Sunday, September 28, 2014

Louis Riel - A Controversial Canadian Historical Figure

Many residents and citizens of Manitoba Canada are currently celebrating a provincial holiday "Louis Riel Day" - a day off of work in the Canadian province of Manitoba in the months of February without fully appreciating who this local Manitoban authority was and what was his import and his importance to the history of this geographical and community area.

To begin with as with most controversy and controversial personalities it all depends on which side of the Canadian historical fence or side you are reside on and which historical view and viewpoints you partake of.

It can be said, that in the Canadian historical and political landscape, of which many in the world would point out are rather apolitical, and that Louis Riel's role in history is disputed even today. To some, he is the defender of Canadian - especially Manitoba and Saskatchewan aboriginal Native First Canadian Nations (Indian) peoples against unfair treatments by the then Canadian governments. To others he was a rank traitor. With the passage of time and passions, since the last century, Louis Riel as now seen in the historical record overall a the founder of the Canadian Province of Manitoba and as a defender of Western Canadian interests during the formation, in the last century, of the early nation state of the Dominion of Canada.

In the year of 1868, when the Western Canadian geographic land area was being acquired by the leaders of Eastern Canada, from the Hudson's Bay Company, as the great land mass then known as the Hudson's Bay Companies '"Rupert's Land", Louis Riel and his band of followers prevented the entry of the then assigned Canadian representatives from physically entering the Winnipeg and Manitoba "Red River Settlement "areas. Mr. Riel and his agents then a local governmental authority, termed a "provisional government" to negotiate successfully terms with the then Canadian governmental authorities. This set of events, the first of Louis Riel's historical legacy actions, for which he is well known, has been termed in the Canadian historical record as the "Red River Rebellion". Although this was accomplished overall, without apparent bloodshed to attain its political aims, there was one noted expression of violence done under and via Louis Riel's command. A contrary and unruly (at least in the eyes of the Red River Provisional governmental authorities", prisoner named "Thomas Scott", was executed. This execution or what was termed in the rival political areas of Eastern Canada (primarily English Canadian Ontario regions), as an illegal act of simple murder, caused major consternation and controversy in "English Canada". Louis Riel was considered culpable and directly responsible for this heinous act, himself.

After fleeing the regions in the 1870's to the Montana regions in the United States, Louis returned for yet another historical conflict of what was termed on his side great injustice to the local Aboriginal First Nations and the Canadian Metis communities in the present day Canadian Provinces of Saskatchewan & Manitoba a second revolt was organized. In the eyes of the local North American Indians and of the Metis nation (descendants of the French Canadian Coureur des bois adventurous fur traders and the local Canadian First Nations), it was a replay yet again of settlers from Eastern Canada displacing them, their properties as well as the dominant culture and languages. Add to the mix that Louis Riel imagined himself and became convinced (at least in his mind and that of many of his followers), that he indeed was none other than a direct prophet of God, and on top of that adopted the name and personage of Mordechai of Jewish decent and origins.

At this point in time, the Canadian government of the first Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald felt they had little choice but to show action and authority and put down this rebellion and revolt. The government of that day was much better prepared to take action, along with the partially finished Canadian Pacific Railway.

The "North West Rebellion" was quickly quashed and put down by the representatives of the eastern Canada order - the North West Mounted Police (precursor of the R.C.M.P Royal Canadian Mounted Police". Mr. Riel turned himself in to the local legal police authorities.

After being held for some time as an inmate at the Stony Mountain facility nearby Winnipeg Manitoba, Louis Riel was prosecuted in a well publicized trial. Even though no less a personage than the queen of the British realm, Queen Victoria herself as for mercy and clemency for Louis Riel, this controversial figure was found guilty of "high treason" against "the Crown". Ultimately Louis Riel was hanged in Regina Saskatchewan on November 16, 1885.

This execution, of a local hero and political celebrity caused a furor between the essentially Protestant English community of Ontario Canada and the fundamentally French Roman Catholic Province of Quebec. It is only now after more than a century that the historical record and legacies of Louis Riel are finally coming clean and being appreciated in a more balanced as well as historically relevant perspective and perspectives.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Lake Legacy

Watching the children grow and mature, seeing the wife having fun, and I must admit a little selfishness for myself because I like to fish a bit and explore with the sail boat; are the most important things to me. We live and work in a congested city. Even relaxed times are punctuated with some tension. We traveled to the beach one summer week end and found a different living style and a different pace.

