When Live-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression.  Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled.  It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating.  After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

think what you are

Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

― Stephen Fry

—Posted by Barbara A. White

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Life Is Long

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—Joe’s bumper

“Life is short; play with your human; they’ll give you lots of treats.”
—Joe’s dog

“Life is long; write everything down, and get Netflix.  Don’t forget to vaccinate.  Watch out for those death panels.”
—Joe’s mother-in-law

“Life is long.  Take ‘er easy, but take ‘er.  Teach your kids lots of tunes.  They’ll be grateful, and they’ll make lots of friends.  If your hands get tired, they’ll come by to play the music you taught them, and they’ll pass it on too.  Others will travel from afar and be envious of your deep roots and rich culture.  (Some of them won’t leave.)  And remember all your funny stories, because they’ll love hearing them.  (Make sure to tell your son how much you love his biscuits and lemon pie, and he’ll make them for you every chance he gets.  More often than for he makes them for his girlfriend, but she won’t mind.)”
—Joe’s folks

“I am awake.  Life is suffering, but not to worry.”
—Buddha

“Life is great.  May I have more ice cream?  (Why am I asking?  Of course I can!  I’m a Prince.  Life is great.)  You!—get me more ice cream.  You know, one of these days I’d like to go for a walk outside.  How do I get there?”
—The young Buddha

“Boy, do I wish I hadn’t written that book. . . .  It won’t die.  Now they’re using it as a guide to business.  Ah, que buffone!  I guess those wannabe Princes don’t know it got me sent to prison.  And can’t they tell it’s <satirico>?”
—Machiavelli

“Life is a mystery.  Light the fire, smith the metal, and you’ll have a poem.”
—Brigit

“I’m not sure; there is a new life policy coming into effect.  Go check with that young man who’s all over the news these days.  You’ve seen him; the one with the long hair and sandals.  He has lots of followers.  Sheesh, this celebrity culture is really getting out of hand.”
—St. Brigit

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—St. Francis

“Be good.”
—God

“It is what is is, and it sounds beautiful.”
—Finn Mac Cumhaill

“Not so fast.  Wait for Nietzsche. (And what are you doing here anyway, Finn?  You do not exist.)”
—Kierkegaard

“It is not what it is.  Well, maybe what I said isn’t it . . .”
—Schrödinger

“God is dead.”
—Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.  Um, God, can I have a treat now?”
—God’s dog

“Life is in and out and up and down.  Make sure you give your humans lots of chances to pass the time: go over to the door every few minutes so they can drop what they are doing and open it for you.  They love that.  You can tell, because they give you treats after.  Or before, depending on your perspective.  Plus, they even make videos and show them to people all around the world on that weird flat fishbowl thingie they’re always hunching over and swearing or laughing.  (Hence my suggestion about the door.)  So try to do lots of outlandish things so they’ll get lots of likes.  I dunno how it works, but no matter; I’m up to my tail in toy mice and purple haze thanks to the royalties.  You should come over some time; we’ll party.”
—Schrödinger’s neighbor’s cat

“There, there.  I hear you.  I send my compassion.”
—Kuan Yin

“Happy 82d birthday, Grandpa!  Can you remind me who won the 1947 World Series?  I always forget.”
—Joe’s daughter

“The Yankees beat the Dodgers.  (That’s when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.)  Seven games.  Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers.  I hope the Red Sox will win just once in my lifetime; it’s been since before I was born.  That Darned Bambino.  (Not you, Bambina.)”
—Joe’s father-in-law, Giuseppe

“Wasn’t that the first year Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers?—Ergo, the first World Series with a desegregated statius?  In the Coliseum, they would have called that intermisceo.  That reminds of something funny . . .”
—Joe’s husband, Professor of the History of the Culture of the Economics of Roman Sporting and Comedy 

“Wow, you must have read my History™!  I said that long before we became æther-Friends™.  No, you didn’t do research?  Are you sure?  You seem to know a lot.  I guess you must have a prodigious memory.  Anyway, moving on. . . .  But wait, are you sure?  Really?  Okay, okay.”
—Dr. Jay

“You’ve been in here a long time.  You really should get outside.  You already posted and still you keep revising.  Plus, your list keeps getting longer.  Blagues are supposed to be pithy.  If you confuse ’em, you’re gonna lose ’em.”
—IAmNotMakingUp (to me)

“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

“Um, are you guys done?  Can we play fetch now? [Diabolical laugh.  Wag wag wag.]”
—Joe’s dog

