BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Saturday night, July 10, 2010 — The learnin’ part of the Saturday portion of the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists ended at noon, unless you’re a columnist (published or not). The usual field trip either can be written about or learned from. Lunch and and tour this time were both, a visit to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.
• • •
The hour “On Creativity” featured not a writer but a veteran jazz composer and musician, David Baker, chair of IU’s jazz studies department. He was right, the chops of creativity are about the same for any of us.
Baker has three rules, and they seem to come from the motivational world.
- From a late pastor, A.W. Tozer: “Time is a resource that is nonrenewable and nontransferable. You cannot store it, slow it up, hold it up, divide it up or give it up. You can’t hoard it up or save it for a rainy day — when it’s lost it’s unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.”
- “Excellence is not an accident. It comes from hard work and vision.”
- A riddle: “I’m your constant companion,” and continues with good and bad traits, such as “I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.” and ends, “Who am I? I am habit.” Good advice from “author unknown,” but it’s office-poster copy.
Baker says he needs a deadline for composing. He finds word games helpful, he’s especially fond of anagrams, as they keep his mind sharp even musically. “Compose at a regular time. in a regular place, have all necessary materials at hand.” “I don’t get locked in any single element. Anagrams help in this. The goal is to state what you’re intending with the greatest possible economy. Anagrams help me see things from different angles, to find the best one, to find an unusual one.” “I’ve written over a thousand pieces; that’s not an overestimate. Some were awful and thank goodness have never been performed.”
Another good quote that Baker recited, and I didn’t catch its author, “Any music that is not heard live is doomed to extinction.”
Baker mentions he teaches a course on Duke Ellington. At the Q&A, I noted that Ellington and Pyle were contemporaries, coming into prominence in the 1930s, and ask how he makes Ellington relevant in 2010 to non-music majors and non-jazz fans, which we could use with Pyle, increasingly obscure with time.
“To teach Ellington, it helps to show what was contemporaneous with Ellington at the time. What we know and what is less known of those times. He didn’t live in isolation.”
• • •
The columnists couldn’t convene in Ernie Pyle’s home state and his home university without a panel on the renown newsman. Lauri Lebo is researching a book on Pyle’s life in the 1930s — before the World War II writing that engraved his name in history. Owen Johnson, an IU professor, is a longtime Pyle scholar. Moderating was longtime NSNC member Mike Harden.
They reviewed Pyle’s life. Johnson has a solid biographical essay online. In the 1930s Pyle traveled the country with his wife and wrote columns on small-town America. The panelists had a fun word for these pieces, “vagabondage.” I have a book of these, and they recall CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road.” But Kuralt died 13 years ago. That’s three generations of journalism majors Continue reading