Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas holidays!

I am on holiday! Yay. I'm so glad work is over. I submitted my last final on Tuesday, and spent a little time today calculating final grades for my students, and now I'm home, and finished, and SO ready for a break! I'm not going to do anything school-related until after New Years.

This isn't a great picture, but at least you can get a general sense of what my Christmas decorations look like, with the view of the Empire State Building in the background.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It isn't over till it's over.

Hey, it's the Christmas season after all, and miracles can happen. But in the mean time, I'll let Zapiro, eloquent as ever, comment on all that is wrong with this....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

talent on all sides

In amongst the marking and scrambling to finish finals, there is a whole lot to celebrate at the moment.
Yesterday was the last lecture of the undergraduate course I have had such fun TAing this semester, and we used the time, delightfully, to hold an open mic session for students and faculty alike. It was really wonderful to have some super talented students show us what they really can do with their voices, and I was particularly moved by A's wonderful song-writing and performing abilities, D's incredible producing skills, and M's very creative combination of beat-boxing and throat singing. You are all so awesome, and it has been wonderful getting to know you this semester. I wish you everything of the best for your future careers, and really hope I'll get to see more of you in future.
And now, in the spirit of the season, I'm posting the YouTube video originally sent to me by NYChoirgirl, that I contributed to our class festivities yesterday. Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

And feel like it, too. On Saturday night, NYChoirgirl and I performed our end of year concert with the Stonewall Chorale. It was a super success, with the big Church of the Ascension nearly full, and lots of great feedback from the various audience members I got to talk to afterwards. Thank you so much to everyone who supported us. It was wonderful to see so many smiling faces in the audience, to get such super applause, and to hear your very generous comments afterwards. I'm so glad you were all there, and that you had a good time.
I also put up my Christmas decorations this past week, and now have a string of steady white lights, a string of flashing blue lights, great loops of blue tinsel, and a dozen or so blue and white snowflakes adorning my living room. They blend very well with the blue and white Empire State Building I can see through the window. I haven't got a Christmas tree yet, because live ones make me sad (I hate the idea of cutting a tree down, just to throw it out, dry and sorry-looking, in January), and artificial ones are surprisingly difficult to find in this city. At least, artificial ones under $50. Online shopping has come to my rescue (as it so often does), though, and my little 3 foot pre-lit artificial Christmas tree is on its way. I love putting Christmas decorations up. And now, in the Northern hemisphere, where the sky is dark by the time I get out of class, the lights really brighten things up.
Speaking about getting out of class, I taught my last seminar of the semester today, and now have a large pile of marking waiting for me. It's actually less daunting than I thought it might be, because the student's assignments are so interesting to read. I really like these students, and am going to miss them next semester.
Finally, this is my last evening at home for a while. Tomorrow, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights I'm attending various Christmas parties, and on Wednesday night, I participate in the NYU tradition of midnight breakfast for dinner. On Wednesday, I also attend my last class of the semester, and a week later, submit my last final. And then, I'm on holiday for just under a month.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What sweeter music....

NYChoirgirl gave a wonderful performance on Saturday evening, with the Dessoff choir. It was her second performance with this really super choir, and while I found their last performance, at Carnegie Hall really thrilling, I especially enjoyed this performance because the focus was so much more on the choir than the last one was.
The venue was St. Bartholomew's Church, and it set the perfect atmosphere with its gold dome and spectacular stained glass. The accoustics were wonderful, and the choir made full use of that, exhibiting all the subtelty, strength and clarity of their sound with Gerald Finzi's In Terra Pax (Op. 39, 1954) and Benjamin Britten's St. Nicolas (Op. 42, 1948). I must admit to being a particlar fan of the Finzi, where the composer's wonderful familiarity with the type of harmonic movement that is particularly beautiful with a full choral sound resulted in moments of absolutely sublime music in the hands of this skillful choir. The very last line: "And on earth peace, good will toward men" gave me goosebumps.
The Britten is perhaps more of a virtuosic work, requiring both stamina and clear articulation from the choir, who were in good form. I still have the rapid ascending meoldy of the second movement, in particular the clear, fresh womens' sound, interwoven with the deliberate incantation sung by a very sweet boy soloist, and the tenor soloist, running through my head. The moment when this incantation is taken over by the adult St. Nicolas from his child self is very moving, as is Nicolas' prayer in the fourth movement that God "Teach us to ask for less and offer more in gratitude to Thee."
All in all, it was a wonderful start to the Christmas season, with unusual, and very appropriate music that makes a nice change from the usual Christmas fare. I was so proud of NYChoirgirl. Her face was shining, and she looked so delighted to be singing. As one of her fellow chorister's pointed out, she looks especially angelic when she's singing.

So now we are less than a week away from our first performance together with the Stonewall Chorale, next Saturday, the 8th of December, at the Church of the Ascention. Do come and support us. I predict a good performance!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dinner with the President

I have been feeling a little down about the project of the research university for a while, partly because I've seen, through teaching, what a raw deal so many students (particularly, or specifically, undergrads) get when they enter a high-profile research university like NYU, and partly because I've realized that my commitment to education, and my understanding of the goals of the academic project more broadly, are not commensurate with the goals of a large number of my peers and seniors. Before I expand on that, though, let me say that my experiences tonight, to my surprise, have given me fresh hope and new energy.

So here is the full story: About a week ago, I received an invitation to have dinner with the President of NYU, John Sexton. The opportunity was intriguing. I have become disillusioned with the conflicts between the NYU mission to be a university of New York in New York, and what, from the inside, at least, looks like a quest to gain status and rank at the expense of an engagement with the lived reality of this city, which is cosmopolitan in the best and worst ways. NYU, it seemed, was riding the elitist ivory tower image right up there with the most iconoclastic of the ivy league, attracting well-resourced undergrads in order to finance the graduate students who would teach them, while the big-name tenured faculty got on with the business of research. It isn't a terrible model, particularly if you are among the big-name tenured faculty, but for the students, particularly undergrads, who expect to have life-changing, though-altering experiences through their interaction with the best thinkers in the world, finding out that your intellectual heroes have little or no interest in teaching, or worse, great interest, but no time, due to the demands of the tenure track, can be somewhat disappointing. No wonder the academy and its discourse has such a bad reputation in the world out there. You need to be taught academic speak in order to understand the work being produced, but the people most qualified to teach you that would rather be talking to each other than to you, even if you are paying huge amounts of money for the privilege of their attention.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a critique of the faculty themselves. I have benefited immensely from a large number of outstanding intellectuals who have gone above and beyond to help me get to where I am. And I'm also benefiting greatly from the financial management of a university that can afford to fund my education for five years, in exchange for a few semesters of teaching. Heck, I'm one of the biggest beneficiaries of the system. But I'm also critical of that system because it encourages a view of education, the practice of teaching, that labels it the unfortunate baggage of an academic career. Teaching is the despised responsibility. Research and publication are the goal.

Quite frankly, as far as I can tell, there is no point in doing research and publishing work if one has no intention of teaching it. Knowledge is only as good as the use it is put to, and there are only two ways that the knowledge we produce can be put to good use: through our own application of it (i.e. "advocacy" or "public sphere work", both second-class considerations in the academy, and non-entities in the tenure process), or through our teaching of it to others, who will apply it. And we should be publishing so that our insights are available to those who we cannot teach directly.

One clarification here. I don't mean teaching according to the classical model of students sitting at the feet of the master. I mean teaching in the way that it works in a graduate seminar, or in the undergraduate sections I've been lucky enough to work with this semester. Teaching becomes about providing a set of materials and interpretive tools, and then letting the magic that is learning happen. Sometimes, that means that students make use of those tools right there with you, and all of you come away with something from the classroom encounter, and sometimes it means you demonstrate a few ways of using them, and let the students take that away and work their magic, either in private, or, if you're lucky, in the work you get to grade. Either way, no one is the end point of knowledge. It's all a great set of endless possibilities. How exciting!

A while ago, I read this document, published my John Sexton on the university website, in which he proposes a role for "university teachers", as distinct from research faculty. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I find myself opposing the document as a whole on the basis of his caveat that
[the university teacher] will be capable of appreciating and of participating in
the research enterprise. But he or she will have chosen to tilt the
personal mix of research and teaching more dramatically in the direction of
teaching than would be appropriate for one seeking tenure. The university
teacher will dedicate a full professional life to the university as an active
participant in the institution and a premier participant in the education of
students. The university teacher will not be given the lifetime position we
associate with tenure, but the possibility of remaining with the institution for
a whole professional career will be very real

So my big question is: why is it not appropriate for a faculty member who "tilts the mix" of research and teaching more strongly toward the side of teaching, not to get tenure? Why is teaching valued less strongly? What is the mission of the thinking individual if not to disseminate their thoughts? And how, other than through teaching, do we do that?

