Sunday, February 27, 2005

Mormon Arts Consumption

Boy, now doesn’t THAT title sound nice and academic… :-) Perhaps because it was inspired by a post/essay over at A Motley Vision. He talks about some of the patterns that happen in “Mormon Arts Consumption”. It sprang out of a question of “What SHOULD we choose in our own media experiences?” (like, should we watch R-rated shows, or listen to rap music?), and moved into how to become good, conscious media consumers.

So, I’m going to retitle this one: “Step up to the Buffet”

You’ll see why in a minute, if you take the time to read all the way down this magnum opus…

So, the first point of my thoughts began as I read the AMV article. It reminded me of a time in my life about 6-8 years ago. I was working in Downtown (or near-downtown) SLC in an elementary school at the time. I was taking the bus in, because I found that I could actually get there faster (shocker) when I did. That, plus the faculty parking lot was a joke.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to take advantage of that time and do some reading. Now, for a long time, I considered myself to be sort of intellectual. I mean, I’m a smart guy, well-educated, well-informed, but over the years, I’d begun to realize that much of my knowledge-base was third-hand. In other words, I could converse pretty fluently about various works of art and culture because I’d heard other people converse about them. I was a Cliff-notes pseudo-intellectual!

Well, I decided I’d had enough of that. So, I went to the library, got a classics reading list, and started in on it. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Les Miserable”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Treasure Island”, and a whole bunch of others.

I learned a lot. Very notably, I learned to never trust Disney with a story line. But I also learned that a lot of the opinions that I’d been basing my opinions on were bogus. I should clarify. They weren’t necessarily “bogus”, they were just not mine. I had accepted a lot of other people’s opinions as my own, when, in fact, they were not.

So, here’s my first point.

Don’t rely on the opinions of others. Consume for yourself.

Which leads nicely into my next point. In order to really know what you like and don’t like, you’ve got to taste the whole buffet.

Admittedly, there’s a couple of dangers in that. One is that you might actually read/hear/see something that you don’t like. I’m not talking something morally offensive. Instead, I’m talking about something that doesn’t appeal to you. You might (woe of woes) find yourself in a movie that bores you. You might find yourself in a book that’s not moving like you’d like. You might listen to some music that’s not your general cup of tea.

Here’s a shocker: That’s OK. That’s good. It’s good that you’re experiencing something you don’t especially like. That gives you broad experience. Remember “opposition in all things”? Then you’ll really know it when you see something that really moves you. I listen to lots of music that I normally wouldn’t if I were listening casually. For fun. I tell myself that it’s “research”. I’m “studying” the music. And in reality, I am. I’m checking it all out, and learning from it. I’m looking for its good and its bad points.

Most importantly, I’m asking myself WHY I dislike, or like it. I think the biggest problem with media consumption is that few people try to figure that part out. They just like it or not, and never ask “Why?”

So, point two is to go to the buffet with a big plate and taste everything. The good stuff, the lame stuff, the weird stuff. Everything.

Another thought: While you’re sampling everything, don’t be afraid to admit your decisions. You are your own critic! Life doesn’t have to be an “acquired taste”! That means someone else told you that you had to keep eating it until you liked it! How silly is that? I was not impressed with “The Magic Flute”. It’s supposed to be one of Mozart’s greatest works, and I found it to be dull.

There. I’ve said it.

But I love his 40th.

OK, last point: Get aware.

The Mormon arts are in an awakening right now. ESPECIALLY in the popular arts. There has been more music, movies, and books created and published/released in the last five years than ever before. Blogging has created a vast network of sharing of ideas, experiences and thought. The Internet brings us the chance to become aware of LDS culture without having to live in Utah or Southern Califorina. John Hesch told me stories he’d received from missionaries who heard KZION playing on the computers of church members in Eastern Europe!

This is OUR culture! I’d love to see every member of the church step up to our own little buffet and fill his or her plate! Taste it all, come back for more of “that which is good,” as Paul said.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Why I've Been Silent

Sorry, folks. I haven't posted in a bit. I've been in Arizona with my family. My wife had come down here three weeks ago so that she and our son, Jacob, could participate in a session of Conductive Education (a new and intensive physical therapy sort of program).

