Saturday, September 03, 2016

Dale E. Soden's Outsiders in a Promised Land collapsed 20 years of Mars Hill history into the chapter "The Christian Right Strikes Back", if academic treatments of the history of Mars Hill stay at this level academic discourse the future is going to be restricted to the celebrity rather than the community

The first thing that should probably be said is that this book seems to have gotten finished to the manuscript or galley proof level by the time Mars Hill was rocked by a variety of controversies but before Mark Driscoll resigned.

So as a book that discusses Mars Hill in a chapter goes, it had the historically unfair disadvantage of coming out before the final chapter of Mars Hill in institutional terms was written.  But at a scholarly/historical level the mentions of Mars Hill are handicapped by condensing everything that could be said about twenty years of a church's history into just one of three co-founding pastors and, by extension, defining all discussion of Mars Hill in strictly political activist terms.   There are several problems with taking this approach but they'll need to get enumerated separately.

First, it's not the most encouraging thing in the world to see that whoever proofed the book didn't catch that the first mention of Driscoll spelled his name "Marc" rather than "Mark".  This is the kind of copyediting mistake that's significant enough to quote for the record.

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History
Dale E. Soden
copyright (c) 2015 by Dale E. Soden

Oregon State University Press
isbn 978-0-87071-778-9 (paperback)
isbn 978-0-87071-779-6 (EBOOK)


In Seattle, Marc [sic] Driscoll established the Mars Hill Church in 1996, which over the course of the next decade emerged as the most successful in terms of followers and the most controversial in the Pacific Northwest. By 2006, Mars Hill had grown into a multicampus church and continued to grow at a significant rate over the next five years. However, in 2014, with Mars Hill at the height of its influence, with as many as thirteen thousand people attending services at its fifteen locations, Driscoll became embroiled in several controversies and resigned as pastor. More will be said about his ministry later in this chapter. 

Mark Driscoll was the mouth and the visionary but without Mike Gunn's theological training by way of Talbot Seminary and his background with Athletes in Action on the one hand, and without Lief Moi's history of being involved in Christian radio in the form of "Street Talk" and having community involvement in terms of construction companies and the financial capital at hand to invest in the nascent all-ages venue The Paradox, it would be hard to say that Mark Driscoll in and of himself accounts for the emergence of Mars Hill.  In an era where theoretically we're above the "great man" narrative approach to historiography and scholarship it's a shame to see that, no, of course we're not above that, we just tell ourselves we are.  Soden's book, as a survey of political activism on the part of Christians left and right since the dawn of United States settlements in the Pacific Northwest, couldn't be too exhaustive in discussing Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.

That said, there's something foundationally amiss in attempting to discuss Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll in a history of political activism taken up by religious leaders in the Pacific Northwest, there's simply no evidence Mark Driscoll was ever politically activist in his twenty years in the PNW during his time at Mars Hill.  It's tough to make a compelling case that Mars Hill should get a mention in a chapter called "The Religious Right Strikes Back" if on the one hand, Driscoll never really addressed political issues in a systematic or memorable way and if, on the other, a case can be made that Driscoll's most notorious utterances were not actually explicitly against feminism but against Promise Keepers and James Dobson and even in one case against Hutcherson. 

Now, sure, a case could be made that to the extent that Mark Driscoll could be identified as anti-feminist or anti-egalitarian we could say that that has political implications; and we could even propose that Mark Driscoll formed alliances or patronage relationships with people who could be considered conservatives.  But that would still boil down the history of Mars Hill to Driscoll and in doing this we would ignore altogether whether or not co-founding pastors Mike Gunn and Lief Moi could have ever been identified as "right" in their politics.

At least as Soden proceeds Mark Driscoll's name started to get spelled correctly:

page 197
A backlash against the women's movement and specifically feminism erupted amongother influential conservative religious voices in the Northwest. Among the most vocal and controversial critics of feminist impulses before his downfall in 2014 was Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. By any standard, his story is remarkable. Born in 1970, Driscoll, by his own description, grew up in a rough neighborhood in South Seattle with its own sense of dislocation, poverty, and dysfunction. "Without a local police force, it resembled the Wild West," noted Driscoll. "There were multiple strip clubs, seedy massage parlors, and hourly rate motels down the street from my home. The prostitutes walked the streets openly and were brazen enough to even walk up and knock on my car window." Driscoll, although raised Catholic, describes himself as uninterested in church by the time he attended high school. It was during high school, however, that he met Grace [Martin], his future wife. After dating in high school, they initially attended different universities. While at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Driscoll found fraternity life wanting, and he reports turning to the Bible that Grace had given him years earlier. Driscoll reported that God told him to "marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches." He did in fact marry Grace, graduate from WSU, and begin work as a college outreach pastor for Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland on the east side of Lake Washington. He later earned a master's degree in theology from Western Theological Seminary in Portland, where he gravitated toward Calvinist theology, although according to Driscoll, one of his major influences has been Charles Spurgeon, the late-nineteenth century Reformed Baptist preacher who challenged the liberal theological tendencies of his day.

The thing that might be worth mentioning here is that to the extent that Driscoll and Mars Hill elders advocated women as deacons this made the more liberal than other conservative Christians who do not grant that women can even serve as deacons.  The Mars Hill understanding was that it held the moderately conservative position rather than the hard-line conservative position.  Egalitarians will certainly feel free to consider these distinctions without differences but to get some sense of both the rhetorical savvy of Mars Hill leadership (the cynical approach) and a sense of their serious self-understanding as a group trying to find some middle path between what they considered an unbiblical feminism and a hyper-conservative traditional patriarchalist approach, defining Mars Hill as anti-feminist is a bit reductionist.  It would also, perhaps most unfortunately, frame a discussion of Mars Hill in terms that preclude the possibility of understanding why anyone would have joined in the first place.  Had Mars Hill leadership openly and directly espoused the kinds of views that are attributed to them now back in the 1996-2000 period the church wouldn't have grown large enough to have been worth discussing today.

There's an element of catching that early Mars Hill had kind of an arts commune vibe to it when Soden gets to page 198:

page 198
By 1996, Driscoll felt called to start a church in his Seattle home in the Wallingford neighborhood. From the beginning he wanted a church that attracted young, creative urban people who had not only given up on the church but had generally opted out of the conventional middle-class dream of living in the suburbs. Immersed in popular culture and in particular in the grunge culture of Seattle, Driscoll found himself thinking more about how to engage the body-pierced punk rock generation--those young men who literally thought of themselves as outsiders to the mainstream culture. He later remembered that at the time, "I envisioned a large church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands ... embraced the arts, trained young men to be godly husbands and fathers, planted other churches, and led people to work with Jesus Christ as missionaries to our city." For the most part, Driscoll stayed true to his vision. He presented himself as an out-of-the-box thinker and an iconoclast--an outsider to the prevailing culture of the Pacific Northwest. Famous for his blue jeans and untucked shirt, Driscoll was more comfortable with the style of stand-up comedy. He attracted attention on more than one occasion for his frankness about sexual behavior in and out of marriage.
By 2003, Mars Hill Church moved to a renovated NAPA Auto Parts store in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle.  Additional campuses were established in West Seattle, Downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Olympia, the U-District, Federal Way, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. By 2012, Mars Hill was ranked by Kent Shaffer and his national organization, Church Relevance, as the third most innovative church and the seventh most important church in the United States based on a combination of factors.

Driscoll's notorious fixation on gender roles and masculinity was not, in fact, what was documentably the early focus of Mars Hill.  If we go all the way back to Mother Jones coverage we'll see that if there was a thread that explicated the sense of purpose in the early Mars Hill leadership it was not exactly gender roles but generational antagonism.
Lori Leibovich July/August 1998 Issue

"For financial reasons or whatever, the parents of Gen Xers put their lives ahead of their children's," says Lief Moi, 35, a leader at Mars Hill and the co-host, with Driscoll, of "Street Talk," a nationally syndicated Christian radio show. By playing the "dysfunctional family" card, Moi, Driscoll, and others implicitly coax young people to turn to church as a place where they can experience the family and fellowship they missed out on as a kid. The church then becomes appealing to college students for the same reasons that fraternities and sororities are: instant community.
"Some of us haven't given ourselves over to the American Dream yet," Driscoll says into the microphone. "How do we make sure we don't become victims of what harmed us— parents who weren't around because they were too busy making money so we could go on vacations and look like a family?" The phones are dead.