We bought a house and enjoyed it for two years. Then the deterioration of the house and equipment from ocean corrosion, and the crowded congestion reminded us that we had accepted conditions at the beach that are all too similar to our urban living.

A friend from college days called and invited the family to spend the week end with his family at "the lake". I was not thrilled with the thought of a day at the lake when I had the whole ocean. Our two daughters thought it would be fun. I knew that was because my college buddy would have his daughter and handsome teen age son there. So, we agreed to spend the week end at "the lake".

His house was modest, but the water and the view were spectacular. I was surprised at my first impression. His house was nine years old and looked like it was two. No corrosion and very fine landscaping. The first morning there we just sat and caught up on the past while the children giggled. That afternoon we sailed a bit. The next morning we fished. I found that I was relaxed and did not look forward to leaving. Some friends came over the previous evening for a chardonnay party, but crowds were non existent.

The next week I thought about it all. My wife said "why do we drive to the beach and that confusion, when the lake is so comfortable"? That was all I needed. We sold the beach house and built a house we really like at the lake. We spend many week-ends there, and I am even more pleasant at work.

By the way, our house is in North Carolina at Kerr Lake. We may even retire there when the time is right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The State of Modern Music

Today's practitioners of what we once called "modern" music are finding themselves to be suddenly alone. A bewildering backlash is set against any music making that requires the disciplines and tools of research for its genesis. Stories now circulate that amplify and magnify this troublesome trend. It once was that one could not even approach a major music school in the US unless well prepared to bear the commandments and tenets of serialism. When one hears now of professors shamelessly studying scores of Respighi in order to extract the magic of their mass audience appeal, we know there's a crisis. This crisis exists in the perceptions of even the most educated musicians. Composers today seem to be hiding from certain difficult truths regarding the creative process. They have abandoned their search for the tools that will help them create really striking and challenging listening experiences. I believe that is because they are confused about many notions in modern music making!

First, let's examine the attitudes that are needed, but that have been abandoned, for the development of special disciplines in the creation of a lasting modern music. This music that we can and must create provides a crucible in which the magic within our souls is brewed, and it is this that frames the templates that guide our very evolution in creative thought. It is this generative process that had its flowering in the early 1950s. By the 1960s, many emerging musicians had become enamored of the wonders of the fresh and exciting new world of Stockhausen's integral serialism that was then the rage. There seemed limitless excitement, then. It seemed there would be no bounds to the creative impulse; composers could do anything, or so it seemed. At the time, most composers hadn't really examined serialism carefully for its inherent limitations. But it seemed so fresh. However, it soon became apparent that it was Stockhausen's exciting musical approach that was fresh, and not so much the serialism itself, to which he was then married. It became clear, later, that the methods he used were born of two special considerations that ultimately transcend serial devices: crossing tempi and metrical patterns; and, especially, the concept that treats pitch and timbre as special cases of rhythm. (Stockhausen referred to the crossovers as "contacts", and he even entitled one of his compositions that explored this realm Kontakte.) These gestures, it turns out, are really independent from serialism in that they can be explored from different approaches.

The most spectacular approach at that time was serialism, though, and not so much these (then-seeming) sidelights. It is this very approach -- serialism -- however, that after having seemingly opened so many new doors, germinated the very seeds of modern music's own demise. The method is highly prone to mechanical divinations. Consequently, it makes composition easy, like following a recipe. In serial composition, the less thoughtful composer seemingly can divert his/her soul away from the compositional process. Inspiration can be buried, as method reigns supreme. The messy intricacies of note shaping, and the epiphanies one experiences from necessary partnership with one's essences (inside the mind and the soul -- in a sense, our familiars) can be discarded conveniently. All is rote. All is compartmentalized. For a long time this was the honored method, long hallowed by classroom teachers and young composers-to-be, alike, at least in the US. Soon, a sense of sterility emerged in the musical atmosphere; many composers started to examine what was taking place.

The replacement of sentimental romanticism with atonal music had been a crucial step in the extrication of music from a torpid cul-de-sac. A music that would closet itself in banal self-indulgence, such as what seemed to be occurring with romanticism, would decay. Here came a time for exploration. The new alternative --atonality -- arrived. It was the fresh, if seemingly harsh, antidote. Arnold Schonberg had saved music, for the time being. However, shortly thereafter, Schonberg made a serious tactical faux pas. The 'rescue' was truncated by the introduction of a method by which the newly freed process could be subjected to control and order! I have to express some sympathy here for Schönberg, who felt adrift in the sea of freedom provided by the disconnexity of atonality. Large forms depend upon some sense of sequence. For him a method of ordering was needed. Was serialism a good answer? I'm not so certain it was. Its introduction provided a magnet that would attract all those who felt they needed explicit maps from which they could build patterns. By the time Stockhausen and Boulez arrived on the scene, serialism was touted as the cure for all musical problems, even for lack of inspiration!

