feeling a bit like a local red cockatoo


 Finished reading The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen. The plot is about an America just slightly more repressive than today’s America but along the same lines. The government and the corporations control the media and keep the public docile through lies and manipulation. There is a private security organization named Whitehall which is reminiscent of Erik Prince’s out-of-control private security organization, Blackwater.  The story is basically about a second revolution where America revolts against its government. There are are three or four main characters woodenly drawn. The plot is contrived and hard to believe. It’s disappointing because I am in sympathy with the point of view of this little piece of propaganda, but find myself reacting to it like a piece of poorly written young adult fiction. Lame.

Thank you to letter writer, George Jochnowitz, in last week’s NYT Book Review for including a poem in his letter:

To the Editor:

There is at least one case where an author uses a talking bird to make an important political statement. The great Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi (spelled Po Chû-i in the Wade Giles system of transcription), who lived from 772 to 846, wrote a poem about a cockatoo that was as gifted as any bird in literature. Here is the poem, translated by Arthur Waley:

Sent as a present from Annam—
A red cockatoo.
Colour’d like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.
And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside.

Bai Juyi’s cockatoo is as relevant today as it was when the poem was written 12 centuries ago.

George Jochnowitz
New York

Only “learned and eloquent” by very lame and local standards, I still feel a bit like a red cockatoo here in Holland sometimes.

This feeling has been nagging at me lately. I am realizing how isolated I am artistically from breathing people around me. I am not waivering in my commitment to who I am. Nor am I feeling less connected to my dead musicians, my remote musicians (living now but connected to me primarily through the internet and articles and books and their own music).

Rather as I watch my father’s personality disintegrate before my eyes, I sometimes feel my own emotional defenses being stripped away, too. Even my own rationalizations ebb and I look brutally in the mirror and see someone who has failed to connect to other composers and musicians.

For one horrifying moment I almost went to the local AGO meeting last night. Actually if I wasn’t feeling so worn down, I think it would have been a good thing to at least keep sniffing up this alley of possible colleagues and bullshit partners.

My isolation locally is the result of many serendipitous events. When I first came to this area I reached out to local musicians. Some responded. These people are pretty much all gone at this point. The local college both snubbed and frightened me with its typical combination of smugness and lack of competence.  The generation of teachers who were here in Holland in the year of my arrival (1987) were very old school. They seemed to see Holland as sort of a Notre Dame of the Dutch Reformed Church.

For example, I was very interested in Erik Routley the hymnologist at the time of my arrival. At least one local teacher knew him.  I tried to talk to this teacher about Routley and found that the things about Routley I admired (his expertise in hymnody and dedication to quality in church music) seemed to repell this local dude. Also he seemed repelled by me.

Time and time again I experienced this group of musicians as incompetent, provincial and small minded. It wasn’t that big a deal. I had come to the area to serve as a full time musician for a local Roman Catholic community. I didn’t perceive that many of the Dutch Reformed people detested Catholics. Weird.

Anyway, there’s a new generation of teachers at the local college and once again I seemed to have failed to connect with them collegially. At least this time most of them are not so uptight about my eclectic aesthetic.

I persist in my composing and performing. I have never been good at self promotion or schmoozing. I think that my current situation would require some pretty fancy dancing in those areas to make progress.  On the other hand, I think it would have been good for me to go to the AGO last night, except that I am on the tail end of a 48 hour depression and couldn’t manage it. Ah well.

Ironically the music I am performing and conducting this morning at church (Guillmant, Puccini, Dubois) represents more of what I think of as the AGO aesthetic from the 80s – romantic, lush and sort of anti-renaissance and anti-baroque and definitely anti-popular music. I’m pretty sure this has changed. In the 90s I wrote a choral piece that was dependent on a bit of jazz-like rhythmic understandings (the accents tended to occur on the last third of the pulse) and was surprised when it won second prize in a Maryland AGO compositional contest. When I spoke on the phone with one of the judges I was surprised again that the dude seemed to understand my little composition. 

So it’s not a desert everywhere. Hell, it might not be one here, since I haven’t connected with this group in years. The leadership continues to be made up of people who seem to dislike me or find me somehow a bit uncomfortable to talk to.  

Maybe I’ll have the mental wherewithal to attend the next meeting.

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