An Invention: For Concerts of Classical Music

This is something I do at home alone to the music called “Classical Music”. It is good exercise. It is participatory. It demonstrates to me, myself, and I how much I appreciate, love, and revere that kind of music, ever since I was, oh, maybe, six or eight years old, when I found the large records of Mme. Schumann-Heinck hidden in an old, 78-rpm Victrola at a lake cottage in the 1930s. And that smell of oil lamps burning is remembered even today, in my olfactory sense dating way, way back. (Regarding “smell”, I once “complimented” a girl, much to my chagrin, as I danced with her, that she reminded me of the wonderful smell of the barnyard in the country farm I was privileged to visit once — with never an invite for a return visit. Same for the young lady. On reflection, I am mortified. (Simple, naïve, ingenuous, innocent, honest, tactless, etc. But I do love that smell, amended by hay.) The girl shunned me ever after. Pretty, too.

Are There Such Beings as “Closet Conductors” Out There?

I have no other musical skill, save this here described. I sing, whistle, hum, and wave hand and body a lot, aloud or sotto voce in crowds

I commend this as an audience-participation event at any concert once a season or every other season. The orchestra will play “Finlandia”, for example, announced in an article well before the concert. The audience is invited to come forward as guest conductors. I am sure very few will do this. But, perhaps, it might be arranged in advance to have one or two persons to come forward. As “plants”? Just a few to start the ball rolling. If the plants see that a few are doing it as instant volunteers, then the “plants” might not come down. (If such a stunt were successful, then the orchestra could safely drop the “pump-priming” bit. Such a concert might prove successful and need no “bit”. It might flop or it might be eagerly anticipated. Eh? I am thinking simply of people “getting into the act” and suggesting it as another form of “exercise”, of body, of mind, of fantasy.

The volunteers (I hope that there would be at least two) should be invited to come forward, face the audience and begin with conductor’s downbeat to improvise their interpretation of gestural commands to the melody and harmonies and orchestrations, and of all and sundry of orchestra directing for the music selection chosen by the regular director. The “director” in everyone should have its day! Could it be a crowd-pleaser? Should the audience applaud the “winner”, as determined by a hand above the head of each performer. It must be the audience-participation event of the year. Everyone may get into the act.

This would demonstrate how deeply classical music can get into the blood and body of a person. I know, by heart, hundreds of melodies and harmonies and orchestrations attending to the sections of string, woodwind, brass and percussion parts taken into memory from music called “classical”, operas, arias, ballets, symphonies, string quartets, concertos, songs, tone poems, marches. I have never heard a concerto for juice-harp, or kazoo, or penny-whistle and orchestra.

This is my “wild hair” for the day, a wanna-be conductor given the performance chance of a life-time. There may actually be seen some very fine and nuanced and seemingly expert and very dramatic acts of many who have never had that opportunity, until NOW! From someone who shines shoes for a living. Or throws pizza dough into the air. Or whistles classical melodies a lot, along with the accompanying orchestration of string, woodwind, brass or percussion ditties.

I must tell you this. At around the age of twelve, I took part in an amateur contest for youngsters in the elementary and junior high level, to be held in the auditorium one evening, so parents might attend. I won second place. The first place winner went on eventually to become first chair of the violin section, and concert-master for the South Bend (In.) Symphony Orchestra. (Rocco Germano) What was my talent? I “imitated” the famous selection, the “Waltz of the Flowers” from the “Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovsky, jumping from featured orchestral instrument to instrument. The second prize was a blue, Kodak box camera. I could not afford to buy the film for it and got only a few pics from the demonstration film that was in the camera when handed to me. To tell it now, it seems very unlikely. But thus spake the judges.

It sorta fits this essay about anyone and everyone wanting to “conduct” a large symphony orchestra. I’d bet there are many who have that fantasy, turning on the radio at home and waving their hands artistically. If you don’t, it’s not really in your blood.

This is my snowball-in-hell contribution for the day.

I must say this: I have become very proficient at following, with my hands and arms flailing, all of th movements that go into and with the orchestration of the music, my mimicry evoking every nuance of emotion to be extracted from the orchestral parts, exactly what the composer has reached for and hoped would be perceived.