Over the course of the last few days, I've had the marvelous and difficult experience of helping him through his classes. It's truly been one of the challenges of my life. He works and tries so hard to get so little "accomplished".

It's both inspiring and disheartening at the same time.

For him, the slightest ordinary thing that we all do every day is an almost insurmountable struggle. Standing up from a sitting position. Rolling over. Crawling. He's been working to take steps, but he has a hard time even supporting his weight on a consistent basis.

But in spite of the fact that it takes him so much work to move so little, he seems to keep on smiling. I think that's one of the most beautiful parts of it for me (and the most challenging, because it also reminds me of how much I complain).


Thanks for being patient, and I'll be back on track with some stuff when I get back on Monday...

Mark Hansen

Thursday, February 17, 2005

An Intriguing Honor...

I just got an email from Kim Siever over at Our Thoughts. A bit ago, apparently, he put out some feelers trying to see who could come up with the oldest blog in the Bloggernacle. So far, it seems like MoBoy is it!

It's a shame that in the early years I wasn't as consistent as I coulda been in my postings. Oh, well.

Speaking of things old and musty and historic (at least in a tech perspective) does anyone know how to arcive a blog? Especially cheap (read: "free")? I'd love to know!

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Some comments on the Grammies, and other awards

I didn’t watch the Grammies this year. I haven’t for many years. I gave up paying attention to them years ago when I realized just how much of a popularity contest they were.

Still, I saw some very interesting news articles about them in the succeeding few days.

Like this one. Apparently, watching lonely adulteresses is more interesting than music awards. Maybe I’m not so far out of the mainstream as I thought. But then again, I wasn’t watching lonely adulteresses, either…

Or this one, by my friend over at Random Thoughts. He was commenting that when big league musicians get together without warning and probably without rehearsal, they sound as bad as the rest of us.

And there’s Letterman’s Top Ten list!

But the one that really sticks in my mind, and the one that might carry the most impact in the long run is this one. The lead on the article says: “Jazz composer Maria Schneider took home a Grammy on Sunday for her album "Concert in the Garden," without selling a single copy in a record store.” It was all sold on the web. In fact, the $80,000 plus it took to record the CD in the first place was all raised by web presales. The CD was funded completely before the first note was recorded.

And now it won a Grammy, without any help from a record label or a retail distributor. It truly is a new world.

Now, as an aside, it’s interesting that by the current rules, this couldn’t happen in the Pearl Awards (the LDS music world’s equivalent to the Grammies). The current rules state that to be eligible for entry, a recording has to have been available for sale in an LDS-oriented retail outlet, or in the LDS products section of a general retail store. Web sales are not currently accounted for, no matter how many are sold that way.

But then, I don’t know of many LDS artists (other than DIY’ers) that are marketing their music exclusively on the web anyway.

But eventually, the Pearls will have to grow up with the times. Web sales will have to be taken into account. It IS a whole new world, and we all need to roll with it!


Shameless plug: The Latter-Day Songs club newsletter is featuring Fiddlesticks, John Newman, and myself this time!

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Gospel, Doctrine, Administration, Culture, and Tradition

A couple of posts in some of my favorite blogs (here and here) have once again moved me to write. This time, it’s about something that bugs me a lot. These posts talk about a phenomenon of adaptation of Christianity to suit the needs or wants of humanity, rather than humanity adapting its needs and wants to the purity of the gospel of Christianity. Check them out. They’re good posts.

But the problem comes along because so many people don’t see the differences between the five elements I listed in the title of this post. When the lines between any of these elements get blurry, people start to get on shaky ground, IMHO.

Let me look at them for a minute:

GOSPEL That’s the purest of all revealed (and even unrevealed) truth. This is the gem we’re all supposedly seeking. This is the truth and joy that God has and wants to share with us. It truly sets us free. It never changes.

DOCTRINE Is, to me, God’s instructions to help us learn and implement the gospel. It very rarely changes. When it does change, it’s with a new and clearer understanding. For example, the Mosaic Law, in my mind, contained the doctrine of animal sacrifice. Its purpose was to help us learn about the atonement. When its purpose was fulfilled in the actual atonement, the doctrine was changed to that of the sacrament. But the underlying gospel of the atonement didn’t change.

