The Lion


Photo Courtesy of Ogawatsusyou

Much like my Uber rating, I am unabashedly proud of my “sensual soundtrack.” I’m sure you’re familiar with the one, lurking in the “secret” section of nearly every millennial’s Spotify. The playlist that magically makes its way to the speakers after a couple of glasses of wine, as the distance on the couch between you and your company slowly vanishes. Crafting that perfect ear aphrodisiac is my strong suit…. or so I thought until I heard my roommate’s concoction drifting through our paper-thin walls.

Delicately titled “I’m Getting Laid”, her playlist is not merely ambiance. No, it is a ballad, taking you on an epic journey that Homer himself would be impressed by. I don’t mean to be blunt, but it is sheer fucking genius. The exposition of her masterpiece begins with the ever so classic Marvin Gaye–and not that Kygo bullshit–but the actual authentic, original, dirty, baby-making music. Drake and 80’s rock hits concoct the rising action and eventually culminate in a conflict of palpable sexual tension accompanied by The Weeknd and The Arctic Monkeys. And finally, the apex of the journey (I would say “climax,” but that’s a bit gauche): it begins with Beyoncé’s “50 Shades of Grey” rendition of Crazy in Love, which is followed by more Weeknd (obviously). It’s truly tantalizing. As things begin to calm down, more soft pop flows from the speakers and spooning eventually transforms into a “boot and rally” of more raunchy R&B. Finally, the actual resolution of soft electronic music as you recover, sinking into your satisfaction.

While I would not follow her prescribed playlist to a T, it is awe-inspiring–a good model for understanding nationalism in today’s world.

Today is the “beginning of the end of nationalism,” as my Danish friend informed me. While I am largely ignorant to the European political scene, I have learned that, apparently, the upcoming elections are demonstrating a tendency to lean away from the more nationalist parties. To be honest, this isn’t surprising.

Like sex-playlists, nationalism is a good impetus for action, yet cannot serve as a solid foundation for the entire apparatus. While it takes different shapes according to the implementing actor, it is largely the same concept worldwide: a heavy emotional pride cloaked in politics. States and sex both have many complex parts synergistically working together, and a faulty reliance on a single apparatus such as nationalism (or a playlist) will likely lead to failure. From Hillary’s desperate attempts at patriotism at the Democratic National Convention, to Le Pen’s decline in popularity, it is evident that success cannot ride on nationalism alone.

While still crucial to the overall success, neither nationalism nor sex playlists, alone can climax in success.  

Image courtesy of Meghna Gorrela, CC’20

Dear Evan Hansen, TIME magazine’s “#1 New Musical on Broadway,” is at once a sentimental coming-of-age story and a powerful deliberation of social media and mental health. The musical follows the tumultuous life of a high-schooler named Evan Hansen, played by General Studies student Ben Platt, who must navigate his social anxiety in the painful aftermath of a fellow student’s death.

The Lion had the privilege to ask two Dear Evan Hansen stars about their theatrical lives and their thoughts on the musical. Here is what Kristolyn Lloyd (who plays Alana) and Mike Faist (who plays Connor) had to say:

Question: Many of Columbia’s Drama and Theatre Arts majors dream to make it to Broadway someday. Given that you studied drama at another top university (Carnegie Mellon), before becoming a Broadway star, what advice can you personally offer to these particular students?

Lloyd: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that being an artist is more than just knowing every play that’s ever been written. You can know the whole history of theater and still be lacking as an artist. In terms of people who I really admire and their successes, part of what I really admire about them is that they’re human beings with so much life experience. I took a year off of acting in 2009 and did missionary work in Southeast Asia, and afterward my agent said to me, “This was the best decision you’ve ever made as an artist, to go do missionary work.” One thing I always encourage young people who want to go into theater to do is, after high school, go take a year off before going to conservatory doing aid work somewhere, or travelling the world, or just doing something big and scary and adventurous so you can learn more about who you are. That’s going to influence you as an artist.

Question: According to your bio on the musical’s website, your theatrical career actually began offstage, when, at the young age of 17, you sold Broadway tickets on the streets of Manhattan to make a living. What kept you going through those harder times, and allowed you to make it to where you are now?

Faist: I had friends in similar shoes similar shoes as me, who were also scrambling trying to make ends meet. I wasn’t even auditioning; I was too nervous going through whatever I decided I was going through at the time to really put myself out there. But, I had friends who were, and luckily they dragged me places kicking and screaming. They kept saying, “Just shut up and do it!” Those people took me to those auditions and motivated me, and I now feel like you just need to book that first thing. You need to get a confidence boost, essentially. I booked a dinner theater in Springboro, Ohio — it was nothing, and I got paid like $250 a week, but I was a professional performer and that gave me enough of a confidence boost at that age to say, “Well, if I can do this, why can’t I do that?” This led to more regional non-union theaters, which led to me eventually having enough confidence to go in and audition for a Broadway show.

Question: What is it like to be a person of color on Broadway, in a space where people of your background have traditionally faced underrepresentation? How has your identity shaped and affected your experience?

