About dwolfert

Puget Sound Alumnus, Music Composition Major, lover of tea, avid reader, terrible dancer.

Between Love and Hegemony

In which Daniel bids farewell to the United States of America, as well as his penultimate year of college.


To my dear reader,

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a collection of short stories and poems by Cathrynne M. Valente, all written during or inspired by her time spent as a Navy wife in Japan. It was the last book I read while in Tacoma, Washington, and was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I’ve read in several months. The intricacies of its cultural reference, alongside the wide array of emotions and topics the stories traverse, paint a colorful and fascinating picture of her conception of the nation. In the book’s afterword, however, the author discussed her trepidation in writing about a culture which was not hers, and to which she held so much respect:

“To write of a country, a culture, a world that is not your own is an act, forever and always balanced between love and hegemony. I have tried to err on the side of love.”

Upon reading this, I was suddenly and forcibly reminded of my freshman year writing seminar. It was a class focused on travel writing the act of “othering” – viewing and altering perceptions of other cultures or groups as alien – and much of the class was spent examining writings Europeans and Americans had done on other places. Over and over again in those writings, Europeans and Americans colored their perspective with their own enculturated values and ideals, condemning different societies, exoticizing foreign women and displaying contempt for other cultures.

Ms. Valente has done, I believe, a marvelous job of treating the Japanese culture with respect. Her use of Japanese folklore and religious ideologies is insightful and meaningful, while still remaining accessible to English-speaking audiences. But this book, and that line in the afterward specifically, has remained with me because in two days, I will be departing to study abroad in Italy.

How much of study abroad is comprised of othering, I wonder? Are students from America usually seen as a form of education hegemony? What will never been mine to hold, no matter how much time I spend there? I will be there to study the intersection of Italian music and literature. What will I miss when I inevitably look at this intersection through American eyes?

I once took a composition class outside of Puget Sound with a teacher that was not a lover of world music. “Many modern composers,” he said, “have taken to using ‘ethnic’ music to spice up their compositions… silly, really.” I was initially shocked and upset that he’d said this. By saying that other culture’s music were “ethnic” he was implying that the compositions of European and American composers were effectively “real” music, and that the music of all other cultures was a tool to be used, or otherwise negligible. At the same time, however, he had a point: many composers today do use other culture’s music as a spice for their own compositions.

I suppose that the difference between doing this with love and doing this with hegemony is a question of attitude. Writing music inspired by or based on another culture’s music – much like writing inspired by or based on another culture’s writing – can be done with respect and admiration for that culture, or it can be done with disdain and disregard for that other culture. I suppose that the difference is that love is creating something on that other culture on its terms, and hegemony is creating something on your culture’s terms. As I study music and literature in Italy this summer, I shall try, as Ms. Valente, to err on the side of the former.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert


In which Daniel ponders the grievous misrepresentation of minorities in musical theater.

To my dear reader,

At the end of this previous semester, the Unviersity of Puget Sound’s theater department put on a a condensed version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, wherein the character of Hamlet was played by (and referred to by other characters as) a woman. This, effectively, made her relationship with the character of Ofelia a lesbian romance, an aspect that was never explicitly made note of by the other characters. I was greatly impressed by the work, and pleased that a queer relationship had been made visible to the audience without fuss, but what has stuck with me from that production was one of the hand-written signs that decorated the entrance to the theater. The play’s script had been edited down to highlight certain themes, among them rebellion and social injustice, and so one hand-written sign beside the door said something along the lines of the following message:

If you want to change the world, stop asking for permission.

These may not be the exact words. There is another, similar, anonymous quote that goes “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission,” and it is possible that is what it said. But regardless, what I thought it said got me thinking about the odd relationship between minorities – and more specifically, the queer community – and theater.

There have been many works of literature discussing the subject. These books have generally suggested the same thing: when Broadway was first rising in prominence as a source of American entertainment, it was an enormous draw to minorities (queers, immigrants, Jews, etc.) because such people could not find “respectable employment” and Broadway was not considered a respectable place. What many of these books also suggest, however, is that, despite the huge proportion of queer people that Broadway has employed, queers (and most other minorities) were almost never represented on Broadway because musical theater was a machine that perpetuated white and heteronormative culture.

In some small ways, this is untrue. Although white heterosexual love stories were and are the norm of musical theater, it provided an opportunity for queer men and women to earn an income from their “unrespectable” talents (i.e. singing, dancing, songwriting, etc). In particular, Broadway brought the icon image of the proud diva to the forefront of American imagination, allowing for female leads with strong vocals and even stronger personalities to dominate the stage in a way that women have rarely been allowed to dominate in other areas of life. Queer singer and actress Ethel Merman belted out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in Gypsy, and there was no denying her presence.

Ethel Merman

In many other ways, however, this is very true. Looking at lists of the most famous and successful musicals of all time – Phantom of the Opera, Bye Bye Birdie, My Fair Lady, etc. – almost all of them concern a white man and a white women falling in or out of love. In the unlikely event that a minority is represented, it is usually done inaccurately and insensitively, such as when white actress Natalie Wood portrayed Puero Rican Maria in the film adaptation West Side Story.


