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Two significant cultural items on our relationship to sound have come out recently. Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine had a long piece – Is Silence Going Extinct? – on the disappearance of spaces that are largely free of the touch of human mechanized sound. And the new silent film The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor. I see both as commentaries on our culture’s inattentiveness toward sound (particularly noise) and silence. But the fact of these issues being raised by both the film and the NY Times article points to an emerging understanding of the importance of sound and silence and the impact of sound on our wellbeing and the health of the environment.

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Released Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Summit Group is composed of representatives of a broad range of colleges, universities, and arts organizations across Central New York.  We have extensive experience in the arts, education, administration, and non-profit boards, constituting an invaluable brain trust in the formation of a new professional orchestra for the region.  We are working with the Musicians of the Former Syracuse Symphony Orchestra to advocate for and assist in this effort.  We plan to engage a consulting firm to undertake a regional feasibility study and a strategic plan to guide this process.  We are ready to assume a leadership role and to work collaboratively with interested parties in bringing a professional orchestra back into being and to retain the artistic core of the orchestra that does remain.  These are our guiding principles: Continue Reading »

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To Practice or to Play

I got a lovely note from a recently graduated student, one paragraph of which got me to thinking.  “I’ve recently decided I will no longer practice [my instrument].  This is because practicing has a ‘task’ associated with it.  Now, I will just play.”  The profundity of these three sentences gets to the heart of what a lot of people experience around their music study and practice.

This speaks to the way in which we approach the activity of playing or practicing.  The very words ‘play’ and ‘practice’ carry such different connotations.  As we commonly think of it, ‘play’ is the opposite of ‘work.’  Yet in the age of Google and other imagination-based companies play has an essential place in the realm of work, a creative space where people are encouraged to bring their imaginations and creativity to the common enterprise. Continue Reading »

A New Day in New York

From Gay Marriage for New York

The morning after New York has passed Marriage Equality is an occasion sufficiently momentous to depart from my usual topics, so I’d like to try my hand at some social commentary!

It’s one thing for Marriage Equality to pass in another state.  But when you wake up for the first time as a resident of a state in which it’s possible for you to marry, it’s a whole other thing altogether.  As we were watching the vote in the Senate chamber last night and the results were announced, the closest I could compare the feeling to was when Barack Obama was elected.  But this felt much more profoundly personal – the achievement of real results.

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One important attribute of Hamilton College’s new Educational Goals (listed in my previous blog post and described here) that has not yet received much attention is their internal design.  There are various relationships between the Goals, and recognition and understanding of these will help students and faculty use them more effectively to develop a dynamic and integrated approach to the liberal arts.

Goals 2-5 (Analytic Discernment, Aesthetic Discernment, Disciplinary Practice, and Creativity) represent a major step forward in the way in which the College speaks about the nature of intellectual work.  Continue Reading »


One of my major projects this year was to help rethink and rewrite Hamilton College’s Educational Goals as part of an ad hoc committee appointed to this task.  This was an extremely fun assignment, motivated in part by the two-year-old Mellon Curricular Leaders’ study of the Open Curriculum at Hamilton both internally and in comparison to other places.  My focus in this study is on Creativity and Performance, while my colleagues are studying Writing and Research, Quantitative Reasoning, and Curriculum and Advising.  The visits we made last year to other schools with open curricula, Amherst and Brown, impressed on all of us the need to further develop Hamilton’s vision as expressed in our educational goals.

We worked on these goals for the most of this past year, and happily the faculty approved the new Educational Goals earlier this month.  They are now posted on Hamilton’s website with their full descriptions.  Here are the goals in short form:

  1. Intellectual Curiosity and Flexibility
  2. Analytic Discernment
  3. Aesthetic Discernment
  4. Disciplinary Practice
  5. Creativity
  6. Communication and Expression
  7. Understanding of Cultural Diversity
  8. Ethical, Informed, and Engaged Citizenship

In order to help make these goals more fully understood and useful, I offer my take on the internal logic of these goals and their significance for Hamilton’s vision of the liberal arts.

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I just wanted to take a quick break from studying Mahler 1 to tell you how jazzed and amazed I am at the energy and excitement around the concert of the Syracuse Symphony Musicians tonight.  At rehearsals yesterday the musicians were so thrilled and moved that Hamilton is doing this, words seemed inadequate – what do you say to wonderful musicians unjustly out of work who are thanking you?  With every piece that we rehearsed it was apparent that this is the perfect music for this occasion.  We even laughed about Leonore Overture being about “babes coming to the rescue;”  I determined that babes could be used in a non-gender-specific sense.  Janet Brown is recovering from a nasty cold to sing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer 0f 1915 tonight, which is also fitting.  And the ending of the Mahler is just otherworldly – you will just have to be there.  For all of us onstage and offstage, this is not just about people’s jobs or about one particular orchestra, although of course those are very important.  It’s about the cause of art and of embodying and expressing the finest of human ideals therein.  That is what we live for, and that is what we are sharing with everyone in attendance. Continue Reading »

Orchestra as Metaphor

The crisis experienced in recent months by the Syracuse Symphony is unfortunately reflected in other places – Detroit, where the orchestra took a 23% pay cut after a six-month strike; Honolulu, which just inked an agreement with the musicians for a $30,000 salary (hardly a living wage in Honolulu); Louisville, where the board is pressuring musicians to acquiesce to a drastically diminished ensemble despite the orchestra’s illustrious history; Philadelphia, where on April 16  the board voted for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; and most recently the New Mexico Symphony, which voted for Chapter 7 on April 20.

What is going on? Continue Reading »

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Ever since the financial struggles of the San Diego Symphony (in which I was Principal Trombone from 1988-1997) resulted in the bankruptcy of that orchestra in 1996 (fortunately that had a happy ending), I have been pondering the state of professional orchestras in our culture.  So the Syracuse Symphony‘s decision on April 5 to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy hits very close to home.  But it does occasion the exercise of some arts advocacy chops – so here goes.

One way to understand the place of a professional orchestra in its community is through the metaphor of an ecosystem.  Continue Reading »

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Once in a blue moon, if one is lucky, an artist gets to be a part of a project much larger than oneself that turns out to be an uplifting, even transcendent, experience that reverberates beyond one’s normal sphere.  It is even more so when one can be involved in the creation of something for the first time.  The Society for New Music’s premiere of composer Persis Parshall Vehar’s new chamber opera Eleanor Roosevelt is such an experience for all involved.

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