Pause for a minute and think of two pieces of Schonberg that bring the problem to light: Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912 - pre-serial atonality) and the Suite, Op. 29 (1924 serial atonality). Pierrot... seems so vital, unchained, almost lunatic in its special frenzy, while the Suite sounds sterile, dry, forced. In the latter piece the excitement got lost. This is what serialism seems to have done to music. Yet the attention it received was all out of proportion to its generative power. Boulez once even proclaimed all other composition to be "useless"! If the 'disease' --serialism --was bad, one of its 'cures' --free chance --was worse. In a series of lectures in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1958, John Cage managed to prove that the outcome of music written by chance means differs very little from that written using serialism. However, chance seemed to leave the public bewildered and angry. Chance is chance. There is nothing on which to hold, nothing to guide the mind. Even powerful musical personalities, such as Cage's, often have trouble reining in the raging dispersions and diffusions that chance scatters, seemingly aimlessly. But, again, many schools, notably in the US, detected a sensation in the making with the entry of free chance into the music scene, and indeterminacy became a new mantra for anyone interested in creating something, anything, so long as it was new.

I believe parenthetically that one can concede Cage some quarter that one might be reluctant to cede to others. Often chance has become a citadel of lack of discipline in music. Too often I've seen this outcome in university classes in the US that 'teach 'found (!)' music. The rigor of discipline in music making should never be shunted away in search of a music that is 'found', rather than composed. However, in a most peculiar way, the power of Cage's personality, and his surprising sense of rigor and discipline seem to rescue his 'chance' art, where other composers simply flounder in the sea of uncertainty.

Still, as a solution to the rigor mortis so cosmically bequeathed to music by serial controls, chance is a very poor stepsister. The Cageian composer who can make chance music talk to the soul is a rare bird indeed. What seemed missing to many was the perfume that makes music so wonderfully evocative. The ambiance that a Debussy could evoke, or the fright that a Schonberg could invoke (or provoke), seemed to evaporate with the modern technocratic or free-spirited ways of the new musicians. Iannis Xenakis jolted the music world with the potent solution in the guise of a 'stochastic' music. As Xenakis' work would evolve later into excursions into connexity and disconnexity, providing a template for Julio Estrada's Continuum, the path toward re-introducing power, beauty and fragrance into sound became clear. All this in a 'modernist' conceptual approach!

Once again, though, the US university milieu took over (mostly under the stifling influence of the serial methodologist, Milton Babbitt) to remind us that it's not nice to make music by fashioning it through 'borrowings' from extra-musical disciplines. Throughout his book, Conversations with Xenakis, the author, Balint András Vargas, along with Xenakis, approaches the evolution of Xenakis' work from extra-musical considerations. Physical concepts are brought to bear, such as noise propagating through a crowd, or hail showering upon metal rooftops. Some relate to terrible war memories of experiences suffered by Xenakis, culminating in a serious wound. To shape such powerful sounds, concepts akin to natural phenomena had to be marshaled. From the standpoint of the musical classroom, two things about Xenakis are most troubling: one is his relative lack of formal musical training; the other, or flip side, is his scientifically oriented schooling background. In ways no one else in musical history had ever done, Xenakis marshaled concepts that gave birth to a musical atmosphere that no one had ever anticipated could exist in a musical setting. One most prominent feature is a sound setting that emulates Brownian movement of a particle on a liquid surface. This profoundly physical concept needed high-powered mathematics to constrain the movements of the (analogous) sound 'particles' and make them faithful to the concept Xenakis had in mind. There is, as a result, a certain inexactitude, albeit a physical slipperiness, to the movement of the sound particles. Nice musical smoothness and transition give way to unpredictable evolution and transformation. This concept blows the skin off traditional concepts of musical pattern setting! Its iridescent shadows are unwelcome in the gray gloom of the American classroom.

