carbonized vegetable matter

My review of Kathy Mattea’s new album Coal has been published on Blogcritics. I’ve been listening to it (and enjoying it) for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write about it that I realized how depressing these songs can be, particularly all at once. When I listen to music, it’s usually as a secondary activity while focusing on something else, and my primary concern is with enjoying the tune. It’s only when I make the music my primary focus that the words begin to sink in.

My introduction to Kathy Mattea was courtesy of my parents and their Christmas music collection, which included her album Good News. The music was what you might expect of a gospel-y Christmas album, but what caught my attention and has held it ever since is the beauty and power of her voice. Rich, warm, and expressive, it’s like an addictive drug that you keep coming back to for one more hit to stave off the pains of withdrawal.

Never trust a man with a blanket!

My review of It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition) has been published on Blogcritics. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, surprisingly enough. Easter was always a crazy time in my family, what with Dad being a pastor and all, so TV watching was not a high priority. It was fun to sit down with Charlie and the gang and watch this DVD now, 34 years after it first aired on TV.

Part of what makes the Peanuts specials so timeless is their pacing and humor. There are many interludes that do not exist to further the plot, but frequently create a sense of joy through their simplicity.

But we have the white wizard. That’s got to count for something.

When I agreed to review The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (The Complete Recordings), I had no idea what reviewing a soundtrack of this magnitude would entail. My usual genres are those that have singer/songwriters, or band members who compose and perform the music. Reviewing a three hour recording of music composed by one person and performed by many was far more daunting than I ever could have expected.

In the end, I did what I could, but I feel that someone with more experience in classical music reviewing would have done a better job of addressing aspects of the music itself. My approach ended up being as a fan of the films and the books, and how the music effected my experiences with them.

Tolkien provided rich material, ready to be harvested and presented by any talented composer. And, much in the way Jackson approached the film adaptation with reverence for the source material, Shore has done the same with the soundtrack. I don’t know what I expected for the soundtrack, but the one Shore has given us fits, and will forever be what plays through my mind as I re-read the books.

and am I born to die?*

My father recently attended the 2008 Ohio State Sacred Harp Convention. Over the past nine years or so, he’s become one of the shape note (Sacred Harp in particular) fanatics who will travel all over the region to attend big singings. He loves it, but I find those types of singings to be terrifying.

When I began to sing shape note music, it was with a small Sacred Harp group in Lexington (Kentucky) that met monthly. They were very casual and spent time learning the songs. Eventually, I ended up signing with an even more casual group that met weekly. It was fun and I became a better singer because of it.

At some point, I attended the statewide singing in Kentucky, and it was such an overwhelming and frustrating experience that I never wanted to go back to anything like that again. They sang songs I didn’t know too fast for me to even think of learning them. What kind of fun is that except for the handful of speed demons who may have known the tunes? What kind of community does that build? What kind of worship experience?

The thing is, the Sacred Harp is named thusly because all of the words are based in Biblical scripture. Shape note singing is fun, but it’s also kind of like being at church, and for a long time, it was the only place where I felt safe enough to be in the mental state of worship. No matter who you were or where you came from, if you wanted to sing with us, you could sing with us, judgment-free.

Maybe my father can experience that at the big singings because he is a shape note fanatic. He has audio files and CDs of recordings of songs, and listens to them to help learn them. He also practices at home, reading from the songbook and beating out the measures until he knows the tunes well enough to lead them.

I could do that, but frankly, I’d rather have that worshipful, musical experience with others than practicing alone. If that means I don’t do it very often, and on my own terms, then I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.

* This is the first line of Idumea, my father’s favorite tune.

I got skillz and I know how to use them

What I wouldn’t give for a pre-conference workshop on XML or SQL or some programming language that I could apply to my daily work!

Recently, Dorothea Salo was bemoaning the lack of technology skills among librarians. I hear her, and I agree, but I don’t think that the library science programs have as much blame as she wants to assign to them.

Librarianship has created an immense Somebody Else’s Problem field around computers. Unlike reference work, unlike cataloguing, unlike management, systems is all too often not considered a librarian specialization. It is therefore not taught at a basic level in some library schools, not offered as a clear specialization track, and not recruited for as it needs to be. And it is not often addressed in a systematic fashion by continuing-education programs in librarianship.

I guess my program, eight years ago, was not one of those library schools that doesn’t teach basic computer technology. Considering that my program was not a highly ranked program, nor one known for being techie, I’m surprised to learn that we had a one-up on some other library science programs. Not only were there several library tech (and basic tech) courses available, everyone was required to take at least one computer course to learn hardware and software basics, as well as rudimentary HTML.

That being said, I suspect that the root of Salo’s ire is based in what librarians have done with the tech knowledge they were taught. In many cases, they have done nothing, letting those who are interested or have greater aptitude take over the role of tech guru in their libraries. Those of us who are interested in tech in general, and library tech in specific, have gone on to make use of what we were taught, and have added to our arsenal of skills.

My complaint, and one shared by Salo, is that we are not given very many options for learning more through professional continuing education venues that cover areas considered to be traditional librarian skills. What I wouldn’t give for a pre-conference workshop on XML or SQL or some programming language that I could apply to my daily work!

#7

Heads up, librarians — this may be of interest to you. My review of Wikipedia – the Missing Manual by John Broughton was published this weekend on Blogcritics. There has been some discussion among the profession about our relationship to Wikipedia, ranging from warnings against using it to calls for librarian contributions to the content. For those interested in the latter, I recommend picking up a copy of this book (your library should have one, too).

…Wikipedia has plenty of documentation on how to edit itself, and if you are willing to find your way through all of that, you may not want to read this book. I have muddle through a few Wikipedia contributions (both new pages and copy edits on existing ones) without this book, but in reading it, I frequently found myself making notes of things to look up later or tweaks I could do to make editing easier. The book does not contain anything you probably would not find on Wikipedia. Instead, it takes that information and lays it out in a workflow that is designed to take the novice user from ignorance to full-on Wikipedia-obsessed editing.