossible to ignore (Flesh of My Flesh’s description of my snoring over the years had gone from “gentle little snorkles” to “you sound like you’re dreaming you’re a lion hunting antelope” to “OH MY GOD WAKE UP YOU’RE NOT BREATHING”), my doctor said, “I don’t care what you have to do; figure out how to reduce your stress or it’s going to kill you and you’re not going to ever have a chance to enjoy that new daughter of yours.” I hoped that the new job, being closer to home and theoretically more in my wheelhouse, would mean a reduction in stress, and that life would gradually even back out to normality.

And now — without going into clinical detail — I find myself now without a fulltime job, with no immediate prospects, two children with an eating habit, and the reality that thirteen years of near-continuous school have pretty much cleaned us out, and how. Let’s say that the hoped-for reduction in stress not only did not happen, but the situation started to veer out of control toward negative circumstances by the second week, and by Tuesday of last week it was already more than I could take.

There’s a lot more I could say. I’ll simply refer you to my description of how my parents raised me.

But here is the tension: my principles, my temperament, my choice to be the person my parents raised me to be now has the consequence of endangering my ability to take care of my family. I can not only look at myself in the mirror for the first time in a long time, but I can also look my wife and my kids in the eyes for the first time in a long time; the cost, however, is that now we have nothing. Expensive luxuries, principles — but it was plain that it wasn’t going to get any better, and I could not endure another day of how it was.

I do not know what I am going to do from here. I am nearly 40 and have years of school plus a spotty history of entry-level jobs; the things I have been most specifically trained to do are things it is unlikely I am going to be able to make a living at any time soon. I have things that I am very good at but that in and of themselves are difficult to turn into a living; they have to be applied to something else, and the areas where I can apply them do not really represent high earning potential. Also being nearly 40, my threshold for nonsense is much lower than it would have been at, say, age 24. I could be a great worker and a great collaborator and a great ideas person and a fantastic writer, speaker, teacher, thinker, or leader, but you’re just not going to look at my resume and see a great employee.

Being myself seems to have indeed carried the consequence that I have never found the place where I can be myself.

And then I look at Theodore.

Who dresses up in a homemade Batman costume, just as I did.

Who asks lots of questions about words, just as I did.

Who got bumped up a grade, just as I did.

Who is mostly friends with older kids, just as I was.

I worry. What is the future going to hold for my beautiful, energetic, strong-willed son? Is the world going to be just as unrelenting in trying to crush his spirit as it has been to me?

And then I get mad as hell, and I think to myself, Then I better teach him to be himself all the more, so he can live with himself when it comes.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but there is no other choice, for him or for any of my children.

I have been in a place like this once before. I’m forcing myself to remember some advice I got the last time I was anyplace like here, although now it’s worse, I’m older, and the stakes are higher.

This last week, I have had occasion to think about my time at The Archives of Traditional Music this week with the news of the passing of somebody I worked with there, Clara Henderson. She was a dear soul.  I remember as well the brief time I knew George List.

I was extremely circumspect about how I talked about this on the blog at the time, and I’m still not going to go into detail about it here, but I had come to the Archives rather bruised and bloodied from my previous place of employment. In addition — and this certainly was thoroughly discussed on the blog — I was despondent over the possibility of ever getting into grad school. Thankfully, ATM served something of a hyperbaric chamber for my battered psyche, and even if it took a few months before I no longer instinctively wanted to burst into tears every time somebody looked at me sideways, I was able to start pondering, now that I was out of the worst of my negative circumstances, what it might look like to start working towards something positive.

That’s when I met George.

George was emeritus faculty and one of the previous directors of the Archives. He ninety-seven, and had retired some 30 years previous. I had spoken with him on the phone a number of times; he was still working, and he still had an office that was maintained by the Archives, but since he had lost his sight many years ago, he was largely bound to a retirement facility, and had a series of short-term student assistants who helped him with his ongoing projects. Unfortunately, his final assistant failed to work out in a rather spectacular fashion, leaving George in the lurch.

So it was that one summer day in 2008 George called me at my desk. “Can you help me?” he asked, with a note of desperation in his voice. “I’ve just published a new book, I need to inscribe several copies to send to people, and I’m not going to be able to do that on my own.”