Lloyd: What a huge question. It’s a very convoluted answer because, you know, I can speak from being a black person, but it’s going to be different for someone who is asian, and different for someone who is middle eastern. But as a black woman I’ve found that there are things that you’re going to come head-to-head with that are frustrating. I’ve found that with African American women in theatre, especially in musical theater, our biggest struggle is being seen outside of character roles, or the antagonist. What does it look like to have a black woman on stage who’s a hero? We see that musicals like The Great Comet and Hamilton are allowing women of color to be seen as heroines. The social stance that theater is going to be able to take to communities– and the world– is saying that women of color can be heroes, and that they don’t always have to be the sidekicks. And I’ve found that as an artist it’s only made me more interested in the types of writers, playwrights, and composers who are interested in stories like that, who are interested in complex characters like that. It has inspired me as a writer as well.

Question: What is your favorite scene involving your respective character, and what did you personally add to the scene to make it “uniquely yours?”

Faist: Luckily, I’ve been with the show since the very beginning stages of it, so I’ve been with the show for 3 years. The creative team gave me the maps for these characters, and as writers got more specific about what they wanted, I was able to get more specific — so we were all feeding off of one another. So all of my character is mine, in a way, and that’s something I can say that you do when you’re originating a role or a character: you end up tricking yourself into thinking “I am this person.” And that’s when unique, cool things come alive — when you are able to fool yourself and say “what if?” But, my fave scene is the computer lab scene at the very beginning, before Connor passes away. You get to see Connor and Evan in two parallels and you actually see the similarities more than the differences.

Question: What do you think is the most important lesson we, as students and also world citizens, can learn from the respective character you played?

Faist: When I was doing research for the role, I looked through this website called livethroughthis.org. Basically, it’s a series of interviews with people who are suicide attemptees. They’re all in recovery, and they talk about it. The biggest thing they talk about is stigma, and how they’re portrayed and looked at by society, and how they’re shamed for having those thoughts, and how they’re diminished and marginalized in a way that’s in some ways different — but also not — from others who feel marginalized. What I’ve noticed in how people look at Connor is that they immediately put him in a box as well, because they see a guy wearing all black, and he says “fuck you” a lot, so they think he must be a bad guy or he must be a bully — or he shoves the main character so he must be a bully. But that’s not the case at all. He’s a kid who’s really hurting, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: we’re all similar and we’re all closer than I think we realize.

Question: Part of the significance of Dear Evan Hansen is its candidness about the issue of mental health. Currently, around the nation and especially on college campuses, many people want to see a greater effort to destigmatize mental illnesses. Do you have any suggestions about how we can collectively achieve this goal?

Faist: The first thing you can do is start talking about it. The minute you start regularly talking about bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts or depression, it becomes something that everyone can relate to or listen to or empathize with, and it becomes less of a taboo issue. That’s the biggest thing: a lot of these ppl who’ve attempted suicide want to talk about it because they don’t want other people who might be going through what they went thought to not feel like they’re able to talk about it — because that’s when bad things happen. The minute you start talking about it, you start to see connections with other people. Everyone can empathize with feeling sad or lonely from time to time; that’s just a part of life and some people just feel too deeply. And that’s okay, but we just need to talk about it. That’s really where you need to start: having conversations and dialogue.

Question: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Columbia community?

Faist: Go check out livethroughthis.org.

Lloyd: Come see Dear Evan Hansen! Be a part of the conversation, be a part of the theater community, and see stuff that’s Off-Broadway and stuff that’s on Broadway. That’s where art and ideals are cultivated: within the theater. Let’s see how we can take these wonderful pieces that are being shown in New York City and get them to places where people don’t get to see these kinds of controversial pieces of art!


For tickets and more information about Dear Evan Hansen, visit dearevanhansen.com.

                                Image via Yael Turitz

Thanks to my loving professors, I spent almost 90% of my spring break doing homework (not that I’m bitter or anything). I only had one chance to get out to the movie theater, my typical go-to break activity, but I knew exactly what I wanted to see: Bill Condon’s live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Growing up, Belle was my favorite princess. An avid reader myself, I thought I was just like her, dreaming to travel and escape my “provincial life” (to be clear, I lived right outside of Washington, D.C. and was not at all stifled, but, hey, the eight-year-old mind sees what it wants). I owned a golden gown Belle costume that I insisted on wearing far too often for my mother’s taste (see above picture for proof, in case you doubt me), and the movie practically lived inside the VCR.

Needless to say, I was pumped to see this movie. And, despite having to sit in the third row because the theater was so crowded (and therefore feeling like I was going to vomit throughout the entire movie because of my ridiculous motion sickness), it did not disappoint.

When I opened the newspapers the next day, however, I was shocked by the reviews. Ty Burr from The Boston Globe called it a ‘strenuous copy cat” of the original, while The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern said it was “crazily cluttered, overproduced venture in industrial entertainment.”

WHAT!? Strenuous copy cat? Crazily cluttered? What movie did these people watch!?