I didn't get to ask that question tonight, though I'm going to ask it via email once this crazy semester is at an end, in a few weeks time. But I did hear a whole lot from our university president that suggested to me that his goals for the production and dissemination of knowledge line up more strongly with my own than I had previously thought. At the very least, I encountered an openness to conversation about these matters that I had not expected, and that gives me some hope. I still think teaching is undervalued, but I no longer think that the university is all about money and prestige. And that is a big relief.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why students drop out

The Mail and Guardian published an article reporting the findings of a recent study on the reasons behind the high university drop-out rate in South Africa. Top of the list is lack of funds, but more worrying to me is that on that list is: “My lecturers were so inaccessible that I did not think I could approach them for help”.
I think it's wonderful that the MAP program at NYU ensures that students have weekly sections with TAs in small groups, where they can get some individualized attention, but it does concern me that really the only individual attention they get is from graduate students. The classes are just too big, and the faculty under too much pressure (especially if they are on the tenure track) to be able to get to know their students, and without that students really are going to find it difficult to get into graduate programs, and in certain instances, even to find jobs. References are such an important part of the application process, and before that, the mentorship of a faculty member who cares about and believes in the academic project is so important to the process of entering higher education. If it is also, as the survey suggests, important that lecturers be available to students, just to ensure that they finish their degrees, then I'm not sure how effective this system is. I guess I'm just questioning, once again, the state of the academy that deprioritizes teaching, when it is that, in the end, that funds (and should motivate) all other aspects of the University program.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reading and work

I just spent three weeks essentially wasting my time, reading a huge, difficult and incredibly dense book that in the end doesn't seem to go anywhere. I get the academic project of theorizing for the sake of challenging assumptions. That is the only way that we stand any chance of making our thinking more effective. But some ways of "doing theory" involve little more than mixing and matching the theoretical (and hence, unproven/unprovable) observations of other theorists, and rapidly moving further and further away from the real world. I'm here to talk about music and what people do with it, for goodness sake, and not what is left if all history is memory, and all memory is (theoretically) unethical.
I guess I'm just frustrated with my coursework, at the moment, which feels like a hinderance to my learning process, rather than the support I think it should be. It will get better, though, if for no other reason than that next semester I get to be more specific about my project, and spend my time doing a whole lot of reading that I've selected for myself. I guess I'm just beginning to judge my reading time as more precious the more other things I have to do, and so I'm resentful of things that don't make productive use of this time.
Alright. Rant over. I'm going to listen to a talk by a scholar who did her research in South Africa, this evening, and then I'm going to go home and read Jeannette Winterson, just because I want to. And then on Wednesday, the Thanksgiving holiday starts! I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Afrikaner Feminism, De La Rey's girlfriend, and soft porn as social commentary

T requested a translation for the song I linked to in my last post. I was hoping to find the lyrics or a recording of the whole thing, but failing that, I thought I'd give you a transcription and translation of the lyrics from the fragment on the singer's website.

De La Rey ons wag op jou De La Rey we’re waiting for you
Hier onder die hemel blou Here under the blue sky
Hulle sê jy moet ons ly They say you must lead us
Maar dan moet jy ‘n meisie kry But then you must get a girlfriend

Generaal De La Rey General De La Rey
‘n Boere meisie moet jy kry You must get an Afrikaans (farm) girl
[inaudible] moet sy wees […] she must be
‘n Boere meisie met geen vrees an Afrikaans girl with no fear

For anyone familiar with South African history, the discourse around the fearless boer women who followed their men into the interior of South Africa, worked the land alongside them, and in some instances fought alongside them, is standard revisionist/early feminist fare. It's of course all deeply problematic, not least because the obvious connection between Son-Isha's song and Bok's De La Rey means that Son-Isha's image of a fearless woman is juxtaposed with Bok's helpless woman and child starving in a consentration camp. And of course, De La Rey's imagined girlfriend sits rather strangely alongside Bok's Girls in Bikinis (the second to last track on the De La Rey album), and the various other feminine figures that drift through his album. As always, the women are defined in relation to the men. But to avoid rehearsing that rather simplistic argument, let me make another, I think more provocative connection, with the aid of Wayne Barker and Annie Coombes. The former draws largely on the latter, though in shorter form.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

De La Rey's Girlfriend

Dare I call this a feminist take on the De La Rey debate? (do keep your volume up when you click the link.) A little girl by the name of Son-Isha has recorded a song called "De La Rey Moet 'n Meisie Kry" (De La Rey must get a girlfriend).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Choir concert

On the 8th of December, SAChoirgirl and NYChoirgirl will be performing in the Stonewall Chorale French Holiday Concert at the Church of the Ascension on the corner of 5th Avenue and 10th Street. The program, in addition to some light holiday numbers, includes Poulanc's Gloria, Debussy's Trois Chansons, Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine (one of my favourite choral works ever) and Messiaen's O Sacrum Convivium. If you like French music, or holiday music, or choral music in general, this is the concert for you! Tickets can be obtained directly from me (if you will be seeing me in the interim) or from the choir website (Please put Nicol Hammond into the "who referred you" box), and are $20 each until the day before the performance, or $25 on the day. You can also obtain a season ticket that covers three concerts, for $50. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

birds, bees and butterflies

It sounds like someone in the South African government finally got smart on the issue of name changes. In Johannesburg, at least, all subsequent name changes will focus on South African fauna and flora, and the Mail and Guardian reports on a broad-based public consultation process to begin next year. Lets home the animosity and money-wasting is at an end.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I just pledged 10 000 words on InaDWriMo. Of course, I'm not at dissertation writing point yet, but that conference paper I just finished needs to be turned into a publishable piece, and I have a few other bits of writing to pull together by December. I wonder whether I'll be able to stick to it?

P.S. I was asleep about an hour ago, but the Halloween partying is in full swing on the street below, and so I won't be getting much more sleep for a while, at least. There are some disadvantages to living in the village. Not enough to make me want to move, but they're there, nonetheless.

Back from SEM

Another SEM is over, and I'm back in New York, and back in the middle of things. Despite the travel hassles, things were really pretty great. NYU made a very good showing, with lots of really effective papers from students and faculty, and a party that, in the tradition of NYU music department parties at SEM, got shut down. And I was especially happy to get to spend some time with Brett, who is doing wonderful things. T has a great post on the conference, and in particular, what we ate, that is really worth reading, and Gabriel Solis over at People Listen to it, has a post on the keynote lecture which generated some interesting discussion.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

SEM so far

I rushed through my morning yesterday in order to make my flight out of JFK in comfortable time. I needn't have bothered. The flight was canceled, and we were re-routed to LaGuardia. Frantic that we would get caught up in traffic on the rather expensive shuttle ride between the airports, we dashed downstairs to the baggage claim, and waited. And Waited. AND WAITED. Finally, two of us went upstairs to the luggage claim desk to investigate further, only to be told that our bags had been put on a plane that evening to Columbus. Why we were not on that plane with our bags, we could not understand. And why that flight was able to leave, and ours was canceled due to "bad weather", we could not understand. And why we had been told to collect our bags downstairs, when they had been automatically re-routed, we could not understand.
So we rushed outside and on to a shuttle. And waited. And finally offered to pay the driver more to leave with all six of us plus one non-NYU student, and one empty seat, rather than wait for an eighth passenger, so that we would make our new flight.
So off to LaGuardia we rushed, and got through customs just in time to hear that our flight had been delayed. Not a complete tragedy. It was about dinner time, and we were all pretty hungry. Several of us in the group are vegitarians, and several people have food allergies, and so our choices were rather limited. But we ate and talked, and waited together. Finally it got to the time when we should be making our way over to the terminal. We did that little thing just in time to discover that our flight had been canceled! We were booked on a new one in the morning that basically guaranteed that we would miss the first few papers we had all wanted to attend. But at that point, what choice did we have?
Brett, who had begun his journey on Monday evening (he was traveling from South Africa) was about ready to pass out, and so rather than drive all the way out to Manhattan and then back in the early hours of the next morning, we crashed at Allen's place in Brooklyn. Many thanks, Allen and Nicki. Your fold-out couch was very comfortable!
Part the next: On Thursday morning, we all woke up bright and early to get to LaGuardia. This time we actually got onto the plane before the waiting happened. But at long last, we got into the air, and on to Columbus. The airport taxis were unable to carry all six of us at once, so we went in two taxis. And three of us landed up at the wrong Hyatt. Who would have thought Columbus had two Hyatts?
But we finally got there, and got registered, and are now (relatively) comfortably settled at the conference hotel. The hotel, thankfully, did not charge us for the first night that we missed, but they did give away our double room, and so three women and one (tall) man are sleeping in one king-size bed and one cot. Last night the arrangement was less than successful. Tonight, we will have to try something different. Most of the NYU department gave their papers yesterday (and there were some very good ones among them), but Jenny, Brett and Allen all speak today, and I have my paper tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This I had to blog

I just received an email from one of my students informing me that I missed the point of his recent paper when I was marking it, and requesting a meeting so that he can set me straight! Um, sorry buddy, but if you didn't make the point in the paper, there is a good chance I would have not gotten it. Of course, if you had made an appointment and met with me before the paper was due, as I suggested you should, you may not have been in this situation in the first place....