Well, I wasn’t unwilling, but it would require me to go out to his retirement home during the day, and it was thus a question of whether or not I could actually do so on university time. I put the question to Alan, the Archives director. He looked thoughtful and said, “This place wouldn’t exist without George, and we really try to show him what kindnesses we can. Yes, go ahead and help him; he’ll probably try to reimburse you for gas — don’t let him, we’ll take care of that.”

The next morning I drove out to George’s retirement facility, and did what he needed. The book was a self-published collection of poetry, short stories, and essays he had written over the years, and even the cover was his own work, a painting he had produced in 1933. He was sending it out to old friends and colleagues from various chapters of his life. Some of the names I recognized as people I had had to communicate with on behalf of the Archives. I saw from the publisher’s imprint that it was a local self-publishing outfit, so I knew he had paid for this himself, it must have been very important to him to actually produce it as a book, and all the moreso to send it to this collection of individuals. Each name was a story, and he told me some of them as we went. He also told me that he had been a widower for “seven long years” as he put it, and that he had even outlived his son.

As I was getting ready to leave, George said to me, “So, you’ll come back tomorrow so we can mail these off?” I said yes. Then something happened that I will never forget.

Suddenly he said to me, “Richard, I want you to know that I have reinvented myself many times over the course of my life, and had to do it on multiple occasions even before I turned forty. I turned out just fine.”

He said nothing else. I stared at him for a moment. Why did you say that to me? my head wanted to yell at him. How on God’s green earth did you know to say that to me? But I let it be.

I helped George for a few days; he passed soon after. To this day I have no earthly idea why he told me what he did. It was nonetheless something I very much needed to hear at that particular moment in my life, and it has continued to be a tape I need to play back for myself with some frequency.

Memory eternal, George. I think of you often, and with fondness.

So here I am. I’ve lost every last one of my professional and vocational bets. I’m feeling about as useless as I ever have. I have to reinvent myself, and I have no idea what I’m going to do next. I’m exploring a number of options. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but the coming weeks, if not months, until I do are going to be… rough, let’s say.

I will say that some people have asked if they can do anything. Please pray for me; pray for my wife and kids; if you are aware of opportunities in your own social/professional networks for a 39 year old Boston-based individual with a BMus in vocal performance, who is ABD in History, and has a variety of work experiences and a broad-based skill set, please pass them on (LinkedIn profile here); you can make a tax-deductible gift to The Saint John of Damascus Society (since some of the options I’m exploring would be done under the aegis of SJDS, which would require SJDS to have a much-expanded budget).

So it goes. Onward and… well, onward, I guess. But I can’t say that this bit from The Fisher King doesn’t hurt to watch right now.


Reasons I love my job

I have really enjoyed working at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music over the last year. The people have been wonderful, it’s been a very pleasant, low-pressure atmosphere in which to spend my days, and I am actually quite interested in the work we do here. Ethnomusicology, like musicology, is a field in which I think I’m best served having a tangential interest, but tangential or not, it’s still an interest and those field still touch some of what I do in some way. (Which reminds me — there’s an article in the current issue of the journal Ethnomusicology about musical practices in the Estonian Orthodox Church that I keep meaning to talk about. Maybe now that the semester’s over.) I will be quite sorry to leave this position in many respects, but I expect to maintain something of a relationship with the good folks here nonetheless.

One of the joys of working here has been the semi-regular occurrence of finding things related to my interests which I didn’t know existed and didn’t expect to find. For example, something we archive here is the correspondence of the Archive’s founder, George Herzog. Recently, while looking for something else, I came across a folder labeled “Strunk, Oliver“. A letter dated 22 April 1940 has Herzog telling Strunk, “I have not forgotten your offer to let me see your Byzantine material,” but what’s even more interesting is this tantalizing passage in a letter from Herzog to Strunk dated 27 May 1940, context unclear:

