Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Information Literacy and the Nation

Lately, I've been trying to get students to appreciate the difference between gathering information and doing historical research that involves not only information gathering, but also interpretation.

This new book looks like it might help and it's on my reading list for the summer.

But one thing I might do next time I teach is start a conversation by asking students to comment on this brief exchange in the "Letters" section of this week's Nation (May 4, 2009, pp. 2,24--good luck finding it on-line):

A reader in New York writes:
"Christine Smallwood states that Elaine Showalter's book A Jury of Her Peers is the first literary history of American female authors... Frederick Ungar published American Womean Writers... [in the early 1980s]."

Elaine Showalter's response, quoted by Christine Smallwood:
"Jury of Her Peers is a narrative literary history, covering 350 years in twenty chapters and told by a single author with a point of view. The Ungar volumes, on the other hand, are critical reference guides comprising brief entries on many women writers, written by a range of contributors and arranged alphabetically."

Pittsburgh Symphony Rachmaninoff Festival Advisor Also Excellent Sales Rep

Saturday night, on our way to the finale of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Rachmaninoff Festival, my wife and I ate dinner at Christos, an excellent Greek restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh. The food is good (try the Jackie Onassis cake for dessert), but the most interesting part of the place in my view is how close the tables are to each other. At the beginning of our meal, two men sitting at the next table were having a lively and seemingly informed conversation about Rachmaninoff and other Russian composers of the twentieth century. Since we were nearly sitting in their laps, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation and wondered who they were. As one got up to pay the bill, I casually asked the one sitting down whether they were on their way to the concert.

It turns out that our (near) table companions were the artistic consultant and curator for the festival, Joseph Horowitz, and the classical music reviewer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Mark Kanny.

Joseph Horowitz asked us--innocently and out of curiosity, I suppose--whether we were subscribers. We responded with guffaws. In fact, as we explained, we are subscribers, but have been debating whether to renew our subscription for next year. I pushed us to subscribe this year because I love orchestral music and despite our best intentions we just weren't getting organized to go to individual concerts. Three Fiddlesticks concerts (for kids) and two weekends at Tanglewood just wasn't enough for me. My wife--who has a much deeper classical music background than I do, by the way--likes orchestral music but prefers chamber music and also has felt that 6 or 7 classical concerts will crowd out other cultural events given our limited babysitting budget (she has been correct, actually). And we haven't even made it to all the concerts this year--we missed one because of a last-minute babysitter cancellation, another because of a last-minute kid illness. So in the last few weeks we have been close to a decision not to renew.

Then Joseph Horowitz, formerly of the New York Times and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and leading American musicologist, asked another simple and presumably innocent question: how much were subscriptions? Well, we answered, our 7-concert series in the Heinz Hall bleachers (excuse me, the gallery) is about 200 for two tickets. It was at that moment that we realized that each concert was about $14 a person.

After Messrs. Horowitz and Kanny left us for the pre-concert talk and we dug into our spanakopita and stuffed peppers, we revisited the matter and concluded that a) we can spend $200 on a single shopping trip at Costco, Target, or Giant Eagle; and b) that even if we don't make it to every concert we can donate the unused tickets to the orchestra. We could also relieve my guilt feelings about not renewing the subscription during a recession.

Dear reader: on Monday I sent in the renewal form.

In other words, Joseph Horowitz not only put together an excellent Rachmaninoff Festival for the PSO and its audience, but also convinced at least two subscribers to renew.