Saturday, September 18, 2004

How much Longer?

I wonder sometimes about how long it will take for the "truth" of what happened in Iraq to reach the "average" citizen. For the most part, thanks to the complicity of the Western Press, the reports that we saw on the news and in the newspapers looked like a sterile conflict in which the United States military machine (with their token "coalition") made "surgical" strikes against military targets, without causing any "collateral" damage.

Of course, that is not the truth at all. Many civilians died, and continue to die as they resist the presence of American forces in their country. Do not get me wrong, I am not "pro-Iraqi", nor do I think that Saddam Hussein was a misunderstood despot who deserved another chance. However, does this mean that any country has the moral right to enter another sovereign nation and exert their version of "democracy" upon that population? Absolutely not.

Just as the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, they now install their puppet government in a nation on the other side of the world, all so that they can ensure the free flow of oil to the west.

Let's face it, Colin Powell has announced that there is an act of Genocide being carried out in Africa - but is the United States doing anything about it? Certainly not: They have nothing to gain by doing so. Yet Iraq has oil, and therefore must garner the full attention of American interests.

Lest anyone believe that there are no innocent victims by the actions of George W. Bush, click on the link below and see several examples of the innocence that has been lost forever. How much longer will the American people allow this to continue?

An innocent victim of George War Bush

Friday, September 17, 2004

Has TV lost its moral direction?

This is one of those "pet peeves" types of entries ... the type I usually don't enjoy reading from others (well, I suppose that all depends on the tone involved, but there are times when it seems that when people write completely from the heat of emotion, things end up coming out in terms that are less than memorable). So, now that I have established to myself that I feel somewhat like a hypocrite, what's left to say (and the Catholics thought that they invented guilt and self deprecation! They have absolutely nothing on good, old-fashioned, Jewish guilt).

Lately, as I have been trying to work on various projects that have all been simmering for various amounts of time, the television has been on quite a bit - providing a background noise that is often easy to work with (I live fairly close to a major road, so if there isn't anything on the sounds of traffic can be quite annoying, and as I am often working on music, I cannot listen to the radio or any of my 400 plus CD's). So, what could possibly be worthy of "peeving" about in regards to what is on television? Well, first of all, why is it that no matter where I turn there seems to be yet another re-hashing of the "reality" TV concept? If it isn't the second season of The Apprentice, then its the latest sports-related effort, pitting a bunch of hyped-up knuckleheads against each other as they try to win a shot at the WBO Belt, courtesy of "The Champ", Chavez himself.

The scenarios are so contrived that it seems impossible that "real" people could actually be as stupid (perhaps that word is not so adequate ... ill-mannered and ignorant might better describe what is highlighted in these broadcasts) as they end up being portrayed on these shows ... and if they are, it really makes me wonder what people like Donald Trump are looking for when he goes to hire someone to "run" one of his companies. It would seem that the character of the individual is far less important to The Donald over elements such as their ability to back-stab, manipulate and allow their own bad characters to be hidden behind the lies that they make up about their "team members".

Yet if it isn't shows like that, there is always the newest kid on the block: The Benefactor. What would you do for $1,000,000, or so the question goes .... Well, I'll tell you what I'd do that I'm sure you won't see on this new show: I wouldn't subject myself to the arbitrary judgments of Mark Cuban. The only reason this man is on television is because he has the money, and has decided to "give" away $1 million dollars. Yet, I'm forced to ask myself why this "benefactor" has decided to focus his attentions on a group of young individuals. A "benefactor" is, by definition, one who "has given friendly aid, [a] patron or donor to a cause or charitable institution." Mark Cuban wants to show off to the world because he can afford to, yet he has chosen to select individuals who are not working in fields where the pursuit of the craft does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with great amounts of money. How many artists or composers could live for years and hone their craft if a real benefactor endowed them with the finances to pursue their work - without having to worry about working in some fast-food place because they haven't been able to sell a painting, or because it is nearly impossible to make a living as a composer.

Doesn't it seem far more likely that if Mark Cuban had to select individuals according to their talents there would be far less of a show to be seen? I can't begin to think of the number of talented individuals that I know who would truly benefit from this type of endowment, but instead, we are faced with a cast that looks - for the most part - out of the pages of Vogue and GQ (not that every one of the members is that way, but certainly more than the average seem to be in that vein).

How many times do these shows come on and it seems to be another parade of the "pretty people", with one or two "average" sorts thrown in for good measure. Even the first episode of the latest Survivor incarnation looks like a collection of cast-away models, with a few older individuals thrown in to add to the demographics.