I feel still a little unhappy about the by this time familiar points in your argumentation, and I still feel that it is merely a question of wording as well as manner of progression in the argument. This is the sort of thing that is difficult to get across verbally and is so much easier to put on paper where each word can be weighed, manicured, cuddled, and generally kicked about. I do not wish to bother you — more than I have already — but if and when you have a final version of the wording, I would be much interested in your reaction to Sachs’ comments. I should think once you wish to work without analogies, the Eastern ones are as unnecessary or unjustified as the Western ones. His point about the great variability of intervals (seconds, and thirds, not fourths and fifths!) in Coptic church singing would mean two things. 1) The system as interpreted through theory and writing and interpretation may not have covered actual practice exactly. I imagine this is to be taking (sic) for granted, as long as there are no records of the practice itself. I suppose you agree with this and possibly it is not sufficiently explicit in your paper. 2) Where there are no objective records of vocal music, one finds that variation in interval intonation or interval actualization is never helter-skelter. It always involves average points around which the varying “tones” cluster. These points are then the pragmatic “tones,” which may or may not be very close to tones as calculated in a theoretical system. There may be two average points instead of one at a given spot in the scale, in which case one may make up one’s mind whether one has two tones or regular alternation in the point of actualizing a tone, the alternation depending on given factors such as direction of melodic movement etc. This brings me to the concept of a “toneme” which rhymes with “phoneme,” an important linguistic concept. However, I shall spare you this until I know you are fortified by at least one beer; a thing of which I cannot be sure at the moment. (emphasis mine)

Granted, these points are brought up specifically in relation to Coptic chant, but Herzog’s points still appear to come very close to the criticism of the “narrative of decline” which Strunk helped to further regarding the received tradition of Byzantine chant — in 1940. I’d love to have been there for that beer, and I’d also love to know which particular argumentation prompted Herzog’s comments, as wells as Sachs’ (whoever he was, and whatever his comments specifically were — maybe I should go back and see if there’s a folder for Sachs).

In the fall of 2005, I took 20th century music theory from Dr. Julian Hook. At some point, in discussing microtonalities, we spent some time in class discussing the one and only Harry Partch, a genuine American original (I refuse to use the “m” word of which Gov. Palin is so fond). Among other things, Partch went so far as to build his own instruments for the tunings he used, and wrote a song cycle based on graffiti he had seen on a highway railing. His music is legitimately very interesting, but it’s also clear that it comes from a mind existing well off the beaten path.

So, while I was putting away the Strunk folder, my eyes fell on a folder labeled “Partch, Harry”.

No <very bad word> way, I thought to myself.

What seems to have happened, according to the correspondence we’ve archived, is that in 1934, Partch got referred to Herzog by a “Mr. Moe” and a “Mr. Surette” (I assume these to be Henry Allen Moe and Thomas Whitney Surette), and Partch sent Herzog “some material” regarding his manifesto Exposition on Monophony (there is a two-page “résumé” of the Exposition in the folder), “but I was not able to interest you sufficiently to deserve a reply,” Partch wrote in a letter to Herzog dated 1 April 1936. Later, Partch transcribed a field recording made of the Isleta tribe of New Mexico (material from which Partch used in the c.1949 work “Cloud-Chamber Music”), and sent his transcription to Herzog at the suggestion of of a “Professor Kroeber” (I assume Alfred L. Kroeber). The letter of 1 April 1936 continues:

This is not my major work, the work in which I treid to interest you previously. I am a composer who chooses not to be tyrannized by the limitations of media as he finds them.

I am impelled to remind you of these ideals, for which I have been fighting for thirteen years–

I am fighting for an untrammelled musical expression, and, consequently, against the exploitation of music by a clique of interpreters and academicians, which can only, and is, leading to a sterile intellectualism.

I am fighting for a richer musical system and greater resources in the way of instruments. I have built several myself.

I am fighting for an art that is closer to the people and their earth, and against the increasingly esoteric abstractions of our serious music. My own efforts are based on the inflections of spoken words.

Perhaps you will say that I am fighting for the impossible and against insuperable odds, and I will reply that the way of reform is often long and devious, and that I am blessed with a leaven of patience.

Yours sincerely,

Harold Partch

Evidently Herzog remained unimpressed, because the next item in the folder is a handwritten letter from Partch dated 11 October 1936, six months later:

Dear Sir —

Last March I forwarded to you a manuscript on California Indian music, at the suggestion of Prof. Kroeber of Berkeley. To ensure its safe return I enclosed a stamped addressed envelope.

I believe you to be a busy person, and so are all persons who live with a purpose. I am not sufficiently impressed by this fact to refrain from asking for the return of my work.


Harry Partch

The manuscript in question is not in the folder. Herzog’s response to Parch is not particularly interesting — there is a page of pencilled notes outlining some brief critiques of Partch’s transcription, followed by a two-page, polite, typed letter to Partch containing these comments; presumably Herzog sent this letter, with the manuscript, back to Partch in the referenced envelope.