HOWEVER!!! (Some time later. NOW: 3/12-2015) Since I wrote the preceding, I have had a brainstorm to further this concept. I believe that there are “closet conductors” out there, who like to gesticulate along with the classical music piece to which they are listening with a very high level of involvement. For instance, the “New World Symphony” has very familiar passages, for great melodies to hum. I would ask the conductor to invite “guest conductors” in the audience to stand and “conduct” with phrase-appropriate hand and arm movements, just as if they were leading the orchestra, standing on the conductor’s podium. An audience-participation concert! It would be fun to watch such an exhibition of people getting “bodily” into the spirit of the music. I do it at home, where I can nuance every familiar orchestral passage, just having to express the depth of my feeling of the music. I catch the orchestration pretty well. It’s fun. (Good exercise, too.)

Youth and Maturity Tested Using a Game-Theory Protocol

If you ever have the opportunity to have a conversation with a young person, as I did with one who is about to make a change from high school to a college setting as a freshman in the fall, you might want to understand the student’s readiness for a significant advance in social and intellectual expectancies. Although understanding is not correcting. How you work with that understanding, if it happens to be a concern, is a difficult task. There will be a growth spurt, and the student should understand that and be ready with expectancies for change, and having a successful transition. To that end, I have a concept of game theory that can be used to take notice of a person’s level of readiness for the experience. Mental maturity, to handle the challenges of study and learning, may not be the major issue with your young one.

Testing the social maturity is to see what sort of personality the student will take into the new experience. You may already have made some pre-judgments by observations of the prospective college student’s interactions with his or her high school friends over the last four years. Presently, he or she is a product of the high school culture, which is probably rather standard throughout the public school systems in many places. I would call it adolescent groupiness that uses strong stereotyped judgments of “classes” of people. (Such as, pointing to some unfortunate person with the general perception, “O, he’s a dumb jock” or “She’s a slut.” Etc.) Such treatment of a member of the secondary school culture perpetuates stereotyping and may be a characteristic of the adolescent level of social maturity. I think the “adolescent” level of maturity ought to be left behind for the young adult plane of performance.

That type of socially inept adolescence probably speaks for aspects of the uncorrected conditions in the student’s home that developed such offhand labeling of another person. What causes one person to look down on another person with some sort of condemnation, regardless of the truth or falsity of the appelation, some evidence of such snobbish immaturity probably comes from the home and/or the “gang”. Such pre-judgment acts are socially acceptable within the “gang”, and perhaps in the home as well, taken from parental influence, mother and father effects, wealth and indulgence effects, among others, but especially from the student’s peers.

I am not reporting results of scientifically controlled studies. These are simply my empirical observations and summary judgments.

I do use a game-theory principle to organize and somewhat “measure” the levels of maturity I can observe in others. There are four levels, denoted and defined, thus:
(1) The “PATIENT” perspective in any situation, as the onlooker or member of any audience, or the fan sitting in the stands, in the auditorium; simply receiving the acts going on; onlookers uninvolved in the main action;
(2)The “AGENT” perspective in any situation, as the player in the competition, the highly partisan performer on either side, an almost infantile, self-centered aspect of one’s outlook;
(3) The “RECIPROCATOR” perspective in any situation, which is the view of the coach with the competitive game plan based on anticipated knowledge of the opposing game plan; the reciprocator manages the partisanship on one side of the competition by astute judgments of the elements of the conflict coming from the other side; the consumate chess player. There is a certain mutuality in this view, a tit-for-tat interplay of interests, and in the coaches’ views are the mutual appreciations of the tasks; coach competitors are friends in the brotherhood;
and (4) the “REFEREE” perspective, the field judge, flag thrower, rule enforcer, the grand, overall perspective of the critic, the reporter, any judge, any aesthetician who knows the art and beauty of the game and “punishes” by calling out those despoilers of the beauty of the game, or the trashing of any of the rules.

With those definitions in mind, I started up a conversation with a young man. I chose a subject that I knew would interst him. I showed that I was interested in his point of view on a subject that was an important interst of his, a certain singing group of some British boys. I tried to bring up every facet of his opinion on that group.

In our conversation, I was hoping that he would show some reciprocal interest in my side of the issue of music and singers. I knew beforehand that he actually expressed a hate for the classical music and opera that I prefer.

At that point in our talk, I would have made the judgment (in the terms of game theory) that he might have the opportunity to represent a more mature, reciprocator view of our interaction. I hoped for it. I wanted it because I wanted the chance myself to expresss what I see and feel in the so-called classical form of music and opera. He could have gone farther afield and considered his conversational partner having some preferences, likes and dislikes, and a desire to express them. That is my understanding of what constitutes evidence of a more mature personality. That would have been a showing of mutual respect, which I would call a quality of the more mature social personality, the very important trait of more mature people, a special caring for others in any interaction.

