Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No Well Trodden Path for You...

Throughout most of my life and throughout most of my intellectual and academic life (they are different species, by the way) I have almost always strayed off the beaten path. I have never been a yes man, I have never wanted to be a yes man, and I have almost always been forthright throughout my life. I was, after all, raised in Anabaptist country. I suspect that all of this is why almost all bureaucracies I have had the fortune and misfortune to interact with, including educational ones, have not really provided me with a "career" (a good bourgeois term if ever there was one) path.

So how now have I strayed off the beaten academic path? When I was a Religious Studies student I strayed away from Biblical Studies in the direction of Hermeneutics and Social Theory. When I was an American Studies student I strayed away from the well trod path of academic primary source analysis into the thick and beautiful forests of ideological analysis. When I was a Sociology student I strayed from sociological statistics into Social Theory and Comparative History. Max Weber was my guide. When I was a Cultural Anthropology student I strayed into Sociological Theory and Comparative History and had little interest in finding my own little Trobriand Island that I could exploit for career advancement. And when I was a History student I left the hermetic confines of primary source analysis and area specialisation for interdisciplinary Social Theory and Comparative Analysis both highly suspect in the inherently conservative "discipline" of History.

My taste in music has reflected my penchant for straying off well trodden paths as well. I am, after all, one of the 2% or so of Americans who really love classical music. While most casual listeners of art music rarely venture beyond the classics like Mozart and Beethoven I began to explore minor Soviet and Russian composers, composers like Borodin, Balakirev, Gliere, Vainberg, Glinka, Glazunov, Popov, Kabalevsky, Lyapunov, and Liadov. Recently I have been listening to a number of "minor" Nordic, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish composers, composers like Gade, Svendsen, Atterberg, and Nielsen (assuming that the sadly far too little known Nielsen is a "minor" composer), and I have to say that I find them much more interesting, in general, than most of the Russian and Soviet composers beyond the Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky pantheon I had been exploring earlier (exploring is the key metaphor in my life, by the way; I have always been an explorer of things intellectual). I really enjoyed Atterberg's Cello and Violin Concerti. I loved Svendsen's two symphonies. I loved Gade's and Nielsen's wonderful choral works. I adored Nielsen's symphonies and concerti.

After listening to a number of wonderful works by little known Nordic composers, the Nordic classical music tradition, by the way, a tradition is one of the most vibrant today, I have to say I am glad, at least in part, that I have not chosen to meander along the less well trodden paths most people never venture off. I wouldn't have wanted to miss Nielsen, Atterberg, Svensen, and others. So thank you to whoever and whatever (the Sixties?) made me into the "weirdo" I am today.

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