Columbus, here I come.

I am headed for Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow, for SEM. I can't believe Hawaii was nearly a year ago! I'm excited, and a little nervous, but mostly just looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues again. I always enjoy conferences, even without the beaches and warm weather. My paper is on Saturday morning, fairly early, but hopefully there will be a few die-hard attendees who aren't completely wiped out by then, and who will have some useful feedback. I don't know what internet access I'll have, but as we are in the conference hotel, I'm sure there will be something, so I'll blog as I have the opportunity.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy days

I had yet another amazing weekend. Is one person really allowed so much happiness? Saturday was full of particular high points, as NYChoirgirl and I hiked from Walhalla (!) to Pleasantville (!!) via an incredibly beautiful reservoir. The leaves have turned just enough that everything looked beautifully autumnal, and yet the weather was comfortably warm, with only the slightest hint of rain that never quite caught up with us. It was the perfect way to spend a beautiful day. And the day ended on a particularly high note with South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup!!!! Well done Bokke. You make us proud.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lucky Dube was shot and killed by hijackers yesterday

This is such a tragedy. South Africa has lost yet another music legend. Thank you, dad, for passing the article on.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mostly Mozart at the Lincoln Center

Last night, NYChoirgirl took me to the Lincoln Center to hear the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis perform Mozart's Requiem. It was a completely wonderful evening from beginning to end, and not just because of the music. But the music is what I'm going to write about here.
The program began with Mozart's piano concerto no. 27, with Imogen Cooper as the soloist. The orchestra was sparkling, and made up for some rather disappointing shortcomings on the part of the soloist. Mozart hardly requires the muscular strength of a Beethoven or Rachmaninoff, but I found myself wishing she would put a little more muscle behind the potentially really dramatic music, particularly during the final movement. In general, her take on the whole work was surprisingly romantic, slow and rubato, and while I think that this concerto in particular is often rushed, and lacking the emotional depth the music suggests to me, this rendition became a little tiresome. Her lack of clarity in her left hand also tended to mask her more virtuosic right hand articulation, and the lack of movement in the whole work drew attention to this imbalance.
The second half, however, more than made up for the shortcomings of the first. We had come mainly to hear the Requiem, which NYChoirgirl sang recently, and I hope to sing one day.
It was absolutely spectacular. The choir, which was pretty substantial, sounded like it consisted of twice the voices it did, and yet not one ounce of clarity was lost. The sound was clean, full, and periodically amazingly, expressively, soft yet penetrating. I was overwhelmed. The balance between choir and orchestra was amazing, and the conductor was a treat to watch.
Can you tell I had a good time?
It is still periodically amazing to me to find myself in this city, surrounded by so much .... so much of everything. And so wonderfully happy.

UPDATE: The New York Times review of Wednesday's performance is much more thorough than mine. Thank you, NYChoirgirl, for forwarding this to me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Singing politics

The Mail and Guardian reported on the ANC Youth League's comments on Mosiuoa Lekota's suggestion that the singing of struggle songs outside parliment and court is a bad idea. While I have a huge problem with the vindictive and immature way that the ANCYL comments were made, I must admit to agreeing with their stance. People have a right to be heard, and singing is a wonderful way of getting a message out, as I keep telling my students. There is something very visceral and positive about expressing political will through singing. I may disagree fundamentally with the message of the song in question "uMshini Wami", and with the cause that it is in support of, but sensorship is not an option in a democracy, and especially not in South Africa, where singing has played such a critical role in our long-term social and political engagement. Singing politics is what South Africa is known for!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Former classmates going places

My former classmate, Dillon Davie, has had a review published on ZA@Play, an online source linked to the Mail and Guardian. Well done Dillon! His writing is really good, and the performance he is reviewing sounds really special. I hope it comes to New York eventually.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fall, and the bokke

Fall is finally here. The temperature has dropped into the chilly range, and while it isn't quite winter coat time, it was time for me to put a duvet on the bed, and get my warm jerseys out. I really love this time of year, partly because the trees are so breathtakingly beautiful (or will become so, now that the weather has cooled), and partly just because it feels good. It isn't so cold as to be umpleasant yet, but it is distinctly different from a balmy South African fall, and I am still enjoying the novelty.

Oh, and just because I'm excited about this..... GO BOKKE! South Africa is playing England in the Rugby World Cup Final next Sunday.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A long day

If I wasn't teaching, I never would have realized how much time students who leave seeking necessary information about assignments to the last minute take up. I have spent a huge amound of time today meeting with students and answering emails relating to the assignments that are due tomorrow. I really do love meeting with students, and so in general this is a pleasure, but the occasional meetings that consist almost entirely of the student telling me why they have absolutely no interest in the course topic, and don't want to write the essay, get a little tiring. I am so ready for bed right now.
When the first email in my inbox in the morning is a thank you note from one of the students I helped out yesterday, that makes it all better. And the fact that she has an interesting project is even better.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Free Mp3s for Heritage Day

My parents sent me this link to a News 24 site featuring free downloadable mp3s. Not all of them are of South African music, but all are African, and there are some really super ones there. The links are up as part of the newsgroup's Heritage Day celebrations, because South Africa's heritage day was on Monday.
Thanks, mom and dad!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

South African Music Day

In the midst of a crazy busy new term, I spent a little time in South African space on Sunday. Kathy Tagg put together a wonderful day's activities revolving around South African music at the Manhattan School of Music, and while I didn't get to attend everything, or even as much as I would have liked to, the two concerts I saw were fabulous! Around lunch time, there was a program of South African vocal music, with two soloists performing song cycles (one in English and one in Afrikaans) a third soloist singing an arrangement of a Xhosa bow song (The cello made an amazing substitute for a gourd-resonated bow), and an ensemble singing traditional choral music. You can guess what my favourite was! I was really impressed with the vocal sound this group, in particular achieved, even with a very thin bass section. The soprano sound was wonderfully full.
The evening concert was of chamber music, and as a fan of, in particular, Peter Klatzow, and more tentatively, Kevin Volans, I really enjoyed this. The performers were not universally capable during this concert, and one of the string ensembles reminded of how critical it is that the instruments are properly in tune when the music is not conventionally tonal (!), but the absolute highlight of the evening, Kevin Volans' percussion composition Chakra, performed with great flair by three percussionists (one of whom was not listed in the program) from the MSM, swept away any lingering doubts some of the earlier pieces may have raised about my devotion to this type of music.
Well done on a resoundingly successful event, Kathy, and thank you for googling this blog!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Street performance, and the Drakensberg Boys' Choir

I had the craziest day today, running around town from one end to the other (literally: Brooklyn, Harlem, NYU, Harlem, Union Square, NYU, and finally, Harlem again), but quite abruptly earlier this evening I was stopped in my tracks by one of the best street performances I have yet seen in NYC. Three guys were playing drums using a combination of two upturned buckets, a barrel lid, and two of the plastic containers that hold newspapers on street corners around NYC. They were doing some pretty elaborate stuff, and it was really nice to have an excuse to stand still and just listen for a bit.

