Valentine’s Day in Review

It’s not often I have/take a moment to review what I did the day before. I think today deserves such a moment.

Yesterday’s Music Theory classes were a bit freeform. In the freshman class in particular, where one student is from small-town Indiana and the others are from Hunan, China, we discovered that none of the class members recognized the names James Taylor and Carly Simon. They did recognize some of the songs by these artists, however, and the Chinese students were particularly taken aback by the amount of Heinz Ketchup that was being poured on a hamburger in the TV commercial that used Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.” Remember that one?

We did suffer a bit of Friday-afternoon-General-Studies-Class-and-it’s-snowing attrition in the Music for Living class, but those of us who made it watched Rob Paravonian’s “Pachelbel Rant,” which is always a hit.

Toward the end of the  day, I posted a link to the Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight” and made a reference to the snow we are getting in Terre Haute. I’m sure that a few people recognized that as a diversion from the real point that I was hinting at by posting that song. (Hint to the hint: most of the decisions that brought about my previous post “Friday the 13th, 2013” came down in the month of February. I can’t help but hope that either I’m wrong about something coming “in the air tonight,” or that what’s coming is of a different nature than what came in those Februaries past.)

The best part of Valentine’s Day, 2014, though, was supper. Magdy’s had a Valentine’s menu that included Chef Magdy Atwa’s famous rack of lamb. It’s every bit as good as everyone says. It seems as though it’s been years since Patricia and I have been able to enjoy a long, multi-course meal without worrying about preparation or dishwashing. We had a nice table by the fireplace (which wasn’t actually working, but the thought was there). I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to sit, eat, drink and let the conversation flow with a loved one who is so well informed. And interesting. And cute. Annnnnnd, I nailed my tie with the Cabernet sauce.

She (Patricia, that is) also gave me a “love bucket” from the Maureys’ Hoosier Baker enterprise. Such a talented family–plus, they really know their cake pops.

Not bad for one day.


If you stop, they will stop.

The social media sphere is melting down with stories about someone who said something that is, by all accounts, ignorant and racist. Shocked, I am, to find this happening. And, they said it on a network television “news” program. Hey, folks, think this through with me:

1. These people live or die by ratings.
2. Ratings are based on numbers of people watching.
3. To write even moderately informed criticisms, you have to watch.
4. No matter how well written your criticism, you’re encouraging them by watching their channel, linking to their videos, and commenting.

These people have no obligation to respond to your opinions, as your elected representatives are perhaps supposed to, so your opinion means nothing to them. They respond only to the number of hits/views/Nielsen ratings their obnoxious piles of nauseous dreck attract, and you add to these numbers every time you click your mouse or your remote. STOP IT.


Have a wonderful day,


Friday the 13th, 2013

Probably everyone who has a chance of seeing this blog entry already knows that today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Sr. Sue Pietrus. The students who sang in her Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Chorale and Madrigal Singers, and those who had Music Education classes with her, always talk about what a strong positive and lasting effect Sr. Sue had on their lives. In a way, I envy you former students, because I’ll never know just how much Sr. Sue affected my life.

I mean, I certainly know about how I met her at USC, where I was studying Church Music and she was studying Music Education, how she was a member of the USC University Chorus while I was Assistant Director (imagine that, Sr. Sue singing under my direction!), how she sat in front of me at Commencement in 1993. I remember her first words to me when I arrived as a new faculty member at SMWC ten years later, “Welcome to my Woods!” What I don’t know, and won’t know at least in this life, is what, if anything, Sr. Sue had to do with my being hired at SMWC. When I applied for this position, I honestly did not remember that Sr. Sue was a Sister of Providence (she once said that she “played down” her status as a nun while at SMWC…but not that much). I applied because I had never had a tenure-track college position in 10 years since earning my DMA, and this position looked like something I would be qualified to do.

