Adventures in Teaching with the ACRL Information Literacy Framework: I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

In last week’s installment, I walked through the basic thought process that led to my intermediate/advanced PHIL 230 (Studies in Philosophy) course model. This week, I’m going to take a closer look at an outline of the syllabus for the Information and Computer Ethics version of the class, with particular attention paid to the schedule and the assignments. Ultimately, teaching these classes was a matter of following rules and developing tools, which should become visible once we have a look at the Information and Computer Ethics outline.

Little Storm Lake

Stay on the path…


First, check out the syllabus outline for PHIL 230: Information and Computer Ethics. Make special note of the schedule and the assignment descriptions.

The basic idea I had for the course was that it ought to be like a sort of all-term workshop on a relatively narrow topic, so that we could all work together to learn, research, write, present, and revise as a group of scholars engaged in shared study of the same thing. The student presentations at the end of term were run as a sort of mini-conference (complete with a conference program for presentations in which students were able to read each other’s abstracts). Students would have time to revise their work in light of both instructor comments and presentation responses/questions from their peers.

More specifically, the class ran according to two rules I made for myself, using a small set of tools the purpose of getting the ball rolling and keeping it in motion.


Rule 1: Enter by the narrow gate

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the best conditions for free research and inquiry for my students are those in which certain options are left open and others are firmly closed; reducing variables improves outcomes. GenEd students with minimal prior training in Philosophy are not usually well-equipped to come up with appropriate topics or research questions in response to a comprehensive topic survey. Keeping the course itself to a relatively narrow range of possible discussions therefore became a guiding principle. This way, the students would be well enough acquainted with the same materials to have something worthwhile to say to each other about their work. This would also make it possible to get them started on doing research within the second or third week of class. Following this rule generated a course with less assigned content (reading assignments stopped after week 11 of a 15-week semester) and — I hoped — more meaningful and accomplished student interaction with that content.

In practice, this meant that I assigned exactly one book for the course — Floridi’s Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics. Students started doing research to form a pool of shared readings from journals and other sources in week 2. I began replacing one day a week of textbook-assigned readings with student-shared readings in week 4, and went over entirely to student-shared readings for weeks 9-11. Students were submitting new readings every Thursday night for eight weeks (week 2-week 10), which meant that in addition to doing assigned reading for the class, they were also working on their own to find material (which makes up, in a way, for the apparent lightness of the assignment schedule). They did an intense reading and research burn, basically, until the 11th week, and then were released to focus on writing.


Rule 2: Curation is the name of the game; collaboration is the way we play

Students in this class were required to submit readings to both a shared discussion in Canvas and to a shared Google doc (our Collaborative Annotated Bibliography). Ideally, this would give the entire class access to the articles, some guidance as to their content, and some practice writing annotations and constructing bibliographic entries according to the Chicago Manual of Style. In addition to researching and submitting articles, students were expected to keep track of what was already in the bibliography (to avoid duplicates). Students were also expected to seek out and share examples to use as cases for our Friday application discussions (I’ll say more about how we did this in the tools section below). These were usually news items, although students were allowed to pose questions and cases that they invented for themselves; we had some interesting discussions about information privacy in the dorms on campus, for example, and related concerns about using an app to track Humans vs. Zombies player participation.

We didn’t just use student-submitted content willy-nilly, however. A lot of my job for the term was to curate that material, fitting it in relative to the chapters in the Floridi anthology and with some attention paid to common themes in the submissions themselves. My curatorial work was also a control measure for instances in which the pool of available material wasn’t adequate to the task; I was there to deal with those weeks in which student submissions weren’t up to snuff. I occasionally added submissions of my own to cover content shortfalls. Note that my curatorial role here was also shaped by the fact that this was a small group of students (there were only 10 in the class when I taught it at BVU); a larger group might present different challenges.

Once we got to weeks 12 and 13, class time was devoted to discussing student papers in progress — each student had the chance to talk about how the work was going, and we also spent time talking about how to do a presentation, how to shape a really good thesis for this sort of paper, etc. By the time students submitted their rough drafts and abstracts, they had already learned quite a bit about each other’s papers, and they’d already received a lot of feedback on the writing and presentation process. They were given each other’s abstracts before presentations started, and required to share initial questions about abstract content; this gave presenters some idea of what kinds of questions to prepare for and audience members a preview of what they would be hearing. Students in the audience on a given presentation day were required to ask and/or submit in writing at least one question for each presenter.