ADMINISTRATION Is the practices and processes that we humans put into place to try and live the doctrine and the Gospel. Often divinely inspired, it is readily adaptable to the needs of the community. A good example is the Family Home Evening. The Gospel has been on the earth for thousands of years, and existed for eons before that. The doctrine of a father and a mother loving their family and teaching them the ways of the gospel has been around since Adam. The administrative practice of Family Home Evening is, in the history of the world, a very recent thing. People have been raising righteous families for centuries without it. But, that’s what a Prophet of God told us we need to be doing in our time, and it has shown to work very well.

CULTURE Is how a group of people think, feel, and respond as a group. It’s the common bond that any group of people have with each other. It’s manifest in attitudes, mores, and actions. It helps define a people.

TRADITION is heavily tied to culture and vice versa. It involves our way of acting in regular rituals (not necessarily “rites”, or religious rituals). It could be as simple as whether or not your family opens presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. I grew up in a ward that had a New Year’s party with a talent show, every year.

Here’s the challenge with all this. These five words are all used to explain two things: How we do what we do and why we do it that way. The problem is that we don’t always apply the right word to explain the particular act.

For example. We all know that when the Sacrament is administered, it should be done by priesthood holders wearing white shirts and ties. They hold the trays a certain way, and move down the aisles a certain way. Why do they do those things the way they do? Is the wearing of a white, button-down collared shirt with a dark, yet conservative necktie a part of the Gospel? Is it part of the Doctrine? I submit that at the first ministration of the sacrament, neither Christ nor the apostles were wearing white shirts or ties. Is it Administration? Yes. In this day and age, the instructions are that those that pass the sacrament should wear white shirts and ties. It certainly is a part of our LDS tradition and culture.

But now, let’s export that to another country, where the traditions don’t include white shirts and ties. Should they be expected to conform? Will their Sacrament be less accepted by the Lord if they don’t?

Let’s look at other issues, like the music of the church. All of the hymns are based on western culture. The melodies, the harmonies, the structure has its roots in Western Europe. So, is our hymn book Gospel, Doctrine, Administration, Culture, or Tradition? Clearly it teaches and supports the Gospel and the Doctrine. It’s endorsed by the Administration. It’s an integral part of our American church culture. It’s a part of our tradition. But if a Sacrament meeting in Kenya were to have other music, would it be less spiritual?

And then what about our weekday music? Our styles of dress? Our ways of celebrating events throughout the year? Our individual personalities?

All too often we take parts of our tradition and our culture (and even our own personal likes and dislikes), and we say to ourselves (even on a subconscious level), “This is comfortable to me. It makes me feel good. This is where the Spirit communicates with me. This is what “spiritual” feels like. So therefore, MY traditions, and MY culture is therefore SPIRITUAL. Since it is spiritual, it therefore must be GOSPEL.”

From there, it’s only mental gymnastics to get to: “Since my traditions and culture, my way of doing things are GOSPEL, they must then be the way that YOU must do and think and feel as well.”

Truly, the true Gospel is for the whole earth. The Doctrine is for the whole earth. Even, the administration, by nature of the inspired hierarchy (one prophet/president with the keys to the gospel on the earth), is for the whole earth. But the cultures and the traditions are not. They are flexible. They are NOT mandated by God on High, but instead have been reinterpreted by man on earth.

The church is not a democracy. It should not bend on issues that are doctrine. While we can discuss and debate these things as much as we want, those aren’t gonna change.

But we need, both individually and as a people, to be more flexible in our reflections of diverse cultures, without sacrificing our dedication to a pure gospel, with divinely taught doctrine, and a divinely led but human Administration.

Mark Hansen

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Mouth of Babes, etc…

More thoughts on Suffering

So, Brendon was up much of the night throwing up, and lots of diarrhea. Not fun. He’s been teetering on the edge of real sickness for several days now, and it all hit last night. I think he finally slept for good at around 1:00 AM.