By setting themselves up against their elders, postmoderns are ingeniously adding an anti-establishment spirit to their movement. "I really preach; it's not just three points to a better self-esteem," Driscoll says. "Megachurches have perfect services with perfect lighting. We're a friggin' mess." Driscoll delivers his sermons largely off-the- cuff, and refuses to follow a point-by-point outline like most pastors at megachurches do. "I'm very confrontational," he says, "not some pansy-ass therapist."
It wouldn't really be until the later 2000 through 2002 period that concerns about gender conduct would kick into high gear.  While Driscoll has since become notorious for William Wallace II level antics these were purged from active internet accessibility soon after the Dead Men phase of Mars Hill was formally initiated.  We'll have to get to some of the actual statements made by Driscoll as William Wallace II against Promise Keepers, Dobson and the like later.  For now we'll get to a discussion of Driscoll as theologian that Soden gets to as the writing on Mars Hill goes along:

[still from page 198]
...Driscoll described himself as an adherent to many of the ideas associated with sixteenth-century Protestant reformer John Calvin. Like Calvin, Driscoll's emphasis was on God's sovereignty in the world, and the Seattle pastor stated that the purpose of the church was to be missional in the sense that the church's "primary task is sending Christians out of the church and into the culture to serve as missionaries through relationships, rather than bringing lost people into the church to be served by programming." For Driscoll, that meant engaging and even embracing Seattle's youth culture.  Writing in the New York Times, reporter Molly Worthen noted that "new members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating [page 199] facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any 'modern' interpretation of the Bible."

Except that Driscoll was not a Calvinist early on.  For anyone who kept track of intra-Reformed debates about Driscoll over the last decade there's a case to be made that Mark Driscoll appropriated the label of "Reformed" for himself while advocating some views that some Reformed regarded as aberrant to traditional Reformed soteriology.  For instance, Mark Driscoll's "Limited Unlimited Atonement", which can be described as Amyraldian in more traditional terms, proposed that the atonement was functionally universal in potential effect in the sense that the whole of humanity was purchased from bondage to sin and death at, we could try to say this was a symbolic level, but that at the level of practical salvific import only the elect received any significant eternal benefit that would accrue to them in the form of salvation. 

Anyone who has read this blog over the last decade will probably already know that the most sustained and trenchant criticisms of Mark Driscoll arguably came not from feminists or secularists (in terms of critique that ended up seeing Mark Driscoll's reputation actually effected) but from Reformed camp Christians who took issue with the reliability of his scholarship, the long-term impact of his leadership style and character, and the degree to which he seemed to finesse his formally stated doctrinal views to be in keeping with lines of financial patronage whether or not these could be  construed as his bedrock doctrinal positions.  In other words, some people felt that Mark Driscoll was probably only ever as Calvinist as he felt he needed to be to secure financial support from a Presbyterian minister like David Nicholas.  This isn't to say that Mark Driscoll might not still be some kind of Calvinist, but it might be more technically accurate to say that Driscoll would still espouse monergistic soteriology without necessarily continuing to explicitly think of himself in Calvinistic theological terms.

Soden name-checks a Molly Worthen piece and some direct statements but on the whole mention of Mars Hill from a Driscoll-only perspective presents an unfortunately truncated history of Mars Hill.  Soden's chapter on the religious right striking back name-checks Dobson and Promise Keepers as significant players before getting to Driscoll, so it will be worth noting this before we get to direct statements by Mark Driscoll about his issues with both of those parties and with Hutcherson soon.  The remainder of Soden's discussion of Driscoll circles around the gender thing:

[page 199]
Apart from Driscoll's unconventional approach, it was his attitude toward gender roles that attracted the most comment and was among his most controversial opinions. Early on in his ministry, Driscoll became convinced that the vast majority of evangelical preachers and churches were portrarying an image of Jesus that was far too effiminate. As one writer observed, "Driscoll is adamantly not the `weepy worship dude' he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, singing prom songs to Jesus, who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair." Driscoll presented Christ in much more manly terms and frequently objected to what he believed was the predominant image of Christ--an effeminate man who embraces children and cuddles lambs.  Driscoll has written that the mainstream church has made Jesus into a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ," a "neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that ... would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell."

On the foundation of this more "manly" Jesus and what he believed Scripture says, Driscoll advocated for a patriarchal view of the church and society. He wrote that "as an intense biblical literalist, [I believe] that the man is the head of the home, that the man should provide for his family, that children are a blessing, and that we would not have so many deceived feminists running around if men were better husbands and fathers because the natural reaction of godly women to godly men is trust and respect." In another sermon, Driscoll stated that the divine task of the Mars Hill Church is to become "a man factory, they come in boys, they go out men."  At his height, Driscoll was known for his "boot camps" for young men, where they were challenged to embrace their masculinity and to hear presentations about marriage, sex, money, and fatherhood. Participants heard lectures on how to get a wife, have sex with that wife, get a job, budget money, buy a house, father a child, study the Bible, "stop looking at porn, and brew decent beer."

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the issue of gender for these younger, more conservative evangelical males. For Driscoll and most other conservative evangelicals, the dominant culture of American society and in particular the Pacific Northwest is liberal in its embrace of feminism and egalitarianism. As critics these mostly [page 200] young male pastors understand those values to be directly at odds with what they believe the Bible is saying about the ways in which men and women should function, both in and out of the church. 

The boot camps and the Dead Men type stuff was most intense in the 2000-2002 period.  I've documented that in enough detail in the posts tagged "markulinity" there's no need to get very detailed in this post on those topics. 

Now it's certainly true Driscoll has stayed on message about how he has aimed to appeal to and "get" the young men who he believes will likely become the future establishment figures who are "upstream" and influence and change culture.  The weakness progressive authors have tended to have is to formulate responses to and understandings of Mars Hill within the paradigm of political conflict in, well, let's just call it apocalyptic terms of a battle between the forces of light and darkness.  It's arguable that Mars Hill was trying to implement a kind of right wing Social Gospel that it believed would directly address the pressing social issues of the time as people like Driscoll saw them, and perhaps it would seem daft to propose that when a guy like Driscoll proposed that if you don't get young guys to find ways to assimilate into being productive contributing members of society before they go down a bad path they become asocial and criminal. 

The leadership of Mars Hill can be easily seen as attempting to institute cult-like loyalty for those who have no truck with their theological perspectives but a more detailed survey of Mars Hill teaching could at least open up the idea that to this leadership culture their approach to young men was something they considered a kind of preventative medicine.  There's little doubt that that preventative medicine approach became unusually damaging but part of the task of historical study would seem to be trying to figure out, from primary and secondary sources, what people thought they were doing and said they were doing and what they said they intended to do. But in order to do this a discussion of gendered roles in Mars Hill teaching has to break beyond a fixation on its most notorious celebrity and get to some of the things people actually said. 

Ironically, this gets us to a point where we have to consider that what Driscoll wrote about some specific people and movements shows us that he had some issues with some of the more prominent names/groups Soden mentioned in chapter 9.  If Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll get mention only in "The Christian Right Strikes Back" then a detailed analysis of Driscoll's statements can make it look like he was willing to subject fellow participants in the Christian Right (assuming that's the best way to even understand Mars Hill) to some vitriolic "friendly fire".
We live in a completely pussified nation. We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama's boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish ...

When the opening salvo Mark Driscoll wrote as William Wallace II hurled insults about how pussified the nation was the contrast of a "real man" was opposed not to feminists or gays or secularists or lbierals but to "pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama's boy ... " types.  The actual gays may have been insulted indirectly but the real target of the animosity was the James Dobson knock-off Promise Keeper. 

For those who don't remember the members only Midrash from 2005 (most likely because they, not being Mars Hill members, never got to see it):

So while it's understandable why academics would tend to lump Mark Driscoll in particular and Mars Hill more generally into some kind of "Christian Right" bucket, they have to do so in a way that can account for how, behind the proverbial closed doors of a strictly intra-Mars Hill discussion, Mark Driscoll felt so at liberty in April 2004 to lambast Hutcherson as having jacked up the gospel by promoting legalistic codes rather than what Christ has done for us; let alone criticizing Dobson for aligning himself with a Rush Limbaugh whom Driscoll seems to have regarded as some kind of bad joke.

The plank speck of it all may seem less obvious now that Driscoll himself has been embroiled in some controversies. 

To the extent that Mark Driscoll repudiated the kind of right-wing activism that Dobson and Hutcherson became known for how would a scholar of religion attempt to articulate what Mars Hill was attempting to do in a chapter called "The Christian Right Strikes Back" if it can be shown that, behind the scenes, Driscoll was as harsh in his criticisms of mainstream rightwing Christian power brokers as he was in public of mainstream/liberal/feminist clergy?

