Monday, April 24, 2006

Finnish Heavy Metal Crisis

New York Times
April 24, 2006
Helsinki Journal
Finland Squirms as Its Latest Export Steps Into Spotlight

HELSINKI, Finland — They have eight-foot retractable latex Satan wings, sing hits like "Chainsaw Buffet" and blow up slabs of smoking meat on stage. So members of the band Lordi expected a reaction when they beat a crooner of love ballads to represent Finland at the Eurovision song contest in Athens, the competition that was the springboard for Abba and Celine Dion.

But the heavy-metal monster band did not imagine a national identity crisis.

First, Finnish religious leaders warned that the Freddy Krueger look-alikes could inspire Satanic worship. Then critics called for President Tarja Halonen to use her constitutional powers to veto the band and nominate a traditional Finnish folk singer instead. Rumors even circulated that Lordi members were agents sent by President Vladimir V. Putin to destabilize Finland before a Russian coup — an explanation for their refusal to take off their freakish masks in public.

The fury also spread in Greece, winner of last year's Eurovision and therefore the host of this year's contest, where an anti-Lordi movement called Hellenes urged the Finnish government "to say 'no' to this evil group." One young Finn calling himself Suomi (Finland in Finnish) wrote to a newspaper Web log saying, "If Lordi wins Eurovision, I am leaving the country."

The lead singer, Lordi — a former film student who goes by his real name, Tomi Putaansuu, when not wielding a blood-spurting electric chain saw — is philosophical about the uproar.

The affair, Mr. Putaansuu says, has exposed the insecurity of a young country whose peculiar language is spoken by only six million people worldwide and whose sense of identity has been dented by being part of the Swedish kingdom and the Russian empire until gaining independence in 1917. Most Finns, he adds, would rather be known for Santa Claus than heavily made-up monster mutants.

"In Finland, we have no Eiffel Tower, few real famous artists, it is freezing cold and we suffer from low self-esteem," said Mr. Putaansuu, who, as Lordi, has horns protruding from his forehead and sports long black fingernails.

As he stuck out his tongue menacingly, his red demon eyes glaring, Lordi was surrounded by Kita, an alien-man-beast predator who plays flame-spitting drums inside a cage; Awa, a blood-splattered ghost who howls backup vocals; Ox, a zombie bull who plays bass; and Amen, a mummy in a rubber loincloth who plays guitar.

Dragging on a cigarette, Mr. Putaansuu added, "Finns nearly choked on their cereal when they realized we were the face Finland would be showing to the world."

Often derided as a showcase of kitsch, Eurovision is one of the most watched television programs in the world. It pits pop groups from all over Europe and the Middle East against one another, with the winner decided by popular vote by more than 600 million viewers.

It is not the first time the contest, which began in 1956, has spawned discontent. Last year's Ukrainian entry song was rewritten after being deemed too political by government officials in Kiev because it celebrated the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, an Israeli transsexual, won in 1998 with her hit song "Diva," rabbis accused her of flouting the values of the Jewish state.

But not everyone in this Nordic country of five million views the monster squad as un-Finnish. Some Finns say that Lordi is right at home and that the band's use of flaming dragon-encrusted swords and exploding baby dolls expresses the warrior spirit of the Vikings.

Alex Nieminen, a Finnish ad executive, says the band harks back to the Hakkapeliittas, the legendary Finnish cavalry unit that fought as part of the Swedish army in the 17th century. He argues that the slasher film imitators embody Finnish self-assertion after decades of isolation.

"Lordi represents a rebellion by Finns who are saying, 'Hey we are not all the Nokia-wielding people the government would like you to think we are,' " Mr. Nieminen said.

On the eve of the vote, fans in ghoulish monster outfits held Lordi parties from Helsinki to Lapland and sent text messages urging everyone from grandmothers to young metal heads to "Change the face of Finland!" Lordi won the right to go to Athens with its Kiss-inspired anthem "Hard Rock Hallelujah" and its lyrics, "Wings on my back/I got horns on my head/my fangs are sharp/and my eyes are red."

The Finns' fascination for Lordi may reflect their eternal hope after coming in last at Eurovision eight times. Some Finns rank that humiliation with their nation's appeasement of the Soviet Union or losing in hockey to Sweden.

Finns blame their losing streak on the fact that contestants have typically sung in their mother tongue, a famously difficult Uralic language where words with three umlauts are not uncommon.

" 'Finland, zero points' has become a source of deep embarrassment in the nation's psyche," Ilkka Mattila, the country's leading music critic, said. "So Lordi's success must be understood as a vote by people who feel we have nothing to lose."

Finns are so uncomfortable with themselves, says Alexander Stubb, a Finnish member of the European Parliament, that when they meet someone for the first time, they stare at their own feet. Then, after 10 years of friendship, they stare at the other person's feet. But there is little risk that anyone, Finnish or otherwise, will stare at Lordi's furry platform demon boots, he adds, noting that Lordi could embarrass Finland when it takes over the European Union presidency in July.

Timo Soini, leader of "Ordinary Finns," a traditionalist political party from rural Finland, says Lordi has attracted criticism because Finns are so thin-skinned about how others perceive them. "Finns are suspicious when they see someone new come to play in their sandbox," Mr. Soini said. "And that is particularly the case when that someone looks like a monster."

While other boys in Lapland were playing hockey, Mr. Putaansuu played with his Barbie doll and began experimenting with makeup. In film school he became obsessed with horror films and the heavy metal bands Kiss and Twisted Sister. Like his fellow metal heads, Mr. Putaansuu hoped that transgression would sell big. But he says it took 10 years to get a record deal because Finnish labels were so turned off by the band's appearance.

Under their masks, the band members are quintessential Finns. Awa, the ghost, is a soft-spoken blond who wears glasses and studied classical music. Even Mr. Putaansuu, who wears a black leather jacket when not sporting serpent lapels, says his music is closer to gospel than Satan. After all, one of the band's hit songs is "The Devil Is a Loser."

"Even if we lose the contest, we have already won," Mr. Putaansuu said. "Many Finns would rather have sent someone boring and acceptable than to be represented by freaks like us."

Music Publishing $

New York Times
April 24, 2006
Music's Hottest Star: The Publisher

Like a dog that responds to high-frequency sounds, Martin N. Bandier has a knack for hearing music that goes unnoticed by most humans. Whether it is a few bars of a Burt Bacharach classic slipped into a car commercial or the wordless strains of a James Taylor cover piped into an elevator, Mr. Bandier, the chairman and co-chief executive of EMI Music Publishing, is astutely aware of his aural surroundings.

It is a talent that has served him and his company well. After attending "Jackie Mason on Broadway," Mr. Bandier left the show in stitches but he could not help but wonder whether the producers had paid for the use of a half-dozen EMI-owned songs (among them "New York, New York," and the theme from the film "Rocky") inserted between Mr. Mason's comic spiels.

It turned out they had not. A few phone calls later, the show's producers were not laughing. A check was cut and EMI, the world's largest music publisher, became a little bit richer.

"The people I went to the theater with didn't even notice there was music in the show," he said. "I can't help myself. It's a curse and a blessing."

Under Mr. Bandier, EMI Music Publishing, a unit of the London-based EMI Group, has become one of the bright stars in an otherwise ailing industry. Buffeted by slumping CD sales and illegal music downloading, the industry's overall profits have fallen by a third since 1999, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

In 2005, record sales worldwide were down 8 percent, according to Russ Crupnick, an analyst at NPD. "It's been a dismal few years," he said.

After years of being overshadowed by the recording business, the music publishing business is finally being widely recognized as a lucrative one, largely because of the financial travails of Michael Jackson. Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, Mr. Jackson recently agreed to sell half his share in Sony-ATV Music Publishing, a song catalog that includes many Beatles hits and is worth an estimated $1 billion, at some point in the future.

Although publishers can take in hundreds of thousands of dollars licensing "Revolution" by the Beatles or a Sinatra classic to a corporation, most of its income comes in more modest sums. A publisher pockets 9.1 cents a track for each CD. Mariah Carey blaring out a few bars on a teenager's ringing cellphone might earn a publisher 8 cents.

But those pennies, Mr. Bandier has come to realize, can help fatten up the bottom line. "Our business is kind of a bread crumb business that adds up to a whole loaf," he said.

As a result, music publishing is also getting attention on Wall Street. In recent years, venture capitalists and investment banks have engaged in aggressive bidding wars for lucrative music catalogues. EMI too has snatched up catalogues whenever it can.

In 2004, it spent $80 million to buy the 20 percent it did not already own of the Motown catalogue of Berry Gordy, who founded the label.

"At a time when piracy is taking a huge chunk out of the bottom line a good publisher can find new revenues," said David M. Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers' Association. "Marty has been relentless at finding new opportunities to exploit music."

To counteract the flood of unauthorized downloading, EMI Publishing has been aggressively mining the ring tone business, selling melodies from its catalogue of one million songs to films, television commercials, video games, karaoke compilations and programs like "American Idol," whose contestants have sung more than 400 EMI-owned tunes in the last five seasons, more than those of any other publisher.

Last year, the EMI Group's revenue remained flat but during that same period, EMI Music Publishing's income rose by 5 percent, with its profit up by 3 percent, to $185 million.

Five years ago, album sales made up 60 percent of the company's total income. Now that figure is at 44 percent, with the rest coming from licensing fees, more than its competitors.

Mr. Bandier was a driving force behind the Broadway show "Jersey Boys," which is built around music by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (yes, on the EMI roster) and he is exploring productions to showcase other EMI jewels, among them Queen, Carole King and Motown classics.