When I interviewed here, Sue wasn’t here. She was, I think, dealing with some medical issues–in fact, she didn’t teach here at all during my first year, even though she was here to welcome me. I interviewed in the spring of 2003 with the expectation that, if hired, I would be directing the choirs here until Sue’s return, and teaching Music Materials and Music History. Fortunately, workload-wise, SMWC decided to hire me to “replace” Sr. Laurette Bellamy (who could never truly be replaced), and hired my friend and one-time student Sr. Therese Fassnacht to handle the choirs and some other things in Sue’s absence. I was a tiny bit disappointed about not getting to conduct, but I had plenty to do, and still do.

So, you see, I don’t know whether Sr. Sue told the other faculty about me, or how much, or if she encouraged the college to hire me, or not. Nobody has said, and I don’t ask or expect them to. Once, a faculty member outside our department told me in passing that I had been “hand-picked” for this position. She perhaps meant I was hand-picked by Providence, because nobody asked me to apply–I saw the advertisement in the Chronicle or the Music Vacancy List; I don’t remember which. And, as I said, I didn’t even remember Sue’s connection with the SPs and SMWC.

So, with that said, I’d like to speak my piece on Sr. Sue’s legacy. The words “legacy” and “heritage” have been worn thin here in recent years, in my opinion. Just today, another faculty member outside our department said to me, “Sue wouldn’t recognize this place now.” She didn’t mean that the buildings look different (they don’t), nor did she refer to the trees that have been removed (quite a few).

I’m not going to try to put any more words in that faculty member’s mouth, though–I’ll simply add why think Sue wouldn’t recognize this place now. First, here are some non-reasons.

Sue lived more than long enough to recognize the declining numbers of SPs on the SMWC faculty. She would not be particularly surprised that, five years after her passing, there are still fewer. I count five SPs on the Board of Trustees–out of thirty-one members.

Yes, “Christmas at the Woods” has been discontinued. This was done way before I arrived here. So, although it was abundantly clear that Sue despised that decision, she would not be shocked to see that “Christmas at the Woods” has not been revived. Nor would she, I think, be scandalized by the fact that we don’t present the same type of pops concerts in the fall that she did. I am saying that these things are not, in themselves, Sr. Sue’s legacy, any more than they were, in themselves, her life while she was here. Her life–her passions–were Choral Music. Music Education. Musical Theatre. The scandal–the reason Sue woudn’t recognize this place now–is that we really have only one of those things–Choral Music–left.

I feel as though I need to apologize to Sr. Sue for letting these things happen to her legacy. I was department chair when a lot of these decisions came down. Yet, at one time we were able, with help from the Advancement folks, to raise money to endow a scholarship in Sr. Sue’s name, but what has come of that? We now offer no major in Music Education, so we can’t give it to a Music Ed major; nor do we offer a Theatre major or minor anymore, so we can’t give it to a Theatre major or minor. The best we could do is give it to a Music Therapy major who sings in Chorale and Mads, or maybe a Music minor, but even that isn’t happening, as far as I can tell. (Do correct me if I’m wrong.) Sue, we tried so hard to keep these things from happening. (Please, if you haven’t, take a look at Music Education alumna Jenny Power’s blog about Sr. Sue’s legacy.)

I’ve been criticized, and perhaps will be again, for saying negative things that “make the department look bad.” (Nobody actually in the department has said this, though.) But I am only stating facts. Now for some slightly more subjective items. We still have the best Music Therapy program I’ve ever seen; but it’s getting harder and harder to keep it going. Am I making things worse by blogging this? Well, let me accentuate the positive once more. We have a fantastic Music faculty. Legit.

So, when I hear anyone connected with the Woods lamenting the loss of things past, I want to remind them to ask why things aren’t like they were. Sure, it’s in part because Sr. Sue died. But what happened after that? We didn’t forget about her here in the Conserv. We have worked hard to do what she would have us do. Look at the College you love so much and ask why the direction seems to be changing so much. Stand up for the good things–the things about which Sue was so passionate. Choral Music. Music Education. Musical Theatre. Hold them up; fight for them. Let’s not look back without figuring out how we are going to move forward. I need to do that, and I need your help.





