Saturday, October 27, 2007

Music and dance

Daniel J. Levitin, professor of psychology and music, writes in the New York Times (login required) about the relationship between music and dance. Apparently, the way we do music today, segregating those involved into performers and a passive audience, is counterintuitive. He tells us that Children (see also the Joshua Bell experiment) naturally participate in music, and even when adults are quietly sitting and listening to music, the parts of the brain that control and coordinate the muscles are active. Classical music in particular expects its audience to be passive, and I would suggest that this is part of the reason that classical music is less popular than modern rock and rap-related styles.

I love dancing to any kind of music, and I hate concerts with seating. At a recent Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple concert, with a particularly danceable style, I couldn't stand sitting still during the first half of the show. Finally in the second half, I left the seats and danced on the side lawn under some trees. I couldn't hear the music as well, but it was worth it.

The most profound fact: "Even today, most of the world’s languages use a single word to mean both music and dance." Let's go to more concerts with dance floors and participatory activity.

How to find participatory concerts:

Style is the most important indication of how much you can participate. Folk music and rap (which, in its less commercial forms, is an urban folk style) tends to be more participatory. Blues, jazz, country, and rock and roll skew folk and attract more participation than classical music. "Indie" music, with its younger audience and its relation to folk, attracts less participation than I think it should, perhaps because it is often quiet and introspective, emphasizes the lyrics more than the sound, or attracts more intellectual/high-class, college-types. Perhaps I've just gone to the wrong indie concerts.

Smaller is better. Small music clubs generally have open seats; larger auditoriums tend to have seats. There are exceptions: Detroit's State Theater (now the Fillmore) has no chairs on its main floor, while the intimate floor of the Ark, a folk venue, had chairs out when I attended. High prices, such as classical concerts and big classic rock names, tend to draw an audience that skews older and upper class, which believe in staying still and acting dignified. More significantly, the high prices seem to indicate an experience that is valued more for its audiovisual experience than participation. Free, open-air venues, which eliminate concerns about space and seating, are the best, such as the lawn in front of a jazz band at the farmer's market. I particularly recommend large music festivals such as the Warped Tour, with a variety of independent and alternative rock acts from punk to acoustic to ska. They feature large, open-air audience spaces that invite singing along, crowd surfing, and great dances such as moshing.

link to "Dancing In The Seats" article

Monday, October 15, 2007

Loving music: children vs. adults

The Washington Post wondered - what if one of the greatest musicians played some of the greatest music on one of the greatest instruments - in the middle of the DC metro? The most interesting response to Joshua Bell's amazing performance wasn't that of the adults - it was the children. And the most disappointing response wasn't those who walked away of their own accord, it was the parents who pulled the children away.

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Other sad tales:

A hundred feet away, across the arcade, was the lottery line, sometimes five or six people long. They had a much better view of Bell than Tindley did, if they had just turned around. But no one did. Not in the entire 43 minutes. They just shuffled forward toward that machine spitting out numbers. Eyes on the prize.

J.T. Tillman was in that line. A computer specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he remembers every single number he played that day -- 10 of them, $2 apiece, for a total of $20. He doesn't recall what the violinist was playing, though. He says it sounded like generic classical music, the kind the ship's band was playing in "Titanic," before the iceberg.

The lottery can be fun, but ultimately it's about greed - the idolization of money and goods, one of many sins that deadens the sensation of all true pleasures. The other passersby show a singleminded focus on the schedule of meaningless tasks and material accumulation - perhaps not the commission of greed, but it seems an offense to the Creator to lose all sense of meaning in your daily life. Follow the children. Stop to listen to the music.

(thanks to Kyle for the link)

p.s. I love authors like Gene Weingarten and many of the people in Slate. They write with excellent style, and I need to absorb some of that.

Mike Huckabee

I recently received an email from a good friend expressing her support for Mike Huckabee as a good leader and one who will uphold morality and vote based on Christian principles. This is my response to her:

Thanks for your email. I believe that the upcoming election is an important one and all Americans should care about the issues involved.

I'm concerned most, this election cycle, about the rise of federal power, particularly executive power, that we've seen in huge measure from Clinton and G.W. Bush. I'm concerned that Huckabee won't bring us back toward federalism. In the last (Oct 9) debate, he said that he would, if necessary, act to prevent a perceived terrorist threat even if Congress specifically denied authorization - as if Congress wasn't worthy of making that decision. That's the thinking that got us into our current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, thinking that the White House has the only good ideas and answers. Then there's the constitutional problem of bypassing the check and balance provided by Congress.

In a brief examination, I don't see any discussion on Huckabee's website of states' rights or federalism, and his only mention of the Constitution is in reference to the second amendment.

I would suggest Ron Paul as a candidate who is committed to the the entire constitution, federalism and limited government, and is a strong Christian. I don't agree with all of his opinions, including his support for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but I believe a return to federalism is the most important issue facing the federal government today.

God bless,


Ron Paul supports morality, and is a strong Christian himself. He believes that it is generally up to the states occasionally, and ultimately the individual, not the federal government, to enforce morality. Paul is strongly pro-life and opposes Roe v Wade on constitutional grounds.

After writing my email, I came to a realization: Mike Huckabee isn't that different from George W. Bush! Let's compare campaign positions:

Bush: Campaigned on and passed tax cuts
Huckabee: Campaigning on the Fair Tax

B: Ignores restrictions on executive power
when he deems it necessary
H: Willing to do the same

B: Restore moral integrity to presidency
and nation
H: Restore moral integrity to nation

B: Encouraging "compassionate conservatism"
H: encouraging individual effort

H:Vocally pro-life

B: Would appoint conservative
federal judges
H: No obvious opinion, pro-2nd amendment

B: Redefined definition of torture to exclude what he deemed necessary/useful, though that torture is given to some who are innocent, and torture can supply bad intelligence.
H: Opposes torture

There are some areas of difference. Huckabee opposes anything even close to amnesty for illegal immigrants (so does Paul). Huckabee supports letting states choose their own standards for education, which would partially rectify one of the biggest problems with Bush's No Child Left Behind act. Paul, on the other hand, would seek to abolish the Dept. of Education and its often counterproductive programs altogether. Huckabee would not use of torture on detainees, something Bush has allowed by using clever definitions of the word. I'm going to be optimistic and assume power and an insular white house wouldn't go to Huckabee's head as it did Bush's. But I can't see big changes coming from a Huckabee white house, and certainly not the big changes in federalism and size of government that Paul would bring.

To learn more about Ron Paul, visit his website.

Wikipedia article on GWB's 2000 presidential campaign
Mike Huckabee issues page
Huckabee's opinion on torture
Transcript of October 9 Republican debate