Then there are the stuffed animals. Piled high in a corner of Mr. Bandier's 42nd-floor office in Midtown, his collection of furry critters are tactile manifestations of how far EMI has gone in squeezing income out of its expansive catalogue. There is a mariachi mouse that croons "La Bamba," a hound dog in yellow slicker that warbles "Singing in the Rain," and a fox that wiggles to "Come and Get Your Love," lewdly opening its pink bathrobe to reveal a flashing red light in its drawers.

"People think I have a fetish for these things," Mr. Bandier, 64, said, chewing on the end of an unlighted cigar. "But sometimes this is the only way to show shareholders and investors what we do."

Mr. Bandier has lately been drawing both praise and criticism for his role as a crucial negotiator in talks that will determine a new generation of rights and royalties governing digital music.

It is an epic battle involving record companies, publishers and digital music providers, and the outcome will affect the industry for years to come.

The praise largely comes from publishing business allies, who credit him with winning generous deals from record companies, including a recent deal with Sony BMG that set rates for digitally distributed songs.

The criticism, much of it offered sotto voce by record and digital music executives on the other side of the negotiating table, paints Mr. Bandier as a bulldog who is demanding too much for his team.

"Marty doesn't roll over for anyone," said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, a trade group representing companies like Yahoo, AOL and Apple. "Everyone is trying to cut the best deals they can but some people think the publishers are asking for more than their fair share."

Although music pirating has taken a sizable chunk out of publishing's bottom line, most publishers continue to make money, something that is rarely highlighted in the headlines about the music industry.

Mr. Bandier stumbled into music publishing three decades ago when he and two friends bought the catalogue of CBS Songs. Over the years, Mr. Bandier has gone on numerous buying sprees, snatching up Virgin Music, Windswept Pacific and Filmtrax publishing houses.

"When I made my first deal, I went home and told my parents I was getting into the music publishing business and they had no idea what I was talking about," he said. "To be honest, neither did I."

By the time EMI bought him out in 1989 — and kept him on as president — Mr. Bandier had a fairly good idea what he was doing, with more than 700,000 songs in his pocket, including the themes to the James Bond and Pink Panther films, songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and the complete works of James Taylor, Billy Joel and Gloria Estefan.

Mr. Bandier, who grew up in Queens and was home-schooled by his parents, plans to step down in 2008. He will be succeeded by his current co-chief executive, Roger Faxon.

Mr. Bandier said he was not musically inclined as a child, although his dream was to grow up to be a member of the Temptations.

"That didn't work out," he said. "But it doesn't matter now because I own all of their stuff."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Handel and the Castrati

New York Times
April 19, 2006

In Opera, a Different Kind of Less Is More: 'Handel and the Castrati'

Royal College of Music

Carlo Broschi (1705-82), a k a Farinelli, may be the best-known castrato.

LONDON, April 13 — More than most art forms, opera demands a suspension of disbelief. For a long time this included accepting that a man could sing with the voice of a woman. It was not a natural gift, but the results often drove audiences wild: castrati, as they were known, were among the rulers of the 18th-century opera stage.

True, most of the Italian boys who were castrated to preserve their unbroken voices never achieved fame . Yet enough did to encourage some impoverished parents to allow one or two of their sons to undergo this pre-pubescent mutilation. In the 1730's, it has been estimated, as many as 4,000 boys were so altered each year.

Intense musical training followed, so that, by their midteens, the youths were ready to sing in church choirs. Then, with opera all the rage from Naples to Venice, the best voices were selected by theater managers for the stage. A few became stars across Europe. Those seeking the highest fees headed for London, where Handel was presiding over a boom in Italian opera.

"Handel and the Castrati," a revealing small show at the Handel House Museum here through Oct. 1, tells their stories. On display are a few objects, including an 18th-century iron "castratori" instrument, as well as paintings, engravings, music scores and recorded excerpts from Handel operas and oratorios, with castrato roles now sung by counter-tenors and mezzo-sopranos.

The museum is housed in what was Handel's Mayfair home from 1723 until his death in 1759, so it is likely that some castrati also sang here. And to hear how they might have sounded, there is a rare castrato recording from 1902. In a soprano voice a tad thicker than that of a woman, Alessandro Moreschi can be heard singing Gounod's arrangement of Bach's "Ave Maria."

By all accounts, what distinguished the castrato's voice was that it combined a woman's range with a man's lung capacity and muscular strength. In fact, many castrati were unusually tall. And, having undergone musical training at a time that their rib cages were expanding, they were particularly adept at coloratura and other ornamentation typical of Baroque opera.

They became necessary, however, only after the Vatican banned women from church choirs in the mid-16th century. Thus, if Monteverdi wrote four castrato roles for "Orfeo" in 1607, it was also because no women could sing them. A Vatican decree prohibiting castration was evidently ignored: Moreschi, nicknamed the Angel of Rome, joined the Sistine Chapel Choir in 1883.

Still, by the 18th century, women were also singing onstage, with Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni among the stars of Handel operas after that German-born composer moved to London in 1711. Yet such was the aura surrounding Italian castrati that Handel created several operas around their crowd appeal, starting with his London debut opera, "Rinaldo," and the alto Nicola Grimaldi.

The castrato most associated with Handel, however, was Francesco Bernardi, better known as Senesino, who was born in Siena in 1686 and was already a legend by the time he reached London and sang Handel's "Radamisto" in 1720. He also sang in the premieres of "Giulio Cesare," "Orlando" and "Rodelinda." By the time he returned to Italy for good in 1736, he was immensely wealthy.

If Senesino was often moody, Handel had more trouble with Giovanni Carestini, who had a two-octave mezzo-soprano range and was described by one contemporary as "tall, beautiful and majestic." Legend has it that Carestini rejected the score of "Alcina" as insufficiently brilliant. This show records Handel's furious response: "You dog! You think you know better than I do what is best for you to sing? If you don't sing, I won't pay you."

But Handel needed Carestini because he alone could rival Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, who was arguably the most popular castrato ever and who, to Handel's intense displeasure, refused to sing for him. Worse, Farinelli performed for Handel's competition at the Opera of the Nobility.

Evidently, star castrati could afford to be capricious. One, Luigi Marchesi, refused to appear in any opera unless he made his first entry on horseback, singing his favorite aria. Two of Handel's castrati, Gioacchino Conti, known as Gizziello, and Gaetano Majorano, known as Caffarelli, reportedly carried their rivalry back to Naples with them.

What mattered was that they could fill a theater. And in this, their mysterious sex appeal, to both men and women, was a factor. No greater expert than Casanova wrote of one castrato: "To resist the temptation, or not to feel it, one would have had to be cold and earthbound as a German." Further, many castrati were said to be virile sexual partners for women, not least Caffarelli, who was famously chased by his mistress's husband.

Indeed, some English satirists took delight in suggesting that the expensive presents given to castrati stars were tributes to their talent in bed, not onstage. Or as one 1735 ditty put it: "Think'st thou for empty Sounds they thus present;/ Thus they give out, but other Things are meant."

Another 1735 pamphlet, inspired by Hogarth's "Rake's Progress," even suggested some envy:

Who would not be unmann'd to gain
What they with so much Ease obtain?
For tho' they lose the Pow'r of Harm,
The Women know they yet can charm.

The castrati era lasted through Mozart into the 19th century. Meyerbeer's opera "Il Crociato in Egitto," performed at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice in 1824, is said to be the last work written for a castrato, while in 1844 Paolo Pergetti became the last castrato to appear on a London stage. In 1870, Italy finally banned castration, and in 1903 the Vatican excluded castrati from church choirs.

By then, of course, sopranos and tenors were the opera superstars. Yet, in a sense, they benefited from the castrati legacy: the tradition of adulating opera singers was not only well entrenched, but the difficult and temperamental personalities of divas — and divos — were also somehow expected. Still, even the most adoring fan today is likely to emulate a woman's heartfelt cry in 1735: "One God, one Farinelli."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Asians Decry Adidas Shoe Design as Racist

Asians Decry Adidas Shoe as a Misstep

By Michael Tunison
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006; D01

A new, limited-edition shoe from Adidas-Salomon AG, part of the "Yellow Series" and decorated with the face of a character who has buck teeth, a bowl haircut and slanted eyes, has provoked a heated debate about the lines dividing racism, art and commerce.

The character on the shoe is the creation of a San Francisco graffiti artist, Barry McGee, who is half Chinese. McGee, who calls the character Ray Fong after an uncle who died, said the image is based on how the artist looked as an 8-year-old.

"You have to look at it as a piece of artwork," said McGee, 40, who used Ray Fong as a graffiti tag in the late 1990s and later in art installations and catalogue covers. "The way we put it all together, it becomes a collectible as art."

The shoe was released April 1, with 1,000 pairs on sale at a dozen boutiques in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hamburg and Denmark. It retails for $250 and comes with a graffiti art fanzine.

Since then, several blogs and message boards have been consumed with fervid debate over the shoe, and Asian American organizations have said it evokes damaging and long-standing stereotypes.

"You're kidding me, right?" read an entry on the Web site Angry Asian Man. " That's racist! "

Others point out that McGee's mother is Chinese and that he often uses art to explode stereotypes of Asians. On the blog AdJab, Adam Finley wrote, "My theory . . . is that Adidas is trying to target a younger, hipper demographic that is already familiar with the underground art world and the images can seem controversial when not seen in the proper context."