But at this point it seems improbable that scholars who attempt to discuss Mars Hill either can or will be inclined to dig further into the earlier stages of Mars Hill where the contributions of Gunn and Moi were more critical and also more difficult to document thanks to the extent to which Mars Hill became the Mark Driscoll show.

back in the 2007 Ruth sermon series Mark Driscoll described how he defaulted to not-quite-godly Elimelechian presumption first and to the self-pitying bitterness of Naomi/Mara second

As Mark Driscoll prepares to start into another sermon series going through the Book of Ruth, it will be worthwhile to revisit a memorable exposition on his own personality he gave in January 2007 the first time he preached through Ruth, back in the old days of Mars Hill.  Driscoll shared a story about how he asked his wife which person in the book of Ruth he most resembled.  While Driscoll may have hoped he would be described as a Boaz that was definitely not how Grace Driscoll described him.
Mark Driscoll
Ruth 1:1-1:22
January 07, 2007

...Elimelech is the guy--everything falls apart. It looks dark, it looks bad. He takes a poll he makes a plan. He decides Moab has a lower cost of living. Moab has more vocational opportunity. Moab has food on the table. I will make a plan, I will be the sovereign. I will take care of everything. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. He leads well. He plans well. He tries to be the sovereign (they're all going to die anyways). I am Elimelech.

I asked my wife, "Which one am I?" ... She didn't even breath, didn't even take a breath, "Oh, you're Elimelech." And his name means what? MY GOD IS KING! That was me. If you asked me, Jesus, sovereign, lord, king, God! And if I ever need Him I'll call him but I don't think I do because I've got all this taken care of.
And how many of you are Naomi-ish? You’re a bitter, moody, cranky, self-righteous, finger-pointing, brutally honest, frustrating person that God loves deeply, for no apparent reason. You want to know me? Here’s how I work. I start with Elimelech. If that doesn’t work, I go to Naomi. That’s me. “I’ll figure it out. I’ll make a plan. I’ll lead well. I’ll take care of everything. Give me the variables. I got it all figured out. It didn’t work? Well, God, did you not get the memo? I knew exactly what needed to be done! [emphases added] I’m not sure who to call to tattle.” And if we’re honest, we find ourselves at varying seasons in our lives identifying with each character in the story.

So .., start with an Elimelech-ish presumption that whatever you want to do is okay by God and then once things don't go as planned you get bitter and angry that God didn't get your personal memo to arrange for how the universe was supposed to be.   It's hard not to get the impression that even if he hasn't turned Naomi about what happened to him in the last year or so at Mars Hill, his take on Elimelech as the not-as-godly-as-his-name-might-suggest guy who comes up with a plan that blows up in his face and ruins the lives of everyone close to him and causes his family that remains to flee in a kind of exile to some far off land ... well, Mark Driscoll kinda sounds like he's still pretty much like Elimelech.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

a riff on Leonard B. Meyer's observation about the capacity for early formal arrival of syntactic climax in music and its potential application for a synthesis of ragtime with sonata form

Style and Music: theory, history, and ideology
Leonard B. Meyer
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright (c) 1989 by Leonard B. Meyer

page 304

... In sonata-form movements the chief syntactic climax is the action whereby the instabilities and tensions, the ambiguities and uncertainties of the development section are resolved either directly to the stability and certainty of the recapitulation or through the clearly oriented, regularized tension of a dominant preparation.

...Two characteristics of syntactic climax are particularly pertinent for the present discussion. First, though often congruent with a statistical high point, a syntactic climax essentially involves a change in function. It is an action in which the tensions of instability are resolved to the relaxation of regularity. This being so, a syntactic climax can occur at a low point in a statistical/dynamic curve shaped by the secondary parameters. [Meyer's example in this case was Haydn's Op 76, 4 "Sunrise" quartet, movement 1] The second characteristic--one related to the first--is that a syntactic climax can occur relatively earl in a musical structure, as early as halfway in a small form and two-thirds of the way through larger ones.

That thing about syntactic climax and syntax has been something I've been thinking about for years.  it would seem that even an older self-avowed conservative like Roger Scruton can articulate clearly there's a trouble.  As he sees it, there's an impasse, a separation between serious music (i.e. art music) and popular music. 

He proposed that:
... the question that surely troubles all serious music-lovers now, which is whether we can find our way to a musical syntax which is as expressive as the tonal language of [George] Rochberg, but which is not shut off from the surrounding world of popular culture.

Now maybe not everyone will agree George Rochberg's music necessarily pointed a way to the future, or that his music highlights a question as to whether there is a way to find a musical syntax that is expressive within art music and yet not shut off from the realm of popular culture.

If there could be a problem in the occlusion of formal analysis or stylistic analysis in musicology on this matter it could be that, as Kyle Gann and otehrs have complained, identity studies can seem as if they have trumped more formal analysis of musical srface. 

But then it may also be, as Meyerprposed, that a lot of music has shifted from what he described as syntactic formal paradigms to statistical formal paradigms.  If you want to read an amusing rant on how this penchant for "statistical form" plays out in pop music here's part of an amusing rant against "crescendo rock"

Beneath the surface, the National’s work is full of moves like that. But I still dislike the surface. I dislike the traces of a British accent in Berninger’s rich baritone (he’s from Cincinnati). I dislike the midrange restraint of most of the melodies and the sleepy midtempo pace, making it artificially thrilling when things pick up at all—as when drummer Bryan Devendorf kicks the march beat into double-time, two-thirds through the new album’s first single, “Sea of Love,” though Berninger carries on the same oh-so-stately procession. Most of all, I dislike the way many of the songs milk themselves, doubling down on their repetitions by getting denser and louder in later sections.

This is a common trait of many popular and acclaimed bands that turn me off. I call it Crescendo Rock—I’ve had similar misgivings about U2 and Radiohead, though I’ve aired them less because their fans go way more apoplectic. To me, the bands each sound like a group of guys who feel they’ve got something to say and demonstrate their significance by saying it over and over, getting louder and louder.

Ah, but thanks to a century of popular song isn't it a concession to the cliches of formality to have a verse, chorus, bridge, verse and chorus?  Perhaps the old forms have fallen partly into disuse beause after a century of popular song the people who are conscious enough about form can be loathe to embrace it and those who aren't have no qualms about writing the same song in installment packages a la new pop country. 

Or not, that's a deliberately sweeping statement, after all.

Bu tthis thing about the distinction between syntactic and statistical climax intrigues me.  When I hear people attempting to go for fusions of jazz and pop styles tha tthey assimlate into classical music (for wnat of a better term) what I tend to hear is an interest in assimilating the vocabulary of the musical style without necessarily hearing the composer or performing musician experiment with the syntax of the idioms. 

Why would that matter?

Well, one of the common claims made by ans of art music over against opular music is that popular music lacks conceptual argument or developmental trajectory.  This tends to be presented as if it were inherent in the nature of the music itself.  But I would propose that it is a problem of the deployment of vernacular musical vocabularies more than proof that these styles can't be worked into the 18th century developmental thought processes that have been described in formal terms by music historians and theorists.  In other words, there isn't any intrinsic reason that I can see for you not being able to employ the vocabulary of blues or ragtime within the formal processes of sonata or fugue. 

But in order to do that you have to have some grasp of the syntax of these formal approaches.  If we take Meyer's axiomatic observation that a syntactic climax can happen as early as halfway through a shorterwork then let's consider, oh, to pick a completely non-random example ragtime.  A Scott Joplin rag like The Entertainer has its climax, arguably, either at the return of the A strain (you know it, we'll assume) or at the arrival of the climax of the returned A strain. 

So, for all of us who heard the sound of Joplin's famous rag when the ice-cream truck rolled by, we only ever heard the first two strains because they cycle back on each other.  Well, if we float this idea that the syntactic climax of sonata, as Meyer described it, is in the recapitulation of the opening material, then if we wanted to develop a hybrid of ragtime and sonata form what we would need to do is find a way for the syntactical/formal functions of the components of ragtime and sonata to correspond to each other. 

Well, sonata tends to be treated as if it were discursive and dialectical but this could be casting it in Hegelian terms that were literally inconceivable in the decades in which people like Haydn were refining the sonata process.  So let's try another idea, which is to suggest that for both sonata form and for ragtime the structural/formal repeats that tend to get ignored in many a contemporary recording ... actually matter.

In a sonata exposition that repeats the effect would be A, transition, B then A, transition, B, or ABAB.  In ragtime the presentation is more simple, AA BB.  In a sonata we get a development (sometimes) before the first theme recapitulates.  Something William E. Caplin mentioned in his writings that inspires me is that we can observe that in slow sonata movements there's a tendency to collapse transitions into the second thematic group those transitions anticipate.

Everyone who has ever looked at a Scott Joplin ragtime even once in their lives can't help but notice that two-word admonition, "Not fast."  There are even times where Joplin insists that it is NEVER APPROPRIATE TO PLAY RAGTIME FAST. 

