Does Band a Scandal Make?

A quick blog post today, while I’m waiting for my frozen pizza to cook.

I saw this article on NPR’s Twitter feed, titled Southern Miss Band Hurls ‘Where’s Your Green Card?’ Chant at Latino Player. It’s a short article, describing a recent event at the free-throw line during the first onslaughts of March Madness. According to the article, “Rob Cassidy, who covers Kansas State for Yahoo!, was in the stands and pinned the chants on the Southern Miss band.” If I were in the crowd, I would silently be seething while this chant was happening, but the article brings up another issue beyond the chant itself, and that is the portrayal of bands in media.

As I have typically seen it, bands are brought to the public’s attention when something bad has happened. Most of us will remember the attention drawn to Florida A&M’s marching band after the death of a hazing victim, which, I might say, is a horrific event to happen in any institution. What concerns me is the image of the band that this casts in front of the eyes of the public.

Often (at least what I have noticed), if an article comes out about a teacher who sexually harasses a student, the subject area that the teacher teaches is not revealed unless that subject is music. Are we taking our love for drama in Hollywood entertainment and associating it with our music students, only because of the correlation with the performing arts?

I do not want to sound as though I am in favor of sexual harassment, violent hazing, or any other such inhuman and incomprehensible cruelties with our students. What I am excited to see is that one day, our future media will ALSO promote instrumental classroom music as a positive and essential part of our American culture and a child’s social upbringing, just as highly as we loft beautiful friendships or dinner with family.


Chile Rising

I follow Estudiantes Informados (Informed Students) on Facebook, and earlier today they posted this video, created by Fault Lines, an English language news source from the Middle East. It beautifully describes the education conflict in Chile that I experienced, synthesizing facts, the history of Chile’s politics since the coup d’etat on September 11th, 1973, and interviews with leaders in both arenas.

The video opens with marchers playing a simple rhythm on metal fencing, an infectious pattern that became familiar while walking through Valparaíso in the middle of the day.

A group of parents and adults banging pots and pans in front of each red light.

Students, teachers, taxpayers; in small huddles or large masses; all would chant and cheer and this rhythm was the heartbeat of their collective energy.

Outside of the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso.

Lemons - to reduce the effects of tear gas.

At the end of the video, you hear the song “Shock” by singer Ana Tijoux. I’ve posted and translated the lyrics at the end of this post. The song is centered around the idea of the Shock Doctrine, a term coined by author and journalist Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

A “Shock Doctrine” is the employment of economist Milton Friedman’s free market economic plan during times of great turmoil and upheaval. This is what was referred to in the Fault Lines video when the Chicago Boys were sent from Chile to study economics with Friedman in the 1970s, and employ his Regean-era policies in the fresh dictatorship.

(Haz clic acá para leer las letras en español.)

Your monologues are poison,
Your discussions colorless,
You don’t see that we’re not alone.
Thousands pole to pole!

At the sound of one choir,
We will march to the tune,
To the conviction, “stop the robbery!”

Your state of control,
Your rotten throne of gold,
Your politics and your wealth,
And your treasure, no.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded.
We won’t permit any more, any more of your Shock Doctrine.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded. (x4)

No countries, only corporations
That have more, more action,
Fat slices, powerful decisions by the few.

Pinochetist constitution,
Opus dei rights, Fascist books.
Coup supporter dressed by an elitist pardon.
Drop the drops, drop the purse,
The takeover takes the broken machine.
The street won’t quiet, the street is scratched,
The street isn’t quiet, debate that explodes.

Everything leaves, everything’s sold,
Everything profits life and death,
Everything’s business, like you,
Seeds, Pascuala, methods, and choirs.


Coup to coup, kiss to kiss.
With desire and breath,
With ashes, with fire,
From the present with remembrance,
With certainty and with bleeding,
With a clear objective,
With memory and with history,
The future is now!

This whole test tube,
This whole laboratory every day,
All of this failure, all of this economic model
Doomed like the dinosaur.

