Masculinities: Gay Lingo, Voices, and Personas

Spurred by a trailer for a new film, “Do I Sound Gay” found some interesting explorations of gay identity on the web. Three bits of video on different facets: Whosoundsgay


Next the fascinating world of Polari, a British gay mid-century slang, here captured in a short film.

Finally, a doc I saw a few years back called “The Butch Factor” –not about language per se, but about gay men and their relationship to masculinity, something that was once such a complicated topic (at least to my generation, or at least to me), but seems, in a welcome development, to be less fraught for many.

Seen & Heard: Music and Art Around the Web, Kirill Petrenko

A relatively unknown conductor (in the U.S. at least) has been named the next music director of the Berlin Philharmonic (the Mount Everest of classical music jobs). It’s Kirill Petrenko (a good last name for classical music, Vassily no relation, is a fine conductor in the UK and Sweden and Mikhail, also no relation, is an outstanding operatic bass.)

Kirill is, judging by YouTube excerpts and the press he has received for work in Munich and Bayreuth (hardly small-time jobs), an extraordinary music-maker. He is also about as far from the persona of the media-savvy maestro as it would seem possible to get. (This is no disrespect to the Dudamels, Nézet-Séguins, Alsops, and the rest–merely an observation.) As Tom Service notes in a smart Guardian piece, it’s an admirable & bold choice on the Berlin Phil’s part: few orchestras, and surely no US groups, would hire a chief on musicianship and musical leadership alone. (When Barenboim left Chicago, he complained about the amount of non-musical work, including schmoozing for money, was required.)  Kirill doesn’t give interviews, and describes himself as shy. Not a term I’d apply to many conductors. )

Here is a trailer of a concert with his future band in the music of Rudi Stephan (a new name to me and a composer he champions).

YouTube also has two endearing interviews with him from the Digital Concert Hall (done by musicians in the orchestra). And if you are looking for more, there’s a knockout performance of Franz Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4.

He is also the first Jewish music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. (The Forward hears a little Yiddish in his German.) This is also encouraging,  given this particular orchestra’s history.

Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie…one of the great halls for one of the great orchestras, future musical home of Kirill Petrenko.

Tidbits from Around the Web: Philosophy

russellA few web bits and bobs on Philosophy, a hobby of mine.

First, the unusual news (to me at least) that the French require high school students to do an essay on philosophy as part of their graduation requirements. A piece in The Week offers some praise, but much dismay as well.

An excerpt:

Finally, the essay. The Bac Philo is a four-hour essay test. But not just any kind of essay. You have to write a very specific kind of essay, une dissertation. The dissertation is a form of essay writing that is so deeply and artificially codified as to make kabuki look like an epileptic fit. Taking a stand — answering one of those questions with either “yes” or “no” — is absolutely prohibited. Instead, the author must restate what other thinkers have said about the issue, even when they contradict each other, and try to reconcile their differences (without seeming to do that).

The best essay I wrote for AP English in my senior year was an argument for offering philosophy classes in high school. Looking at some of the questions from the Bac Philo (listed by teaching and learning expert Grant Wiggins) and pondering what my 18 year-old-self would have made of them is an interesting thought experiment. I’m sure I would have been engaged by them, whether my answers would have been coherent and reasoned…probably not so much.

  • Is man condemned to create illusions about himself?
  • Can we prove a scientific hypothesis?
  • Is it our duty to seek out the truth?
  • Would we have more freedom without the state?
  • Can natural desires exist?
  • Is the only purpose of working to be useful?
  • What does one gain from working?
  • Is every belief contrary to reason?
  • Can desire be disinterested?

Probably not a one of them on the Google employment exam!

Second, tipped by Brian Leiter’s great blog, I’ve been enjoying a series called “What’s it Like to Be a Philosopher?” Fascinating people, straightforward but illuminating questions, appealing website. An excerpt of the one with Berit “Brit” Brogaard,

What do you think the goal of philosophy is or should be? How do you see the future of philosophy? Do you find any trends disconcerting?

I think the goal of philosophy should be what it always has been: to shed light on topics that cannot be fully empirically explored yet. I don’t think philosophers need to be concerned with how the heart is capable of pumping blood, because we have good scientific theories about that, theories that have been explored and tested. But there are many other problems that science has not yet been able to revolve fully, e.g. various normative issues and elusive scientific topics, such as consciousness. I don’t find any trends in philosophy disconcerting. I love variety.