Well, if we also float in the idea of structural rotation from, not randomly, James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, then how themes come forth and come back in expositions and recapitulations can play a syntactic role in establishing, departing from and then returning to a set of thematic relationships.  Which is to say that if we want to arrive at a fusion of sonata form and ragtime we have to modify elements of both ragtime and sonata form. 

The way ragtime would have to be modified is a bit more obvious.  Instead of a Joplin-style AABBACCDD pattern we'd need something more like AABBA(A)B(B)  Or maybe something like AAB(B)CABC.  We'd have to make sure that the procession of thematic ideas could plausibly fit the syntax of ragtime but also of a sonata. 

This would be where the internal repeats that are requisite in ragtime give us wiggle room.  Suppose we took the B material/theme 2 or Group 2 and weren't very literal about it?  It's not as though there's no basis for modulating transitions or passages within ragtime, a modulating transition could anticipate Theme 2 (or the B material); lead into the B material, and then lead, in turn, to development.  This couldn't be a very long development section for a sonata/ragtime hybrid, because the important expectation for both the ragtime and the sonata form would be the return of the A material, the Theme 1.  But to properly mimic ragtime you'd have to have a fully repeating, identifiable A theme/Theme 1  That means you'd have maybe just the sixteen to twenty-odd measures of B and its repeat within a ragtime stricture to get your ideas across that this is a ragtime that will proceed more like a sonata.  It seems like it could be done, but that doesn't mean it would necessarily be easy.

If you can successfully hybridize not merely the vocabulary of ragtime but the formal syntax of ragtime into a sonata, and vice vera, a ragtime sonata form should theoretically be possible.  Frankly even a fugue using a ragtime melody as its subject doesn't seem impossible to imagine but it requires a grasp of the syntasx of the formal and stylistic components of the different idioms.  Since in many respects ragtime simply altered the rhythmic profiles and quickened the harmonic rhythms of existing Romantic music this might not be as hard to do as theory professors might initially tell you it is (which is not to say it's easy, at all, just that it may be more feasible than some music teachers would propose). 

So, take The Entertainer, that endless V-I vamp would have to not be the B theme for a ragtime/sonata hybrid to happen.  It would need to be an identifiable theme that doesn't have a dominant preparation vamp as its foundation.   Paradoxically this would fit with Meyer's comment that syntactic climax in a sonata form is either the full recapitulation of the expositional material OR the arrival at a dominant preparation.  Well, obviously we can't have the traditional ragtime dominant tonic oscillation because that is precisely the kind of dominant preparation vamp that leads back to the A material that can be taken as equivalent to a recapitulatory anticipation to begin with.

So your B material would have to be identifiably different from your A material but also not obviously a vamp that sets up its return.  If you wanted to you could compose a kind of ragtime countersubject ... oh, yeah, and if this were a sonata hybrid the theme would need to be in the dominant key, not a dominant-tonic oscillation within the tonic key, in most cases.  That way when the recapitulation of the A material happens it can lead to a recontextualized B material that comes back I nthe tonic key as it would for a sonata and also play, possibly, the "C" role in the Joplin rag. 

Or, as I'm thinking about this, an ABC pattern might be best for a ragtime/sonata hybrid because it emulates the cast-size o a rag without being fixed to the repetitions of the form.  You could have the A material repeating as expected and then have a B section that is both transition and presentation of a B theme/Theme 2 that can lead to a C theme and developmental material before the A material returns.  This would give you a chance to recapitulate the B and C material as a macro Group 2 where it should be in a sonata form.  It might even give you space to do variations or expansions on the group material. 

After all, if the syntactic climax of a ragtime/sonata hybrid is where it would tend to go to work as a syntactic climax for both a short/slow sonata form and a traditional ragtime, somewhere in the 45-66% region of the total playing time would seem in order.   This would require a development section in which the themes are not fully developed. That's okay.  It's not as though Haydn exhaustively developed all his thematic potential from his exposition themes--there was room to develop ideas in the recapitulation through ornamentation, feint, and through compensating development that balanced things out in the second half of a sonata movement.  For a ragtime sonata hybrid what you can try is substituting expansion episodes of development to replace what in a more literalist ragtime form would be literal repeats. 

All of this sounds fairly simple when you write it out on a page but it's not necessarily so cut and dried when you try to write actual music working this way. 

Doesn't a sonata form work on the assumption of contrasting thematic characters?

Thanks to Haydn and Clementi, no.  Monothematic sonatas were more common than 19th century and onward pedagogy would have us believe.  It's possible to compose a theme; compose another melody as a countersubject to that theme; present them as structurally distinct themes within your exposition; and then bring that back in simultaneous recapitulation as subject and countersubject in a sonata form.  Monothematic sonatas don't tend to be cast as inventions but if we only ever wrote music based on the ideas that music teachers officially gave us permission to do there'd be much less music in the world.   So when people who write about music say that blues doesn't obey "the rules" of the art music tradition it's important to remember that until we got to people like Schoenberg the music theory we learned was very often spectacularly after the fact.  12-bar blues more studiously sustains the idiom of functional harmony than a twelve-tone row might.

There's never been any reason you couldn't have your first theme in a sonata form be a 12-bar blues any more than there's any real reason you couldn't have both of your themes in a sonata movement be ragtime strains.  Sure, if we have an academic culture in higher education that reflexively regards the sonata form as obsolete then, yeah, people will tend to think of sonata as obsolete and think of the blues as a century old popular/vernacular style without thinking about how easily these two could be used to recontextualize each other.

Consciously and even systematically hybridizing the vocabulary and formal syntax of popular music with the "academic" formal approaches of sonata and fugue is a time-consuming process but it's worth remembering that even sonata was not necessarily as academic back then as we might feel it is as we listen to a sonata now.  You can hear the complexities of the exposition, development and recapitulation as verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, and chorus if you want.  Sure, ,the chorus is in a different key than the verse the first two times, and you have to figure out how to get them in the same key near the end; and you've got that bridge that's a mash-up of stuff from before but for the willing mind the conceptual barriers between a pop song of the Tin Pan Alley tradition and a piano sonata by Haydn can be far more a sense of formal scale and conceptual relationships than some impassable conceptual gulf. 

So a sonata form taken up chiefly in the idiom of ragtime seems practical, if perhaps challenging at a few levels.  It might not please those who are purists with ideas of what they expect a real ragtime to have or a real sonata form to have.  But I'm not really setting out to write music for those people. 

The idea that the vocabulary and syntax of a musical style can be separable might not be what people spend hours thinking about but I'm one of those sorts of people.  If we don't accept at face value narratives that say this or that musical style "broke all the rules" because that would presuppose a proper understanding of the rules, then the possibility that blues or jazz or country or rock can be a vocabulary rather than some set of forms can be kept in mind--the experiment would be to see how the vocabulary can be fused with the syntax of 18th century developmental thought process inventions by not assuming these things are forms.  But to do this you have to have enough competency in the vernacular musical styles to find potential conceptual overlaps with more academic musical approaches.  You can't chart the Venn diagram if you don't understand the spheres well enough to see where they can potentially intersect and overlap. 

I just don't see why you couldn't, given enough time to study 18th century contrapuntal processes and Delta blues, create a fugue based on a blues riff.  Plenty of people have to have done this before but in times like these when some music educators would cordon off jazz from formal study and others would say that, oh, you can't really teach jazz in school (as if we've successfully taught 18th century contrapuntal idioms in school as a point of contrast?  Not so sure that's worked out either). 

While I've been mulling over writing about ways that other composers have experimented with the vocabulary of jazz and the syntax of contrapuntal procedures blogging about Nikolai Kapustin had probably best wait for a bit longer.  I'm still feeling overdue to get back to Rebay. :( 

a few thoughts on Kevin Volans' remarks about how the norm nowadays in new-music is to write under 10 minutes ...
... The norm nowadays is to produce little pieces of under 10 minutes, very often under 5 minutes. This is another byproduct of the so-called music industry. The most obvious difference between 'serious' music and 'popular' music has always been duration. 'Serious' music composers always wrote works on average of over 20 minutes. This requires a more complex and taxing technical ability than writing 5 minutes. Writing a 5 minute piece is frankly, a piece of cake. The difference between writing that or a work of 90 minutes is like the difference between designing a 2 bedroom cottage or a 60 storey skyscraper.

Now it may seem like writing a piece under ten minutes seems like short shrift to someone trained within any kind of Western academic context.  But writing a five minute piece might only be a piece of cake if your primary instrument is a keyboard instrument.  If you're a guitarist writing a continuous five-minute work is not necessarily a piece of cake.  Too many guitarists think that a sonata or a fugue is essentially impossible on the guitar.  A sonata form that lasts five minutes on the guitar is not a piece of cake to write and it will generally not be a piece of cake to play. 