Despite my high expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by Condon’s film. Emma Watson proved that not only is she a incredibly talented actor, a natural beauty, and a wonderful female role model, but that she can sing like an angel. She sounded like she could be on Broadway, hitting notes with the same bravado as the original Paige O’Hara, and her pleasant tone felt so natural for a Disney princess. I honestly have no idea what voice Ty Burr was listening to when he said her voice was “never able to break out into the kind of sonic glory an audience might crave.” If anything, he could critique Dan Steven’s or Emma Thompson’s lacking voices, but their voices worked with the beast and teapot they respectively played, so he really shouldn’t do that either.

But what really confused me was that both Burr and Morgenstern seemed completely opposed to the need for a remake at all, yet seemed upset when the film changed or added any aspect to the 1991 classic. But the truth is that Condon’s film stayed extremely close to the original, not changing any plotlines or characters. The few pieces the new movie did add was a (barely) openly gay character, a couple of new songs written by the original composer Alan Menken and famed lyricist Tim Rice, and a scene that tells us how Belle’s mother died from the plague, and her father was forced to leave his wife to save his daughter– all modern additions that make the movie more resonant for modern audiences, and actually much deeper without taking away from the buoyancy and magical aspects of the original fairytale. What more did they want?

I guess you could argue that Disney shouldn’t be making remakes of great films, that they should let the originals stand on their own– a debate that will likely only become more prevalent as Disney continues to make remakes. But as I sat there, marveling at the incredible special effects, the moving additional scenes, Emma Watson’s refusal to wear a corset and perfect portrayal of a strong-willed Belle, I clearly saw the value in this remake. The remake is similar enough to the original that it doesn’t offend, but newly beautiful and relevant– so don’t listen to these people. I dare you to go see Beauty and the Beast in all its special-effects, costume, design, acting, singing glory and tell me it’s not a worthwhile movie.

For me, it was a dream come true.

 

The Must-(Not)Binge List: For the past few weeks, I’ve been painfully watching the CW’s Riverdale, mostly out of a sense of obligation to the Archie Comics that saved me during my lowest sleepaway-camp moments. But enough is enough. The new show, starring AJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, and Cole Sprouse is excruciatingly overdramatic. Neither Apa, Mendes, nor Reinhart can act, and the show’s plotline tries and fails to mix the teenage angsty characters of One Tree Hill with the dark plotlines of Black Mirror. Even Cole Sprouse, my favorite of the Suite Life brothers, can’t do anything with his brooding but unnecessary Jughead character. Don’t waste your time, especially if you were an Archie Comics fan. This show is an embarrassment. My grade: D

 

Do you belong here?

It’s a loaded question, and one I believe that many Columbia students encounter during their time here — commonly in the first or second year. The feeling that while your classmates are smart, talented, and generally have their lives together, you are dumb, untalented, and merely pretending that you are not falling apart.

This feeling, labeled Impostor Syndrome from its first characterization in 1978, is thought to be common in high-pressure cognitive environments — by some estimates affecting as high as 70% of the population in these environments. The psychologists who first discovered the phenomenon, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described it as “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

While not recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly known as the DSM), Impostor Syndrome can have real effects on the way people interact with the world, especially among college students in elite universities.

Terrified of being outed, the ‘impostor’ avoids taking on extra challenges, hesitates before  applying to high-level internships or fellowships, studies excessively to make up for their perceived cognitive deficit, or correspondingly, procrastinates out of fear that they’ll never finish it all.

When something bad happens, whether it be a below average grade, a failed audition, a rejected submission, or merely a fight with a friend, the ‘impostor’ does not see it as merely a small setback in an otherwise well-lived life. They see it as a confirmation of what they’ve known all along — that they do not belong at a school like Columbia, and that they are doomed to fail.

In particular, certain populations are more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome — for instance, those which have been underrepresented or disadvantaged. This group predominantly includes women, people of color, and first-generation students, and these identities can negatively impact student performance in a significant way.

When primed with their identities, each member of these groups did dramatically worse on tests of logic or mathematics, in some studies underperforming by 10-20% than those who were not reminded that they were “different.”

Why do so many high-achieving students ignore all evidence to the contrary and believe they are inferior? How can this belief so negatively impact their performance? While Impostor Syndrome has not yet been studied neuroscientifically, some clues from related fields of study can help shed some light on possible neural mechanisms underlying Impostor Syndrome.

One possible explanation comes from the perceived inadequacy causing an activation of stress-systems in the brain. As I have discussed before, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula all light up. Activation in these brain regions is known to induce anxiety and fear, as well as a host of other deleterious effects on student health.

Correspondingly, induced stress can inactivate your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and inferior temporal cortex — reducing working memory load, the ability to form new memories, and the ability to recall stored knowledge. In effect, if you constantly believe that you are not good enough to succeed, your success might ironically decrease.

Far from just a cognitive nuisance, if Impostor Syndrome is left unchecked it can cause extreme risk-aversion and contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. So what can be done about it? Some evidence points to fact-exposure as a good treatment — remind yourself of all the times you have in fact succeeded.