Now, I've taken a look at these shows so it is easy for me to comment on them ... but there have been some other shows airing lately that I wouldn't watch if ... well, I suppose if Mark Cuban were making me a special offer. Shows about families swapping their mothers? What the hell is that supposed to be about (please note - this is a rhetorical question, and I really [REALLY] don't want to know!)? When I saw the ads for that show I was revolted by the whole concept: if two people are married and have children (even if they don't have children), why on earth would they consider "swapping" spouses with people they haven't even met (without getting into the issues regarding "swinging", which I gather is not what this show is about).

Yet, if that were the "worst" that I have (or haven't) seen, perhaps things wouldn't seem so hopeless ... but it just seems to go from bad to worse - if you look closely (just look, don't watch). As show after show seems to take any semblance of morality and sacrifice it for the sake of "ratings" and "entertainment value", we are presented with less and less that seems to be worth watching. Instead of the old saying about "must see TV", I am becoming more and more convinced that this is "must flee TV". The only way to escape these un-reality shows is to explore the true reality existing around us, and letting the "Idiot Box" become part of an energy saving venture.

Oh well ... enough of this, I suppose it's high time to return to the work at hand and get to some "serious" writing ..... more soon.

... and Speaking of Stupid People

Oh yes ... speaking of "reality", please pay attention to everything that is coming out of the mouths of the Republican Party's candidate for President of the United States: how stupid is this man? Does he ever get it right when he speaks, or is he counting on the collective short-term amnesia of America to re-elect him? Take this quote: "I am mindful of the difference between the executive branch and the legislative branch. I assured all four of these leaders that I know the difference, and that difference is they pass the laws and I execute them." George W. Bush, Dec. 20, 2000

How much do you have to study to understand that the "Executive" branch of the Federal government does not mean "execute", in regards to the enforcement of legislation? How can there be a President who is so lacking in basic knowledge that even we Canadian's are familiar with? It seems to me that GWB represents the sort of person that would be lauded as "worthy" of running a nation when everyone's attention is focused on the type of entertainment being shoveled out of the idiot boxes on an hourly basis. Bush is the embodiment of the "dumbed down" America that is taking the express route to the gutter, in all that it does.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Happy CANADA Day **137 Years Old ... and still beautiful!**

For the past few days I have seriously been considering the flaws in our electoral system. I love Canada, truly - I am passionate about this country - the one time I went to Europe, to visit Austria while in university, I was very (very) happy to return home, if only to be in a country where you didn't run across armed soldiers patrolling events where politicians were attending (not armed with pistols, but armed with H&K MP5's - a gun that will make you wet you pants when you see it in the hands of a nineteen-year-old soldier).

Canada represents so many of the things that I believe in, yet has so much promise for more - there is that idea that we, in the great country, are far more than the substance of what we are made of - and that we deserve far more than we get whenever we go to the polls on election day.

The biggest problem with our electoral system is that it does not properly reflect the results of the votes as they are cast. The only proper way to do this is through proportional representation, where every vote cast in an election would count towards the final tally. Ironically, a fine example (though, perhaps not a great example of its execution) of proportional representation in action is found in the way members are voted into the Knesset in Israel.

Instead of having 120 ridings for the 120 members, the country is not divided - every party involved in the election presents their candidates as a list, with the most important at the top (such as the leader, and etc.) descending through to the bottom. In order to elect ONE member, the party must receive 1.5% of the popular vote - and that is ALL (there had been, for a time, a separate vote for the Prime Minister, but they have returned to the One Vote system).

Consider this: on June 28, the Liberal Party received 36.7% of the popular vote - and elected 135 seats. The Conservatives received 29.6%, and 99 seats; the Bloc received 12.4%, and 54 seats; the NDP received 15.7%, and 19 seats, and "Other" received 5.6%, and only 1 seat.

Our Parliament currently has 308 seats, which makes things difficult to calculate from scratch, but based on the population of the country, and the size of the governing body, it would seem reasonable that the minimum vote needed to elect one sitting member should be 0.3% of the popular vote. With that number in mind, the present parliament would change as follows (it would be based on 333 seats):
> The Liberals would receive 122 seats (real: 135)
> The Conservatives would receive 99 seats (real: 99 - amazing)
> The New Democratic Party would receive 52 seats (real: 19)
> The Bloc Quebecois would receive 41 seats (real: 54)
> ... and "other"? there would be 19 "other" seats (real: ... 1)

So, where is the democracy? Does my vote count, when I go into the polling station and have to say to myself, "I want to vote for the NDP, but I can't because I'm afraid if I do, the Conservative might win - so I vote for the Liberal ..." - but, with proportional representation, if I voted for the NDP (or whomever), EVERY single vote would be counted towards the FINAL NUMBER of seats that are sent to the Parliament - THAT is democracy IN action, rather than democracy inaction.