For that matter, the majority of the fugues in Books 1 and 2 of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier could fit into the "under 10 minutes" category, right?  Volans probably wasn't attempting to imply that composing a fugue that's under five minutes is necessarily a piece of cake.  When he laments that serious composers always wrote works on average of more than 20 minutes it reminds me that if I were to send a 25 minute multi-movement work to a guitarist he or she would likely react in a way comparable to a first desk violinist being asked to prep a Mahler symphony or learn all the parts from Messiaen's opera about Saint Francis within a few weeks. 

One of the things I discovered I hated most about 19th century music was that they didn't really innovate in the area of forms, not overall.  You can read Charles Rosen or any number of other writers on the 19th century composers to find out that their innovations were often in the realm of miniatures rather than making fundamental alterations to sonata or other 18th century formal consolidations.  The 18th century could be thought of as having invented French fries.  The Romantic era figured out how to give us curly garlic fries and biggie size it but it's still, basically, a bunch of French fries.  It took the 20th century, so to speak, to invent potatoe chips and come up with some stuff that was actually different from variations on French fries ... but I'm simplifying for effect, obviously.

Now maybe Kyle Gann was right to propose we make way for the guitar era.  If he was right then Volans is bound to be going down the wrong trail in saying or even implying there's a problem with kids these days composing music that's 10 minutes or less.  A six minute work in F minor written at the piano is not the same thing as a six-minute work in F minor written on the guitar.  Some things are harder and some things are easier. 

The analogy Volans makes between designing a 2 bedroom cottage and a 60-storey skyscraper may sound impressive to him but it doesn't seem that  impressive.  is this meant to invoke differences in economy of scale as a stand-in for seriousness?  Cornelisu Cardew wrote decades ago that the real power of a musical work lay in its potential to exert ideological influence.  Okay, running with that for a moment, if we assessed the seriousness of a musicians output based on long-term influence who "ranks" better, Beethoven or Haydn?  Would Haydn's apparent lack of depth compared to Beethoven make him count for less, in spite of having been a formative influence on both Mozart and Beethoven?  To turn the subject to poetics, was T. S. Eliot not influential by dint of failing to be as prolific a poet as others?  Even if I grant Volans' point about how serious composers these days write too short, there can at least be room to prpose that perhaps one of the failings of earlier epocs of music-making was they made things too long or made cognitive demands on their audiences that, however realistic for that time and place, might not be as likely to get a hearing now?

But then I think of how long some people listen to those guitar solos on "Freebird".  That's the other thing, Volans' comment that writing a five minute piece is easy seems to have a particular kind of piece in mind without counting pop music or music that's billed as entertainment.  What if the problem in our era has been that the high and low and the art and the pop have been balkanized in ways that may not have been the case in earlier eras?  Some of us lean toward that position. 

lectures from Kyle Gann and Kevin Volans on the role the Western powers bankrolled the arts

before getting to the meat of this, a HT to Ethan Iverson.

I finished reading the William Robin dissertation this week, which I'll get to mentioning further along this post.  For now, we'll start with something Kyle Gann said in a 2013 presentation to set the stage.

The term "American music" is devoid of specific connotative content today, even if we limit it to composed music in the concert tradition. If it means music made by Americans, Americans today come from all over the globe - and some whose ancestors were born there are working in global traditions. The American educational system pretty reliably exposes young composers to analysis of European modernist masterworks; jazz harmony; musical software; indigenous innovators such as Henry Cowell, John Cage, and Conlon Nancarrow; and a number of third-world musical traditions, most notably Indonesian gamelan, West African drumming, Japanese gagaku, and Indian classical music. In addition, young composers absorb pop music and mass culture on their own. From this increasingly de-centered pedagogic tradition, they are understandably flung in all directions, flowing into a sea of aesthetic proclivities with myriad flavors but few demarcations or distinct categories.

This absolute openness in terms of aesthetic choices contrasts markedly, though, with drastic limitations on what kind of visibility or impact the composer can expect to achieve in American society. The increasing power of corporations, and their decreasing sense of social responsibility, have created a very different atmosphere from the one I remember growing up in. Major record labels used to promote new music as a public service through the 1960s and '70s, but the corporate-friendly Reagan years made any such altruistic principles a thing of the past. Corporations now so heavily push only kinds of music that can be easily categorized and that return a reliable profit that the amount of public distribution accorded new classical (or postclassical) music has decreased to a trickle. I remember clearly that around 1973 European record labels such as Deutsche Grammophon quit marketing their records in the U.S. because they considered it a losing financial venture, and thus we quit being apprised of the latest new music from abroad.

In addition, the fall of Soviet communism and the end of the Cold War brought an era of abundant arts funding to an end. In the 1950s and '60s, the CIA funded the presentation of much American music and art in Europe in order to make a public case that a capitalist democracy could stimulate as good or better artistic production than socialism could. With the fall of the Soviet Union it became no longer necessary for the U.S. government to compete to prove that it could be a cultural success. [emphasis added] In addition, right-wing politicians - who always need an alleged enemy to scare the population with - turned their malevolent attention from communists to artists, and produced propaganda to the effect that artists were elite and immoral snobs undermining our family-oriented ethics while living off the public dole. As a result, government arts funding was greatly curtailed, especially for individual and innovative artists, and rerouted toward large public institutions of the most reliably conservative tendencies. Initiatives for cross-cultural exchange dried up. Opportunities to showcase American composers in Europe became rare, as did opportunities for European ensembles to play in the U.S.

That's from a November 13, 2013 presentation Kyle Gann gave.   A more recent presentation is from the composer Kevin Volans. 

The title of the presentation is a quote from Morton Feldman that's easy to work out from the link itself:

Feldman made that statement in 1984. [see the title "If you need an audience we don't need you"] That was when Thatcherism or monetarism was really taking root. The year before, Thatcher had privatised public services and sold off council houses, reaping £47 billion for the economy. In 1987 she denied the existence of "society" (saying: "...who is society? There is no such thing!") and her slogan "value for money" began to be applied to the arts - translated as Bums on Seats. Sadly, she and her followers seemed to lack any understanding of what the arts were. She saw art as upmarket entertainment, an upmarket consumer product, a notion that became so entrenched that not long ago, in the late 1990's Thatcher's ex- Minister for the Arts in Britain and later Chairman of the Arts Council of England, Lord Gowrie, said, in defense of opera: "It's not entertainment for toffs, it's entertainment for all!" Wrong. It's more than entertainment. Opera offers an insight into the complexities of the human psyche - it is a metaphor for, or an exposition, even, of our own personal dreams and nightmares.

The point I would like to make is that New Music as an art from the beginning of the 20th century survived either as a very private practice within a small circle of aficionados, or with massive government sponsorship.  [emphasis added] It is expensive, and it is a great luxury. Only wealthy countries can afford music as an art. And they did spend money on New Music. In a big way.

West Germany put its money behind Stockhausen, building him a geodesic dome to his specifications for Expo 70, where over a million people attended live concerts of Stockhausen in 26 weeks. (Making him the most successful 'serious' composer in history). [for those who haven't read it, a possible clue why Cornelius Cardew published the book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism in the 1970s?] This matched Xenakis's Polytopes, the first a huge 1967 installation in the French pavilion in Montreal, and other different but similarly elaborate and costly installations in Persepolis, the Baths of Cluny in Paris, and Mycenes. There were rumours flying around that the Cluny installation had cost the French Ministry of Culture as much as the Eiffel Tower in real terms. (I'm sure this is untrue, by the way). Then they built IRCAM (the institute for the research and co-ordination of acoustics and music) at the Pompidou centre to Boulez's specifications. And then the West German government commissioned a large work from Stockhausen for the American 200th Anniversary celebrations, and so on ...

Like the CIA involvement in Abstract Expressionism, governments got behind these large scale works because they were intended to show off the artistic superiority of the West. And they took huge state investment.

But this all changed in the 1980's. State sponsorship began running out - with the decline of communism, the Cold War running down and the re-unification of Germany (in 1990) there was no need for the West to prove anything and Germany at least needed all its resources to finance the reunification process. The governments pulled out of music in general and New Music in particular and business moved in. [emphasis added]

And then the rot set in. Serious music began to be marketed as entertainment. Upmarket entertainment.

I do not believe that popularising art creates a public for serious work. There is no 'trickle down' effect.

Business is the enemy of music as an art. It's all about budget and returns. And its influence is all pervasive if not always obvious.

