Tag Archives: university

The Sound of Light

I was recently a guest in a classroom (not at APU) and listened to a fantastic composer and beloved professor tell a room full of eager students that the reason florescent lights buzz when they start to go bad is because some of the light is slowing down, and the frequency of the light is getting so slow that it becomes a sound wave instead of a light wave, which is why the buzz is at 60 Hz.

Nobody in the room contradicted him. Nobody. After about 30-second of dumb disbelief, I protested, and the whole class turned on me as if I were an idiot, daring to argue with this obviously brilliant man.

This brought to mind 3 things:

1. An expert in one area is not an expert in all areas. If you are a teacher, be sure you communicate to your students when you are speaking from your area of expertise, and when you are speaking out of your nether regions. If you are a student, become critically aware  of the difference. 
2. Intellectual authority comes from being right, not from being in a position of authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge professors when they are wrong.
3. In a room full of 20 people, I can’t believe nobody knew enough about light, or sound, or electricity to contradict an obviously absurd assertion. I’m worried that we’ve come to just accept general ignorance about how the world works.

So here’s today’s extra credit question. Help me restore my faith in the world. Without heading to wikipedia or google, with just your general knowledge of physics, what would you have said to the man to demonstrate his error?

Universal Grade Change Petition

Well, it’s that time of year again, when I grade thesis papers and final projects, and students begin the equally arduous task of protesting their final grade. To make the whole process flow a bit more smoothly, this year I will be using a universal grade change petition. Students may fill in the appropriate blanks and submit the petition to the Dean, Provost, or University President, saving everyone a lot of time and hassle.

—————— copy and paste from below —————–

To: (professor/teacher/instructor)________________________


I think my grade in your course,_________________, should be changed from___to___for the following reasons:

  1. ___ The person whose paper I copied got a higher grade than I did.
  2. ___ The person who copied my paper got a higher grade than I did.
  3. ___ This grade will lower my GPA, and I won’t get into (__) Medical School, (__) Dental School, (__) Chiropractic School, (__) Graduate Program, (__) Starbucks Managerial Training.
  4. ___ I need an “A” in this class to balance out my “F” in ___________ .
  5. ___ I’ll lose my scholarship.
  6. ___ I’m on a varsity sports team, and my coach couldn’t find a copy of your exam.
  7. ___ I didn’t come to class, and the person whose notes I copied did not cover the material asked for on the final exam.
  8. ___ I studied the basic principles, but the exam wanted every little fact and vocabulary term.
  9. ___ I studied every little fact and vocabulary term, but the exam asked for general principles.
  10. ___ I understood the material, I just couldn’t do the problems on the exam.
  11. ___ I can do all the problems, but the exam expected us to understand the material.
  12. ___ You are just prejudiced against (__) Males, (__) Females, (__) Jews, (__) Catholics, (__) Muslims, (__) Atheists, (__) Blacks, (__) Whites, (__) Asians, (__) Jocks, (__) Adult Learners, (__) Young People, (__) Progressive Thinkers, (__) Libertarians, (__) People.
  13. ___ If I don’t pass, my father will stop sending me beer money.
  14. ___ I have a learning disability that prevents me from (__) understanding new ideas, (__) writing, (__) following directions, (__) applying concepts, (__) doing research, (__) critical thinking.
  15. ___ You told us to be creative, but you didn’t tell us exactly how you wanted that done.
  16. ___ I tried to finish the paper but my computer doesn’t like me.
  17. ___ Your former students all said the class was easy; it was totally unfair for you to suddenly give a hard exam.
  18. ___ The lectures (__) were too detailed to pick out the important points, (__) did not give sufficient detail, (__) too boring, (__) all jokes and no substance.
  19. ___ All my other profs have agreed to raise my grades.
  20. ___ This course was (__) too early, I wasn’t awake, (__) too late, I was always tired, (__) at lunchtime, I was too hungry to think.
  21. ___ You never said we couldn’t do our thesis paper in groups.
  22. ___ My (boyfriend / girlfriend / sibling / grandmother / roommate) was (ill / dead / sleeping around / going through a hard time) and I (needed to be there / was very emotionally involved / had to confront them) so I didn’t finish the final project.
  23. ___ The one time I went to work on my paper the library was closed.
  24. ___ There was no Wikipedia entry on this subject.

plagiarized from here

How Michael Got His Groove Back

Thank god for the Yellowjackets. I was just barely hanging on until then.

