It’s been four years since I last sang at Carnegie Hall, and Tuesday I’ll be there again, performing the Beethoven Missa Solemnis with the Boston Symphony, under the direction of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus’s John Oliver. It’s been an interesting run, for a host of reasons that have little to do with the music and everything to do with the musicians.
But one thing about it that’s particularly interesting to me is that I find myself still trying to figure out this work. Even though it was the first major work I sang with a symphonic chorus, eighteen years ago. Even though I sang it once more with Robert Shaw fourteen years ago.
It shouldn’t surprise me how much there is to learn about this work. Beethoven wrote it at the height of his powers, and close to the end of his life, at the same time he was composing the Ninth Symphony. I think it’s equally as great a work as the Ninth, but more difficult to approach. Because where the Ninth resolves eternal conflict through the relatively accessible lens of joy and brotherhood, the Missa doesn’t really resolve the conflict at all, and uses religion as the lens through which the conflict is examined.
The movement I’ve been fixated on is the “Agnus Dei.” It’s the last movement of the piece, and as Maestro Oliver points out, it’s unique in that it’s a classical composition–as in, big C classical, partaking much more of Mozart or Haydn than does the rest of the work. It’s very structured, relatively formal, and can seem either light hearted or too mannered if you approach it in the wrong way.
I’m coming at the piece through a gout attack–the first one I’ve had in several years, only the second major one I’ve had–and I think I understand it a little better. I see the “Agnus Dei” as Beethoven trying to come to terms with what was happening to him at the end of his life–his total deafness, his approaching mortality. There are shifting tones in it of fear and of utter desolation. (Which also became clear to me for the first time on this concert run, when we sang the “Miserere” section after hearing Maestro Kurt Masur’s announcement that he could not conduct and his quiet confession that the Missa was too much and that he would never conduct it again.) And I certainly feel an echo of that in my frustration in being unable to stand without pain, or at the worst even to have something touch my foot.
But then comes the “Dona Nobis Pacem.” And where in Berlioz or other masses it’s a cry for help, there’s something quietly assured about the way Beethoven sets this text. It’s a fugue in a major key that keeps returning even over outbreaks of “Miserere.” Done lightly or thoughtlessly, the contrast is jarring. Done in the spirit of the thing, it is meditation, a plea for self control.
It reminds me of The Waste Land, actually. As Eliot’s associative madness pulls in imagery from Hieronymo to bats to women fiddling on their hair, the poet reaches for “Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata.”–”give, sympathize, control”–and then “Shantih, shantih, shantih.” A mantra in the strictly correct sense of the word. And while it’s debatable whether Eliot truly achieves “the peace that passeth all understanding” even by the end of the work, it’s pretty clear that Beethoven’s “pacem, pacem” performs the same function for him. It’s a reaching of acceptance of all that is in life, an acknowledgement of peace and its power.
And it will be very hard to convey that in performance. But now that I know that it’s there, maybe I can try to make it happen.
In the process of putting together the Virginia Glee Club Wiki, containing the history of that illustrious 171-year-old assemblage, I’ve made my way through just about every official archive of Glee Club history. But there are gaps to be filled, so I’ve resorted to eBay. I’ve picked up yearbooks, magazines, and other ephemera trying to find information on missing years. And in the process, I’ve gotten hooked on the convenience and the thrill of it all. I’ve also grown a little blasé about it, paradoxically enough–one too many speculative purchases of Virginiana has ended in a cold trail, historically speaking.
So I wasn’t expecting much when I won an auction for the September 1935 edition of the University of Virginia Magazine (winning bid: $1.50). To my surprise, though, I hit pay dirt. This was the “new student” issue of the magazine, and it featured essays from each of the leaders of the (non-fraternity) student groups introducing to prospective students such Virginia institutions as Corks & Curls, the UVA Band, the Jefferson Society …. and the Glee Club.
I’ve posted the top half of the article above, including a pretty fair pen-and-ink caricature of the Club’s raconteur director from the 1930s, Harry Rogers Pratt. The rest of the article and a transcription have been posted to the wiki on the biography page of its author, Glee Club president Rial Rose. The article is pretty modest about the group’s requirements and ambitions:
There are just two things that are absolutely required of a man who wishes to join the University of Virginia Glee Club. He must be enrolled at the University, and he must be able to carry a tune.
