|March, 2010: March is the month of transition at the university. Students who are doing good
work have climbed the hill to mid-term, and they know that continuing on the path that they have
forged will bring them closer to their goal of graduation. Those who have been less attentive and
less productive find it to be a time of decision - to get their act together or face the consequences
at the end of the term. As instructors we try to warn them of impending doom, but they don't always
At mid-term I am also informally evaluating my own progress in our mutual endeavor - thinking
about things I could have done to make the learning experience more meaningful. I usually make
some modifications and catalog the things I should have done for the next time I teach the class.
Students have the opportunity to rate their professors at the end of the semester. I find that those
who do good work and keep up with their assignments usually give me pretty good marks. Those
who are less inclined to get involved usually blame their lack of enthusiasm on my ability as a
teacher. I always read the comments carefully - regardless of the source - and try to make
improvement in my methods.
I presented a workshop about interactive songwriting on March 5 for a small group of students who
were part of a seminar on Cultural Connections. They were very attentive and enthusiastic about
the process and gave me high marks for my presentation. I think they were concerned when they
saw an old guy show up to do the session, but once we started making music together, the lines of
race, culture, gender, and even age took a back seat to the task at hand. Music - especially live
music - is a catalyst for creating bonds of unity and understanding among persons from very
That same evening Sara and I attended a performance of Smetana's The Bartered Bride at the
University of North Texas. It was a fine production (as usual), but the unique thing about it was that
the student performers sang it in Czech - a language that has survived extinction in spite of many
decades of oppression by conquering nations. It is a language with a lot of consonants appearing
side by side that would seem to sound very thick when sung, but the combination of words and
music was very beautiful. Texas may seem an unlikely place for this kind of musical revival, but it
turns out that our state has the largest concentration of Czech people in the world outside of the
March, 1980: Sidewalks, which are rarely the shortest distance between two points, are like
having a moral code of conduct, which is not always the shortest route to satisfaction in some
areas of life. The leaders of a society lay out the rules and the walks in a neat, geometric fashion,
and then they admire the beauty of their work while resting assured that they have made a
significant contribution to society that will be remembered for years to come.
The populace soon discovers that the rules don't always fit the situations and that a short cut
across the grass gets them to their destination in half the time; therefore, new trails appear. Those
inclined to follow the rules and the established walkways eventually decide that their dedication
won't preserve integrity or make the grass grow, so with an attitude of "why bother" they try the new
pathways that have been created.
Future generations pave the trails and make new sidewalks, and in the process they establish
new mores for future generations of society. This process goes on until all trails and walks cross
one another. Decision makers who follow take the easiest way out and pave the entire surface.
What was once a thing of order and beauty becomes what present day generations have come to
accept as commonplace - a parking lot.
Now that we are running out oil, it is perfectly obvious to anyone that all we need is more parking
lots. Does this sound confusing? If it does, you should know my own ideas a little "sketchy" and
your response was anticipated. The point is, we live in a confused society where folks trample
their brothers and sisters to death to get a seat for a rock concert, where folks sell their souls and
bodies to the highest bidder, and where government regulations and tax laws protect the rich and
allow the poor to assist in preserving the life style of the wealthy. Do I hate wealthy people? Not at
all. I am just mad that their empires are often funded by tactics that take money from those who
can least afford to contribute to their cause.
One of my editors recently commented that the price of newspapers had certainly avoided
excessive inflation, comparing the present prices to the ten cents per copy that was charged in
1873 for an edition discussed in another installment of this column.
I was recently privileged to hear a superb performance of Guiseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem
(Mass for the Dead) that was written, coincidentally, in 1873. Beautiful, glorious sounds from a full
orchestra and a chorus of 129 voices made me realize that some things in this chaotic world are
not forever being altered by the whims of the people. The musicians were using the same
instrumentation called for in the original score that had not been altered for the twentieth century,
and the audience was composed of a fairly broad cross-section of the community.
As long as there remains a small segment of the populace who can really "dig" this kind of
performance, I rest assured that there will remain areas of our great land unpaved, unpoluted,
unexploited, or otherwise degraded by the greed and indifference that is so rampant.
RHYME FOR OUR TIME: There was one included in the original article, but after reading it, I
decided that it was not worth preserving in this manner.