The Organization of Chinese Americans, which is based in the District, has received about 40 complaints from its members, according to communication director Anh Phan. The organization has sent a formal letter of complaint to Adidas, asking for removal of the shoe from the market.

"We initially didn't think it would become that big of a deal, but our members seem to think otherwise," said Phan. "Taken in context with all the mentions of yellow, it's upsetting. We want people to be mindful of that when trying to promote their products."

Dorothy Wong, the group's executive director, said such images define Asians as foreigners. "And it fuels an anti-immigrant sentiment that has been coming to the fore lately," she said.

McGee's role as an artist and his ethnic background have confused the issue for some.

Still, said Frank H. Wu, dean of the Wayne State University Law School and author of the book "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White," the images have an effect that cannot be ignored.

"The problem with this is not that it's done by bigots, because it's not," he said. "It's also not that it offends people, because in many ways, that's what art is meant to do. The problem is that these images, even though crude and cliched, are powerful, almost indelible. They write the scripts that we expect others and we ourselves to follow. You can't read all that into a shoe, but it's part of a pattern."

The controversy also addresses the issue of removing a potentially subversive image from the context of art and introducing it into the world of commerce, where there is no means to indicate that the image may be a wry commentary on stereotypes, rather than perpetuation of the stereotype itself.

"We live in such a cynical, postmodern society that if you are offended by something like this, people say, 'Lighten up, it's ironic, it's a joke.' And that's really nice if you're a student of art history," Wu said. "But how many 10-year-olds talk about irony? When you get teased, it doesn't make it any better to know that they're also calling it ironic. It sends the message that it's hip to make fun of Asians."

Called the Y1-HUF, the shoe is part of the Yellow Series of the Adicolor brand produced by the German sportswear maker and was designed by McGee with the San Francisco specialty-clothing store, HUF. The Adicolor line offers 42 shoes in seven colors, 36 of them produced with artists or designers.

Adidas said it meant no offense. "It is an unfortunate coincidence that its inclusion in the Yellow Series has been misinterpreted as offensive," the company said in a statement. "It was not the intention of Adidas, nor HUF and McGee, to offend any individual or group as we pride ourselves on being a multicultural organization."

Peter Chang, 21, of Silver Spring said it wasn't necessarily offensive because of McGee's background. "But as a shoe-head," he said, "I wouldn't consider it for a collector's item just because visually it doesn't fit into what people go for when they think of Adidas. If Adidas takes heat for it, it's their own fault. They're a multinational corporation; they have to think about the consequences."

Deborah Kong, 33, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and a former newspaper reporter, heard about the shoe from her brother and sent an e-mail to friends and Asian American organizations to start a letter-writing campaign to Adidas.

"There has been some discussion on blogs about whether this constitutes racism, or whether it's an artist's response to racism," the e-mail states. "But we think it is, at the very least, a bad marketing decision on the part of Adidas. And, taken out of context, it represents an outdated stereotype."

In 2002, the clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch Co. drew complaints from Asian Americans because several T-shirts it produced bore characters with similar attributes and racially charged slogans.

Kong, who covered that controversy for the Associated Press, said the Adidas shoe does not bother her as much as the Abercrombie shirts but that she thought it was a good opportunity to raise debate on issues that she said Asian Americans are typically hesitant to confront.

"I would like to see an apology, however," she said.

At the Adidas store in Georgetown, which does not carry the shoe but has other Adicolor products, manager Sean O'Brien said he has not received any complaints about or requests for the Y1-HUF. However, he said he recently visited a New York store that was selling the shoe and salespeople there told him they had received numerous complaints.

McGee said he still doesn't understand the reaction.

"I mean, I had a bowl cut and I had buck teeth," he said. "People can perceive it as whatever they want. I guess that's just the power of images. The whole project was kind of a joke to me, so it's weird because I never saw this coming."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Displaying Native American Culture

Displaying Native American Culture

New York Times
December 21, 2004
Who Should Tell History: The Tribes or the Museums?

CHICAGO - Museums always make use of the past for the sake of the present. They collect it, shape it, insist on its significance. When that past is also prehistoric, when its objects come to the present without written history and with jumbled oral traditions, a museum can even become the past's primary voice.

But what if that prehistoric past is also claimed by some as a living heritage? Then disagreements about interpretation develop into battles over the museum's very function.

That was the result, for example, at the Smithsonian Institution's $219 million National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in September in Washington and calls itself a "museum different." George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection of 800,000 tribal American objects is put in service of contemporary Indian cultures with tribal guest curators determining how their heritage is to be presented. The result is homogenized pap in which the collection is used not to reveal the past's complexities, but to serve the present's simplicities.

There are, however, other ways in which the prehistoric past can be revealed, as two exhibitions in Chicago suggest. At the Field Museum, "Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas," is remarkable not just for its careful exploration of the famed archeological site high in the Peruvian Andes, but also for demonstrating an almost devotional care to exhuming a lost past. At the Art Institute of Chicago, "Hero, Hawk and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South" is no less remarkable in its display of objects created by ancient American cultures, but it is subject to many of the same forces that molded the National Museum of the American Indian. Here though, rather than overturning the museum's enterprise, they merely distract from it.

First, the Machu Picchu exhibition. Created by the Peabody Museum at Yale, it offers the largest collection of Incan artifacts ever shown in the United States, including robust three-foot-high jugs for corn beer (which was fermented by the saliva of women who chewed the maize before brewing it); samples of bright, geometrically ornamented 500-year-old fabrics; and a corded "quipu," a linked collection of knotted strings used to record events and numerical accounts. The curators are Richard L. Burger, a Yale anthropologist, and Lucy C. Salazar, a Peruvian archaeologist.

The major question about Machu Picchu has not been who speaks for its past, but what that past actually was. The site, with its terraced, mountainous landscape and stone structures, was known to only a few local inhabitants when it was discovered by Hiram Bingham III, who led Yale's Peruvian Expedition in 1911. As Mr. Berger and Ms. Salazar explain various hypotheses by Bingham, including one that the site was a sacred nunnery for Incan "Virgins of the Sun," have been conclusively disproved. The curators established, instead, that it was a summer retreat for a ruling Incan family, built between 1450 and 1470 and used only for about 80 years before being abandoned in the face of the Incas' defeat by Pizarro's Spanish armies.

The exhibition also makes it clear what an extraordinary site Machu Picchu is. Nestled in the cloud-decked mountains of the Andes, its architecture serves as a kind of cosmic clock, the sun and constellations appearing in certain stone windows at specific times of the year. The exhibition shows how scientists have used bone fragments to analyze the Incan diet (60 percent maize), and demonstrates how Incan skulls were deliberately elongated by molds placed on infants' heads, presumably for aesthetic effect. One emerges astonished by this lost world.

Still, there are subtle traces of contemporary claims evident in the portrayal of this prehistoric culture. After all, Machu Picchu is now a national symbol in Peru; in 2001, it was used for the inauguration of the president, Alejandro Toledo. It is also the object of almost mystical devotion. Hundreds of thousands of tourists climb its ruins every year.

In response, perhaps, there are hints of overly tactful delicacy in the exhibition's descriptions of Incan society. Incan aesthetic and cosmological preoccupations become clear, but other aspects do not, including a rigid social structure that involved forms of slavery, a religious culture that incorporated human sacrifice, and a military organization powerful enough to conquer 2,500 miles of the South American coastline and build 25,000 miles of roads. Mr. Berger, in an e-mail message, said that for the Peruvians, the Incans looked good compared to the Spaniards. The exhibition wants us to admire, and we do. But we know less about what we might admire less.

At the Art Institute of Chicago more explicit pressures are at work, and they nearly derail the considerable achievements of "Hero, Hawk and Open Hand." The exhibition is devoted to products of societies that thrived along the Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers as early as 5,000 B.C. Their remnants can still be seen in landscapes near Newark, Ohio, or St. Clair County, Ill., in enormous earthen mounds and geometric shapes outlined by raised ground.

These structures testify to a highly organized society barely glimpsed by European settlers. Some sites had already been abandoned by the time the Europeans arrived. Others were devastated by diseases brought by the settlers, which wiped out as much as 90 percent of their Indian populations.

But as Richard F. Townsend, the curator of the department of African and Amerindian art at the Art Institute, shows, these cultures' mastery can be sensed in the objects produced: a haunting 2,000-year-old elongated face smoothed out of stone found in Kentucky; a graceful, elegant hand cut out of mica from about the same era in Ohio; a 500-year-old wooden figure - half human, half feline - found in Florida.

Such a display, along with historical commentary, would once have been sufficient. But contemporary Indian tribes, supported by some scholars, have argued that they have an ancestral connection to these cultures. And since museums have not traditionally displayed much sensitivity toward living cultures, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act now obliges them to consult with tribes about their holdings. In preparation for the exhibition, four years were spent consulting with tribal leaders. But to what end?

Joyce Bear, the cultural preservation officer of the Muscogee Nation, has the exhibition's first word, declaring on the wall leading to the galleries, that it will "make our tribal people realize that we are descendants of a wonderful and great culture." In the catalog, she proudly announces that the exhibition proves that "I come from kings and queens." The exhibition ends with a statement about a "new, sweeping movement of cultural preservation" among Indians, including a film showing their renewal of traditions.

But all this has little to do with the objects on display and makes it seem as if the exhibition's purpose were to boost tribal pride. Also, while there may indeed be ancient traditions that have found their way into contemporary practices, the nature of these connections, at the very least, demands closer scrutiny.