Also, one quick note. I noticed through my blog stats this week that someone has been searching repeatedly for "Drakensberg Boys' Choir lyrics "I wish I were"". This is one of my absolute favourite of their recently programed pieces, and can be heard at their website or via this link (the recording quality isn't great, and doesn't do them justice, but it should at least give you an idea of what they and the piece sound like. The full title of the song is "I Wish I Were a Punkrocker", and the lyrics are available here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York South African Music Day

Kathy Tagg commented on my blog yesterday to point out a fabulous event happening at the Manhattan School of Music next Sunday, the 23rd of September. It is called the New York South African music day, and is a whole day of conversations about and performances of South African music, held on the day before South Africa's Heritage Day public holiday next Monday. I am very excited about what is planned, and about the people scheduled to participate, so if you are around, come on down.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ubuntu, individualism and crime in South Africa

I have yet to read the full text of Mbeki's speech yesterday on Steve Biko, as the transcript is not yet up on the ANC website, but I must admit an ambivalence to the current reports on it. The Mail and Guardian headlines "Mbeki: Crime a symptom of 'rapacious individualism'", a sentiment that I agree with in spirit if not letter, but the calls it thereafter reports for "moral regeneration" trouble me. Morality is such a slippery space, bounded as it is by essentially individualist religious constructs and conceptions of the "normal". A clash of moral sensibilities led to several acts of voilence against women during the time I was back in South Africa, and debates about morality are heavily implicated in almost all terrorist and geanocidal actions. Even the current war in Iraq is justified on a moral premise, despite the various ecomonic issues implicated.
And I don't want to get into word games about the difference between morality and ethics, either. I do think that is a useful way of framing this, but really it's just too abstract for the current circumstances.
Crime is, I believe, more about an inability or unwillingness to see the humanity in others than about a lack of moral compass, because when you can't see how your actions hurt someone else, you can't see the immorality in them. I always have believed that everyone wants to be good, or at least to feel good about themselves, and that knowing that you are hurting someone else doesn't feel very good. That is why child molesters tell themselves that the children they interact with actually want, or enjoy, what is done to them. And the idea of "for the good of the community" becomes an excuse to ignore individuals who are hurting. The apartheid government believed that it was acting for the good of the country, but it had to ignore the humanity of black people to do that.
I'll read the speech fully before I comment more on this, but I just wanted to put that out there, as my initial response to the reports I've been reading.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I feel like I'm glowing from the inside out at the moment, and while my teaching isn't entirely responsible, it has at least contributed to the feeling. I really get a kick out of that work. Everything, but everything seems to make perfect sense when I'm in that classroom with those students. I don't mean that the details of the work always make sense (they don't always, and I admitted to one group yesterday that I don't really understand phenomenology, even if I can talk a bit about it in the context of class readings), but the broader reasons behind things do. I know why singing is so important to me when I see my students faces as they open their own mouths to sing. They giggle and demure and fain embarrasment, but there is something terribly intimate, and immensely satisfying about making noise together. I have this exercise I used to do with my choir where we pick a note, and then gently swoop down to the bottom of our range from there, and I did that with my classes on Friday and Monday. And I played music to them, and listened to them talk about it, and read what they had written. I watched the expressions on their faces as I told them about South Africa, and about how I got into music in the first place, and the expression of utter relief and delight on one girl's face when I explained that we would be talking about synaesthesia with one of my favourite composers. She has synaesthesia too, and so badly wants to know more. It is an immense privilege to be in New York to do this, because there are so many people around, and so many resources and opportunities for these things. But really, I think wherever I was, at this moment in my life, teaching would feel like this.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti died earlier today of cancer. I'm going to play some of his recordings to my undergraduate class this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day one, year two

After a really fun long weekend, the new semester starts today. I'm not actually teaching today, technically, but I do have the first lecture of the course that I'm running a couple of recitations for, so today will be the first opportunity I will have to see the new students and get a sense of the classroom situation. I have been excited about this for a really long time (one of the first things I said to my advisor when I arrived in New York was "I'm really looking forward to teaching"), but I'm also beginning to feel both more clear about the course, and a little nervous. Most of these students are not music majors, and while only very few of them are freshmen, I feel like this is a really important opportunity to open up their academic experience. I am TAing for a course called "Expressive Cultures: Sounds", and the topic of the class is "Contemplating Voice". This course is part of a general academic program that students have to take a certain number of courses from during their degree. For many people, this is a course they don't especially want to do. They are taking it because they have to, and they are taking this class in particular because they think it will be an easy A. For some of these students, this is the only liberal arts course they will take during their entire course of study, and for others, it is the only music class. So I'm invested not just in selling them on the university experience, but also of giving these students a little bit of a sense of the value of something outside of their usual experience. The course lecturer has decided that we will be seeking out opportunities to use our voices during this course, and we will be doing some vocal exercises during every lecture, which is a great place from which to start, but I also want to find ways for students to think about and use their voices that are not necessarily expressly musical. Singing is such an important part of my own life, because of the level of physical engagement it gives me, but speaking is also becoming more and more important, and I hope to use this class as an opportunity for the students and I to think more about how we use our voices in mundane and also creative ways. I want to teach students about what it means to communicate in a classroom so that they have a skill that they can take beyond this course, and I want to teach them about the type of learning that happens when you act or perform or use your body to engage with the things around you. But if the only thing students come away from this course with is the knowledge that they spoke in recitation every week, and were listened to, that will be a pretty good start.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Well done Spotties!

Two of my former choristers, Karin and Steve Spottiswoode, received merit awards from the Roodepoort Central Rotary Club for their environmentalist work, during April. I'm sorry I didn't pick it up before, but congratulations to both of you! That really is super news, and you deserve it.
Thanks to my parents for finding the article in a local newspaper, and passing this information on to me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bits and pieces

I'm sitting at my window looking out on the Hudson river. The water is sparkling, lit up by the lights of a thousand New Jersey apartment buildings. The George Washington bridge looks like a string of Christmas lights hung out between two states, and a rather unromantic Fairways grocery store LCD sign informs me that the New York water taxi now goes to Yonkers. How is it possible I'm here? I shouldn't be able to afford it. Not least because I am able to blog from this exact spot because I got a new computer today! My old was is three years old, and still functioning (more as a desktop than a laptop, now), but I was in need of something a little more portable and robust, with wifi. And today it arrived, all shiny and new, in an enourmous box that contained more packaging than computer.
Can you tell I'm excited?
I also attended a very intensive teacher training orientation event at the university today. Have I blogged that I'm teaching this semester yet? In case I haven't, you now know. I'm TAing, along with my good friends Ben and Ivan, for our department's new ethnomusicologist, J. Martin Daughtry. The course is on voice, and I am preparing a lecture on the castrati in choral music, and will be running two tutorial sections. I'm meeting with the professor and my fellow TAs tomorrow to discuss it all.
I am also, following a successful audition earlier this evening, now a member of yet another choir in New York city. This one is 60+ voices, so will make a nice contrast to the chamber choir that I am already singing with.
All in all, a good day!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You know you're in New York when....

A group of close-harmony singers get onto the train with you, and begin performing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"!
Brief update: I got my missing bag back. It was delivered to my apartment building last night, and I walked right past it on my way out this morning. Luckily, all is safe, and I am very glad to have it back.
My room mate arrived back safely yesterday, and we visited the biggest green grocer I have ever seen! We also spent some time wondering around our new neighbourhood, which is full of lush greenery. The parks are beautiful this time of year, despite (or perhaps because of) the sweltering heat.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Getting back into it

Wow, has it really been that long? Still, it was a good holiday, and now I'm back in NY, enjoying the last (hot) days of summer, and getting back into the swing of things.

First bit of news: my bag didn't arrive with me on the flight yesterday, and is still, according to the airport company, nowhere to be found. At least I have clothes in New York, though, so it isn't the end of the world.
Second bit of news: I'm in an incredible apartment on Riverside drive, up in Harlem, until the beginning of October. The views of the Hudson, with New Jersey on the other side are spectacular!

So, after a morning dealing with the standard new semester paperwork, including trying to organise a social security number (quite a process!), and a lovely, relaxed lunch with my friend Rachel, I spent some time reading in Washington Square (or rather, I spent time watching the squirrels, when I should have been reading), and am now heading uptown to sing Verdi's Requiem. When that is done, I think I'll be about ready to fall into bed. I slept for 14 hours last night!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Snow in Johannesburg

After all my carrying on about snow in New York, the first summer I am back in South Africa, it snows in Johannesburg for the first time in 26 years! The last time it snowed there, I wasn't even born yet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

IASPM in Mexico

The 2007 International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) is currently happening in Mexico City. If you have a better web connection than I have at the moment, you can follow it on this blog, and the associated webcasts.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sardine run

I am currently on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, where the annual sardine run started on Saturday. In the wake of the huge shoals of silvery-black sardines come whales and dolphins, and large flocks of sea birds that make for some spectacular viewing. Somewhat more amuzing, though, is the sight of little groups of frantic fishermen mirroring the birds and bigger fish in their attempts to capture more fish than they can eat. Quite a sight for a Monday morning!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

brain drain

The Mail and Guardian online presents an interesting, and more nuanced, view on this thing popularly called the "brain drain", then what I have hitherto read. Well worth a read.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

crazy thing

Some things are worth fighting for, some things are worth laughing about, and then there are some things that are just too crazy to know what to do with.... I wonder what type of "competition" this chap is really worried about!?!

