Essentially a long essay on the value of classical music in contemporary society, "Who Needs Classical Music?" poses an important question. As a classEssentially a long essay on the value of classical music in contemporary society, "Who Needs Classical Music?" poses an important question. As a classical musician myself, I have often pondered it, and looked for good answers to justify our field's constant search for funding.
Johnson writes eloquently and passionately in defense of the art, and he makes some excellent points--most especially about the importance of "music-as-art," which he defines essentially as music which only makes sense when you hear it unfold over time, which does not offer immediate gratification or necessarily serve a specific function. He argues that we need tools--i.e., education--in order to fully understand this music and benefit from it, and laments the increasingly mainstream view that this is a waste of students' time and taxpayers' money. We don't question the need to study math or science in order to know it; why do we tend to feel that music which requires study is somehow "elitist"?
All great points, and I certainly don't need convincing about the benefits of music in education. But as a classical musician who was raised on rock, jazz, and the whole vernacular gamut--and who still practices these styles from time to time--I was disappointed to find that Johnson is yet another dyed-in-the-wool classical musician who really doesn't understand these forms and how they work. He takes it as a given that pop music cannot be art, that it is specifically and universally designed for instant gratification. I may be biased as a disciple of progressive rock, but I think there are many examples which contradict this view.
He also repeatedly dismisses pop music as harmonically and structurally "primitive," and wonders how a 1950's rock song could somehow ignore the genius of 20th century composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, et al. It's not primitive; it's African. The primary musical element is rhythm, and structure basically doesn't apply; the music is meant to unfold and change over a long period of time, which is why recorded rock music often relies on fade-outs--a device taken by Johnson as proof that rock musicians are too dumb to write a decent song ending.
There are many signs that classical music is in decline, and has been for a long time. It needs passionate advocates like Johnson. But with popular music clearly the dominant strain in our culture, we need to be building bridges for people to cross over and experience classical music in a meaningful way. As any engineer will tell you, you can't do that effectively if you don't really know the ground you're building on--on both sides....more
This was an interesting book to read while on a recent trip to Yosemite--an engaging account of an important chapter in the history of the Valley. AsThis was an interesting book to read while on a recent trip to Yosemite--an engaging account of an important chapter in the history of the Valley. As a non-climber, I would have benefited from a little primer on the climbing techniques he refers to frequently throughout the book; without them, I think this book is probably best suited for people who already know something about the sport. And without visuals to go along with his descriptions of various climbs, not to mention the many climbers involved over the years, things do start to blur together a bit. Still, there are some really exciting (and scary) stories here, and it's a fun read. ...more
A must-read for any lover of the Sierras--though mountain-lovers and nature-lovers in general will find much to enjoy here as well. Muir has such a unA must-read for any lover of the Sierras--though mountain-lovers and nature-lovers in general will find much to enjoy here as well. Muir has such a unique and amazing way of viewing the natural world, and writes about it with such vivid and infectious joy. I almost always bring Muir along on trips to the Sierras, and reading his work always enhances the experience tremendously. ...more
Not knowing anything about this book--only that it was well-reviewed and that Karen Russell is a contemporary fiction writer worth reading--I was totaNot knowing anything about this book--only that it was well-reviewed and that Karen Russell is a contemporary fiction writer worth reading--I was totally unprepared for just how creepy it is. That made it, at times, a difficult read, though the quality of the writing deserves no less than 4 stars, maybe more. Russell is one of those writers whose imagination is just staggering--you wonder how in the world any mortal being could come up with the ideas in these stories. The subject matter of each story is dramatically distinct from the others--a feat unto itself--yet there's a thread of spooky weirdness that ties them all together and makes it a cohesive read.
I'm looking forward to reading 'Swamplandia'--and this time I'll be ready for whatever Russell may throw at me. ...more
A really outstanding book for people who know the basics of football, but want to take their understanding to a deeper level. As the title suggests, KA really outstanding book for people who know the basics of football, but want to take their understanding to a deeper level. As the title suggests, Kirwan takes you deep into the action that's happening all over the field when you're not looking--the offensive line, pass coverage, defensive schemes, and a whole lot more. There's also a lot of information about what happens off the field: scouting, the draft, and coaching. I have to say, that part of it felt like getting a glimpse inside the sausage factory. Coaches and staff at the college and pro level have football down to a science--an incredibly complex one at that--and the players are essentially glorified livestock (to call them "chess pieces" sounds more dignified, but that was not at all the feeling I got from descriptions of the NFL combine and draft, and the continuous horse trading that goes on between teams).
I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this book again and again during football season. Highly recommended for fans! ...more
A longform meditation on long journeys through timeless places--mainly by foot, but also by sea, mainly in Great Britain, but also in the Middle EastA longform meditation on long journeys through timeless places--mainly by foot, but also by sea, mainly in Great Britain, but also in the Middle East and Asia--Macfarlane explores the deep effect that these journeys, and the landscapes they traverse, have upon the human mind and spirit. His exaltation of nature and its wonders recalls John Muir: beautifully expressed, deeply poetic, so loaded with profound insight into his surroundings as to be almost overwhelming. This is not a book you can read quickly, and it's not a thrilling page-turner. But if you can take the time to fully experience every artfully crafted sentence, the places Macfarlane describes come to life on the page, vividly and meaningfully. It inspires me to look at my own surroundings with as much care, respect, and sense of awe. ...more
Clearly a medical mind can also be a great literary mind. This novel is powerful stuff; it's hard to a imagine a more artful literary depiction of theClearly a medical mind can also be a great literary mind. This novel is powerful stuff; it's hard to a imagine a more artful literary depiction of the practice of medicine, and the setting of a mission hospital 1950's Ethiopia is unexpected and fascinating. Not surprisingly given the setting, tragedy comes early and often, and at nearly 700 pages, the novel gets difficult at times. But the sheer beauty of Verghese's language somehow makes it bearable. And as a the spouse of a physician, I found it fascinating to get this window into the medical profession (the first-person reflections of Verghese's protagonist seem to transcend the particular time and place of the novel). ...more
As a part-time middle school teacher, I found myself frequently laughing out loud while reading this book (though anyone who has lived through middleAs a part-time middle school teacher, I found myself frequently laughing out loud while reading this book (though anyone who has lived through middle school would laugh too). While not aimed at adults, it was a fun, quick read for this 30-something dude, and I look forward to the rest of the series. ...more
There are some interesting and poignant personal stories in here, though I have the feeling that there's something lost in translation from their origThere are some interesting and poignant personal stories in here, though I have the feeling that there's something lost in translation from their original, live-storytelling format. Since they are personal to such an extreme degree, I would think that hearing them directly from the author's mouth, in person, where you feel a more direction connection, would be an important part of the experience. As a collection of printed stories, the self-centered nature of all of them starts to feel relentless and a little irritating. ...more