One anthropologist's assertion that contemporary Indian beliefs are "analogous" to those of these ancient cultures is challenged by others in the catalog. Mr. Townsend writes that these earthworks were "built by peoples whose achievements and ancestral connections to present day tribes are at best only vaguely surmised." Robert L. Hall, an anthropologist, points out that Cahokia, an imposing culture on the Mississippi that was already in decline in the 14th century, "left no written records and no native peoples possess oral traditions that specifically identify Cahokia or even recognize its existence." In the 18th century, another writer says, Indians encountered by settlers "did not construct mounds, nor did any of them have oral traditions relating to these earthworks."

Even the exhibition's explanations of these societies' workings seem idealized, skewed by contemporary sensitivities. In the catalog, for example, an anthropologist, David H. Dye, explores warfare among the Mississippi Indians, but it is barely alluded to in the exhibition, despite the presence of objects like a pipe (1200-1500 A.D.) sculpted as a bound captive and a vase whose decorations are "trophy scalps stretched in a starlike pattern." The exhibition gives so refined a picture of these societies that there is no way of knowing how important such images were, or where historical evidence of slavery and human sacrifice fits in.

This is also, of course, what happened in the Smithsonian's Indian museum. Since almost no tribes had a written culture and oral traditions were disrupted by disease, massacre, government policy and assimilation, the tribal curators often seem to know less about their history than do scholars. Yet scholars' assessments are ignored in favor of self-promotional platitudes.

All this is a form of guilty overcompensation for past museum sins that themselves need re-examination and assessment. In the meantime, exhibitions like the one on Machu Picchu serve as reminders of what is possible. And the objects at the Art Institute can still be heard straining to speak for themselves, despite the layers of promotional and political gauze in which they are wrapped.

Revisiting Springsteen's Chords of Change Op-ed

August 5, 2004
Chords for Change
By Bruce Springsteen

A nation's artists and musicians have a particular place in its social and political life. Over the years I've tried to think long and hard about what it means to be American: about the distinctive identity and position we have in the world, and how that position is best carried. I've tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures.

These questions are at the heart of this election: who we are, what we stand for, why we fight. Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

Through my work, I've always tried to ask hard questions. Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfillment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?

I don't think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America's citizens, courage and faith.

People have different notions of these values, and they live them out in different ways. I've tried to sing about some of them in my songs. But I have my own ideas about what they mean, too. That is why I plan to join with many fellow artists, including the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Jurassic 5, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, in touring the country this October. We will be performing under the umbrella of a new group called Vote for Change. Our goal is to change the direction of the government and change the current administration come November.

Like many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the country's unity. I don't remember anything quite like it. I supported the decision to enter Afghanistan and I hoped that the seriousness of the times would bring forth strength, humility and wisdom in our leaders. Instead, we dived headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq, offering up the lives of our young men and women under circumstances that are now discredited. We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of "one nation indivisible."

It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities - respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals - that we come to life in God's eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Race and DNA Science

New York Times
April 12, 2006
Seeking Ancestry in DNA Ties Uncovered by Tests

Alan Moldawer's adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new DNA kit that he had heard could determine an individual's genetic ancestry.

The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they could be useful in obtaining financial aid.

"Naturally when you're applying to college you're looking at how your genetic status might help you," said Mr. Moldawer, who knows that the twins' birth parents are white, but has little information about their extended family. "I have three kids going now, and you can bet that any advantage we can take we will."

Genetic tests, once obscure tools for scientists, have begun to influence everyday lives in many ways. The tests are reshaping people's sense of themselves — where they came from, why they behave as they do, what disease might be coming their way.

It may be only natural then that ethnic ancestry tests, one of the first commercial products to emerge from the genetic revolution, are spurring a thorough exploration of the question, What is in it for me?

Many scientists criticize the ethnic ancestry tests as promising more than they can deliver. The legacy of an ancestor several generations back may be too diluted to show up. And the tests have a margin of error, so results showing a small amount of ancestry from one continent may not actually mean someone has any.

Given the tests' speculative nature, it seems unlikely that colleges, governments and other institutions will embrace them. But that has not stopped many test-takers from adopting new DNA-based ethnicities — and a sense of entitlement to the privileges typically reserved for them.

Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights.

One Christian is using the test to claim Jewish genetic ancestry and to demand Israeli citizenship, and Americans of every shade are staking a DNA claim to Indian scholarships, health services and casino money.

"This is not just somebody's desire to go find out whether their grandfather is Polish," said Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University who has studied the social impact of the tests. "It's about access to money and power."

Driving the pursuit of genetic bounty are start-up testing companies with names like DNA Tribes and Ethnoancestry. For $99 to $250, they promise to satisfy the human hunger to learn about one's origins — and sometimes much more. On its Web site, a leader in this cottage industry, DNA Print Genomics, once urged people to use it "whether your goal is to validate your eligibility for race-based college admissions or government entitlements."

Tony Frudakis, the research director at DNAPrint, said the three-year-old company had coined the term American Indian Princess Syndrome to describe the insistent pursuit of Indian roots among many newly minted genetic genealogists. If the tests fail to turn up any, Mr. Frudakis added, "this type of customer is frequently quite angry."

DNAPrint calls the ethnic ancestry tests "recreational genomics" to distinguish them from the more serious medical and forensic applications of genetics. But as they ignite a debate over a variety of genetic birthrights, their impact may be further-reaching than anyone anticipated.

Some social critics fear that the tests could undermine programs meant to compensate those legitimately disadvantaged because of their race. Others say they highlight an underlying problem with labeling people by race in an increasingly multiracial society.

"If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven't experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy," said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for student affairs at the University of Michigan, which won the right to use race as a factor in admissions in a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

Still, Michigan, like most other universities, relies on how students choose to describe themselves on admissions applications when assigning racial preferences.

Ashley Klett's younger sister marked the "Asian" box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European.

Whether it mattered they do not know, but she did get into the college of her choice.

"And they gave her a scholarship," Ashley said.

Pearl Duncan has grander ambitions: she wants a castle.

A descendant of Jamaican slaves, Ms. Duncan had already identified the Scottish slave owner who was her mother's great-great-grandfather through archival records. But the DNA test confirming her 10 percent British Isles ancestry gave her the nerve to contact the Scottish cousins who had built an oil company with his fortune.

"It's one thing to feel satisfied to know something about your heritage, it's another to claim it," said Ms. Duncan, a writer in Manhattan. "There's a kind of checkmateness to the DNA."

The family's 11 castles, Ms. Duncan noted, were obtained with the proceeds of her African ancestors' labor. Perhaps they could spare one for her great-great-great-grandfather's black heirs? In case the paper records she had gathered were not persuasive, she invited male family members to take a DNA test that can identify a genetic signature passed from father to son. So far, no one has taken her up on the offer. Her appeal, Ms. Duncan said, is mostly playful. Less so is her insistence that the Scots stop referring to their common ancestors as simply "Virginia and West India merchants."

"By acknowledging me, the Scots are beginning to acknowledge that these guys were slaveholders," she said.

Other slave descendants, known as the Freedmen, see DNA as bolstering their demand to be reinstated as members of the Indian tribes that once owned their ancestors. Under a treaty with the United States, the "Five Civilized Tribes" — Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees — freed their African slaves and in most cases made them citizens in the mid-1800's. More recently, the tribes have sought to exclude the slaves' descendants, depriving them of health benefits and other services.

At a meeting in South Coffeyville, Okla., last month, members of the Freedmen argued that DNA results revealing their Indian ancestry underscore the racism of the tribe's position that their ancestors were never true Indians.

"Here's this DNA test that says yes, these people can establish some degree of Indian blood," said Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee Freedwoman who is suing for tribal citizenship in federal court. "It's important to combat those who want to oppress people of African descent in their own tribe."

As the assets of some tribes have swelled in the wake of the 1988 federal law allowing them to build casinos, there has been no shortage of petitioners stepping forward to assert their right to citizenship and a share of the wealth. Now, many of them are wielding genetic ancestry tests to bolster their claim.

"It used to be 'someone said my grandmother was an Indian,' " says Joyce Walker, the enrollment clerk who regularly turns away DNA petitioners for the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which operates the lucrative Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. "Now it's 'my DNA says my grandmother was an Indian.' "

Recognizing the validity of DNA ancestry tests, some Indians say, would undermine tribal sovereignty. They say membership requires meeting the criteria in a tribe's constitution, which often requires documenting blood ties to a specific tribal member. DNA tests cannot pinpoint to which tribe an individual's ancestor belonged.

But if tribes are perceived as blocking legitimate DNA applicants to limit payouts of casino money, experts say, it could damage their standing to enforce the treaties conferring the financial benefits so many covet.

"Ancestry DNA tests are playing a part in the evolution of what the American public thinks matters," said Kim Tallbear, an American Indian studies professor at Arizona State University. "And tribes are dependent on the American public's good will, so they may have to bend."

Under no such pressure, Israeli authorities have so far denied John Haedrich what he calls his genetic birthright to citizenship without converting to Judaism. Under Israel's "law of return," only Jews may immigrate to Israel without special dispensation.

Mr. Haedrich, a nursing home director who was raised a Christian, found through a DNA ancestry test that he bears a genetic signature commonly found among Jews. He says his European ancestors may have hidden their faith for fear of persecution.

Rabbis, too, have disavowed the claim: "DNA, schmeeNA," Mr. Haedrich, 44, said the rabbi at a local synagogue in Los Angeles told him when he called to discuss it.