But the interesting part of this story happened about 11:30 or so, in between bouts of nausea. He was in pretty good spirits, overall, in spite of being sick. At one point he said, “Dad, it’s good to be sick once in a while.”

You think so? I wondered where this was going to go.

“Yeah,” He was setting up to get philosophical, “Because how else would you enjoy it when you’re well.”

Then he dozed off for a few precious moments of sleep before it would overtake him and he’d have to get up and run to the bathroom again.

I was left thinking of Eve’s rejoicing in their knowledge of good and evil (Moses 5:11), and Father Lehi’s sermon on opposition (2 Nephi 2:11). I thought how cool it was that he’s picking up on this attitude so young. I mean, I don’t always face opposition with such a clear picture. I’m much more whiney about it. “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this…bla…bla…bla…” I think if I try to face it all like, “It’s good to be sick sometimes,” I’ll do much better in the long run.

Mark Hansen

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Special Invitation

I'm about to release my first CD, to be titled "One United Generation". I've been working on it a very long time, and I'm thrilled to have it this close. The songs are done, all that's left is the design and the packaging.

Other LDS bloggers are invited here.

Other fans of LDS music are invited here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging...

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Digital Downloads v Hard Copy CD's

Recently, in the LDSMusicians yahoo group, we were talking about the changes that were coming along in the business models of the music industry. I posted this, and thought it might be interesting enough to share here:

There are a number of "consequences" or better: "results" of digital downloads.

1--The return of the single as the primary distribution model. A bit of history: Back in the early days of recording, with the cyliders that the edison machine recorded on, then later the grammophone, and the turntables that played 78 rpm discs, you could only get one song onto a recording. There simply wasn't enough space for any more. They were sold individually, as "singles". In fact, I believe that most of the 78's were one-sided... I might be wrong on that, tho...

Then, when an artist released a bunch of songs, they were packaged in binders and the pages were paper sleeves for the discs. That's where the term "Album" originally came from.

There were also the 45 rpm singles with the big hole in the center. Those were big in the '50's and '60's, but also into the '70's. Quite often new acts on a label would record two or three songs, and release two of them as a single, as a bit of test marketing.

Then with the advent of the "LP" which stood for "Long Play" you could suddenly get about 20 minutes a side. From that point on, you could still get singles, but by and large, people bought albums. Bands and artists would go into the studio and a month or four later come out with a batch of songs, and release it as an LP album. The label would choose 2-4 songs from that CD to release as "singles" but more and more, that was more in terms of what songs would be released for radio play, rather than what songs would actually be pressed and sold as singles.

Various tape versions of the vinyl LP's came out, first the 8-track, which suffered from having to change from one program to the next, sometimes in the middle of a song, and then later the cassette, which, for a long time dominated car stereos.

By the time that the CD came along, pressed vinyl singles were pretty much faded out, and the CD did a pretty good job of killing it. Sure, you could buy CD and even cassette singles, but those were more anomalies than anything else.

So, through the late 80s and most of the 90s, CD's ruled. And so did albums.

Then, finally, with the advent of digital downloads, people are once again making their purchases in single quantities. I'm seeing two long-term impacts of this on the way music is produced. First of all, gradually more and more artists will record a few songs at a time. They'll take a few weeks off touring to go into the studio and cut a few songs. Those will be released as singles as the artist continues touring. I think that eventually, the idea of releasing albums will fade to nostalgic retrospectives and compilations (like "Greatest Hits" collections).

One of the results of this will be that only "hits" will be recorded and released In other words, the off-the-beaten-path songs that are more artsy which were the old "deep album cuts" will probably not get recorded. The labels, measuring success by singles, rather than by albums, will probably not want to release anything that won't generate millions in returns.

As a result, the people that like that kind of music will probably turn more and more to the indies, who have long been the type to look deeper and harder into the music anyway.

While that will mean that the artistic non-hit style of song will probably fade from the mainstream, the fluff album filler will also. That's a good thing.

Another result of the advent of digital delivered singles is the final and complete demise of album cover art. Some of the greatest works of contemporary art were the covers of LP's, IMHO, and I'll be sad to see that go. My bet, though, is that it will be replaced by the graphics on the artist's website.

Mark Hansen


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