In their haste to keep musical things musical, and to rectify certain unwanted trends, the official musical intelligentsia, (the press, the US university elite, professors, etc.) managed to find a way to substitute false heroes for the troubling Xenakis. Around the time of Xenakis' entry into the musical scene, and his troubling promulgation of throbbing musical landscapes, attendant with sensational theories involving stochastic incarnations, a group of composers emerged who promised to deliver us from evil, with simple-minded solutions erected on shaky intuitional edifices. The so-called 'cluster' group of would-be musical sorcerers included Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Górecki and Gyorgy Ligeti. These new musical darlings, with their easy methodologies, gave us the first taste of the soon-to-emerge post-modernism that has posed as our ticket to the Promised Land for the last thirty years. It seemed that, just as music finally had a master of the caliber and importance of Bach, Schonberg, Bartok and Varese in the person of one Iannis Xenakis, history and musicology texts seemed not to be able to retreat quickly enough to embrace the new saviors, all the while conspiring against an all embracing creativity found fast, and well-embedded within the turmoil of the stochastic process.

Alas, Xenakis has been exiled from American history, as much as the powers have been able to do so! His competition, those in the intuitive cluster school, became the fixtures of the new musical landscape, because their art is so much easier than that of Xenakis. Ease of composing, of analyzing and of listening are the new bywords that signal success in the music world. Those who extol such virtues herald the arrival and flourishing of post-modernism and all its guises, be it neo-romantic, clustering or eclecticism. The proud cry these days, is "Now we can do about anything we wish." Better, perhaps, to do nothing than to embrace such intellectual cowardice.

The promise of a return to musical fragrances that walk in harmony and synchronicity with intellectual potency was precious and vital. It should signal the next phase of evolution in the creative humanities. The challenge to write about this potential of a marriage of humanities was overwhelming. No adequate text seemed to exist. So I had to provide one. All that was lacking for a good book was a unifying theme.
Algorithms control the walk of the sounds. Algorithms are schemata that work the attributes of sound to enable them to unfold meaningfully. An algorithm is a step-function that can range from a simple diagram to stochastic or Boolean functions. Even serialism is an algorithm. While they are important, algorithms take second place in importance to the focus of music: its sound. This concentration is given a terminology by composer, Gerard Pape: sound-based composition. Isn't all music sound based? It's all sound, after all.

Well, yes, but not really. The point of the term is to highlight the emphasis of the approach being on the sound, rather than on the means used for its genesis. In sound-based composition, one concentrates on a sound, then conjures the way to create it. In serialism, ordering takes precedence over quality. The result often is vapid: empty sound. Directionless pointillism robs music of its vital role, the conjuring of imagery, in whatever guise. The other leading practitioner of sound-based composition is Dr. Julio Estrada. In his composition classes and seminars at UNAM (Universidad National Autonoma de México), he emphasizes the mental formation of an imaginary, sort of an idealized imagery. Then the composer/students are directed to formulate a conspirator sound essence that conveys something of the élan of this imaginary. Only then, once the construct of sound is concocted, is the method of sound shaping in the form of notation employed. Understanding of imagery and of fragrance precedes their specification. This is a sophisticated example of sound-based composition.

A curious, special case arose out of the arcane methods of Giacinto Scelsi, who made explicit what long had been lurking in the background. He posited a '3rd dimension' to sound. He felt that the trouble with the serialists was in their reliance upon two dimensions in sound: the pitch and the duration. For Scelsi, timbre provides a depth, or 3rd dimension, explored only rarely until his groundbreaking work. He devised ways to call for unusual timbres, and evolutions of timbre that resulted in his focusing on the characteristics of, and the transformations between (within!), attributes of single tones. Indeed, his Quattro Pezzi are veritable studies in counterpoint within single tones!

This concept of sound-based composition provided the unifying seed around which a book could be built. It would be one that could salvage something of the first principles of the union of intellectual discipline and a vibrant sound context: that is, music with meaning, challenge, discipline, ambience and something that requires courage and commitment in its conception. Such would be a music that yields special, beautiful, powerful, alluring fruits, which, nonetheless, disclose their secrets only reluctantly, demanding skillful teasing out of their magic.

This epiphany revealed a road by which we could reestablish the Xenakian ideal of musical power attainable primarily through processes that have their basis in the physics and architecture of the world around us. Here was not only the answer, the antidote, if you will, to the rigidities of serialism, but also a cure for the sloppiness of unconstrained chance composition. Here was a way out of the impasse confronting composition in the 1960s. The question should be not what method to use to compose, for that leads only to blind alleys (serialism, chance or retreat), but why compose? What is in the musical universe that can open pathways not yet explored, pathways that reveal something that stir a soul? What is the best way to accomplish that?

