Oct 21, 2016

Indigenous Peoples and the Sacred

This last Wednesday, the SMU Interfaith Council hosted a special dialog session on indigenous peoples and the concept of sacred space.  Presenters included Sean Jose, an SMU student and member of the Nez Perce tribe, and Kael Moffat, an SMU librarian.

The event was held to help the SMU community better understand the struggle of indigenous peoples against the Dakota Access oil pipeline which has cut through the Standing Rock Sioux lands in North Dakota and threatens water quality of the Missouri River.  The struggles of the tribe and its allies from all over the United States and Canada has received international attention.

A gathering of indigenous peoples' supporters on site of the Dakota Access Pipeline (image by Shane Ballowitsch from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA).

Jose shared his feelings and experiences as a Native American whose nation has faced similar threats from industrial development and whose family members are part of the tribal delegation on site.  Moffat, who does not have Native American heritage, shared poetry about the sacred nature of place and the thoughts of Vine Deloria, Jr., a prominent Native American scholar and defender of indigenous rights.

Here is a link to the PowerPoint used in the presentation.

Sep 28, 2016

What's the deal with banned books?

Roslyn Buff, the editor-in-chief of the Belltower and a senior in English, shared with me this video on John Green’s thoughts about the fact that his book, Looking for Alaska, has been identified as the most banned or challenged book of 2015 by the American Library Association (ALA):

One of the most popular genres in popular film over the past couple of decades has been dystopic future films, stories that envision a society broken down and the struggle of individuals against a monolithic state.  Such films would include the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, The Giver, the Matrix series, The Fifth Element (directed by the great French director Luc Besson), the off-beat Brazil (directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam).  Filmmakers in early decades even produced films in this genre, for example consider 1966’s Farenheit 451 (an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s great novel) and Fritz Lang's 1927 German classic, Metropolis.  Even the Alien series is dystopic at heart.

Screenshot from Metropolis, Fritz Lang's film about a dystopic future that seemed to eerily predict
the Holocaust in some ways.  (Image in the public domain)

One of the most significant aspect of these stories is how governments and/or large corporations try to control what knowledge is available to normal, every-day citizens.  These stories rest on an idea that was wonderfully expressed by John Dewey, one of America’s leading philosophers of education in his influential book, Democracy and Education:
“Knowledge is humanistic in quality not because it is about human products in the past, but because of what it does in liberating human intelligence and human sympathy.”

John Dewey (Image in the public domain)

The governments/corporations in these stories try to suppress human intelligence and human sympathy, often times using violence and manipulating economic relationships to do this—forcefully shown in Elysium (2013).

Unfortunately, these stories take cues from history.  Totalitarian governments and even power-hungry politicians have always recognized that regulating what the “people” know can be a powerful tool for control.  For example, Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister in Nazi-era Germany, lead an extensive effort to control public knowledge which included the famous book burnings.  Soviet-era Eastern European countries used extensive citizen-spy networks that reported on “suspicious” materials being read and written by neighbors and family members; many great writers of the era were killed or imprisoned for what they wrote, for the ideas they tried to share.  The United States has even struggled with censorship—think of the famous “black list” of writers, actors, and filmmakers from the 1950s-1960s (just to mention a well-known example).  More recently, the Department of Defense has tried to control what images journalists have been able to publish during the long-running War on Terror.

Nazi book burning, Berlin 1933 (Image in the public domain)

Banning and challenging books in school and public libraries is a form of censorship, a form of trying to control what knowledge and ideas people have access to.  These efforts present a challenge to the First Amendment right of free expression.  In our current political climate, this freedom is as important as it has ever been.  The O’Grady Library has sponsored programming this week to support the ALA’s Banned Book Week initiative to remind us that learning and knowledge gained from reading is a basic human right and we need to consciously protect them (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 18, 19, 20, 26, & 27).

