Sunday, October 30, 2016

Four Basic Musical Textures in Josquin and Brian Wilson

This stemmed from a conversation I had with some of my bandmates in The New Prescriptions (a band of Medical Health Professionals (Physicians, Nurses, Residents) -- and me.  The Joke is, once per month they get to jam with me and play musician.  And to reciprocate, I get to visit them once per month and play doctor.
Below is a short clarification I provided regarding Musical Texture, which was spurred on my a simple request, "What key are we doing, "God Only Knows?"

Four basic textures of music:
1) Monophony – single line of melodic interest (e.g. solo vocal performance of national anthem)
2) Heterophony – single line of melodic interest sung / performed by more than one individual each with their own idiomatic articulations / phrasings et al – (e.g. Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey singing national anthem at the same time) * this is the most common texture in the world outside of western tradition
3) Homophony – single line of melody interest with chords / harmony (i.e. 4 part hymns, or anytime someone sings a song with chords or a bassline accompanying, or most western music symphonic or other written since 1600.) – if you ask “what are the chords?” – its homophonic.  Most so-called “World Music” is really a popular form of Western European structure, but “frosting” it a little differently giving it an “exotic” flair.)
4) Polyphony – more than one line of melodic interest:
   a) Imitative – same melody, BUT - 2 or more voices starting at different points – (i.e. in a round / canon / fugue etc. (e.g. row row row your boat)
   b) Non-imitative – 2  or more different melodies performed at the same time. (imagine National Anthem and America the Beautiful performed at the same time).
From here we can learn to build and embed the textures within each other:
PAIRED IMITATION: Is when a melodic line and /harmony part are imitated (as in Mille Regretz with the Soprano and Alto pairing being imitated by a Tenor / Bass response).

Anyway, in God only knows we have a great example of a broad homophonic structure supporting a non-imitative canon at the very close of the tune as well as in the Interlude.
BTW here is a scrolling text version of Mille Regretz in case you want to follow along.

From: K. Christian McGuire (Augsburg Colleg
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2016 12:05 PM
Subject: Re: Oct 1 draft
Don’t worry about being confused [God Only Knows...], I had to go over to the piano and spend some time working it out, before I finally resorted to looking up the chords. as the verse and chorus are in two different tonal areas.
Interestingly enough, and if I may geek out musicologically here. When I introduce my students to compositional practices of the High Renaissance—we focus on a very short 4-part polyphonic chanson composed by Josquin, entitled “Mille Regretz” (ca. 1500)  It is just packed full of technique and word painting symbolism (e.g. transitioning from paired imitative polyphony, moments of homophony...(the only time (before the ending) that all 4 voices contribute to a very definite homophonic texture is with the text, “si grand dueil”)  and the final cadence which alternates between the tonal centers of “A” and “E” – leaving one with an unanswerable question....unresolved --- as if counting ones days for eternity in a “fade out”
The text is also somewhat similar in sentiment to what Tony Asher penned for Brian Wilson:

Mille regretz de vous abandonnerEt d'eslonger vostre fache amoureuse,Jay si grand dueil et paine douloureuse,Quon me verra brief mes jours definer.

English Translation:
A thousand regrets at deserting you
and leaving behind your loving face,
I feel so much sadness and such painful distress,

that it seems to me my days will soon dwindle away.

God Only Knows:
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
Given Brian Wilson’s musical curiosity at this point, it seems remarkable that we would Not, know this---then again perhaps its just a fantastic coincidence....
Next time kids, I will demonstrate how G.F. Handel uses the exact same techniques Josquin exploited in Mille Regretz (by far one of the greatest continuous popular music hits from the last 500 years) in his Halleliuah chorus 250 years later, and how Mozart further enhanced that 45 years later (and the request of Baron Gotfried van Swieten) when he orchestrated Messiah for a performance in Wien.  (Handel btw has ALWAYS been popular since he hit the scene in 1707.  Meanwhile, JS Bach for many years (his death in 1750 to Mendelssohn’s revival of his works in 1830)  has only really gotten a mass following since the mid 19th century).  Mozart was virtually never played throughout the 19th century, until Richard Strauss championed his work in the early 20th, and Vivaldi was virtually unknown until all of this music he wrote for an orphaned girls school (pretty much everything we have) began to be performed in concert halls circa 1930....
OK, I’m done geeking out.
See you all tomorrow...
Then I can tell you about Johannes Kepler and Vincenzo Galilei...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Virtue and Happiness in Boethius and David Foster Wallace

