Old Daily Shows--September 2002

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

Monday September 2, 2002 Here or there

Echoes of The Graduate ring through my mind even while I listen to Karen Tweed and Timo Alakotila playing their beautiful blend of Scottish and Scandinavian music. Standing in lines this evening at karate class, feeling the familiar movements a little out of reach for my summer-untrained body. Holding a friend while she explained the cares and troubles of her day. Sitting on the roof surrounded by friends, but apart from them--love them though I do, they're all sophomores, with three years ahead, and I wonder how they see me.

Our first hall meeting, with stories of scars told to break the ice. Most had tales of mistaken leaps, misjudged timing, slammed fingers, or other natural causes; I told my tale about surgery at age five, to wild approval. A friend told me yesterday, after having asked to hear the same story, that my stock had just gone up immensely when he heard that. Evidently the thought of five-year-old Hollis standing on an operating room table and declaring to a room full of doctors that they were not going to do anything to him until they explained themselves evokes some rage-against-the-establishment gene in us, or maybe they just like the thought of me with a tranquilizer dart stuck in my bottom... I don't know.

And I find myself telling that story again and again, with so many others, stories of when we were all younger, stories of the Way Things Were before the current non-seniors were here, fables about my wild exploits and memories of my thoughts and feelings from times that grow ever more distant. "As you get older you find out the place where you started out pulls at you stronger and stronger . . . Probably some atavistic drive to finish up where you started. So in a way I'm starting again, too," said Agnis Hamm in E. Annie Proulx's Shipping News, which I'm currently reading. Maybe that's it. Maybe, with all this consciousness of the End that comes so soon, I try to wrap myself around in circular projection and connect again to the beginning.

And, returning to the beginning, I suppose, is fitting for this semester, whose first assignment consisted of reading and analyzing the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. I sit up late, more awake than I ought to be, typing in a room filled with music and cricket sounds, door open to greet any passersby, and wonder. What dreams may come?

None while I remain awake, so I continue unpacking my things, feeling like either Sisyphus or Tantalus and unable to decide which of the two is a more apt allusion. My clothes are mostly hanging in the closet or lounging in the dresser now, and the stack of boxes outside my room is slowly diminishing. My mother said, buying me an iron, that one of the things we've slowly been doing these last four years is outfitting my first apartment. Can I really be old enough to have a first apartment soon? I have high school classmates who have children, own houses and aircraft, have been living their lives in the Real World of which we are all so afraid.

More unpacking and I have an extension cord leading out from under my bed, probably breaking fire codes and belying common sense, but providing me with a bedside lamp to complement my alarm clock. The window Scampies are sitting there, wonderful as always, but not the warm, friendly cat I left at home. Perhaps if I read some Shipping News this strange restlessness will leave me and sleep will come instead. I am happy. And sad, and pensive, and joyful. People spilled food on me at Sharples, and chewed loudly with their mouths open, and did the various other dining things that annoy me, and it was okay. I lived. The governor of Pennsylvania has decreed that I must pay $60 within a week for a meningitis vaccination I don't want to have, or else I will be thrown out of campus housing. So I'll go get a shot, pay a month of Swarthmore wages for it, and hope I'm not allergic to the serum. Maybe I can master my fear of needles enough to do it bravely...

... maybe, just maybe, that might break the logjam and let me start to get some movement back into my life and thoughts. And maybe not. But I have no choice in the matter, so I'm going to sleep and read and wake up tomorrow and deal with it all then. Good night, folks.

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Tuesday September 3, 2002 No smallpipe-making

Message waiting from Hamish Moore when I got home tonight, telling me, regrettably, that he will be unable to fulfill my request for a year's apprenticeship under the Watson Fellowship program. No learning to make smallpipes for me.

On the other hand, I tried. Even if I can't apply, it won't be from a complete lack of planning. So that's good.

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Wednesday September 4, 2002 Bravery

After fighting with Amazon for hours about my textbooks, and having a near nervous breakdown on my bed (the usual senior stuff, I suppose), I should write and go to sleep.

This afternoon, I got a Menomune meningococcal vaccination. I made myself do it, privately, with as much of a smile on my face as I could manage. If my memory serves accurately, which it probably doesn't, that's my first shot since sixth grade, nine years ago. Terror is usually worse than pain, I guess.

But I went in, explained my fear to Ethel, and held a blue glass heart while she gave me the injection. Mom gave me those hearts a year ago, and I lost one after carrying it to a compilers final exam for luck. It turned up in the SCCS server room today, and so I carried it quietly, a personal good luck charm and perhaps a small omen or symbol.