Serious composition is not a business. It is a vocation. A career is a side effect of this vocation.
 The norm nowadays is to produce little pieces of under 10 minutes, very often under 5 minutes. This is another byproduct of the so-called music industry. The most obvious difference between 'serious' music and 'popular' music has always been duration. 'Serious' music composers always wrote works on average of over 20 minutes. This requires a more complex and taxing technical ability than writing 5 minutes. Writing a 5 minute piece is frankly, a piece of cake. The difference between writing that or a work of 90 minutes is like the difference between designing a 2 bedroom cottage or a 60 storey skyscraper.

What both Gann and Volans have pointed out is the close linkage between certain kinds of avant garde art (new music aka new-music) and the sponsorship of the state.  Both chart the start of a decline the fine art sort of music with the onset of Reaganism and Thatcherism and the lack of continuing investment on the part of corporation into music and art that was, let's just put this in the bluntest possible way, designed to demonstrate the inherent superiority of the Western non-Communist way of life by endorsing the kinds of music that pissed of Soviet aesthetic ideologues committed to Socialist Realism. 

But what Volans seems to have regarded as a net positive, Western German state backing of work created by Stockhausen, Cornelius Cardew seemed to regard as a sign that Stockhausen was serving the imperialist West and pandering to the self-satisfied ruling class. 

Gann's comment about how right-wign politicians began to target artists might be a point that could be expanded--it's not as though we didn't have that period in American history where writers and artists and musicians were suspected of being communists and grilled about that.  We probably know at least a little about the McCarthy era, for instance.  When the Berlin Wall fell and as the Soviet Union was collapsing there were people on the right who feared Reagan would be swayed into a false sense of security by the apparently declining Soviet bloc that could still have a few dirty tricks up its sleeve.  If anything Gann may have undersold the extent to which those who were on the alert against the influence of communist and Marxist ideas in the arts never stopped being sensitive to that stuff. 

In both cases it seems a foregone conclusion by Gann and Volans that it was a bad thing the United States and other Western nations stopped backing art that was often fringe imply because the Cold War was over, because "we" had proven the superiority of our cultural approach and thus no longer needed to keep bankrolling the kidn of music that was never hugely popular.

Volans made a point about how art is a vocation and a career is a by-product.  Okay, if art is seen as a vocation of a patently religious kind then we could propose that those in it for functionally religious reasons are making art to be able to make art.  Why would the state need to be brought in to sully that with money? 

Gann, for those familiar with his decade of blogging, is emphatically against the idea that the pop/art music divide should be considered binding.  It's preferable that the styles of music and their respective practitioners learn from each other.  If the fine arts get mediated by state institutions like schools, then, it makes sense to urge schools to promote musical life and culture; a case could even be made that music education could have a simple role in reminding people what is and isn't public domain.  Ours may be the first era in history in which our popular culture at large is mediated almost entirely through recordings that are under copyright and bring with them all sorts of license-for-use restrictions.  While some would argue this means we should relax the copyright regime that is, arguably, the lazier and more ignorant approach in terms of educational cultures--another possibility is to encourage people to make as much derivative work and experimental creation from the public domain as possible. 

And if there's a reason among many I'm glad I never ended up in grad school studying music it's that, as Gann has complained, actual musical analysis seems to have taken a distant backseat to identity politics narratives.

I've been waiting for that book about Ives' Concord Sonata to come out for years but that's not important right now. :)

I've been catching up only a little on analytical treatments of music and how things like gender studies and identity politics can be brought to bear on music through things like critical theory.  Some of it is fascinating stuff and yet even among the more readable stuff there's this vibe I get.  I dont' mean analyses of guitar sonatas by Sor or Giuliani or direct and blatant advocacy for Nikolai Kapustin's experiments in a fusion of contrapuntal technique using riffs inspired by Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.  Naw, that's interesting stuff.  No, what I mean to get at is that in the 21st century in the United States it can seomtimes seem as if there's a subtext to Americans using critical theory to discuss how all artis political while they have the privilege of writing about privilege in relationship to academic empires.  It's that it can sometimes feel as though to this non-academic sort (by profession if not disposition) that what we're looking at is a kind of sclerotic academic culture in which its adherants are working desperately to convince themselves and each other that by dint of having participation in a higher educational system in a nation state that can blow up the world with atomic weapons that they are not in some sense either already part of the naton's ruling class or aspirant strivers toward participating in that class.  There, that's a possibly Cardew-worthy way of putting it.

As I've been reading through Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music (it's five very big volumes even if the type is large), I'm struck by the consistency with which each era of patronage had its empires that were the necessary socio-economic preconditions for the arts that came up from within those imperial contexts.  Americans in the academy seem determined to not concede that the academic world of the United States is no less a part of the military-industrial complex as anything more officially recognized as the military-industrial complex.  Or we could call it that academic-industrial complex.  Plenty of people can get advanced degrees for which there may or may not even be jobs outside the academy and someone like Volans can argue that what new composers need is more education.  Well, if composing is something that can be taught.  Even if I think it can who's to say that the price tag learning such craft is worth it through institutional means as we see them today? 

If it's about vocation and only secondarily, if you're lucky, about career, then perhaps what we need here is not more money for a vocational set which seems to presume its own legitimacy independent of pedagogical roles (which could be inferred (perhaps incorrectly ) from Volans but not from, say, Gann, whose role as an educator and semi-contentment actually being in academics may be awkward but is consistent)).  What we may "need" is the re-emergence or consolidation of amateur musical cultures.  We have them, it's just that they may not be recognized by academics as something to study. 

In his survey Music in the Baroque era: From Monteverdi to Bach,  Manfred Bukofzer pointed out that seminal figures in the early Baroque were not the vocational musicians but aristocratic amateurs, musically educated enough to experiment but not steeped so much in the idioms of the time to be put off by thinking of something as "not music". 

Now if academics and advocates of new music want to have priestly roles, as it were, priestly roles within an academic and general secuar context, I suppose it makes sense that the scries and artists of ourage are not so unlike the literate and artistic elite of earlier years.  it's one thing to say that people invented religions to control the masses and another thing to consider what sorts of cultured educated monied elites did that, because if you try to translate that kind of invective into the present then it could conceivably look as though what vocational artists want is to be the priests who run things again and get to tell soldiers who deserves to live of die like what may have been the case in the Bronze and Iron ages. 

When artists and poets muse upon how soldies may not know what cause they fight for it's pretty hypocritical--in the years I've talked to artists about why they do what they do and to soldiers about why they do what they do the soldiers usually had clearer explanations because they knew what their orders were and because they had to know because their job officially involved the potential to ruin lives.  Artists ... artists generally couldn't explain why they do what they if their lives depended on it. 

"I have to" from an artist isn't any more cogent than it is coming from a soldier, is it?

If there's a thing I didn't learn back when I was in college I kind of wish had been covered it's the simple observation that is key to understanding Miyazaki's film The Wind Rises, that the Pyramids were made with blood and sweat and sacrifice to celebrate an empire. Jiro devotes himself to making something beautiful laboring under the illusion that purity of vision could at least potentially exonerate him from the nature of what he was designing.   Cardew may have been on to something by pointing out that a lot of what passed for new music in his day was, when you boiled it down to who was paying for it and asking that it be written and defended, was the work of a leisure class presented for the delectation of the ruling class.   If the moral failure of the right with respect to the fine arts is that they left the market to decide and the market decided the fine arts weren't worth much, it may be the left has not reconciled itself to the reality that what it misses these days are the good old days when the great empires of the Western world in the paradoxical heat of the Cold War, wrote the checks for their gravy train. 

To get around to the Robin dissertation on indie classical, the very very short synopsis of it is that the indie classical scene in New York was, for a time, taken to be a revitalizing movement that could spark new life into classical music by being more like, well, indie rock.  Robin proposes that it was more likely a bubble and that the crucial shortcoming in the indie classical discourse was that the participants and observers bought into the idea (as I read the dissertation, at least) in the promotional copy that proposed that indie classical transcended genre and that it was independent of the strictures of academic culture without fully acknowledging the extent to which it was dependent on academic institutions for its existence. 

Which fits perhaps too conveniently into my solidifying theory that we have a lot of people who can afford to go to liberal arts schools to study the arts and are trying to find some way to convince themselves and each other that they are making art that is socially responsible in some way and that this means neither that they are serving the ruling class or, worse yet, demonstrating they are part of the ruling class because they have the leisure from which to have considered being vocational/professional musicians. 

It was kind of startling and a little depressing to read Robin's dissertation because Robin laid out a history of a record label I'm not sure I'd heard of before.  I suppose you lose track of indie classical music if you'd ever been keeping tabs on it before when what was formerly one of the biggest megachurches in the United States steadily implodes in your proverbial backyard and you've been documenting it.  But I guess that's the thing that I noticed myself noticing, that if the indie classical scene was in New York or a few places well to the east of the Puget Sound it wasn't something I was going to manage to keep track of, not when I felt obliged to document the life and times of Mars Hill in ways I believed the mainstream and independent press had been missing out on.

