Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Personal news first. I took my special field exam, and feel pretty good about it (thanks in large part to the sizable chunk of musical theater in the listening portion). The essays seemed rather, uh, vast—one on whether nationalism is an effective theory for a musicologist, one on how form has been manipulated in twentieth century music (this question required examples in classical, musical theater, film, and popular, covering the entire twentieth century).

I can happily attest that I can recognize "One Song Glory" from Rent from the first three notes, as I was asked by my professor during the test whether the CD player worked. I have no real shame about that either.

And then after the test, I joined my friend Jesse, who defended his dissertation the same day, and others for a celebratory drink. Quite pleasant.

In more somber news, Robert Rauschenberg has passed away. I remember the daunting and fascinating task of choosing his Estate(1963) for a paper in Art History. The interpretive possibilities set the mind reeling, and that for me is what I love about Rauschenberg. His works are immediately inviting, fascinating juxtapositions, familiar and yet wholly original, unpretentious but without settling to give you an easy or obvious answer. I don't know the details (and I want to) about his relationship with John Cage, but they both seem to capture that post-war spirit, the fascination with technology, with everyday images and objects, but Rauschenberg I think succeeds in giving it more of that visceral energy. The old becomes new and exciting again.

Also in the news, the Tony nominations are out. I've only seen the revival of Sunday, which was marvelous and ought to win something for its set. I hope to catch Gypsy, South Pacific, and In the Heights while I'm out east this summer. But what excites me is this larger trend in Broadway. The revivals of Sondheim, if they're any indication, manage to be incredibly inventive without sacrificing dramatic or musical choices. They give you a reason not just to content yourself with the original cast recording. And if In the Heights is anything like Spring Awakening, it may not the legitimization of rock musicals, not as simply a way to attract audiences and sell songs, but to make the language of the vernacular a vehicle for insightful drama and social messages. The history of musical theater is a history of national sentiment, really, from Berlin and Rodgers and Hart and Hammerstein to Sondheim and Kander and Ebb. It just makes me sad when the best we can seem to muster these days is to take movies as they are and slap some pop-style songs on them or a collection of already popular songs and string them together.


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