When failures inevitably occur, take the time to analyze how much was truly your fault, and how much can be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps most importantly, talk to the people you trust about the feelings of fraud you might be experiencing. Whether that is your parents, friends, or a therapist, talking through those fears and having them invalidated can often be cathartic in combating Impostor Syndrome.

In an environment of brilliant and hyper-competitive peers, it can be easy to compare your inner self to your classmates outer selves without stopping to think that the vast majority of your fellow students are struggling with the very same issue. And if nothing else, I can answer the question I asked at the beginning of this article for you — yes, you do belong at Columbia.

 

The ending scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

 

On Thursday night, the Met opened its season’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

The protagonist, Leonore, is the most positively impactful woman in all of opera. Disguised as a man named Fidelio, she earns the trust of Rocco, the prison warden. He brings her to her husband Florestan, a prisoner locked in a cellar cell. Once there, Leonore defends Florestan from Don Pizarro, the governor of the prison, by threatening him with her gun. Because of her actions, Leonore is hailed as a heroine of “noble courage.” Joy reigns as the couple is safely restored when Don Fernando, the minister, arrives.

Representations of constructively influential women in opera are rare. Most are throwing themselves off of castle parapets (Tosca), displaying a deranged, febrile madness (Lucia di Lammermoor), or even stripping for kings (Salome). The Met picked an important moment to portray an antithetical example. Adrianne Pieczonka, a Canadian soprano playing Leonore, said, “And with what’s going on in the world, I think it’s great to have a strong woman—a brave, courageous woman on a mission.” The only thing missing is a direct reference to Trump.

Given its backdrop, how was this politically charged opera vitalized? Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter—performed by Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in her Met Opera debut—sang wonderfully. Her voice had a sweetness that was maintained throughout her range. Jaquino, Rocco’s helper—played by David Portillo—sang with appropriate anguish over Marzelline’s spurning of his love.

In the subsequent ensemble number, Rocco and Leonore (Fidelio to these folks) joined Marzelline and Jaquino. Rocco—sung by the role-switching Falk Struckmann (formerly Don Pizarro in the Met’s 2000 production)—rang richly in his low register, but thinned out up high. As the night went on, however, his upper tones took on a rounder, fuller shape. Rocco’s employer, Don Pizarro—invigorated by Greer Grimsley—sounded diabolical in his “Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick!” aria. Grimsley’s repeated “Ha’s!” menaced his adversaries (and the audience!).

After Pizarro’s aria, Pieczonka presented her “Abscheulicher!” solo. Here and elsewhere, I observed her physically reaching upward for climatically high pitches. Her action affected her sound quality: her high register was quavering, forced, and over-vibratoed. In contrast, Müller visibly sunk down into her upper range. As a result, her highs maintained depth and quality. A casting switch between these two sopranos would be beneficial—but admittedly impossible—for this production.

Act 2 starts with a jolt: Florestan calls out “Gott!”, a desperate heavenly plea. Florestan—enlivened by Klaus Florian Vogt—has a many-colored voice: his timbre sounds like the mixing palette of a master painter. His unique hues transmitted the hopeful content of his singing.

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Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Some of Sebastian Weigle’s tempo choices detrimentally affected tonight’s performance. In “Gut Söhnchen, gut, hab immer Mut” the tempo was inappropriately slow. I have courage—“Ich habe Mut!”—but apparently not enough to show any vigor. And, in Pieczonka’s “Abscheulicher!” aria, the orchestra sounded safe, even calculated, during accelerandos. The correct energy can be achieved in upcoming performances by a reconsideration of phrasing and articulation.

The horns, however, turned in an excellent performance in the “Abscheulicher!” obbligato. Their tone was pure and their phrasing smooth and effortless.

The singer’s performances were framed by Jürgen Flimm’s production. Flimm’s work, staged for the fourth time at the Met, effectively recontextualizes Fidelio in the mid-20th century. In the first act, the principal themes of hope and freedom are juxtaposed against a starkly bare prison. For the final scene, Robert Israel, the set designer, depicts triumph with a backdrop of wispy clouds strewn across a light blue sky: it is little wonder that the words for heaven and sky are the same in German.

At this euphoric ending, Don Fernando has arrived, ousting Don Pizarro from the stage. The role was performed by Günther Groissböck with an imperial, declarative style, suiting the character well.

After, the chorus, winds, and low strings exclaim joyfully. Freude und Freiheit—Joy and Freedom: Beethoven affirms cherished values with his distinct emotional directness.

During the curtain call, I saw that the bronze heroic figure—which looms in the background of the ultimate scene—was taken off of his horse, placed dejectedly on the ground. To complete the coup, I think, appropriately, Leonore should be put in his former position—a nobly “nasty woman” who deserves her high praise and honors.