I believe that the more mature personality will gain much and make greater progress in human relations, and that may make a person more employable, or useful, or desireable for a number of purpopses.

The question is, was he too young to have learned that quality? Could that, or should that have been learned in high school, at the age of 17 or 18? My guess would be that that perspective might have been taught in the home at a younger age than 18. We do not all succeed in that.

We might have ended up discussing the qualities and functions of two different types of music, and we both may have enlarged our music appreciation. He will not be staying in a dorm, as I did my first year on campus. In the dorm, late night dicussions constitute one of the great educational experiences young philosophers can have for their intellectual maturation. The big part of that is taking in the views of a great many different backgrounds, and giving as well as your taking. Taking the measure of the competition.

Well, he is young. We’ll see.

I believe that such a view of game-theory is a simple and handy reference for determining what is going wrong and what is going right in human interactions. When the level of a person’s performance in a conversation is ascertained by that method of observation in the on-going dialog, you may be able to lift the conversation to a higher, and more valuable plane of interaction. It is assumed that the higher plane is a more valuable plane for both participants. If the conversation is “retarded” by a more immature partner, then you may feel the need to instruct the partner by explicitly suggesting some movement toward a more rewarding level of talk. If that is seen by you to be difficult for your fellow conversant, then do not push it.

Classical Music and a Discovery

It is melody that brings the ultimate magic to music. And what lies behind that magic? It is memorability. Memorability I define as a special string of notes on the music staff having an inherent capability of making that string memorable, easily recalled, for the purposes of the individual admirer in humming, whistling, or any other vocal or sub-vocal recounting the notes of that melody, wherever that person may be without any artist musician to play that string, at work, at play, drowsing before sleep, recalling an emotion attached to the meaning of that emotion, accompanied by knowing and hearing in some background all the harmonious instrumentation buttressing the melody and especially the beat.

I, personally, have hundreds of melodies stored in my memory for humming and whistling along, from opera, concertos, symphonies, art songs, marches, ballet suites, oratorios, sonatas, masses, tone poems, — you name it! And I know all the flourishes of orchestration that go with the melodies, imitating the carrying instrument. I know exactly where the melody is going and how it goes. That quality associated with that composer is an immortalizing quality, given to that composer for his eliciting strong emotions that accompany the melody. That music almost instantly becomes a classic, meaning, without doubt, long “staying power”. Emprasarios (Spanish for entrepreneur) seeking to mount an opera production, know what turns people on. The melodies in all sorts of music stick in memory. There are two kinds of composers, in my book, those who have it and those who wish they had it, the art (intuition) of the melody, the “master stroke”. Wagner’s opera, Die Meistersänger von Nürnberg, dramatizes the art of melody-making, one character who has it and one character who missed that boat. Some melodies please me to tears of enjoyment, such as the last scene in Der Rosenkavaklier by Richard Strauss, among many others. The heart is deeply involved and affected.

In classical music, for me, there is more complexity in the text of the classical orchestration. Opera provides words, making the context more specifically tied to the melody. I do not demote in any way the melodies in popular music. The current effect in popular music is the very, very, very strong BEAT, incessant, extreme, pounding the melodies to death. The beat is a slave-master whipping any melody within an inch of its life. The beat and its extremely loud perpetrators say it all, for this generation of youth. It hangs like a dose of cigarette smoke or a haze of hemp over the youth of our time.

I have a special appreciation for Miss (I kid you not) Winifred Wunderlich (a German word for strange, odd, singular, but I always took for WONDERFUL), my fifth grade teacher of music, who required a notebook of all the great composers with pictures.

I once saw on a television program a classroom of the very young sitting and auditing a small group of male and female opera singers singing famous operatic arias, quartets and choruses. Think of those great, strong, powerful, male and female voices belting out great melodies of opera in a small elementary classroom. Those children were enthralled. I must say, they may have been made opera fans for life with that life-forming experience. They never again will demean the art form of opera, an ultimate form of classical music.

I wish to define for you what I hear as “classical” music. Let me begin by saying that “Classical Music” is NOT a period-of-history thing. It had a historical beginning time, but it has flourished ever since, with phases.