Everything’s criminalized,
Everything’s justified in the news,
Everything leaves, everything’s trampled,
Everything’s filed and classified.

But… your politics and tactics,
Your typical laugh and ethnicity,
Your manipulated communication,
How many were those that were silenced?

Cops, water tanks, and nightsticks,
Cops, water tanks, and tuna,
Cops, water tanks don’t add up.
How many were those that robbed the fortunes?


The park that wasn’t

Sorry these posts are coming in slow!


Yesterday, we went to the city of Castro, further inland, about 1.5 hours on a bus. It sounded great in Sophie’s Lonely Planet guidebook. After a good chunk of our day, though, we realized something. We were, after all, doing the things the guidebook suggested: saw the palafitos (houses on stilts), looked at a church, walked through a park, etc. Yet, we were still somehow bored.

So, today, we planned to go hiking in the Parque Nacional, via the town of Chepu. Lonely Planet said that buses left daily on the corner of the streets Marina and Arturo Prat, at a gas station at 6:30 am. We woke at 5:30, somehow blew the fuse, got ready in the dark, left at 6:00, arrived at the smaller bus terminal of the town with no sign of the streets we looked for, and couldn’t find anyone who knew what bus we were talking about. That’s when we realized how strange the guidebook’s suggestion actually was. Why would a bus leave — daily — from an obscure street corner so early in the morning, especially during the tourist off-season? Is that economically profitable?

We went back to the hostel and Googled.

Different sites led us in different directions, but some suggested that the “rural” bus terminal was what we wanted — on the the third floor of the grocery store “Bigger.” Again, I was baffled by this, but we went to the store anyways. Sure enough, there was a bus terminal on the 3rd floor. A bus driver told us it was indeed the right place! Welcome! Where would you like to go? — Chepu? — Of course! The next bus leaves at 4:00 pm!

No good.

We instead tried to find outdoor-sy stuff in Ancud to settle our desire to go hiking. Looking for a place called Aventuras Australes, we found old Spanish fortified walls above a beautiful, rocky beach. Pictures were taken ad we explored, though we were soon contacted by another gringa student traveling nearby. She and her parents were going down the Parque today as well. And then, I heard the best news of the week.

“We rented a car.”

As we drove, Sophie and I convinced them to go through Chepu as we had planned, though this turned out to be a big mistake. After about an hour of driving, we nearly bottomed out heading down a muddy dirt hill leading to a beach. We stopped back a ways where a man was chopping wood, and I stepped out to speak and translate. He said only a 4×4 could get down, but we could park our car and walk. Unfortunately, this would take 2 hours.

So, we turned around and went, once again, to Castro.

They had rented a hostel that was a palafito and completely stunning. Filled with woodwork (one of Chiloé’s specialties) and very stable with a very contemporary interior. The clerk told us a more successful route we could take to get to the Parque, and so we were off again.

The route took us from one side of the island to the other (which is easier width-wise than lengh-wise). After another hour of driving, we were finally paying park rangers and looking over a hiking map.  Luckily, the rain had stayed away. The landlady of our hospidaje had told us that Chiloé has four seasons a day, and she was right. Rain, sun, rainbows, repeat. Due to the mud, though, we couldn’t do more than an hour of exploring.

So, we turned around and went, once again, to Castro.

Our bizarre day of unsuccessful attempts was made better, in the end, by seafood and a pisco sour.

Desierto, Ruinas, Perros

Date/Fecha: 1.8.11

¡Feliz agosto!

Hoy día, fuimos a ver la Valle de la Luna, que fue maravillosa. Para ir afuera del pueblo y mover las piernas fue un sentido refrescante. Espero que mañana podamos hacer más trekking, o montar en bicicletas de montaña. Siento la necesidad a moverme más, porque en el pasado no me movía debido a mi tarea y el carrete.

