Monday, September 26, 2005

Thoughts on the Sonata "Process" (And Guitar): III

I just got home from the doctor's office. Seems that my cold from hell turned into an infection. Since I still have my tonsils, this isn't the first time I've had a problem like that. Evidently, the infection worked it's way into my eustachian tubes, so the doc didn't want to waste any time with it. "Why did you wait so long to come in?" I had no answer for that. Anyway, since I'm not allergic to penicillin and haven't had any since I was a kid, she decided to "nuke it." And, she complimented me on my Saturday performance before she shot me. ;^) Back to the subject at hand.

To be honest, I have not been interested in analyzing Beethoven since I started my little sonata experiment. Fortunately, I have gotten it to a state of completion, so I'll present that today before getting back to the Ninth. If you'll recall, I had an exposition and a recapitulation written, along with a little bridge, for the last post. Well, the bridge is gone, as is the repeat for the exposition. Other than losing the repeat and some notational improvements (Beaming groups), the first 27 measures of the exposition survived intact. I have added some metronome and performance indications, but I'm going to wait a while to do the fingering. The only significant change is in measure fifteen. I had a dominant seventh/minor ninth there before. I have changed that to a regular V(9) chord to properly anticipate the upcoming major mode, and have saved the dominant seven/minor ninth for later.

In lieu of a repeat, I wrote a variation of the exposition with the modes on the respective pitch levels reversed: A major to C minor.

Writing the first theme in the parallel major lead to some nice effects. In measures five and six of the original, there was a major seventh chord on bVI followed by a dominant seventh chord on bVII. This time at the same point (Measures thirty-two and thirty-three), there is a minor seventh on vi followed by a fully diminished seventh on vii. By avoiding the "normal" resolution for this chord and instead mirroring the original strong root progression of the ascending fourth found in the minor, I was able to get to a secondary dominant targeting vi, and the voice leading allowed that dominant to be an augmented ninth sonority. It's a niffty little effect. Then, immediately after that, there is an extra measure inserted that is not in the original theme area, which has the targeted vi(m7), and that sets up the Neapolitan triad in 6/4 inversion found at the beginning of measure thirty-six. Using this variation of the exposition instead of a simple repeat adds a lot of interest.

The second phrase of the first theme area starts out the same, with a V(7)/IV, but it is inflected with the F-sharp to reflect the mode of the moment. When the vi chord returns, it get's the sounding second treatment and is the second additional measure to this variation. The way it goes from a minor seventh/add eleventh to a major seventh/add augmented eleventh on bVI is a nice moment. The dominant seventh/minor ninth on bVII becomes the new V chord, with the inflected minor ninth anticipating the second theme area being in the minor mode. This is why I changed the original exposition at this point to have a major ninth.

Having the second theme in the parallel minor to the previous relative major also lead to some nice effects, especially after being followed by the key of A major. I was able to use the #iv(m7/add11) in measure forty-nine to the IV(M7/addA11) in measure fifty again (Which was bVI previously), which has added yet another measure to this varied repeat of the expo. The second phrase of this theme repeats almost exactly as in the original appearance save for the minor mode inflections, and by allowing the final dominant seventh/minor ninth chord to remain without having the F-sharp in the bass on the fifth beat, the development area starting on C minor is set up. Keep in mind that the first version of the exposition was twenty-seven measures in length, and the varied repeat was thirty measures: These proportions are exactly mirrored in the second half of the piece.

For the the first version of this development section, I decided to write a chord progression and vary it using all of the textures that have been presented in the exposition. Using textures for contrasting material versus using speciffic identifiable melodic themes is something I prefer for this kind of guitar writing, and it is a stylistic approach that not very many composers have explored on this instrument in this idiom. At least, none come to mind who have.

