Thursday, April 26, 2012

Showing off

In honor of Symposium, I would like to talk about presenting.

"Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece, full of runs and difficult passages, to the hushed drawing-room.  He liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners, though they had begged Mary Jane to play something.  Four young men, who had come from the refreshment-room to stand in the doorway at the sound of the piano, had gone away quietly in couples after a few minutes.  The only persons who seemed to follow the music were Mary Jane herself, her hands racing along the key-board or lifted from it at the pauses like those of a priestess in momentary imprecation, and Aunt Kate standing at her elbow to turn the page." (pg. 186)

It is almost an obligation for those surrounding someone accomplished to invite them to share their wisdom.  In the story, Mary Jane has been asked repeatedly to show her piano skills and play play something that showcases them.  When she finally agrees, and seeming to be a modest person elsewhere in the story I assume she only did it for their enjoyment, they don't really care.  They seem to get very little enjoyment from the fantastically difficult piece and the young men who came over to listen actually leave as she gets in, only to return when it is done to pepper the air with applause and praise as if they truly enjoyed the experience.  The only people who truly enjoyed the display was the presenter and the ones who helped them reach where they are and take the success as proof of their effort as well.  This is much the same for page 192 and 193, where Gabriel stresses out of the possibility that his speech quote could be taken negatively or incorrectly and so he decides to change it.  It doesn't really matter in the end.  Everyone is so touched by the speech as a whole that they don't care if there is a small part they don't understand.  No one takes offense to a speech willing made to honor other people.
It seems so similar to my experiences from Symposium.  I know that at least science majors are required to attend a certain number of presentations and write up summaries for class.  They don't attend out of their own interest and pride in others, but instead in a... (selfish?) need to finish an assignment.  All of the time that went into the presentation is unimportant as long as they have enough facts to scrape together into a decent grade.  Everything is about quantity, not quality.  I hear rumors the presentation on Rachel Carson's book was forced to cut from 20 minutes to only 5 because everyone before them ran over and she was the unlucky person who had to bear the cut.  I can't imagine what I would do if someone had told me to take the years worth of work I had already condensed and then practiced for hours and cut most of it out, so it was barely worth it to present, since nothing important could be gotten to.  But they gave her her couple minutes to show that she is worth something, so what do they care?  They make a big deal of the Wilson scholars and pay them to come present to the word in a 'distinguished' area, but the Scholar presentations are from what I saw the worse attended of the presentations of the lot.  Presenters who know that already request that the rules be bent so that they can go present with the rest of the presentations of their subject, where they will at least have professors who understand and care about their work.
At the end of the day?  The happiest, proudest and most inspired people are those who stood up on that stage (and their faculty sponsors), not any of the attendees.  This is just the nature of presentations, and if you disagree, where you honestly happy and inspired by all of the long, dragged out graduation speeches from high school by the state superintendent and principal and president's second cousin twice removed?


  1. Well, I thought you were brill, for what it is worth.

    It is interesting that Mary Jane's performance--of an "Academy piece" is ignored, while Gabriel's (his toast) is a smash. Is that good or bad? I've never really understood the valence of "Academy piece": does it suggest precious, affected? or actual artistic talent and ambition, which the sad bourgeois party guests (and Gabriel) do not appreciate?

  2. I didn't think about it that way, but I guess it doesn't fall under good or bad. It is just normal and it is expected. Gabriel's speech is made to be understood by those of less education than he is, since he stresses over the use of writers who they will have never read. It is made to be understood at a simple level and it is not appreciated for it's brilliancy of writing and word choice, but rather the sentiments that he is expressing about their hosts.
    Mary Ann's musical piece is meant to be a show of skill and finesse. It isn't about how the sounds coming from the piano all fit together, but rather that all of the notes are played correctly. It may not be very interesting, but it would be easy to tell when something went wrong with the piece and that is what makes it a good talent showcase: no chance of messing up and getting away with it. To relate it to symposium again: the antioxidants in coffee presentation. No one wants to know all of the chemical reactions that she needed, wants to know all of the equipment she used and how it worked, how many hours she spent every Friday working on that presentation. All people want to hear is what she got. And apparently the results were fantastic, because I heard faculty talking about it all day. They neither know nor want to know all of the background and that background is what makes you truly be impressed with the project. So the presentation is for the presenter. It is fine if the people listening don't completely understand. I honestly don't want to be so knowledgeable about EVERYTHING that I really understand their works.