Sunday, December 15, 2019

So Long, and Thanks for all the Shostakovitch

Hello! To many of you, welcome back! This is not the message for which you'd probably been waiting—I didn't finish the book, and I'm not resuming the blog. Instead, I'm dying.

(To those finding this blog for the first time—Hello! You're just as welcome to be here, and there are plenty of entries that aren't about my inevitable, imminent death, if you're not into that when you're trying to research Beethoven's deafness.)

We'd known early on that this could only be a short-term blog given how deadly cancer is when it hits Stage IV, especially in the brain. I kept going so long as I still had ideas—and I still do!—but the lesions in my brain have made it difficult to find the right words when writing, and the periods of lucidity between chemo cycles have gotten shorter and more painful. When it got to the point that I wasn't feeling any sense of recovery between chemo sessions, I declared my treatment over and asked to be given palliative care only. I'm living in hospice, responding to old friends, being visited by people I haven't seen in years, consuming more chocolate and coffee than I can handle (I'm working on that, for comfort's sake). My husband is taking leave from work and our son is off of school (which he would have been otherwise at this time of year), so ideally I'll get to die with them by my side.

I want to keep the possibility of the book alive, though it will take some work still, so no promises. I've had volunteer scholars offering to write a chapter or two starting from my instructions, but I'd have to create those instructions and work out all the legal issues in changing the very nature of the book that much, if we're even able to do it. It'd be great if my last contribution is something collaborative that shows a bit of structure behind how musicologists work, but right now, this is a dwindling possibility as I sleep more and more.

I didn't expect to be still alive so long after making the choice not to live, and even after I do finally physically go, it appears that I'll still have a presence in musicology. I know of an honor in the works to be named after me, and a few people of various types and interests have asked to interview me (and probably publish after I can't complain!). I'm going to be fine; meanwhile, my wonderful sister built a GoFundMe campaign to help support my husband (a self-employed freelancer) and my son (a six-year-old autistic boy) until the life insurance can do its job:

You, the readers, my friends, have been more than generous in your compassion, enthusiasm, support, and other great qualities I'd been told not to expect from strangers on the internet. You are the special ones—not because of the music you listen to or the art you enjoy or the books you read, if any!, but because you make the decision each day to bring hope into someone else's life. That's you; please hold on to that admirable quality!

(I'll try to leave the comments open for a little while, but they've already been attracting spam, even when I delay posting. When the comments close for good, it will not be personal, just maintenance.)

I love you all!
Linda Shaver-Gleason, PhD Musicology


  1. Thank you, Linda, for all your ideas, passion, energy, and enthusiasm. I’m going to miss you terribly.

  2. Wishing you all the love and light this world and the next one (if that's your thing) can possibly hold. I'm sorry we never got to meet. Peace and strength to you and yours. You are formidable, and will not be forgotten. - Dayna Mondelli

  3. God bless you ... and grant us a small portion of the extraordinary grace you personify

  4. God bless you ... and grant us a small portion of the extraordinary grace you personify

  5. I love you so much. Thank you for everything.

  6. Thank you for your work, your inspiration, and your shining light in musicology! May you find peace and comfort, and feel the warmth from all of us who read your work.

  7. Ut requiescant a laboribus suis (and they shall rest from their labours).

  8. Love and strength! May the Shechina wrap wings of peace around you. Easy travels, and we'll see you on the other side. xoxo

  9. I’m so glad & impressed that you’ve been able to make your exit with grace. There’s such a thing as a “good death,” but so few of us achieve it. Thanks for everything.

  10. All my love, Linda. Wishing you love, and comfort of all kinds, during this time.

  11. Linda —

    At Opera America's annual conference Imani Mosley said the following:

    ”They asked for our vision for opera. Here is mine. Opera — to be inclusive — needs to abandon its adherence to structures of power, its desire for beauty, and open itself to the multiplicities of human experience. And program works by minority voices!!”

    Typical gobbledygook.

    The kind of speechifying that is usually spouted at "annual conferences" of all sorts.

    Imani Mosley is a very silly lady.

    1. Please refrain from personal attacks on others. It's fair to call a statement "gobbledygook," but not to refer to a person a "very silly lady," particularly given the gender aspects.

    2. The previous comment by Aleksei, being totally unrelated to this post, deserves to be moderated into oblivion, but I'll say this: Mosley's vision for opera sounds pretty fantastic to me.

  12. I hear the wind
    in the mountain trees
    and the voices of the leaves
    blown through air
    then let go, falling.