The APU “A” Big Band played a gig last night for a few thousand people in the events center, and the pianist had a conflict, so I sat in. 30 tunes, all sight reading, with everything from thick-fisted George Shearing voicings to awkward non-pianist attempts at writing quartal stacks, with insane rhythmic jumps. A few standards thrown in for taste.

Fun stuff to play, really fun. Not fun stuff to read through with no rehearsals.

I was really anxious leading up to the gig. I don’t do this kind of playing anymore, and haven’t for quite a while. I’m a pop guy, all about tone and time, the small tasty part in the bridge, that kind of thing. It’s been probably 10 years since I’ve had to sight-read big band charts, and that skill fades very quickly with time. I was talking with Doug about it the night before, and he said, “Oh, you’ll do great – it’s just like riding a bicycle.” It’s not. It’s almost exactly the opposite of that.

I wasn’t anxious about the crowd, or about the director, I was anxious because it was a band full of students, and they are all really, really good. Really good. Missing class to sit in on recording sessions good. Monteray Jazz Festival kind of good. On the regular sub list for Les Brown kind of good. Publishing and playing their own charts kind of good. I was anxious because I felt like I needed to prove something.

For musicians, there is a kind of currency, of legitimacy, that comes from what you can do with your instrument. It’s how you prove you belong in the club. More than arranging, composing, pedagogy, conducting, the thing that defines you as a musician is what you do when you pick up your axe. That carries over to how they view those of us in the faculty as well – the profs who can still swing rank higher in the students’ eyes than those who “just teach.” The Dean of the school has huge credibility because “he plays.”

So, I felt like I had to prove that teaching wasn’t an escape from having to play hard, that I could still handle my business, that I belonged in the club. It some way, I felt like I was proving my right to stand up in front of them and talk about wave physics, binary conversion, software and hardware, studio production techniques, ethics, everything that I teach that is tangential to the act of playing. I needed to back up my credibility, so that when I tell them that being a musicians includes all of these things, I am speaking as a musician, and not just as someone who used to play, and now teaches. For them, that means being able to handle unison be-bop runs at 200 BPM with the trombones hitting ostenato stabs.

I did … well, OK. I handled my business pretty well, hit the hits, played some tasty 8 bar solos that arrangers like to drop in as palate cleansers between horn rips. I missed a few difficult reads, at least one of them really exposed.

Then, we pulled up an arrangement of a Bob Mintzer tune, New Rochelle off “Blue Hats” by the Yellowjackets. Medium fusion shuffle, right in my wheelhouse. There was an extended piano solo in the middle of tune. I killed it, absolutely killed it. It felt great, sounded great, and everybody was into it. Started slowly, built the themes, stacked the voicings, went way outside, twisted the subdivisions up, got bigger and bigger until it just exploded into the horn hits, and then it was done. It felt … fantastic.

So, I’m hanging my hat on that moment. My raging insecurities were quelled, at least for now, and I can go back to teaching about MIDI data bytes and how to build a velocity-switching sample instrument. Only now, I get to do it as “a player”.

Special Guest

So, guess who is coming to talk to my Production Techniques class about how to write and record a song? Charlie Peacock.

You know, the guy who produced albums for Switchfoot, Isaac Slade (The Fray), Nichole Nordeman, Leigh Nash, Amy Grant, David Crowder Band, Audio Adrenaline, Sara Groves, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Al Green, CeCe Winans, Brent Bourgeois, Twila Paris, Sarah Masen, Susan Ashton, Avalon, Philip Bailey, Margaret Becker, Michael Card, Bob Carlisle, Eric Champion, Steven Curtis Chapman, The Choir, Michael English, Béla Fleck, Steve Green, Cheri Keaggy, Phil Keaggy, Scott Krippayne, Kevin Max, Cindy Morgan, Out of the Grey, Ginny Owens, Chris Rice, the 77s, Sixpence None The Richer, Michael Tait, Steve Taylor, and about 2 dozen more.

I think we might need to erect police barricades to keep kids from stuffing his pocket full of demos.

An Ethical Gamble

This morning, I’m making a $100 bet that my students are ethical.

I got to class early, as I usually do, and left my things on the front table, again, like normal. I pushed my phone and wallet to the edge of the table, until the wallet fell to the floor, and the cash fanned out. A crisp $100 is there for the taking.

