My Foolish Heart

We interrupt this pretty-great-so-far Tuesday to bring you a temporary Geekout About Barbershop. I’ve started so many blog entries about this art form, trying to convey the joy it gives me and so many others who sing barbershop or listen to it. I still don’t know if that’s possible, but here’s a mini intro. Continue reading “My Foolish Heart”

My Foolish Heart

Pleasant Surprises

I’ve said it before (but not here), but I’ll say it again: Talking about Tchaikovsky and Nietzsche makes me feel like the college student everyone wants to be. Or at least, I feel like the college student I always wanted to be. I have to listen to it and read it, respectively, to be able to talk about it, and for once that’s what I’m doing!

First, I found Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture on my iTunes (one of those moments of musical joy)… but initially that made me feel more like a budding anarchist (because I also realized that V’s symbol in V for Vendetta looks like an upside down anarchy symbol)… so I moved on to the Nutcracker Suite. But that made me feel like a stuffed mouse or a five-year-old, not a college student, so then I moved on to the Swan Lake suite, which I guess feels a little more refined.

Then, I began reading The Birth of Tragedy, and got all excited because its alternate title is “Out of the Spirit of Music,” which is what Life is. And Love. Here, Nietzsche says it best: “In song and dance man expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak and is on the way toward flying into the air, dancing. His very gestures express enchantment. … He is no longer and artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity.”

… Oh my God, why in the world didn’t I use that for my paper last year?!

This one is even better: “Now, with the gospel of universal harmony, each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, and rused with his neighbor, but as one with him, as if the veil of ‘maya’ had been torn aside and were now merely fluttering in tatters before the mysterious primordial unity.” I don’t know what “maya” is, but otherwise, that’s pretty much exactly what I was trying to say last year. AND I DIDN’T GET IT FROM NIETZSCHE!

Actually, that’s kind of depressing. I thought I had a bunch of original thoughts… but of course this philosopher said it better. Well… Maybe not better. I mean, mine DID take up 25 pages, and I am pretty damn proud of it. I spent so many hours of heartache over it, and Nietzsche probably just rattled it off in a couple minutes without much research or soul-searching. At least that means that mine was more personally interpretive and meaningful. …But alas, I am biased.

Pleasant Surprises

Essay #1: Identity

Essay Prompt: In this program we have been exploring the argument that we construct our identity, in part, through conversation. Our identity is not something that we develop internally, but a construct that we create and maintain moment by moment through everyday talk by drawing on linguistic resources, including silence. Look back at our readings and choose at least three chapters or journal articles that you find particularly useful because of the evidence provided. Then, present an argument for the social construction of identity drawing on the evidence you have chosen.


1:             Being one of the dudes: something humans are striving for on a daily basis, whether we know it or not.  Showing solidarity with people is something that is so inherently important to us that we don’t realize we’re doing it simply by saying the word “dude.”  Studies have shown that students, both male and female, use it for commiseration and confrontation (Kiesling, 2004). Indexing masculinity is very important to a man’s identity, both in what his peers think of him and what he thinks of himself. In fact, Scott Kiesling even coined the term “cool solidarity” to refer to the ways the men use the word “dude” to talk to each other (p.286). Kiesling states, “Dude thus carries indexicalities of both solidarity (camaraderie) and distance (nonintimacy) and can be deployed to create both of these kinds of stance, separately or together” (2004, p. 286).

Barbara Johnstone makes a more general observation that, “People constantly create and renegotiate their relationships with each other in the process of interacting, via discourse moves that make claims to equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment” (2008, p. 139). In transforming our identity, we are always analyzing how we are similar to and different from others, and using our analyses to shape our discourse. For instance, the more differences we notice about another person from the beginning, the more likely it is that we will form a detached relationship with them through our conversations.

It is these interactions that base further conversation, which is where we build even more ideas about “equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment.” We find more that we have in common, push boundaries, and make more choices about what to say or not say. Johnstone says, “…however people’s linguistic resources and choices are limited by the ways in which their behavior forms part of the whole ecology of human social life – the fact that participants in discourse are individual human beings means that discourse is fundamentally creative” (2008, p. 157).  Our creativity embodies our identity, and vice versa; even if we limit our creativity by conforming to social norms (like saying “dude”), we are able to make that choice and are therefore using creativity to develop an identity.

Using the word “dude” and repeating other catch phrases, which Ferrara (2004) is quoted by Johnstone as calling “mirroring” and “echoing,” and which is also called backchannelling, “can create rapport, the feeling of harmony among interlocutors which, it can be argued, is one of the primary functions of conversation” (Johnstone, 2008, p. 173). This feeling of harmony is, if not the real goal for any conversation, a genuinely rewarding byproduct of discourse that indicates solidarity. We learn to generate this harmony, thus creating identity.

Essay #1: Identity

The Reason I Go to Chorus

“This,” the director said, snatching a chorus member’s papers, “is not music.” He threw it on the floor. “Music exists only in this immediate moment.”

I smiled in understanding, but I don’t think he saw me. And the evening went on.


A cappella singing is like no other, and barbershop is a special branch that I hold dear. The four parts, from lowest to highest, are bass, baritone, lead, and tenor. The lead part has the melody of the song, and the three other parts are harmony (bass usually as a vocal rhythm, baritone weaving around the melody, and tenor trilling at the top). I usually sing tenor, but one chorus needed basses and I had the ability, so that’s what I sang—and I’m a better tenor for it. It takes so much to be able to produce chords in these choruses. Fundamentally, everyone must be on pitch, but the actual correct singing requires much more: First, one must breathe deeply and in the right place (into the base of the lungs, without raising the shoulders). Next, one must create proper vowel shape with the mouth (there are actually many different ways to say the “oh” sound, for instance) and make sure it matches the other singers’ mouth shape. The singer also has to use “resonation chambers” in the body. It’s like we’re cathedrals, and if you want the best sound you have to sing in the stone hall instead of in the bathroom; you have to sing into the sinus cavities and as if the crown of your head is the Tacoma Dome.

After you create the right note by achieving all that (constantly, and while keeping correct posture and foot position, remembering notes, words, and maybe even choreography, and smiling), your part relies on the others to do the same so that the whole chord may “lock.” Even if every person is technically hitting the right note, the chord may not lock—they must also be doing everything to be actually singing correctly. Then, even if the chord has locked, it may not ring (but that’s unusual).

It may seem too hit-and-miss to even bother trying. But when a chord rings, and when you’re able to hear it while singing rather than just knowing it because of the pleased director, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world. Ringing chords creates overtones, which are notes above the chord that no one is actually singing. They’re clearly audible—it’s not just a mind trick—but also surreal, because for all the work it took to produce the actual chord, no one singer is creating the overtone. It takes the entire group, and those overtones are what we always strive for. When we don’t have an actual audience, the overtones are like the heavens’ applause.

[This is a very short excerpt from the final paper I wrote for my class in our last quarter. As with all the content on my blog, please do not reproduce it in any way, except perhaps with proper citation :) If you ask me, I’d probably be happy to give my permission!]

The Reason I Go to Chorus