Friday, May 18, 2007

back home again

I'm home. I'm still catching up on rest, but at least it is in my own bed, and not in a res room. I have around three months of summer (or winter, in South Africa) ahead, and minimal work. I am so looking forward to reading for its own sake. And to doing some of the other fun things I haven't done enough of this year. I've already enjoyed playing my piano a fair amount, though it is rather out of tune after so long without being played.
Anyway, updates are likely to be sporadic and short, for the next while, at least. Have a great vacation!

Monday, May 14, 2007

end part 1

I'm heading back to South Africa today. The semester is over, the summer has started (it is actually colder in Johannesburg than in New York at present), and my first year as a graduate student has passed. I am tired, but very happy. And I really had the perfect last day, yesterday. Church in the morning, a visit to St Patrick's Cathedral on 5th avenue in the afternoon, lunch at the Rockefeller center, a super piano recital in a down town art gallery in the evening, dinner in china town, and several hours hearing friends of mine play Irish music really splendidly in a pub, to round out the evening. I really have been having the best weekend. I have been staying with a friend, as the university housing closed on Friday, and she and I have had a really relaxing time, which, after the intensely busy past few weeks, was exactly what I needed. She has been so warm and hospitable, even to the point of baking fresh orange buns for breakfast this morning....
I am just generally feeling particularly warm and fuzzy toward all of my colleagues, at the moment, though it is not without very good reason.
Oh, and before I forget, NYU commencement was last week, and I was highly amused to note that, among other things, the Empire State Building was in NYU colours for the event. I wonder what strings had to be pulled to make that happen!
Anyway, tonight I fly to Zurich, tomorrow I spend the day in the city, and then tomorrow night I head back to Johannesburg. And next week I am flying to Durban to visit my parents, and for the real start of my vacation. It will be good to get home.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Finals time

I am having no luck blogging this weekend. I can't seem to pick out the important bits well enough to summarize it, and I don't have time to blog the whole thing. Suffice it to say that Saturday was spent at the Access to Knowledge conference in Yale, and was very productive and exciting. And now I'm plowing through the last official week of the semester, and finals. One paper down, two to go. I'm sure I'll be back on full blogging form by this time next week.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Seattle, and academic technique.

Wow, New York is beautiful. Summer is really upon us, and I'm loving the warm weather and green things.
Seattle was beautiful, too, though in a rather different way. The natural beauty around the city is spectacular. We spent a little time after the conference sitting on a patch of lush grass near the Pike place market, eating our lunch, and watching the boats in the sound, and the sense of absolute, simple luxury overtaking me was so memorable. And there were several occasions when, walking around the city I caught sight of a sliver of silvery moon hanging in the sky beside the space needle, or the lights of the residential areas on the hillsides around us, and was delighted by the beauty of it. The flowers in the Pike place market, and the carnivalesque atmosphere around the fish stalls were really appealing, too, and I was really happy to see all of that. But there was something about Seattle that didn't sit well with me, and while I can't articulate it very clearly, I think it had something to do with the rather obscene displays of money that abound, not least at the Experience Music Project. I'm afraid the museum did not impress me. Very high-tech, and I'm sure great fun for the children who were milling around most of the weekend, but there is very little real thought about music and the way it works, sociologically, politically, or just in a very mundane practical sense. The conference, however, more than made up for the museum's inadequacies. There were a whole lot of super panels, and I heard some really high-quality papers that made me think in all the right ways, and I met some super people.
Our panel went really well, though I did realize that I have become a little too blaze about conference presentations. It's one thing to write a paper that people will pick through and dissect, and that you know you need to be rigorous with, but it is a whole other to know what you are talking about well enough to do more than simply read it. I tried to talk through this paper, rather than reading it, and I realized rapidly that I have become too reliant on the notes in front of me. I do think that there are some things that are best read, simply because it can be difficult to be concise and artistic with words in a live moment, but in general really being able to present a paper like this means being so deeply engaged with the vocabulary that you can pull it together coherently on the spot. It's a bit like knowing a musical instrument well enough to improvise on it. Doing it well means really knowing it. So I'm applying to a couple of South African conferences at the end of the summer, and I'm going to spend some time over the break getting that in touch with my data again.
In the mean time, the end of the semester looms. Three papers, two abstracts, two presentations and one more conference (at which, thankfully, I am not giving a paper this time) left, and some smaller scale stuff in between, and then I'm back to the airport for that much anticipated trip home. Can you believe my first year of grad school is nearly over? I can't.

Back in NYC

It's quarter to 2 in the morning, and I just got back from a super weekend in Seattle. The conference was really great, and our presentation went nicely. I'll blog in more detail when I have recovered a bit, but for now, my bed, and the book I need to finish for class tomorrow, are both calling to me. I think bed is winning out, though.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sad thing

I just heard that a colleague of mine from South Africa died yesterday. She had been ill for a long time (since even before I met her), but that doesn't make it less of a shock. We both have chapters coming out in a book that has been several years and several conferences in the making, and the last of those conferences was the last time I saw her. As sad as I am, when I heard the news, I felt suddenly, unexpectedly, calmer than I have felt in a long time. Such a strange thought to have, under the circumstances.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another conference, hey?

Ben, his girlfriend Serena and I are off to Seattle tomorrow for the Experience Music Project Conference, where Ben and I are giving a joint paper. I'm very excited, not least because my collegues who have spent time in Seattle have given us lots of suggestions for places to eat, and things to see and do while we are there. More than that, though, I'm excited by the prospect of our talk, which is on online representations of music scholarship, and involves, along other things, this blog. Wish us luck. We're talking on Sunday.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Great Hat Chase

I had a Pickwickian moment tonight. New York has been beseiged by quite a storm for most of today, and while it had tapered off a little by the time I left church, the wind was still doing its thing, roaring up the avenues. I have an enormous shapeless orange rubber poncho that was given to me when I was working at the New York Marathon last November, and as hideous as it is, it is just too serviceable for me to justify spending money on something prettier as long as it lasts. Tonight, in the dark, with the Manhattan streets about as empty as Manhattan streets are ever likely to be, I decided that it was time to brave the humiliation, and wear the poncho. I was glad I had when I saw how wet the part of my trousers that stuck out the bottom was when I got home, but I did feel rather self-conscious. Anyway, for all its practicality, the one thing the poncho is lacking is a decent hood. It has a little tent-like flap that zips into the collar, but try as I may I can't get that to stay on my head when the wind blows, and the amount of rain that ran down my sleeve when I tried to hold it in place convinced me that my usual courdroy rain hat and my umbrella were in order. Of course, if you have ever tried to hold onto a hat and umbrella when the tall buildings turn the avenues into howling wind tunnels, you will have an idea of how successful that endeavor was. I was just about to cross Madison avenue at the top end of Union Square tonight, when one of those screeching gusts whipped down the street, turned my umbrella inside out, and tossed my hat into the air, and onto the street behind me. I can only speculate at what I must have looked like waddling down the street like an overstuffed orange teddybear, fighting my umbrella, and grabbing futilely at the hat that would stay just out of my reach. It was a rather large puddle that finally came to my rescue, swallowing my hat and regurgitating it, limp and too sodden to fly any further, on a sidewalk grating at my feet. I gave up trying to keep my already dripping hair from getting any wetter after that, and was just grateful for the bits of me that stayed dry under the much maligned poncho. In certain circumstances, dignity is something only other people have, and you just have to learn to laugh at yourself.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A brittle democracy

I got cold shivers when I read this article in the Mail and Guardian about the destruction of a Great Trek memorial in Standerton. How can a country which claims to uphold multi-cultural ideals (I have problems with that ideological construct in the first place, which I will discuss some other time, but it is official policy after all), and bases its international status on notions of acceptance and reconciliation, condone an action like this? In the wake of the De La Rey issue, this is the type of action that is positively calculated to create dissent.

I want so badly to believe that South Africa is headed in a positive direction. I am staking my future, my career, and in many ways even my life, on it. My parents live in South Africa, and my intention is to rejoin them there when I complete this degree. I am building up a career on the belief that cultural practice offers the type of insight into the functioning of society that is necessary for peaceful and ethical coexistence. I really do believe that we are in the best possible position in the world to make that happen, because we are so aware of how easily things can go wrong, and so proud of the opportunity we have to make them go right. But when I read something like this, it makes me fearful, and leaves me feeling very much alone. Without the country I believe in, I'm just an alien, a foreigner in New York and the whole world. There is no place for me to call home, and there is no meaning in the work that I do. I'm not prepared to accept that.