But Rose does a spectacular job of defining the college glee club of the 1930s and painting a picture of what’s involved:
Now, a College Glee Club, in these days, is a very ambitious organization. It attempts to combine the best of all these various kinds of music. The religious and folk music of the negroes and Cossacks appear on the same programs with the popular and “pretty” music of the “Pennsylvanians,” and with the strong, soul-stirring music of the great composers. In 1934-35, for instance, the University Glee Club sang music of America, England, Germany, Russia, Finland, the Netherlands, and the Latin Church, while a quartet sang negro songs, on a typically arranged program. And, not content with merely singing the music, we attempted to perform it nearly as possible in the various styles of the peoples it represented.
For me, this is what’s so fascinating about the history of this group. Save for one or two phrases, this could be a description of the Glee Club I sang in, or the one that is under the direction of Frank Albinder today. But then in the middle, there’s that reminder that the Glee Club, like the University, was a creature of its times: “negro songs.” At least this incarnation of the Glee Club wasn’t performing them in blackface.
On January 15, 2002, I was in business school and had just accepted a job offer from Microsoft. At the time it was a very different company–hip deep in the fallout from the antitrust suit and the consent decree; having just launched Windows XP; figuring out where it was going on the web (remember Passport)? And the taking of a deep breath that the Trustworthy Computing memo signaled was the biggest sign that things were different at Microsoft.
And yet not. It’s important to remember that a big part of the context of TWC was the launch of .NET and the services around it (remember Passport)? Microsoft was positioning Passport (fka Hailstorm) as the solution for the Privacy component of their Availability, Security, Privacy triad, so TWC was at least partly a positioning memo for that new technology. And it’s pretty clear that they hadn’t thought through all the implications of the stance they were taking: witness BillG’s declaration that “Visual Studio .NET is the first multi-language tool that is optimized for the creation of secure code”. While .NET may have eliminated or mitigated the security issues related to memory management that Microsoft was drowning in at the time, it didn’t do anything fundamentally different with respect to web vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting or SQL injection.
But there was one thing about the TWC memo that was different and new and that did signal a significant shift at Microsoft: Gates’ assertion that “when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security.” As an emerging product manager, that was an important principle for me to absorb–security needs to be considered as a requirement alongside user facing features and needs to be prioritized accordingly. It’s a lesson that the rest of the industry is still learning.
To which I’ll add: it’s interesting what I blogged about this at the time and what I didn’t. As an independent developer I was very suspicious of Hailstorm (later Passport.NET) but hadn’t thought that much about its security implications.
So here we are, on the eve of the last Virginia football game of 2011. At the beginning of the season, I had no hopes for a bowl game, in only the second season of the Mike London era. And yet here we are, in the Peach Bowl (now called the Chik-Fil-A Bowl) against Auburn.
As the historian of the Virginia Glee Club Alumni and Friends Association, I’ve had a special place in my heart for the football songs of the University, and I’ve written many posts about the origins of the songs. In honor of the game tonight, here’s all the posts in one convenient list. Enjoy!
- The Good Old Song: I wrote most of the article on Wikipedia, and have written a bit about the credited author of the song, E. A. Craighill.
- The Cavalier Song: The official fight song of the University, with words by Joe McCarthy sympathizer Fulton Lewis Jr.
- Vir-ir-gini-i-a: A lesser known song with connections to early and modern Glee Club history (words by Arthur Kyle Davis Jr., who sang in the 1916-17 season, harmonization by long time Glee Club conductor Donald Loach)–and indirectly to Bob Dylan!
- Hike, Virginia: written by a man who had a major impact on Cavaliers abroad during World War I, Lewis D. Crenshaw, with Glee Club member Charles S. McVeigh.
- Virginia Yell Song: written by the second ever Jewish professor at the University of Virginia, and the first in the 20th century, Linwood Lehman.
- Oh, Carolina: One of Virginia’s few songs about a specific rival.
- Just Another Touchdown for U-Va: Another Virginia football song sung about many different rivals.
- From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill: Virginia’s most notorious football song, with words you won’t want to sing along with in front of your family.
- Virginia, Hail, All Hail: Virginia’s official alma mater, written by Glee Club member J.A. Morrow.