In order to facilitate all of the research and collaboration work I had in mind, I required my students to get comfortable with a range of different tools, a term I use here to cover both technologies and practices. I wanted them to use an RSS feed reader for collecting application discussion examples, Google Drive/Docs for collaborative editing, and various discussion options in Canvas. I also walked them through a fairly basic form of citation-based Pearl Growing work at the very start of the term, starting from a sample article and the assigned course readings in order to show them how to use those things to find other material. My hope was that using the assigned reading and this sample guidance would facilitate the research process well enough that they could start finding topics within the scope of the discussion that interested them enough to make seeking more information interesting and worthwhile for them. Honestly, while I think the Collaborative Annotated bibliography was a good assignment, a better way to do it (following Rule 1 more effectively) would be to skip the Canvas discussion for sharing and just get the class set up as a group in Zotero. At the time, I was on my high horse about making people learn how to do citations manually, so I managed to make the whole process harder than it needed to be.

To smooth the research road a bit outside of class instruction, I built the class a research guide using a set of Canvas Pages — here’s a very ugly, poorly formatted Google Sites version of it that I created for my MLIS portfolio, if you’re curious (BVU doesn’t use LibGuides, so I cobbled together a solution of my own). Following Rule 1, I used this selection of resources as a way to reduce variables; I gave the students what they needed up front, instead of hoping they’d find what I wanted them to find.

If it occurs to you that this all looks like a lot of work, well — you’re not wrong. Still, I was reasonably pleased with the results I got. There was a lot less topic floundering and a lot more good work on the papers, and student discussions of key concepts and arguments were informed and serious (most of the time, anyway).

“OK, sure,” you might then say, “but this is a whole semester-long course, and it seems to include in the schedule some days in class that are effectively one-shot library instruction sessions. How on earth can you scale this approach down for one-shots in isolation, when you don’t have the whole term to work with?”

Aha! Well, that’s what we’ll talk about next week, when I shift down to the one-shot scale and suggest some ways to use my rules and tools and backward design notions for individual library instruction sessions.

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The Labor of Citation

[Reblogged here from my original post on LinkedIn]

One of my current projects for the Buena Vista University Honors program is the assembly of an archive of completed student Honors projects. For a variety of reasons, this simply hadn’t been done before — program directors, mentors, and students held on to the work, but there was no single, coherent repository of completed projects. We’ve finally gathered most of the completed papers from 2011 to 2018, and I expect to have more to work with soon, finally brought together into what will eventually be an indexed, consistently formatted, publicly presentable collection of student work.

One of the benefits of assembling this collection (in addition to simply having evidence of the excellent work our students do) is that it can serve as a source of data for a number of different assessment studies. I’ve just started, for example, studying student use of citations in Honors papers, which cross multiple disciplines and style norms and therefore offer a rich body of samples for anyone interested in assessing citation usage across campus. I’m currently just getting it all in order, and I’ve started marking certain kinds of errors: citation list entries in which errors interfere with finding the source to which they are supposed to point.


In the context of beginning my little citation assessment study, I was especially struck today by this bit from Phil Davis’ post at The Scholarly Kitchen about the side effects of redirecting citations to preprint archives rather than to the final, published versions of articles in journals:

A citation is much more than a directional link to the source of a document. It is the basis for a system of rewarding those who make significant contributions to public science. Redirecting citations to preprint servers not only harms journals, which lose public recognition for publishing important work, but to the authors themselves, who may find it difficult to aggregate public acknowledgements to their work.

I am used to talking to my own students about good citation practice as an important part of understanding Scholarship as Conversation. Pointing my readers to my sources isn’t just about giving credit where it’s due or recognizing intellectual property. It’s about inviting those readers to see what I’ve seen in those sources, to consider the evidence themselves and to make their own judgments about the quality of my argument after having done so.

Yet Davis’ point reveals another dimension of the citation business (and I use the word “business” advisedly) — the Conversation among scholars does not occur in some pure space in which minds meet without external effect or constraint. Publication and employment/promotion are inescapably interdependent in the current system. Scholars operate on an incentive model structured around the use of acknowledgement of their work as a metric for assigning value to it.

“Fixing” a citation to the published version of a paper rather than to an earlier version on a preprint server, in that context, makes the work of citation for a student or professional researcher effectively a kind of political or economic act in addition to a move in the Conversation. Teaching students good citation practice, with that in mind, may require taking on the additional burden of teaching them the difference between preprint and publication, not just for the sake of accuracy in citation or good participation in the Conversation, but for the sake of acting ethically(?) in a citation economy.