 

Beethoven’s Fidelio runs through April 8, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live April 1, at 1:00 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org

 

Meet Mathew Pregasen. Mathew is a Columbia junior studying computer science who founded a startup with Anuke Ganegoda (CC ’18), Sahir Jaggi (SEAS ’17) and Rikhav Shah (MIT ’19). Named Parsegon Inc, the company implements a new method of transcribing English descriptions of math into mathematical script. For example, Parsegon’s technology could take a sentence “integral from 0 to 10 in region D of 2x squared + 3x cubed – the square root of x” and convert it into visual, textbook-formatted math.

How did you come up with the idea of Parsegon? What experience made you want to start your own business?

The way it started was pretty accidental. It was first a small project that we had no intention of turning into a company, but as it developed we realized it had more potential. Soon, we started to think of this project in a business context. We did Almaworks, raised some funding, hired some people for the summer, and further developed our business. In the ending, it is a technology project.

How did Almaworks facilitate your business development process?

I think the most beneficial part is that it connects you with incredibly helpful mentors. At first, you might not know too much about design, planning, or the law associated with a startup business, but as long as you get close to a mentor, you will get proper advice on business direction, project development, and especially important legal services.

What’s the current entrepreneurial environment at Columbia like? How does it compare to other schools?

I think in the last two years, there has been some significant changes, where the administration—especially entrepreneurship administration—has been putting a lot of resources into the entrepreneurship community. They raised the amount of provided grants and have organized the Columbia Entrepreneurship Competition for the last four years.  Alongside that, you have clubs like CORE (Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs) and ADI (Application Development Initiative) that push this culture. I think ultimately the culture should be self-accelerating instead of accessory, but you need to have some initial velocity at the beginning.

 

Mathew Pregasen

Image via Mathew Pregasen

So back to Parsegon. It seems to be designed for people who are not fast at mathematical typing. How do you attract people who are already proficient at mathematical expression in typing packages such as LaTeX?

We are not competing with LaTeX and we don’t expect people to write papers in Parsegon. That being said, we do have a very user-friendly environment that reduces time and difficulty in typing. Parsegon is also educational in the sense that it makes teaching more accessible to students and enables the entire classroom to engage in interactive math.

 

You have been trying to integrate Parsegon into classrooms. What is the feedback from teachers and students?

We primarily focus on high schools, and we’ve been having very strong feedback.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Parsegon?

I think the greatest challenge for us is to make a technology that provides a number of services for very diverse classroom environments. Some people might not be familiar with computer typing and some do prefer a very traditional and structured typing style, so although we are making it more accessible to people, it is still a big challenge to build the technology that accommodates the needs of everyone and strikes a proper balance between accessibility and formality.

Are there any computer science classes at Columbia that have helped you in this process?

Namely Operating Systems (W4118) with Jason Nieh. I also took a class called Computer Theory with Alfred Aho which was useful for the theoretical angle.

What do you think is the future of Parsegon?

We want to build the best tool for educational practices in the America. We believe that there is a big gap between the technology side of users and the technology provided for educational professionals, and we believe that our implementation will not only complement the traditional learning method, but also improve it. The importance of Parsegon is that it teaches students to understand the language of math. If you can understand the language of math, you usually also understand the theory of math much more coherently. And we believe that is the best way Parsegon could improve the learning process of math on a more cognitive level.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Currently out on Broadway is August Wilson’s Jitney. This play is an intricate, multidimensional story about cab (jitney) drivers in 1977 and their worlds colliding after their jobs are threatened. Jitney encompasses the human struggle to deal with family, success, and love. Through extremely complex characters, Wilson creates a narrative that highlights themes of generational differences, failing your parents, and creating a better life for yourself. Below is an interview with cast member and actor Keith Randolph Smith, who plays Doub in the show. 

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

What is the role of August Wilson’s work in today’s society? Especially since Jitney is on Broadway now and Fences is in theaters.

This is an opinion, but August plays a part in expressing culture. He is a storyteller and poet. He has a poet’s ear for language and distilling feelings and thought into a rhythmic miracle language that is truly showing the dignity that these characters have. It allows people in the culture to recognize themselves and their parents, uncles, etc. It also allows people not within the culture to witness conversations and modes of behavior and topics that they wouldn’t be privy to. His work is a chance to share the culture of African Americans. Wilson had love for his characters and gave them such dignity in going about their daily lives.

This is the first time Jitney is on Broadway – why is now a good time?

You know how old folks say how things always happen in the right time? I could never understand it or explain it. There is a reason it is happening now – I don’t know why, but economics, theater availability, interest, etc come into play as well. It works right now because of the political landscape, where people are being marginalized, though they are part of the mosaic of the United States. Workers, these drivers in the play, create an industry for themselves. In this time, 1977, yellow cabs wouldn’t go everywhere, so these jitneys came into being in Pittsburg to get people to get groceries and get rides when you needed them.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

The exchange between Doub and Sheila:

“Becker’s boy is getting out of the penitentiary today.”

“No kiddin’. Time goes along and comes around. It goes and never stops.”

There is a scene in the play that discusses two wrongs not making a right and how that statement loses meaning when you are continuously wronged. What do you think about this statement? How does it apply to today?