The progression is a six measures long, the first four of which are a minor key cliche: i, iv, bVII, bIII. I like this for two reasons: 1) The piece starts out with a strong root progression from i to iv, and this is echoed by the I to IV of the varied repeat, and 2) the two minor chords are followed by two major chords wich encapsulates both versions of the exposition, and it's all linked together by this same strong root motion (Rising fourth/falling fifth). I continue this strong root motion to the bVI, which enables me to introduce a French Sixth sonority to the V chord. So the entire progression is, i, iv, bIII, bVI (Fr.+6), V.

For the first statement, I use the original texture, so it begins like the exposition on a different pitch level. In the first variation, I use the sounding second thematic element between the thirds and the added ninths. This is elaborated in the third repeat to get the sounding seconds with the sixteenth-note surface rhythm, and the direct modulation to A minor from the dominant of C minor by deceptive movement is a dramatic effect I have been saving for just this moment. It's pretty cool.

The B-flat in the lead at measure sixty-three is a new high point for the piece, and that is followed by the higher yet B-natural and C from measure sixty-nine to seventy, so I am building toward the pitch climax of the piece throughout this section.

Measures seventy-four and seventy-five continue this buildup at a quicker pace to the highest A-natural in measure seventy-six. For those of you who are not guitarists, this A-natural is only a whole tone below the highest note on the standard classical guitar fretboard. In terms of measure numbers, this climax comes at 0.6604 through the piece, which is about as close to the ideal 2/3's point as you can get. In that respect, I find the archetecture of the piece to be quite deeply satisfying.

The pace quickens in measure seventy-six as well, with the change to the second contrasting time signature of 2/4. At the end of this fourth variation of the chord progression, I make only a slightly less dramatic re-modulation back to C minor by keeping the sounding E-natural over the new V chord. I definately worked on this transition more than anything else in the piece, and am quite satisfied with the result. It was one of those things that when I settled on it I said, "Of course!"

Variation five is the same as variation four except for pitch level and the ending of it, whith the notational difference simply being a reflection of the fact that the G-natural is an open string below the strings where the melody is played, and so it sounds continuously from attack to attack. Measure eighty-seven just get's us back to the beginning to set up the recapitulation.

I said that I thought the recap would survive intact, and it did, save for some minor details. It picked up the add nine chords from the development section, and I introduced an augmented fifth over the bVII(7) chord to lead into a V(4/3/b)/bVI (Or, a French Sitxh, if you prefer), which enhances the regular secondary dominant that was here in the exposition. Disregard the bVI(addA11) symbol, as I changed that back to an ordinary major seventh chord at the last minute.

The second theme in the tonic minor appears in lieu of the second phrase of the first theme: That hasn't changed. In fact, the rest of the recap is the same as when I first wrote it, with the exception of the notational improvements having to do with beaming groups together.

So, "There you have it: There it is!", as the prince said in Amadeus: A simple little experiment limited to two pitch levels and two theme groups just to fart around with the sonata process. Not only did I have fun writing this, but it's also fun to play (Those are my only two criteria for guitar pieces: They have to be fun to listen to and fun to play).

The proportions of the sections in measures are | 27 || 30 || 30 || 27 ||, and as I mentioned previously, the climax is at almost precisely the 2/3's point. What I'll probably end up doing is expanding the development at some point, but I'm going to perform it for a while first just to get it cemented in the ol' noggin.

I have put a PDF and a MIDI file of this on my fileshare page here, if you would like to take a listen. The files are near the bottom and are O_STA0-1.pdf and O_STA_0-1.mid respectively. If you have Quicktime and Mac OS X, you'll even get the cheesy nylon string guitar sound (Not sure if that sound comes with Windows, but it's a General MIDI thing, so even you poor PC users should be OK) ;^D

That shot has made my butt sore. Believe I'll take a snooze.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Site Notice

I have been ill for the last week. Nothing terminal, but I almost wished I was dead a couple of times. Seems some super-cold thing is going around, and I feel like absolute crap. Misery loves company, and several of my friends are down with the same bug. All of them confirm it's a different kind of cold virus. Quite severe and long lasting. Might even be some sort of flu, but I haven't had chills or anything like that. The worst part? I'm feeling somewhat better the last couple of days, but every time I lay down to sleep I start coughing. That's even worse than the gigs I've had to cancel (Mostly due to lack of sleep: My warmup for a gig is a nap. Hey, I'm 47, mm-kay?).

