In Which Ryan No Longer Trusts His Toothbrush
July 2021 | 2:7
Koopa would like it known that he is always this glamorous, and Goomba would like to know what is under the couch.
What's Been Happening
The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind as I try to remember how to do things that do not occur physically inside my apartment. Rather than try to tie all of these experiences into a single cogent theme or thought, I offer the following nuggets:
Outside is often bright and scary. Sunglasses seem to help.
Did you know that if you leave a toothbrush in a travel container for over a year it can mildew?
Things are generally significantly farther away once you go from “it’s in my domicile somewhere” to “it’s on the surface of the planet earth”. This requires much more planning ahead.
Not to give you trust issues, but I recommend looking at your toothbrush before putting it in your mouth. Or smelling it, or… you know what, really we’re just trying to avoid getting to taste as a diagnostic tool here, so whatever other senses you want to use go for it.
One of life’s cruel circular ironies is that by definition whenever you are trying to figure out a new coffee maker, you probably haven’t had coffee in a while.
“Minty mildew” is not a flavor palette that requires any further testing or exploration for the consumer market. You’re welcome, flavor scientists.
The real world doesn’t have a mute button. This seems like an oversight and should be looked into.
Lastly, I can confirm that while I’m glad recording technology is a thing, I’m even more glad to finally hear some wiggly air made directly by humans. I hope that wherever you are things continue to progress and that you can experience some for yourself soon.
May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,
Chart O' The Month
Charles Mingus is one of my favorite composers, to say nothing of being the subject of endless epic stories, so I have quite a few of his charts in the Medium Ensemble book and one of our first “themed” concerts was featuring his music. This particular recording is from that concert, and I think this chart is one of my earliest examples of finally not “over-writing” an arrangement.
Like most Mingus’ pieces, this one has a bunch of subtext. First, this comes from the album of the same name, which is the first album where he taught all of his arrangements to the band by ear rather than writing them down. Skipping a very long discussion about ear training and methodology for learning music, you can hear that this particular song would be almost easier to convey without writing it down, in particular the repeated roots in the bass and the phrasing in the melody. Second, his music had been called very “primitive” by critics in some rather thinly veiled racism (even for the time), which was something Charles was never afraid to point out or react to. Therefore the title of “Pithecanthropus Erectus” is particularly significant on several levels:
Scientifically, “Pithecanthropus erectus” is one of the early scientific names for “Java Man” and is a part of the human evolutionary tree now referred to as “Homo erectus erectus”. In 1956 when Mingus wrote the tune, there was still significant discussion about if it was truly a new genus, or part of the same species as man, or just a deformed monkey.
Socially, this discussion was linked back to race in some rather unfortunately predictable ways. As this relates back to Mingus and his music, I would say the title was “tongue in cheek” but it’s probably more accurate to say it was “middle finger waving in face”.
While I don’t have enough Latin to confirm, deny, or correct this, Mingus reportedly thought the name translated to “walking upright”, which is at least true enough in a general sense to be relevant.
Given all this, it’s fair to ask if the song is about the parallel between the scientific community’s research on evolution and his own evolution as a composer and musician, or a response to critics calling his music primitive by writing even simpler music that still has depth and complexity, or simply a joke by a bass player to name a tune with no walking bassline after the first humans to walk upright. Similarly you could ask if I chose this tune for this month because we’re repeating some of the same societal lessons right now, or because we’re all metaphorically learning to walk upright again, or because after trying to keep up with drum corps kids for a few days I’m not 100% convinced I can still stand upright let alone walk. I would say the answer to all those questions is probably yes.
If you look really closely, you can see a deer behind the leaf. Don't feel bad if you can't see it, it's hiding very effectively.
As we start to get ready for fall, it seems like all the indications are that we can expect as close to normal as we’re going to get to start the school year which is wonderful. As I experience the transition to normalcy with DCI, I offer a couple observations that can hopefully be of use:
In general, people are more musically prepared than they are emotionally prepared. I’m genuinely surprised by how fast the playing has bounced back, but finally making music together again releases a lot of pent up emotions (joy, anxiety, etc). There’s no need to over-react to that, but giving space for it to happen is important.
Don’t adjust your standards, just your timeline. If it takes longer to do something then fine, but aim for the bullseye.
Don’t assume, good or bad. If you assume something is going to go wrong and tell the students that, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, if you assume they can do something and never check, you can find out too late to fix it. Instead just make a safe space to try stuff and find out what’s working and what’s not while enjoying that you get to make sounds together again.