28 sept 2009

I'm going to give my anonymous poetry course next semester again, focused on the three genres of romance, the refrán, and the canción. Of these the canción or song is the most diffuse in it definition and will come last. The romance or "ballad" will begin the course, followed by the refrán or proverb.

I made several mistakes last time: I had students read the Celestina as an example of how the refrán was used within a literary work. The problem is I didn't allot time to properly teach the Celestina, a semi-difficult and longish late medieval work, so that was largely a waste. Secondly, I over-emphasized flamenco and too many students attempted to do exactly the same kind of paper. I didn't give enough guidance on choosing paper topics. Even though this is a senior class and everyone taking it is graduating with a major in Spanish, they can't really come up with a research project. I badly handled a few C students. I had the students give presentations, and, given the similarities among topics, these presentations were repetitive.

Students in my courses often don't know what to do with what I give them. That is a key problem in my teaching. I have a hard time telling people what to do in the first place, but undergraduate students need very firm guidelines. I need super-rigid assignments that bad students can do adequately and good students can excel at.

25 sept 2009

I have a pretty good idea for a Lorca book. I can't tip my hand right now because it is a simple idea that could be stolen by someone else--the kind of thing whose value is largely in my having thought of it before someone else did. I'll keep you posted if it goes anywhere, once the pieces are in place. Someone who received a complimentary copy of AL gave me this idea without even meaning to--which shows that the Lorca giveaway is paying off in unexpected ways.

21 sept 2009

If you are writing a memoir, write the memoir. The post below is about how to avoid two complementary fallacies:

My desk has to be completely clear of all other tasks in order to devote any time at all to the memoir. (This will never happen, so nothing will get written.)

I am writing my memoir this year; I can't be troubled to do a single other task.

My method frees time by making minor tasks more efficient.
Just as you should have an organized work space, you should also design your time, develop a time design for your work. I know that I am vastly inefficient in some respects, but still manage to get things done. If you are relatively inefficient, then even a modest change can be significant. If you are already 98% efficient, on the other hand, changes are less likely to make a difference. What I'm suggested here is that you change from your 20% efficiency rate to about a 40%.

My basic time design is to pre-crastinate on Sunday evening. (pre = before; cras = tomorrow). I make a list of things to do Monday morning, and then, if I can, I do a few things before Monday morning. Then, Monday, I do as many things as early in the morning as I can. I teach on Monday till 5:20, so I just fill the day with useful tasks as much as possible and don't do anything productive after 5. Tuesday, I work until about noon. Then, I do another pretty intense day on Wed. Thursday, Friday, Sat., I do specific tasks, read and reflect on things, but don't put in solid whole days of work. Then I begin again on Sunday.

A few general principles:

Efficient work is oriented toward tasks rather than time. What is better: working 2 hours and getting five things done, or working 7 hours and getting about 3 or for 4 things done? Since tasks expand to fill the time alloted, it is better to allot less time rather than more to any particular set of tasks.

Ever notice how service is worse in a restaurant when it's not busy? Being more busy increases efficiency. Your server will bring you the food faster if she has 10 tables full of customers. Of course, this principle only works up to a certain point. With 30 tables you will never get fed.

If I get an article to review I tend to do it right away. I open the envelope and start reading the article. The next day, first thing, I write up the review. The more tasks that can be handled that way the better. The explanation is a rather obvious one: you lose time by having to refresh your memory and approach the task three or four separate times over the space of a month. You also clear mental space by not having as many things hanging over you, and save time by not having to keep track of extra tasks.

Many things are quite dull. Filling out a conflict of interest form, ordering a parking sticker, etc... I do dull tasks like that as quickly as possible.

Laziness is the friend of efficiency. Inefficient work is much harder to do, because time and energy is wasted on avoiding work. The fact that I am lazy, then, makes me want to be more efficient.

14 sept 2009

Sonny Rollins got his nickname "Newk" from his resemblance to Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe. The story is a taxi driver thought he was Newcombe (or "Newk") and he played along for a little while. The irony is that now Rollins is probably much better known than Newcombe.
How to listen to a jazz solo (without knowing much about music theory)

1. Start by mapping it out. What is the form of the song? Is it 32 bars in AABA or ABAC, or a 12-bar blues? Listen to the solo while counting out the measure and hear it as successive 8 measure phrases. Play the original melody of the song in your head while the solo is going on, or simply count out the measure like this: 1234, 2234, 3234, 4234...