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Adventures in Teaching with the ACRL Information Literacy Framework: Designing Backwards, In Heels

Last week here on the ol’ blog, I presented a preface to a series of posts about designing and teaching intermediate and advanced philosophy courses using the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework. In this week’s installment in the series, I’m going to take a little time to walk through the thought process behind my course-building work, in which I used a sort of backward design to grow the pedagogical skeleton for my PHIL 230 (Studies in Philosophy) classes. What I’m most interested in accomplishing with this post is a fairly rudimentary account of how the Framework can be used to generate and support course outcomes.


Time to head into the weeds…

Backward design, as an approach to course construction, begins from outcomes and builds back from them to the assessment metrics and activities that will be used to generate and evaluate student work towards those outcomes. The language here is important. I did not set out make a particular part of the ACRL Framework into an articulated course outcome. I used a part of the Framework — in this case, the set of threshold concepts under the general heading of Scholarship as Conversation — as a context (a frame, as it were…) in which to select the course outcomes I would use.*  Ideally, if all went well, this would mean that when I assessed my stated outcomes, I would also have available to me information that could be used to assess the alignment of my course and my students’ work with the Framework itself.

So: Having decided that I wanted my students to become at least minimally competent participants in proper philosophical conversations, I next had to decide exactly what would count as evidence of that competence. After I thought about it a bit, I chose to design my course around the work needed to research, write, revise, present, and respond to a typical conference-length paper (~10-12 pages, about 20 min. read aloud, straight through). This meant that on the way to getting something of a grip on [course topic du jour], my students would have to work on doing research, on selecting a topic, on drafting a paper, on presenting and revising that paper for final submission, and on responding to other people’s papers in writing and in conversation. I added a proposal/thesis submission phase (including a sort of literature review) and an ongoing, term-long collaborative annotated bibliography assignment in order to flesh out the research and writing process and draw attention to some important tasks in paper development. Instead of assigning an entire semester of reading, I chose a good introductory text or two on [topic du jour] and assigned roughly half of a semester of reading; students would be finding and sharing the rest, subject to curation and assignment by Yours Truly.** My hope was that my students would effectively be making themselves into a little community of people conversant in the course topic by sharing and developing their research and writing with each other, rather than working individually to meet a set of instructor-determined requirements that they all only incidentally had in common by virtue of being students in the same class.



My outcomes for the courses in which I used this design looked something like this:

In this class, students will learn:

a) Some of the central concepts and arguments in [course topic], including discussions about [a short and non-exhaustive list of specific issues, arguments, and questions belonging to the course topic]
b) Research skills – the use of specialist databases to find relevant scholarly materials, the evaluation of the usefulness of those materials, and the construction and use of annotated bibliographies as a part of the research process
c) Writing and speaking skills – the writing process for a conference paper presentation, including topic selection, argument structure, collaborative critique, public presentation and comment

Why choose the conference paper process as a course structure?*** Because of all of the formal venues in which scholarly conversation occurs in philosophy (conferences, departmental colloquia, publications, society meetings), the conference — at which scholars from many different institutions and backgrounds may meet to learn, discuss, and improve each other’s arguments — seemed to me to offer the most room for publicly modeling philosophical work in progress. Journal articles and books may be the tenure and promotion endgame for the conversation among professionals in the discipline, but the living process of honing arguments is easier to see (for me, anyway) in good conference discussions. Requiring the class to do the research needed to write a relatively brief conference paper on a narrow topic afforded me a way to use the research process itself both to develop skills and to introduce content. It also made the final product of student work for the class — the paper and its presentation — an actual instance of participation in the Conversation in addition to providing a set of tools for assessing my students’ ability to do so. I wanted my students to do some philosophy, in short, and I thought that this would be a good way to make it happen.

“But wait,” you might ask, “how are you going to get decent conference papers and discussions from a bunch of non-majors who don’t have enough of a foundation in the material to do even beginner-level work? Aren’t they just going to flounder? Aren’t you just setting them up to fail, and yourself up to do a huge amount of additional work?”

As it happens, all of this did occur to me — in fact, this is why I chose to use the threshold concept(s) embodied in Scholarship as Conversation to generate goals for the course rather than creating more specific topic or skill mastery outcomes. Next week, I’ll share the outline of one of my syllabi and say more about the actual assignments I created, the resources I provided to my students, and how these assignments were meant to work to get the newbies up to speed and into the conversation.




