Response to a Friend, about the McGill Symphony Orhcestra’s Recent Concert

Here’s what. About the MGSO concert.

I think Berlioz is great, and the world could use more of his overtures specifically, also more “Harold en Italie,” and less of “Symphonie fantastique.” And the Rachmaninoff concerto is a Rachmaninoff concerto. Whatever. I’m over it.

But the reason I had to go is because Bruckner is one of my things. It started in high school because the Bruckner tuba excerpts are fun because they’re difficult in exactly the way a tubaist appreciates. None of this super-high, super-fast BS like Berlioz (whose music is fun for another reason) or under-used octave-machine BS like Brahms (except in the “Academic Festival Overture”). In Bruckner some parts are loud, some are soft, some are lyrical, some are percussive, and so on–it’s a good mix of everything. You can see how Bruckner’s tuba writing was the start of a trend continuing through Mahler, Nielsen, Hindemith, Shostakovich… everything we have! In my opinion.

Near the end of my second year, after four terms of training in harmony, three in Caplinian form, and three in music history (Laurier is a very different place), I started to appreciate Bruckner for another reason: forget Beethoven and Mahler/Schönberg; it’s Bruckner whose music paints a very compelling picture as the culmination and conclusion to the Romantic period, and Classical-style form with it. The music historical and music theoretical frameworks are set up to do that. Whether or not it’s true is another matter, and I think not worth considering, because we can never know the truth content of a statement like that. We wouldn’t even be able to establish the criteria for whether it’s true.

But I’ve never understood the dude’s fourth symphony. I haven’t listened to it in aaaaaaages, but as it turns out, I still don’t really get it. No idea which version the MGSO used (maybe a terrible one, like the Dover score, which would be a problem), but I spent most of the first movement laughing at the symphony. I think you’re right to say they played it well, but it just sounds like it was composed by a university professor (which it was).

So I just listened to Bruckner’s fifth symphony, and indeed it’s not that all of Bruckner’s music is stupid… just the fourth.


A Note of Support for GNOME Contributors


I’m a KDE user. Every so often, I try GNOME for a week to see if I like it. For various reasons, it never works out, and I end up back on KDE. It’s been my computing home for over ten years now. But recently it’s become clear to me that there’s a lot more at stake in the “desktop wars” than just software. I think it’s only a little hyperbolic to say the future of our society is at stake too. I wish to congratulate and encourage the GNOME community in their efforts to build a social structure that includes everybody’s contributions.

An explanation of how and why I came to this conclusion:

The suburb where I grew up, near Toronto, Canada, was and still is a place where cultures clash. I only really became aware of it in high school, where us “white people” were definitely the “visible minority” ethnic group. There were also “brown people” and “asian people,” and I know those terms don’t work very well in other contexts, but they are the racial groups we created for ourselves. I remember several times being the victim of racial discrimination, and I know it happened to other people, and I know there were many other forms of discrimination too. For the most part, though, we students realized that the only way to survive would be to cooperate.

When I moved to Waterloo (about an hour away) for my undergraduate degree, the situation was very different. Nearly everybody was white, and it made me uncomfortable. People thought there was something wrong with me because I was “always talking to the asian people.” (NB: There really aren’t many brown people in Canadian music schools.) I’m still not sure, and I likely never will be, whether I was discriminating against white people or simply trying to behave as usual. Either way, it was during my undergraduate degree that I first started to encounter gender discrimination. (It’s true, the proportion of LGBTQ people in music programs is quite high.) Eventually, especially when I became a TA, I started to see the positive effects of *actively* encouraging all kinds of people to join in an activity.

I think you can’t know it until you experience it, but *how* and *with whom* you accomplish a task is much more important what you accomplish.

Now in my Master’s degree, I’ve moved to Montréal, Québec, and I’ve begun to really learn about another kind of discrimination: linguistic. (If you don’t know what I mean, search the Internet for English/French relations in Canada.) I’ve also begun to experience the level of systemic discrimination in my discipline (music theory) and its related fields (musicology, ethnomusicology, music technology, music education). Every academic music sub-discipline is different. I fit into only some of the privileged categories for music theory (I’m white and male). I don’t play the piano, I don’t really care for Classical-period music, I’m not that interested in pitch relations, and I’m absolutely not interested in telling anybody the one true way that music actually works.

The problem is obviously bigger than this. My university is corrupt, the Montréal governments are corrupt, the Québec government is corrupt, and I’ve known for years the Canadian government is corrupt. Nearly everybody with power routinely avoids standing up for what’s right, and instead deals with what they have. Some of my peers are okay with it and some even endorse it, but some of us have decdided to dig in and fight back. I don’t have much power (I’m still just a TA), but I learned my lessons from high school and from the Fedora community: the only way we can survive is to cooperate, and contribute our small part.

That finally brings me to GNOME. I see their design goals, I think they’re exciting, and I want to like their software, but I just don’t. That’s not really the point, though. The GNOME Foundation actively encourages contributions from people who self-identify with a traditionally under-represented group, and they do it in a highly visible way. There are internal arguments, but those are often quite visible too. They are building the future, while the rest of us just sit here wasting time. The future is now, you see.

So KDE, Fedora, Mageia, and everybody else. I assert that, if somebody isn’t actively helping to build an inclusive society, they are actively helping to prolong our exclusive society. Even if I’m wrong, the only disadvantage to being actively inclusive is… nope, can’t think of anything. Let’s get on with it, and build the social structure our software licences supposedly support.