In 2005, novelist David Foster Wallace, delivered what many have hailed as one of the greatest Commencement Addresses of all time.  Speaking at the graduation ceremony at Kenyon, he closes his address with: 

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough …. Worship your body and beauty… you will always feel ugly…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they are default settings…They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom.
The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.....
…The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

Full transcript of his address is found here

Wallace the Classical Philosopher
While many regard Wallace's words as insightful advice, his themes are anything but original. For anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Classical Philosophy knows all to well the familiar strains of Virtue Ethics promoted by Aristotle.(384-322 BCE) nearly 2,400 years ago.  The greatest influence of these ideals was spread by the late Roman statesman, Boethius (c. 480-524 CE). For nearly 1,000 years the works of Boethius, shaped Western thought.  While warriors 'bickered and argued about who killed who' in their battles to win wealth, power and fame, Scholars continued the Great Conversation by inquiring into the workings of Nature and its intersection with Ethics in their efforts to seek - Harmonia. [*Warriors played chess to defeat an opponent, Scholars played Rithmomachia to achieve harmonious victory with their opponent]
While Boethius' works dominated the core texts of the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy) of Schools and Universities from the Carolingian Renaissance through the Scientific Revolution (ca. 11th-17th centuries) His Consolation of Philosophy was one of the most widely read texts by scholars and laymen alike.

In this context we look again to David Foster Wallace's speech above, we look to Book III section ii in one of Boethius many English translations, Here the voice of Lady Philosophia warns:

All mortal creatures in those anxious aims which find employment in so many varied pursuits, though they take many paths, yet strive to reach one goal—the goal of happiness. Now, the good is that which, when a man hath got, he can lack nothing further. This it is which is the supreme good of all, containing within itself all particular good; so that if anything is still wanting thereto, this cannot be the supreme good, since something would be left outside which might be desired. 

'Tis clear, then, that happiness is a state perfected by the assembling together of all good things. To this state, as we have said, all men try to attain, but by different paths. For the desire of the 
true good is naturally implanted in the minds of men; only error leads them aside out of the way in pursuit of the false.   
Some, deeming it the highest good to want for nothing,
spare no pains to attain affluence; others, judging the good to be that to which respect is most worthily paid, strive to win the reverence of their fellow-citizens by the attainment of official dignity. Some there are who fix the chief good in supreme power; these either wish themselves to enjoy sovereignty, or try to attach themselves to those who have it. Those, again, who think renown to be something of supreme excellence are in haste to spread abroad the glory of their name either through the arts of war or of peace. A great many measure the attainment of good by joy and gladness of heart; these think it the height of happiness to give themselves over to pleasure. Others there are, again, who interchange the ends and means one with the other in their aims; for instance, some want riches for the sake of pleasure and power, some covet power either for the sake of money or in order to bring renown to their name. 

And she closes Book III section vii with 
...It is beyond doubt, then, that these paths do not lead to happiness; they cannot guide anyone to the promised goal. 

For an overview of the Consolatio,  visit: 
Full Text of Consolatio begin on page 225 for Book III

At this point would like to turn to the field of education and set forth a statement which I have all to often heard from my students: 

"I want to get good grades / test scores so I can get into a reputable school so that I can get a diploma so that I can get a good paying job so that I can be happy and do what I want."

It seems reasonable, but given what we have read above, it is necessary to evaluate what the statement actually proposes.