Since my last post…

  • I noticed that, somehow, an apostrophe made it into the word “problems” in the postscript. I swear, they’re alive and they’re after me.
  • The “Hair Cut’s $7.00” guy retired and closed his shop. I take no credit (blame) and wish him a very happy retirement.
  • I saw this in a tweet from Gibson Guitar: “A guitar that tunes it’s self.” Unbelievable.

So, apostrophe, are you proud of yourself?

Somehow the lowly apostrophe has worked its way into thousands–no, millions–of places where it does not belong. Even my fellow professors are misusing the little paramecium of punctuation. One referred to our college’s sponsoring community as the “Sister’s of Providence.” Another wrote a Shakespeare title as “All’s Well that End’s Well.” I’m not naming names; anyone can make a mistake. It’s the frequency of errors like these that is disturbing.

Some mistakes are just typos, made in the haste of the moment. Less excusable are those apostrophic apostasies that persist, often for years. A sidewalk sign in Terre Haute reads, “Hair Cut’s $7.00,” for instance. Perhaps the barber has a haircut, and the haircut has $7.00, and perhaps you can look at those seven dollars if you go into the shop. Or, perhaps, the barber, via the sign painter, is simply and curtly answering the expected question, “How much for a haircut?”

There are a few situations involving the ubiquitous superscript that are more ambiguous. Is that decade of the past called the ’70’s or the ’70s? (“’70s” is correct.) Does one need to mind one’s ps and qs, or one’s p’s and q’s? (Or does p need to mind p’s own business? But I digress. Here, I think “p’s and q’s” is correct, since the meaning would be very unclear without the apostrophes.)

However, it is very easy to teach, learn, and self-enforce the rule that one should never use an apostrophe in a possessive pronoun. The great Dr. Mary Watrous, legendary teacher-education professor at Western Washington University, demonstrated how she would have classes repeat, after writing it on the blackboard as many times as would fit, “never, ever, ever!” She also dictated a sentence to her college class; we all wrote it down. Here it is: “The Joneses’ car ran into the Smiths’ car.” She said nobody had ever written it correctly. (Guess who has two thumbs and was the first one to get it right.)

I’m not against the apostrophe; I’m against incorrect use of the apostrophe. I’m equally against omitting an apostrophe when it’s needed. I’m pro-thinking. What does it really matter? Don’t I understand what people mean when they write “their’s” and “your’s?” Of course, I do. Again, it’s not a simple mistake that bothers me so much; it’s the implication that either the writer doesn’t care, or doesn’t have time, or (worst of all) didn’t learn these grammatical conventions.

Not caring is a huge problem, because it allows us to dilute the precision of the English language. One reason that English has become the modern lingua franca is its precision. (It can’t be its simplicity!) Thanks to Alvaro Agudelo, a thoroughly bilingual Colombian friend, for confirming this viewpoint for me.

Not having time hints at other problems. For instance, in defense of my fellow professors, it’s worth noting that few if any of us have any clerical support, and that we are consistently asked to do things without adequate time for forethought and proofreading. Thinking, it seems, is not considered productive. Nobody has time to do it right. That subject will have to wait for another blog post.

Not having learned grammatical conventions (okay, rules) incriminates both the teaching institutions and the students who didn’t manage to learn. But when the principle is as simple as “never use an apostrophe in a possessive pronoun,” there is no excuse for an adult to persist in making such mistakes. It does mean that one needs to know what a possessive pronoun is. Perhaps that’s what isn’t being taught and learned.

So many writing (and, God forbid, speaking) problems could be cured if people understood Dr. Watrous’s simple rule. Follow it, and your life will be better.

P.S. I have had problems with Apple’s Time Machine software ever since I started to use it. Apparently the problem is caused by the use of apostrophes in my device names. It figures.

Composer, Arranger, Teacher

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