If we abandon the search for unique roads and for challenge, we will become the first generation ever in music to proclaim that backwards movement is progress; that less is more. Yet the very apostles of post-modernism will have us believe just that! They hold that the public has rejected modernism; the public has held modernism to be bankrupt. Post-modernists will lure you into the trap that, because of its unmitigated complexity, serialism promised only its demise. "The only road into modernism is sterile complexity; we need to root this out, and return to simplicity. We won't have a saleable product, otherwise." This is the thinking that gave us minimalism, the nearest relative to 'muzak' one can conjure in art-music. One composer, a one-time avant-gardist, actually apologized for his former modernity, on stage, to the audience, before a performance of his latest post-modern work!

There is an inscription in the halls of a monastery in Toledo, Spain: "Caminantes, no hay caminos, hay que caminar" (pilgrims, there is no road, only the travel). This was a beacon for one of music history's most courageous pilgrims - a fighter for freedom for the mind, for the body, and for the ear: Luigi Nono. His example could serve us all well. He exposed himself to grave danger as a fighter against oppression of all kinds, not least of all the musical kind. It takes courage to create. It isn't supposed to be easy! Nothing worthwhile ever is. It would seem to me that Nono's example serves as the antithesis to that of the previous composer.

I examine music history of the 20th century to find clues as to why certain composers generate more excitement than others. Is it possible that sound-based composition has flourished in an intuitive way from back into the 19th century? Has it been around a while, but just not codified explicitly as such? I feel that is so. To some extent the roots of this idea can be found in the so-called nationalism of such composers as Bartók and Janacek. Nationalism has gotten something of a bad rap due to folksy, cutesy concoctions usually redolent within its environments. But, upon reflection and examination, the more rigorous efforts in nationalistic composition yield tremendous fruits. Note especially Bartók's highly original devices of twelve-tone tonality (e.g., axis positions and special chords). Less well known, but important as well, are the special folk vocal inflections resident in Janácek's music. These special qualities spilled over from the vocal to the instrumental writing. So it appears that we can make a strong case for sound-based composition (composition focused on special sound qualities) being rooted in the music by the turn of the 20th century.

The process of creation is the focus; not the glorification of the superficial sounds that only mimic real music. The reinstatement of Xenakis', Nono's, Scelsi's and Estrada's ideals to preeminence was crucial. The recognition of these trends, in preference to those of the more facile and easily attractive ones espoused by Penderecki, Ligeti and others, had to be ensured. The easy lure of cluster music had to be resisted.

If we don't make this distinction clear, all that follows is nonsense. Too many people apply modernism to anything that resided in the 20th century that contained a little dissonance. That is a common error. For others, modernism exists in any era - it simply is what's happening at a given time, and is appropriate as a description for music in that era. This, too, is wrong for its reluctance to confront the creative process.

We mustn't yield to these impulsive descriptions, for to do so renders the profound efforts of the 20th century meaningless. There is a unifying thread in music that qualifies it to be considered modern, or modernist, and it isn't just a time frame. Modernism is an attitude. This attitude appears periodically in music history, but it is most effectively understood in the context of creativity, most pronouncedly found late in the 20th century. Modern music is the music composed that results from research into the attributes of sound, and into the ways we perceive sound. It usually involves experimentation; the experimentation yields special discoveries that bear fruit in the act of composition. This distinction is crucial; for even though much cluster music, and some neo-classical music, contains high dissonance, their focus is reactionary. The experimental work of Schonberg, Berg, Webern, Bartok, Varese, and that of some Stravinsky, is forward-looking, in that the music is not a solution unto itself: it provides a template for further work and exploration into that area. Even more so, the works of Cage, Xenakis, Scelsi, Nono and Estrada.