Undeterred, Mr. Haedrich has hired a lawyer to sue the Israeli government. As in America, he argues, DNA is widely accepted as evidence in forensics and paternity cases, so why not immigration?

"Because I was raised a gentile does not change the fact that I am," Mr. Haedrich wrote in a full-page advertisement in The Jerusalem Post, "a Jew by birth."

Shonda Brinson, an African-American college student, is still trying to figure out how best to apply her DNA results on employment forms.

In some cases, she has chosen to write in her actual statistics — 89 percent sub-Saharan African, 6 percent European and 5 percent East Asian. But she figures her best bet may be just checking all relevant boxes.

"That way, of the three categories they won't be able to determine which percentage is bigger," Ms. Brinson said.

Global Brass Bands

New York Times
April 9, 2006
They're With the Band, Speaking That Global Language: Brass

LAST December, the veteran Mexican-American rock band Los Lobos dusted off its 1992 album "Kiko" and performed it live, start to finish, at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. For most of the night it was a standard rock setup, but when it came time for the album closer, a woozy Mexican folk swoon called "Rio de Tenampa," Los Lobos brought out Los Cenzontles, a Northern California banda troupe. While Mexican bandas (brass bands) can have as many as 20 members, Los Cenzontles didn't need much more than a tuba, a trumpet, a thudding bass drum and a pair of clarinets to turn the club into a raucous cantina.

Brass band music can have this effect. The stammering pepper-spray of horns, the crisp snaps of snare rolls: it's precise and excessive at once, a joyous emotional tornado awash in spit, sweat and celebration. No wonder it's one of the world's most-spoken musical languages — from Serbian villages to Manhattan's bustling "gypsy punk scene" to this year's Grammy Awards, where Kanye West reinvented "Gold Digger" by having a marching band play, running through the aisles. Awareness of international brass styles has blossomed in recent years in the United States, thanks in large part to an increase in domestic album distribution deals and more frequent international concert tours.

"You would think that a brass band, which has no strings at all, would be limited in its sound," said Tamir Muskat, the Israeli-born co-founder of Balkan Beat Box, a new-school crew in New York known for wild live shows that mix Balkan horn blasts with electronic beats. "But it's unbelievable what people manage to do with it. There is a whole world of brass out there."

Listen to enough brass band music — whether a slice of Mexican banda or the Romanian group Fanfare Ciocarlia pulling the trigger on a dizzying blast of high-velocity trumpets — and you start to hear the history of the world handed back to you in a horn section. Suddenly, Serbia and Romania could be the alternative birthplace of Brazilian frevo; brass flurries from Gypsy bands in Macedonia and Bulgaria could be lost cousins of the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from India, the Gangbe Brass Band from Benin or any New Orleans jazz troupe.

The connections are more than theoretical. In the 1860's, thousands of former Gypsy slaves fled Romania for the American South, landing in mostly black neighborhoods. The brass music they brought with them, like that of all Balkan countries, can be traced to the Turks, the original band geeks. Last year's "Blowers From the Balkans" compilation (Topic), which unearthed a trove of early 20th-century Balkan brass recordings, spelled it out loud and clear: it was the Ottoman Empire's janissary bands that turned brass into the lingua franca of Serbia, Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria.

"The Ottoman empire used brass bands to impress the enemy, walking and playing in front of the first line of soldiers," explained Oprica Ivancea, the lead clarinetist for Fanfare Ciocarlia, a 12-piece band of Romany Gypsies who work out of the remote mountain town of Zece Prajini (population 400) in eastern Romania. "But in the early 19th century, brass got popular in Germany and Austria and because Romanians always want to be like the Germans we began to adapt to their sound as well."

Long before Kelly Clarkson and Jay-Z (and for that matter, long before rock 'n' roll), European military and church bands were the world's top global musical exports. Locals throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas were trained in the ways of the marching band as part of colonialism. As empires dissolved, official bands soon became voluntary village bands, and by the turn of the 20th century most of the world shared an ingrained knowledge of all things brass.

"All brass bands have a link somewhere," Mr. Muskat said. "Ninety percent of all brass bands are based on the same elements. It's all rhythm and horns."

Mr. Muskat's Balkan Beat Box partner Ori Kaplan grew up in Jaffa, Israel, where he watched Egyptian orchestras on television and learned to play Eastern European klezmer clarinet from a Bulgarian trained by Gypsy brass musicians. When Mr. Kaplan moved to New York 15 years ago, though, he wanted nothing of his klezmer past, choosing instead to play in industrial punk bands. That all changed when he heard a CD from Macedonia's top brass band, Kocani Orkestar, and learned about the Gypsy-Turkish fusions of the Bulgarian horn stalwart Yuri Yunakov, another New York City transplant). "I started to listen to Balkan music constantly," Mr. Kaplan said, "I became a brass band freak."

Of brass band enthusiasts in the United States, however, few can top the trumpeter Frank London, whose Klezmer Brass All-Stars have just released their third raucous manifesto of brass globalization, "Carnival Conspiracy." While firmly grounded in both Balkan and klezmer traditions (Mr. London's main gig is with the tradition-bending Klezmatics), "Carnival" makes cross-cultural brass connection its guiding impulse, riffing on the beer hall oompah of Mexican banda and the funk marches of Brazilian frevo and batucada. If the batucada seems like a stretch, it shouldn't: the first Jews in North America were Eastern European immigrants from Recife, Brazil — the capital of Brazilian big band.

"The idea of brass repertoires crossing genres and being assimilated into different traditions has been going on in all of these brass band musics forever," said Mr. London, who in the 1980's also fronted Les Misérables Brass Band, playing music from Pakistan, Serbia and South America (as well as the occasional Jimi Hendrix cover). "For many years, the most popular song for Indian brass bands was 'Tequila.' When you play an Italian feast, you don't just do Italian parade music. At the end you sit down and play opera overtures, then you can do covers of popular music, dance music, jazz music. Most brass bands just have this breadth of repertoire and styles at their fingertips."

Fanfare Ciocarlia have made a career out of this kind of stylistic juggling. They play everything from Russian-influenced Romanian doinas (slow improvised melodies) to Gypsy maneas (melancholy love songs) born in India, and on their latest CD, "Gili Garabdi," tackle an Afro-Cuban rumba alongside versions of the James Bond theme and Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol's "Caravan."

"We play music and dances we learned from our fathers," said Mr. Ivancea, who considers Gili Garabdi a tribute to the shared heritage of Gypsy brass and African-American jazz. "But we also play any tune requested during a wedding or baptism. We provide a service — we have to play what people want to hear."

In 2003, Mr. London decided to test these theories of a single brass family tree on an actual collaboration. So on the Klezmer Brass All-Stars' sophomore outing, "Brotherhood of Brass," he sought out the Hasaballa Brass Band from Cairo and Boban Markovic, a Serbian trumpet king, for a series of reeling geography mashups that imagined Eastern European shtetls and Egyptian markets sprouting up in Serbian villages.

"Over the last few years, I've noticed that my music has become part of a larger global conversation," said Mr. Markovic, who has been known to start his live sets with a version of the theme from "Titanic." "Knowing someone's music is so much easier these days. But I am still mostly trying to communicate with local people, especially communities in the south of Serbia and in the Balkans."

In that spirit, Mr. Markovic's newest album, "The Promise," features his typically kaleidoscopic takes on standard coceks (stomping Gypsy dance tunes), but also dips into the Latin American brass band tradition with "Latino" and "Voz," songs that wouldn't sound out of place on the set list of a Mexican banda. Which makes perfect sense considering that the Mexican brass style — one of the most commercially dominant genres in that country's music industry — was initially inspired by the Franco-Austrian military bands that reached Mexico through the coastal hub of Mazatlán in the 1800's.

"Our brass music is very similar to German music," said Poncho Lizárraga of Banda el Recodo, Mexico's longest-running brass ensemble, founded by Mr. Lizárraga's father, Don Cruz, in 1938. "We just interpreted it differently, turned the polkas into our own rancheras. My father wanted something different from all that music coming from Europe. It was music just for our town, and in the beginning, mostly for people who liked to spend too much time in the cantinas."

More than six decades and 180 albums later (their latest, "Hay Amor," has just been released), Recodo's 17 members are international banda ambassadors who wear matching jewel-studded suits made of black velvet, and their music has become a favorite sample source for hip-hop and electronic acts like Akwid from Los Angeles, Wakal from Mexico City and Nortec Collective from Tijuana. Similarly, the growing popularity of Balkan brass with sample-hunting D.J.'s in the United States and Europe — led by Shantel of Germany, whose "Bucovina Club" nights in Frankfurt ignited an electro-Balkan avalanche — which has been a key factor in introducing the centuries-old music to first-time listeners.

On Shantel's new "Bucovina Club Vol. 2" mix CD, Balkan Beat Box makes an appearance, and he throws a few house beats under cuts from Fanfare Ciocarlia and Mahala Rai Banda, another Romanian band, but mostly he lets the old-school originals speak for themselves: the traditional as the new cutting-edge.

"People are tired of corporate-friendly rock 'n' roll and the cold nihilism of the electronic music scene," said Mr. Kaplan of Balkan Beat Box. "They're hungry for this really sweaty, personal, alcohol-driven, familiar, ceremony-like music. There's something very healthy about all of this interest in brass music. People just want to get back in touch with their feelings."