En nuestro tour, conocimos a un hombre irlandés, se llamó Dallan. Él dejó su trabajo y decidió a viajar antes de empezando algo nuevo. Llegó a Argentina primeramente, y viajó a través de casi todos los países suramericanos. Ahora, planea a continuar al norte — Bolivia y Perú — y se irá de Lima en un mas más. Me gustó mucho oír el acento irlandés, especialmente cuando se dice, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”


El día final en San Pedro de Atacama.

We said a long, chilly goodbye to our travel buddy, Lydia, at 7 am this morning as she waited for the van (which was expensive, by the way) to pick her up and bring her to the tiny Calama airport. We then fell back to sleep, and started the morning over around 10 with a slow breakfast at the same café as yesterday. Their eggs and toast and café con leche was marvelous, though we might only think that because it’s been so long since we’ve had such a North-American-style meal. Eggs. Toast. Coffee.

We then wandered to a bike rental and spent about $7USD on a great day. We biked out of town to the ruins of the Pukara de Quitor. Along the way, a dog befriended us that we named Lassie (very original, as always). Unfortunately, Lassie was a bit overprotective, and angrily jumped at a passing Chilean on bike who, upon learning that Lassie wasn’t ours chasing him off, gladly gave us advice about crossing the river that covered the road. We crossed 3 or 4 such rivers before reaching the ruins.

I won’t describe every detail behind the ruins, but they were amazing. They were built up a hill to look out over the entire valley in which was situated San Pedro. The signs, however, were deceiving. As we climbed the ruins, they said “No Orillar,” which means “Don’t skirt (the edges),” even though the designated path brought us directly to the edges of the cliff-like hillside.

After the ruins, we went to a lookout point much higher by way of a path that wound back and forth up the neighboring hill. Halfway, while we took a rest, I looked back along the trail that we already walked.

“Here comes Lassie.”

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Lassie was making his way up the trail, and soon stopped about 20 meters below to watch us. We tried to sneak away when he wasn’t looking, but it took Sophie a harsh “¡Vaya! We don’t love you!” to get him to head back.

Up at the top, we discovered that we were on the opposite side of the Valle de la Muerte that we saw yesterday on our Valle de la Luna tour. A huge cross stood to commemorate some 300 indigenous people who were massacred by the Spanish. Around the cross was written, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” in four languages. I find it ironic, though, that there is a Christian symbol commemorating the massacre of non-Christians by Christians. ¿Cachai?

In the meantime, as we marvelled, Sophie took a look back down the trail.

“Lassie’s back.”


The great writer over at Satin and Lace once told me that as I travel, I should remember to avoid getting stuck behind a camera to the point where I only see my surroundings in megapixels. For that reason, the majority of my trip has actually gone (photographically) undocumented. Between my occasional photos, less occasional journal entries, and even less occasional blog posts, I’ve save the rest for my memory and tuition payments. That being said, there are a few mental images I want to share that stand out to me.

Me despertó.

I’ve been woken up by many interesting things. The first of these was an earthquake. There are two distinctions of earthquakes here, temblores and terremotos. Temblores are small and very frequent. They occur throughout the country every day and you probably don’t notice them. My first happened at about 4:00 in the morning, and there were two or three small rumbles that shook me awake (wow, I don’t think I’ve ever used that phrase literally before).

The other wake-up, which has happened more frequently, is dog barking. That might sound silly, but there are stray dogs all over this country. The sound of the dogs can be louder than the traffic on the nearby road, and when the dogs right around the house stop barking, I can still hear the baying for miles like a carpet of noise. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll sleep right through it.


One of the most difficult parts of foreign language immersion is that I feel like a child and I’m treated like a child. The best way to come to terms with it is to join everyone in the room and laugh at myself. (Yes, they are laughing at you.) However, it doesn’t shake the urge to try to prove myself. Turns out, though, that I don’t have much to work with.

Monopoly was never a game I enjoyed much as a child; it was too much strategy, too much math, and too long. But I wasn’t going to refuse a good round with my host brothers. On any other day, I would have been stricken with fear; but the immersion experience has definitely shaken a good amount of skin off me in some parts of life. The math turned out to be less difficult than I thought, even though the game uses Chilean pesos.