It was really hard to do, but I made myself get the shot, and I did it on my own. I couldn't have done that three years ago. Maybe I am learning something, after all.

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Thursday September 12, 2002 Flute and change

When I came to Swarthmore, for the first time, the bottom part of Parrish Beach was different--just a pair of paths, I think, and a larger grassy expanse that often housed students with books. That first summer, before I arrived as a freshman, it acquired orange cyclone fencing, remnants of an Americans with Disabilities Act project gone awry. They had to make the paths up the hill wheelchair compatible, so they did. Only the contractor got it wrong, and they messed up the grade. All the paths apparently had to be ripped out and relaid.

It seems as though new paths across the trackless green keep appearing, in different colors--asphalt, macadam, concrete, all in various degrees of weathered appearance. Yesterday, or whenever it was that I saw them, they looked like bandages across the ground.

Or no, not bandages. I looked down at them from the south entrance of the Clothier bell tower, and saw how the earth pressed out between the neat lines of heavy pavement, and they were not bandages of gauze or muslin or nylon. They were chains. Heavy, excessive ones, negating any thought of movement or freedom.

And so, on that day, I felt a certain affinity for the earth I walked upon. Since coming back to Swarthmore, I too feel trammeled by arbitrary weights. A new one arrived today, in the form of the Conducting, Score Reading, and Orchestration class the music department is (essentially) requiring me to take. A fifth class, and a hard one, in a semester that's been grueling already. Between Monday and today, I spent more than thirty hours working on my computer graphics assignment, which I turned in unfinished.

So tonight, having slugged it out with graphics, I am leaving my Bible and Art History reading undone, ignoring it, pushing it to the side, and going to sleep. I'll still only get six hours, because my voice lesson schedule was changed, and now I have lessons at 9:20, but...

But. If I go to bed now, maybe I can avoid folding into a little ball in my bed, pillow clutched tightly, sopping wet from irrelevant tears I seem no longer able to contain. There hasn't been a day yet at Swarthmore where I didn't do that, where something didn't push me far enough past my ability to cope with life that I just lost it. Maybe today will be one.

"Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency for me," they always say. This is, generally, true. However, when the people not planning are those who control your degree, the statement is clearly false. It's not just an emergency, it's also a crisis, and is also likely Your Fault. Maybe this is why people want to leave Swarthmore, why they become ready to graduate... maybe it's just that, after four years, you become tired of being left holding the bag while the people who're supposed to be leading you fail. Sound embittered? It is. Departments shouldn't schedule mandatory classes five months after the semester's schedules were finalized. Oh well. I have to take some of my other classes pass/fail now, I guess.

Bitch and moan. Not that it helps.

On the other hand, tonight I bought my flute. I made my last payment to Susie, and the George Ormiston flute is mine. I'll try to let that thought carry me to sleep.

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Tuesday September 17, 2002 Watson application part 1

It's finally done. Printed, stapled, handed in. What have I gotten myself into?

Hollis Easter
Watson Fellowship Application
Project Summary
Fall 2002

Auld Tunes and New: the Bagpipe Music of Scotland

To the make of a piper go seven years ... At the end of his seven years one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and leaning a fond ear to the drone he may have parley with old folks of old affairs. Playing the tune of the "Fairy Harp", he can hear his fore folk, plaided in skins, towsy-headed and terrible, grunting at the oars and snoring in the caves, he has his own whittle and club in "The Desperate Battle" where the white-haired sea-rovers are on the shore, and a stain's on the edge of the tide; or, trying his art on Laments, he can stand by the cairn of kings, ken the colour of Fingal's hair, and see the moon-glint on the hook of the Druids.
- Neil Munro

After four years of study on the Highland bagpipes at home in northern New York, and just across the border in Canada, the time has come for something bigger. Primary source research is the important thing, and it is with that in mind that I submit this, my proposal for a Watson Fellowship:

I want to go to Scotland. I want to eat, drink, and live bagpipes for a year. I want to immerse myself in their music and culture. What is it like to meet the people whose names you've known for years from battered CDs and LPs in your collection, to talk with them, learn their stories and their tunes? I want to know. I would walk the paths the MacCrimmons walked in the 1500s when they set up their school of piobaireachd, and I would learn their tunes, as well as the Gaelic style of singing them, canntaireachd. I want to go to the Highlands and islands, to the Borders, and search out the best piping masters, and when I have found them, to study and improve my own music through close contact with theirs.