The composers chosen for discussion herein are the ones I consider to be the most exemplary models in the development of sound based composition. They are as follows:

-Janacek (nationalist inflection)
-Debussy (chord-coloration)
-Mahler (expressionism and tone-color melody)
-Ravel (impressionism)
-Malipiero (intuitive discourse)
-Hindemith (expressionism in a quasi-tonal context)
-Stravinsky (octatonic diatonicism)
-Bartok (axial tonality, arch form, golden section construction)
-Schonberg (expressionism, atonality, klangfarbenmelodie))
-Berg ('tonal' serialism)
-Webern (canonic forms in serialism, klangfarbenmelodie)
-Varese (noise, timbral/range hierarchies)
-Messiaen (modes of limited transposition, non-retrogradable rhythms, color chords)
-Boulez (special live electronics instruments)
-Stockhausen (pitch/rhythm dichotomy)
-Cage (indeterminacy, noise, live electronics)
-Xenakis (Ataxy, stochastic music, inside-outside time attributes, random walks, granularity, non-periodic scales)
-Nono (near inaudibility, mobile sound, special electronics)
-Lutoslawski (chain composition)
-Scelsi (the 3rd dimension in sound, counterpoint within a single tone)
-Estrada (The Continuum)

There is so much glitter in the world, and so much noise pollution that we are being rendered incapable of reflection and of creative thought. We become mortified at the thought of a little challenge. We are paralyzed when faced with the challenge of keeping our evolutionary legacy in focus. We cannot afford to trade away quality for mediocrity, just because mediocrity is easier and more enticing. This would not be an acceptable social outcome. To live we must thrive. To thrive we cannot rest.

Entertainment is a laudable pursuit in certain settings and times. It cannot be the force that drives our lives. If a composer desires to write entertaining music, that is all right. But that composer must be honest about his or her motives for doing so. Do not write entertainment and then try to con the public by claiming this is great music. It is best to be able to discover the key to the writing of a music that can fulfill a need for tomorrow. By understanding nature, the nature of sound and the human condition, we can write music capable of conveying something essential. That goes beyond entertainment. It fulfills music's most crucial purpose: providing a teaching role. What better way to go through a learning process than to find oneself doing so while wrapped in a cocoon of beauty? Music can be our best teacher.

It is all right to find beauty in old sources. Even Respighi can be very charming, engaging. It is also just as good to listen to soothing, euphonious music as it is to write such music. But can't we as composers do better than this? Why can't we give something besides pleasure to tomorrow? Young composers today are at a crossroads. They can fulfill a vital mission by helping fulfill a tradition that carries on a cultural legacy. Today's composers must begin to dream; and then compose.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kicking Up the Game of Your Longer-Term Employees: Getting the Tenured and Tired to Grow and Evolve

"A lot of us have been here a long time."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry over the phone when a salesperson gave this answer to my question about investing in a sales and service training program for her team. To me, these few words were both comical and tragic to me at the same time, and told me all that I needed to know about the organization - and why it was behind in its performance.

Many organization leadership teams and managers no doubt face this same dilemma. While it has long been thought that people with many years of experience at their jobs translates to permanent success, many things today prove otherwise. "Evolve or die" is not so much a threat as a prediction nowadays. And we can learn this lesson from many different industries.

In a recent interview on ESPN, Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, who knows about winning (his teams have won three NCAA titles in four seasons) says that "The future and legacy of a team will be determined by what happens ahead of them, not what happened before... There is no continuum for success, it's an ongoing process regardless of what we've accomplished in the past."


I'm sure the above-quoted salesperson, who had been at her post for several years, answered me in the manner she did because she thinks that you cannot necessarily teach old dogs new tricks, or - worse yet --- she feels that they likely already know everything they need to know in order to do their jobs, and don't need to learn anything new.

"I just taught my 15 year old dog to not jump on the couch, so you CAN teach old dogs new tricks," offers Chris Durso, Major Market Developer with InterContinental Hotels Group, "In fact, if you're losing market share, you're not done learning."

Greg Ayers, President/CEO of Discover Kalamazoo (MI) weighs in on continuing the learning in his organization: "While our team possesses a wealth of experience, we are always looking for ways to further develop our talent... One of our strategic priorities is to continuously improve." Greg backs it up by engaging outside consultants to conduct a sales team program evaluation that reviews everything they do to generate new group business for Kalamazoo, "even if we don't want to hear some of the answers," he adds.

Like Ayers, true leaders are about taking chances, and either checking under their own hoods or engaging others to do it, just to make sure the engine parts are still working efficiently and effectively.

"I've been down that road of hearing 'we don't need training' for our seasoned staff or salespeople," says Wade Bryant, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston, SC. "You could probably classify half of our long-timers in the hospitality industry as insane, if by definition that means, as Steven Covey said, doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different or better result. The fact is long-timers probably need it (training) the most."

To a team leader, it can be a fine line between managing a seasoned, happy team member who uses their great wealth of experience in handling certain (often difficult) situations vs. the "been-there-too-long" team member who carries a burned-out or sluggish attitude around the business, refusing to embrace any new wrinkles. Never mind that as a business owner you may want (or need!) to change things up or move your customers or products in a new direction. From many of these folks, you may be getting push-back and old-style thinking.