I have one of three pages of the next installment of my Beethoven analysis done, and during my illness all I have felt like doing is that and working on my sonata movement - which I've had some cool breakthroughs on, BTW - so I'll probably take the rest of the week off and get back to real work next weekend.

Back to the sore throat medicine (God gave us Cognac for a reason).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blog Maintenance

I have updated the "Music Blogs I Read" sidebar section to include a few more choice gems, and I have, by popular request, included a link to my .Mac Fileshare page. The .Mac page will also take you to a picture album that ends while I was still a FEMA employee. I have several photos to update that with, but I'm awaiting my Fall motorcycle vacation before I do that.

The music you will find on my Fileshare page is almost exclusively guitar music. That's because guitar music is almost all I write. My philosophy of life is simple: I am a solo act. I write what play and I play what I write. I mess around with a few larger things, but they are basically just ways for me to prove myself to myself. So, there are PDF's and MIDI's of all of my early guitar miniatures on Fileshare, which you can feel free to use in whatever way you want, save for recording them or publishing them in print or on the 'net. If you want to publish them in sound or print, just contact me. I'm pretty laid back. I'll probably just want credit and rights to the heartbeat of your firstborn child. ;^)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Thoughts on the Sonata "Process" (And Guitar): II

1) I will not post while exhausted.

2) I will not post while exhausted.

3) I will not post while exhausted.

4) I will not post while exhausted.

5) I will not post while exhausted.

6) I will not post while exhausted.

7) I will not post while exhausted.

8) I will not post while exhausted.

9) I will not post while exhausted.

10) I will not post while exhausted.

OK. Now that I have my Bart Simpson exercise finished, we may begin.

I was so anxious to create yesterday's entry that I decided to do it before I slept on it. For some reason, I do some of my better music writing when I'm dead tired. Perhaps it is just that I have to be tired enough to get my right brain out of the way so that my left brain can have free reign; I'm not sure. In any event, I definitely do not do my best analysis or English language writing in that state.

When I woke up and re-read last evening's entry, I noticed some pretty good blunders. Blunders in analyzing my own music. At least I got a self-depreciating laugh out of it.

I'll point out the errors as we go through the revision of this morning. The exposition and recapitulation are now in their initial stage of completion, and with the little minimalist bridge I wrote, the piece now qualifies as a sonatina. What I am going to do is work it up in this state until I can play it with some facility, work it into my gigging set, and play it for a while to get some ideas for the development I want to write.

The first thing I noticed is that I mis-labelled the bVII(7) in measure six as bVI(7): That is now repaired. Then I noticed that I failed to put the bVI(M7) at the beginning of measure eight, so I added that. Then, hilariously, the augmented sixth sonority I couldn't rationalize at the end of that measure turned out to be a simple subV(9)/V, which from a traditional view is an altered form of a German Augmented Sixth chord. I changed the D-sharp to E-flat and added the appropriate analysis there.

I also decided to change measure seven from a simple secondary dominant targeting bVI to a French Augmented Sixth sonority targeting the same degree, as it adds quite a bit of interest. That does it for changes to page one.

The only change to page two is a notational one, where I changed measure twenty-six to better reflect what I was actually playing with the sixteenth notes. One of the major problems that has come down to us guitarists is that we are craming everything onto a single stave and using a treble cleff, with the implied transposition of the music sounding an octave lower. Where pianists can use pedal indications to get sustained arpeggios, writing such passages for guitar would make even simple passages appear dauntingly formidable. I try to split the difference, but completely harmless idiomatic textures such as the ones I'm using here still look much more difficult than they really are, not to mention that they are a pain to read. Hey, this is a simplification for me: At one time I notated everything where it actually sounded on a grand staff with an alto clef above a bass cleff. I played a couple of my pieces for Bill Kanengiser at a masterclass back in those days, and when he looked at the music he asked, "What planet are you from?!". My answer was, "Not this one." ;^)

On to the recap.