In Scotland, as with Canada and the United States, the pipers play individually or in bands, and they still play dance music-jigs, reels, hornpipes, and the like-as well as marches, airs, and piobaireachd, the classical music of the Highland pipes. The difference comes in the length of time the instrument has been studied. Some of the world's best bagpipers are to be found in Canada, but there aren't so many of them. In Scotland, bagpipes have been studied and played for all kinds of occasions, by people from all walks of life, since the 1400s. There is a living tradition of music that runs through the pipers there, and I want to tap into it.

This past summer, I attended the Kingston School of Scottish Music and Dance, in Kingston, Ontario, a weeklong summer bagpipe program sponsored by the Rob Roy Pipe Band. I talked and studied with some of the very best bagpipers Canada has to offer-indeed, my teachers won many of the worldwide piping competitions of their day. I spent my days in classes on music, history, and instrument maintenance, and my nights at my desk, practice chanter in hand and music in front of me. I learned many new tunes, and the improvement in my technique was shocking. At the beginning of the summer, I was a decent player-at the end of it, I was a medalist in a competition grade higher than the one I'd expected to play.

I loved it. The opportunity for unfettered time to practice, to sit with my instrument and commune with it, was priceless. I made some dear friends, too-pipers are a friendly lot, and we stayed up late talking about this and that every night-but the improvement in my piping was the chief marvel of my time there. I never got tired of playing so much; if anything, I was sad that the days were so short, that time didn't allow a more thorough investigation of the music and technique.

It is for that more thorough investigation that I ask your approval of my application for a year abroad. There is no school that teaches the things I want to learn-many of them teach a few subjects, but I want to take the music and carry it in my heart and blood, meet the people and never forget them, learn some of the language and the way of life. I went to Scotland in January for a week of study in Plockton, up by Skye, and the things I learned cannot be written in books. Long before I went there, I learned the tune "Round About Our Peat Fire Flame". No piece of inscribed paper could have told me what it smelled like to walk over the hills at night, gazing up at the clear northern stars in the blackness that comes when electricity is expensive while coal and peat are cheap. Peat fires are low and quiet, and they produce a smell that is completely unlike any other. It never leaves you, I'm told; it certainly got into my blood. No foreign study at Strathclyde University would teach me that.

So, I will go to Scotland, set myself up with a group apartment in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and study bagpipes privately with the best teachers I can find. My teachers from January, Dougie Pincock and Iain MacFadyen, are good friends now, and have already given me some pointers on which pipers to look up for study. Here are some names of people I hope to visit: Dougie and Iain, at the Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton. Ian Duncan, who lives near Perth, and was the Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl pipe band. Simon McKerrell, who lives in Glasgow and teaches smallpipes and Highland pipes at the Piping Centre there. Dr. Allan MacDonald, a major proponent of the Gaelic piping style, whose research focuses on the relationships between folk songs and the grounds of piobaireachd. The availability of these various players for teaching lessons will doubtless shift, and so my schedule throughout the year will be flexible to accommodate their needs, but I am sure that I will be able to find excellent teachers wherever I happen to be living at the time, be it Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Skye.

A few definitions are probably in order, and this seems a good place to include them. Scottish music, and piping music in particular, divides itself into a number of different categories. First, ceol beag, light music, is mostly dance tunes and marches. Jigs, reels, strathspeys, hornpipes, slides, 4/4 marches, 2/4 competition marches, and 6/8 marches all find their homes here, as do certain kinds of slow airs. This area of music enjoys the most overlap with other musical traditions, be they Irish, Cape Breton, Breton, or Québecois. Next is ceol meadhonach, middle music, which isn't played much these days; so little, in fact, that I can't even find out what it is. Perhaps they know in Scotland. Finally, we have ceol mr, piobaireachd, big music or great music, the classical music of the Highland bagpipe. Ceol mr, or ceol mhor or ceol mor, is idiomatic to Scotland, although it bears some resemblance to the theme-and-variations style of musical composition that was prevalent in continental Europe. A piobaireachdbegins with an urlar, or ground, which is the theme, or tune, on which the piece is based. It is typically slow and emotive, though the grounds vary based on whether a given piobaireachd is a salute, a lament, or something else. The tune continues with a series of prescribed variations, each more difficult than the last, until finally the tune circles back to its starting point, with repetition of the urlar. The problem with piobaireachdis that it cannot be written down. Western musical notation is insufficient to the task of notating the music. The flow of the music, its pulse and heartbeat, cannot be translated to ink on paper-it must be assimilated aurally. It is this sort of learning that interests me so much.

While in Scotland, I will study bagpipes, practice bagpipes, and delve into the archives of music and recordings at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the School of Scottish Studies, and the Piping Centre. I would like to attend a few tutorials at Sabhl Mr Ostaig, the school of Scottish music that is held on Skye. I will learn as many tunes as I can, in their authentic versions, and I will learn the stories behind them.