I’m curious about who will be the first to walk in the room and see it. I’m certain that none of them would actually take it, but depending on the person, they might really think about it.

We’re talking about Virtue Ethics today, my favorite way of thinking about ethics. Virtue Ethics denies the presumption that ethics is primarily about actions – this action is right, this action is wrong. Instead, it says that ethics is primarily about the virtues people hold. The right action is determined by acting in character with deeply held virtues. In this case, I think most of the students will say that they didn’t take the money because … well, they’re honest. They possess that virtue.

They didn’t do some complicated math about greater benefit to human happiness, they didn’t stop and consider God’s commands, they didn’t pull out their handy notes on Kant’s categorical imperative to only act in ways that are can be reasonably made universal. Instead they acted out of habit. Out of virtue. Out of a learned and cultivated perspective that values integrity.

We’ll see. I may be $100 short, and a little less idealistic, in about 10 minutes.

Lunch with Nicholas Wolterstorff

Nicholas Wolterstorff is coming to APU. He’s a very distinguished Professor of Philosophy, most recently teaching at Yale. He’s written extensively on religion and reason, on the rationality of Christian faith, and on the possibility of aesthetics in art. He’ll be giving two lectures, tonight and tomorrow night, both in Munson Chapel, starting at 7PM. Tonight’s lecture is titled “Speaking up for the Wronged”, and tomorrow night is “Love and Justice.” Come if you’re interested.

But the thing I’m really excited about is happening tomorrow at noon. I’m having lunch with Wolterstorff. Well, me and the rest of the music faculty, but I’m still gonna pretend that the two of us are on a date. He’ll see by my eager smile and witty repartee that the rest of these people are mere distractions, and the two of us will escape away together to a pine-covered hillside, where we’ll talk for hours about realism in art, epistemology and religious experience, universals and their implications for ethical norms, just the two of us …

… did it just get awkward? Why the uncomfortable silence, everyone?

Anyway, I’m throwing this out to our wide reading audience, those of you who troll by the RSS feed and keep tabs on us from afar. I know many of you have read Wolterstorff’s writing. In fact, it was a reader here who first introduced me to his writing. If you were sitting down to lunch with him, what would you ask? Any burning questions about ethics, art, religious knowledge, any of those kinds of things?

I promise to dutifully report back to you every sparkling gem of wisdom that falls from his hand. And to leave out the awkward intellectual man-crush stuff.

When Your Kingdom Comes

So, I mentioned in a previous comment a song that Chad and I wrote about 4 years ago. I’ve been trying to dig it up to rearrange for small groups, and finally tracked down the demo. I’m posting it here because, well, this seems to be the only place I can put things where I won’t lose them! We originally did this as a demo for Avalon, based on a request from Jody McBrayer. It made it to the final table cut, but then they pulled it. They told us that they were already committed to a song that sounded similar. Then, the album came out and it turns out they were big stinking liars. And that’s why Chad and I do not drive a matching pair of Lexuses (Lexi? Lexium? Beemers.).

Share and Enjoy!


When Your Kingdom Comes
by Michael A. Lee and Chad C. Reisser

Bonus points if you can name the guys who played (1) drums, (2) bass, and (3) guitars. Chad, you don’t get to play.

Student Projects (Fall 2007)

It’s that time of year again – another semester finished, and time to grade the final projects. This used to be a bittersweet thing, knowing that just as these students were getting to really understand how to use technology in musical ways, I had to pass them off to the rest of the faculty, and never get to teach them again. Now, though, I get to see them again their final year, when they take the Studio Production course. Instead of being wistful, I start to get excited about what these freshman are going to be capable of in 4 years.

So, here’s this year’s round of “Best Of”. I’m grading all day today, so I’ll keep adding to this post as I go along. Enjoy!

(As a reminder, I’m posting these here just as a “Hey, check out this cool stuff my students are doing,” not as a “Hey, all of my highly talented professional musician friends, please harshly critique these earnest attempts at doing what you do.”)

Intro to Music Tech

“100 Years”, programmed and recorded by Mason Schroder. Mason doesn’t play keyboards so, being stubborn, he inserted every single note in the piano part using the mouse and the matrix grid. Yup. That’s like rebuilding the bay bridge using legos.


“Drowning in Shallow Love”, by Kenton Fukuda. This is an arrangement of a song performed by his band Twentyfour64. Check the vocals; that kid has pipes.