So I'm slowly catching back up to arts coverage stuff.

But it seems as though having never been a career musician there's things that are hard to ignore in reading stuff written by musicians and by musicians about musicians.  Or journalists.  When Scott Timberg had that line that if we're not careful the arts will become a luxury or the domain of a leisure class it just seemed as though he was forgetting what people on the old left and right already knew, that the arts have always been the work of a proverbial leisure class. 

Volans could mention that the CIA backed avant garde art but ... if we get to pick between the Central Intelligence Agency and Columbia Records or some alternative wouldn't the non-CIA alternative be preferable?  That would seem to go triple for anyone with moderately progressive political views but even a conservative might feel that way. 

It seems as though one of the threads I'm seeing in educators and vocational artists who have more high-end output and high-end taste is this conviction that the empire should do more to promote artists, that the empire should support artists.  But as both Gann and Volans noted, as the Cold War wound down the United States stopped throwing money into the kinds of arts institutions it used to throw money into.  Richard Taruskin's fifth volume in his Oxford history opened with the early observation that too few histories of the arts have fully accounted for the impact of the Cold War and the patronage dynamics within that historical moment for how and why we got the arts we got.  If you attempt to separate our collective nostalgia for Star Trek from its Great Society era optimism that we would not, as a species, nuke ourselves into oblivion and that the values of secularism and liberalism and progressive thought would inevitably prevail against our lesser nature then, well, that's almost like proposing that there's a way to appreciate a Jackie Chan film even if you choose to studiously ignore all the stunts.

Lamenting that governments don't do as much as they used to support the arts since the Cold War ended might be underselling the simple observation that to the extent that avant garde art was promoted by Western states in the Cold War there had to have been some propaganda-based reason for that.  I mean, sure, if you sincerely believe life is better here in the West for all kinds of reasons then express that in whatever art you make ... but the lament that institutions rooted in the United States government or another nation state aren't writing checks so that you can do that ... that seems to forget that artists have served empires and not the other way around.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

since Mark Driscoll Ministries features The Hardest Part of Ministry and still mentions how child molesters visited the Driscoll home, there's a 1-21-2001 sermon in which Mark Driscoll described one such visitation in his Gospel of John sermon series

Since Mark Driscoll has seen fit to bring back something he published in October 2013 more or less as is, and since the website gives us an opportunity to refer back to old sermons that got purged and may or may not resurface in other ways at Mark Driscoll Ministries, we have an opportunity to revisit Driscoll's tales of woe.  In particular, we can compare and contrast the 2013 bullet points of anxiety with the way Driscoll may have discussed those kinds of incidents much, much closer to the time those events occurred.

For instance, take the following statement:

  • Twice I have arrived home from work to find a registered sex offender seeking to engage with my family while waiting to talk with me.
What's interesting about this is that former attender Mark Yetman shared a story at the website We Love Mars Hill.  He has an anecdote worth sharing.

...  I started going to Mark’s house by the Montlake bridge for a men’s bible study. His uber-macho/hyperbolic public persona practically disappeared. He revealed a man that was Christ-filled caring and compassionate man. I remember one time him speaking about having a child-molester in his house and was uneasy about it but believed that Christ had changed this man’s heart. I remember one time someone asked if we were related because of are similar coloring and block shaped heads. It was the high-water mark for me and it seemed the sky was the limit.

Then the winter came. My wife and I went back east to see friends and family for the holidays. When we got back something had changed. We started hearing about “Headship” and then I found Midrash. I missed out on the on the whole “Pussified Nation” thread but I read enough to be confused. My wife and I were wondering what the hell happened while we were away. Things had radically changed in our eyes.

Since Mark Yetman mentioned hearing Driscoll talk about the changed heart of a man who had been a child molester during the 2000-2003 period here's a possible candidate for a sermon, preached in early 2001, in which Driscoll talked about a case where a man who had been a child molester visited the Driscoll home.
Part 12 of The Gospel of John
Pastor Mark Driscoll | John 6:1-14 | January 21, 2001

And I remember – I’ll tell you one story that kind of just sort of summarizes how I view this. My daughter was upstairs. She was about two-years-old taking her nap, and she was laying in her bed sleeping away – the bed that her grandmother had given her. She came downstairs and I was meeting with a guy who was sitting on my couch really struggling with a sin. He had been a child molester and was wondering whether or not he could become a Christian and whether God could forgive him of what he had done. And if you know me, I have very little compassion on men, especially men who take advantage of women and children. So this was really hard for me, especially being a first time father with a little daughter that I adored. And I was like, “You know, scripture says though that Christ has died for all our sins and there’s nothing that is beyond God’s grace in Christ. There’s nothing that God can’t forgive you of.”

And he’s crying. He says, “Do you really think that that’s possible? Do you really think that I could be forgiven for this?”

And it was interesting because my daughter came downstairs from her nap, and he was sitting on the couch that was given to us, and she looked at him and she saw him crying and she said, “Daddy, why is he crying?”

I said, “Well because he sinned. He did a bad thing and he feels bad about that.”

And she says, “Well we should pray for him.” So she climbs up on his lap and prays for him. She had no idea why he was crying, but I thought, “Man, if this is not the whole world coming together right here.” I mean it’s fishes and loaves. Somebody helped us get this house. Somebody gave us that couch. My daughter comes downstairs, sits on his lap, and then all of a sudden God’s grace gets multiplied right in the life of someone who’s very guilty of their sin, but now God has given them grace through a little girl and she didn’t even know she was doing it. She just thought she was praying for someone in need.

We have seen this over and over and over. It’s just amazing. ...

When you listen to the sermon there's Mark Driscoll describing how he felt nervous about this guy being in his home but without any sense of urgency or a sense that his child might be in immediate peril.  It may be that at so early a date only Ashley and Zachariah were born by early 2001.  In this account Ashley is the active agent by coming down from a nap and deciding to pray for the man.  Driscoll also describes the scene in terms of a kind of cosmic kismet in which divine mercy is shown.  If so, well, that's 2001. 

By 2013 every detail of such an encounter is superfluous to the litany of danger Mark Driscoll said his family has faced during his time in ministry.  And that's as may have been, but a Driscoll parent had to let the guy in the front door. And a decade or more later former attenders like Mark Yetman could remember Mark Driscoll talking about how there was grace for a child molester memorable enough that it was possible to trawl up what is possibly the sermon in which such an account was shared. 

Mark Driscoll Ministries has added 2015 Ecclesiastes talks to the sermon roster, not the 2003 Ecclesiastes sermon series in which Driscoll shared stories of starting a brawl on his own high school baseball team
from October 12, 2015, apparently

Mark Driscoll's advice, in reflecting upon Ecclesiastes 7:11 in an October 2015 presentation, is that you can't move forward if you're looking back to the past.  This axiom couldn't be more ironic since Mark Driscoll talked about how early in his preaching career he preached through Ecclesiastes and that it was like performing brain surgery on yourself.  1 John was a book of the Bible he went through in the earliest days of Mars Hill.  For a man who is set on not looking back it could seem as though all he knows how to do is recycle stuff he preached through a decade or more ago.  The forthcoming Ruth sermon series will cover material he preached through already in 2007.

But what's interesting about the Ecclesiastes sermon series is that it's an entirely new take on stuff Driscoll's already preached multiple times.  Why not just keep bringing back the old sermons Driscoll preached from 2003? 

Well, let's consider one sermon from the 2003 period.  What you're going to find, if you can dig up the PDF transcript of the sermon is that the narrative aside that appears at minute 40:00 isn't in the transcript.  But if you go over here and download the sermon you can hear that the following story is in the sermon.

Remember this anecdote isn't something you'll read in the sermon transcript and you have to download the audio from the site to be able to confirm that Mark Driscoll did in fact say this stuff from the pulpit for the record:
Part 10 of Ecclesiastes
Pastor Mark Driscoll | Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 | June 01, 2003

How many guys, honestly (you don't have to raise your hands), how many guys in their teens or twenties (I'm in my thirties now so I'm at that place where I WOULD fight but it seems like a lot of work). But especially when I was in my teens I would, just all full of myself, I would just, I liked to fight.  I would LOOK for fights. Certain guys are like this. 

I actually beat up a guy on my OWN baseball team during a game. Usually, usually, you know, in a baseball game people why--baseball players are all wussies.  They never fight.  They all just run out to the middle of the field and look at each other which is, I dunno, like prom or something. They're all gazing into each other's eyes. I'm not sure what they're doing.  They hardly ever fight and they NEVER take the bats which, to me, seems like the most OBVIOUS thing.