I want to sit in a pub playing session tunes with the great musicians and learn the people behind the names. In the end, however, it all comes back to the music. I've listened to it for most of my life, wanted to play the bagpipes since I was a year old. The love of music is, perhaps, the most central fact of my being. I want to be part of the living tradition.

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Monday September 30, 2002 Where in life am I?

So, it's been two weeks, and in the intervening time, lots has happened. I should have gone to bed two hours ago, but I can't sleep and I can't seem to concentrate on doing work, so I guess I'll write a bit.

Last night I wrote a paper for my Hebrew Bible class comparing the creation of humanity in Genesis to that of the Babylonian Enuma Elish--specifically discussing the ways in which the newer religion might have seemed more appealing to members of that society, and ways that Genesis takes themes from Enuma Elish and recycles them, weaving them into its own story. It was five pages, written in an hour and a quarter, and I was actually somewhat proud of it--did the whole actually-taking-notes thing, and made an outline for myself, and mostly stuck to it. So that was that.

Not sure whether to write anything about the Watson thing or not. I might as well, since I'm trying to record things here for some purpose or other. I'm in for the next round of interviews, which is cool and deeply terrifying all rolled up into one. Before posting this, I've told my parents, Elizabeth, Susie, and Eileen, and that's it. I'm not sure, at all, whether to post. So many Swatties got letters last week, saying "You have such beautiful dreams. We're truly sorry that we received so many wonderful applications this year, and we're unfortunately unable to pass yours on for further consideration. Good luck in whatever you choose to do" that it seems callous to be proud of making it to the next level. (yes, that sentence does parse.) I hope I'll have the grace, should I get that letter after this round or the next, to be glad for the people who make it, and I hope that if I get a Watson, I'll have some idea about where to begin, and that I'll somehow be a lot braver than I feel.

Talking with Nori tonight about the possibility of dropping our music majors. Just feels like such a hassle with a department that's clearly out of touch with the reality of what it expects of its majors. There's a long list of reasons to go and a longer list of reasons to stay, and I'm not going to make any decision on this in the near future, but suffice it to say that this isn't the first time that these thoughts have come up.

One of the big reasons I'm angry with them is their consistent inability to schedule anything logically. They essentially[1] requiring me to take Conducting, Orchestration, and Score Reading as a fifth class this semester, which they scheduled two weeks in. Aside from the fact that the class doesn't seem like it's going to teach a lot of score reading (it's more a conducting master class), and from the one that I don't have time to do the work much because I had a hard course load before they added on a fifth class, I'm pissed because of what had to go.

I wanted to take Conducting and Orchestration so that I'd be a better arranger for Mixed Company, whom I joined the fall of my freshman year. The ironic thing is that, in combining that class with Score Reading and moving it to this semester from next, the music department filled my schedule so full that I had no real option but to quit the group.

So I'm out of Mixed Company, gone. I won't get a last concert, won't be an eight-semester senior like I'd hoped and planned to be. A lot of it's because of a department full of nice people who are out of touch with reality, lack good communication skills, and couldn't plan their way out of well-lit translucent paper bags with holes cut in them. Maybe I'll regret writing that someday, but somebody ought to be saying it. I am very, very angry at this, and a bit frightened because it seems I'm doomed with this sort of thing regardless of which major I choose. Maybe I'm not cut out for college.

Naw, that's not it. I think it'll be good to be away from here, though, whether it's Scotland or Swarthmore and a job or something else. I used to wonder how friends of mine could possibly have had enough Swarthmore--I'm beginning to get the picture. People here are great, and the atmosphere is invigorating, but the pressure's just ridiculous sometimes, and the professors don't seem to realize that other profs also give you too much work with no notice, and that it's not okay for your class to run fifteen minutes late every time simply because you have something interesting to say, and... aargh.

This is turning into an excessively self-indulgent late-night rant, and so I think I'll end it here. I just wanted to put something new up so that people don't entirely forget I'm around.

No, that's a bad way to end. On Saturday, Elizabeth and I went to Philly, and we did all sorts of neat things, including going to the Italian market on 9th street and getting fresh linguine, which the man cut before our eyes. It was our introduction to fresh pasta, and we're hooked. Fantastic.

[1]: well, no, not required. It's just that we have to pass a score reading exam, whose topics and breadth they refuse to tell us, and that if you don't take the class (like some of the other music majors, who couldn't change their schedules so drastically two weeks into the semester) you have to prepare on your own. So it's not required, it's just that it's required.

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