A while ago, I picked up an interesting historical keepsake from eBay–the program from the University of Virginia’s 1895 Public Days, aka graduation. I was hoping to find some Glee Club value here, and I got it. The program lists 1895-96 Glee Club president McLane Tilton, Jr. as completing his undergraduate degree, and also has a familiar face picking up his Law degree–E. A. Craighill, otherwise known as the author of “The Good Old Song.”
It’s fun to look at the document and realize how different the University was then. Most of the degrees are professional or graduate degrees because the four-year bachelors degree was virtually unknown then. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that curriculum reform at Virginia and other universities standardized the four-year undergraduate degree that we are all familiar with today.
Me neither, until tonight, which kind of astonishes me. But after seven performances this season of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Boston Pops, it sounds pretty good. There are actually two extant versions:
On the first day of crispness,
My true love sent to me,
One turkle dove,
Two pounds of ham,
An’ a parsnip in a pear tree!
On the secon’ day of crispness,
My true love sent to me,
Two turtle doves
an’ a parsnip in a pan-tree.
Or the more bizarre but equally satisfying:
Conifers stay of Crispness,
A parsnip Anna Pantry.
Honor Sick an’ Davey Criss-Cross,
MacTruloff said to me,
Anna Pottage inner
Under Thursday of Crispness,
Three wench friends,
An’ the parson
Up a psaltree.
I don’t know about you, but my three wench friends should love this one.
I’ve got about 5000 tracks I’ve purchased from the iTunes store over the last 8 years. That’s a lot of dough. And I’m willing to spend more–$25 a year more–to have those tracks available in the cloud.
I also have about 30,000 other tracks, purchased from Amazon or eMusic, or ripped from my own library. I’m not a BitTorrent collector. I’ve replaced just about everything I ever downloaded in the glory days of Napster with legitimate copies of songs.
But Apple won’t let me participate in iTunes Match because I’m over the 25,000 song limit.
Well, that sucks.
Hope the service is less disappointing for those that actually get in.
Update: There is a workaround, apparently, if you want to manage multiple libraries.
So far iOS 5 has been just fine on my iPhone 3GS (yes, still), but for one important exception: I don’t think the phone has ever completed a sync without my having to eject it.
The symptom is one of those things that gives long-term iTunes users pause: text in the iTunes status window that appears at the end of the sync, saying, “Waiting for items to copy,” or “Waiting for changes to be applied.” And stays there, pretty much indefinitely. Turns out it’s a common problem, with no consistent solution. I have tried leaving the phone syncing all night long (both wired and wireless), even tried turning off syncing of all content. Nothing.
So today I tried the ultimate: restore to factory settings, then restore from backup. And, as of right now, things are… “waiting for items to copy,” while syncing podcasts.
Sigh. Wonder how long I have until we can buy the 4S?
There is one note of wonderment though: as I was plowing through the console looking for clues as to what was going on, I found this:
Nov 10 07:11:44 iTunesHelper: AMDeviceConnect (thread 0x7fff7c774960): This is not the droid you're looking for (is actually com.apple.mobile.restored). Move along, move along.
UPDATE: Aaaand just as soon as I pushed Send to Blog, I found the answer: voice memos. Specifically, deleting all voice memos on the phone was sufficient to fix the problem and allow the sync to complete. Now, mind, this was after a restore to factory settings and restore from backup, so I don’t know if those steps were necessary, but it worked.
Last night’s news about Steve Jobs hit me hard. Not that it was a surprise; Steve was the one CEO I know who was most in touch with, and open about, his own mortality. Of course that was out of necessity; it’s hard to sweep pancreatic and liver cancer under the rug. But Steve’s response to it was like so much else: instead of ignoring it, he acknowledged it while publicly focusing on where things were going next.
It made me think about the lessons I carry with me as a product manager, and I suppose as a person, that are directly traceable to Steve:
Thing 1: Always look forward
Steve, and Apple as his company, never hesitated to sacrifice backwards compatibility or even whole product categories if they sat in the way of something better. Viz: a whole long list of things–the 3.5″ floppy drive (which Apple helped popularize), ADB, SCSI, and even hard drives and optical media (on the MacBook Air, at least). PowerPC support. Mac OS Classic.