Iraq war veterans record rap CD

Troops in Iraq Express Stress on Rap CD

By SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment WriterMon Apr 10, 4:07 PM ET

Some American soldiers relieve wartime stress in the weight room. Some unwind over meals. Others immerse themselves in letters from loved ones.

But for a dozen young fighters featured on a new CD, rap is the route to stress relief.

"It's all a way of venting," says Marine Sgt. Kisha Pollard, 22, who left California's Camp Pendleton this month for a third tour in Iraq. "You're stressed and you can't be violent or do anything bad. Freestyling (rap) is a big relief, and everybody will come around and listen."

Pollard and other amateur rappers serving in Iraq contributed their war-driven rhymes to "Voices From the Frontline," a CD that hits stores April 25. Some hope for music careers after finishing their military service. Others simply were seeking an outlet for their thoughts on fear, family and fighting abroad.

"This ain't for a paycheck. This ain't for us to be known," Army Sgt. Christopher Tomlinson says on the CD's introduction. "This is for somebody to understand a soldier's life."

That's what Joel Spielman wanted to do when he came up with the "Voices From the Frontline" concept in 2004. Inspired by a documentary about soldiers' letters home, Spielman, president of punk label Crosscheck Records, wanted to create something similar in song.

"My vision was to have it be an audio documentary," says Spielman, 33. "I wanted people to actually hear the voices of the soldiers."

He posted a call for contributions on military message boards and called Army bases around the country.

Frankie Mayo of Operation AC, a nonprofit group that provides care packages to military servicepeople overseas, responded. Her son, Tomlinson, won military talent shows with his poetic skills.

With Tomlinson and Mayo's help, notice of Spielman's effort spread through the cyphers — rap wordplay circles — that spontaneously spring up at military camps in Iraq.

There's ample rap talent in the war zone, says Tomlinson, who also goes by the name Prophet. Troops get together and create impromptu raps over beats played on laptop computers, CD players or Xbox consoles. Sometimes it's a competition, other times it's just to cope.

"We rhyme for hours upon hours about anything and everything," Tomlinson says on the CD. "All your emotions can come out and everybody's equal. Ain't no ranks, ain't no sergeants or privates. Everybody's the exact same."

He adds that he can express feelings in rhyme that he couldn't in conversation.

"Rap music became my diary," says the 24-year-old, who now works as a recruiter for the National Guard. "We've been given a gift to get to speak our voices for those that don't get a chance to."

Pollard, whose rap name is Miss Flame, speaks for female fighters in her song "Girl at War."

"I could get shot, too, just as well as a boy," she raps. "You look me up and down 'cause you're thinking I'm weak, until you see me in Iraq, patrolling the streets."

Pollard, who joined the Marines at 19 because she "likes the uniform," started rapping in elementary school. She used to rhyme about "life and everything with growing up," she says. Now she focuses on her experiences in the Middle East, with the hope of educating listeners and improving her prospects for a career in music, modeling and acting.

Marine Cpl. Michael Watts, Jr., who goes by the rap name Pyro, has been rhyming since he was 10. Back then, it was about "fancy cars, money and women," he says. Now it's all about Iraq.

His songs help fill in what news reporters might leave out, Watts says.

"They know what it's like to be in Iraq but they don't understand the brotherhood," the 21-year-old says. "I want everyone to understand what we go through over there. We have it so easy here in the USA."

Once the soldiers returned from Iraq, they each spent a day recording their songs at studios throughout the United States.

Spielman says the best thing about the CD is its authenticity.

"It's as real as it gets," he says, from the soldiers and their rhymes to the skits between songs. Dialogue and live sound from the war zone precede each of the CD's 12 tracks.

"Voices" doesn't glorify violence and isn't sexist or political, Spielman says.

"This CD is not anti-war and it's not pro-war," he says. "It's a journal from each of these individuals. There are some buoyant moments, but a lot of it is tragic and sad."

Personal accounts of wartime experiences help counter negative depiction in the media, says Army spokesman Maj. Nathan Banks. Under the first amendment, he notes, troops are free to express themselves however they like. Still, Banks says the military isn't likely to endorse "Voices From the Frontline."

"The wording is something we'd never support," he says, referring to the CD's plentiful profanities. "That's not the image we like to portray."

Spielman says the CD will be carried by Army, Marine and Navy stores, as well as major retail outlets such as Tower Records and Wal Mart. Five percent of the proceeds from each CD will benefit Operation AC.

Tomlinson says he's "proud" and "blessed" to be a part of "Voices From the Frontline."

"I know America was wavering with what their standpoint on soldiers were," he says. "I feel like this CD gives the world a better perspective of what our life is like."


On the Net:

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Los Angeles Times
Players' prospects
With more music school graduates than jobs, what does their future hold?
By Chris Pasles
Times Staff Writer

April 9, 2006

"There are now too many musicians in San Francisco, more than enough to fill all the 'jobs.' What we need is work, not musicians. Stay away from San Francisco. You will find it cheaper in the end."
— Notice signed "By order, Board of Directors, Local #6, San Francisco"
and posted in the American Musician in 1898.

Anyone who supposes that American musicians have a tough time finding jobs compared with their forebears obviously hasn't looked into the matter. The advisory at above shows just how little times have changed.

Yet in at least one respect, the situation for musicians at the beginning of the 21st century differs markedly from the one that prevailed a hundred years ago: In those innocent days, there were just a handful of American music schools.

USC had opened its music department in 1884, four years after the university was founded, and upgraded it to a college of music only in 1893. The Institute of Musical Art — precursor of the lofty Juilliard School in New York — started 12 years later. But even then, USC's music enrollment was a mere 100.

Things began to accelerate in 1924, the year that Douglas Fairbanks soared through "The Thief of Bagdad" and George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered. Meeting in Cincinnati, representatives of six American music schools decided they needed to band together to work out problems and curriculum concerns. In short order, the National Assn. of Schools of Music and Allied Arts was formed, with an initial membership of 16 institutions. USC joined in 1925. Within three more years, there were 32 member schools. In three decades, there were more than 200. Today, the figure tops 600.

In the 1980-81 season, according to one study, more than 1,100 members of the American Federation of Musicians competed for 47 full-time positions. Now, an estimated 2,700 music performance majors graduate from American centers of higher learning every year. The usual number of jobs available: 160 or fewer.

There's always room at the top for the very gifted, of course, in any profession. Even in academia, Yale announced last fall that, beginning in 2006-07, it will join the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in providing free tuition to all its advanced music students. But keeping a music school healthy requires something more than the cream of the crop — it takes a steady stream of hopefuls. As one music school recruiter bluntly put it: "If you want a circus, then you've got to have animals."

No easy answer

Still, that raises the question: Does he mean a nurturing playland or lambs about to be slaughtered? What are the real prospects for music students today?

The answer depends on which side of the academic fence you're standing on.

"We have too many outstanding music colleges turning out too many graduates for whom there will be no work in music," says maverick British critic Norman Lebrecht.

"It's close to false trading. You take the kids into schools, fire them up with the idea of making careers, knowing from the outset there will not be opportunities for most of them. Very few conservatories are giving students any kind of alternative programs or a sense of the reality ahead for them."

Nonsense, counters Derek Mithaug, director of career development at Juilliard.

"That's the vocational prism that people use in their evaluation of music colleges," he says. " 'What is the placement rate?' That model is disturbing. The idea behind a college or conservatory training goes way beyond being a performing musician."

Juilliard graduates enter many fields, says Mithaug. "Performing is just one of them. Education is another." Others include producing, consulting, directing, journalism, publicity, marketing, advocacy and community outreach. "In these areas, you'll find a wide range of our graduates."

Robert Cutietta, dean of USC's Thornton School of Music, agrees.

"Our students get a full college education that prepares them for all kinds of things," he says. "So many of them are involved with teaching, playing, recording, almost running a small business — and they are the business."

Cutietta is happy to report that 74% of USC's music alums over the last 10 years earn their primary income from music.

"I'm surrounded by people who make a living at music," he says. "It's a very lively profession, especially in a city like Los Angeles."

Such issues were more recently brought to the fore in freelance oboist Blair Tindall's book, "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music," which details Tindall's and other musicians' successes and failures in securing livelihoods. But most critics focused only on Tindall's kiss-and-tell adventures, dismissing her analysis of the job situation as sour grapes.

"OK, maybe I failed," says Tindall, who attended the Manhattan School of Music. "But what about the 99% of the other grads? We can't all be untalented, undisciplined and without goals. There's just not that much work available."

Others argue the opposite. There are jobs available, says Raymond Ou, a former pianist at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, part of Johns Hopkins University. But they might not be your first choice — and you have to go where they are.

North Carolina was "ripe with possibilities," says Ou, 31. After earning a master's in piano performance at Peabody in 1998, he headed south for three years to teach at a North Carolina private music school and work as a church organist.

"With a performance degree from Peabody, doors opened," he says. "But in the end, what made it work was I was willing to do the jobs instead of just aiming for the top. Lots of conservatory graduates aim high, not wanting to do anything they consider beneath them. But the bottleneck is tight at the top."

For all that, Ou is now on the other side of the fence. He switched fields, going back to Peabody in 2001 to become director of the residence life program. Although he occasionally performs, he sees his immediate future in administration and recently buttressed his credentials with a second master's, in clinical psychology.

Even musicians who make it have complaints. In 1996, J. Richard Hackman and Jutta Allmendinger surveyed members of 78 professional orchestras in the U.S., Britain and Germany, examining their sense of job satisfaction in comparison with 12 other professional groups.

