Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Call Him "Keiser"

1. Noun. Kaiser - the title of the Holy Roman Emperors or the emperors of Austria or of Germany until 1918.

2. The nickname of a hard-ass music professor.

The King

Harald Weisner wasn't universally known as "the keiser" or king, but when a fellow student told me of that sobriquet, I soon learned that it fit.

Weisner taught Music Theory and Ear Training 3 (We called it Ear Straining). He was a typically thorough and organized, but he also underestimated and, by his attitude, indicated that he thought very little of our intelligence or abilities. He moved through basic harmonic concepts in the Theory class (By comparison, the kids at UC moved at light speed, getting to concepts far beyond what covered.) telling us repeatedly, in so many words, that these ideas were far over our heads.

In Ear Training, he was more blatant, telling me flat out that "some people will never get this no matter how long they practice." Weisner believed that most of us were stupid and that only a select few could understand what he was teaching.

Now, there are several ways to view this. Weisner is a very bright man and perhaps he should have kept certain thoughts private, but I believe his greatest mistake was to not encourage his students, regardless of their abilities. It was his egotism that got in the way, plus I believe that he had arrived at a very poisonous stage in teaching: he believed in his own failure. I think that "Harry" thought of himself as being a very great composer (a common delusion among profs and a spirit killing one at that) and that the world hadn't recognized his greatness. He cited a colleague who had garnered awards and performances who knew "that I was a much better composer." Inside, he had poisoned himself with these ideas. In fact, of all the teachers, it was Weisner who most embodied this rhetoric of failure and passed it on to his students.

He actually said, as I can recall it some thirty years later, "Just a thought for some of you who aspire to be composers, I have many works, just sitting gathering dust in a drawer. " Well, boohoo, dude. I have learned that you make your own opportunities and that if composition is your true calling, you keep trying to get performances of your music no matter the players or ensemble.

When I was senior, I began to see old Harry slip. One time, he came in with the most bloodshot eyes ever. He looked even more skull-like than usual. "For everyone else, I'll say I was up all night with a sick puppy, but with you guys I'll tell you I was playing cards and drinking scotch." He crossed the line. We were like his friends. It was both fun, cool and creepy. I no think of this when I try to get real chummy with my students.

Then there was the incident while walking down the hallway in the music department when he began to make "whooo" sounds and extended his arms like he was an airplane. Someone asked him about it and he said, "Why? You guys do it." Suddenly student and teacher are equal?
The crowning moment was when we invited him to a keggar at our trailer. I called him and his voice was one of both surprise and delight. His entrance was hilarious as his car went just a little into the ditch. Smooth one there, Bergermeister. A couple of students had to help push him out. I didn't help. I was paying for the keg.
He drank with the best of us. I think all of us were a little afraid, in awe, but secretly thinking this was both cool and laughable. He hit on this one girl so hard-even licking her ear. We were all well into our cups when he stated flatly that older men were better lovers because they had more experience. True to a point, dude. The problem is that young girls don't like creepy old guys because we are old, regardless of experience.

The evening ended with us all hanging about in the living room listening to some Kansas that a friend of mine put on. When asked his learned opinion, his reply was simple: "It's modal." Never a big fan of rock or popular music.
Years later, I was planning on a trip to Wheeling and decided to roll the dice. I was heavy into composing at the time, so I called the good Doctor to see if he would take a look at my music and give me his thoughts. "I won't say I like it just because you are traveling this far" he stated with all the bluntness for which he was noted. I knew he wouldn't any and didn't expect anything less.

My impression that I have taken away from the meeting is that, somehow I surpassed what he had expected me to accomplish. He stated, "I'm surprised that you're still doing this."

As opposed to selling shoes? Did you think music was a goddam hobby for me?

The next impression was that I had baffled him. He muttered and meandered and couldn't think of anything real to say about the score. Now please realize that I was DEEP into complex music at that time. I was using all sorts of complex procedures to create the music (cell composition) and I genuinely believe he was a little blown away by what he saw. If it was simple and stupid, he would have flatly stated so. He didn't know what to say:there's the clincher baby.

Mein professor liked the ladies back in the day. Evidently this hasn't changed.


hillbillybob said...

Jes yer ol hillbilly feller up north, but ain't at sposed ta be "kaiser" like a kaiser roll, not "keiser", kindly like keister,which suits herr doktor purdy well, nish va? French sixth my ass.

eclectic guy said...

Call it what you want, but shithead is what comes out.