Production Techniques

This is the class where the students do absolutely everything – songwriting, arranging, contracting musicians, engineering the session, mixdown, the whole kit. Usually, it involves quite a bit of innovation on their part to get the whole thing done with limited studio resources and no money. This semester was the best to day, in terms of overall quality of the final product. Here are the standouts:

“Tiny Soldiers” by the production team RiCE/BeANS, written by Scott Ryan.


“Aunque Gigantes” by the team RiCE/BeANS, arranged and produced by Alejandro Martinez, who might be one of the best students I’ve ever had. Smart, humble, eager, and talented. May his tribe increase.


“Mud In My Eyes” by Production Team 2 (they didn’t come up with a fancy name). This is almost entirely the work of Robbie DeLong (who also sings on it). He spent this last summer interning with Chris Steffen out at Eldorado.


Rate My Professor

Well, awards season is here again, and yet again, The Michael Lee Experience has failed to win. My lowly little profile on ratemyprofessor.com failed to place in the Top 50 Highest Rated Profs, and didn’t even get nominated for Top 50 Hottest Profs. I guess I’ll have to be content with critical acclaim and a small but dedicated local fan-base.

I’m the “Of Montreal” of uni profs.

By the way, can someone tell me why Facebook hasn’t developed a professor-rating app yet? Seems like a pretty natural fit …

Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

This is another in the series of ethical questions I’m having my class work through. I had just finished writing this up when i heard on NPR that Altria is shutting down it’s philanthropic work over the next two years. Good timing! Bonus points on this one if you can tell me what book I was reading when I came up with the names.

Gordon Struan is on the board of directors for Green Valley Orchestra (GVO), a professional regional orchestra known for its innovative programming and willingness to perform new works by modern composers. Struan’s role is to maintain and develop financial donors.

GVO, like many such ensembles, is having a difficult time meeting its financial obligations. Although their concerts are well-attended, the income from concert ticket sales alone is not enough to pay the salaries of the orchestra members. Without significant donations from outside foundations and wealthy patrons, the orchestra simply could not continue to perform.

Struan is faced with a dilemma. His three largest donors all lost large sums of money in the collapse of the real estate market, and have informed him that they are no longer able to donate to the orchestra. Struan must raise $6 million, or the orchestra will have to cancel their season and declare bankruptcy. Two potential donors have indicated that they might be willing to step in and give the needed money, but both come with strings attached.

smoking kidsThe first potential donor is a company named Altria. Altria has long been known in the arts community for their philanthropic activity; they support many regional performing ensembles, and seem especially interested in supporting innovative groups, like GVO, who perform new works. Altria is also the parent company of Phillip-Morris, a cigarette manufacturer that aggressively markets its Marlboro brand to children in 3rd-world countries. Altria’s support of the arts seems like a carefully calculated PR strategy to improve the public image of their company.

smokin grannyThe second potential donor is Victoria Wagner, a well-known and very wealthy member of the local community. Wagner has never shown an interest in supporting the arts before, so Struan is understandably curious when she contacts him with the offer. In the ensuing conversations, however, if becomes clear why Ms. Wagner has had a sudden change of heart. It turns out that her beloved nephew is a struggling composer, and has had difficulty getting his works performed by professional ensembles. Ms. Wagner makes it quite clear to Mr. Struan that if she writes a $6 million check, she expects the Green Valley Orchestra to debut his latest composition.

So, Struan is left with three options. He can accept the money from a cigarette giant hoping to buy some public good-will, he can accept the money from the doting rich aunt looking to launch her nephew’s career, or he can refuse both and close the doors of the Green Valley Orchestra.

Your job isn’t to solve this problem for Mr. Struan. In fact, I don’t even want you to tell me what you would do. Instead, I’d like you to think about the moral values that are in conflict in this dilemma. We will answer the following questions in class:

  1. If GVO takes the money from Altria, is it an implied statement of support for the company’s business practices?
  2. If a utilitarian were to evaluate the Altria donation, what consequences would they have to consider?
  3. Struan is having a hard time evaluating the Wagner donation. He has a sense that some moral principle is being violated by her request, but he isn’t sure exactly what it is. What do you think is wrong with her request? What kind of moral principle does it violate?
  4. Does it matter if the composition by Victoria Wagner’s nephew is well-written or not? Would it matter if he were already a well-established composer?
  5. Struan is a devout Lutheran, and believes that God’s commands are the final source of moral authority. Is there a biblical command that could help Struan navigate either decision?
  6. Kant said that we should act in ways that we would wish to see made universal rules. If Struan refuses to take money from morally tainted sources, is that an act that we would want to see universally applied? What would the consequences be if we applied that principle universally?

