Waking up, grabbing my phone, and seeing a half dozen unread emails is one of the easiest ways to get my anxiety rolling. One of the only things that will put me in panic mode quicker is seeing tons of Twitter notifications blinking on my phone, post-nap. My first thought is always, "oh god, what have a tweeted that's pissed someone off now...". Well a few days ago, I was met with that panic after one of my mid-day naps, but it wasn't me that the Twitter-verse was after.
With the release of the movie, "Us", came tons of think pieces - the keyboard philosophers sure had plenty to say about it. I saw the movie on Saturday, and had to spend a couple days thinking about all of the concepts Jordan Peele explored so intricately, and so brilliantly. I'm still thinking about the symbols in that film, as a matter of fact. You'll never hear me say that I'm too smart for anything - art is all about interpretation, and the best art (in my opinion) takes a while to fully digest, as was the case for "Us". Not everyone thinks that way, though. Someone I follow on Twitter (whose name I've redacted) said the following:
...and this is where the tweet storm came in. This tweet got hundreds of likes, and its fair share of "unlikes", as well, including several tweets that mentioned my name. I guess the phrase "Beethoven's symphonic algorithm" made a few people think of me, and I was asked to jump into the ring of discussion. As much as I do my best to stay out of social media drama and nonsense, I was compelled to throw in my two cents into a now very LONG Twitter thread:
The initial tweeter didn't use the word "formalism" at all, as you can see, but the idea that art is intrinsically over someone's head has, in itself, been a significant trope in Russian classical music. The Soviet leadership wanted to make sure that all art was for the people. It seems fairly innocent, and maybe even equitable on the surface, but composers who wrote music that the government deemed over most people's heads, or "formalist", were publicly denounced, and sometimes even punished! I found this article if you're interested in reading more about the Soviet fight against musical formalism.
All in all, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I'm not going to sit here and say that the guy who compared Jordan Peele's "Us" to the complicated nature of Beethoven's music is right or wrong. I WILL say, though, that Beethoven's music is remembered and revered because it was personal - the only algorithm really at play was his life experience, and how that came through his art. We have to maintain that same energy when we consider the depth of contemporary art, INCLUDING featured films. Defining a movie, a piece of music, a book, or anything as "[not] meant to be enjoyed by all" is dangerously close to Soviet's battle against what they saw as formalism - let's let the past teach us about the present.
It's very interesting that a film with people dressed in RED, and a conversation surrounding it, made me think of Soviet Russia (remember learning about the "Red Scare"?) If you haven't seen "Us", I highly recommend it. Here's an excerpt from the film's score that instantly grabbed my attention in the theater:
I wanted to offer a really quick thank you to everyone who took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday! As a sort of continuation of my previous post, I'll say that I was completely "slay'd" by all the love, and the gifts Dell got for me! I plan on "slaying" lots of people with my new copy of Division 2 (gamer tag GarrettMcQueen) and my hot new sunglasses!
RuPaul's Drag Race is a cultural phenomenon, and has brought many phrases that have been well-known, well-loved, and well-used into mainstream culture. These include the concept of shade, the "dip" (or death drop), and of course, "You Betta Werk". When I use the word "werk", I'm basically saying "good job". Like, if your outfit is slammin', or your latest CD is really banging, I'll say "Yass, werk bish!". Well, not always just like that, but I think you get the idea. I'm thinking about that word in a different way today, though.
Once a month at American Public Media, there's a meeting for the People of Color Employee Resource Group (or the POC-ERG). March's POC-ERG meeting took place yesterday, and although it was my day off, I've decided that this is a group I need to be as involved in as possible, despite my very rarely being in the office when anyone else is around. The group has already gone to bat for me concerning company-wide issues I've faced, and I'm fully dedicated to working with them, even while off the clock.
When I arrived, there were ONLY black and brown people in the room. As a company organization, we have to be fully inclusive, and usually there are more "allies" in the room than actual POC, so you can understand my surprise. I quickly learned that a separate (but equal [sorry, had to put it in there lol]) allies meeting had been arranged, so that we could have a space to REALLY talk...and boy did we.