Sep 6, 2016

New Displays on Things Near and Far

Fr. Peter Tynan, O.S.B., Librarian & Archivist 

Outside the Curriculum and Special Collections Rooms on the lower level of the O’Grady Library you will find some interesting things. You will, of course, see one of the seven volumes of the Saint John’s Bible in its display case. Above that you can look at one of the first examples of a Study Bible map from the 1630s (that’s 380 years old, people). You will also find a couple display cases; one on the right of the Saint John’s Bible and one of the left. These cases have something new to show this coming academic year.

In the case to the left you find a display on local history entitled “History Begins at Home.” On top you will find a 1905 map of Olympia showing its promise as a new and growing city. Below there is another map, a Pioneer Map of Thurston Country. It shows our local county as it was in the 1850s when it was first settled with place names that continue to this day.

Besides maps there are three books on local history and some historic items out of the Special Collections vault. The books are simply an invitation to explore what is near. For while local history deals with what is near, we can be surprised at how time creates a distance between us and those who lived before us. We can grow to appreciate how many things have changed while other things stubbornly stay the same.

In the other case is a simple display featuring four brass rubbings made in Angkor, Cambodia. The rubbings were taken from one of the many temples that remain from the Khmer Empire (1000 – 1200 AD). While visitors today focus mostly on the ruins entwined by tree roots, the remains of the many temples still have a story to tell. While these stories are ancient and from a culture far from us, they deal with topics that are near to our hearts, like love.

So take a little time to stop by and appreciate what is both near and far. Gaining a new perspective is always a good thing.

Apr 18, 2016

Billie Holiday's Strange, Beautiful Fruit

by Kael Moffat

William P. Gottlieb's iconic portrait of Billie Holiday, taken at the famous Downbeat Club in New York, 1947  (image from the Library of Congress, Public Domain)
Billie Holiday's 1959 New York Times obituary claimed that the Baltimore native was "more influential than...almost any other jazz singer, except the two who inspired her, Louis Armstrong and the late Bessie Smith." (1)  In the decades since her passing, this evaluation of her career still holds true.  Holiday's career spanned just thirty years (1930-1959), a relatively short period for jazz artists, but her impact is still felt today. (2)  Cassandra Wilson, herself a living jazz legend, claimed that Holiday's approach to singing was "the beginning of the jazz vocal age." (3)  

Cassandra Wilson (image by Scott Penner from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)
Holiday was born April 7, 1915 and moved to New York with her mother in 1929.  She was never formally trained, so her voice always had a kind of plainness and innocence that connected with members of the audience so deeply that many of her admirers almost felt as if she were singing just to them.  In a very real sense, her bluesy, sometimes slightly off-pitch voice was more expressive than more polished singers of her time.  I'm thinking, for example, of a famous contemporary act, the Andrews Sisters, who were known for their peppy, tight arrangements that were "hits," but meant to take audiences minds off the struggles of their lives.  (4)  Holiday's approach, on the other hand, was to confront the messiness of life and find dignity in the struggle.  Her music was not an escape, but an acknowledgment and a wrestling with the scramble of everyday living.

What made Holiday such an influential artist is the fact that she approached singing in the same way that great soloists like trumpeter Louis Armstrong, pianist Count Basie, and saxophonist Lester Young (one of Holiday's closest friends until they had a falling out just a couple years before both of them passed away).  Though she stayed true to the lyrics of the song, she regarded the notes and the rhythms of the lyrics open to interpretation, subject to the particular mood of the performance and her emotional state.  Sometimes, she would sing on the beat, but she often sang slightly behind the beat to create and release tension, the way an instrumentalist stretches time and snaps it back for effect.  By taking this approach, her performances offered an incredibly intimate expression of her deepest sense of self as an artist, as an African American, and as a woman.  Even now (even especially now), she is most admired for her emotional honesty.  

