Sunday, October 16, 2011

Local Authors: Monika Herzig and Nancy Hiller

by R.E. Paris

Two of the most notable local publications for the holiday season, from Indiana University Press, are Nancy Hiller’s A Home Of Her Own and Monika Herzig’s David Baker: A Legacy in Music. Both authors are local women who contribute to Bloomington and the world through their own work as artists and educators. Both take on subjects who move from the interiority of social convention to the freedom to create and define their own worlds.

Hiller’s title is a nod to Virginia Woolf’s famous essay about the need for women to have a room of their own in which to find and maintain their individual voices. It’s underscored by an introduction that draws upon Jane Campion’s Ada McGrath from “The Piano,” a woman who dares “…to follow one’s will resolutely, in defiance of cultural bounds…,” and who “…gives rare voice to the conflicting pulls we all feel….”

For Hiller, a home created by and for a woman is an act of defiance, a statement that this home, as it exists (as well she who has created it) is sufficient unto itself no matter whether it is “finished,” no matter its size, age or social status, no matter the personality that it expresses.

Bloomington-based photographer Kendall Reeves provides stunning images, using high dynamic range photography to illustrate the stories of 18 women and homes. Photographs include full-page and two-page spreads as well as detailed sidebars. The homes that Reeves photographs cover a range in styles, as do the narratives of the women.

Hiller writes with lyric grace about a subject with which she is well acquainted. She works as a professional cabinetmaker, is the owner of a design firm, and has restored her own home. While the women and homes profiled are from around the nation, several of the stories are based upon local residences. In these, Hiller’s history of past owners and the eras in which they lived connects these homes and individual stories to the larger story of other women’s places within them through changing times.

Monika Herzig’s biography of David Baker is also a collaboration of voices, with contributions from musicians and educators whose experiences within their disciplines help to define the importance of Baker’s life and work.

This biography demonstrates why the Jacobs School of Music is a world-renowned institution. Its faculty and students give to the Bloomington community through their sharing of various musical forms in live performance and educational outreach.

If you know about Hoagy Carmichael but you don’t know about David Baker, you need to read this book. Indianapolis-born Baker’s contributions to the world of music and music education are pivotal to the progression of jazz as a discipline in the 20th Century.

As JB Dyas writes, “…in the 1970s, [Baker’s] and a few others’ were the only books available demystifying the secrets of how to play this music. Before that, it was basically ‘you either had it or you didn’t,’ meaning you either had the talent to learn strictly by ear from the records of jazz musicians, or you were out of luck. Virtually no comprehensive systematic method existed. Until David Baker.”

David Baker is not a traditional music biography that simply name-checks and narrates stages of work, losses and redemption, although it does include riffs on Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Wes Montgomery, Thelonius Monk, institutional racism, and a life-changing injury. Herzig’s biography serves as an archive of influence and artistry. She has included a CD with the book that allows her to discuss Baker’s musical contributions while readers listen to specific songs.

Herzig is singularly qualified for this job. She is a jazz musician herself and an IU faculty member. Something that is often lacking in books about musicians is a direct discussion of how their music was technically important or innovative. Herzig provides such discussions throughout the book and includes other musicians’ experience, such as 21st Century Bebop Band member Luke Gillespie’s introduction to Baker’s polyrhythmic improvisation. “…when it is time for [Baker’s] solo on a tune in three… he plays in two. That is his signature…the first time I heard him do that…we were all students…we all started to play in two and David…turned around to say, ‘Stay home, stay home. Don’t go with me. Stay home!’ …He made us reflect and try to really get inside the music more…”

This book accomplishes the same goal.

While the subjects are different, these two Indiana University Press books by and about local artists demonstrate the depth of talent in this community and a willingness to share these gifts with the world.

And isn’t that what holidays are all about?

(This article originally appeared in The Ryder Magazine and was reposted at Electron Pencil.)