—Posted by Rose Marie McSweeney

Mythic Birds of Brigadoon

Last Friday, my bass clarinet and I arrived at Music Camp on the Canal in St. Peter’s, Nova Scotia to learn that the wonderful American composer Lee Hyla had just died.  I did not know Lee all that well, but I admired his music greatly and was always happy to run into him and to encounter his calm, respectful manner.  It’s probably entirely due to Lee that I learned to play bass clarinet, thanks to hearing his “Mythic Birds of Saugerties” put into flight by the inimitable Tim Smith years ago.  Mathew and Eric introduced me to Lee’s music and Tim’s playing back in the early 1990s, when a piece like “Mythic Birds” circulated on precious, lossful, multigenerational cassettes and when its inventor could remain a mystery—no website, no Facebook™ post, no blögue, and maybe one CD released so far.  Lee’s pre-tweet birds opened up a sonic world I could never have foreseen: the bass clarinet splatting and grooving down below, then sailing up into the stratosphere to play a plaintive, mournful tune.  There was a pulse!—contrary to the “music of avoidance” identified around the same time by Scott Wheeler in his Contemporary Music Review article.  I’d never known contemporary  concert music could be so raucous and moving at the same time.

When I first came NoSco and encountered Cape Breton’s traditional music, far from the concert-music scene down South, I joked that I felt like I was visiting Brigadoon, the Scottish village that appears for one day every one hundred years and disappears again.  I thought I might just disappear into an enchanted mist of Celtic music, never to return.  I finally confessed to a Caper friend that I believed he lived on a magical, mythical island.  I thought he would talk me down from the heavens, or out of the mist, but instead he said, yes, this is a magical place.  People who live here seem to recognize and appreciate what they have.

Saturday night the Music Camp faculty all played the All-Star concert at the church.  For the second time, I was stunned to be on a program with so many of Cape Breton’s musical luminaries, while I am a part-time performer and new to Celtic music to boot.  Even more, this is the only venue where I look out into the hall and see that maybe 80% of the audience could easily be up on stage playing their own tunes.  The musical culture here is extraordinarily sophisticated, as well as generous, and it’s astonishing how much shared understanding there is.  One person starts singing “The Island” or “The Mary Ellen Carter,” or “Heading to Halifax,” and the whole crowd joins in.  A fiddler plays a reel and someone puts down a beer and gets up to dance.  A banjoist and a bodran player trade instruments and play one as expertly as the other.  A twelve-year-old girl leads a band that includes men five times her age.  But the bass clarinet, I gather, has seldom driven across the causeway to honk along.  As it turned out, I was making my bass clarinet debut in our All-Star concert, in my duo Fork and Spoon, with Charles playing guitar.  We cooked up some jigs, reels and airs, and I ventured down to the lowlands where the tunes don’t usually go.  Here in the land of the fiddle and the mando, my bass clarinet—dubbed by Charles as “The Big Fella”—made quite a few friends.  (Later Bob called it “The Bazooka,” and added, “I mean that in a complimentary way.”)  Highly aware of my role as little fish in this great pond, it was very gratifying when Roger said, “It was worth coming home just to hear that low note at the end.”  (Or did he say, “to hear it end?”  Probably not—that’s not the way musicians talk to each other over here.)  Later Roger asked me about the bass clarinet, commenting specifically on its wide range.  I told him a bit about the way the instrument breathed its way into concert music, moving from a low-register extension to a solo vehicle, expanding the sonic palette of notated music.  And even when it’s played up high, where the regular clarinet could go—well, why not have that bass clarinet cry its lonely song instead?  Why not make it a little more difficult and dangerous, and thus more poignant?

After meeting Lee’s music all those years ago in the remote island we call “contemporary concert music” (do we?), I got to know the intrepid Jean Kopperud and was fortunate to work with her on a project or two.  And there are too many other wonderful bass clarinetists/wind players to mention: Michael Lowenstern, Ned Rothenberg, and the wonderful duo Sqwonk, made up of Jeff Anderle and Jon Russell.  (I was telling Roger how high these guys can play.  Also a composer, Jon writes fabulous music for bass clarinet, including one for nine Big Fellas.)  Perhaps others were onto its beauty/beast appeal along with or even before before Lee and Tim.  But whoever broke the four-minute mile mark, there’s now a whole crew running around the tracks.  Dianne Heffner and I played in a band years ago; Alan Kay glowed through one of my CDs; I’ve met Michael Norsworthy only briefly; and I know Demetrius Spaneas only from Facebook™.  I am looking forward to working more with Amy Advocat and Matt Sharrock of Transient Canvas—Amy plays clarinets, and Matt plays marimba, another instrument that has worked itself into prominence in recent decades.  It seems fitting that these two outliers meet up in center stage.  I have begun to dream of rumbling low Cs.  Perhaps this meeting of strangers is something like my unfamiliar bass clarinet groaning through the Celtic tunebook.  I wonder if Lee liked strathspeys.