Do the Goods of Fortune bestow Virtue and Lead to Happiness?

The Goods of Fortune do not bestow Virtue and Happiness.  Left unchecked by philosophy, pursuing them alone leads humans to vice.  Vice is dependent upon our ignorance of Nature, and our lack of will and ability to peel away their superficial trinkets. 

It is the philosopher, with the understanding of Harmonia who has the will and ability. Without the Good of Philosophy, the soul is prone to act with vice, not virtue making those Goods of Fortune not only worthless but downright destructive to the soul.

If Wealth leads to happiness, value is measured by market success. If you spend your energy trying to accumulate wealth and protect your wealth, and hire people to aid you in your wealth, are you really secure?

David Foster Wallace: "If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life,   then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough."

BoethiusWherefore, if wealth cannot get rid of want, and makes new wants of its own, how can ye believe that it bestows independence? Book III.iii

Questions for the Great Conversation: If I am starting a business because I want to make money, does it matter what I offer? Is it ethical to sell a product I know is bad?  So then is 'starting a business to make money' really what I am seeking? Is there something more essential or is money itself my aim?

David Foster Wallace: "Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need 
ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear…"

Boethius asks, Do you think the man powerful who is more afraid of others than they are of him? Book III.V

If one accumulates power, then must one always be on guard to protect themselves from those who would take it away.  Even those you keep around you, can never be fully trusted. You may as well spend your time hiding away in some secret bunker, shut off from the world.

Questions for the Great Conversation: If power is what I need to be happy, to be free, assess the following statement, "It is the strength of our military that gives us Freedom."  If this is the case, does that mean that a strong military anywhere ensures freedom?  So North Korea, China, Nazi Germany all ensure freedom because they have strong military's?  Or is freedom something else?

Does Fame make one virtuous?  Sure you are famous, but for what? Are you famous because of your Virtue.  Do you feel good that your exploits are broadcast to the world?

Boethius For many have won a great name through the mistaken beliefs of the multitude—and what can be imagined more shameful than that? Nay, they who are praised falsely must needs themselves blush at their own praises! Book

Question for the Great Conversation: If you act in Virtue, does Fame really matter?

Do you respect the Rank or the Man? Book III.iv
Does being honored make one Virtuous and Happy?

Question for the Great Conversation: Does being granted a high office, rank make the person Virtuous?
Think about how these Goods of Fortune intersect and surround us.  They dominate our daily lives and lure our passions through advertisement, marketing. propaganda to play on our fears.

Test for yourself can any one of these lesser goods be considered the Ultimate Good, goal to Happiness and Virtue?

Lets Evaluate the statement, "I want to get good grades / test scores so I can get into a reputable school so that I can get a diploma so that I can get a good paying job so that I can be happy and do what I want."

- Do the test scores determine what you have learned? Perhaps to some degree, but is all learning measurable are there other factors which contribute to your knowledge and capabilities?
- Do reputable schools excel because they are reputable? What are the factors which go into making that reputation?
- Does the diploma measure what you have learned; of what your are capable? Or is there some sort of portfolio of your work; a track record which indicates the value of that piece of paper?
- If a good paying job is how you measure success, does it matter what that job is? Does that job actually make you happy?
- What does "doing what I want" actually entail?  What do these last factors indicate about responsibility to the community and the world?

For Educators: If the goal ensuring income to keep the school fiscally viable, then all decisions would seem to center around money. Are we in the field of Education for the sake of Money? What does that do to education when we begin to describe students and curriculum in market terms?  If we place high emphasis on the test scores, as an indicator of the effectiveness of our curriculum and teaching method (i.e. student as "product"), can we support it with follow up questions.  How do we ensure we are not structuring our curriculum to make good test takers? necessarily good scholars, independent thinkers? Does our curriculum and teaching method work for all students, if so, all students should do well in this environment.
If it shows that our teaching method is ineffective for all students, for example students leave for other schools, or do not seem to do well by measured and timely scores - then we cannot say we offer the best method.  The measured & timely score also does not necessarily indicate what a student has learned.