    Thank you very much Linda for your words in this medium. They have given light and lightheartedness in an area that sometimes sees itself with too much self-importance and seriousness. I learnt from you and your blog that one thing is certain: "Truth" (yes with a capital "T") is elusive and many times dependent of interpretation - there are many times where it is very tempting to fall into other people's interpretation and narrative than what is there simply because it is more alluring. I take from you questioning "truths" that have been held without question in the spirit of scholarship and knowledge. I thank you, and you shall be missed, but your spirit and humor stays to all of us who have read you.

  13. Linda,

    I'm not a musicologist or an academic, just a passionate fan of classical music who happened to encounter your posts here and on Twitter, but I hope you know you left a lasting impression. You helped me evolve my perspective on music to be more accepting and inclusive, less stuck in my old ways, and excited for a future of this art form that will (should) look less and less like the past. Your impact will stay with us long after you're gone.

    Wishing you and your family all the peace and love in the world,


  14. Jeff —

    Let me explain why I think Imani Mosley often says silly things.

    A couple months ago on Twitter she wrote the following:

    ”Opera is for the people, y'all.... You know that's how I feel”.


    It is a basic fact that most people lack the necessary focus, attention span and sensibility to be able to appreciate the finest operas. By 'sensibility' here I am referring to an organic sensitivity dependent on brain and nerves and underlying:

    a) delicate aesthetic perception;

    b) acuteness of feeling, both emotional and physical;

    c) susceptibility to delicate passional arousal.

    Sure, most people might like some bits of certain operas, laugh at some comic scene, find some melody beautiful, and all, but they won’t become opera lovers.

    Every time this debate comes up, someone says:

    ”Well, but opera at one point was very popular, like in Venice when several opera theaters catered to the masses and were frequented by the masses like today’s cinematic multiplexes"

    Sure, but those were different times. Opera was the only game in town. It occupied that niche. Still, it was mostly a certain kind of opera that achieved that sort of popularity — the buffa kind; with exceptions, of course, but mostly, as heir of the popular commedia dell’arte. Those theaters were not bringing to those masses, some sort of long, sophisticated French Baroque opera such as Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie.. No, they were showing the slapstick kind, in Italian. Otherwise, opera throughout its history has always been more geared towards the elitist side.

  15. Jeff —

    One more thing.

    Here are some comments which appeared after the Glyndebourne Festival performance of Hippolyte et Aricie in July 2013.

    1) Musically, “Hippolyte et Aricie” falls curiously flat. In vain one waits for any of the voices to break free from the conversational monotony and understated politeness of the score. With very few exceptions, the work saunters on in a well-behaved manner which is undoubtedly elegant, but hardly touching. Not even Phaedra’s agonised soul-searching in Act 4, quite redeems what is, in essence, a very boring work.

    2) Rameau's score darts between court formality — measured out in the mincing steps of the minuet — and interiority, and is still a bit of a shock to Handel-accustomed ears. Musical expectations are thwarted, resolutions delayed, until we are driven mad with frustration. I believe this work will remain side-repertory mainly for absolute opera experts or ‘freaks’.

    3) This opera is based in a very strict aristocratic tradition that makes very little sense to us today. The result is opera that is less emotionally engaging. I once had a directing student in Brazil who staged quite a nice “Hippolyte et Aricie” but the Latin audience found it emotionally cold and too cerebral.

    4) It has taken Rameau’s five act opera “Hippolyte et Aricie” a mere 280 years to travel from Paris to its first production at Glyndebourne: was it worth the wait? I found myself underwhelmed at the end of an evening that consisted of so much effort. I foresee a revival in four or five years time, and then a quiet withdrawal from the schedule — perhaps for another very, very long period. I am delighted to have seen this “Hippolyte” but I won’t be rushing to see it again.

    5) In his first opera Rameau created a more sophisticated musical edifice and it has not really caught on with the wider public. Much of the piece seems somehow too precious for consumption outside its native land. Without prejudice, I will pass over it lightly.

    As you can see Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie still does not attract a very large contingent of passionate admirers.

  16. And Linda...

    Peace and strength to you and yours.

  17. I am interested in these 3 questions:

    1) Is there a common mechanism in the brain that underlies the experience of beauty, regardless of source and regardless also of culture and experience?

    2) What, if any, is the difference in brain activity that correlates with the experience of different kinds of hedonic experience — the experience of beauty on the one hand and the experience of something as being pleasant or rewarding on the other?