It's like nails on a chalkboard for me when I hear "we've always done it that way." Sure, many companies are thriving again and have built their legacies of service and stellar treatment of their customers in the past. But those customers are changing. The expectations of the baby-boomers, not to mention the greatest generation, the gen-X'ers, and the millennials can all be very different. A business's service teams have to be able to evolve their skills in order to stay viable to a changing demographic with changing needs and expectations.

Are your long-time employees those who have their habits so ingrained that they cannot change or be flexible to the new wave of customers or changing landscape in your competitive landscape? Do they feel that they are above training and "refreshers" aimed at re-invigorating their efforts or re-focusing them? If so, it's time for management to step in and take training (or re-training) by the nose. It won't happen by osmosis.

"I'm often encountering life's plodders, doing just enough not to be fired," remarks Phil Anderson, veteran of the hospitality and resort business as both a general manager and a sales/marketing executive. "It seems like the theme is 'sustained mediocrity' in some places I go, and when you inherit a veteran or tenured staff to manage, it can mean trouble."

Of course, not all long-term employees are toxic, not by a long shot. Many frequent customers have come to enjoy seeing the smiling faces and feats of great service from these veteran team members over the years. The ones with great attitudes and abilities to teach can also be key in getting new employees up to speed on their jobs and tasks. Indeed, to some customers, the veterans ARE the company or product.


But still, change is inevitable. It's the growth part that's optional. And long-timers need to evolve their skills to stay relevant. After all, the "I want it now" generation is taking hold. The speed has quickened a bit, including service and value expectations from members.

"If you and your team don't take the time to reinvent your approach to business, you will lose, plain and simple," says Doug Small, President/CEO of Experience Grand Rapids (MI). "While others have decreased their budgets for professional development, we have gone the other way... we actually set goals for enhancing the skill set of our employees in a variety of disciplines to help them stay ahead of an ever-changing marketplace." Small even takes it beyond his own team on a larger scale: "We 'fund' education for our member hotels, too, as it's a collaborative approach to increasing revenues for all."


Consider these points when deciding about training and re-training:

* If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. This in itself can keep hospitality managers up at night.

* Many people fear change, and being trained or re-trained represents change. Get your best long-timers around the reasons for a program - Illustrate "what's in it for them?" and they're more likely to visibly support the training initiative to other team members. This will cut down on the grumbling.

* Assess which specific areas you and your guests feel need the greatest attention, and start your training there. Chew the elephant in small bites.

* Support it visibly, actively, and often. Nothing kills a training program faster than when upper management doesn't come to the workshops or meetings, or get involved in the follow-through. The line staff then gets the feeling that "they must be above all of this."

* Determine roles, goals, responsibilities, and accountabilities in your program. Have a plan, don't just scatter-gun a few hours here and there for some parts of your facility - After all, your hotel/resort has a culture, and it's a family, not a bunch of independent silos.

* Make continued training and learning a culture, not a fleeting "program of the month" that will quickly be forgotten. Make your training programs just that - programs - that are sustainable. Constancy and consistency will help insure long-term success.

Tenured and tired, or growing and evolving? Take a look under your hood and keep your long-time team members in forward motion with preventative maintenance and frequent tune-ups. Your customers will thank you with their return business and positive social media reviews.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Experience the Charm of Rajasthan Forts and Palaces During a Rajasthan Tour

Rajasthan forts and palaces are no doubt the best manuscript which utters the saga of audacious Rajputana clans. Rajasthan is the Land of Romance and Chivalry which is known throughout the world for its magnificent forts dotted along the barren sandscape of the Thar Desert. These eloquent of the bygone era are among the most popular attractions of Rajasthan which are visited by scores of tourists round the year. These forts are the paragon of architecture which not only illustrate great works of craftsmanship, but also famous for their majestic color combinations with the surrounding landscapes. The magical attractions of these grand monuments are among the best Places to see in Rajasthan. Some of the most famous Rajasthan forts and palaces are:

Chittorgarh Fort:

The Fort of Chittorgarh is the largest and the grandest fort of Rajasthan as well as of India. This is located in Bhilwara the city in Mewar region of Rajasthan. It is among the grandest fort and prominent attraction of Rajasthan tourism which is perched on a 180 meters high hill and sprawl over an area of 700 acres. The Fort is a treasure trove of history which offers great deal of insight into the life of the Great Rajputana dynasties who ruled this fort for centuries. This fort can be accessed through entrance gates like Padal Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ram Pol and Bhairon Pol.