“…the way of reform is often long and devious, and…I am blessed with a leaven of patience.” So much of the personality of this man is present in just these two letters that, even as distinctive as Partch’s music is, is simply impossible to get from an analysis of his scores or his biographical data. If Hook is still teaching Partch, it seems to me these letters would be at least amusing for him to have as additional material.

Yes, this is what I love about my job.

What’s fascinating about these letters is that it is a window into a very different professional culture. The letters read like somebody actually cares what they say and has a sense they will be preserved somewhere; even allowing for most people having secretaries and more often than not having their secretaries write letters that they themselves only sign, there is a lot of personality here. Perhaps it is largely affectation, but it’s still highly interesting reading.

George List, in the brief time that I got to interact with him, seemed very much to still be trying to exist in this world, despite the rest of academia being a world where people dash off e-mails by themselves, and almost nobody has a secretary. His former secretary still works for the Archives; I made this very observation to her, and her response was, “I told him once a few years ago that most people write their own letters these days. He was very taken aback.”

Self-importance? Personality? Affectation? Who knows — it’s fun to read this stuff regardless, and to try to follow the various trails down which they lead.

Various points of interest (or not)

George List was an emeritus faculty member for the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology here at IU. He retired in 1976, the year I was born, but still had an office and an assistant here. I first spoke to him over the phone in April, when I started working here at the Archives of Traditional Music; I met him for the first of three times in August. He was ninety-seven years old, he was frail, he was blind, he had been a widower for “seven long years” as he put it, and he had even outlived his son. Despite all of that, he was sharp as a tack, very active mentally, perfectly articulate. He was also clearly very lonely. He made a big impression on me the three times I got to meet him, perhaps more than I realize even now.

He passed away on Sunday, 28 September. It’s affected me this week a lot more than I thought it would — I even had a dream about him a couple of nights ago, although I don’t really remember much about it, beyond wanting to say goodbye in person and trying go back in time a couple of days by crossing the international date line. Aionia mneme.

Sometimes there are these fortuitous moments of synchronicity that tell you you were supposed to do something. Megan has been toying with the idea of getting an iPod for a little while, and I finally decided it was time to take the plunge and call it a late birthday present (my regular readers, both of them, may recall that I was in New York and she had just arrived in Germany on her birthday; I was so discombobulated that I didn’t remember to say “Happy birthday”, and she was so discombobulated that she didn’t notice). So we bought one of the new 120gb iPod Classics yesterday (it was $250; for reference, my 80gb Classic was $350 a year and a half ago), and after paying for it, the guy behind us in line, noticing we had bought a different pair of earbuds, asked us, “Hey, do you want the earbuds that come with that?”

We shrugged and said, “No, not really.”

“Can I buy them from you for $10?” He was about to spend $30 or some such on a replacement pair — seemed fair to us, and appeared to be one of those moments where the timing just worked out the way it was supposed to.

Of course, once we got home, we realized that we had also given him the USB cable. Oh well — keeps us humble.

Me, Bryn, and some guy at Jeff Fletcher's wedding, 12 September 2005A year ago today my friend Bryn Patrick Martin passed away from a bad reaction to painkillers. It was a stupid way to go and entirely preventable; I’m still mad at him. He was a constant, and I mean a constant, in my life between 1993 and 2003; this picture of him and me smoking cigars (can’t remember who the guy on the far left was) was taken the last time I saw him, 12 September 2003. His devilish smile (and overall countenance), obscene sense of humor, and most of all his fierce loyalty to the people about whom he cared remain very much missed. Aionia mneme.

I note among the stats for the last few days that for the first time ever I’ve received a hit off of a Google search for “Richard Barrett.” Exactly how this works I’m not sure, since last time I checked, I think it was the 15th page of results before this blog popped up, so the searcher in question must have been very persistent. Not that I care about my Google rank, exactly, but I do hope that people don’t see all of the matches on the first several pages for the white supremacist Richard Barrett and think that’s me. (If he had any idea who I was, he’d probably hope people didn’t get us confused, too.) If people want to think I’m the English composer or the motivational speaker, that’s probably okay. (Maybe not the R&B pioneer or the minor-league Depression-era Seattle baseball player, since they’re both dead.)

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