*  This approach is more or less what Megan Oakleaf recommended back when the Framework was shiny and new, although I must confess that I hadn’t read the Oakleaf piece when I first started thinking of my courses this way.

** I may have thrown them off the metaphorical dock to see if they’d swim with this approach, but I didn’t want them to drown — they each had a lifejacket of a sort, in the form of my selective deployment of the results of their research. I needed a control mechanism to cope with the inevitable moment when no one selected anything actually good to read, or when someone included an article that we weren’t ready for yet, but could conceivably find a good use for. Including instructor oversight via curation meant I could throw something in if I had to, instead of relying entirely on the students to get it right every time. I always added any texts I selected to the same annotated bibliography the students were building, so that I was a part of the research process as well as its overseer.

*** Some experienced library instructors who use the Framework may look at this and think I was being a wee bit too literal w/r/t what’s actually in the Scholarship as Conversation frame. That’s a fair cop. In my defense, I think that since the work of academic philosophy is so frequently done in conference contexts, being literal in this particular way is an entirely appropriate choice for trying to get my students to do philosophy. My discipline often just is its conversation, constantly evolving, and I think it’s a good idea to run with that fact right out of the gate.

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Adventures in Teaching with the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework: Preface

Oh, the lengths to which one goes…

What lengths would you go to in order to photograph the Grand Canyon? (LOC)


Once upon a time in my life as a philosophy-prof-on-the-way-to-librarianship, I decided that I was going to commit to using the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework in my philosophy class designs. I created what I found to be a useful and engaging model for an intermediate or advanced philosophy class designed specifically to integrate the Framework into the course as a whole, one that I felt could easily be scaled down in principle for much shorter one-shot library instruction sessions or individual course units.

Unfortunately, every time I’ve tried to explain what I’ve done with the Framework, the folks to whom I’ve been speaking have had a hard time seeing what I’ve been up to and how my particular approach could be scaled for different instructional applications. This sad state of affairs seems to call for a much better explanation on my part!

So: In the next four posts, I’m going to do the following:

  1. Briefly describe the method I’ve used to understand and apply the guidance contained in the ACRL’s Toolkit for applying the Framework. This will be a sketch of my particular approach to what the Toolkit (drawing on the work of  McTighe & Wiggins) refers to as “backward design”).
  2. Present an example of a whole course designed in this way — my recent PHIL 230 (Studies in Philosophy) model, which I’ve used to teach Information and Computer Ethics, the Philosophy of Music, and Philosophy and Comedy
  3. Present a lesson plan for a one-shot library session or single information literacy unit for an intermediate philosophy class in which students are expected to do research work
  4. Offer an afterword in which I attempt to answer a few questions about how this all works (and sometimes doesn’t), with a hint or two about adapting it to different disciplines or courses and assessing outcomes.

Before I move on to methods and examples, a bit of context:

  • I’ve spent most of my teaching career as a philosopher at a regional private university, serving small classes of undergraduate students in a combined philosophy and religion program. The bulk of the work done by the program was service courses aimed at general education students, even at the upper levels — our 200 and 300-level gen-eds had no prerequisites, although smart advising pretty reliably steered first-year students away from them most of the time. In any given class I taught, there were always more non-majors than majors present.
  • I prefer active learning to pure lecture (although I do lecture when it seems to be helpful to do so). This is reflected in my course designs.
  • In most of my classes I expect students to do a fair amount of writing, but it isn’t always in the shape of the tried-and-true long-form research paper requiring x number of sources (a model I have come to dislike).
  • My approach to whole-class incorporation of the Framework may be a bit more of an adventure than other folks are willing to try; it deliberately hands a certain amount of control over course content to students, which is pretty risky. As one of my Information and Computer Ethics students said in the evaluations for that course, it is really easy to tell who did the reading and who didn’t in this model, and if a critical mass of participants aren’t reading, things have the potential to get a bit dodgy in ways that put a lot of extra labor on the instructor’s plate to remedy the investment shortfall on the part of the students. It also has the effect of shrinking or narrowing the scope of content in ways that are not always predictable, which may make it less than ideal for a course in which quite a lot of specific material must be covered.


Next week: Designing backward, in heels


Photo of a frighteningly brave attempt to get a good shot of the Grand Canyon (c. 1908) courtesy of the Library of Congress Flickr Stream.

Posted in Adventures in Teaching with the ACRL Information Literacy Framework, Library Business, Philosophy, serial, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Link Roulette!

As I pursued one of my favorite little hobbies this week — rooting about in the Library of Congress Flickr stream and looking for interesting oddities — I accidentally acquired a book recommendation.

