composing myself

Once again I’ve had to skip a day posting due to being very busy.  I had a very long talk with my boss  yesterday in which she insisted on hearing my theological criticisms of the church community we both work for. Bless her heart. She said my observations were disturbing but that she values listening to them even if they don’t strike her as accurate. After that I came home and continued working on arrangements for instruments for this Sunday.

Since my Thursday trio rehearsal was canceled (the violinist decided she only had one rehearsal in her for that day and was planning to attend my evening rehearsal at church of instrumentalists) I had more time than I expected so I took a few more pains with the composition for the prelude. I had decided to combine Chaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 opening with the melody to the hymn “For All the Saints.” (Church musicians refer to this melody by its tune name, SINE NOMINE which ironicially is latin for “without a name.”)

This was not a big deal. I also had been sketching how to include  HOLY MANNA to this arrangement. HOLY MANNA is the tune to Sundays closing hymn, “Blessed Feast of Blessed Martyrs.”  This melody is more often associated with the text, “Brethren we have met to worship.”

Mixing up two or more tunes at once is called “quodlibet” one of Bach’s favorite devices. “Quodlibet” literally means “what you like” and is understand in the sense of being a bit playful, another Latin reference…

I spent a good amount of time reharmonizing SINE NOMINE, then making string trio parts for it. I am so proud of these parts that I’m sure they could stand alone. (In other words, they will be played with the rest of the instruments, but if they are heard alone they sound like a decent little piece) I decided to wind down the piece and end it with just the string trio to expose this harmonization a bit.

After doing the harmonization I then fit the melody for HOLY MANNA to it. This involved some rewriting of the melody so that it’s really more of a obbligato part. This all took quite a bit of time. After doing this I realized that the arrangement itself was actually pretty good and warranted further filling out and polishing. But no time.

At the rehearsal my string trio showed up on time. It was really fun to go over this arrangement and the other arrangements I had done for these three players. Eventually a bass player and a very young clarinetist (whom I wasn’t really expecting but had a few simple parts ready in case he just happen to show) also arrived. I ended up dismissing the strings and working with the other two people on their parts.

I had an interesting post rehearsal conversation with the bass player. He has just finished running a congressional campaign for a local Republican. He said that when they took their advertising campaign (which he helped develop and write) to Washington D.C. the political consultants there criticized them for not doing attack ads. He was amused that the “big boys” were so naive about local politics and ethics. The consultants also were confused as to why they didn’t do more Sunday activities.  Pursuing local “conservatives” means having to sort of fit in with the more puritanical notions that Sunday is not a day for anything but the “Lord’s work.”

I didn’t vote for his guy, but I did enjoy chatting with this person involved in the campaign.

In between all my very busy activities lately I have been pondering the question Ray Hinkle posed in a recent comment when he said he wasn’t sure why I  “disliked business.”  This was in reference to my comments about both top candidates for Michigan governor promising to run the state like a business.

First I was surprised by the question. My life has been one of running in the opposite direction of conventional success. I don’t make much money. I have a very modest dwelling. And I have an excellent life.

I guess that having observed businesses for so long and having read many business gurus like Steven Covey, Peter Drucker, and Robert Greenleaf, my impression is that despite these writers the logic of contemporary business is to pursue short-term profits by almost any legal means. So that it helps to me to understand that businesses often act the way they do as organizations because their primary goal and defining motivation is the “bottom line.”

So business thinking can be efficient for that ends. But this also means that I see  a loss of both a sense of civic responsibility and the ability to look at the long term implications of pursuing more lucrative short term solutions.

This explains to me why so many businesses can’t muster good or even mildly workable customer service and are occasionally caught in dishonest if not illegal activities.

In addition to this, I don’t get money and ownership as clear concepts. I am willing to admit that this is sort of a “peter  pan” approach to life, but it is congruent with my values and childhood indoctrination into the sayings of the Christ of the New Testament.

Not a week goes by that this atheist/agnostic doesn’t hear words of Jesus ironically in his head: “Take no thought for the morrow, consider the lilies of the field, they neither sow nor reap….. ” In the story of the man who tore down his barns to build bigger and better barns: “Fool this night your soul is required of you.” In other words, tonight you die and have to answer for who you are and how you have lived.