I have fully appreciated classical music since I discovered it at about the age of five-eight. My brother and I were playing with a Victrola. That is a very, very old player of recordings. It was a cabinet that was as tall as I was at that time. Put a 78 RPM (rotations per minute) recording on the turntable, turn on the rotation lever, and set the needle down on the outer groove. There was some scratching noise and then whatever intended sound there was on the recording began to be heard through something like a megaphone. The needle may have been either metallic or reed. The former lasted the longest. They had to be changed often.

We were at a cottage on a lake in northern Indiana. Our lighting was by kerosene lamp, which had a distinct oily smell when burning. It gave a very rich light, not white, but sort of creamy, and it flickered when a small gust of air hit the flame, tho it was protected by a glass vase, ever darkening from cast off dark smoke from the flame.

Every last week in July and the first week in August was my father’s choice for a vacation by a lake, usually going north into Michigan. He loved to fish. We were taken along as his grunts to row to the spot which he believed was the spot for best luck. When he finally bought a motor, we were asked, no, told to lug that to the boat that went with the rental cottage.

We usually got up at break of dawn around five a.m., ate a breakfast of eggs and toast, and then geared up the boat and headed for the spot where we had put an X on the boat to mark the best spot; no, actually using the shoreline markers cross-referenced. If they weren’t biting, his sure-fire cure was to take out the Bull Durham tobacco pouch and start to roll a cigarette. In the middle of that he once or twice had a bite and the tobacco went flying, so that was his physical mantra for catching one.

Other than fishing and swimming, I enjoyed playing the old Victrola, listening to whatever the owners had on hand. There was a recording of arias from operas, performed by Mme Schuman-Heink, whose discography ranges from 1906 to 1930. That was my first experience of what was called “classical” music, quite different from popular music. The latter could be heard everywhere. The former was rare. But what did I know!

Classical music is “art” music, as opposed to “popular” music. The two general classifications, in my mind, are separated by simplicity and complexity in lyric or message, melody, rhythm, instrumental ensemble, orchestration of the piece, length, structure, harmony, and more. (I am not a musician. I sang in choirs, but I do not read music.) You can read more distinctions by going to Wikipedia under “classical music”.

Listening to Schuman-Heink on that recording took me to a life-long affair with that kind of music so different in many ways. Somehow it separated me somewhat from the crowd of popular music lovers. I was not aware of popular music of that time, the thirties. I was basically “music-less”, except for church hymns and childhood rhymes and jingles. I liked popular music a bit, but I had found a new dimension of delight in music that seemed more important somehow. I once, probably in about the fourth grade, Battell School (K-6), Mishawaka, IN, won second prize in an amateur contest imitating the orchestral instruments playing Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers”. (Prize: A blue Kodak box camera. But I couldn’t afford the film at Went’s Drug Store.)

Most of the melodious classical music I can hum along with. I might be able to lead, not follow, a symphony orchestra, in several pieces, all the great works I have heard over many years. I have a large repetoire of orchestrations in memory. Well, okay, not lead, but follow very closely, almost like leading in many places.

But just today, as old as I am, I discovered a new distinction for classical music. I had my favorites in the classical part of my music experience, and then there were those classical compositions I did not care for very much. Listening to the local classical music broadcasts of the Public Broadcasting Station, I began to distinguish two bins of what I liked and what I did not like. So, just today, I was able to find word-labels for my distinction: “emotional” versus “technical” classical music. The emotional type is music I can more closely identify with by humming the melody, detecting the rhythm, and the instrumentation. I find little melody and rhythm that is memorable in the technical stuff. The radio station plays the emotional type, but then it becomes a matter of playing music round the clock 24/7/365. Those stations have to fill a lot of air-time. The filler tends to be the technical type, small ensemble and specialized instrument pieces played overnight and early a.m., for which there is also a large audience, but not me. That’s when I turn to my recordings, where I can find all the emotionally satisfying music adorned with classical melodies, rhythms, orchestrations, and “emotional coloring” in volume and rhythm variety.

I do have a large collection of popular music, but with a distinct taste for the classic popular music of Broadway and film classics and the popular music of the Forties, classic popular which had “great”, for me, lyrics and melodies. The definitive tune for me was, and is, Cole Porter’s “So in Love”. I memorized that and once sang it to my wife at dinner. (I still sing it to all I have left of her, pictures and a portrait.)

I am having a hard time picking out the elements that appeal to me. I am not a musician. I do not know the “lingo”.