Booster and Becker have a discussion of just epic proportions, spiritual matters, moral, and ethical matters. Booster comes out of a place after killing this girl by thinking more with his heart than his head. He tells his father he was wrong and that he did it. He’s debating morals and ethics and says there’s a reason he did it. They have a point of view and both feel they are right. It’s the definition of a tragedy. On one hand, Becker believes Booster is wrong for taking a life — that it’s not in your realm of power — but Booster thought he was right, he didn’t want to go to prison for something he didn’t do. He would rather go to prison for something he did do, rather than a lie. August gets you to understand the other side and presents it to you. It’s tough because many people are spiritual, philosophical, ethical, etc, but you can’t justify it even with telling me your thought process. So, August isn’t getting into that – but is highlighting the relationships both of these men had and that they both lost the women they love and blame each other for that loss.

What is the message you think families should take away from this show?

Family was big for August. I try to talk to people after the show. They say they’re are going to call their father on the train. The past couple of weeks, people have lost people, and it was felt at the theatre. There was an actor who just saw it, and he died. So, that’s why people want to do that. Generational differences have been around forever. The parent’s job is to teach you things so you can live on your own. Then, when they get older, the circle of life comes around, and you take care of them. The young have to help them with technology. The people in the play in the station make a family. You are born into a family, and then there is the family that you choose. We all play various roles like that with each other. There are so many levels to it — generational and familial. I love the play, not just because I’m in it.

Do you have any advice for the Columbia community?

I mean, I was a theatre major. I just like the fact that you guys are in school. As corny as it sounds, you are the future and the world. It’s good to know that a lot of bright people are at Columbia getting prepared to change and love the world and help everyone else, no matter in what field. But, especially in politics. I saw a bit of what recently happened at UC Berkeley. It brings up a question of: do we shut down what we don’t want to hear? Should we present many viewpoints? We don’t want to be the ones on the wrong side of history where we could do something but we didn’t. I just hope that everyone at Columbia is living consciously about the world they live in, especially those in the arts. Your work and all of our art is a reflection of what we are going through and the world: that goes into all of your choices. I have less years ahead than you do, so I really want your peers to stand up. Like Bob Marley said, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!”

August Wilson’s Jitney is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre. Tickets can be purchased here, and $30 rush tickets are available for purchase on the same day of each performance.

Professor Fred Lerdahl Reflects on His Time at Columbia

After 33 years of teaching music composition and music theory at Columbia University, Professor Fred Lerdahl will be stepping down at the end of this semester.

“I’m the—by now—oldest member of the department. So I’ve institutional memory,” Lerdahl recalls with a genial trace of his Midwestern roots.

Lerdahl has been an active member in the development of a department: from two disciplines in 1979—Historical Musicology and Music Composition—to four—Ethnomusicology, Music Theory and the aforementioned two—in the present-day. Nowadays, thankfully, old contentions have cooled: the composers and historians apparently couldn’t get along in Lerdahl’s early years at Columbia.

The burgeoning disciplines have affected Lerdahl’s composing. For example, after reading an article on scale types in an ethnomusicology publication, he was inspired to rework these ideas rhythmically in his composing.

Lerdahl’s career bridges music theory and music composition. His 1983 Generative Theory of Tonal Music, co-written with the linguist Ray Jackendoff, is regarded as a seminal text in the field of music cognition.

Exploring tonal theory in that book influenced Lerdahl’s composing. He developed his own syntax of harmony, voice leading, and what he calls “expanding variations” or “spiral form,” a compositional structure that he created.

Admittedly, I was surprised when I learned that he was interested in tonal music, which is perceived as outdated in the world of contemporary composition. When asked about the negative perception, Lerdahl clarified the definition and implications of his tonality.

“I wanted to recover a sense of centricity—being able to depart and to return—to me that’s very expressive and very powerful,” Lerdahl explains.

“My own harmonic and, broadly speaking, tonal syntax is different than the classical kind; I’ve been influenced by certain composers of course, but I’ve tried to make these things new.”

Centricity focuses on departing and returning, difference and familiarity. Like centricity, Lerdahl achieves unity in his favorite instrumental ensemble: the string quartet. Lerdahl observes that the quartet has cohesiveness because of the instruments’ similar sonic realms, yet variation in tone color because of the adventuresome sounds that can be created.

When composing, Lerdahl begins by thinking about the piece’s expression. He calls this opening phase a “dream state,” adding that “it’s like you’re in the dark.” After mentally grappling with his ideas, Lerdahl reaches an “Aha!” moment.

“The really critical moment for me in composing is when I find the good match between the expressive nature of what I’m trying to do and the formal procedures that I’m using,” Lerdahl describes.

“I know after that I may have good and bad days but that it’ll all turn out alright.”

From his theory and composition work, it is apparent that Lerdahl has developed his own artistic voice—he did not just accept what someone else told him to do.

Lerdahl’s path is a model young composers can follow. When asked to give advice to aspiring composers, he emphasized a foundational motivation.