For general job satisfaction, orchestra players ranked seventh, right below federal prison guards. They ranked ninth, again just below prison guards, for growth opportunities. (On the other hand, members of string quartets ranked No. 1 in both categories.)

This unhappiness squares with a recent report in Britain focusing on orchestral musicians who had quit their jobs because of low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, the repetitive nature of the repertory and the necessary stifling of individuality to fit into a group.

"To be told every day to play a passage in a way you might not agree with — it's like being told to sing out of tune," former Hallé Orchestra violinist Morris Stemp told the Guardian Unlimited in February. "The notes get played but without your own feeling. And the money is so poor that if you lose your artistic integrity, what have you got?"

Soloists are not immune. Naida Cole, a 31-year-old Canadian pianist who won prizes at the Van Cliburn International Competition and recorded two discs for Decca, is abandoning her concert career to study medicine.

She feels her life wasn't "balanced" by being on the road all the time, and she missed having more contact with people.

"As much as I love music, what I enjoyed most was meeting people afterward, after the concert," she says. "I looked forward to the receptions, where I connected with people and found out if I communicated something. When you go onstage, the audience is 10 feet away, sitting in the dark. You go on alone, leave alone and wonder, 'Did I actually do anything?' "

She also felt constrained by what she called the "compromises" required to build a professional career. "You're very restricted in what you can play at a concert. It gets in the way of making the best music you can because you're told you must do this and not do that. It's a struggle."

Given this turmoil, some members of the academy are posing alternative ideas about how best to educate their students.

"We are not producing too many musicians," says Leon Botstein, a noted conductor and the president of Bard College. "We are producing too many musicians the wrong way, too many in a very old-fashioned, very out-of-date system of professional training. Conservatories are still training people to win the Queen Elisabeth Competition 50 years ago. And to that, nobody's listening."

Botstein thinks that every musician should be trained to improvise, "to write his or her own material the way pop musicians do and classical musicians used to do." He also feels they should rethink concerts as "a form of theater that is not reproducible on a recording" and learn to connect more immediately to audiences.

Last fall, to supplement these goals, Bard started a mandatory double-degree program requiring all its conservatory students to also earn a bachelor of arts with a major in a field outside music.

"We're not doing this because we think there will be no jobs and this will be a safety net," says Robert Martin, Bard's Conservatory of Music director and vice president for academic affairs. "We think it's what musicians should have, what young musicians deserve and need. Our view is that musicians need a broader education."

A bigger-picture approach

Bard is not alone in offering double degrees. So do such other schools as Peabody, the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. But only Bard's program is mandatory.

Still, it's not always easy to navigate between the two worlds, as Juliette Wells found when she embarked on a dual-degree track at Peabody and its affiliate, Johns Hopkins, studying violin and English.

"I was constantly explaining at both ends," she says. "It was a lot harder to explain at the music school than at the college. At the music school, from the beginning, I was asked, 'Why are you doing this other thing? If you were a real musician, really committed, you wouldn't be doing this.' So I found a lot of resistance to even trying to train in both things."

A repetitive stress injury — a result, ironically, of typing too many term papers, not over-practicing — ended Wells' music career. She's now an English professor at Manhattanville College in New York.

"Both careers are really competitive," she says. "But it's harder to win an orchestra position when it comes down to three minutes to make an impression. With academic jobs, you have more of a chance to make an impression."

As things stand now, many if not most graduates of even the best conservatories will fail that three-minute test. And they may not find themselves prepared to do anything else.

"Some will make it," says Tindall. "Somebody has to make it. But there are so many music conservatories out there, cranking out more people than the market can bear, it's important for people to consider what they're going to do with their training in music when they're out of school."

Short of an unlikely explosion in job opportunities, "the tragedy," writes "Music Matters" author George Seltzer, "is that there are so many fully qualified applicants for any orchestral vacancy.

"For each outstanding talent that is permitted to be heard in our orchestras, there are probably 99 equally outstanding talents that will fall silent. A terrible waste."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Condoleezza Rice: Pianist

New York Times
April 9, 2006
Condoleezza Rice on Piano

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago on Sunday, Condoleezza Rice got up at 4 a.m. so she could fit in her daily exercise regimen — weights and the treadmill — and still have time to prepare for interviews on three morning news programs. Just a few hours later, on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted her with recent reports that shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Russians had given intelligence on American troop movements to the Iraqis. Even on the normally sympathetic "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asked her why Americans should not be outraged that United States troops continue to fight and die while Iraqi politicians haggle over jobs.

Toward the end of the program, questions about her future plans predictably arose. Just as predictably, she stated that despite urgings from highly placed Republicans, thank you, no, she would not pursue the presidency.

For most people, let alone a secretary of state grappling with an increasingly unpopular war, this would have been enough exertion for the traditional day of rest.

But late that afternoon, Ms. Rice was back home in her comfortable apartment in the Watergate complex for one of her frequent sessions of chamber music with four friends, lawyers by profession and dedicated amateur string players.

Ms. Rice is an accomplished pianist. At 15 she performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, her prize for winning a student competition. Until college she intended to pursue music professionally. Now 51, she plays as often as every other week with this group, which convened three years ago. Until now it was a realm of her very public life that she kept private.

People often ask her, Ms. Rice said that day, whether playing chamber music is relaxing. "It's not exactly relaxing if you are struggling to play Brahms," she explained. "But it is transporting. When you're playing there is only room for Brahms or Shostakovich. It's the time I'm most away from myself, and I treasure it."

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

Not so today, in the era of recording technology, when you can hear almost any piece from the entire history of music by switching on an iPod. The trade-off is that so few people know the personal joy of making music. Whatever else she is to political supporters and opponents, Ms. Rice may be the most prominent amateur musician in the world right now, which is big news for classical music.

THE amateurs in Ms. Rice's ensemble do have some professional credentials. Two of the players had successful musical careers before switching to law. Soye Kim, the first violinist, who has two degrees from the Juilliard School, spent busy years studying in Europe and freelancing in New York before she entered law school at 39. Robert Battey was a professor of cello at the University of Missouri for 12 years, and still sometimes coaches.

Though Lawrence Wallace, the violist, now retired, is a former law school professor who served as a deputy solicitor general under eight presidents, he used to moonlight as a musician. Joshua Klein, the second violinist and the youngest member of the ensemble, who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last term, studied violin seriously during college and law school.

"I don't make money playing the piano," Ms. Rice said, with the pride of a honorable amateur.

"No," Mr. Battey replied, "though you have gotten some pretty nice dinners out of it."

He was referring to a concert the group played two years ago at the British Embassy for an audience of 100. After the performance, which lasted just over an hour, the British ambassador presented an elegant dinner.

In 2003, the group also gave a private concert at Ms. Rice's apartment, which attracted an overflow bipartisan audience, including Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court, Alan Greenspan and Harriet Miers, classical music lovers all. Ms. Rice's ample living room has a nook in a corner, which accommodates her midsize grand piano, a Chickering, a cherished gift from her parents when she was a teenager.

On this Sunday, once the musicians had settled down and tuned up, they began by playing through the ebullient first movement of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat. The piano part has fancy runs and elaborate flourishes, especially in a tempestuous contrasting development section, alive with intricate counterpoint.

"We generally like to start off with a nice finger-buster for the secretary," Mr. Battey said. That way, he explained, she's warmed up when they really get to work.

Ms. Rice's long, thin fingers are nimble indeed, especially for someone who doesn't have much time to practice. Her touch has lightness and subtlety, yet she plays with crisp clarity and, when called for, robust sound.

They played right through the first movement. When things got a little tangled in the difficult development section, they had the collective wit to forge ahead and let things untangle.

It was wonderful to hear chamber music as it was meant to be: played by friends for their own enjoyment, in the confines of a living room, which makes the sound seem enveloping. Playing chamber music is a bonding experience. During an earlier interview at the State Department, Ms. Rice said the members of her group had become "like my best friends."

"We are like family," she added.

Traditionally, playing chamber music has also been a great equalizer. But do these string players really feel free to critique their pianist? Mr. Wallace answered, "I just assumed from the beginning that it wouldn't be any fun for her if we were deferential."

Though the Schumann went well, Ms. Rice felt that things had become shaky in the exuberant push to the coda. "Can we try the ending again," she asked, "just for our pride?" So they did, and they played it with more solidity and just as much spirit.

But the real give-and-take began when they turned to the first movement of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, a piece they are still learning. The music is episodic, moody and — as so often in Shostakovich — elusive. Are the evocations of Bach-like counterpoint to be taken at face value? Are the grim outbursts ironic?

The players began the somberly oracular opening section and soon fell out of sync. "My tempo is not your tempo," Ms. Rice told her colleagues, when they stopped to regroup. As a musician she is a palpably attentive listener. As they tried again, the opening section emerged in a more cohesive arc, and they segued smoothly into a faster episode with curious triplet figures in the piano, which Ms. Rice infused with a stealthy character.

When they failed to coalesce in an up-tempo section of the movement, Ms. Rice blamed herself. "I don't know this passage coming up," she said. "So I hesitated to turn the page." She stared at her printed score and said, almost to herself, "I'll get that fixed." There was no doubting it.

Ms. Kim commented on the articulate way Ms. Rice played a series of thick chords. "You're playing them really short, Condi," she said. "I hadn't thought of that," she added, warming to the idea.

"I like them separated," Ms. Rice replied. "Not too short, maybe kind of sticky." Everyone knew what she meant.