The technically classical music is probably found interesting only by musicologists and the players who have a variety of technical skills to showcase. At certain times of the day’s broadcasts, the classical music is a dull heap of ups and downs, fast and slow, dots and dashes, dittys and dottys, virtuosic jumbles adding up to, “well, okay, but have I been improved in mood, exhilaration, recognition and reinforcement?”

There are elements of music that are punched up to capture that youth demographic, a lucrative market. What must music have to please youth? The beat. The loud, incessant percussive beat. Music for youth is now actually stereotyping youth having a common denominator musical imbecility in the sexual power of the beat associated with youth. How many younger adults also have that adolescent character? Some of that character there is in and about technical, classical music. It is a complex composition of classical music to use mechanically composed tricks of instrument and rhythm for the practice of instrumental virtuosity. I hear more woodwind and percussion instruments in the kind of classical music I call technical classical music, without much blend with string and brass instruments.

Nah! It’s just a technical rant. Much ado about nothing. The sure sign of a technical composer with few ideas for melody, or should I say little talent or genius for melody, except shaking peppercorns on a sheet of paper and where they stick on a staff, play that!

(O my! That’s cruel! Sorry, guys. Grind away. I will listen. But it just makes the non-technical stuff stand out more. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up and hit the radio “on” button to hear what’s playing. Technical stuff, mostly. Off button. Back to sleep. Now, today, it’s Mahler, “Das Lied von der Erde”. Ah, the romance of melody and orchestration. That’s classical. I’ll hum the rest because it’s memorable, easily memorable, no arbitrary, technical ups and downs. The mood is romance.)

I actually feel sincerely sad for everyone who does not have the beauties of the more complex music echoing in their everyday memories of the magnificence of the splendid and grand and ennobling, exalting joy I feel in listening to the richest, emotional sort. It is a superior carrier of emotional variety, and I am a glutton for it.

In sum, The heart of truly “classical” music being the melody, what melody is so important in giving the listener, is in these outcomes, besides the ones I have already noted: popularity where orchestras love to play and soloists love to sing because they take a free ride on the popularity of the piece; instant recognition, in hearing the audience stir with excited anticipation; natural, but of course; instinctive in hitting a resonance in the mind; suspension in time, please do not ever stop; living in the moment, the highlight of my day; timelessness, always there especially in these days of recordings with time, place, artist favorites. Haunting, like a ghost in the room always there. Moody, uplifting beauty.

Do not hate it. Try it. At first you may hit the wrong ones. Find one piece as an entry, and go from there, exploring. The melody is the treasure buried and always looked for. If a composer cannot invent a melody, he can always fall back on technical static in the background. Melody separates the virtuoso from the artist. I guess if you are the virtuoso, you do not want to compete with the composer, so you bypass the works known for melody and take up those works known for something else like the technical skill required to play them. (I feel a whole bunch of hate mail headed my way.)

May I take a moment to excoriate the background music found in most movies for screen or television. The producers have gone insane by asking composers and orchestras to produce organized noise for dramatic enhancement. What they have done is to obliterate the dialog in favor of giving their dramas more “heft”. They know not what they do. They are driving away understanding to get “heft”? Poor slobs.

BOTTOM LINE: It is melody that brings the ultimate magic of attraction to certain works of musical composition. It brings memorability of that special string of notes one can whistle, hum, even hear in the mind’s capacity to hear without any sound. Only a list of special composers have that ability. You can name them, easily. All composers are looking for that string. I believe that, when Brahms sat to compose his Requiem, he intuited those strings of melody from the artfulness implanted at some time and in some special way in his brain’s mind. And the same for Mozart in his Ave Verum Corpus; he had it. Every composer wants IT. Not every composer gets it, that magical intuition. I’ll bet it is the greatest feeling on Earth to click with IT, that magic, and know you have done it. And the assurance that you can do it again. And again.

Am I getting too snooty for you? Perhaps, yes. Ah cain’t hep it.

If you ever intentionally seek to teach the young to gain, for life, an appreciation for classical music, I hope you start the instruction by exposing them to those compositions that have the greatest melodic lines and that have been used in the popular media, such as cartoons, Christmas stories, patriotic programs, and so forth. It works best if there is a sixth grade teacher who asks pupils to make a small scrap book of composers, pictures, and programs of classical music.

To review: What was my discovery? “Technical” classical music. Technically speaking, it is music classified as “Classical Music”, technically speaking. Filler stuff, if you broadcast 24-7-365. And for those who have a special appreciation for the technical virtuosity of the performers.