2. Now categorize the principal techniques, like melodic paraphrase, ornamentation, etc... What kind of a solo is it? How inventive or formulaic does it sound?

3. Measure the intensity levels. Where is the player just coasting along? Where does he or she reach a peak of intensity? How is this peak signaled? (e.g. playing higher, faster, more repetitively)? What is the overall shape of the solo? What is its beginning middle and end? Is the solo well-organized, does it tell a story, or is it kind of random sounding?

4. How does the player use space and silence? How long are the typical phrases? For example, is an 8-bar phrase just one continuous stream of swung 8th notes? Where are phrases marked in terms of the ONE? Listen for the spacing of the intervals, the upward and downward movement, the swing, the "lilt," etc...

5. How clear or opaque is the relation of melody to harmony? Here I get into trouble because I don't know anything about music theory. If you're like me, you will experience this step as simply a subjective experience of the degree of dissonance or harmonic complexity. Of course jazz players are playing for listeners, most of whom won't be musicologists, so your subjective reaction is good enough for me. Sometimes I have a name for what I hear--like I know the B section of Bemsha Swing is the same melody a fourth up. Usually, however, I don't have a name for what I am hearing.

I'd love to do this for you at some point if I have time.

11 sept 2009

It looks like this article of mine is finally coming out. I hope they send me a copy because it is 85 euros to buy the book. Once again I'm the only US scholar in a book like this.

9 sept 2009

On Wed of last week I didn't announce the reading assignment, but it was in the syllabus, listed for 9/9/9 under the name of the author and the title of the article. The article is included in the only textbook that the students bought for the course, The Translation Studies Reader. Today, the next class after that (since we had no class on Monday for labor day), only one student had found and read the article. This is the first article we were reading from this volume, so the students did not make the connection that this was the reading assignment for today. Nobody sent me an email over the break to ask what the assignment was going to be, or where the article was to be found. Few even had the book with them in class. I had a dialogue with the one student (out of 17 present in class) to do the assignment, gave a mini-lecture, and guided the discussion toward more general points that could be discussed without having read the assignment. I got through the 75-minute class somehow and I think it actually was a fairly good one--which means it would have been great with a group of prepared students. I learned two things: I can teach a good class under less than ideal conditions, and you have to be very explicit with this group of undergraduates, to the point of painfully explicit over-obviousness. If there is an assignment due, you have to announce it. You have to tell them explicitly what to do even if it is obvious. You should say: "Read Annie Brisset's article on page 3XX in The Translation Studies Reader and come prepared to discuss it." It didn't seem productive to go RYS on them and send them home, even though I had a sore throat. It's a funny group that way--we can have a decent discussion even if they aren't prepared in the least, but they aren't particularly resourceful about figuring things out. We'll see how exercise 2 goes on Monday.
What's with all the overrated Russian women tennis players? Maybe if you win the open and wimbledon the same year, Serena, you will be rated higher than Safina, who's never won a slam event ever. And how did Murray get to be a two-seed. What's he ever won? It looks like Oudin and Serena in the women's final, Fed and Rafa in the men's, unless Clijsters wins it all.
Julia got in to the St Louis symphony Youth Orchestra. She was convinced she hadn't got in, even though she did ok in the audition (not ostensibly blowing it at least), because everyone else auditioning was a 17 or 18 year old guy and she is a 14 year old, 4'11" girl. The judges, though, were behind a curtain and couldn't see age / gender / height. You know she didn't get in on sympathy either.

We also got some soundproofing insulation in a room in our basement put in this weekend, which muffles the sound of the trumpet considerably, which is a good thing since she's gone from the "have you practiced yet" phase to the "can you please stop practicing" phase, from parents reminding her to practice to "Mom doesn't let me practice enough."
The connection between Monk and Tatum would be worth while following up. These are the main similarities in their solo styles:

Reliance on stride patterns. Both play the melody of the song, with only melodic paraphrase and ornamention. Neither just blows over the changes like Bud Powell.

Breaking the stride pattern through heavily ornamented and rhythmically irregular playing, rubato.

Some similarities in ornamention: use of runs.

Use of dissonant or colorful chords; imaginative reharmonizations.

Preference for standard tunes. (Check to see what tunes were recorded by both; see if Monk refers to any of Tatum's ideas while playing "Tea for Two.")

