Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Archive for October 2011

The W4

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I am facilitating an after school program at Arts & Technology Academy, in the NE.

Coming from Dupont I can either take the bus, along U street, across DC, nipping into a corner of the South East, then over the Anacostia River, and into the North East to reach school; or I can take the Metro subway at Dupont Circle, change at Metro Center, from the Red Line to the Blue, take that to Benning Road, come up onto East Capitol Street, catch the #97 to 53rd and East Capitol, and cross over the few blocks I need.

..or, I can take the W4 at East Capitol Street.

This morning I’d a meeting at ATA at 9AM; connections are never quite as facilitating as you’d want, so I would have to catch the first ‘leg’, of whatever I was taking, by 7:30.

My cup of coffee wasn’t really hot enough; the lack of dawn made this dark of day even more disconcerting; no one should have to face 6:30 AM.

Turning on the TV for the weather and first look at the news was automatic; coffee, news; meeting prep.

But this morning’s realities left me with other thoughts.

A little earlier than my awakening, there had been a murder on the W4; the details, at the moment I caught the news, were sketchy; the bus was on its morning meander through the South East –a gunmen as well; an altercation ensued. The gun was used; someone was killed.

It must be said, the DC Metro system is remarkable; where the subway doesn’t reach, the busses do.

The map of that facilitation looks like the trail of an immense army of jumbling, cross-stitching spiders; a far-flung and restless webbing, traversing the breadth of unseen DC. This is not convenience it is conveyance, as the map reveals no fast rule of rhyme or reason, but a trek of lines that weave through almost every neighborhood, and challenged ward of this city. the slow creep towards light, in these brisk fall mornings, it is not only Federal workers, lobbyists and lawyers who travel these lines –it is families; parents, bringing children and babies to school or kindergarten, who start out even earlier than dawn so as to be able to set their offspring into the right momentum of the day, delivered into safe halls, hopeful of opportunity and education..

In my travel across the District this morning all I could think of was the W4 route, and when I got to East Capitol and 44th Street, NE, all there was to see, on the four vast corners of the boulevard, were bus shelters of kids, young and younger, waiting for a bus..

Daily dangers ply along the lines of communities in this city; daily, parents step out to guide, to work, to lead, to keep the warmth of home just a little longer on the shoulders of their children..

The choices they make, in the chill dark hours of morning, should not have to be open to such harrowing serendipity..


Written by tomminteroffthestoop

October 20, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Wrestling with a word..

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It’s a fine art; a daily function of a writer, of course.

But last night, the wrestling of a word was the spark for a lively after presentation debate by a room full of seasoned academics, savoring the deep intellectual, cultural refractions, ramifications and subtleties, which were presented by such options of choice.

I was invited to accompany a friend to a session of The Smithsonian Forum of Material Culture, meeting jointly with the Smithsonian Music Forum, for its 91st Quarterly Meeting on “Convergence of Cultures through Music”, held at the National Museum of the American Indian.

To be honest, going purely by the title of accreditation, I was not overly optimistic of a high stepping night of entertainment, or fizzy badinage.. But the succinct details of the scope of the presentation, identifying headings such as “Musical Crossroads”, “’Turkish’ Military Music and its Influence East and West”, and “Sound Séance: The 19th Century Grand Tonometer as Inspiration for 21st Century Digital Sound Art” suggested several options for possible engagement, if not new information.

Dr Dwandalyn Reece spoke first, and detailed her current endeavor, as Curator of Music and Performing Arts for the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History & Cuture, to present the broad scope of cultural exchange and influence of African American music, and its roots, as well as the full platform of performance and presentation by African American musicians and musical entrepreneurs, was prodigious, and served as a construct for inquiry, in the follow up Q&A, on how one goes about gleaning the myriad strands of influence and culture, woven through the larger tapestry of culture in which African Americans participate, and present, to every faction’s satisfaction, the full achievement and reach of the exchange, influence and performance history..

Needless to say, this was a huge chew of a subject, and initial foray into the realm of convergence of culture, and Dr Reece’s answers to all the nuances of the task were thoughtful, insightful, contextual and unflinching.

The next presentation was a joint one, given by Michael Wilpers, Ethnomusicologist and Manager of Public Programs, Freer Sackler Gallery, and Cynthia Adams Hoover, Curator Emeritus of Musical Instruments, National Museum of American History, and identified not only the instruments, in 19th century America and Europe which absorbed and evidenced, under the broader rubric ‘Turkish’, origins of influence by Persian and Asian culture, but the original application of music, in the indigenous arenas, of war, society, and celebration.

Steven Turner, Curator of Physical Science, National Museum of American History, led the way into the final presentation, and wryly offered himself as an unblemished Don Quixote, champion and protector of scientific relics, who was unceremoniously unseated from his staunch view by the artistic ‘Sancho’ of Richard Chartier, 2010 Smithsonian Artist in Residence, Digital Sound Artist, who rumbled Turner’s universe (of original application use only), by showing what waves of music awaited in the curator’s holy chamber –specifically, what sensuous and unnerving sounds held in the still, 19th century behemoth, created by French scientist Rudolph Koenig, called the “Grand Tonometre”. This Victorian example of craft and science is an immense presentation of tuning forks, pitch perfect, and set in series, moving in scale from miniscule to magnificent. It was Richard’s imagination that saw this work as instrument to be made song, rather than science to remain static, and the entertainment of his growing relationship, and engagement of the curator of this wonder, was the wit in the tale of the Tonometre’s debut to the ears of 21st century audiences.

Rudolph Koenig's Grand Tonometre

The reach of the session’s parameter though, “Convergence of Cultures through Music”, rocked onto debate, in the after session upstairs, when the question about ‘word choice’ released opportunity to investigate the ‘heat’ words generate; was “convergence” too prejudicial a term –what about utilizing “hybrid”? What exactly was trying to be intimated by the terms that were being applied to “music” here –‘invasion’, ‘interference’, ‘contamination’- what words could be used that did not offer a heated resonance, so that investigation of the depths of influence in music might be discussed without ‘pointing’, or ‘prejudice’?

Suddenly, the realm of music removed of its application for entertainment, showed itself as the lance, the tip of which skewered and collected remnants of sovereign genus; it quivered as weapon, and could be observed as conqueror –all, by identifying the nuances of the word ascribed to its introduction..