There is no change to the first phrase of theme one until the point where, in the exposition, it goes into the second phrase of that texture. As you can see, I changed the end of measure 43 to launch into the second texture there, now in the tonic minor. I have notated the first part of the phrase in sixteenth notes because I'm playing all of the upper voice on the high E string so I can take advantage of the open E, which makes the passage much easier to play and far more idiomatic.

Previously I mentioned how I like to work the jazz harmonies I know and love into these antique forms, and you can see how I'm doing that in some places, like the subV(9) and "major-seven, sharp-eleven" chords in the exposition, and here in the recap, the IV(7/d5) of measure forty-eight. This is not functioning as a dominant at all; it's just there for the color, and to relate back to the major seven, sharp-eleven that was in this position when this theme was in the relative major.

Another color chord appears in measure 49: What jazzers call a seven, sharp-nine chord, even though it's notated enharmonically with both a major and a minor third. I actually prefer the jazz terminology for this chord, since I consider the fundamental triad to be inviolable: I do not allow for different inflections of triadic degrees to exist simultaneously. In other words, there is no such thing as a major/minor triad in my system. The major third takes precidence, and the minor third must be explained as an altered upper structure ninth degree.

The decending figure of measure fifty-four is extended through another of these seven, sharp-nine chords in measure fifty-five to get the line back down to the proper level to finish off the piece. For the ending, I used a modified version of measures seven through ten of the exposition. The vi(m7) is a modal interchange chord that I borrowed from the parallel major, and it will appear in the development, so this is actually harkening back to a development that does not as yet exist (Except - and roughly - in my mind). What this chord allows me to do is to introduce the bII(6/4) chord in measure fifty-seven, which is a traditional Neapolitan triad in second inversion, versus the more common first inversion. I really, really, really like the effect of this progression.

Instead of launching into the second phrase of the first theme/texture as in the exposition, or launching into the second theme/texture as previously in the recapitulation, here this phrase turns around to end the piece. The penultimate measure is the first measure: An effect I like and use often. I may put an G-sharp in the bass at the second quarter note of measure fifty-nine, but other than that, I think the exposition and recapitulation will survive the development section intact.

If you discount the very last measure - which is just the resolution of the piece - the expo and the recap are both twenty-seven measures in length: This was no accident.

As I said, I am going to work this up to where I can perform it in my set as-is, and while I'm doing that, I'll be getting ideas for the development, some of which I've sketched out already.

In the mean time, I have enough music entered to create another post on Beethoven's Ninth, which I'll do for next week.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thoughts on the Sonata "Process" (And Guitar)

Inevitably, as I have been analyzing Beethoven, I have been piddling around with some small sonata experiments of my own. Since I need to get the rest of B's music entered before I can proceed with the Allegro anyway (And I'm ill with a sore throat, so I spent much of today sitting on my duff working on that mind-numbing task), I thought I'd post a little bit on the topic of sonata generally.

Regretably, sonata is most often referred to in terms of "sonata form", and while there are formal elements present in sonata movements, it is really a process or technique in which the thematic elements determine the form. In that respect, sonata is analogous to fugue. But unlike fugue, which is obsessed with a single thematic subject, sonatas use two or more contrasting themes. In fact, if you reduce the sonata process to it's most elemental feature, it reduces to the technique of contrast: Contrast of tempo, contrast of texture, contrast of mode, contrast of key, contrast of rhythm, contrast of dynamics, and even contrast of time signature. Every musical element is available as a resource for contrasting in the sonata process.

