Musically, it’s about time moving on

One of the subtle changes in the world of high culture in my lifetime has been the widespread acceptance of women as both conductors and classical composers.

Long seen as a bastion of Dead White Males, almost exclusively Europeans, the musical bias was deeply engrained. Few of the world’s leading orchestras even had women in their ranks, much less on their programs or as regular guest soloists. That snobbery, by the way, also excluded American conductors and composers, and people of color in general, across the board in the Old World and the New.

When the gender line began to bend, the first women composers to gain significant attention, as far as I remember, were Felix Mendelsohn’s sister, Fanny, and Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara.

More recently, Amy Cheney Beach has come to the fore. New Hampshire-born and then proper Boston society, she was largely self-taught, a piano virtuoso whose hefty piano concerto and symphony are both personal favorites. Her keyboard works have justifiably gained advocates, and a comprehensive retrospective at the University of New Hampshire marking the 150th anniversary of her birth was a revelation. Some of her gorgeous chamber works, moving into a more Impressionistic vein, actually moved me to tears listening in live performance.

Today, talented women composers are showing up everywhere, even winning major prizes like the Pulitzer. Quite simply, it’s hard to keep up.


Similar advances are being seen on the podium, led by Americans.

Pioneered in the ‘60s and beyond by Sarah Caldwell at her Opera Company of Boston and Margaret Hillis at the Chicago Symphony Chorus, early conductors of note also included Judith Somogi with opera and orchestral roles across the U.S. and then Europe, Eve Queller at her Opera Orchestra of New York, and Fiora Contino, who I remember from opera productions at Indiana University.

Later, as innovative major symphony music directors, we’ve been blessed with Joanne Faletta at the resurrected Buffalo Philharmonic and Marin Alsop in Baltimore.

It’s all opened the doors for a slew of younger conductors who are moving up the ranks and in the running for major positions like heading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, now that Gustavo Dudamel will be moving on to Gotham.

Looking at the 18 conductors being heard on live Metropolitan Opera broadcasts this season, I see four are women, one twice, something that would have been unimaginable at such a conservative institution only a decade ago.

Do note the trend, then. Anyone else find it exciting?

White supremacy was there all along

Maintaining a unique group identity can be perilous, no matter how necessary.

The necessity side, at its best, has to do with trying to make progress, improve justice and physical comfort, live healthier, counter the corrosive forces of status quo and lethargy, be smarter, and so on. Put it any way you want, things in general could be better, and even thinking something like that will set you apart from the status quo of broader society.

On the other hand, humans are social animals. We need others as family, friends, colleagues, cohorts. We even need them to share our stories, histories, songs, and place on this earth. Relax, right?

It’s a complex calculus, then, around the world.

What I started to see in researching my book on a Quaker community in New England, though, was a blatant arrogance within the Puritan wave of immigration. I suspect similar sides are apparent in the Spanish settlers to the south or the French to the north, or, well, back in the Old World, all the way to China. Even one tribe over another.

I’m trying to look at this clearly.

The English, of course, knew they were superior to the French, who I gather saw it the other way around. (Insert proper expletive and spit appropriately.) And they were both superior to the Spanish or Portuguese or Italians, according to this scenario.

Germans? Not really on the scene in earliest settlement in America, far as I can tell, though the Dutch of New Netherlands add their own twist.

Remember, the English also looked down on the Scots and Irish, as well as the Welsh and Cornish.

Sounds to me like the old game, King of the Hill.

The comedian Eddie Izzard has an insightful riff on this where he says it all comes down to a flag. If you have no flag, you have no claim to your country or land. So, here, I’ll stick mine in the ground and this place is mine.

That does make for a short ride on the papal Doctrine of Discovery. Look it up, if you must.

What I’ve seen in my research is how this air of superiority made equitable dealings between the Europeans and the Indigenous peoples impossible. There was no eye-to-eye even exchange. Even the concept of farming was viewed as more productive, and thus superior, than the Native hunting and gathering use of a piece of land.

Well, I could argue that God preferred a wild-game offering over grain in Cain vs. Abel, Genesis chapter 4.

You know, quality over quantity.

As for equality? We have our guns and Bibles.

Which points to another distinction: written language. I’m a writer and a reader. You expect me to not take sides here?