These are just some of the basic questions which ought always be raised when discussing Virtue Ethics in the context of Education.

In closing, the Goods of Fortune are nice additions to life, they are not in and of themselves Virtuous. Unchecked they are the things which cater to our desires and wants…not to our soul.

Regarding the Goods of Fortune Boethius writes  …there is plainly nothing to be truly desired, nothing of intrinsic excellence; for she neither always joins herself to the good, nor does she make good men of those to whom she is united. Book

Classical Education

Classical Education gets a bad rap. Chief among its harshest criticisms are that it is inherently dogmatic, racist, and robs children of critical thought.  In many ways this criticism is deserved. There exist many works online and in print which praise and encourage a need for Classical Education.  Public Schools wishing to adopt a Classical Curriculum find that the majority of these works are inadequate for the secular requirements of a state funded school. While the authors of these works often raise good points, their solutions rely heavily upon anecdotal rather than substantive evidence. 

This may be due to the fact that in current of Classical Education is one which is now dominated by apologists, whose chosen discipline emphasizes a defensive rather than investigative approach, and well meaning literature majors whose work demonstrates a lack of the investigative research methods honed by professional scholars.  As such, their perspectives are skewed.  Rather than practicing scholarship, they engage in scholasticism: borrowing from those scholars of the past with whom they agree, while not bravely and critically examining their own presuppositions / beliefs.  They thus miss a huge chunk of context in development of human thought and ideas.   The result is an incomplete perspective which lacks the  insight familiar to research historians of philosophy, science, music, mathematics and the like.

In recent decades, the majority of published works on Classical Education have fallen away from the investigative trajectory set forth by Socrates and carried through the works of the great scholars, scientists, and humanitarians of the world.  As such their works are not based upon tested cognitive development, researched educational theory, nor is the subject matter informed through rigorous academic scholarship which utilizes critical examination of Classical sources through historical methods and textual reception. More often than not, these works limit the variety of actual Classical thought -- cutting away significant primary sources which challenge the convictions of the particular market to which they are trying to sell their product.  Furthermore, as an example, emphasis on marketing reputation of a school based upon excellent test scores flies in the face of the premise of Classical Education,- critical investigation. 

What I provide here, is an approach to Classical Education which is not mired in 19th century Idealism and Historiographical essentialism, but one which embraces the variety of thought and methodologies which have always existed.  It is one which stresses the importance of learning History, Reasoning, and the traditional subjects of Classical Education.  It is one however whose sources are informed by Academic Peer-Reviewed Research methodologies in History, Cognitive Development, Science, et al.  It is one which does not fear the Scientific Method or Discovery.  It acknowledges the known issues regarding the uncritical acceptance of the traditional Western Canon. Among these issues are equating literature for historical fact and the elimination significant contributions by women, subcultures and other civilizations in order to support a position of exceptionalism. No source is viewed as "authority" instead considered a voice in the Great Conversation.  Below I have provided links as a starting point for individuals and schools committed to providing Classical Education free from the anecdotal convictions of Authoritative Biblical, Anti-Science, Anti-Dewey rhetoric which has so often derailed proponents searching for an honest approach to provide education for students desiring to Learn for Life in a Global, multi-cultural society.

What Classical Education Means

The Unexamined Life, Diversity, and Classical Model

Source Studies

The Problems with Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Gene Veith, and Andrew Kern

Reconsidering John Dewey's Relationship with Ancient Philosophy

In Praise of John Dewey - (compare / contrast Dewey and E.D. Hirsch 

Eudaimonia, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

Instincts and the Pursuit of Truth

Freedom - Liberty - Happiness

Eudaimonia and Virtue Ethics

Virtue and The Goods of Fortune in  Boethius and David Foster Wallace


Class Expectations for Students of Xen McGuire

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Freedom - Liberty - Happiness

In particular the loose interpretation of the meaning of "Freedom." In brief, When the Founders of our Nation were writing about Freedom, Liberty and Happiness, They were not speaking casually. They were speaking from a learned perspective; continuing the dialog which stems from Plato and Aristotle, though the likes of Cicero & Boethius all the way through the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Founders expected us to continue in this Great Conversation. Furthermore they expected us to be smarter, more diligent and NOT lazy in our discussions.