“The most important thing is that you have to really love what you’re doing. You have to—it has to be a necessity for you,” Lerdahl strongly asserts.

“Otherwise don’t do it.”

The next step, like any other profession, is to develop your skills. For composers, this translates to moderate piano abilities, good ear training, conducting experience, score study of both contemporary and past works, and the essential courses in music theory.

A composition teacher is of course beneficial for a growing composer. Lerdahl’s teaching has a twofold focus: craftsmanship concerns—from notational strategies to bass line movement to rhythmic interest—and artistic vision. Lerdahl notes that finding your voice as a composer is a mysterious, variable process: It takes some years to mature it while for others it comes easily.

Soon, Lerdahl will be moving out of Dodge 602, tucked away in the corner of the hallway, so close to the theatre department’s office that he has probably received many an errant knock from mistaken dramatists, taking his numerous articles and books and scores off of the over-filled shelves with him.

Lerdahl will use his newfound time to finish two in-progress books (Composition and Cognition, based off of his 2011 Bloch Lectures at UC Berkeley, for example) and complete composition commissions. In the coming weeks, a duo for cello and piano will be premiered, a series of CDs from Bridge Records will be released, and his “Chaconne”—recently written for the Daedalus Quartet—will be performed. Obviously, Lerdahl will continue to lead an active musical life.

Image courtesy of Barnard College

In a final email to the Barnard community, President Spar wished the student body goodbye and gave updates on diversity, divestment, and the contingency faculty union contract. The full email is below:

To All Members of the Barnard Community,

Today, I had the bittersweet task of presiding over my final meeting of the Barnard Board of Trustees. It has been a great honor to work with this deeply committed Board for the past nine years, and to have been part of a community that shares a love for, and devotion to, the cause of women’s education.  Never has this goal been more relevant or more important than it is today.

Since I announced my departure three months ago, I have had the opportunity, yet again, to observe the strength, resilience, and determination of the Barnard community.  Our students have shown a re-energized commitment to engage with the world around them, and to fight for the causes and ideals they hold dear.  Our faculty have been a source of wisdom and expertise, using their scholarship to unpack the complexities of our world, and to nudge it to a better and more generous place.  Across our community of staff and alumnae and parents, Barnard women have made their voices heard.  At Women’s Marches across the country, sporting the iconic pink hats that were the brainchild of Krista Suh, Barnard ’09.  At the Athena Film Festival, celebrating the work of pioneers like Regina Scully and Eve Ensler.  And, on our own campus, digging in to such critical issues as diversity, inclusion, divestment, and adjunct faculty wages.

It’s been a busy year.  At today’s Board meeting, the trustees unanimously approved a path-breaking recommendation from our Task Force to Examine Divestment that will put Barnard at the very forefront of organizations striving to have an impact on climate change and fossil fuel use.  Thanks in large part to student activists from Divest Barnard, and backed by crucial insights from faculty members and trustees, the Task Force proposed — and the Board accepted — a decision to divest Barnard’s endowment from those companies that deny climate change.

Working with outside experts such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the College will now be able to use its endowment funds both symbolically and responsibly, setting a new standard for investment that seeks to balance the fiduciary need to manage our resources with the moral responsibility to harness science for sustainability. To read more about the Task Force’s work and recommendations, please visit: https://barnard.edu/vision-values/divestment-task-force.

At today’s meeting, the trustees also heard recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and approved the College’s first contract with our newly-formed contingent faculty union, BCF-UAW.  Under the terms of the new contract, Barnard’s adjunct faculty will receive salaries and benefits, including health care, which will be among the most generous in the nation.  These provisions, settled over the course of a full year of negotiations, signify our ongoing commitment to all of the faculty who teach our students and serve as role models for them.  Meanwhile, the Board also gave its support to a wide-sweeping roster of measures designed to make our campus as diverse and inclusive as our community desires it to be.

Over the next few months, Interim President Rob Goldberg will put in place several of the Task Force’s most immediate recommendations, including the creation of a campus-wide Diversity Council and an annual report on diversity and inclusion to the Campus Life Committee of the Board of Trustees. Over the next few years, the Board and the Task Force will work with the College’s next president to implement the next tranche of recommendations.  For more on these steps, both interim and longer-term, please visit: https://barnard.edu/news/statement-president-spar-diversity-and-inclusion.

This work caps what has been, for me, a wonderful nine-year term at Barnard.   It has been a joy and a privilege to watch the College become both more diverse and more selective over this time, and to see the successive waves of classes — ever smarter, more curious, and more committed to building lives that matter.  It has been an honor to work with these young women, and to watch them forge their own paths into the future.  It has been thrilling to celebrate each ritual of passage — from move-in day to Commencement — with our students, and deeply moving to watch them support each other, and their Barnard community, during moments of stress or challenge.  I have been touched by so many members of this campus, and am grateful to each and every one of you for helping to make Barnard such a special place.