In the Cape Breton church of tunes, no one seemed impatient or uninvolved; I didn’t see any covert (or shameless) glances at glowing screens to find hockey scores (though I confess I was checking them later after the concert ended—the double overtime went almost as late as our jam session).  After Fork and Spoon finished our first set in the All-Star Concert, ending with Chris Crilly’s blistering “Jack McCann”—which requires me to shift the Big Bazooka into overdrive and to huff and puff to blow Jack up—the audience gave an unrestrained round of appreciative applause.  I told them I don’t see that too much at classical concerts.  (After we left the stage and the others played their sets, they continued to cheer, all through the three-hour program.)   But if we were to work on our cheering technique, Lee’s music would be a great place to start.

As I finish writing, by the Bay overlooking Jerseyman’s Island, a heron flies by.  A heron sighting is one of my greatest delights—perhaps made even more special by its infrequency.  Julia says they look like dinosaurs.  They might be mythic birds.  Thank you, Lee for the birds of Saugerties; I would not have brought the Big Fella to Brigadoon if I had not learned your myths all those years ago.  And condolences to those who were close to Lee; I know from your own words that you have suffered a great loss in his departure.

—Posted by Barbara A. White

Dona Nobis Quatuor—Or, “F The Dominant”

[Eine kleine Festschriftenfantasieblöggen for Paul Lansky, on the occasion of his retirement]

May 2014.  I walk in the door to see eight or ten people I have never met before, gathered around a coffee table covered with neatly stacked piles of paper.   I exclaim, “Wow, you guys are hard core!”  One man says, “Who is this nice lady?  I bet she is a fine soprano.”  (Yes, I hope, and no, I lament.)  Jay, who until now have I known only aethereally, introduces me to each person by voice type.   It is a gaggle, a bevy, of serious singers, many with advanced degrees in fields other than music.  We spend hours with Finck, Obrecht, Byrd, and—my favorite, Josquin.  We sing his “De Profundis.”  One of them.  (Is it still his?  Let me know.)

Don’t worry; we’ll get to Paul in a moment.  There is plenty of time.

The singers debate politely about various translations of German texts and the symbolic significance of hyssop.  Judy quotes the opening lines of the Aeneid, in the original and from memory (which I do not understand), and there is an in-joke about Gesualdo (which I do).  We sing, “suscipe deprecationem nostram,” and I begin to think of tekka maki.  It is the first time I have ever attended a birthday party where I needed my reading glasses.  Departing, I say, “I have not done this in thirty years,” but later I realize I have never done this.  Ever.  I haven’t been this sound-silly since I was last in Cape Breton.

We read from scores made with software John invented; we are unencumbered by unwanted barlines.  There are sophisticated discussions about ficta.  I hide behind the skirts, metaphorically speaking, of an adept alto and join in when I can.  Every flatted note we sing feels like a warm bath.

But still moves delight,
Like clear springs renew’d by flowing,

June 2012.  I learn the tune “Frieze Britches,” also known as “Cúnla,” and I marvel at its Mixolydian flavor.  I travel from the southern tip of Cape Breton up to the Highlands, and I can’t stop playing it on my tin whistle, except when I grab my shakuhachi to record a second part to “She Moved through the Fair,” to accompany Riley’s recording of the tune he sent me from Kyoto.  I send Riley an email with a .mp3 of our disembodied duo attached.

I return to St. Peter’s, my “Frieze Britches” transcription in hand, and a guy says, “Look at that!  You can write it down?”  “More like, ‘have to,’” I say, in order to keep up and keep my memory straight.  (Today on FaceTime™ Charles rummaged around for my transcription, but it was not to be found.  It reminded me how inefficient notation is.  Eventually I found it in a pile of papers at my own place.)

The flat seven is so marvelous, the way it just tucks itself into the second bar of the tune without incident, radiating warmth.  It’s a note with humanity and humility.