What, if anything, would make you stop doing philosophy? What are your hobbies nowadays?

Nothing could ever make me stop loving philosophy. It’s my job and my hobby. I am still writing poetry, and I just wrote the script for a graphic novel. The graphic novel is about Freud. It’s semi-biographic. It’s just the script. My illustrator will have to do the illustrations on the side, and those can take a long time (a day per panel), so this book is not going to be finished anytime soon. But I am very excited about the script. My favorite graphic novel of all times is Logicomix, and our book is not unlike it.

Finally, a radio show and podcast (also discovered via a comment on Leiter Report), Philosophy Talk.

Seems unlikely, I know, but the two hosts are a sort of “Click and Clack” of philosophy; there’s a lot of friendly banter about topics that vary wildly (including going past their particular specialties.) The series has been going on a while, and is free during the current week, with many shows in the archive and a lively community. It can be hit or miss, but the best of the shows definitely give you something to chew on.

Summer Gardens: Poetry

A few lines from the close of “A Summer Garden” by Louise Glück:

She sat on a bench, somewhat hidden by oak trees.
Far away, fear approached and departed;
from the train station came the sound it made.

The sky was pink and orange, older because the day was over.

There was no wind. The summer day
cast oak-shaped shadows on the green grass.

The ornamental kale at the
The ornamental kale at Hillwood in Washington DC (taken late summer 2014).

Commonplace Book: People and Pianos

piano_shopReading a sweet book about coming back to pianos and piano playing in mid-life (a story I, a perpetual musical ‘advanced beginner’ can relate to). Thad Carhart turned his back on corporate life, and wandered into The Piano Shop on the Left Bank where an enigmatic, brilliant piano technician and dealer (he calls Luc) puts him together with a baby grand, with cinematic results.

This time at the atelier I did bring sheet music, and Luc nodded approvingly when he saw me set it on the music stand. I’ve never been comfortable playing in front of others, but somehow this was different; his presence seemed encouraging as we listened together to the particular voice of this instrument among so many other pianos. I played for perhaps ten minutes, pieces I knew reasonably well and could listen to while I sight-read: some Beethoven bagatelles, a few of Schumann’s pieces for children, an early Mozart fantasy. I was not disappointed The Stingl’s resonance filled the room with tones at once clear and robust, and a sharp sense of pride welled up at the prospect of owning this distinctive piano, of seeing and playing it daily, of living with it. Good God, I thought, this is a kind of love; and, as in love, my senses amplified and enhanced the love object, all with an insouciance and willing enthusiasm.

A magical performance of the Arabeske in C major by Wilhelm Kempff (with less than magical camera work).

Poetic Words: Prosody Uncertainty Principle?

Two favorite poets and their somewhat cracked take on ars poetica.  Wendy Cope is mostly known for her humorous verse (she has a wonderful collection called “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis”) and Frank O’Hara for his personal New York-y testimonials, (the “I do this, I do that” poems that in his hands in are often droll wonders, but have a low success rate for others).  But these two suggest you could switch views around: Wendy as the serious one, offering the testimony of a closely observant outsider, and Frank going for grin and giggle.


The Uncertainty of the Poet
—Wendy Cope

I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond.

A fond poet of ‘I am, I am’-
Very bananas.

Fond of ‘Am I bananas?
Am I?’-a very poet.

Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?

Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a ‘very.’

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?

Why I Am Not A Painter
–Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

A orange juice squeezer in the collection of MOMA (where Frank O'Hara once worked).
A orange juice squeezer in the collection of MoMA (where Frank O’Hara once worked).

Odd Worlds: Robots in Opera

Possibly a first in alternative casting, Komische Oper Berlin, has built an opera around a robot who is learning about opera.  The Guardian has a video report.

robot_operaAnd there is more info on KOB’s site about the piece, My Square Lady. While you are there, check out the imaginative production of Magic Flute they recently had on. This was staged by the innovative London-based outfit 1927, a group that, among other things, integrates animation and film into live theater. Judging from this Flute, this is an approach that makes for sophisticated theatrical dazzle. Da Ponte (and Brecht too, for that matter) would be pleased I bet.



Die Zauberflöte Trailer from Komische Oper Berlin on Vimeo