As I step through the gates of campus this evening, I am heartened to know that Barnard is in such a good and strong place.  Our endowment, for the first time in its history, has topped $300 million.  Our new Foundations curriculum is in place, and exciting.  Our new teaching and learning center — formally announced yesterday as The Milstein Center — is actively under construction, set to provide the next generations of Barnard students and faculty with the intellectual hub they desire and deserve.  And our interim president, Rob Goldberg, is fully primed to work with the Board and the senior staff to lead the College through the next few months, and then on to the service of whomever will be selected as Barnard’s eighth president.

I leave also, though, with a deep gratitude for what the College has given me, and allowed me to become.  It has been a privilege to serve an institution so deeply committed to women, to education, and to the liberal arts. It has been a joy to work with and among people who care so intently about the world they will inherit, and the legacy they leave behind.

As I venture now down Broadway, I will take and cherish all that Barnard has meant to me.  A voice for women.  A commitment to truth.  And a determination, always, to be bold.

Thank you for sharing this amazing place with me.

Sincerely,

Debora Spar

 

 

I think I read on the Core Curriculum website that it is, in fact, a requirement to self-identify as a nihilist in order to graduate. So, being the ever so proud CU student that I am, I am going to put on my Nietzsche thinking cap and use nihilist inspiration to poetically write about a relatively unimportant topic–yet another step towards my transformation into a hybrid of a “Columbia Sad Boy” and Carrie Bradshaw.

Note: if you’re reading this and do not go to Columbia, what I’m really saying is, “I am going to use a type of philosophy that rejects morals in order to justify trivial everyday occurrences”. But I promise to try and make it (ironically?) enjoyable!

“There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena,” I tell myself as I eat my 11th Oreo cookie of the night, wondering if the same goes for calories. If I were in a movie, there would be a freeze frame, and the narrator would ask, “I bet you’re all wondering how she got here.” (Yes, I stole that from a old meme, and no, I have no qualms about doing so.) Anyway, the answer is midterms. Can you picture it now? Me, sitting without pants on, surrounded by a haphazard pile of highlighted notes, a feral look plastered across my naked eyes. I bet you can almost smell my annoyance and unquenchable desire to say “fuck” after every other word.

Now let’s analyze the events that got me here. I passively surrendered my elliptical to an old man today, WHICH I HAD DEFINITELY RESERVED DESPITE HIS INSISTENCE, texted yet another “no worries” to the most fuck-iest of boys, literally fake smiling through my disappointment at my own goddamn cell phone. *Turn on Carrie Bradshaw voice here* “When did I become this nice girl?”

All right, you can turn the voice off now.  But seriously, when did this stigma of “nice girl” get attached to me? I’m sure some of you are reading this, asking, “This petty bitch thinks she’s nice?” Believe it or not, I am often qualified as the “nice girl”. Sure, I try and hide it behind what is basically a satirical sex column and an edgy nose ring, but somehow this nice stigma keeps rearing its ugly head. That bastard. In reality, I don’t think I have a higher dosage of niceness than any other person. Sure I have that Midwest “charm,” which comes off differently here in the bustling city, but that doesn’t correlate to a legitimate higher level of niceness.

So Nietzsche, I turn to you. Maybe, as you have suggested, niceness doesn’t exist at all. Maybe all this niceness is just Midwestern ignorance caped in hopefulness, an identity concocted up by other people. A label which I, like my frequent meme use, embraced without reservations.

Guess what…. This happens in international politics, too! (Yes… this is where I relate my existential crisis to nukes, or more specifically unconventional weapons and warfare). You see, conventional weapons share this similar perceived niceness as me, whereas unconventional ones have this perception of immorality, or “not-niceness”.

In “A Genealogy of the Chemical Weapons Taboo,” Richard Price analyzes just exactly how this dichotomy of “conventional” vs. “unconventional” came to be in war. It is a thirty-page article, but in a reductionist summary, basically he traces this idea throughout history analyzing the strategic, tactical, and moral implications of these weapons, and why society developed a taboo against using “unconventional” weapons. 10/10 would recommend reading the article if any of these things sound remotely interesting to you. When you really think about it, there is but a slight difference between the output of these types of weapons. Each “type” has the same dosage of deadliness, so to speak, nukes just are perceived to be more deadly.

Oddly enough, Price goes to conclude his article with a lovely quote by Foucault.

“The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing these rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them.”

Maybe it’s the one too many Redbulls, or a delusional sugar induced coma (I’m on my 15th Oreo now), but I found this approach oddly inspiring and applicable to my current situation. I want to exalt these nihilist findings with a solid white-girl confirmation: “YAS bitch”.

When it comes down to it, I am not nice, I just appear to be so. That being said, I am no longer going to adhere to this perceived identity. No more taking my goddamn elliptical. No more playing it cool with the douches lurking in the back of my political science class. Damn straight I am going to adhere to Foucault’s wise-words: invert my niceness and use it against those who see me as such.

Anyway, if nothing else goes well this midterm season, at least this mid-semester breakdown has taught me one thing (yes, in true Bradshaw form, I plan on concluding with a cliche…): maybe I just have to learn to “kill ‘em with kindness.