We have taken our system and allowed it to wallow in the bureaucracies that make it so sluggish it can hardly move to save its life - and yet, things seem to happen - when enough people raise their voices at the right time. Perhaps if we start now, by the time there is another general election we will be able to see what would really happen if every vote was counted for its full weight.

Until then, Canada will remain a great country, with an imperfect democracy. But, as it is Canada Day, and the country is only 137 years old - that is hardly ancient, like some of the European nations, but - we're still learning.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

On the Philosophy of Music

Searching for Meaning in Music

Music is empowered to express the ineffable, that which the composer could not simply write as a poem or otherwise say in a few short words, should they so desire. If we allow ourselves to examine a musical composition with the same sense of weight that we scrutinize other forms of art it is possible to see the substance behind the "notes on a page" which are given a life of their own when entrusted to the hands of interpreters: performers who desire to seek out the true intentions of the composer and attempt to represent those intentions through their performances.

As a composer of contemporary classical music, one way that I conceptualize a composition is as a sculpture of sound. As music is performed the sound takes up a physical space: it is real, tangible, and has a substance for the duration of the performance. It could be argued that as the sound waves travel through space the "sound sculpture" exists in a real sense until the ultimate dissipation of the harmonic vibrations which can take eons (if extended to the extreme). Taking the extra step and imagining that the music actually is a representation of a physical presence brings the listener closer to the reality of the process behind the creation of music.

When a composer faces a blank page with only the feeling that they need to compose, and perhaps the vaguest idea of what instruments they want to write for, they look into their heart to find something that needs to be expressed. The conglomeration of notes upon which a composition is made may well be a representation of the deepest aspect of the composer's psyche — or it may be something far less serious: a lighthearted work, conceived for the pure joy of expression. Whatever the case, the music and its creator are inexorably connected. It is also something that can elicit pain at the thought of sharing out of the trepidation and anxiety that it causes — yet through that sharing the composer is uniquely positioned to give, both to the performers and to the audience, with the hope that each would be enriched through the experience.

The power of music is further extended through its eternal capacity to transcend every aspect of the human condition, rising above the mundane, enabling us to see light in the darkest of times. On the surface it is relatively easy to seek some enjoyment from the performance of a piece of music, finding whatever treasures there are at any given time in the composition. There is often, however, so much more behind the music than the obvious: something that the composer may have given a significant amount of thought to represent within the framework of the composition. Contemporary classical music is often much more than the clever arrangement of tones and rhythmic motifs: it is possible through this medium to have works imbued with a philosophy or an ideology. This is not to imply that all music must express a specific idea, but the idea that music is capable as a vehicle for the expression of a particular idea or ideal is certainly nothing new.

Throughout history there are examples of composers using their music to make comments, both overt and hidden. Programme music, being the most obvious example, allows the composer to attach a specific message or story to their composition — either coming before, as an aid to the composer in the conception of the piece or added after the work is complete, as something that was made to fit the finished composition. Anytime a composer attaches a title to a work that departs from "Sonata", "Symphony" or some other non-traditional "classical" appellation and decides to use a descriptive term a door is opened to outside interpretation as to their intentions. We have a natural desire to want to know what something means: it offends our sense of propriety to think that a title has no significance, or if it does, that it's meaning is hidden from us.

As we search for meaning in contemporary classical music we can be aided by one general premise: composers have an unequivocal need to be understood. Obviously there are some composers for which the concept of understanding is not important, but the composers using music as a means of emotional expression or as an attempt at the communication of a particular idea or ideal are, by reason of what they are trying to do, seeking understanding from listeners. We must do more than just listen to the music to fully appreciate what is expressed in the art: today many of the composers are available as living guides to their art, and they are a resource available to any who are willing to take that extra step.

On a Jewish voice in contemporary music:
I have been asked many times about the connection between what I compose and the fact that my ancestors are Jewish. Is there a connection? Am I a Jewish composer, or am I a composer who happens to be Jewish? While it would be easiest to dismiss the question by pointing those interested to certain works of mine which are, certainly, imbued with an overt "Jewishness", whether it be on a musical level or merely at the level of an "intellectual nod" towards the culture, it is not a question that can be easily answered either way. But even then, after looking at the music, there are some things that may not be satisfactorily answered.