The fort houses a number of palaces within the complex which include Rana Kumbha Palace, Fateh Prakash Palace, Padmini's Palace and more. This magnificent fort is known for its impressive 13 kilometer long wall and soaring towers. The Vijay Stambh (Victory Tower) is an imposing 37 meters high nine storied structure covered with an exquisite sculptures of Hindu deities and the Kirti Stambh (Tower of Fame) is a 22 meters high tower dedicated to Adinathji, the first of the Jain Tirthankaras are the most striking monuments of this fort.

Kumbhalgarh Fort:

This is the second most important fort of Rajasthan after Chittorgarh which was built in 15th century A.D. by Maharana Kumbha. It is located 90 km north-west of Udaipur in Rajasthan State and famous for its 36 km long wall which is the second longest continuous wall in the world. Rounded bastions, soaring watch towers and crenellated walls make this fort an impregnable structure which had nurtured Mewar kingdom for centuries. The fort complex houses around 360 temples among which Shiva Temple is worth visiting because of a huge Shivalinga.

Apart from this the fort is also known for its beautiful palace known as 'Badal Mahal' or the Palace of Cloud. This is the birth place of great warrior Maharana Pratap which is renowned for its beautiful rooms with lovely color combination of green, turquoise and white.

Forts of Rajasthan are known for its grandiose structure, majestic constructions and delicate decorations which preserve the cultural as well as historical legacies of royal dynasties who ruled Rajasthan for centuries. Some of the other famous forts of this heritage land are Mehrangarh Fort (Jodhpur), Jaisalmer Fort (Jaisalmer), Junagarh Fort (Bikaner) and Taragarh Fort (Bundi).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


My son and I share a passion for history. I must admit that as I write this, he knows more about it than I do. I look at history in terms of people, what drives them.
I love old houses. They have character. They are imprinted with the signature of the previous owners. I love the house that we live in. It is perfect for the four of us. My son, my two dogs and myself.

The house that we live in is quite ordinary. It has three bedrooms and two full baths and a half bath outside. I always wondered why there is a bathroom outside of the main house. One of my previous colleagues told me that it was probably constructed for the help who landscaped the yards. It does have a very big backyard. It took me two years to find this house and it was as perfect then as it is now. I had to change a couple of things here and there, but the yard is pretty much the same except for the addition of a water fountain. Oh except one of the trees fell off when hurricane Lily passed. On it's stump I placed a concrete statue of the buddha. This one is unusual because it is a smiling buddha and the hands are not folded in a meditation posture. It is as if the buddha is just enjoying the traffic of all kinds of birds taking baths in the fountain, the squirrels that tease the dogs and, one day, even a snake. All part of the dance of life in my backyard.

The couple who used to live here are retired and they did a terrific job of landscaping the property. Even now, when azaleas are in bloom, ours is the only home surrounded by magnificent colors in our neighborhood which also an older neighborhood. I can only remember one house that seems to change owners unusually frequently for as long as we have lived here. Most of the residents on the houses lining the street are either retired or working at home, so on any one weekday, the cars are parked on the carport as if it were a weekend.
The pine tree in the backyard is the tallest on the street. I can see it as long as I am on the same street. It serves as a beacon to me.

The flowering plants that continue to give us flowers were planted by the previous owners. I am always grateful for the generosity of spirit of the previous owners for leaving us this gift. I can tell they loved the land as I do now.

That is the history of this house for me. That is what I will remember when I either move away someday or die. I wonder how it was for the people who built it? I wonder how my son will remember it when he goes to college? He always thought it too small. No swimming pool. No tennis court. Not a place for big parties. For me, it is perfect. Small enough that I know where he and the dogs are at any one time even when I am at work on my computer.

I will always remember this house as the house where I found the most peace. When I pass on the ownership of this house to someone else, I wonder what they would change and what they would keep? What kind of signature will they leave? I hope that at least they will keep the bananas and the lemon tree and the dogwoods that I planted. Oh and I will leave them the buddha on the stump and the water fountain as my gift, just like the previous owners left calla lilies and african daisies and the enormous fig tree as their legacy to the future occupants of the land. For the land remains. The house may change, the occupants do change, but the land will always keep a record of the life that was there.

© 2007 by Melinda M. Sorensson