My magical, musical journey: Part 6 – outside challenges

By Ande Jacobson

My journey through Part 5 of this series hasn’t been all that unusual. Like many others I studied music throughout my childhood and college years, and even though I pursued a lengthy career in the sciences, I never left my music too far behind. I was fortunate to live in an area where musicians of all levels could find opportunities to play and continue to grow musically no matter their primary career paths.

The pit orchestras in which I’ve played or directed have been composed of talented musicians of all ages including advanced young music students and adults from a wide range of professions, some musically related, some not. Beyond straight music endeavors, the San Francisco Bay Area enjoys a vibrant theater community at all levels that draws large, loyal, local support. The community of musicians that supports the musical theaters has thrived for decades … until that fateful year, 2020, which brought unprecedented challenges. Continue reading

Are we training people to fear rather than think?

By Ande Jacobson

Historically, the bastions of higher learning were centers of intellectual stimulation where students could gain exposure to myriad concepts, ideas, and philosophies and could participate in scientific advancement. The learning process gave students not only exposure to a broad spectrum of ideas, it helped them learn to examine those ideas critically to separate fact from fiction. It also taught them important skills to deal with intellectual and social challenges. It sometimes made them uncomfortable and encouraged them to use that discomfort to stretch themselves and grow. They learned the great value of being challenged intellectually as well as skills necessary for conflict resolution without resorting to violence. Starting around 2013, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt noticed a disturbing trend that was beginning to assert itself and was antithetical to the broad pursuit of knowledge on which colleges and universities thrived. This trend was exemplified by a combination “three Great Untruths:”

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

These three concepts are the basis for Lukianoff and Haidt’s 2018 book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. They use the following criteria to determine if something is a Great Untruth (it must meet all three criteria):

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

Continue reading

To dream of a world without caste

By Ande Jacobson

Isabel Wilkerson ends her latest book with a powerful truth:

            “A world without caste would set everyone free.”

The book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and it should be required reading for everyone, particularly in the United States. Most people in the U.S. are aware of the nation’s history of slavery that was theoretically vanquished after the Civil War. As many historians and journalists have written, it wasn’t really, and there is a much deeper pathology at play. Wilkerson crystalizes the formation and perpetuation of the caste system that persists to this day in the U.S. through a detailed exploration of how it relates to caste systems in India and in WWII Germany in her latest book which is part personal essay, part investigative journalism, and part history text. As difficult as many of the stories she relates are, she also offers ideas on how we might address and reform this vicious hierarchy, though to do so will require effort on all our parts. To do so would also allow us to finally achieve the key ideal set forth in our Declaration of Independence, i.e., true equality of all people. While the founders didn’t actually mean everyone, or even all men, the ultimate ideal expressed is still one to which we should all aspire. Instead, we have to date been plagued by a system of equality that is based on inequality. In other words, for the favored members of society to be equal amongst themselves, all others must be unequal. This U.S. system has been based on caste since before the founding of the nation despite the advances in equality stated in the law. Continue reading

My magical, musical journey: Part 5 – practice, performance, and repeat

By Ande Jacobson

At the end of Part 4 of my journey, I was regularly playing in three community symphonic bands, a couple of small ensembles, and playing in the pit for musical theater any chance I got. I was playing between five and eleven musical runs a year in between everything else while also continuing my software/systems engineering career. Outside of work, my routine amounted to a cycle of practice, performance, and repeat. This included a minimum of three rehearsals per week and a maximum of either a performance or rehearsal every night along with an added rehearsal or performance during the day on the weekends. On those rare occasions when I didn’t have an organized rehearsal or performance in the evening, I would practice on my own for an hour or two when I got home from work, and even longer on the weekends. For the first three years after getting back into organized music, I was also taking flute lessons one evening a week and getting in a bit of flute practice every day or evening at some point. I suppose in some respects, I was making up for all that lost time during my 17 year hiatus from organized music. Continue reading