Frieze With Key

“Frieze Britches” reminds me of the first movement of Op. 130, to which (to whom?) Elliot Forbes introduced me in 1983.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that F-natural in the cello that brings us from G major into a dalliance with C minor,—and then, whoa!—without warning, everybody slides back into B-flat.  (My Lea pocket score from El’s class is far away [in the next room]. . . .  Oh, look!—imslp has the first edition!)

Dichterliebe It’s like a filmic dissolve, a maneuver Paul and I both recognized in Dichterliebe one day in the Cone Room.  (—“Meanwhile, back in the disillusioned and lonely present . . .”)

Dichterliebe Fuck Dominant

Already in the downbeat of m. 9, after a few elevated and pointy G-sharps, the bass lumbers down to the subtonic, deflating any hope one could possibly take from an excited heart.

These dull notes we sing
Discords need for helps to grace them;

Spring 2006.  At Lincoln Center, I sit next to Paul for a performance of Eliot Feld’s Backchat, which he choreographed for Mandance using Paul’s Idle Chatter Junior.  It is so different from anything I would ever think to do, stunning in a way that makes my eye and ear both work new muscles.  The dancers all face the back and engage with a wall upstage.  There is something about the fixity of the recorded sound and the property line enforced by the wall, as well as the men facing away, that suggests a mysterious and allusive sort of vertical boundary, and the photographic quality of the music makes the visual, too, seem like a picture—a moving one.  Later we chat in the lobby about the way music touches choreography, and Paul says that it is less like counterpoint of two voices than like a sort of multiplication.  I have just published an article that says exactly that, and I think, perhaps I did not need to go to all that trouble of writing it down.

After intermission, back in our seats with Hannah, Paul and I discuss some department lore, and he says, “I’ll tell you that story sometime.” Maybe I’ll hear that one on Tuesday.

WTF License AnonSomehow we get on to functional harmony and modulation—à propos of what, I forget—and Paul says, “Fuck the dominant.  I like the flat side.”  (I wonder whether I need to bleep, or bloop, or -F-, the F-word, now that professors are being fired [and later rehired?] for commenting on their universities’ budget cuts, for posting unfortunate, pained, tweets [#NoKansasPleaseILovePrinceton], and for sending frustrated, hastily written emails.  But, I digress . . . )

What is it about the flat side?  The same year as that conversation, I was attending Susanna’s tai ji class.  Paul had told me about her years earlier, and I think he said Hannah learned the sword form.  (Did their young sons go too?  I think so.)  It’s as if the emphatic, bright, five, the yang, causes the four to seem even more itself, more steady.  This stable, imperturbable yin has no need to hit you over the head to show its strength.  (I remember what happened when my boy dog was joined by a new younger female: she played alpha, and he just sat around and snorted as if he could not be bothered.

Four, five: could we have one without the other?  Could it be that the harmony that can be harmonized is not the true harmony?

Ever perfect, ever in them-
Selves eternal.

That same month as the Lincoln Center performance, Lisa sits for her General Exam and tells us some things we don’t know about the different versions of Petrushka.  We all vow to save the handouts.  I still have mine.  In the course of the exam, which also concerns Stravinsky and Balanchine’s Agon and Orpheus, as well as the theme of “memory in music,” Paul has occasion to ask Lisa about gender in music. (In one of the ballets?  I am not sure.)  He turns to me, and since it is Lisa’s exam, I ask, “Why do you ask?”  Paul replies, “Well, you’re the gender.”  I’m told this Lacanian exchange is still talked about among the graduate students.  (Well, I was told that, back then.)  Later, Lisa writes about Antony and the Johnsons, relying on recent and sophisticated theory of transgender (and other) identity.  So, now Paul and I can ask students about transgender matters too.  (Way back when, Walter was described as having a “sex change.”  More recently this has been called “sex reassignment surgery.”  Just recently I heard the term “sex affirmation surgery,” which sounds so much nicer.  It’s fascinating how things change.)

Rose-cheek’d Laura, come,
Sing thou smoothly with thy beauty’s

1985.  It’s Killian Hall, I think.  (Can someone remind me?)  In those days, such concerts formed the electric ghetto within the new-music ghetto; but back then we (we?) felt happy to be off the menu, misunderstood.  And (parenthetical) redfish were nowhere on the horizon.  This is before MIDI, before the laptop, and before the return of the turntable.  The posters advertising “electronic music” attract the usual group of Cambridge/Boston eggheads.  We ride our bicycles to M.I.T. and leave our right pants legs bound through the evening (why not?).  Soon the DX7 will make itself available for us to eschew.  We furrow our brows in consternation and discuss the intricacies of FM synthesis and the LPC we are all waiting to try.  (Actually, I won’t learn about all that until the following year.)