“You landed on mine! Rent is $5,800.”
“You have a $10,000.”
“Give me the ten, and I’ll give you change.”
Mamá Chilena: “Ross, you better count that change. These guys are tricksters.”
(counts) “Hey!”

The next day, to my surprise, I was playing Monopoly again. This time, though, I was with family relatives; an older cousin (about age 30) and a younger one (age 9). I began to realize what a poor position the older cousin put herself in. Here was a pesky nine-year-old having a blast gathering houses and miscounting his die, and next to him a blubbering foreigner battling with simple phrases and big numbers. Once dinner began and our game was cut short, I don’t think many of us were disappointed.

Harry Potter.

A group of gringos went to — or, descended upon — the movie theater at in the mall in Viña del Mar to see Harry Potter Number Seven Part Two Before Anyone Else Ha. A great amount of media in Chile is originally in English and either dubbed or subtitled. Flipping through channels, you’re likely to come across Los Simpson (which is very popular) and some familiar soap operas dubbed into Spanish. Movie theaters often give you the choice between dubbed and subtitled films. As you may imagine, dubbing requires almost a complete overhaul of the sound effects, and creates an odd reality in which the lips don’t quite look right. A few weeks earlier, I watched Transformers 3 with subtitles, and enjoyed comparing the real dialogue with the subtitled translation (not all of the swear words nor American colloquialisms translated quite perfectly). Harry Potter, however, was going to be different; I was determined to look past the subtitles and enjoy myself watching the culmination of one of the staples of my generation. From head to toe, I was entrenched in the world of magic and Hogwarts for one last time.

Emerging from the theater was an awakening. Funny how easy it was to forget, for two hours, that I was in a Spanish-speaking country, where normally my brain is on high speed trying to catch the words flying by me, where expressing an opinion is as difficult as ordering McDonald’s.


Lastly, the sight of where I’m living from the surrounding hills was a spectacular sight. Fortunately, did take a picture of that. Words would be hard to describe this one.

Steve Reich: “the restless search of exploring new ground”

See this article in Deceptive Cadence via NPR.

There is no reason to think that creativity and musicianship is dying. Composers still composes, perform, premier, and scandalize. Enjoy.

Steve Reich At (Nearly) 75


Steve Reich takes a bow at his 75th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall alongside members of the Kronos Quartet and So Percussion.

Steve Reich takes a bow at his 75th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall alongside members of the Kronos Quartet and So Percussion.

This October, composer Steve Reich is turning 75 — an age that for many other artists, especially ones as widely adored as Reich, wouldn’t be marked by much more than a few valedictory laps. Instead, he continues to make innovative music and is still one of the most important and influential voices of our era.

That fact became vivid reality this past Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall, when Reich was feted with a concert that was not at all a retrospective. Instead, it was comprised entirely of works Reich has written only within the last four years, performed by artists who have become Reich colleagues as well as fans: the Kronos Quartet, longstanding partners of Reich, all the way back to 1988’s Different Trains; the downtown denizens of Bang on a Can; So Percussion; and the sextet eighth blackbird.

As much as any other contemporary composer, Reich has become an icon to mainstream music fans and musicians like Thurston Moore or Sufjan Stevens. At the same time, though, a number of audience members stalked out of Carnegie angrily mid-concert. Here’s a composer who still wields the power to infuriate some, just as he did when his Four Organs was booed at Boston’s Symphony Hall 40 years ago.

Idol though Reich is, however, his music of the past few years has posed more questions than answers — and maybe that’s exactly what makes his voice so relevant in our own age of anxiety.

The early birthday celebration began with Reich’s Mallet Quartet, a piece for two vibraphones and two marimbas. As with Reich’s previous music for percussion, I’ve been drawn to the nearly pointillistic quality of the rhythmic play, as you can hear in this performance by So Percussion:

So Percussion plays Reich’s Mallet Quartet.
Source: YouTube

But the acoustics of Carnegie Hall revealed other qualities in this piece entirely. The slow middle section — a meditation on space and stillness — offers a real contrast to the kineticism of so much else of Reich’s work. The warm, low woods of the marimbas played in canon against the ringing of the vibes, which in the resonance of Carnegie’s Isaac Stern Auditorium pealed as brightly as church bells.