Previous in series: Ayana and the Sacred Song

Ayana and the Sacred Song

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

This is another in the series of posts I asked my Music and Ethics students to consider and comment on. Thought I’d toss it out to the wolves here as well:

Ayana and the Sacred Song
Ayana grew up the daughter of an international trade lawyer, and is an accomplished singer. Ayana moved around the world with her parents when she was young, and along the way learned several songs that were indigenous to the cultures she was living in. One particular song she remembered from a year spent in Australia, called YALKERI MURA MURA.

As her professional career advanced, Ayana often sang solo concerts, and used an arrangement of YALKERI MURA MURA as her encore. The melody was haunting and beautiful; people frequently approached her afterward and commented on how moving that particular song had been.

After one concert, Ayana is approached by a young Aboriginal Australian man, who confronts Ayana over her use of the song YALKERI MURA MURA. The young man informs Ayana that the song is a “naming song”, used by an artist when he creates a churinga, a sacred stone painting. The soul of the artist is imparted to the painting, and both the churinga and the song are considered sacred. The song is only to be sung while creating the churinga, and afterward only when handling it.

The young man tells Ayana that it would be considered highly offensive, even sacrilegious, among Aboriginal Australians to hear the song used to entertain listeners in a concert, instead of its intended ceremonial use. He asks Ayana to stop using YALKERI MURA MURA in her concerts.

What should Ayana do? Does the original cultural setting of the song have any moral weight in how she ought to use it?

Previous in series: Why Be Virtuous?

Next in series: Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

Why Be Virtuous?

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

As part of the Music and Ethics class, I post something on the course blog each week for the students to read, consider, and then comment on. This is the first of the blog assignments, and I thought it would be interesting to post it here as well, for you folks to interact with:

Blog Assignment #1: Why Be Virtuous?
In class today, I gave you Plato’s view on the interaction between virtue and the human soul, and how a life lived excellently must mean a life lived with virtue. Plato’s is not the only view on the matter, of course. There are other views, by other smart people, on the meaning and purpose of virtue.

Let’s start off the blog assignments by reacting to a few of those perspectives. Here are four statements on reasons to be virtuous. They aren’t quotes, they are my own paraphrases of the views held by different philosophers:

  1. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of the nature of the human soul – we were created to be virtuous, and we do damage to our own nature, our own souls, if we deceive others and act with cruelty.” (Plato)
  2. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of God’s decree – He commands us to do certain things and not to do certain other things, and out of either love or fear, we ought to obey his commands.” (William of Ockham)
  3. “The best reason to be virtuous is the force of social pressure – if you are dishonest and cruel to others, society will shun you, and your capacity to enjoy life will be diminished.” (Ayn Rand)
  4. “The best reason to be virtuous is for the cause of greater social good – society as a whole is better off when people are honest and compassionate toward one another.” (Peter Singer)

There are certainly more options than the ones I’ve presented (include the option to say we shouldn’t be virtuous!), but let’s start with these. Which of the four statements above seems the most true to you? This isn’t a survey, don’t just jot down your answer; give us a little insight into why you think your option is the best choice.

Next in series: Ayana and the Sacred Song

A Virtuous Musician

Today was the first meeting of the brand new class, Music and Ethics. The whole class is built around the question, “What does it mean to be a virtuous musician?”

It was pretty electric – the students were excited about the course, and I was nervous (I still get nervous before every single class session I teach). I did something today that I’ve never done before. The students are all seniors, and I want to treat them like adults, so I let them decide their own class policies. They took the high road – two excused absences and their grade drops a letter, late work loses a grade a week, no excuses for missed reading and lack of participation in class discussion.

I had most of these same students as freshmen, in my Intro to Music Tech course. To see how much they’ve grown up in 4 years is encouraging. To watch them handle their business, and the maturity with which they embrace the challenges of the class, makes me want to do this every day for the next 20 years.

I’ll post some of the content from the course here at the Road House for your perusal, and you can follow along as I mold my own personal army of Virtuous Musicians.

Seasonal Affective Reordering

I love these kids.