After the Shostakovich, they turned to Brahms's Piano Quintet in F minor: "Condi's piece," as Mr. Battey called it. This intense, intricate and extremely difficult work is one of Ms. Rice's favorites. She reveres Brahms, she said, because the music is "passionate but not sentimental." In the scherzo, the players set a breakneck pace. Sometimes notes splattered and coordination teetered on the brink. It hardly mattered. The music-making was risky and vital.

MS. RICE, an only child, is a fourth-generation pianist on her mother's side. Her mother, Angelena Rice, who died of cancer in 1985, taught music and science at an industrial high school in a black suburb of Birmingham, Ala. "My mother was a church musician, and she read music beautifully, but she didn't play classically that much," Ms. Rice said during the earlier interview. "But she had a marvelously improvisational ear, which I don't have."

Her father, John Rice, who succeeded his father, a son of slaves, as minister at a Presbyterian church in Birmingham, also loved music, especially big-band jazz. (John Rice died on Christmas Eve in 2000, days after learning that Ms. Rice had been appointed national security adviser.) When she was an infant, Ms. Rice's parents gave her a tiny toy piano. "They had a plan," she said. Today that gift is prominently displayed on the coffee table in her apartment.

But it was her maternal grandmother, Mattie Ray, who proved the decisive musical influence in her life. Because both Ms. Rice's parents worked, she was dropped off each day at the house of her grandmother, who taught piano privately and sensed her eagerness and talent. Lessons started when she was 3. "I don't remember learning to read music — you know, the lines and spaces and all that," Ms. Rice said. "From my point of view I could always read music."

Classical music became her passion from the day her mother bought her a recording of Verdi's "Aida," and she listened, "my little eyes like saucers," she said, to the brassy and stirring "Triumphal March."

Ms. Rice, not quite 9, was sitting in her father's church on the Sunday morning in 1963 when, two miles away, bombs went off at a Baptist church and four black girls were killed, one of them a childhood playmate of hers. During this period of protests, fire hoses and bombs in Birmingham, she found comfort taking music classes at a local conservatory that had boldly opened its doors to black children. In 1969, the family moved to Denver, and Ms. Rice, having skipped the first and seventh grades, entered the University of Denver at 15 as a music major.

At 17, she attended the prestigious summer school at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and came to believe that though she was a very good pianist, she was "not great," she said. "That was the really the revelation," she added. "And it wasn't just that experience. You start noticing prodigies, and you realize that I'm never going to play that way." There is "just some intangible" in music, she said. Whatever it was, she said she felt she didn't have it. She decided to major in international relations instead, focusing on the Soviet Union.

As her career in higher education and government prospered, she began to let her music slip. Feeling the loss in 1993, when she became the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University, she applied herself again on the piano and took regular lessons with a faculty member, George Barth. It was he who encouraged her to immerse herself in chamber music.

A couple of times in recent years she has ventured onto a concert stage for special occasions. In 2002, when the cellist Yo-Yo Ma received a National Medal of the Arts, he requested that Ms. Rice accompany him in a piece during the ceremony at Constitution Hall. They played the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor in an arrangement for cello and piano. A photo showing her playing with Mr. Ma that night has pride of place in her living room.

Ms. Rice has only just begun to see the potential of music as a diplomatic tool, notably last February, when she delivered a speech in Paris about American rapprochement with Europe in the face of vehement disagreements over the invasion of Iraq. During the trip, she visited the Hector Berlioz Conservatory in Paris, where she attended a children's music class and watched young ensembles perform. As cameras caught her listening, she seemed deeply affected by the fledgling musicians.

At the time, there were "whole questions about U.S.-French relations and so forth," she said, "and I think it was just nice to connect with the French kids." Asked to play something, she declined, but promised to come back sometime with her chamber group.

Her fellow players would surely be eager to go. At the Sunday session, after their hellbent rendition of the Brahms scherzo, they segued without a break from the fortissimo final chords of that movement to the mysterious introductory section of the finale, a minor-mode Allegro with a touch of a Gypsy dance. Connecting these two movements is a bold interpretive stroke.

"The scherzo has such an odd and abrupt ending," Ms. Rice said. So plunging right into the slow introduction that follows "seemed like a good idea," she said. Wanting credit, Mr. Battey said, "It was my idea." His colleagues laughed and said, "Yeah, yeah."

As the session ended, the string players packed up their instruments and took places around the coffee table for their traditional postrehearsal reward: white wine and cheese. As they chatted, Ms. Rice's friends spoke of how touched they had been to be invited to her swearing-in as secretary of state and to her 50th-birthday celebration, attended by President and Mrs. Bush.

Ms. Rice, who lives a short walk from the Kennedy Center, said she was looking forward to attending the Washington National Opera's new production of Wagner's "Rheingold" when she returned from an overseas trip. In February she took in the Kirov's production of Puccini's "Turandot," when the company visited the capital. She spoke of how impressed she had been by the innovative staging. By the music, too.

"That's about the only Puccini opera I can take," she said. A couple of us, led by this Puccini lover, stuck up for him. But Ms. Rice is not alone in her opinion.

Her favorite opera is Mussorgsky's epic "Khovanshchina," not surprising, given her expertise in Russian culture, language and history. It may have special resonance today: it tells of bloody factional strife at the time of the ascension of Peter the Great, made worse by the intransigence of the Old Believers, a fundamentalist Orthodox group opposed to reform.

These days, Ms. Rice finds chamber music so fulfilling that she has almost no desire to play solo works, she said. But she does have her eyes on a particular prize of the piano repertory.

"Before I leave this earth, I'm somehow going to learn the Brahms Second Piano Concerto," she said, "which is the most beautiful piece of music." It is also dauntingly hard.

Whether Condoleezza Rice some day becomes commissioner of the National Football League, president of Stanford or president of whatever is anyone's guess. But don't bet against her learning Brahms's Second Concerto.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Yo-Yo Ma Testifies About Artists' Visa Problems

New York Times
April 5, 2006
Yo-Yo Ma Testifies on Capitol Hill About Artists' Visa Problems

WASHINGTON, April 4 — Scrounging for younger audiences. Squeezing donors. Seeking relevance alongside the pop culture behemoth. In some ways, times are tough in the performing arts. But a quiet new headache has arisen: just getting foreign artists into the country.

Agonizing waits and mounting costs for artist visas are plaguing arts presenters, partly because of post-9/11 security measures, but also because of changes that occurred before the attacks. On Tuesday, the performing arts world succeeded in taking its case to Congress, putting Yo-Yo Ma on a hearing room stage.

In a crisp black suit and without his cello, Mr. Ma testified before the House Committee on Government Reform, appealing to the government to ease the path of foreign musicians coming here.

"I think dignity is the huge issue that we're all talking about," he told the committee, which is looking into the delays for visas issued to performers, students and workers.

Concert and dance presenters, festivals and countless smaller organizations — often those who can least afford it — have had their budgets burdened with new immigration costs. Anecdotes abound about tours that have been canceled because the artists did not receive visas in time or did not want to pay the extra costs, or because the presenters did not want to risk a cancellation. Other artists have simply decided not to try to come.

Mr. Ma appeared in his role as leader of the Silk Road Project, an ensemble bringing together musicians from across Central Asia and the Middle East, which he founded a decade ago.

While the hearing was strongly focused on the difficulty of bringing in nonartists, like technology workers from India and graduate students from China, Mr. Ma was clearly the star of the show. But by the time his question-and-answer period came, only the committee's chairman, Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, was in attendance.

"You don't need a passport or a plane to visit someplace new," Mr. Ma testified. "Music provides a shortcut, allowing you to be transported thousands of miles away and back during the two-hour span of a concert."

Mr. Ma said barriers to foreign musicians "have become extraordinarily high." He cited the case of two Iranian musicians, Siamak Aghaei and Siamak Jahangiri, who have visited the United States eight times with the Silk Road Project since 2000 and must still wait months before receiving visas. They have to fly to Dubai for a consular interview and then fly back to pick up the visa. In the last year, Mr. Ma said, they went a third time because the visa printer was out of order. The latest procedure lasted three months and cost $5,000.

In another case, the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, England, canceled a two-concert United States tour partly because of the cost of having to take all 100 players and staff members to the United States Embassy in London for personal interviews, said Sandra L. Gibson, the president and chief executive of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Ms. Gibson said the cost mounted to $80,000.

Post-9/11 rules now require almost all nonimmigrant visa applicants to undergo face-to-face interviews. The wait for an interview can often take three months in some places and sometimes up to five months in India. Costs have gone up, too. Performing arts presenters must apply here to bring in performers, another process that can drag on for weeks or months. The United States Customs and Immigration Service charges organizations a $1,000 "premium processing fee" to do it in two weeks, instead of the normal $190 fee. Many organizations just pay the larger fee. In addition, each individual applying for a visa must pay $100.

The arts presenters association represents a field of 7,000 organizations. Ms. Gibson said 75 percent of them presented foreign artists in 2002. The percentage was down to some 60 percent last year, she said, because of the red tape.

Arts presenters acknowledge that the United States immigration service is hard pressed for funds, staff and facilities, and that the number of visa requests is rising.

Tony Edson, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for visa services, defended the government's record on visas, saying that 515 consular jobs had been created since September 2001. The State Department has improved training, computer systems and efficiency, he added. Paperless visas and digital video interviews are being considered. Personal interviews, he said, are an "incredibly useful" security tool.

Committee members acknowledged that security was important but argued that it had to be balanced with openness. "In the long run, our security is enhanced and not diminished by the exchange of people and ideas," said Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California.