If you are trying to get a handle on the sonata process in order to develop your own voice in that idiom, the infinitude of the choices can be daunting. Personally, I had a much easier time with fugue because fugue is so single-minded in it's concentration on a single subject (In the strictest type of single-subject fugue, that is). But, just as Bach's Art of Fugue did not spring into existence out of nothingness, neither did Beethoven's Ninth: Both had a series of historical precursors. I have found it useful to go back to the earliest and simplest models and begin experiments there, allowing progress to happen naturally via experience as you wrap your brain around the idiom.

For the sonata process, the earliest fully formed precursor is the Sonatina Form. With early sonatinas, it is entirely appropriate to speak in terms of form, but the elemental characteristic of contrast was already present. For the basic sonatina, the form consists of an exposition, which is repeated, followed by a bridge, and finally a recapitulation. In major key sonatinas, the exposition consists of two contrasting themes, the first of which is on the tonic level, and the second on the dominant level. After the exposition is repeated, there is a bridge, which can be as simple as a figured chord progression, and then the two themes are presented in a recapitulation both on the tonic level. Introductions and codas are optional. The basic form would look like this: ||: A B :|| C || A B' ||.

In minor key sonatinas, the formal pattern is the same, but the contrasting themes are on the tonic minor level and the relative major in the exposition, and both in tonic minor for the recapitulation. Originally, the two themes were an animated allegro followed by a lyrical slower theme. Obviously, it didn't take composers long to vary these elements, and so sonata technique was born. During the course of subsequent music history, an endless variety of tempos, keys, and modes were played with by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and numerous others. Across this arc of time, the original bridge was elaborated and extended to become the development, though Brahms shifted much of his developmental activities back to the exposition and recapitulation. The original optional coda or codetta was also often elaborated to become a secondary development section. The possibilities are, literally, endless, which is why composers never seem to tire of the sonata.

My particular situation is complicated by my instrument, the guitar, which is an infinitely deep idiom in and of itself. After thirty years of playing it, I am just beginning to feel like I am becoming the master as opposed to the slave. Due to the limitations of range, the reliance on open strings, and the limited span of the hand, there are an infinite number of musical ideas that will only work in one single solitary key on the guitar. Obviously, this adds a further dimension of intricacy to writing sonata process pieces, if I may be allowed an unfathomably profound understatement. Then, there is the sad historical fact that no composer of the caliber of a Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven has ever played the guitar or written for it. No offense to Sor fans, but I personally do not find his sonatas to be very good models: His music simply does not appeal to me, despite the fact that I recognize that he was plenty competent as a composer.

On top of all of that, a century of musical evolution has taken place since the halcion days of sonata writing, so there is all of the newly developed musical materials of jazz harmony and all the other things I love and want to work in there.

With that in mind, as I was noodling around on the guitar, I came up with a simple exposition that I like quite a bit, and I think it will suffice as a good model for demonstration purposes.

For this exposition, I decided to follow the old sonatina pattern for minor key movements: The first theme is in A minor, and the second in the relative major key of C. As you can see, the piece starts out in 3/4 time with the simplest of i, iv, V(7), i progressions. The second appearance of the tonic is interrupted by another dominant harmony on the final beat of the measure, and then a deceptive motion to bVI follows.

Since the bVI of the minor tonic is also the subdominant of the relative major, I followed it with another strong ascending root progression to the bVII(7), which will be the upcoming dominant. I used the melody to "cheat" my way through the obvious parallelisms, which is a technique of idiomatic guitar writing. In any event, I like the effect of the major seventh chord followed by the dominant seventh there.

On the third stave, I introduce a dominant seventh on C, which I will later make into a V(4/3/b) (A "French" augmented sitxh) by replacing C with G-flat in the bass, but here it just functions as a normal, ordinary secondary dominant, and progresses back to the bVI. Measure eight goes to the first climax through a weird little augmented sixth sonority I just "made up" intuitively. I included the exact intervallic analysis, but I have to admit that this is just one of those things that "sounds cool", and I can't really rationalize it theoretically. Measure nine has a dominant seventh that introduces a sounding second that is a characteristic thematic element I'll be working with.