The threat posed to Afrikaner culture is a threat to the foundations of democracy on which South Africa is build, and it is on an equal footing with the destruction of Sophia Town or District Six, or any of the acts of cultural violence perpetrated by the Apartheid government. It creates angry people, bitter people, and people who feel justified in committing acts of violence. No one wants to be evil, but people will do some pretty evil things in the name of self preservation, and making people feel like they have to fight to survive is like setting a table for evil right in the middle of the banquet hall.

I hate what apartheid did. I hate that it made people feel that acts of ruthless vengence like this are justified. And I hate that it has made so many people so angry. But repeating the cycle all over again is not the solution. Apartheid was the result of so many cycles of oppression and vengence that it is probably impossible to trace a root cause. It is, however, possible to break the cycle. But that means making an effort, if not to fully understand every culture (an impossible task), then at least to acknowledge its importance in the lives of some people, and not destroy it for the sake of destruction. Please don't destroy everything we have worked for, and don't dishonor the sacrifices made to get us to where we are. South Africa is worth more than that.

The Mayor who apparently ordered the damage to the memorial has been issued with a court order to personally pay for the repairs, according to News 24. Read this article here, as well as this one, this one and this one that all pertain to the issue.
On the issue of whose culture gets to be called African, read these News24 articles criticizing Mbeki's reconciliation strategy, discussing the role of Afrikaans in the anti apartheid struggle, and defending government's strategy with regard to Afrikaans

Thursday, April 12, 2007


It's my little brother's birthday today.
Happy birthday, Gordon. I hope it's a great one! Did I ever tell you that my earliest memory is of the day we brought you home from the hospital?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

more Zapiro

Another great Zapiro cartoon mentioning De La Rey. This one is even better than the last
The link isn't working, and try as I might, I can't seem to get it right. So here, instead, is a screen-cap of the cartoon that appeared in the Mail and Guardian on the 30th of March 2007.

This is an article in News 24 that describes, at least in part, what this cartoon is responding to.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Unbelievable luck

I just may have been offered the most perfect apartment today. I saw it months ago, envied it hugely, and never even vaguely believed that it was possible. And suddenly, it is a distinct possibility. It is two blocks from our department, in the village, with an unbelievable view, sun, space, and rent that I can afford. My roommate is coming with me tomorrow to look at it, but even if she decides against it, I'm going to accept. It is right at the top end of my budget, but not outside of it, and with my roommate it will be even cheaper than where we are currently staying. And infinately nicer. I am so excited, I have been grinning all day, and periodically doing a happy dance when there aren't too many of the people I have to make a good impression on around. There are several mitigating circumstances that may still make it impossible, and so I am holding my breath, but I can't even begin to make myself not excited about it. It is unbelievable. and just so great!

My roommate loves the apartment, and she and our potential landlady seemed to get along well, which is important in this situation. So lets keep holding thumbs. This could be so great.

Comic relief

Today's Zapiro cartoon in the Mail and Guardian is such a classic, I just had to link to it. And please note the De La Rey reference.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

New York is in the grip of winter's last stand, with snow flurries, temperatures around freezing, and an icy wind roaring down the avenues, stealing hats and scarves, and anything not securely fastened to my person. But the city is so beautiful with spring flowers peeping out of the winter-bare soil and the leafless branches of trees covered in pink and white blossoms, that it is hard to think of it as anything other than spring. I drank my now customary cup of hot cider in Union Square this afternoon, and watched a man feeding the few skittish squirrels who were bold enough to get within peanut-tossing distance of him, while a team of gardeners spread fine straw over the daffodil studded lawns. Such a beautiful way to spend an hour in New York city.

This evening was the great easter vigil, and as tends to happen, I had more places to be than I could manage. I started out at one church in the village, where a friend of mine was being confirmed, and then slipped out just after his confirmation and dashed up town to make it to my usual church in time for the big service. It was a particularly special service, as the Presiding Bishop of the United States was officiating for the evening, and so the church filled up quickly. I have been to easter vigils before, and even sang in one at St. Mary's cathedral in Johannesburg when I was in highschool, but I have never been to one quite as big and dramatic as the one tonight. The service began with a completely dark church, but was soon illuminated by a huge number of candles lit one at a time as the procession entered the church. The standard selections of readings and chants followed, with baptisms, confirmations and renewals of baptismal vows in the middle of the service, and then the dramatic climax as all but the main candle were extinguised, and the main church lights were brought up as the opening hymn of the Eucharist was sung. It was all very spectacular, not least because of the enormous number of flowers all over the church.

In South Africa, Easter has, for good reasons, always felt distinctly autumnal to me, with the weather at its mellow best, and the air infused with the scent of pine and veld fires, and various shades of orange, yellow and gold. But I can understand how important the theme of renewal is during a northern hemisphere spring, like this. The effect is different. It was very lovely. Happy Easter, everyone.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Literary success

Jane Taylor, one of my former lecturers from Wits, has won the Olive Shriner award for her first novel, Of Wild Dogs. It is a super book. She did some readings from it at a seminar run by my former advisor, in 2005, and I was so engaged by it that I read it in a single sitting, a rare occurrence for me. Well done, Jane. I am looking forward to the next one.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Learning to be a grad student

I'm sure I've said it before. I've certainly thought it before. Either way, it bears repeating. Student/advisor relationships are hard.
I had a meeting with my advisor today to talk about work, and also about both of our recent travels, and while it went really well in many ways, and she was great and supportive and very helpful, I still found it really difficult to talk sense. I guess I'm still in the early stage of this setup, where I'm still trying to make a good impression, and I really am trying desperately to convince her that I am a student that she could want to work with. And so I feel like everything I say is over-eager and self-promoting, but at the same time lacking the substance that comes with experience and reading. I have so much to read before I can do good work. I have often thought about the process of becoming an academic as a sort of apprenticeship, where we learn from great scholars by watching them work, and working alongside them, and absorbing some stuff by osmosis, and other stuff through direct tutoring. But really, it isn't much like that at all. Our professors give us reading that they have done already, and have to re-read much of it themselves in order to lead discussion, despite the fact that it may not fit particularly well with their own work. They then have to read our efforts, and spend time helping us improve our work, and somewhere in amongst all that, they have to fit in their own work, much of which we as students are unlikely to hear about, because we are too busy with our own concerns. I feel a bit like I have to be more together and smart and productive, just to give my advisor a motivation to work with me in the first place.
I do have a super advisor, though. And that is worth a whole lot.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The arguments are where, exactly?

While issues over name changes in South Africa frequently get framed as a racial thing, this article and this article, both in the Mail and Guardian, suggest that the situation is not always so black and white.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has decided that insufficient consultation occurred before the town Louis Trichard was renamed Makhado, and have ruled that the change is to be reversed. This iAfrica article reflects on the potential impact of this decision on debates about other name changes around the country, and mentions, right at the bottom of the article, that the costs of the court case will be paid by the Name Change Council and Palo Jordan. No one, however, mentions the cost of the initial change, or the costs involved in this new development. According to the article, Pallo Jordan's spokesperson said that name changes "must reflect the needs of the people". Is it even necessary for me to point out that a country dealing with poverty, unemployment and AIDS to the extent that South Africa is, seems to have particularly pressing financial needs that are not addressed when these name changes take place?
As I tend to be on so many things associated with South African politics, I am ambiguous about the issue of name changes. On the one hand, it is not fun to have to explain to people why there is a statue to the man known as the "author of apartheid" overlooking a town in the Karoo. And having to explain place names commemorating people like that would be equally difficult. On the other hand, not all of the names being changed reference apartheid. In fact, more of them reference pre-apartheid history, and in particular, the history of South Africa's disengagement from British imperialism. I think it is important for people to know that not all Afrikaans culture is about apartheid, and commemorating other aspects of Afrikaans history is one way of doing that. On the other hand, I recognize the need to commemorate the anti-apartheid struggle history. So is the way to do that by over-writing other histories? The current practice is making people angry and resentful. I have spent a huge amount of time justifying arts and culture spending in relation to their function in the construction of a governable society, and so I get why it is important to spend money on things like this. But the efforts have got to be more productively directed than they at present are.

So my suggestion: lets number streets and towns (that is the way the post office works, after all), and spend that money on choirs where people can sing together, schools and community centers where they can learn about one another, journals, radio and television programs where they can talk about things together, and the police force, so that they can make use of all of the above without fearing for their lives. Just a suggestion

UPDATE 2: All subsequent name-changes in Johannesburg will reference South African fauna and flora, rather than people. Someone finally got it right! Well done. We are back on track.