I think Wendell Berry puts it nicely in his poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
[link to entire poem]

This is not a very important thing to me.  “Bottom line” notions permeate our society right now. I realize that I’m very out of step with these quiet little ideas of mine.  I find that my understandings and motivations about how to live serve me well. I don’t feel like everyone has to see it the way I do. But I do see that for me, life is something to embrace and I have a tendency to try to stand just behind the kid in the crowd eavesdropping and chuckling when he points to the emperor who is actually humorously exposed.

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0 thoughts on “composing myself

  1. You realize the irony is of course that you have always worked for the church that has a distinct sense of business practices. They for the most are tax exempt and I can tell you from experience that major churches are money making machines. For example in LA the catholic church has a business executive who pulls $500K for a salary and works with development companies to expand and invest in business ventures to make the church money serious money. Not to mention the millions of people who give to the church weekly.

    I like to think of the distinctions between public and private business practices as a fine, but solid line.

    Public business must ascertain public value to provide for demand regardless of profitability. The public outcry for services is what drives the service at any level. For example, the mental health services act in California was an outcry for increased services for the mentally ill, whether it be for the sake of NIMBY or actually wanting to help those in need. That 1% tax on millionaires has yielded vast amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars for the sole purpose of providing the service as opposed to profiting from the people.

    This is a far cry from private business which should ascertain the demand and meet it with supply for profit. For example in California many of the for profit outfits that are mental health based, produce minimal services (just enough to meet the needs of the public and be within legal guidelines), but there owners and top execs are well paid and much of the funding does not go into the business as evidenced by crappy facilities, care, and low wage earners at the line staff level. This is even true for those pseudo “non-profits” that although are legally not for profit entities, the same holds true regarding high salary owners/execs, crappy facilities, care, and low wage earners.

    This is where I would kind of agree with you that private business practices can be very destructive and problematic from the small business owner to the huge industrialized businesses such as pharmaceuticals or private health care. However, it is not for lack of potential business ventures, but rather lack of societal conventional wisdom and ethical thinking.

    Sorry. I will get off my soap box now and get back to working on my “dissertation Friday’ stuff.


  2. Very interesting and astute observations, Dude. I wasn’t think of public sector so much. And though I, my Dad and my brother have worked for the church for all of my life, none of us have received decent pay by societal standards. I understand what you are saying about larger churches and well remunerated business exec you mention. I find highly paid individuals in the church are usually no better at their job than those of us who are under paid. But my experience is not that vast really.

    Thanks for commenting. I’m interested in your soap box observations, believe me.

  3. I think David has made a point that I am in agreement. There is a fine, but distinct line between public and private business. The public includes non-profit and for profit businesses. We hear more about the public businesses than about private. But I think ethics directly effect business outcome. Those businesses that use unethical practices will eventually fail. Those businesses that alienate their customers will eventually fail. No one goes to a business that is untrustworthy. A free society were individuals make choices are critical. So, does the elimination of choice make us better in some intellectual way. I think not. Freedom to choose. The right to succeed or fail based on your own efforts. By the way,the small business owner makes up more than 50% of Gross National Product, but I think that it is actually higher. (There is some assumptions here that are I would question, but that is a digression.) Everyone, comes into contact with a small business every day. Most people are employed by a small business (typically this is 500 or fewer employees). They either provide a product or service and you use them everyday. Lemon Jellos is a good example. The music store which sells a variety of equipment is another. These products and service provide a quality of life that we all enjoy and I believe makes our lives better.
    The public sector is I think filled with problems that make it easy to form opinions that are negative. I do understand your feelings about this. I do not understand manipulative hi-bred contracts which are designed to extract money with not enduring function or benefit for the long term. No investor really wants that, but it does happen. Not all people are trustworthy, nor should they be running businesses. Freedom to fail is as important as freedom to succeed. I do point to economists who I think of highly. These include Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams. Sorry to be long winded.

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