The differences:

A different touch on the piano. Tatum's more fluid, virtuosic, and conventionally pianistic. Monk's percussive and unconventional.

Monk will often play a standard tune more "ironically," with the feeling of playfully going back in time, as in his reading of "Dinah." In fact, it is mainly the difference in epoch (though these overlap) that defines their differences.

You could also point out that Monk's rubato is not Tatum's rubato. Monk creates a kind of uncomfortably hesitating quality that is foreign to Tatum. Despite the similarities it would be hard to confuse one pianist with the other.
The phenomenon of "swing" has received a lot of attention. Does it swing or doesn't it? Today I'd like to consider another quality, which I am going to call the "lilt," a rapid up-and-down motion seen in stride piano and in later forms of jazz as well.

(I'll get to my related consideration of "swing" in a subsequent post.)

The "lilt' tends to produce a "two" feel rather than a swinging "four." In other words, the measure of 4/4 time is divided into two parts and each part into two. It is seen most obviously in stride piano, earlier forms of swing, and the solo piano of Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. (Both Tatum and Monk return constantly to the stride left hand in their solo playing; Monk's composition "misterioso" is based on a lilting up and down pattern.) Other players with a perceptible lilt would include Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan. Taken less literally, the lilt can involve any perceptibly rapid alternation of high and low notes or even longer phrases. When Coltrane plays a very fast blues the tension and release happens very quickly in the twelve-bar form and produces a kind of lilting effect.

In poetry we can see the lilt in the up and down movement of the Spanish alejandrino.

The opposite of the lilt would be a relatively flat melodic and rhythmic contour, with more forward movement and less "up-and-down."

What's interesting here is that the lilt survives in jazz even though the general movement of the music is away from the corny sounding up and down, two beat. The lilt catches the ear and creates a bouncy exuberance. The flatter sounding four beat can sometimes fall into a rhythmic pattern of "one one one one one one one one"--dull sounding to some ears. The cloying sweetness of the lilt can be tempered, disguised: with dissonance and rubato in Tatum or Monk, for example. Think of how Tatum goes in and out of the stride pattern, or creates tension through rubato passages and then resolves the tension by going back to that bouncy stride left hand. Monk does very similar things, even though his ornamental breaks are less conventionally virtuosic.

5 sept 2009

The winner for September is... John of the Utopian Turtle Top blog, for his very good set of reasons why he deserves a copy of AL. Please send me your postal address and I will direct amazon.com to send you a copy.

3 sept 2009

My daughter's a pretty fine trumpet player. She auditioned for the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra this evening, with some heavy-duty orchestral excerpts from Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Rimsky-K. She also found out tonight that she got into another orchestra, the Young Persons' Symphonic Orchestra at Webster University's community music school, which is conducted by St. Louis Symphony tympanist Richard Holmes.

The funny this is she thinks she blew her audition for the YPSO, but she got in anyway. On the other hand, she did well in audition tonight for the SLSO Youth orchestra, which theoretically should be harder to get into. Since she's only 14 and a freshman in high school, she has more chances to get in if she auditions again.

2 sept 2009


Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster

Mulligan liked to do these "meets" albums. He did an excellent one with another Ellington sideman, Johnny Hodges, and with Monk--among others. Mel Lewis plays drums. The combination of two distinctive sounds is what makes this album great. Mulligan's joyful, bouncy, and exuberant lilt, played with that baritone fullness, and Webster's whispery wistful attack. Both players have a little raspiness, though of course Mulligan is much "smoother." I don't know that this is the greatest either played, but it's a very tasty outing.

Their version of Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" is excellent. "In a Mellotone" is also from the Ellington catalogue. "Who's Got Rhythm" is a "Rhythm Changes" tune, taken at a very swinging medium tempo. They also do a version of Cole Porter's "What is this thing called love."
Here is a rubric for evaluating a translation, that I used before in my translation course for undergrads.

(a) Evaluate the "target language."
(b) The" domestic residue."
(c) Compare the translation to the original.
(d) To what degree is "translation" itself visible.
(e) Compare to other translations of the same text.
(f) What is the overall strategy?