I find this proudly esoteric brain-collective enticing and exciting.  Occasionally, one or two “outsiders” show up, expecting something else from the term “electronic music,”—Tomita?  Walter/Wendy? “The Popcorn Song?*”—and they usually start to giggle when the bleeps and bloops start, as if it’s the rest of us who don’t understand.  Perhaps they’ll turn out to be right.  Meantime, I like thinking that I am in the know and that they are unsophisticated: they are outsiders to the outsiders.  This music is reserved for just a few of us.

(*Did you see that the YouTube post mentions “no copyright infringement intended”?  I guess it’s the thought that counts.  A couple of years ago the social media specialist at Princeton told me that it is legal to share illegal material.  So, if Steve Carell visits campus and refuses to be videotaped, and some audience member makes a bootleg with a phone and posts it, Princeton can disseminate that further.  That seems odd.)

Back to Killian Hall.  Who is this Paul Lansky?  “As If” begins.  It sounds as if the string trio is tuning up.  The sounds relate to something I have heard before, something I hear at all the other concerts I go to, except these electronic ones, since the speakers are already calibrated. (Except there was that concert where the piano was a quarter-tone away from the tape and we had to wait for them to be brought into agreement.  This made Miller chuckle.  Which one adapted?)  For the “tape pieces,” an obsolete term we hang onto sentimentally, the house lights go down, and each twin speaker gets a spot.  This is romantically austere, but some prefer to include “real” musicians in order to liven things up.  (Many years later, Eric will note how many pieces from those days were composed at quarter note = 60, since we were thinking in seconds—that is, durational seconds.)

Soon after, I go to Briggs and Briggs (R.I.P.) to buy the album Computer Directions, which pairs Paul Lansky’s Six Fantasies on a Poem of Thomas Campion with James Dashow’s Second Voyage.  I hear the Fantasies (and Campion’s poem) for the first time, and I am stilled.  It gives birth to an ear-what?  It’s not a worm, because this is good.  An ear-worm is when someone says they want a Coke™ and my inner voice starts to teach the world to sing, or when I meet someone named Laura and get distracted by the theme from Preminger’s film starring Gene Tierney.  I hear someone say, “Don’t worry,” and depending on the inflection, I may or may not hear Bobby McFerrin rev up.  Paul’s Campion, though, creates something more like a blossom, but I cannot call it an earbud, can I?  Perhaps an ear-gem.  It stays in my memory and imagination over twenty-eight years, so far.  I still have the LP (actually, I am afraid not), and I am still, now, listening to it for the first time.  I’m not sure I even need to hear it from outside my own imagination.  Sometimes I worry about experiencing for a second time things I have been so taken with on first meeting: it’s Mark Epstein’s Lobster Roll Phenomenon.  Like ordering Shahi Paneer in Allston, being overwhelmed with contentment, and never quite finding the same masala again.  Or a flavorful red wine that enthralls at first, but later merely pleases.  Six Fantasies, however, has no such problem; inside or out, then and now, its sheen and richness, its elegance and grace, resound.

Six Fantasies sounded entirely different from those dispersive, confounding pieces I loved to listen to (and perform, and compose).  I don’t think those uninitiated spectators would have giggled at Paul’s Campion.  It was unlike anything I had ever heard, new or old, electronic or acoustic.  It began with a rich yet digestible D, gleaming, sounding a bit like a horn, Paul’s instrument.  Ooh, there’s the flat seven above: it seems to open up the airspace for a bionic woman’s voice to travel through, and she names, simply but sublimely, “Laura.”  The sounds go deep, but some come closer, and some lay back.  How can this “fixed” music have so many dimensions?  There is the horizontal trajectory of the poem, its setting, and its variations; the vertical window of the seventh and its transformations; and the perspective extending all the way from here to there and articulating all the places in between.

At any point in my life, I can exorcise “It’s the Real Thing” by thinking of this synthesis of “her song”:

Her Song

Of course, this is not how it goes.  But I remember those first two words, those four notes, and I cannot possibly forget what comes next.  You’ll have to check it out for yourself though: it’s Paul’s.