Note the "tacked on" measure of 2/4 at measure ten: One of the things I like to achieve is an organic plasticity in my phraseology. This ten bar phrase represents that "improvisational feel" I strive for. As we have seen thus far in our look at Beethoven, his phraseology was very slavishly under the thumb of the "tyranny of four" with all of it's matching duplet sets, and despite that fact, he achieved impossible masterpieces. Regardless of B's obvious and overwhelming greatness, I think criticising his phraseology is perfectly valid. Brahms had much more plasticity in this regard, but nobody can touch Palestrina here, who is my ideal for plasticity of line and phrase.

At measure eleven, we return to 3/4 time, and the expected tonic chord is replaced with a V(7)/iv, which progresses to the subdominant, making this phrase just a variation of the second phrase of the previous group. This time when the deceptive movement to bVI occurs, I use the sounding second thematic element again between the augmented eleventh and the third, which I really like the sound of. The second deceptive motion is facilitated by a secondary diminished triad to the new dominant, which has the sounding second between the minor ninth and the root, intimating that the upcoming modulation will be to a minor mode, but it isn't... yet.

Note again that I used a measure of 4/4 followed by a measure of 5/4 (3/4 plus 2/4) to achieve an organic phrase. I basically improvised this and wrote it down after the fact. At the end of measure fifteen, I dovetail into the contrasting texture that has a sixteenth note surface rhythm and a series of secondary axes. I'm also contrasting time signatures, as the following theme is predominantly in 2/4 time.

Instead of the traditional allegro/adaggio contrast, I have reversed the order, and have the faster texture second (Which has always seemed more natural to me) . And that brings up another aside. The technique that we have seen Beethoven using, wherein small thematic elements are used to spin out the larger form, is not really appropriate to my style speciffically, or writing for the guitar generally. I am contrasting texture, time, and key here, and development will be carried out by varying the underlying harmonic progressions and pitch levels.

The chord progression underpinning the second texture is self evident, and you can see how I return to the sounding second element in measures twenty and twenty-one, along with corresponding changes in the time signature. In the second phrase, the previous decending diatonic line is replaced with a decending chromatic line, and I used an "Italian" sonority to approach the vi chord, which appears as a V(7)/ii. The supertonic is then made into a diminished sonority, foreshadowing the later appearance of this theme in the minor mode.

Finally, the dominant reappears with the sounding second, and through an elesion involving the vii(d)/vi turns around to the beginning. Through a molto ritardando, this last harmony also melds into the bridge, which you can see I have already written out. There will be an actual development section (Beginning on the tonic major, as you can percieve from the bridge), but the next step is to write out the recapitulation. For that, I have already decided that the second theme will appear at the point of measure nine of the exposition an octave above the first theme (A sixth above the relative major version), but the opening theme will be varied and elongated by elaborating on the underlying harmonies (I've actually already written most of it out already).

Not sure if the next post will be Beethoven or Hucbald. Depends. On a variety of things.

As a Postscript, I have been in contact with one of my FEMA buddies working in MS. He found six bodies in back yards his first day. Glad I'm out of that business. I was never cut out to handle that sort of thing. My prayers are with all in the affected areas.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

As a break in my music blogging, I have decided to create an entry about the devestating hurricane that has recently hit the US gulf coast. Believe it or not, I'm somewhat of an expert in the field of disaster recovery.

Back in 1996 I was a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas in Denton. Upon completing all of the coursework for my DMA, I took a part-time intermittent job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the idea being to have some income while I worked on preparing for the quals and wrote my dissertation. At first my job was to take applications over the phone from disaster victims seeking assistance: The very lowest rung on the FEMA ladder. Hurricane Fran, which hit the Carolinas on Labor Day weekend that year, was the first disaster I worked on.