One of Holiday's greatest songs was "Strange Fruit," an incredibly rich and understated protest about the unbearably cruel treatment of African Americans in the South.  In the Thirties, Fourties, and Fifties lynching was still an every-day fact of life in a region that had not been able to let go of it's violently racial heritage.  The song was originally written by Abel Merropol, a Jewish New York school teacher who was appalled by the racial violence in America.  He published the lyrics as a poem and later set it to music with the help of his wife.  Holiday was introduced to the song two years after its publication and recorded it in 1939 and again in 1944. (5)

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop. (6)
Here's a clip of Holiday's version of the song:

Cassandra Wilson, has also recorded a rather haunting version of the song:

Holiday's impact on her listeners was memorialized in John O'Hara's poem on her death, "The Day Lady Died," which is a play on her nickname, Lady Day:
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday 
three days after Bastille day, yes 
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine 
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton   
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner 
and I don’t know the people who will feed me 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun   
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy 
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets   
in Ghana are doing these days 
                                                        I go on to the bank 
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)   
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life   
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine   
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do   
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or   
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine 
after practically going to sleep with quandariness 

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and   
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue   
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and   
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton 
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of 
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard 
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing (7)

1. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0407.html
2. Ellis Marsalis, pianist and father of world-renowned Wynton and Branford Marsalis, has an active career that spans all the way back to the 1940s.  Wynton Marsalis, by the way, is still the only person to have ever won Grammy Awards for best classical and jazz albums in the same year (1989).
3.  http://www.npr.org/2015/04/05/397321378/cassandra-wilson-couldnt-wait-to-reinvent-the-billie-holiday-songbook
4.  This is not to entirely dismiss the Andrews Sisters.  They were fantastic vocalists and high-caliber musicians and their recordings still hold up very well.  In fact, contemporary vocal groups could still learn a thing or two from them.
5.  In the jazz and blues world, re-recording songs is not all that unusual.  Some contemporary rock/pop singers do it as well.  Sting, for example, has recorded "Shadows in the Rain" as a member of The Police (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR2TAdDiOC) and as a solo artist (https://youtu.be/H2h8ZqMe0TY).
6. http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/fruitholiday.html
7. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42657

Apr 11, 2016

Congo Square, New Orleans

Video clips from a drum circle in Congo Square, New Orleans from 2015, including shots of Mardi Gras Indians around 2:30 (video from DanieleCreole from Youtube)

As tragic and inhumane as slavery was, it played a key role in the development of jazz through introducing African elements into the American musical vocabulary.  Wynton Marsalis, a trumpeter and one of the greatest living jazz musicians, characterized jazz as a music that “broke the rules of European conventions and created rules of its own that were so specific, so thorough and so demanding that a great art resulted” (1).

Wynton Marsalis  (image by music 2020 from Flickr, CC BY)

The acknowledged birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, had a unique social structure that allowed the music to develop.  Being a former French colony, there developed a bit more lax attitude about slaves (though it was still a brutal place to be a slave).  On Sundays, slaves were allowed to gather in what became known as Congo Square to play drums and African stringed instruments called bolons and ngonis, similar to banjos and acoustic guitars and dance in ways that hearkened back to their homelands.  


The illustrations above were drawn by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect who designed both the US Capital Building and the White House.  His journal entries and drawings are some of the oldest and best source documents on Congo Square (both images from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain).

These gatherings were regularly held until late in the 1800s.  While they seemed like celebrations to outsiders, these gatherings were, in fact, based on West and West Central African festivals that “[spoke] to the very real concerns” of the slaves and were part of the “resistance-focused ethos [and] expressive culture” of Africans in the New World as Daniel Walker points out (2).

An 1885 illustration of a Congo Square gathering from E.W. Kemble  (image from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
These gatherings began to draw crowds of onlookers, both whites and Native Americans like the Mardi Gras Indians.  Eventually, these native groups joined in the celebrations, adding their own musical concepts to the mix.  Among the white onlookers were a number of musicians who began to experiment with more complex rhythms in their own music, drawn primarily from European folk and classical traditions.  This synthesis of European concepts of melody and harmony combined with African and Native American rhythms, especially the central role of drums, became jazz, which has had a strong effect on American and world music for more than a hundred years.  Congo Square is now part of the Luis Armstrong Park and the site of jazz performances and drum circles that honor the place’s musical legacy.  