It seems both impossible and perfect.  How did he think of that?  And had he not, what else could possibly have gone there?

Again, there is something I recognize, though I would not dream of calling it the “I Got Rhythm” set.  It’s one of my own favorite patterns, though I prefer the inversion.  And when he gets to the gritty part, “her ritual,” it seems to make sense for it to be fragmented, filtered (is that right?), percussed, grained—groaned and moaned.  The Fantasies do not start here, inside a ruin, though; instead they grow and decay, so I know how they have arisen and descended from something I used to know.  There’s something that has been broken down, so you can listen backward and remember what it was once was.

Lovely forms do flow
From concent divinely framed;

The speaking gradually emerges, becoming itself, undressing, so that in the final fantasy—so to speak—I hear at last the unadorned, unfettered voice.  I wonder, who is this Hannah MacKay, who is reading the poem and whose speech is being transfigured into these fantasies?  (I’ll find out in 1998 and will talk to her about her studies in classics.  But first, in 1987, I will sit in Betsy Jolas’s seminar at the Conservatoire, and one of her most insightful students will describe Debussy’s etude “Pour les sonorités opposées” [no copyright infringement intended] as music that comes closer and recedes, rather than propelling one forward in time.  That seems about right.)

Only a year later will Barry teach me Music 11.  A veteran will warn, “Just you wait for the digital filters lecture. . . .”  Leaving that lecture and all the others, I will ride back up Mass Ave., right pants leg bound, camping-size backpack attached, back to Harvard Square to serve as waitron (I am not making this up)—at Souper (ditto) Salad.  Bob Lobel is a frequent customer.

The year after that, Ivan will initiate me into the wonders of reel-to-reel and a blade, then the Serge, then the Moog.  Each student will complete a realization of Douglas Leedy’s Entropical Paradise, and Ivan will assign us readings from William Burroughs, alongside an alchemy textbook.  Twenty-six or so years later, I will run into Mark Janello, or his avatar, again.  (Yes, I am moving backward in time.)  I remember asking Ivan whether he thought my disassembly of Lester Young and Billie Holiday had too much of an air of “musica reservata” about it, and he said no, he liked that aspect.

Back in 1985, I study Six Fantasies on a Poem of Thomas Campion in Peter Lieberson’s class, and without any particular rationale or even a trumped-up excuse, I write to this Professor Paul Lansky at Princeton.  I figured that when you study people’s music, you talk to them about it.  (Maybe it is a girl thing; they say we like to converse.)  I had to look him up in that old directory of college music departments, and, within a week, in what we then called simply “mail”—no gastropodular modifier was necessary, though at M.I.T. we did send aethereal communications back and forth, again feeling exhilaratingly disembodied—Paul sends me a nice note, enclosing “a couple of pages from Charles Dodge’s book,” Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance, which was not yet published.  (Any Resemblance Is Purely Coincidental will turn out to be another piece that has something identifiable about it.)

Another few years later, I have a friend in the graduate program at Princeton, and he ushers me into Woolworth, where we peek in the door to gaze at the legendary NeXT computers.  (It’s before the renovations, but I later realize it’s the same room where the graduate students—actually, what do they do in there now?)  I spy Paul in the corner, working with a student, and I think, “Wow, that’s the real Paul Lansky—the one whose record I have.  He sent me those pages from Charles Dodge’s book.”  Of course, I would never have dreamed of saying hello.  Before we do finally meet, in 1998, Mathew informs me that Paul has a new CD out.  I zip over to Audio Options to pick up Things She Carried.  There’s Hannah again, and she is speaking in a more everyday manner now, describing “a comb with several teeth missing,” “five credit cards,” and a “Social Security card.”

Paul’s is music of relationship: things meet up and talk to one another, whether remotely or face to face, whether, as he says, silicon or protein.  There is specialness made out of ordinary things: shiny pots and pans, distant casual conversation, even a reading of the utilitarian alphabet, and even the too-familiar sounds of the highway.  (This one says “I do not own any right.”  What about this one?”  Accidentally, I just let them play at the same time, a bit out of sync.  The colliding highways sounded pretty great.)  And there is the music of music: Andalusian-inspired piano filigree, the Baroque suite, and even a fragment of Isolde (whose modified form will be famously mutated by a few members of a younger generation).

These are all his.