I enjoyed the work, actually, as there was an "emotional paycheck" associated with helping people in need. Before long, I got the oportunity to learn Inspection Review and Case review, and I moved from the Call Center to the National Processing Service Center, which was located just across town there in Denton. Since I had a little construction work in my background, I took to inspection review and case review quite well, and enjoyed that work even more. It wasn't long before I decided to leave music behind for a while - since I was hoplessly burned out on it anyway - and went on to pursue FEMA as my "main gig".

Late in 1997, FEMA decided to open a new NPSC in Hyattsville, Maryland. I was one of the people they sent up there to help open up the place and get it running. Since this was a big new facility, I saw that if I was serious about it, it would be a wise move to transfer. That was made official in November of '97. One of the first things they did with me was to send me to the Field Inspector's training course at Mt. Weather, Virginia. Once qualified for field inspections, I was deployed all over the US and US territories to do inspections. Over the course of my time at the agency, I was deployed to over 20 different States, as well as the Pacific islands of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam.

There is a lot of politics involved with Federal Government jobs, and quite frankly, much of it was quite off-putting to me. Over the course of time, I became increasingly unhappy with that particular aspect of the job. 09/11 2001 changed everything: I watched the Pentagon burning across town out of my office window that morning. Once DHS was formed and FEMA came under it's umbrella, I decided I didn't want to have to deal with the politics anymore, much of which was extremely trivial turf warring between dunderheads who were underqualified, overpaid, underworked, and over-their-heads due to "affirmitave action" promotion policies.

Since FEMA has two Contractors who provide inspectors when disaster strikes, and since it was the office part of the job I grew to dislike, I decided to leave the agency to become an Independent Contractor in 2002.

I really enjoyed the field work in "real disasters", but some of the disasters that were declared were what we referred to as "political declarations", and those were no fun at all. Most of those were the result of relatively minor flooding in major metropolitan areas. The percentage of applicants trying to defraud FEMA in those situations was extremely high. Some of these applicants were what we refered to as "FEMA-savvy", meaning they knew the program well enough to be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a green inspector. I became increasingly disgusted with this aspect of the job: For a large percentage of apps in these kinds of disasters, FEMA was just another "free money" source they could scam to add to the other forms of public assistance they "benefitted" from.

The first job I did as an IC was not for FEMA, it was for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In New Orleans. The HUD contract I worked began in April of 2002, and I relocated to N.O. to work that job until I took a FEMA assignment in July. During three-plus months in The Big Easy, I inspected literally thousands of homes in every Ward of Orleans Parrish. Every_single_neighborhood. Previously, when I was still with the agency, I was part of a Quality Control Reinspection Team that worked New Orleans, so it was not my first deployment there. I literally know the place like the back of my hand.

Currently, there is much recrimination, hand-wringing, and finger-pointing going on. Splashed all over every form of the media: TV, radio, internet. A significant amount of the criticisms are aimed at FEMA, or contain some referrence to FEMA as doing a less-than-stellar job.

Let's look at this logically. When a disaster of this magnitude strikes, the first response must come from the locality. The people who are there and on-site. And the resources that must be distributed to the needy victims must be the goods that are there and on-site, or at least very close by.

Now, there is no excuse in the case of NOLA for not seeing this coming. A cat 4/5 hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the "doomsday scenarios" while I was at FEMA - along with a mag 8/9 earthquake in LA or SanFransisco - and had been one of the doomsday scenarios since long before my brief stint at the agency. The idea that the local officials in N.O. and Louisiana did not also ponder this eventuality is absurd.

