The Cost of Art

piano keys

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

—John Adams in a letter to his wife, Abigail

Photo: “A little music can make your day much better…” by José Eduardo Deboni. Used by permission. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Playing With Productivity

I have something of a thing for playing with productivity tools. If anyone I follow on a social network mentions a new task app or productivity method, I’m pretty quick to follow links. Now, admittedly, it isn’t a bad idea in and of itself to constantly review one’s workflow with an eye to improving shortcomings. But, unless you’re David Allen or Merlin Mann, studying productivity isn’t very productive.

From the early days

Casio CassiopeiaI remember my first handheld device. It was a Casio Cassiopeia E-115, a beast of a brick. And I loved everything about it. It caused me to think about productivity for the first time.

Today, I can wax eloquent on the pros and cons of GTD vs. Covey, digital tools vs. pen and paper, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.* And I am productive, but certainly not because I experimented with all those toys tools. I suppose I’m productive in spite of all the experimentation.

Just Do It

I teach classes at two different schools and head a department at one of those schools. I’m undergoing a yearlong formal professional evaluation because I’m new to my district and I’m directing music for an upcoming stage production. I have other professional engagements. I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I’ve been busier. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the more important aspects of life: family and friends.

With or without tools, being productive requires us to accomplish something. Complete a task, fulfill an obligation, meet a deadline. Productivity requires the proper use of proper tools, not merely playing with tools. And the tough part about that is, it’s up to us. The tools won’t do the work; we have to do the work.

*I’m not really the King of Siam, but that would be cool.

My Thoughts on Les Misérables

Les MiserablesIf you’re familiar with the stage version of Les Misérables, you need to remember that film and stage are two different art forms; what works in one often doesn’t work in the other. While I enjoy movies, I’m not a film critic and I’ve never produced a film. I have, however, produced musicals. And because of its story of grace and mercy and its majestic score, Les Mis is my favorite, by far. So I’ve been a little nervous in the lead up to the Christmas Day release of the movie. Having been one of the first in South Carolina to produce the school version of Les Mis, which, for all intents and purposes, is nearly identical to the full stage version, and because this musical is my favorite, I had high hopes for the film adaptation.

Here are some of my thoughts.

The Story

The storyline in a musical is sometimes challenging to follow because there’s so much activity on stage that the viewer isn’t able to focus on the main action. Movies, on the other hand, can focus on the important aspects of the story by limiting what’s happening onscreen. Because of that, the subtleties of the plot are a little easier to follow in the movie. There were a couple of spots where some of the recitative was rewritten to fill in gaps; in those instances, it seemed Mackintosh et al. tried too hard.

I love the way they handled Valjean’s death. It differs from the stage version, but it is striking and beautiful.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Jackman (@realhughjackman) played a fine Valjean, but he was not quite as strong as I expected him to be. His epiphanal soliloquy early in the story is brilliant and moving. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” lacked the lyrical expression a stronger singer could have brought to the piece.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

The hype you’ve heard about Hathaway’s (@itsAnneHathaway) Fantine is deserved. She likely will win an award or two for her role. There’s not much more to say here.

Russell Crowe as Javert

You’ve probably heard Crowe (@russellcrowe) is the weakest link in the cast. I was expecting that, too; in fact, I expected him to be little better than Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia. Don’t believe it. He’s every bit as good as Jackman, and they make a fine protagonist/antagonist pair. Notice I did not say “good guy/bad guy;” Javert is not a bad guy in this story. He’s a person who values duty, and his duty is to uphold the law. He carries out his duties with clarity and passion. I would have appreciated a little more power in “Stars,” but all in all, Crowe did a fine job.

Samantha Barks as Eponine

Samantha Barks (@samanthabarks) was breathtaking as Eponine in the 25th anniversary concert version of Les Misérables. Simply breathtaking. Her singing is a little less lyrical in the movie. Perhaps the producers wanted it that way to match some of the other singing? Maybe. But given Eddie Redmayne’s (Marius) and Aaron Tviet’s (Enjolras) awe-inspiring performances, I doubt that’s the case.

Other Thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tviet turned in phenomenal performances. Sacha Baron Cohen performed an uninspired version of Thénardier. And Amanda Seyfried was acceptable but not remarkable in her portrayal of the older Cosette.

After worrying for two years that my favorite musical would be ruined by bringing it to the big screen, I was relieved to watch such a high quality film.

July 2: Day of Deliverance

FireworksJuly 4th is less than 48 hours away. My family has already asked me if I want to grill out for the holiday (they’re asking that just so I’ll make my not-so-famous-yet-oh-so-good ribs; I’ll probably comply). Baseball stadiums and public parks and outdoor summer symphony concerts will light up with fireworks at dusk. Private citizens will violate all sorts of local ordinances by shooting off cheaper versions of the aforementioned pyrotechnics–and thereby keep children up way past their bedtime, much to the chagrin of fuddy-duddy parents. And all Americans will celebrate in small and large ways the freedom demanded by and bought with the blood of those who went before us.

But July 4th isn’t the day we Americans should celebrate our independence from Britain; we should celebrate today, July 2. At least that’s what John Adams thought. In his excellent biography on Adams, David McCullough writes of the vote, “If not all thirteen clocks had struck as one, twelve had, and with the other silent, the effect was the same” (129). New York’s delegation abstained from the vote because, while they did not wish to separate from England, they understood the importance that Congress speak with a clearly unified voice. “So, it was done,” writes McCullough, “the break was made, in words at least: on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence” (129).

John Adams felt the day was so momentous it should be celebrated annually in grand style.

The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parades, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more. (130)

What happened on July 4 was little more than formality. At eleven o’clock in the morning, Congress approved the text of the Declaration of Independence after a bit of debate. It would be another month before the delegates signed the document. Adams, who journaled voraciously, wrote nothing of July 4.

Choices made well after Adams’s hard-fought victory–”It was John Adams, more than anyone, who had made it happen” (129)–would move the commemoration to the Fourth of July. So if you want to take the day off to have a parade or play a game of touch football in your front yard, tell your boss John Adams said you could.