I migrate to Paul’s schoolyard, and I hear the clock tick as a dancer explores the floor.  (There’s also the bunny with the vacuum cleaner.  I have scoured with Google, and it seems to be the only thing missing from the Internet.  I found Grady’s video imagery inescapably gynophobic . . . but that’s a different story.)  And later, music for horn, piano, percussion,—the kind that needs people to get on stage for us to hear it.  There are even, despite what even he might have predicted, songs:

I thought I’d write a song or two, so I tried, and tried again. It seemed like a perfectly natural thing for a young composer to do. Everyone else was doing it, so why couldn’t I? But nothing worked, it felt wrong, it sounded bad, awkward, self-conscious, pretentious, even ugly.

(It’s fascinating how things change.)

Paul often proposes,“let’s burn that bridge when we come to it.”  Or when I ask how he’s doing, he’ll say, “I’ve been worse.”  Last week, as he graduated from the ritual of administering graduate exams with the rest of the composition faculty, I finally dared to ask if I knew him well enough to inquire as to what he means when he asks students about orchestration in piano music.  He remembers my old silvertone email address and occasionally calls me babz.

1998. Paul suggests that I serve as Mary’s dissertation advisor and adds, “I hope you don’t think I’m just sending all the women students to you.”  I say that’s good to know, but I might not mind if he did; there is research that suggests same-sex mentorship to be of great value.

May 2014.  We lost Mary to cancer thirteen days ago. 

Only beauty purely loving
Knows no discord,

1985. In music history class, I learn about Josquin and become addicted to his Missa Fortuna Desperata.  (Is it still his?  Let me know.)  Like Paul’s Fantasies, the Agnus Dei is something I can conjure up without hesitation—not the piece itself, but specifically the Boston Camerata recording.  There’s this intoxicating, addicting riff, on the first syllable of “mundi”:

Josquin Mundi

It seems Josquin was drunk on this too, for he swims around in it for a while. A bit later, we hear the second syllable, and an inner voice sings:

Josquin 4th

I can’t imagine a more beguiling leap of a fourth.  But of course, this is not the music.  It’s more magical than that.  (Paul once asked me whether I ever cast spells, but that too is a different conversation.  [I don’t.])   It’s a stunning homophonic moment, where the voices join together, a congregation of mortals addressing the one who “takes away the sins of the world.”  Check it out and see where it goes next.  (“Miserere” is the text, so I’ll leave that aside for now, since this is a celebratory occasion.)

Heav’n is music, and thy beauty’s
Birth is heavenly.

(When he heard my “Sin,” a memorial to my mother that fantasizes on the old song Tain’t No Sin, Paul told me about some then-new-for-me things he heard.  One was “anger.”  He was right.  I was touched that he noticed.  A couple of years later, he delivered a compliment, something about sneaking up on a groove, or something like that.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.  Even later I visited his “pitch freak” seminar, and it seemed we both liked to maintain a distinction between white and black notes [transpositions allowed].)

Having had my first splash with Josquin last week—well, it was more like treading water—I thirst to sing this Mass, to hear the sweet discords and divine graces fill up the space between and around a circle of voices.  (I’ll just send this hint out into the  aether and see if anyone notices . . . )

A few years ago I caught the Boston Camerata recording of the Missa Fortuna Desperata on the radio.  I put it on in two rooms, one the “real” radio and one streaming, and as I walked between rooms, I noticed they were a couple of beats apart.  Another kind of swim.  This week I looked on the Internet for the Boston Camerata recording.  It has not been re-released?!  How can that be?  I listen to the Tallis Scholars, but their recording just will not do.  Fortunately, this one is one of the LPs I have kept on hand.  (This is true.)  I ask Dan and Darwin to help, and Dan digitizes it for me in a flash.  He says he’ll have a scan of the score for me next week.  I have the .ra files, but I hesitate to listen to it.  The memory is so good already.

Silent music, either other
Sweetly gracing.

I’m not sure I’ve kept my tenses straight, but then, that tends to happen when there is so much to remember.  So many gems and fancies to discover, hold, gather, drink in again, and cherish.  So, this has gotten sort of long. But then, so has our association, and Paul’s works list even more so.

Congratulations on your graduation, Paul.  I’ll see you Tuesday for sushi.  Please let me treat this time.

—Posted by Barbara A. White

[Quotations are from Thomas Campion’s “Rose-Cheek’d Laura” and from Paul Lansky’s “I Thought I’d Write a Song or Two.”]