Links to relevant articles:
Mail and Guardian: Planned worker's day march to protest the Durban name changes. The highway in Durban is blocked by protesters ahead of the march. The worker's day march turns violent, and a more light-hearted take on the consequences of the name change issue. Name change signs in Potchefstroom are being removed and defaced, an article which is also relevant to my post on De La Rey. Pretoria is to be changed to Tshwane, a process that has been incrementally ongoing for ages! A process of public consultation on the issue of name-changes has been initiated.

News 24: Louis Trichard to Makhado, who will pay for the blunder?, the PAC criticizes the reversal, The name change reversal should not effect other name changes, Name change process started up again, the ANC will protect Afrikaans,

Monday, April 02, 2007

A weekend in Virginia

I'm home, and well-rested after a good night's sleep, and an unintended sleep-in this morning (At least class is only this afternoon).
The weekend was wonderful. I had a bit of a bumpy start on Friday morning, when security at JFK spent so long checking all my paperwork to validate the authenticity of my South African passport and US visa, that I missed the plane, and had to wait on standby for the next one, but I caught that one without a problem, and T very sweetly waited for me in Richmond. It was wonderful to step off the plane in Virginia and take off my jersey.
The weather was beautifully warm, and it was wonderful to wonder around Colonial Williamsburg in short sleeves, with someone who really knows the area. I'm sure T will blog about that a little herself, but she spent several years in the town, and knows the ins and outs. We bought kitchy souvenirs, photographed buttercups and violets in the grass, hurled magnolia pods, and watched lambs hopping about in a way I would never have believed possible, had I not actually seen it myself. We also watched a parade of men and boys (and a few girls) enacting military manouvers, were followed up the oyster-shell lined street by a fife and drum band, and wondered around the kitchen garden of one of the establishments.
Finally, in the early evening, another friend joined us, and we spent a little time touring the college campus before the conference reception. T played some tunes with one of the folklorists who was there, and it was wonderful to hear her play (the first time I have). Finally, a group of us headed out to one of the few restaurants that was open at 22:00 (Williamsburg is not New York!) to grab some dinner (and chocolate raspberry cake for pudding. So good), before making our way back to the hotel.
Saturday started with cinnamon buns and orange juice at the university, before the panels started. We missed the first paper, but everything else I heard was superb. There was a really great range of topics, and I was very impressed with how polished and clear so many student papers were. The keynote speaker gave a really wonderful reference to the work of my advisor that made me very proud, and I spent a lot of time thinking how happy I was to be there. My paper was in the afternoon, and despite some technology fumbles in the morning (we couldn't connect my computer to the sound system, and I had to write a new CD, instead), it went well. I always feel like the inevitability of race issues in my work mean that I risk losing some of my audience before I even start (another white girl speaking about black music. sigh) and I got at least one of the type of question that makes it apparent that it was read that way by at least one person, but in general, I was happy with the outcome. And I enjoyed the intersections between my paper and the one that followed it.
The conference day ended on Saturday with a really long concert that showcased a huge selection of performers from among the conference attendees. I heard gamelan for the first time, and was really impressed by many of the departmental ensembles. Afterwards, T and finished up the evening at our hotel talking about everything and anything until the early hours of the morning. There is nothing like traveling with a friend to get to know them really well.
Sunday morning began with a joint panel between MACSEM (the organization whose conference we were there for), and MAFA, the Mid-Atlantic Folklife Association, who had parallel panels to ours all weekend. It was really interesting to hear both groups converse, though I wish I had had time to attend a full panel from the MAFA group. T gave the last paper of the weekend, which went really well, and ended things on a high note, and then a group of us went to a smart French restaurant for lunch. We had eaten every meal of the weekend in one particular restaurant, and so it was nice to have a change, and to have time to chat to people I am only just getting to know.
T and I then had a few hours to kill before we needed to catch our plane, and so we drove toward the airport via a particularly picturesque route so that I could see some of the countryside. Virginia looks so lovely, and I really hope I will have another opportunity to visit. T suggested a winter break there sometime next year, and the idea is really appealing.
And just to round off my set of new experiences for the weekend, we went shoe shopping at an outlet mall (which, for my South African readers, is an open-air shopping complex with a series of name-brand shops with significantly lower prices than in New York), and stopped at a self-service petrol garage (gas station) on our way to the airport. To my delight, my South African drivers license got me through security far more easily than my passport does, and before I knew it, we were in the air, and on our way back to New York.
It has been such an amazing weekend. I am really glad to have had the break from my routine, and the fact that it was in a beautiful place, with lovely people, made it all the better. Thank you, T, for a super weekend. I wouldn't even have applied were it not for you, and I am really glad I did.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Williamsburg, here I come

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, T and I are flying to Richmond, and then driving to Williamsburg for the MACSEM conference. Or rather, T is driving, and I'm passengering. So no blogging this weekend. But wish us luck. We're both giving papers.

The joys (I think) of grant writing

This is a new experience for me, but trying to convince someone to spend money on something I think is a good idea certainly forces me to clarify my ideas. I'm not too sure about the extent that it may also be shaping my ideas in a direction that could be suitable for the grant, but not necessarily entirely in line with the original idea, but perhaps that will force me to be relevant, or something. And hey, if someone wants to put money out there, it should at least be going to something relevant. No?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring and music are in the air

New York is so beautiful at the moment that it is an absolute tragedy that I had to spend the whole day in front of my computer. The weather has warmed up just enough that I don't need to wear a coat, or even a jersey (a thin little jacket is enough), but it hasn't become so hot that walking is uncomfortable. The sun is shining, and the spring bulbs are pushing through the soil in parks, pots and window boxes all over the city. In no time at all, the trees will be blooming, and I will be blogging my first encounter with cherry blossoms in Washington Square. In the mean time, though, the conference T and I are attending in Williamsburg this weekend beckons, and I must keep my nose to the grindstone. With one little exception. I walked down to church a little after eight this evening to sing the last compline service of the season. All this lent Gus (our organist) and I, and a mixture of other people (different ones most weeks) have been singing a compline service in a candle-lit church on fifth avenue. The service is really short (less thank 15 minutes), but the music and the atmosphere are beautiful, and just the thing to make me feel that all is right with the world. Lent is coming to and end this week, with holy week starting on Sunday (palm sunday), and then we are into easter, and the end of semester maddness. I hope we will be able to sing more of these services, though. Singing really makes me happy, and in such a beautiful, peaceful setting, all the more so.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Congratulations Steph!

When I started this Blog in 2004 (is it really that long ago), I had recently returned from my first ever academic conference, which was held in Helsinki, Finland. My stay there, and my first ever academic publication were the result of my having won the first SIDA essay competition. In 2005, the prize was won by a young woman from Rhodes University, and now I have just heard that my dear friend Steph, who completed her BMus at Wits at the end of last year, has won the 2006 competition!

Congratulations, Steph! that is such good news. You really deserve this. I remember how hard she worked on this paper, so I can say that with every confidence.

And just because that little detail makes me happy, too, I must add...

Girls Rock!

Meet my class mate

Ben Tausig is my colleague in the first year ethnomusicology class at NYU. He is great to work with, and a lovely friend, and I thought this article on him in the Brooklyn Record was a good opportunity to introduce him to you. When he isn't being an ethnomusicology grad student, he sets crossword puzzles for a whole list of newspapers. And he has a book of puzzles coming out in May. I saw the proofs the other day, and it looks wonderful!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Destruction in Durban

My parents have been in Durban this past week, during some insanely high tides that did some serious damage. They, thankfully, are alright, but they sent me a link to this photo essay on News24 with some incredible pictures of the damage.
Kevin also posted these amazing pictures of the lightning storm in the area, and these pictures of the high tide and damage in Ballito and Brighton Beach (both north of where my parents are), and Toti (right where my parents are). In fact, he has so many pictures, I can't link to all of them, so just visit his site if you want to see more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Post Spring Break