A brass band plays in Congo Square during the 2013 New World Rhythm Festival (image by Derek Bridges from Flickr, CC BY) 

1. Marsalis, W.  (July 31, 1988).  What jazz is-and isn’t.  The New York Times.  Retrieved 24 March 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/31/arts/music-what-jazz-is-and-isn-t.html?pagewanted=all

2. Walker, D. E.  (2004).  No more, no more: Slavery and cultural resistance in Havana and New Orleans.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  Retrieved 24 March 2016 from ProQuest ebrary.

Apr 6, 2016

Jazz and American popular music

by Kael Moffat

April has been declared Jazz Appreciation Month by the Smithsonian Institution, so in conjunction with that, I thought it might be helpful to write several posts this month about what many consider to be the US's only original art form--though the blues deservedly clears its throat and raises its hand, demanding recognition.

That being said, defining what jazz “is” may be somewhat like trying to describe green to a color blind chameleon.  Louis Armstrong, one of the early masters of jazz, supposedly responded to a question of what jazz is with, “Man, if you have to ask, you must not know what it is.”  

Louis Armstrong   (image by Herbert Behrens from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

Roughly, jazz was birthed by the collision between African and European musical traditions, along with South American, Caribbean, and Native American elements in the violent and inhumane crucible of American slavery.  And now, I need to go to the confessional, “Forgive me padre for I have been simplistic.” 

Another way to think about jazz is in terms of dynamic equilibrium--a term from chemistry that describes how “reactants are converted to products and products are converted to reactants,” resulting in a state that is both stable and changing. (1)  Jazz balances defined form and improvisation, group playing and individual expression, focusing less on familiar/predictable reproduction of songs and more on the spirit of the moment.  Wayne Shorter, another giant in the form, pointed out that jazz is a kind of alchemy, an art that tries

...to change the negative thing to a positive thing, to make the most value out of it.  We call it changing poison to medicine.  Not avoiding the poison--you drink it--but you change it to medicine.  You face it.  (2) 

Wayne Shorter  (image by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

It’s not much of a stretch to say that almost all American popular music since the late 1800s stems from jazz and the blues to some degree or another.  Gunther Schuller, a French horn player for the Metropolitan Opera and composer of both classical and jazz music, observed, “The American popular song is inextricably and profoundly linked with jazz.” (3)   In a CNN.com column, Abigail Daniels wrote about a

...music of rebellion and youth. Artists traded witty improvisations onstage chronicling the pain and the promise of being black in America, inspiring inner-city and rural Southern audiences alike in nightclubs and on street corners.  (4)
That music, she pointed out, is jazz but acknowledges that the same description could very easily apply to hip-hop.  That is actually not a coincidence.  Without jazz, genres like rock and roll, country, funk, and hip-hop would not exist--even contemporary bluegrass has been influenced by jazz.  (5)

Below is an example of an early hip-hop track that openly pulls from jazz, Us3's "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia):


"Cantaloop" is a play on "Cantaloupe Island," from contemporary jazz legend Herbie Hancock.  Below is a performance of this track by Hancock and his band at a music festival in Japan.  Hancock's band includes Wayne Shorter on saxophone, along with Stanley Clarke on bass and Omar Hakim on drums, both masters of their instruments:


In the weeks to come, I hope to introduce you to other aspects of a truly sublime and sometimes challenging art form from our own metaphorical backyard.  Ya dig?

2)  Breskin, D.  (1994).  24 Shorter solos.  In  M. Rowland & T. Scherman (Eds.) The jazz musician: 15 years of interviews: The best of Musician Magazine.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.  3-23; p. 16, italics in original.

3) Tanner, P. O. W, Megill, D. W., & Gerow, M.  (1997).  Jazz, eighth ed.  Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark.  p. 3.

4) Daniels, A.  (2009).  Hip-hop and jazz: Sharing a similar destiny?  CNN.com  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Music/08/15/hiphop.jazz/ 

5) Traditional bluegrass combines many different elements European folk music, relying heavily on Scottish and Irish forms, but more recent developments pull in elements that draw from jazz and jazz-influenced music.