¿Cómo leer una traducción?

a) Evaluar la "lengua de llegada" de la traducción. ¿Qué tipo de inglés (o español) es? [Puede ser, por ejemplo, americano o británico, mexicano o argentino-- o "neutro," sin señas de identidad.] ¿En qué registro está? [formal, informal, coloquial, académico, literario...] ¿De qué época es? ¿Hay un lenguaje homogéneo o una mezla de discursos? ¿Se preservan palabras o topónimos en el idioma de origen? (Por ejemplo, ¿se dice "Sevilla" or "Seville"?) ("take a siesta" or "take a nap.")

b) ¿Cuál es el "residuo doméstico" de la traducción? ¿Hasta qué punto es visible (o invisible)? ¿Hay un intento de llegar a un público determinado? ¿Cómo se pone de manifiesto este intento? Ubicar la traducción en el ambiente cultural donde se ha producido. ¿Hay otras traducciones de la misma autora en la misma época? ¿Es frecuente traducir de este idioma de origen en la época en cuestión? ¿Qué información al respecto nos es disponible, aun sin haber visto el texto en su cultura y lengua de origen?

c) Comparar la traducción con la versión original. ¿Qué elementos problemáticos existen en el texto? ¿Qué solución ha encontrado la traductora (el traductor)? ¿Hay errores de comprensión? ¿Hay momentos de extrañeza en la versión traducida que suenen perfectamente normales en el original, o vice-versa? ¿Se puede decir que el efecto es "igual" para un lector original y un lector que lo lee solo en la lengua de llegada?

d) ¿Encontramos un esfuerzo por normalizar el texto, ajustarlo a normas domésticas? ¿Vemos señas obvias de la traducción, o perdemos de vista fácilmente el carácter traducido del texto? ¿Cuál es la estrategia global de la traductora? ¿Es más bien domesticadora o extranjerizante? ¿Hay factores ideológicos? ¿Hay distorsiones obvias?

e) Comparar la traducción de otras versiones, si existen. ¿Estas traducciones desempeñan funciones semejantes, o hay diferencias de estrategia, de público? ¿Cómo se justifica, en este caso particular, una traducción más de una obra ya traducida muchas veces?

f) Llegar a una conclusión global sobre la traducción en su contexto histórico. Se puede ver que la evaluación de la fidelidad de la traducción forma solo una parte pequeña de la lectura y evaluación. Interesa saber más la fuente de la distorsión que decir simplemente que la traducción no es correcta.
I assigned an exercise for my translation class: choose a paragraph of English prose and analyze it for style, register, tone, etc... What linguistic elements show when and where it was written, etc... The students were to stable a photocopy of the original, and write a paragraph of their findings, not a list of the elements they found. I recommended that they not choose a fairly bland paragraph of contemporary American English. Of the first four exercises I looked at I found the following problems:

Two translated the paragraph into Spanish, which I hadn't told them to do.

Two gave me copies of the book rather than photocopying the page.

One made a list.

One chose a bland paragraph of contemporary American English.

One thought that Virginia Woolf was writing in American English.

Two chose paragraphs that had been translated from another language into English, making them unable to follow the spirit of the exercise. Although I didn't tell them not to use a translation, you can't look at a translation of Galileo and see that that it was written in the 17th century, because the translation erases these factors. I should have explicitly stated I didn't want translations.

Of the fifth and sixth ones I just glanced at one used a paragraph of Dumas and the other made a list. I am going to give an A to anyone who followed the damned instructions and did a creditable job of looking at the style of the text.

My oral and written instructions stated that the purpose of the exercise was to do a pre-translation analysis to look at how difficult something would be to translate into Spanish from English, so I assumed they would choose texts written in English originally, but in teaching you can't assume anything. If they can't follow explicit instructions you can't expect them to follow implicit expectations.

I don't really want to be grading on students' ability to implement a junior high school skill: following the instructions. Yet the exercise does not work as well if you don't follow the instructions and understand why the assignment was designed. In other words, the junior high skill is needed as a prerequisite.

1 sept 2009

Ok. It's time for another Lorca giveaway. You can earn your very own copy of Apocryphal Lorca by giving me a "good" reason in the comments below. US postal addresses only this time. Contest closes September 4 at 11:59 p.m.. I reserve the right to award anywhere between zero and two copies of the book. This will be a monthly event until the end of 2009, at which point I'll see if I think it's worth while continuing.

A good reason might be something like: "I will make sure it is reviewed in Book Forum" or "I will review it on Goodreads and amazon.com and on my own blog." Or, "I live 200 miles from the nearest library that owns this book" or "I have been reading your blog since 2002 and have never 'won' anything."