It all started with this really nifty photo:

Ash (LOC)

The fellow on the right is apparently the actor Sam Ash (1884-1951)*, popular vaudevillian and movie actor. I have no idea (yet) who the woman in the photo is (there’s no caption or note on the image), but I am now Team Her, based on the look on her face right here. The photo is a part of what was obviously a fun promotional photo shoot with Ash — they are photographed taking pictures themselves on a little jaunt in the woods, and there’s a staged “cute” shot of him carving some more initials into that poor, carved-up tree as she watches from her perch on the fence. It’s the look on her face, though, that really makes the image work. There’s a terrifically funny story in it, somewhere.

That’s not, however, the story I discovered as I rooted around looking for more information. I thought that perhaps she would be a well-known associate of Sam’s, so I decided to start looking at various biographies online to see if I could catch a hint. I didn’t get very far, though — I got distracted by a throwaway bit in his Wikipedia entry.**

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 10.05.51 AM

Perhaps your eye landed on the same thing mine did. Perhaps not. Just the same, I was irrationally pleased to see that there was actually a musical called Houseboat on the Styx, in which Ash played Ponce de Leon. (Huh?) It immediately became necessary for me to find this show!

I did not find the show.

I did, however, find its source material: the classic John Hendrick Bangs novel of (roughly) the same name from 1895, in which the ferryman of Hades, Charon, finds himself re-assigned the job of Janitor on a fancy houseboat full of the notable deceased.***  The hard-core Riverworld fans of my acquaintance already know that this was one of Farmer’s inspirations for his own sci-fi fun with waterways and famous dead people. It’s a charming collection of absurd little vignettes, connected to each other only by their setting on the boat. It generated a sequel, The Pursuit of the House-boat, a few years later, in which the eponymous boat is stolen and the shades of the dead hire Sherlock Holmes to find it.

At this point, I should simply end by saying that I have just been sidetracked again by digging through musical scores and the other works of John Hendrick Bangs while listening to the band Styx, and will someday surface to discover that someone with better focus and self-discipline has discovered the identity of the woman in the photo.

I will count this a small victory for distraction.


* No, not that Sam Ash. Totally different guy.

**Actually, I got caught by two things, but this post is only about one of them. The second thing that distracted me from my search for the woman whose fandom I now claim as my own is the fact that Mr. Ash had apparently acted in the 1944 Captain America serial as the uncredited but unforgettable “Florist #2” in the first episode. Captain America is much on my mind of late, what with — ehem — recent developments.

*** If you prefer listening to reading, LibriVox has a free audiobook version. I think the reader for this one does a very good job; the recording for the sequel, however, isn’t quite as good.

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Memory Time


Still ticking

When I was a small child, I used to be utterly enchanted by my great-grandfather’s pocket watch.

At least, I think I was.

That is, I feel as if I was.

My memory (hazily connecting me to a past that is further away from awareness in every moment) suggests that my grandparents kept it hanging under a small glass dome, just hanging there, ticking reliably away. I seem to remember loving it, fascinated by the nearly magical intricacy of the thing, just as I remain fascinated by clockworks of all sorts as an adult. I remember it ticking, swaying a little on the hook that suspended it inside of that small dome, bright and loud and perfect.

Was it this watch, though, that always caught my attention, or was it another clock my grandparents kept in their house? I’m so far from the experience now that I can’t quite tell if I’m remembering the watch or something else, even though looking at it now feels so perfectly familiar and true and real. It’s as if some nagging voice keeps trying to get me to look behind a curtain that doesn’t exist to see a wizard who never was.

I might not have remembered it at all, except that the watch now sits before me again. It arrived in the mail today, carefully packed and marked with a post-it note indicating that it was to be given to me.

It is here now because my grandmother has died, joining my grandfather at last. Their ashes have been spread in the garden of the church they loved and served.

It is here now, perhaps, because my grandmother remembered that I loved it as a child, and arranged for me to have it  — or because she thought, without recalling exactly why, that I might like it. Maybe she had some other reason entirely for thinking I might like it. Maybe someone else suggested it.


Is this the way it was?

The dome it hangs under now is plastic, not glass — was it ever glass, or was it always plastic? Was the base always plastic, too, or was it wood, once upon a time? I can’t tell, and the more I look at it, the harder it becomes to sort out memory from wish.

The more I look at the watch, the less I want to try to sort it all out.