For most of this list, I don’t think we miss the items. And certainly we couldn’t have the products that we have today if Apple had continued to hold onto the older standards past their sell-by dates. By contrast, it’s inconceivable to me that my HP work laptop, just a year old, has a 9 pin serial port. Really? I would bet that not one in 10,000 users has any use for that port. What a lot of money and engineering QA time they’re wasting including that port in every laptop they ship.
I think one of the hardest things to do as a PM is to recognize the things that are standing in the way of your success, especially if they’re features, technologies, compatibility points, that your customers are using. Steve Jobs’ Apple was always the evidence that if done correctly, moving beyond outdated features and standards could have enormous payoffs for you and your customers.
Thing 2: Do fewer things better
When I was a young developer, just starting out, I wanted to make everything I did like the Mac. I wanted to simplify, to reduce the number of options, to make everything clean to use. It turned out to be really hard, and to require a lot of engineering to make things clean and to just work right. But it was almost always worth the payoff.
As a product manager, it’s a lot harder. Instead of keeping a user interface simple, you’re keeping a product offering simple. But again, the payoff is enormous: having an offering that does something so well that it blows everyone’s mind is so much better than a kitchen sink offering that is “just good enough” to check boxes on someone else’s feature chart. There’s time to expand to other areas of the feature chart, if you want to, but make sure they’re done well first.
Thing 3: Think big
The iPod was never about selling hard drive based music players. It was about turning a corner in so many ways: getting Apple into the selling-content-online business, which became the App Store business a few years later; changing how people consumed music, which arguably saved the music industry from Napsterization (though I suppose few RIAA members would stand up and thank Steve for doing so); even transforming Apple from a computer company into … well, how would you characterize Apple today? Maybe a personal computing device company?
Everybody else’s iPod follower was about selling hard drive based music players. There wasn’t a broader vision about changing the market, the customer’s behavior, or how the company was oriented. No wonder they all flopped.
Thing 4: Emotional connections matter
In technology this is such a weird perspective to have. These things we build, they’re just chips and transistors, right? Just bits. But to the people using them, they’re about getting things done that, if they’re worth doing, have a real impact on their lives. Carrying your music anywhere you go. Connecting the Internet to you in the palm of your hand. Creating a great reading and video experience in the iPad. Making computing so simple a four year old could do it. Connecting people in real and tangible ways.
Talking about features, clock speed and such, doesn’t cut it. This is one area where watching the post-Steve Apple will be telling. There was a fair amount of clock-speed talk in the iPhone 4S rollout, and maybe there should have been a little more storytelling.
Thing 5: Life is short; ignore the haters
I think this last one goes to the question of Steve’s awareness of his own mortality. He summed it up in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, a year after his initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, in which he said:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with thae results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Steve, we owe you a lot, but maybe more than anything else, we owe you for that.
When you’re as rusty on the blog as I am, you don’t say no to a meme when it drops into your lap. Thanks to Eileen Huang, fellow TFCer and collaborative pianist, for the tag.
- First instrument: piano. Thanks, Mom, for the instruction.
- Age at first music lesson: Five, I think.
- First piece performed in public: I can’t remember any of the piano ones, so we’ll go with my solo vocal debut, a retrospectively cringe-inducing version of Sting’s “Sister Moon” with saxophone accompaniment at the Virginia Governor’s School for the Sciences talent show in 1989.
- Piece most recently performed in public: A slightly odd John Jacob Niles arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger.”
- Band camp: Nope. Not even orchestra camp.
- Marching band: With a violin?
- College a cappella? Undergrad, no; not for lack of trying. Grad school: yes, though we weren’t very good, not for lack of trying.
- Absolute pitch: no.
- Movable do or fixed do: Fixed, I suppose, though I never gave it much thought.
- Faux pas: At the same Governor’s School talent show, forgot all the words to Weird Al’s “One More Minute.” My collaborator slapped me to try to restore my memory. It only ensured that I could never remember the words ever again.
- Favorite conductor hair: Jimmy Levine, of course.
- I wish I could play: any instrument these days. Happy I can still sing.
Anyone want a tag to continue the meme?
Second, in the course of fixing a security hole, I broke my header image rotator. So you won’t see rotating images showing up for a while. I have temporarily pointed the script at a fixed image until I can get the rotator fixed.