The works that I have written, and am writing, which fall into a category that I call memorial pieces represent my effort to keep the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust alive through music. I can say that there isn't any one particular compositional technique, or musical element represented, to symbolize what transpired during that horrendous time in history that saw so much suffering, but it is my enduring hope that the compositions have something that is able to communicate what I felt while composing them.

Each of the memorial pieces was inspired by a very specific event or thing that came across my path (or the other way around, depending on the circumstances): It isn't every day that something can move you enough to feel compelled to compose a new work as a result of it. Thus, when I was so impressed by the various things that led to these memorial pieces, the inspiration stayed with me throughout the creative process, confirming, in my mind, that this was what I needed to be doing at that time.

Perhaps, once we look at the variety of people who are creating music in this day and age, we will recognize that it is impossible to say that in this new millennium there is a single distinctive Jewish voice represented in contemporary music. At the same time, however, it is similarly impossible to dismiss or forget our past: Nor should we. The history of the world is replete with the tragedies caused by those who had forgotten, or ignored, the lessons of the past. It isn't my role as a composer to preach lessons of history, but at the same time, I feel a responsibility to not allow the past to be forgotten.

This is part of being a member of the human race: being connected to people around the world and the cultures that influence the world. As far as "being Jewish", and being a composer, this also means that there are times when my music does have something to do with my cultural background as well as with the history of the people. However, there are more times when the music is just that: Music. The essence of being becomes a part of the message.

For as long as the music is performed, the composer lives.

Long Silence Broken

Well, after such a long silence one would think that I'd completely forgotten about the fact that I even had a blog, let alone had any intention of contributing to it again. The truth of the matter is that I hadn't forgotten, but things sort of ran away on me, and every day that I thought "today I will write a blog", something else would happen, and the next thing I knew another day - then week - then month would go by ... until it got to the point where I had all but let it fall by the wayside.

There is something about this forum that really appeals to me, however, and I really don't want to lose the opportunity to access the potential readers here who may, or may not, agree with my point of view on various points of discussion. Thus, I am going to try to make a concerted effort to contribute on a regular basis to this "column", in the hopes that people will find a reason to check back with some regularity - seeking what has been posted.

Tonight - or, should I say, this morning, the thing that I am most concerned with is the federal election that just occurred, here in Canada. The people of this country have seen fit to give the Liberal Party of Canada a minority mandate with which to form a government. For several reasons, this is something that both grieves me, but also comforts me - to the point that I cannot decide whether I should be celebrating or drinking myself into a stupor.

A reason to celebrate (and, for that matter, drink myself into a stupor), is that the "new" Conservative Party, under the "leadership" of Steven Harper, has been denied a mandate. I have been in several discussions regarding this "new" party, and I always say that I wouldn't be so worried about them if they were really "conservatives", but the party is the amalgamation of the Alliance Party and the Reform Party - which is full of xenophobic racists who oppose the Canadian Human Rights Act - and would have had Canada send troops to the Persian Gulf in support of a war against Iraq's people, in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction that the Bush administration stated, in 2001 (at the time of the inauguration) that "they did not have". The "new" conservative party represents the worst of the three organizations that came together, with candidates that needed to be muzzled during the election, for fear that they might say something controversial (which happened enough to reveal their true colours to those who paid attention).

The fact that a minority government was elected gives me pause for the reason that, on the surface, there doesn't seem to be a reasonable combination of support for the Liberals to work with, given the distribution of representation. Minority governments can either be very effective, providing excellent representation for their constituents, or they can be "lame duck" governments, floundering around until the inevitable non-confidence vote which results in another general election - and another major bill for the Canadian taxpayer.

Should the NDP and the Bloc decide that it is in their best interest to work with the government, they will be able to promote some of their pet projects, including health care and the environment (NDP), transfer payments and education (NDP & Bloc) - but - will they see this as an opportunity for that sort of advancement, or will they choose instead to "play politics" and grandstand, taking every opportunity to "look good on camera" during question period. Should this be the route they take, I fear that the government will find itself shackled - totally impotent and unable to move on any legislative materials - even those acts that the NDP would have wanted to enact on their own.

Minority governments are only able to work when those involved are willing to set aside their egos, and act in the best interests of the people who elected them.