It is beautiful, and I just want to stare at it the way I did (did I?) as a child. I want to stare at it and remember how my grandparents’ house(s) sounded and looked and smelled, and how they spoke when they talked to me. I want to stare at it and remember the crossword puzzles and pipe tobacco and books and games and stories and jokes and dogs that make up so much of what I remember of my grandparents.

I want to look at the pictures I have of them together and listen to the watch, still ticking, and tell myself all of my memories as stories of them, now suspended under glass and preserved and still ticking, even now.

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First Chair, Last Chair, Any Chair, No Chair

Experience suggests that conventionally trained symphony orchestra and symphonic band musicians (especially we non-pros) probably don’t think all that much about the physical arrangement of their performance spaces, once certain fundamentals are settled to their satisfaction: section leadership and playing room. The former speaks both to skill ranking, certain norms about sound production, and ease of play (in some large string sections, anyway), while the latter is just good sense (no one wants to jab their stand partner in the head with a bow or accidentally vent a spit valve on a friend).

The current “traditional” arrangement for symphony orchestras in the US (for much of which we can thank Leopold Stokowski) — strings front, winds back, fiddles stage right, lower-voiced strings stage left, oboe middling, etc. — isn’t actually that old, and is supposed to accomplish quite specific things relative to sound projection and blend. It is also a practical business for very large ensembles (the kind that require a conductor); once you’ve got more than 50 noisemakers on stage, the physics of sound (never mind the social mechanics of wrangling that many players) practically demand a conductor to herd the musical cats and use visual cues to keep the people in the wilderness at the back in the same time as the folks closer to front and center. It’s nearly impossible to accomplish good playing purely by listening and counting in a group that large (some concert hall acoustics make it fully, actually, entirely impossible). While one may joke about conductors,* they serve an absolutely necessary function for the increasingly hefty symphonic ensembles that started to become the norm in the 19th C. There’s a grand effect to it all when a really big symphony orchestra plays, a wall of well-mixed sound, and that only happens when someone’s there to guide the players well.

One of the charms of listening to a smaller ensemble, however — a group of no more than 15 or 20 — is that it becomes possible to move players and parts around in ways that reveal something more of what a composer might be after, leaving parts more nakedly present for the kinds of antiphonal play common to composers who built their music back when smaller, differently arranged ensembles were the norm. Hearing Mozart played by a massive group is quite different from hearing it played on a smaller scale, for example; everything nifty about it is there, laid out plainly in parts traded among players and sections, dancing across the ensemble in the form of a giddy musical conversation. It’s stereo before stereo, the kind of delicacy of effect that recording and mixing engineers have to work very hard to create in their preferred venue.

This weekend, I had the chance to be reminded of all of this when I attended a really lovely performance by the Shattered Glass Ensemble, a conductorless group that actively de-centralizes musical authority and order in its play, its stage layout, and its programming.

I will admit to not being entirely sure I would enjoy the music, although I knew I would be impressed by the players — I have a fussy little old lady’s taste in orchestral music (leaning pretty firmly toward the more melodic bits of the repertoire), and there was a fair bit of Shostakovich on their Psycho program (both his Two Pieces for String Octet and the ensemble’s own, expanded arrangement of String Quartet No. 3). I am not a huge Shostakovich fan, having both listened to his stuff and played it in a larger orchestral setting; I expected to like the selections from Philip Glass (from his Company score) on the program better.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, especially in the ensemble’s arrangement of the Shostakovich string quartet for a slightly bigger group, the de-centered assembly revealed things about that piece that I hadn’t quite understood before. Sitting in the dark, I found myself scribbling the following on my program: “Who knew Shostakovich was so goddamn clever?”** I cannot understate how much the choices made with regard to who-plays-what and who-stands-where in the ensemble’s performance of their arrangement changed my perception of the piece. It’s the sort of thing that gives the lie to any lazy claim that the piece is identical to the score, revealing a complicated relationship among composers, players, and the spaces and numbers in which they do their work.

If you get the chance to hear Shattered Glass play sometime, you should definitely go!



*There are many conductor jokes. One of the more popular examples:

Q: What’s the difference between a bull and a symphony orchestra?

A: The bull has horns in front and an asshole in the back.


**Yes, yes, I know. The rest of you who’ve moved on to the 20th C. and beyond and who like the old boy’s stuff knew this already. Don’t be smug. Technically, I knew it already. This time, though, I really appreciated it for a change, which I think speaks very highly of the players and their arrangement.


Posted in aesthetics, live music, music, Philosophical Mess-making, review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,