“Rigor”, They Say, in Schooling for the Young!

Just the other day, came the conclusion stated in no uncertain terms by several commentators on a televised news show. They were reflecting on the latest data about young people in the United States not having a competitive advantage over the young in many other countries around the globe. Especially in writing, math and science skills. If those data are reliable conclusions, which from the citations of the studies I heard (but did not make note of) appeared to me to be excellent sources, then I thought of my own experience in the public schools.

I received a diploma in three and a half years on the basis of extra credits earned from extracurricular activities. Good thing, too, because I was drafted after three and a half years of secondary school. I got my diploma the day I was required to register. A month later I was going to basic infantry training. My high schooling was not rigorous. There were several easy ways out of those (for me) rigorous courses. I was not then ready for the rigors of serious learning, lacking motivation and skill.

The service increased my motivation and gave me the G.I. Bill for three and a half years of college. So far so good. I was highly motivated to study, military service inspired. I had a brain craving, probably from, o, uh, inheritance, and a self-developed prudence, too. I think prudence and inheritance came from my mother who let us boys develop without much fuss, or “officiousness”. Motivation is what moves you to go after something you want to have. Beyond grunt, grinding labor. Before being drafted, I worked in a factory making raincoats (the heavy smell of rubber) for the army, and before that glueing joints (the noxious, piercing smell of glue) for putting together chairs in a furniture factory.

Two weeks after separation from the service, I was enrolled in college taking two courses in the summer session.

Now Comes the RIGOR

My beginning higher education would be a model of RIGOR in education. In high school I had read only one or two simple novels. I simply brought nothing to the first university course I signed up for. I had a comic-book background. Literally.

Those two beginning courses launching my tertiary education set the table. There was no better beginning for introducing me to the nature of higher education, a German language course and a course in the English novel.

The German course taught me a foreign language as well as the basic structures of language, with transfer of training to a better understanding of my native English language, and fine writing skills in matters of form. That course in the history of the English novels, as they say, blew my mind. We read one novel for every two meetings of the class, that being every week of the session, taking them chronologically. It was an elegant introduction to the many niceties and refinements of the English language. My vocabulary zoomed into the stratosphere! The stories were those you may see on PBS television, Masterpiece Theatre. (Theatre, the art. Theater, the building. Me, ever the didactic!)

  1. Daniel Dafoe: Moll Flanders
  2. Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
  3. Samuel Richardson: Pamela
  4. Henry Fielding: Tom Jones
  5. Tobias Smollet: Roderick Random
  6. Lawerence Stern: Tristram Shandy
  7. Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar of Wakefield
  8. Jane Austin: Pride and Prejudice
  9. Sir Walter Scott: Quentin Durward
  10. Charles Dickens: David Copperfield
  11. William Thackeray: Vanity Fair
  12. Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
  13. Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers
  14. Charles Reade: The Cloister and the Hearth

And I was just out of the army! My associations there were, well, unrefined, coarse, unelegant. I later took a course in the Russian novel in translation, against the background of our cold war after the war, with the same setup for a lot of reading. Have you ever read War and Peace? Later I found it easy to tackle on my own Moby Dick and From Here to Eternity, both huge tomes.

Later I took a similar, but not as rigorous course in the American novels. Also, a good way to get a sense of history, of England, Russia, United States.

Today I have three university degrees, the B.A., and two advanced degrees. I really learned how to study, and read, and write. I learned not to shrink from heavy educational undertakings. I think back with the satisfaction of having taken on all that academic work. Me! I failed the fifth grade! They said it was because of my attitude toward school. My family had moved from the Northside to the Southside, and I missed all my friends on the Northside. It was attitude that did me in. But I went on to eventually teach at all the higher levels of education. Even now, I cannot believe it, in reminiscence. A lot of very hard work studying.

To me, that is what is meant by “rigor” in intellectual development and study. Rigor has its rewards. The moral of the story? Rigor in educational pursuits is ultimately not the system coming down hard on the young and imposing a harsh regimen. No. Rigor has to be mostly the choice of the learner finding within himself or herself the energy of motive power to take on the educational tasks with the most rewards in the end. Rigor should be self-selected. It is there for the taking.

Rigor as Second Nature

Before seeing my first bullfight in Mexico, I read thirteen books about it. I knew the bullfight pretty well when I enetered the plaza for the first. “Suerte, Matador!” I once went to a Spanish class in the high school where I taught to discuss it with students. I have not seen one for a very long time.