The main topic was hiring - how budgets can impact the diversity of a staff. While I completely understand and agree that people move faster and more efficiently when money is involved, I was compelled to offer my on-boarding story. Long story short, my (now) manager and her boss scheduled a lunch with me when I came to Minnesota for the first time to sub with the SPCO, kept me in mind when a position came open, invited me to apply, and here I am. It wasn't an increased "diversity budget" that compelled Julie to bring me on, but a desire to offer audiences a perspective they didn't have. That's the point of diversity, right? You know, making sure that as many perspectives are showcased and considered through the work an organization does? It's a shame that money has to be put in front of people's faces to hire diverse, but I'm glad that MY department is actively making efforts to not only hire diverse, but to let the diverse hires "werk". (No shade to any other departments - I can only speak for mine).
And that brings me back to my initial point. "You Betta Werk" is in the zeitgeist at this point. That bit of diversity on a mainstream network has enriched millions, not just because of visibility, but because of what someone put in a very visible position has done! I felt this need to really "werk" after I left that POC-ERG meeting, and even more this morning when I checked my email and saw messages from young black classical musicians trying to figure it all out. It's easy to fall into the idea that being that woman, or that black guy, in a room full of other people is enough, but we have to do so much more. Today, I'm making the effort to level up and really squeeze everything I can out of my job, my platform, and my "brand". Garrett McQueen isn't the black representative of classical music by any means, but I AM the representative of my values and perspective - I'm pushing myself to really share what I have to offer. Maybe I should find a sign or poster that says "You Betta Work", post it in my bathroom, and read it as a reminder that being visible isn't enough. You have to WERK to impact!
I'm not a drag queen, nor am I a guy who bends gender norms in what I wear, but like many gays, I've dabbled. Here's a photo from Halloween 2010:
Whether it's a tweet gone wrong, or a full documentary exposing bad behavior, the idea of cancel culture has taken over popular culture these days, with some people surviving, and many more, professionally dying, or being "cancelled". In the past few weeks I've had several meetings with people from several organizations, and the idea of "cancel culture" has come up in each of them. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of cancel culture, look no further than social media. What people are tweeting and blogging is under more scrutiny than ever, which is fine in some instances, and it's coming at the cost of people's careers. There are some people who MOST CERTAINLY should be cancelled in my opinion, including R. Kelly. Others, though, tend to fall under the cancel culture radar for some reason. Many of them, live in the world of classical music.
Over the past few years we've seen the fall of a few conductors, including James Levine, but when I apply cancel culture to classical music I'm thinking more about composers. The first name people tend to bring up is Wagner, due to his problematic relationship with Nazi culture once upon a time, but there are so many others whose music we celebrate, with even cloudier histories.
Back in my days at WUOT, I interviewed Maestro Aram Demirjian on this topic (you can listen here, if you're interested). The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was set to perform Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana", and after doing lots of research in preparation for the interview, I came across a little of his problematic history. Is this a composer whose music we should save for the sake of art, despite his political leanings? We don't offer those sentiments to the paintings of Adolph Hitler, right?
Digging deeper into this discussion will bring you to others, like Claude Debussy. He didn't have any problematic social opinions as far as a know, but he WAS a womanizer! Not only did he repeatedly cheat on his wife, but he also led two women to attempted suicide. If Debussy were alive today, I imagine that the #MeToo movement would take care of him. Sacrebleu...
I'm not sure why I'm thinking about this right now - it's a little after midnight right now, and I'm at work, airing a beautiful piano concerto by Howard Shore (who I don't know to have "cancel culture" causing actions in his past). Maybe the release of the Michael Jackson documentary has me in this state of mind. It's not so easy to "cancel" someone you actually love, right? Is no one going to listen to "Thriller" this Halloween? I'm not trying to push anyone in one direction or the other, as much as I'm questioning why we don't apply our contemporary standards to the classical composers we listen to all the time. Who knows, I guess. Time will tell how we treat these men of ages past.
On a lighter note, "Trilloquy" is well on its way! The first two episodes are just about done, and I plan on posting previews right here on my website, sometime next week. Here's the logo we got branded earlier this week: