• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

A rebuttal, The Girl decodes my musical taste, the mystery of the vanishing cabs and a welcome return.

December 3, 2021

In response to a piece earlier this week about “Climb or Die,” in which I offered GWU as an example, an alert reader sent me this piece as a rebuttal.

Whether the rebuttal is accurate or not, I don’t know, but it seems plausible. The larger point of the piece still stands, but I take the point that GWU may not have been the best example.

After a decade of piano lessons, trumpet lessons, marching band, concert band, pit orchestra, music theory and even a gig as the musical director of a musical, The Girl has a much deeper understanding of music theory and composition than I do. She has also been exposed to my musical taste for years.

I share that as background for the following recent exchange.

TG: It’s fun being able to listen to a piece of music and decode what makes it work. Like, with Hozier, he likes to use a descending chromatic scale. That gets me.

Me: I’m a little jealous of that. I have an intuitive sense of whether I like something or not, but I don’t know the mechanics of it or how to describe it. I don’t know the common denominator to the stuff I like.

TG: You like unusual vocal cadences.

Me: Huh?

TG: When they sing off the beat. Like that video you showed me of that blond woman who paused for, like, four seconds before saying “darling.”

Me: Oh, yeah. That’s Diana Krall. [Here’s the clip. The highlight is just after 5:10.]

TG: Okay. You get that little half smile when the vocal phrasing is just a little off.

Me: Another example?

TG: Taylor Swift. You like when she speeds up to fit the syllables in.

Me: That’s true …

So, mystery solved. If you want to decode your own musical taste, just get your kid a decade or so of good musical instruction, and then ask.

The Wife and TG have a tradition of seeing a live production of The Nutcracker every December. Since this will be TG’s last year at home, they decided to go for broke and catch the production at Lincoln Center. I was drafted into chauffeur duty but made the best of it by catching a set at Birdland while they were at the ballet.

I go into Manhattan often enough, but also rarely enough, to have a sort of time-lapse view of it. The biggest change this time was the almost total lack of cabs in Midtown. I don’t think I saw a single one. They seem to have been replaced by electric bikes, which were out in force. I’m a fan, but between how quiet they are and how aggressively New Yorkers ride them, the sort of pedestrian hopscotch of Midtown Manhattan remains a challenge.

TW and TG report that the Lincoln Center production is excellent. They had a stir of excitement when they overheard a security guard on her phone saying that Kanye West might show up. (If you had asked me the likeliest places for Kanye West to show up, a performance of The Nutcracker wouldn’t have made the top 10, but there you go.) Either it was a false alarm or he was uncharacteristically subtle, because they didn’t notice him.

Birdland was fun in its own way. I had last been there in the ’90s, when it was farther uptown. It’s back in Midtown now, and it very much looks the part of a New York City jazz club. Another time-lapse observation: years ago, sets at jazz clubs were at 9 and 11. Now, many have shifted to 7 and 9. I’m guessing the median age of the audience—I was one of the younger ones there—has something to do with it. Seven worked well, though, because that was also the start time of the ballet. Joe Lovano (sax) and Dave Douglas (trumpet) headlined a quintet, but for my money, Lawrence Fields (piano) was the standout. His playing was lyrical, swinging and accessible; I think we’ll hear more from him.

Finally, I’m happy to welcome Mary Churchill back to the Inside Higher Ed blogs. Good to have you back!


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