I love baseball and I can remember when I was playing ball. A guy on my own team in the dugout says something so I attacked him.  Now very rarely do you see a bench-clearing brawl with just one team. Usually the other team's involved. I was a total hothead. I would fight through high school. I fight quite a bit.  Guys would say something, give a cross--you got a problem? That's what he's talking about [the author of Ecclesiastes]. Especially you young guys. Some of you young guys, you're LOOKING for a fight. You want to legitimize it, you want to justify it. Some of you married people are looking for a fight. Provoke. Provoke. Provoke. Boom, off they go like the Fourth of July.

Within the same sermon Driscoll shared another story about coming to a new sense of discovery about who he was through one of the great catalysts for personal insight and epiphany bestowed upon parents since the dawn of parenthood, the reflexively emulative behavior of one's own child:

... How many of you, driving, really, is where you see your true self in its purest form?

It is for me. Driving for me--I think Jesus intentionally puts other people of certain mental acumen around me when I'm driving just to continually teach me the same lesson. I knew I was over the line when my daughter--she's five now. She's beautiful and brilliant--but, she was about two or so, and I was driving and I hit the brakes. And I hear from the backseat my glorious little daughter say, "Idiot!"
My wife looks over at me. My wife is very sweet, very kind, very patient. She looks at me and says, "You've discipled her." I said, "Yeah, I know, I gotta--" My two, three-year old daughter's beaten me to the "Idiot!" blow. So, I, okay. Slow to anger, abiding in turn signals. I got it. I got it. I got it. I got it.  Fools just blow.

In a story in connection to discussing Ecclesiastes 7:11 in his 2003 sermon, Mark Driscoll said:
I went to my ten-year high school reunion a couple of years ago. Everybody was talking about the good old days in a public high school.  Unless you've taken a ball-peen hammer to your own head you know it wasn't that great.

I was there. I remember. It wasn't that great. I had a mullet. I wore pastels. I loved my wife so much I took her to a George Michael concert, for the love of God.  I was trying to court her and she liked George Michael and I was sitting here going, "This is not, these are NOT good days." These are terrible days!  These are arduous, painful, toilsome days.  I am in the house of mourning, listening to "Jitterbug". This is terrible.

You know, fools try to go back.  Wise people, they go forward.

This next sermon excerpt is really long, but it features some interesting stories about Mark and Grace Driscoll's marriage as mediated through tales about the struggles to find and sustain workable automobiles. In keeping with the earlier jocular observation about how driving can reveal to you your true self, Driscoll shared the following:


He goes on to explain. This is what he means. “When times are good be” what? “Happy. When times are good, be happy.” “Hey! I gotta job!” “Hey, I got married!” “Hey, I got kids!” When times are bad, “Oh, man, I gotta job.”

“Oh, man. Have you met my spouse?” “Have you seen my kids?”

When times are good, be happy. When times are bad, consider this. God has made both days. God has made the one, as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. What he says is this. People wanna be on mission. They wanna know everything and they wanna be sovereign. They wanna control everything. So, they’re trying to set up their life in such a way that they never have a bad day. And no matter what you do, you get bad days. I have had cars, okay? I’ll give you an example. My first car was a 1956 Chevy.

I was driving it and it had an electrical fire that came out through the steering wheel.

I was so happy. It was a good day. “I got a car!” Bad day? “The car is on fire.”

That’s a bad day. I got rid of that car. I got a 1966 Volkswagen. It was a little two door wagon, lowered with Porsche hubcaps. I thought it was cool. I pushed it more than I drove it.

I thought, “Cool. I have a cool car. I look cool.” I’m 16. You know, you gotta give me a little rope here. “I look cool.” I drive the car, a little Volkswagen, 1966 square back. It never, ever, ever ran. I pushed it all the time.

I’m gonna get rid of it. I’m gonna get another vehicle. I got a little, tiny pickup truck. Kept breaking down. Got rid of it. Got a Volkswagen Rabbit. Exploded. My dad, put a new motor in it, rebuilt it. It still ran rough. Got rid of it. Then, I decided, “I will get a truck.” I got a huge man truck. The tires were like this high.(Laughter)

I traded my wife’s car in for it. We were newly married. I didn’t ask her permission. It was the worst thing I ever did.
Response: Awww.

[emphasis added, and that's not audience approval, for those who haven't downloaded the sermon!]

It was so high, she couldn’t even get in. I didn’t even think about that.

The gas mileage was so bad. It had two tanks, but I loved it ‘cause it was huge. And we drove it to college first time, and something went wrong and the gas tanks leaked all over the road and we spent a couple of days in the Tri-Cities.

We ate Chinese food. It was not good Chinese food. Bad things happened. Never practice Chinese food in an unknown restaurant. After that, I decided I needed a different truck, so I got a 1966 Chevy pickup long bed. Happy day! Lowered it, Tonneau cover, mag wheels, redneck, Cadillac gorgeous.

My wife was going through an intersection. Some guy ran it. She t-boned him. Gone. Just totaled.

Out goes the front end. Dohhh.

Got my wife in. I said, “I love my wife. We’re gonna get a decent car. Got her a little Nissan. The thing kept breaking down. Got rid of it. Got her a Subaru wagon. Ran terribly. Got rid of it. Every day, I’d buy a car, happy day. The day I’d drive it the next day, bad day.

I’m also not a mechanic, so I don’t even know what’s going on. My poor dad’s been under the hood of my car so much. I mean, it’s been crazy. So, then, that’s it. I’m gonna get my wife a good car. An SUV. Something nice. Got her a black Jeep Cherokee. Leather, cruise, air, tilt, great. Drive it. All
the fuel injectors go. There’s gas all over the engine.

You don’t need to be a mechanic to know that gas all over an engine is bad. It’s just bad.

Bad things happen. Got rid of it. Got my wife a Toyota Landcruiser. She loved it. A nice, old one. It was like an ’88. Cruise, air. It was nice. Really sleek. It was perfect condition. The motor exploded.

We put a new motor in it and I said, “That’s it, honey. I’m gonna get you a Suburban ‘cause I love you as Christ loves the church.”

“I’m gonna get you a Suburban with a TV for the kids, leather. It’ll be a big Victorymobile. Anybody who runs a red light, you just go right over ‘em. You’ll win.”

Good day. Good day. Good day. We get it, first week, this light comes on, “Service engine soon.” We’ve had it a year. It’s got a warranty, but we’ve spent a total of over $5,000. Much of it’s gone to the warranty. Finally, got it all fixed. Good day.

Yesterday! Yesterday, we’re driving it up a hill and it starts shaking all over.
Like, “What is up?” “Service engine soon.” Bad day. Now, Solomon would tell me, “When days are good, be happy.” “Hey, I’m driving! Praise Jesus, I’m rolling! This is incredible!”

When days are bad, consider this. God made both days. I can’t get out and just yell at the car demon. It ultimately comes from the hand of God. Wise people accept that. Now, I’m not saying I’m wise and I’ve fully accepted it.

But, what he says is this. “Don’t think that the good days are from Jesus and the bad days aren’t. Every day’s from Jesus. And you can’t bend it back and make it straight, if he’s made it crooked. But, wisdom will help you navigate through it. Don’t get angry. Don’t surround yourself with stupid friends who let you sin and never rebuke you. Don’t go just get a lot of food to eat and a lot of alcohol to drink and listen to country western, and try and avoid it.”

You would potentially get the impression from Real Marriage that Mark Driscoll found his wife's issues with sex and sexuality to have been his primary point of frustration within the marriage.  But for those who were attending Mars Hill for years and can remember to look up some stuff, it becomes easier to see that the kind of newlywed (by Driscoll's account in the above-quoted tale) to trade in his wife's vehicle without her knowledge or permission so he could get the truck he dreamed of could be a newlywed guy with some communication issues.

It seems probable at this stage that Mark Driscoll will keep trying to move forward as if the last twenty years of Mars Hill basically didn't happen.  It may be that he'll continue to present his wife and children as intrinsically bound up in this new church plant that, as an homage to the church that Grace's father Gib Martin used to be pastor at, is an homage that is intrinsically backward looking in its disposition down to its very name.

If the key to moving forward is not looking back it's hard to be sure the future is looking rosy for Team Driscoll if so much of the church, ranging from the litany of recycled Mars Hill-era content to the explicitly filial homage to Gib Martin's church, is so steeped in conscientious nostalgia.  If Mark Driscoll had taken his own axioms seriously it seems none of this would have played out as it has.  But then for those who have been keeping track of these things the history of Mark Driscoll as a public figure in ministry has been full of moments where he's felt at liberty to instruct others by expounding upon principles he didn't live out in his own life.