In another case of a reading approach to problems, I adopted a habit of “bibliotherapy” that has helped my almost curing and definitely controlling a diagnosis of adult-onset diabetes. All thanks to that rigor-inducing English novel course.

O, yes. One more thing. I am not a speed reader. I read very slowly, word by word. I know there is much to be said for speed reading even beyond the fast pace. Sometimes I try to skim as speed readers do. I had the feeling of missing a lot, of missing the depth. But time was surely saved. My old habit will never be replaced. Also, as a typist, I am a hunt and pecker, more pecker than hunter, I say, for a chuckle. I have typed that way the equivalent of, o, perhaps, two or three or more huge books. A rigorous dedication is necssary, for all that. If I lack some essential skill, there is always rigor pushing for an adequate work around.


The young person should have incentives, yes, positive motivational influences. There are two sources, internal and external, or intrinsic and extrinsic. Motivation that comes from within the person put alongside inducements coming from outside the person appear to be what I had, first, in my desire to rise above what I had in the service and in my labor experiences, wanting something immensely better, and second, the G.I. Bill assistance to get me started came from the government, I was ready to go, and go I did!

Thank you, America! The American government helped make my life what it is today. Not only with the public school system, but with the assistance toward a university education. (All emnating from the often overlooked General Welfare aim of American society as provisioned in the Preamble to our social contract. And I am thinking here of all the Vets coming back into the American society, battle scarred or horribly maimed.)

Something else lifted me. In the background. Something pretty. Something that helped me get the spirit of poetic beauties of language and of society. There is plenty of roughness in life. You see, hear, and feel something that grates against your spirit, gnaws at your disposition, fragments your emotions, chafes at your equanimity, irritates or tries your patience. You feel you are coming apart. You want something to reintegrate, pull yourself together. I found early in life the emotional lift that comes from advanced and classical culture. (I am not a snooty, stuck up person!)

Whatever that may be for you, for me it was something that put me in a minority, what most people do not favor. I discovered creations of the highest forms of excellence in music that have lasted many generations and never appear to fade out with time, the classic forms of music. The people who propagate this music from one gneration to the next are faithful and dedicated in a passion that will not die. They, like me, are lifted by this experience knocking off the rough edges of everyday life, with beautiful music.

The young have to be eager to take on the rigorous school work that will make them the highly cultured person that they may become, and enjoy being for a lifetime of knowing what they have risen to, and become. They also have to exhibit aspirations, to aim high, and for that they need encouragement, not so much from others, but from the success they have felt from their own exertions and successful advancement which they may look back and see. Listen for the evidence in their own observations and evaluations about where they are with success. Modesty does not have to be complete self-effacement.

Now, regarding the math, which is part of the demand for rigor. I had not much acquaintance with math; I was at the arithmatic stage. But later, as a professor, I felt that I should not shirk doing scientific types of studies. So I dove in the numerical soup, a study that looked at the probability of relationships of variables. I learned a lot, enough to hone a scientific approach to problems, in a study with colleagues having sophisticated skills, as teachers helping me understand the control of observations or control of variables. I did not remain an outsider to that type of knowledge.

My purpose has been to write about submitting myself to the rigors of mental effort. For that, you have to be a self-starter. Submit yourself. Do not go like slaves scourged to a dungeon of rigorous toil. But, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach the rigors of your task like one who wraps the mantle of seeker about himself and rises up to the rewards of expert proficiency. (To paraphrase the last verse of “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant.)

Sounds like I’m boasting. Well, that may be. I did it! I do not know who or what was guiding me. My intuition perhaps. A desire for going with the higher and heavier culture that started with classical (heavy) music at a very, very young age, “sensitizing” me to something extremely complex and beautiful, energizing me like a shot in the arm. Because something in my mind recognized such harmonious complexities of instrumented stimuli having something extraordinarily difficult and “artful” varieties out of the ordinary to present. Being high culture does not mean I lost any common touch. Those gears are shifted like gears in a car engine, making one bi-cultural. And I believe others might take the hint, taking on a big load of language immersion. The brain has to be trained, disciplined in diversity. I recommend others see the basics in language proficiency, foreign and domestic. My after-thought is, I did it right! Culture is in the code systems; music and language are code systems. Remember, the fetus has been observed in the womb responding to classical music being played near the mother. How’s that for starters!