For the Founders (and those aforementioned authors) Freedom and Liberty do not mean giving into ones desire to do and say whatever they want. Liberty, as used by the Founders, carries with it the understanding that Humans are social beings as part of a society. It is our reason which guards us against our instincts to "do what we want" This is what separates us from the "Brutes" or "Libertines" Literature from the mid-late 18th century abounds with this play on words distinguishing the Free from the Libertine (Mozart/daPontes "Don Giovanni" probably the most famous example)

In the past 30 years those who exercise Liberty in this Classical sense are often derided in a pejorative as being "thin skinned" or "Politically Correct." 
Fortunately today we have more free access to source materials than generations past. We can easily read the Nicomachean Ethics, Consolation of Philosophy, the works of John Locke, David Hume et al. We can go to the online Library of Congress and even the John Adams library online and freely read not only the books he read, but also (what we historians love!) his handwritten notes in the margins so that we can know what he was thinking. 

Library of Congress Exhibit on the Pursuit of Happiness

But I will close with a quote from Henry Home, Lord Kames whose works inspired our own nations founders when drafting the Declaration:

"It is probable, that in the following particular, man differs from the brute creation. Brutes are entirely governed by principles of action, which, in them, obtain the name of instincts. They blindly follow their instincts, and are led by that instinct which is strongest for the time. It is meet and fit they should act after this manner, because it is acting according to the whole of their nature. But for man to suffer himself to be led implicitly by instinct or by his principles of action, without check or control, is not acting according to the whole of his nature. He is endued with a moral sense or conscience, to check and control his principles of action, and to instruct him which of them he may indulge, and which of them he ought to restrain. This account of the brute creation is undoubtedly true in the main: whether so in every particular, is of no importance to the present subject, being suggested by way of contrast only, to illustrate the peculiar nature of man."
Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion.

The Damnation of Don Giovanni

What Happened to the Quadrivium?

In short...
This summer I was reacquainting myself with Book III of Iohannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi – (usually only Chapter V detailing his astronomical discoveries are translated), but it is important to note that the previous books he provides equal dedication and care to the other arts of the Quadrivium: Arithemtic, Geometry, and Music (largely borrowed from the discussions of Vincenzo Galilei (Galileo’s dad) experimental science on the subject.

(n.b. With “School of Athens” mural we have adorning our stairway wall, positions Plato (with the Timaeus) and Aristotle (Ethics) at the very top.  At the very bottom are the Four Arts of the Quadrivium.  The Quadrivium texts were always used as foundational studies, but any one reading the authors throughout the Middle Ages discussed and wrestled with the fact that they did not represent our sense data - (Robert Gosseteste, Nicola Oresme, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, etc.)  
It was with Kepler and the Galilei’s (et al.) that Experiemntal Sceince an inquiry of the world began to take off.
Anyway, after working through the a Latin copy I found on, I found this 1997 translation by members of the American Philosophical Society. 

The Scientific Method becomes the marriage between Mind and Experience...

...As I was thinking about this, last night I started rereading Chapter 10, from Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty in which he begins by providing a general review of philosophical discourse, and proceeds to describe the Socratic method as demonstrated by Plato—how it has been utilized over the past 2500 years and shaped his own approach.
I also discovered this paper on the open-review academic website Academia. Which describes provides a succinct introduction into Dewey’s relationship with Classical Philosophy (apart from the straw man misrepresentations Kern and Veith provide.).