WTC 9/11: A piece that Reich calls addressing “unfinished business” — the business, perhaps, of being human, of struggling mightily through personal and communal loss. Unlike, say, John Adams‘ On the Transmigration of Souls — a piece written in the year following 9/11, and which movingly memorializes the astonishing toll of lives lost and lives shattered — Reich’s WTC 9/11 distills the existential issues of the past decade: What is to come now?

The Kronos Quartet plays Steve Reich's 'WTC 9/11.'l

The Kronos Quartet plays Steve Reich’s ‘WTC 9/11.’

Reich’s piece crystallizes some of the anxiety and searching that characterized not just the chaos and pain of the attack and its immediate aftermath, but the great unknowns that have characterized the last decade for all of us, last night’s Osama bin Laden news notwithstanding.

WTC 9/11 weaves in the voices of NORAD workers and NYFD firefighters as well as interviews with some of those who, like Reich himself and his family, lived and worked in the shadows of the Twin Towers. (Reich and his wife, video artist, Beryl Korot, were in Vermont on September 11th, but their son, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law were at Reich and Korot’s apartment four blocks away from the WTC on that dazzlingly bright September morning.)

In WTC 9/11, Reich returns to a form that he has long used so effectively in such pieces as It’s Gonna Rain and Different Train,blending recorded and manipulated speech with music. One of the most effective instants of Reich’s textual interlaying of spoken word and music comes in the moment we hear a man, recorded eight years after 9/11, recounting the day. His voice strained and tight with emotion, he says, “It was chaos,” against frantic, harrowing close intervals played by the strings rubbing up against each other. We can hear the anxiety in the man’s voice as he relives that terrible day; the experience is still so close and real — both to him, and to us.

Reich opens up a second meaning of the initials “WTC,” as the World to Come. He draws in the voices of some of those who attended to the Jewish obligation of shmira in the days after 9/11: sitting near the bodies of victims before their burial, reciting and singing Psalms and other Biblical passages ceaselessly. In Reich’s treatment, shmira is almost is an act of willing a new reality into being, though none of us is sure what actually is to be: “The world to come,” as one of Reich’s interviewees muses, “I don’t really know what that means.”

The second half of the concert opened up another channel of Reich’s output, one that again belies any hoary Grand Elder Statesman aura. The piece 2X5 places two quintets of electric bass, piano, drums, and two electric guitars against each other; its world premiere in 2008 fixed Kraftwerk up with some of the Bang on a Can musicians.

There’s often a lot of talk about how Reich marries classical paradigms to pop and rock aesthetics. Some of that crossover is quite real — one of the musicians playing in this performance of 2X5 was Bryce Dressner from The National, and another was Mark Stewart, who on other nights directs Paul Simon‘s band; a third was Glenn Kotche of Wilco.

In pieces like 2X5, however, you hear Reich using the musculature of the electric guitar in a very different context than most rock or pop artists. It’s in the service of techniques like hocketing, the “hiccuping” effect of instruments trading playing and silence to create one bigger musical line. The result is ten musicians bobbing up and down and swaying together that might, in high-handed terms, be called a joyous communion; in simpler terms, it’s ten artists just totally rocking out.

The Carnegie Hall concert ended with Reich’s Double Sextet, which earned the composer a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Written in 2007 for eighth blackbird (who originally played against a recordings of themselves, but here faced Bang on a Can musicians), Double Sextet is a tightly coiled thing that positively vibrates with an inner energy, yet has lyricism at its core, and a sense of space and line thanks to harmonies that constantly shift and are reshuffled within a larger form. Such lacunae and harmonic movements are rather new in Reich’s music, but that’s such a large part of the pleasure of his recent work, the restless search of exploring new ground.