These bright eyed recruits, fresh to the craft, newly minted and unpolished, these old and young all-at-once, these boundless excesses of energy, not yet stunted by perspective.

They are as unafraid of questions as any group I’ve ever seen, setting their frame-of-reference up against everything new and ready to see it changed and stretched and grown. They are wolves, and every new thing is their prey. Knowledge, experience, fear, wonder, they hunt it down with precision and abandon.

I sit down to eat with one of them, and hear confession. They are uncertain, and afraid, but they are undaunted. They are ill-at-ease with their received faith, with simplicity and steps and a church reduced to social gatherings, and are looking for some way of meshing old truths with the complexity of the world as they are coming into it. This is the very meaning of courage, to me, to lay aside old comforts in order to take up greater things.

UCO rehearsal campIn these days before the start of classes, there is the luxury of unhurried time, and a kind of egalitarianism. I am not yet their Professor, they are not yet at the mercy of my gradebook, and we can talk freely. We can be friends, for a few days more, and we can talk about ideas and their consequences. I think sometimes that I get to do my best teaching in these last few days of summer, when the campus is full of eager students, and my time is unbounded by lectures and grading.

I love this place, and these kids, and my place here with them.

come hear the APU small group

You remember that small group I’ve been talking about all summer? You should come out to hear them at their final concert – outdoor bash, big sound, free food. What could be better?

The concert is on July 15. BBQ dinner is at 6 PM, concert is at 7 PM. BYOLawn chair.

Christ Community Church
6575 Crescent Ave.
Buena Park, CA

I would post a map, but my thumbs are tired from typing on the Treo.

Come hear them – they’re really good!

Small Group Send-Off Concert

Looking for the best excuse ever to leave work early this Friday? Here are ten reasons why you should come to the APU Small Group send-off concert this Friday at 4 PM.

  1. We’ve got freekin cello playing on a Kirk Franklin tune. Come on.
  2. The guitarist grew up playing 2nd guitar in a 70′s classic rock cover band. It shows. This kid rips. Very tasty stuff.
  3. You get to see me stand up in front, like a real professor, and introduce the group like an adult would, but you can laugh in your secret inside mind while you picture me 19 beers in at the Memorial Day BBQ.
  4. Where else are you gonna go on a Friday night to hear 2 bars of a hit-and-hold straight-tone B-flat-make-you-believe-Jesus-is-a-comin’ suspended chord?smallgroup
  5. Come see if the awkward sexual tension among the group members spills out into inappropriate stage banter. Smart money is on “yes”.
  6. The pope says we can’t have Castrati singers anymore, but he didn’t say anything about keeping your Baritones above middle C for 5 days straight. As far as I can tell, basically the same thing.
  7. Free beer. Well, free coffee. But you can bring a flask of whatever you’d like to slip into it.
  8. The kid whose playing piano started out as my student when I was his age, and he was 12. You do the math. I’m too depressed.
  9. It might be the best band we’ve ever sent out. Really.
  10. We get to hang out afterward and have dinner.

Let me know if you’re planning on coming, and I’ll reserve us a table someplace nearby to grab dinner after the concert. This is a really good group, and it would be fun to get together with you all and spin the old yarn a few times over some tasty adult beverages. And for those of you who have never been to a small group send-off concert, or who don’t have any idea what I’m even talking about, come hang out, here some good music, meet some people from the blog.

The concert is at 4:00 pm, this Friday, June 8th, here:


Welcome to the bigs

Small Group rehearsal camp started today. I spent some time with the singers, helping them tackle this arrangement. I wrote it about 10 years ago, for a very different, much more experienced group of vocalists.


You know what? They did pretty well. Which is saying something, because that’s not a small piece of singing they bit off there. I was proud of them. If you’re interested, here’s the vocal chart:

Hymn Medley

Academic Cynicism

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a website where professors can anonymously bitch about their students, their administration, their colleagues, their facilities, their parking spaces …

It was funny at first, and a little cathartic. Then, after reading through more and more of the site, the cynicism started to get to me. It was post after post of profs talking about how apathetic and sarcastic their students are (where do we think they learned it?), about the sense of entitlement that students have these days, how dense they are, blah blah blah.

I know that sites like this are a caricature; nobody has a great day of teaching, or a meaningful interaction with students, and thinks, “I should bitch about this on my favorite anonymous professor blog.” You get people reacting to their most frustrating experiences of the semester.

