Thursday, October 30, 2008

Killer Skills

Over the past few years, I have picked up a number of new responsibilities at work. My job description has changed drastically since I started in this position over five years ago. One of my biggest annual projects is coordinating the revisions to the college's catalog. This actually sounds like it would be a great responsibility for me, since grammar, spelling, and formatting errors typically jump off pages and make themselves known to me with little effort on my part. I find errors frighteningly often and it's one of my biggest pet peeves (if and when I make a mistake in my blog, don't you dare point it out though). I hate those kinds of mistakes; I find them all too often, especially in textbooks, of all places. I just feel that if a book is being published, it should not contain an abundance of errors - don't they pay copy editors to, like, copy edit that stuff? For some reason it really gets under my skin.

Coordinating the catalog revisions, though, is so much more than proofreading. Every year, existing courses are changed, new courses are added, courses are deleted. Program requirements change. New options are offered within programs, and various sections of the catalog are revised for one reason or another. My job is to make sure that every change is captured and reflected in the new catalog. Doesn't sound too bad. But the program and course changes are submitted to me by people from all over the college - division chairpersons, division office staff, program directors, the associate vice president, and sometimes faculty. I issue a deadline by which all changes (hard copy and electronic) are due to me. I then go through the painstaking process of reviewing the submitted revisions to ensure that all of the changes that are supposed to be there are captured. I have a brief window of time in which to perform this task because my final copy, which includes all of the revisions, is due to our public relations office on a certain date. Still doesn't sound too bad. The problem is that I often don't receive revisions from certain people (who shall remain anonymous) until after the deadline. I'm sure it is not uncommon for people to deal with this issue in their jobs. However, it does make it difficult to be vigilant at properly checking each p and q on all 266 pages. Even after I am through obsessing over every line of text, the typesetter manipulates the text after I do, so there is an opportunity for error even after it leaves my hands. All I can do is hope that no major mistakes are made.

In past years, I have made attempts to encourage (force) everyone to get their revisions to me on time (I wish I could hire an enforcer, a muscular, intimidating guy with a permanent scowl who would "pay visits" to those who are known for being late submitting their information - kind of like the big kid in school you become friends with just so he'll make sure no one steals your lunch money). Despite my hard-ass attempts, I have not learned the secret to getting everyone to submit their revisions on time.

So when the current version of the catalog was printed and distributed in May, I didn't waste any time flipping through the pages to see if there were any glaring errors. And then I saw it. My heart began to race. You've got to be kidding me. I promptly went into shock. Staring (smirking) directly at me from page 84:

Apparently "keyboard skills" are overrated, but "keyboard kills" are essential. The catalog won. This time. But don't get cocky, catalog, I'm coming for you again next year.


Monday, October 27, 2008

What's In a Name?

Why did I name my blog Beauty in the Dissonance? I don't really have a good reason. Who cares what my blog is called, anyway? Just for the record, though, here's the explanation. It's a nod to TOOL, one of my favorite bands (the line finding beauty in the dissonance is from the song Schism). But it also describes something that I've always found difficult to put into words. Recently I've had numerous discussions about music with a friend of mine, and I've been trying to describe to him that when it comes to music, I feel there needs to be an element of darkness as well as light; I think that the contrast itself provides more drama and beauty. Whether it's a stunning melody tempered by obnoxious lyrics or a subtle integration of inharmonious tones, I think that by including the "ugly" with the beautiful, the entire piece achieves a level it would otherwise not reach.

According to Frank Zappa:
"Any composition (or improvisation) which remains consistent and 'regular' throughout is, for me, equivalent to watching a movie with only 'good guys' in it, or eating cottage cheese."
Now, I realize that not everyone would consider Frank Zappa an artist to take cues from. But basically he's saying that using only consonant sounds does not necessarily make a piece of music enjoyable for the listener (and may cause an inexplicable craving for cottage cheese). There needs to be a careful balance between consonance and dissonance that creates interest in the piece and gives it substance and a story.

I don't think that every piece of music needs to include only what is pleasing to the ear. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things I would not volunteer to listen to. I don't think that the obnoxious fire alarm in my building at work would make a nice dissonant component to a song. But to put it simply, there are many instances where, when done in an interesting way, dissonance does enhance a song's beauty and impact.


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