New Orleans knew of it's vulnerability, but seems to have continuously whistled passed it's numerous and picturesque above-ground graveyards. Everybody knew the city was subsiding and that parts of it are now about ten feet below mean sea level. Everybody knew that the levees were designed to withstand a maximum category three hurricane's storm surge. Everybody knew that the city was populated by a large segment of poverty-striken individuals who could not obey a mandatory evacuation order even if they wanted to, because they simply had no means of transportation. And, everybody saw this monster looming offshore as a gargantuan category five super-storm!

By the time the eyewall of Katrina came ashore, it was already way to late to prevent the tragedy we now see unfolding before our eyes. The time to prevent this tragedy was before the storm hit.

Why was there no plan in place to evacuate the poor people who had no means of transportation? The average city school buss holds about 60 people. Currently, many of them are destroyed and under water. Why wasn't there a plan in place to evacuate these people using those busses, and why for God's sake weren't they used thusly? Not only would people have been saved, but the busses as well.

Instead, people were told to make their way to the Superdome. The Superdome?! Sure, let's send them somewhere where there is sure to be no food, water, electricity, plumbing, and medical assistance. Somewhere with a high profile structure that is sure to be pummelled by the full force of the storm. And, while we're at it, let's make sure there is no law enforcement there to maintain order. Great plan.

N.O. also knew it had a serious gang-related crime problem, so these "Oh my God!" reactions to the inevitible looting, shooting, and raping is just so much popycock.

There is no way all of this unprecidented tragedy could have been prevented, and no matter how well it could have been handled, the nattering nabobs of negativity would still do the only thing they know how to do: Gipe and snipe. But, to say it could have been handled better is an overwhelming understatement of the same biblical proportions as Katrina at this point.

Let's face the facts, shall we? FEMA is primarily a recovery program, and the inspectors won't be able to get in there until all the water is pumped out. Even in Mississippi, inspectors are currently being told to pound sand: They can't get in even with FEMA Contractor credentials. Even if they could, the applicants have scattered to the four winds. Now, some forms of direct rental assistance will be available to the displaced, but repair money for rebuilding? Not for a long, long, long time in New Orleans. If ever.

As I said, I have been in thousands of homes in every neighborhood of New Orleans. The overwhelmingly vast percentage of these structures are old and suffer from massive amounts of deferred maintenance. Just making the relatively lax code standards for HUD was a problem for most of them. Repairing or rebuilding these structures will not be economically feasible, and in some cases would not be possible for all the kings horses and all the kings men. My prediction is that entire neighborhoods will have to be razed and rebuilt from scratch. Entire... neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods are not just houses. Neighborhoods are people. Neighborhoods are businesses, hospitals, Churches and every other form of social infrastructure that makes a place a home. New Orleans may eventually re-emerge as a vital major metropolitan area, but it will look and feel nothing like before. Obviously, there are good and bad aspects to that proposition.

But, should it be rebuilt at all? What is that old real estate saying? "Location, location, location." New Orleans is a major port at the mouth of the circulatory system of the United States: The Mississippi river. It has to be rebuilt, at least in some form, to allow it to continue to function as a port. Thousands of tons of minerals and agricultural products come down the river to the gulf every year. Our entire economy depends on Old Man River. Thomas Jefferson recognized this, so the idea is not new. Right now, the economic impact is just starting to unfold. Expect high prices on not just fuel, but food and other products too. Soon. The impact will be virtually indistinguishable from what would happen if a nuclear bomb had gone off there.

Of course, there is the salve for the human spirit that rebuilding versus abandoning alone can provide. Prevailing in the face of adversity is deeply satisfying. So, I hope and pray that NOLA eventually recovers, but I'm not going to hold my breath until I can again go hear some jazz in the French Quarter.

So, there will be plenty of blame to go around if you are a blame-game player. Many more things will go wrong, so make sure you have enough scorecards. But just keep one thing in mind: Most of the blamers you are seeing on TV, hearing on the radio, or reading on the internet either don't have a sliver of a clue if they are a pundit, or they are playing a CYA game if they are a politico.

This disaster happened long before the storm hit.