Still, it reminded me again of something I’ve often thought: I have no desire to be a part of academia at large. If my position at APU goes away for some reason (like, if they find a dead body in my office. Or a copy of ‘Generous Orthodoxy’), I probably won’t even bother looking for a similar position somewhere else. I’m not all that interested in being a professor – I’m very interested in doing what I’m doing here, at this place.

I love our students. They are, for the most part, optimistic and intellectually curious. When we bump into each other outside of class, they want to have conversations about ideas; how cool is that?

I love the faculty that I get to work with. They have that critical mix of high intelligence and pragmatism; they are interested in what actually works, not in what theoretically should work (you have to spend a little time at academic conferences in order to appreciate how rare that is).

I respect my departmental leadership. The Dean is a political monster, able to bob and weave with the best of them, but he uses it to protect his faculty from administrative interference, and to advocate for student learning. His authority doesn’t just come from his position, it comes from his ability in the field. He can deliver. He’s a musician, who also happens to be adept at the politics of administration.

They give me the proper tools to teach my subject matter. I teach a technology class. Every 3 years, they rebuild my teaching lab from the ground up with the latest technology. Getting the right software for the job is rarely a fight. We have our turf wars with the IT guys, but it hasn’t yet inhibited the teaching environment.

I dunno. Maybe if you check back 10 years from now, I’ll be bitter and jaded and will spend every moment complaining. But not now.

Maybe it’s the two bottles of wine that I polished off over lunch while writing this, but I’m feeling blessed.

Moral Theory: Introduction

Posts in the Moral Theory series

  1. Moral Theory: Introduction
  2. Moral Theory: Divine Command Ethics
  3. Moral Theory: Natural Law

An Introduction

Well, now that the Music and Ethics course has been approved here at APU, I have to get serious about actually teaching it. That means brushing up on some of that good old philosophicating. Good practice for me, fun for you, and safe for the whole family. Unless Uncle Jimmy is a nihilist, in which case, probably not safe for him.

I’m going to write a series of posts, each trying to answer the question “What makes an action right?” Each post will look at how different schools of thought, different moral theories, answer this question. My goal is to discuss these theories with a minimum of technical philosophical language, in a way that invites everybody to be part of the conversation. I can’t promise that it won’t involve some heavy lifting, but I will try to make sure that the ideas are presented clearly.

the property of ought

This question, “What makes an action right,” the starting place for thinking about ethics, requires a little bit of explanation before we can understand what it’s really asking. There are a few assumptions buried in the question that we need to tease out before we can really ask it.

The most basic assumption of the question is that actions can have properties, features about them that can be talked about in the abstract. If I’m holding a red apple, it has the property of “redness”, and I can talk about the redness in the abstract, without having to talk about the apple itself.

What does it mean to say that actions have properties? Well, think about someone who steals candy from a child. In addition to talking about the facts of the event (at a certain time and place, this person caused this series of events that affected this person, blah blah blah), we can also say, “That act was selfish.” It identifies something about that act, some quality or group of qualities that can be identified, and discussed in the abstract. “Selfish acts cause one to become embittered” is a statement about abstract properties, not about any one act.

So, the first assumption in the question “What makes an action right” is that an act has properties (not all philosophical systems will agree with this point – more later!).

The second assumption is that some property, or set of properties, about an act can together cause that act to be ethical, or unethical. In other words, we can evaluate an action for abstract qualities, and those qualities will determine if we have an obligation to perform that act, or to not perform it.

Let’s assume we determine that selfishness = unethical. We can then look at an act, and ask whether or not it contains the property of selfishness. If it does, then it’s unethical. We establish a standard for measuring actions that is separate from any one action, which all actions can be evaluated against.

If this works, we can then say that the act has an additional property: call it the property of ought. Action that have it, we are obligated to do. Actions that contain it in the negative (ought not), we are prohibited from doing.

So, the conversation in ethics centers around this question:

What property of an action determines that we ought to do it?

In the series of posts to follow, I’ll try to show how that question is answered by Divine Command Theory, Natural Law Theory, Utilitarianism, Kant (how awesome do you have to be to get on this list with just your last name? Pretty awesome), Moral Relativism, Moral Pluralism, and (my favorite, which is why I put it last) Virtue Ethics.

Hang on to your protractors – it’s about to get nerdy up ins!

Next in series: Moral Theory: Divine Command Ethics