    3) Are there any arrangements of sound which would adhere to neural laws of “mysterious necessity” and thus satisfy the “unknown and mysterious laws” of our perceptive system sufficiently to arouse the aesthetic emotion?

  18. Jeff —

    This is an extract from the book Platonism, Music and the Listener’s Share by Christopher Norris.


    The question with regard to truth in matters of musical perception and judgment — whether or not it makes sense to claim that there exist standards of adequate response beyond the appeal to personal taste or to best opinion amongst those deemed fittest to judge — is within reach of any doubts we may feel concerning our own (or other people’s) capacity to understand and appreciate some music at its true worth. This has been a frequent experience for me and, I guess, for most seasoned listeners to music: that is, the nagging sense that some particular work holds out possibilities of a fuller, richer, more complex and rewarding response than anything that one has so far been able to achieve. It may be felt to come about either through some present responsive deficit that might be rectifiable by further, more attentive listening, or else through the kind of perceptual-appreciative shortfall — the basic lack of attunement — which probably no amount of patient effort could do very much to remedy.... My point is that this feeling is not (or not always) just a vague intimation of insights, understandings or pleasures to be had if only we could open our ears or minds a bit more. Rather — I suggest — it is a widely shared intuitive grasp of the Platonist claim that music, like the formal sciences though in a different way, makes demands and offers possibilities of adequate knowledge and appreciation that may or may not be met by any given response on the part of some individual listener or even some standing consensus of expert (musically informed) judgment. Where the difference shows us vis-a-vis the formal sciences is through the obvious fact that music involves a phenomenological dimension — an appeal to the modalities of human sensuous, perceptual and cognitive experience — which clearly has no place in any realist (or objectivist) understanding of mathematics and logic. A large part of my book is concerned with establishing just how far a Platonist approach has to be adapted or qualified if it is to capture this salient distinction. That is to say, any plausible account will need to draw a definite line between truth conceived — in the musical case — as likewise potentially surpassing our best powers of appreciative grasp yet also as depending for its pertinence and content on the repertoire of human responsive capacities. It seems to me that these issues of ontology and epistemology, although fairly technical in nature, don’t belong solely to the realm of abstruse philosophic debate but are apt to arise for any reflective listener who has experienced that worrisome sense of a gap between actual, potential and somehow just-beyond-reach modes of understanding and enjoyment.



    Would you agree that a much greater degree of caution, moderation, and humility in the music critics‘ and music theorists’ often sweeping claims — mere speculations really — would be a welcome consequence of research in the psychology of music?

  19. Goodbye, and thank you for your wonderful writing.

  20. Today is Jan. 4, 2020. Dear, amazing Linda Shaver-Gleason, I DO hope you are still with us, so you can read my thanks for your interesting, thought-provoking ideas, as well as my hope that you can, also, feel my heartache for your and your family's pain. Please accept my sympathy and warm wishes to you, for whatever comes next, and to your family, for what I can only imagine they will soon experience (or already are experiencing). Today is the first day I've read your wonderful blog (haven't read all of it yet, but definitely plan to do so...), as the link to this post was sent to me a few days ago by a dear friend. So I've only just met you TODAY, and on this very SAME day, must say "goodbye" and "so VERY NICE to have met you"! With enormous admiration and great appreciation, Linda Owen (curious coincidence that we share a first name, as well as a music-discipline Ph.D....mine in Music Ed., Piano Pedagogy! :-)

  21. Thank you once again for all your brilliant efforts. I'll post this here for a more permanent tribute than I did on Twitter recently. Again, I recently wrote this for the sister of a friend, but I would very much like to pass it on to you.

    "None better to sail 'midst sea of sorrow,
    wipe us our tears with veil we borrow
    from another lost beloved's outstretched grasp;
    unbroken chain from first to last.
    Love's baton we send,
    a lighted candle by runner's stride to mend
    that wound of darkness on twisted path
    which doth entwine life's aftermath.
    This gentle flame carefully tended,
    pass now to you love unamended,
    'till stand you before the brazier aloft
    and coax the hearth to flicker soft,
    which welcomes home all runners tired;
    enlightening all, dried eyes inspired."
    for Juliet Heap. (12/07/2019)

    And now, for you also...

  22. To me, honest and calming singing is the kind of music that belongs at bedsides like lullabies do at births. May you hear gentle, beautiful songs on your journey. The Threshold Choir stands ready to sing for you should you ask for it. Thank you for your life and work. All blessings to you. Hannah