It’s Saturday, so it’s time for another post about UVa’s football song heritage. This week’s contest isn’t one of those like the South’s Oldest Rivalry that has inspired its own set of songs—Virginia has only played Southern Mississippi a handful of times in the history of the program. The contest against Southern Miss in 2009 did not have the best outcome for UVa, so this week’s song is to inspire those members of the Cavaliers community to redouble their energies in supporting the team.
Stephen M. O’Brien, who graduated from the University in 1902 and went on to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1914, would have appreciated having “Just Another Touchdown for U.Va.” used in this context. His song, written to the tune of “Just A Little Bit Off The Top” (the same tune as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”), has been used to marshal the spectators against Carolina, Norfolk, and Georgetown at various times. The third verse in the oldest printing of the lyrics extant (Songs of the University of Virginia, 1906) is as follows:
We’ve just come from Norfolk for the day–the day,
To-morrow we’ll go back to U.Va., V-a,
We’ll gather in Carolina’s tin, Virginia’s sure to win,
Ray! ray!! ray!!! then, and make a mighty din.
But in the 1911 University of Virginia football songbook, it’s transformed to:
We’ve just come to Georgetown for the day–the day,
Tomorrow we’ll go back to U.Va.,
We’ll gather in old Georgetown’s tin, Virginia’s sure to win,
Yell like hell then and make a mighty din.
And in the version performed by the Virginia Glee Club (arranged by Club’s conductor Arthur Fickenscher sometime between 1920 and 1933), the third verse is omitted entirely, but in the second verse the song has “Carolina’s mighty lame” (sometimes “Maryland’s mighty lame”) instead.
So I’d propose this set of words for this week:
Just another touchdown for U.V-a, V-a,
Just another touchdown for U.V-a, V-a,
Carry the ball a yard or two, we’ll tell you when to stop,
Yell, boys, yell, boys, Virginia’s on the top.
Just watch the men whose jerseys bear the V, the V
If up-to-date football you want to see, to see,
They stop the bucks, they block the kicks, the Golden Eagles are lame,
And the ball goes over, Virginia’s got the game.
Last Saturday wasn’t the best day in the Jarrett household. Having taught my four year old daughter to sing The Good Old Song, it was a disappointment to lose to Carolina, 28-17. But you have to have a long view in these things. The fight with Carolina is The South’s Oldest Rivalry, after all, and in the long view we’re only back four games (58 Carolina victories, 54 Virginia victories, and 4 ties).
Being a member of the Virginia Glee Club gives some unique perspective on the longevity of the rivalry. One of the songs on the most recent Glee Club CD, Songs of Virginia (available for purchase on Amazon! and on the Glee Club’s site!), reflects the rivalry. “Oh, Carolina” is one of the few numbers on the disc that manages to be both edgy and funny at once:
See the Tar Heels, how they’re running
Turpentine from every pore.
They can manufacture rosin,
But they’ll never, never score.
While there’s no good record to indicate how long the song has been around, it may date almost to the beginning of the rivalry. The author of the lyrics, William Roane Aylett, Jr., graduated from the University in 1895 with his medical degree and was in his first autumn on Grounds in 1892 when the first match was played (Virginia won the first match that year in Charlottesville, Carolina the second in Atlanta). Eleven years later, the song was still in circulation, as evidenced by its presence in A. Frederick Wilson’s collected Songs of the University of Virginia (published 1906). It also appears in a 1911 football program book along with other song texts. And after that, nothing until the Songs of Virginia recording.
There’s no evidence that the song was ever performed in a Glee Club concert, for instance–though there would have been lots of opportunities. UNC was the Virginia Glee Club’s oldest partner in its annual fall openings concerts (later “kickoff concerts”), with joint performances with the UNC Glee Club in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1977 and with the UNC Women’s Chorus in 1988 (from the records we have handy); none of the programs mention anything about the smell of turpentine.
But the song is handy as a reminder: not only did (do) UVa students take this hundred-plus-year rivalry with the Tar Heels seriously, they also sang about it. In the bleachers. At football games.
Say, maybe it’s time to make up a song about the Hokies…
Laziness is the best interpretation of this song’s overuse.
Get rich and pay your taxes.
They’d damn well better not forbid students from using the Lawn fireplaces indefinitely.