‘Musicophilia’ – how music touches us all

By Ande Jacobson

In the preface of Oliver Sacks’ landmark book Musicophilia, he muses about how human interactions with music might puzzle a highly intelligent alien being with no frame of reference conjuring a scene from the world of Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction aside, music is central to human existence, and yet on the surface it’s confounding trying to discern its purpose. Music can touch us in ways nothing else can. It can provide great solace. It can bring us to tears. It can excite us and inspire us. It can stimulate the brain and enhance learning. It can also torment us. Music can have these effects on us just by listening as well as in the course of making music. In the face of certain brain injuries or disease, it can also provide insights helping with diagnosis and can reach people who are otherwise uncommunicative. Drawing on extensive case studies, Dr. Sacks instructs, entertains, and enlightens readers on the complexities of human perceptions of music and just how important music is in innumerable circumstances. While this book will fascinate any musician wanting to understand their own musical drive, it will also delight non-musicians by opening up a whole world of perception they previously took for granted. Continue reading

The American story continues: Getting ready for the Biden Inauguration

By Ande Jacobson

I watched the 17 January 2021 episode of 60 Minutes the next morning while exercising on my elliptical trainer, a fairly common Monday morning routine. Two of their stories from the previous night were on political events – preparations for Wednesday’s inauguration, and what happened on 6 January 2021. I’ve already written about the coup attempt in my essay entitled “6 January 2021: An American Story,” so that’s not my focus here. Instead, the first 60 Minutes segment, “Against All Enemies,” hit me particularly hard. Continue reading

6 January 2021: An American Story

By Ande Jacobson

On 6 January 2021, the story unfolding in real time was more confounding and disturbing than any work of fiction I have ever read, and I couldn’t look away. Sadly, it also wasn’t unexpected based on the sitting president’s behavior throughout his term of office and before that as a private citizen. This administration was the runaway train that would inevitably crash where it did on this day.

Continue reading

A fitting end to 2020

By Ande Jacobson

It seems fitting that 2020 is a Leap Year. Leap Years are special and just a little bit strange. With February longer than usual, that means the year has an extra day making Leap Years 366 days long which seems a fitting end to the most frightening and bizarre year in the memory of most of those alive today. While we would like this year over sooner rather than later, we have to wait an extra day to say goodbye to 2020.

At the beginning of the year, 2020 seemed like it would just be a particularly rough election year with an extra day in February. Most of the public had no idea how different 2020 would be until after 29 February even though it turned out that the dangerous SARS-CoV-2 virus had already been spreading since late last year. Continue reading

We need a little SaxMas right now!

By Ande Jacobson

Today was the third Saturday of December in the year 2020, and to paraphrase a lyric from a show I played 14 years ago, we need a little SaxMas right now. This day should have been the 27th annual gathering of sax players of every shape and size playing saxophones of every shape and size in San Jose, California. Although SaxMas founder, Ray Bernd, held out hope for as long as he could, because of the pandemic that didn’t happen, and for the first time in 27 years the event was formally called off in late October. This special event is one that players and audience members look forward to every year because it’s festive, musical, and gleaming with all that holiday saxophone goodness. Over 200 saxophonists playing holiday music together is a sight and sound to behold, and it’s one that’s not soon forgotten. At the end of last year, I wrote a piece reliving 2019’s SJ SaxMas, and I watched the included video of that concert again this morning to put myself in the SaxMas frame of mind even though I had no place to go because of our necessary lockdown. That still wasn’t enough holiday for the day. Continue reading

How is living through the pandemic like space?

By Ande Jacobson

I have long loved the world of Star Trek and science fiction in general. I can remember imagining possibilities as a child while walking to school, wishing that it were possible to be beamed up to a starship to travel to new worlds and join with others in exploring the vastness of space. In the real world of my childhood, I got to watch, along with the rest of the world, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked and jumped on the moon for the first time. Although very different from the pictures painted by my favorite television series, it was a breathtaking adventure that sparked many dreams. I later studied space travel and learned how manned space flight changed over time beginning with the U.S. Gemini and Apollo programs through the advent of Skylab, Mir, and the International Space Station. Various probes and telescopes continue to explore beyond the earth’s boundaries to give us crucial information about what’s really out there. We still haven’t achieved the level of development depicted in the Star Trek universe, nor have we discovered the kinds of life imagined by various science fiction writers, but we have grown outward and created stories, both real and imagined, related to what’s beyond our little blue planet. Continue reading