Still, in the New England story, the English weren’t shy about labeling the Natives as “barbarians,” “savages,” and “heathens.” Never mind many of the practices of the English and French, who not only offered bounties on scalps – Native and the other side’s European – but also indulged in the practice themselves. As for heathen? For the Puritans, with their Calvinist inclination of proclaiming themselves God’s Elect, most other Christians were also lumped in that group, perhaps at a slightly lesser degree.

Many of the consequences, however, have been tragic, for all sides.

In some theology, pride is a sin, right? Ahem. (Hopefully, in contrast to justifiable self-esteem.)

Well, as some among us might note, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker. Not that we didn’t fall into that trap of feeling superior, too.

There’s plenty of work for all to do on this issue. I’ll leave my end of the discussion at that, for now.

Attention span of sorts or shorts

Here we were, designing the newspaper of tomorrow. Meaning the next day’s editions.

As for the newspaper of the future?

Never thought it would be built around the dimensions of a computer screen or even a smart phone or have all of those links to follow.

The changing economics and business model are another subject altogether.

How are you getting your news?


Add to this to our list of items made obsolescent in our lifetimes

Even before many folks switched to unlisted numbers, in part to evade obnoxious ding-a-ling solicitations, the annual telephone book began shrinking. The migration from landline to cell phones was apparently the final straw, along with Yellow Pages regulars who turned instead to website searches or FaceBook.

What was long a standard reference volume for local communities is now long gone.

When’s the last time you saw a phone book?


Whoosh into the urban void

Decades have passed since I’ve been in any part of New York City. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, though, most of my buds were from there or nearby, so I wound up staying in all five boroughs. And I was reintroduced in the mid-80s as well.

I became fascinated with the transit rails and even imagined what I cast as Subway Hitchhikers, their psychedelic underground adventures now available in my novel Subway Visions.

Oh, the history! The city has certainly undergone a wild ride in the years since, some of them admittedly terrifying.

As improbable as my hitchhikers seemed at the time, reality has since produced several parallel developments.

The first was the Mole People, the homeless who created villages in the tunnels starting in the Reagan era.

The second was the Subway Surfers, daredevil youths who would ride the tops of the trains or more recently, hang from the sides.

I thought they had faded from the scene, but a spate of recent fatalities is proving otherwise.

As for the adrenaline rush? Or is it testosterone?

Maybe someone will be able to describe it to the rest of us. I’m not sure I’d want to see the movie version, sedate as I’ve become now.


What’s off with Microsoft’s log-in algorithm?

You know, the changing photo that keeps appearing when you log in. The calculations have no idea, really, of what I like or don’t. My sensibilities are far more complicated than its simple “mountains” or “seashores” calculus.

In one photo, for instance, a single bright-colored backpack at the bottom of the scene threw off the entire wilderness message. It looked like trash. That sort of thing. I didn’t like the particular photo for that reason, but I loved the bigger landscape.

It’s like living with a painting and one day you finally observe something that becomes a flaw. You loved it up to that point. And then?

It’s a binary switch rather than a scale of one-to-ten.

For now, I’m finding some comfort in that, sensing they still aren’t outsmarting me.


We’re in the midst of a quiet but widespread labor strike

The so-called “worker shortage” needs to have a new label, along with a clearer perspective. In too many ways, that “explanation” often comes down to blaming the victim, with its sense that people who are unemployed are lazy.

Not that those bandying the charge would accept the conditions of those “help wanted” positions. You know, the “entry-level” openings that are really no-respect, dead-end drudgery and require “reliable transportation” on late nights and weekends at minimum wage. Sorry, it doesn’t add up.

Or the plight of the long-haul independent truckers who are burdened by the costs of their rigs and the long hours away from their homes and families. As many of them age, they’re hanging it up and nobody’s stepping into the trap. Well, that’s one aspect of the “supply-chain problems” we’re encountering.

And then we should also admit the number of people who are simply unemployable today, sometimes for medical, mental, or emotional conditions.

What we’re seeing is a confluence of long-simmering problems finally erupting in the aftermath of Covid.

The health-care system is a prime example, far more complicated than we dare get into here. But Europe seems to train its doctors at less cost and in less time than we do in the USA, and there are arguments that primary-care physicians are capable of delivering much that we’re turning over to costly specialists. Much of the staff, meanwhile, has minimal health benefits, if any.

Wages adjusted for inflation have been declining for decades.

Breaking the unions has been a factor, along with company expectations of 24/7 availability plus worker loyalty without extending reciprocal security.

Keeping stores open seven days a week, by the way, is a relatively new custom. It does add to the low-pay “help wanted” slots.