After a really amazing week in SA, I am back in a surprisingly warm, wet New York. Working and living in Ikageng was really special, not least because it gave me an opportunity to watch the development of the attitudes of a group of people, many of whom had thought little, or not at all, about South Africa, before this trip. I did, I will admit, find myself bristling on occasion, as I listened to certain observations and oppinions that were informed either by lack of information, or outright misinformation, and once or twice I let my annoyance get the better of me, but by and large, I think this was a productive and information-rich experience for everyone.
We arrived in Johannesburg on the night of the 10th of March (Saturday), and drove the two and a half hours straight out to Ikageng in a convoy of mini-busses and cars. It was generally uneventful, but I did get quite a kick from pointing out the Johannesburg sky line, silhouetted against a colourful highveld sunset, and framed by the mountains and mine-dumps of the South and East rand. And the warm weather (which persisted throughout our visit) was wonderful, and very welcome after the rather chilly aeroplane cabin. In Ikageng, we were greeted with good old South African singing, and plenty of food, including many South African specialities that were unfamiliar to the majority of the travellers in our group. I love watching people encounter good things like local food and music for the first time.
On Sunday, we attended two church services, and it was lovely comparing the energetic, musically rich, and very long service, to the somewhat more demure New York services. The second service was at an outpost in a very poor, rural area, and it was something of a light-bulb moment for me to see just how important the church ritual, which I consider something of a luxury, is for people in a community in which I would have expected the function of the church to be more instrumentalist. It is very easy to fall into assumptions about what people should need when confronted by circumstances in which many of the things that I consider necessary are not present. While I consider my need to sing and to worship in church as essential parts of my identity, I dismiss those needs among people who don't have some of the things that I take for granted in my daily life. Under different circumstances, I would have felt guilty accepting luch from people who have so much less than what I do, but on this occasion, sharing a meal was an extension of the Eucharistic meal we had previously shared, and it felt absolutely essential to honour that.
After that service, we spend some time at the very smart house of one our hosts, and while the contrast with the place we had just been was rather startling, I think it was important for some of the people I was travelling with to see that the unequal distribution of wealth in South Africa is not purely along race lines. The circumstances in South Africa are more complex than that.
In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner at Potchefstroom hospital, followed by a tour of the hospital, during which I was reminded of the universal appeal of new born babies, before we all headed home to our respective hosts for the night.
The next few days were spend working at the building site that was the focus of our visit (we had come to build a rectory for a church in a poorer township), before the bulk of our group visited Pilanesberg game reserve and a mine in the area, and I spent some time with my parents. It was, as always, really good to see them.
I rejoined the group over the weekend at the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg, and we headed back to Potchefstroom for our last weekend. Our last church service in Ikageng was in the church at the building site where we had been working all week, and that was followed by a lovely braai (barbecue, to my non-South African readers) at a dam in Potchefstroom, and an emotional farewell to our hosts.
New York was surprisingly warm when we landed on Tuesday morning, and I was busy folding my coat as I sat on the shuttle that was to take me to my apartment, when the cotton holding the beaded South African flag I have been wearing on my coat, broke, spilling little black beads into my hand. I stored them carefully in my purse, and considered the significance of the incident in a way only possible after seventeen hours of in-air sleep deprivation. New York city rose up around my as I followed the now familiar route traversed by the airport shuttle, and was plunged back into the mid-semester chaos of grad school.
Was it only a week ago that I was sleeping in my own bed with my clingly little cat cuddled up beside me? It feels like so much longer. I can't be too home sick, though, as I spent the last two days with my dear friend Thembela (who has been visiting me in New York) reminding me just how South African I really am, despite my delight at being able to navigate Manhattan with only very occasional references to my trusty map book. It feels good to live in two places.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring Break

I am just finishing up my packing for spring break. I cannot believe it is that time already. My first year is nearly over.
I don't think I have blogged this before, but I am spending spring break in SA with a group of NYU students. We will be doing home stays in Ikageng, a township between Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom, and building a rectory for a church. I am very excited to see people's reactions to one another, and to the different lifestyles of the students and their hosts. There have been some protests in the area recently, over the proposed name-change for Potchefstroom, and some of the students and their families are a little nervous about the crime situation (thanks mainly to the BBC's comparison of Johannesburg and Iraq. Is it even necessary to point out what an exageration that is?). I will try to blog on both when I get back, because the reporting is interesting, if disturbing. But I really don't think this group needs to worry.
I am taking this opportunity to do some sound-scape recordings I need for another project, and so have a really exciting digital recorder with me for the week. I really am a techno junkie.
I am not going to have much time at home, as this trip is too short, and I will be working most of the time, but I am planning to spend one night in my own bed next weekend, so at least I will get to see my parents. The timing of all this is perfect, as my mom's birthday is tomorrow (Happy birthday mom!) and my parent's wedding anniversary is on the day I leave. Is it 32 years, mom and dad? Congratulations. I can't wait to see you both.
So I am going to be out of the blog-o-sphere for a little over a week. I should have lots to post when I get back, though

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From the (not so) sublime to the ridiculous, and beyond!

It had to happen eventually.

And just to put this all into perspective, read the responses of the children interviewed for this report, and then read David Moseley's column. Unfortunately the comments facility is already closed, but I really think Jeremy Taylor's "Ag Pleez Deddy" (or for that matter, anything by Jeremy. What about "Mommy I'd Like To Be"? That one always makes me smile) should be the 'English South African song' he is searching for.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

De La Rey in the Blog-o-sphere

My daily blog search on the De La Rey issue was getting so unwieldy that I thought it might be useful to post blog links here as I find them.
This posting by Don on The Muso received a lot of comments. They make for interesting reading. Thanks to my parents for passing this link on. A later posting on the same site about the NYTimes article generated fewer comments.
Cobus has this long post , and this slightly shorter one with many more comments, and now a third one with some thoughtful commentary, on his blog, Emerging South Africa. Pete at My everyday walk with the creator has responded to the first two here.
Kiefpiet has also received quite a number of comments on his post, and Mhambi has posted on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. (and I thought I had posted a lot!)
Vincent Maher, on his blog Media in Transition posted this, Mike posted this at Inside South Africa, Rudi Groenewald posted this, and Attie Heunis posted this, which pointed me in the direction of yet another article on the topic. Thanks Attie.
Rouvanne at Peak People posted this, and SilentCoder posted a good translation here.
Here, too, is the Thought Menagerie post, Paul's post on Wired Gecko, a post on Maggsbunny, another by Guy McLaren and bb's post at Smarter than the Average Bearnot. This seems to be more of a forum than a blog, but I thought I'd post the link anyway.
I couldn't resist adding my two cents worth to this post at Musings of a Post-Millenium Mystic, and this post on Cherryflava, though slightly OT, made me laugh.

And of course, following the NYTimes article, there had to be US bloggers picking up the story. NYMary posted this on PowerPop. It is interesting to read her perspective alongside that of the various SA bloggers, and in relation to the comments to her post. This later post is also worth a read. Compare that with Michael's post at Western World Politics. This post at Vox ex Machina mentions the song only briefly at the bottom of the post.
I haven't yet figured out whether this blog is American or from elsewhere, but nonetheless, here is Michael H. Cognato's post. And Christo De Klerk calls himself a "Canadian Afrikaner in America, so I'm not too sure whether to put this link with the South African or the US responses.

Finally, I have been very careful not to pass judgement on the blogs I have linked to (though I have been pretty oppinionated in relation to the news articles), but I can't post this link without a disclaimer. Tom's Big Picture posts the first really frighteningly extreme right-wing response I have yet read. I link to it simply because I really do want to document as vast an array of responses as I can, and not because I in any way endorse his oppinion. So if you visit the blog, be forewarned. Fascism is not dead.
This post is more neutral, but many of the comments aren't, and the same disclaimer as above applies.

It seems there are a frighteningly large number of extreme right-wing responses out there. I am really torn about whether or not I should link to them, because I don't endorse their perspective, and don't want to publicise them, but on the other hand, it does suggest a bit of a retake on the perspective I have hitherto dismissed: that the song is being hijacked by right-wing extremists. Interestingly, as far as I can determine, all of these bloggers are from the USA, rather than South Africa. It doesn't mitigate their responsibility, but it does suggest to me that the problem does not lie predominantly in South Africa, and that, at least, makes me breath a little easier.
So in addition to the two links above, right-wing blog posts on De La Rey are here, here, and here.

I also wanted a space to link to other writing of relevance to this issue:
One World Cyber Music Store posted this article on the controversy surrounding the song.
An article in the Sunday times on a sense of Alienation among Afrikaans South Africans.
A Business day article on the Rainbow Nation.
The Saturday Star article on tribalism in South Africa.
A Mail and Guardian column by John Matshikiza.
A Sunday Times article by Achille Mbembe on reconciliation in South Africa (Thank you, Thembela).
A Mail and Guardian article based on a paper by Antjie Krog on De La Rey (Thank you, again, Thembela).
A News24 report on posters mentioning Bok Van Blerk at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (Thank you, Mom and Dad).
And another report, again on News24, about Bok at the KKNK, this one more about his performance.
News24 again, this time on De La Rey at Loftus.
The Mail and Guardian has an article about street signs in Potchefstroom, one of which was defaced so that rather than Nelson Mandela Rylaan, it now reads dela Rylaan. This is also relevant to my post on Name Changes in South Africa.
In May 2007, the Mail and Guardian Thinking Forum held a debate with De La Rey as the topic. Afrikaansnet comment on it, or you can hear a podcast of the actual debate.