Mar 11, 2016

ProQuest Outage

Tomorrow night (March 12, 2016) starting at 7:00 p.m. and running for eight hours, ProQuest products will be unavailable.  This will affect the ProQuest databases and ProQuest Research Companion.  ProQuest will be updating their servers.

Feb 11, 2016

Gravitational waves directly measured: Big news from the world of physics and astronomy!

by John W. Weiss
Assistant Professor of Physics
Saint Martin's University

Gravity waves -- slight ripples in spacetime caused by any object with mass that accelerates -- were predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein based on his (now well-tested) Theory of General Relativity. Physicists have known that they exist for 30 years thanks to seeing their effects on the orbits of two pulsars (super-dense stellar remnants) orbiting each other. But this morning we awoke to the news that one of the gravity wave detecting teams has positively directly observed these ripples and it may well be the most exciting and significant physics discovery in most of our lifetimes.

Gravity waves are emitted by nearly every object in the universe, but most emit very weak, small waves. Even massive black holes, such as the ones detected, emit waves that make a person stretch or compress by one billionth of a trillionth of a meter. Such a small change is very challenging to detect -- to say the least -- but huge teams of scientists (the teams run in the hundreds) working hard to solve the myriad of technical hurdles has positively identified the signal of two merging black holes.

NASA visualization of  gravity waves produced by merging black holes.
Image by NASA, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Apart from the excitement of finally detecting Einstein's predicted waves, this discovery has physicists and astronomers buzzing thanks to the opportunities it will hopefully open up. Every time physicists have found new waves to look at signals from the universe (the telescope; other, invisible wavelengths like infrared; neutrinos; etc.), astronomers have quickly been able to learn exponentially more about our universe from the new perspectives offered. Gravity waves will hopefully similarly give us a fresh view of our universe and let us see things we were previously unable to observe.

The Northern Leg of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory on the Hanford Reservation in Benton County, WA which helped measure gravitational waves.
Image by Umptanum from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Jan 26, 2016

One Less Password to Remember!

Interlibrary loan just got a bit easier!

Scot Harrison, Dean of the O'Grady Library, announced that ILLiad, Saint Martin's interlibrary loan management system, has been updated to accept your standard SMU login information rather than requiring a separate username and password.

Now when you click a link in Saints search or any of the academic databases to request an item or click the direct link to ILLiad on the library's homepage, you will be taken to the login screen below:

From here, simply enter your regular SMU login information.  

Your ILLiad requests and history should be readily available to you.  First-time users will be taken to a new registration screen and will need to provide a minimum amount of information.  If you have any questions please contact Stefanie Gorzelsky, the circulation manager, or Joyce Hall, interlibrary loan processor.

Jan 19, 2016

Ever Struggle with Printing in the Library?

Thanks to the efforts of Jessilyn Dagum (SMU sophomore), Stefanie Gorzelsky, and Serin Anderson, the library has newer, easier to use instructions for the printer on the main level.

Stefanie Gorzelsky, Serin Anderson, and Jessilyn Dagum stand by their newly-designed posters in the main-level library print alcolve.
Posters are being created for the printers on the upper and lower levels, which have different machines.

Jan 11, 2016

Changes to Saints Search

Saint's Search on the O’Grady Library home page will have a small update within the next 24 hours.

Currently the Saints Search system (http://saintssearch.stmartin.edu) does not require a login.

However, logging in provides a number of benefits including:
  • Retrieval of all possible results for a search.  Some databases – Scopus and MLA are good examples – require that a searcher be logged in to see citations.
  •  Access to “My Account” to see all library materials checked out and O’Grady/Summit requests.
  •  Use of the e-Shelf, a handy tool for saving citations with a single click.
  • Ability to request items through Interlibrary loan and Summit.

To ensure that all students, faculty and staff see and experience a full range of resources and functionality in Saints Search, we will be implementing an automated sign-in feature.  Running a search will look exactly the same, but a sign-in box will appear that looks like the image below.  All current faculty, staff and students will simply need to sign in with their normal network ID and password.

Please send any questions or comments to sanderson@stmartin.edu