At the core, what workers are selling is their time is exchange for something, not all of it money. They’re finding that many jobs aren’t worth the cost to them once child care, transportation, clothing, and the like are factored in.

There’s also the trap of being pitted against lower paid labor elsewhere (not just China) without reaping any of the profits from higher productivity here, which has been ballooning in the wealth of the superrich but definitely not trickling down.

One of the surprises has been the number of workers in their 50s who have been dropping out, especially males. Perhaps they’re working on their own “under the table,” but many have simply “had it” with the drag. Work, from what I’ve too often seen, no longer earns any respect. And the traditional work ethic carries an unwritten requirement of being paid a livable wage in exchange. Again, it’s not adding up.

Has anyone connected crackdowns on undocumented residents and their being deported with the shortages? These were the invisible workforce that was sustaining so much of the economy. As I was saying about respect?

Posts on my Chicken Farmer blog examine work and jobs in much more detail from a personal level.

From that perspective, I’d say we’re encountering a free-market reaction to low pay and unrewarding employment situations. This one-by-one, “disorganized labor” job action will be much more difficult to address than the traditional sitting down at a negotiating table and emerging with a new contract.

Is anybody even talking about the big picture here? I’d like to know.

As an alternative to ‘they’ for just one body?

I’m sorry, but I have real difficulty in using a plural pronoun to refer to just one person. I don’t want to get into the political ramifications here or gender limitations of our language or other arguments. To call one person “they” has me looking for the rest of the group. And when that “they” is being discussed at the same as “their” family or coworkers, I’m left with no idea who’s really being discussed. Life’s already confusing enough.

How about a whole new set of pronouns?

Let me offer “vey,” “vem,” “veir” for consideration. (I actually misheard “they” as “vey,” which got the ball rolling.)

It’s a way we can tell vem apart from veir family, household, even team.

Yes, I know the gender identity objections, especially when all (collectively) are placed under a masculine pronoun. I can even object to that practice by noting the confusion at times of ambiguity when trying to apply it specifically to males-only.

What can we do to gain greater all-around clarity rather than muddy the language further? 


With another new calendar year, here we go again

Hard to believe this blog is now in its second decade.

With the Barn, a new year usually signals a slight shift in focus and content.

2023, for instance, will see a series excerpting dreams I’ve had over the years. Mine can be surreal and inexplicable and yet, I feel, illuminating. They’ll likely give you unexpected glimpses into my psyche even though I’m thinking of it as literature. Meanwhile, the prose poems that have been appearing on Saturdays have run their course. Hope you’ve enjoyed their compressed impressions of my earlier life and feelings, especially when they’ve reflected your own, too.

Dover’s 400th anniversary will continue to be a major theme, including things I’ve learned since the release of my book based on the town’s Quaker heritage. And there will be announcements of presentations based on the book as they come up through the year. The ones I’ve done so far have been a blast.

Now that you’ve been introduced to Eastport and its ways, the tone of those posts will also turn, shall we say, more casual? Or at least more of the everyday experience around here rather than a record of the connections I’ve discovered. Besides, living on an island in Maine is some people’s fantasy, at least through the summer. I’m hoping to add a streak of reality to that vision.

Kinisi will continue with their off-the-wall, quirky, flash slashes. Some fall into the realm of concrete poems, a la Aram Saroyan, and others take the trippy flashes of the sort Richard Brautigan produced. Others can be seen as prompts for others to build on. These minimalist notations do reflect the way I’ve often heard and seen the world, slightly askew, even though I have to admit I don’t “understand” many of them. They’re intended to dance to their own beat, OK?

And I have to admit my Tendrils on Tuesday are great fun to investigate and offer. I never thought of top ten lists as entertaining, forget the factual dimension. They definitely have much more to dig up as we go.

One big shift will likely be in photography, from my Olympus camera to my S-22 Ultra cell phone. We’ll see what you think. Eastport and the surrounding environment are certainly visually rich subjects. Click, click, everywhere you turn.

Overall, though, I’m intending to have fewer posts this time around, yet it still looks like that still means at least one posting each day. Or, as one renowned writing teacher taught his classes, “Write 300 good words a day.” Not that I’m keeping count, even as I keep hoping to cut back. Does keyboarding really become compulsive?

My life and outlook have certainly changed over the course after signing up for a WordPress blog, which then led to four related lines. Thanks for sharing so much of it here.

What are you looking forward to on your end in the new year?