That alone is ridiculous. Admittedly, such a famous actress may have been necessary to the success of the film, but the entire point of the story is that the male lead is white and the female lead IS NOT. Natalie Wood did not even sing Maria’s songs in the film; another actress was hired to dub it in for her. By casting a famous white actress over a less famous Latina actress (who might have even been able to sing in a musical), musical theater again perpetuated the underlying sentiment that people that are not white and not heterosexual are a tool for those that are. In this case, this story of racial prejudice became, to a degree, merely a tool for pretty white people to sing some nice songs.

Even in rare cases when minorities are portrayed, they are usually done so insensitively and inaccurately. Such an example is that of the 1990s musical Kiss of the Spider Women, which tells the tale of two prisoners in a Latin American jail – one man an effeminate gay man that uses his imagination to escape the brutal reality, and the other a serious, heterosexual revolutionary. The fact that a Broadway musical of the time would explicitly involve gay main character is surprising, yet the trajectory of the story – in which the gay character is manipulated into betraying the revolutionary’s secrets, falls in love with the revolutionary, and dies after being used by both the revolutionary and the police.


Throughout this story, the gay man is a victim and a puppet. He dies at the end because he is gay, and therefore at such odds with his surroundings that he must either assimilate or be eliminated. Admittedly, credit must be given where credit is due: a musical whose protagonist is queer is a remarkable and wonderful thing. But the problem remains that the queer community is still being understood on other people’s terms.

Straight people still primarily think of a white gay man when considering the queer community. Queerness is still considered, by much of the world, to be considered a “white man’s disease,” making queerness in other ethnicities a foreign concept. We are still thought of as being divided into cis-gender men and cis-gender women, despite our ranks of non-gender-binary community members. We are still tools to be used, laughed at, and played with, but so rarely recognized as people.

Great strides have been made in recent history to improve the visibility and image of the queer community, and minorities as a whole, in entertainment and media. But we are still being understood as others by mainstream America, and are being understood on their terms. I am asking for this to change. I am not asking for permission.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

I’ll Follow Thee

In which Daniel and his sister, Hannah, explore the wild and wondrous world of the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.Skyrim

To my dear reader,

Video games have never been of great interest to me. When I was much younger, the concept of a simulated world that I could see on a screen but not physically interact with seemed like a waste of time. This is a little counterintuitive, as I was such an avid reader of fiction, but the difference to me was that video games were not known then for being feats of narrative genius. I was also put off by the excessive violence I saw in many video games, which I saw as unpleasant and upsetting.

I feel no shame in saying that the only exceptions I held to this were the computer adaptations of the Harry Potter series and the film Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events. Keep in mind that even I, with my limited video game experience, knew these were not particularly well-crafted games. But I enjoyed them by association with Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, two of my childhood (and quasi-adulthood) fascinations. What really changed my mind was the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skrim.

According to the debatable information found on the interwebs, this is one of a series of open world fantasy games revolving around a collection of magical worlds, including the country of Skyrim. The premise of Skyrim is built on the unexpected arrival of Alduin the World-Eater, a monstrous dragon prophesized to consume and destroy the world. The main character – which the player can design, selecting from different races (i.e. human, elf, troll, etc.), appearances and abilities – is revealed early in the game to be the Dragonborn, a non-dragon mortal born with a dragon’s soul and abilities. The game is spent travelling Skryim, bettering the player’s abilities and going on quests, all the while learning of how to defeat Alduin.


I first came across this game this previous winter break, which my sister Hannah has installed and convinced me to try. I was skeptical in the beginning, dismissing the game as silly, but it was not long before Hannah and I were up slaying dragons and collecting ancient talismans until the wee hours of the morning. Begrudgingly, I was enamored.

There are many reasons that I became so enthralled – reasons which I assume I share with my video-game playing peers. Video games provide a world in which impossible things may occur. They allow for easily tangible, single-minded goals that the player is notified when completed. They award the player for achieving small tasks, and mistakes can be done over an infinite number of times until they are rectified.

What I like best, however, are the Followers.

Followers are characters that can be found around the Skyrim who, if you save them or perform a favor for them or sometimes just ask very nicely, will be your companion. They will follow you, carry things for you, defend you and remain by your side until they die or you let them go.

Imagine if life were like that! You could just be sitting in Starbucks, drinking your mocha when someone taps you on your shoulder. “Excuse me,” they say, “but my father has been murdered by an ancient and unfathomable cosmic power and I am on a mission of vengeance. Would you like to follow me on my epic quest?”

The blind faith alone in such an action is staggering! Of course in today’s world, such an action would be foolish, impractical and extremely dangerous. People also don’t go on many missions of vengeance, I suppose. But consider the possibilities! What fun life would be if we could simply pick up chivalrous quests at the grocery store, if we could begin epic journeys at the supermarket!

What I mean to say is that the world seems such a cautious and guarded place, and something about the way that the Followers in Skyrim willingly dedicate their lives and hands to the player’s journey seems so full of possibilities – exactly the reason I like the game so much. The world of Skyrim is complex and intricate, and Followers are just one example of such a world of possibility. As I’ve said, such a world might be impractical, even dangerous. But I’d like to think that one day, I might be sitting in Starbucks, drinking my mocha, when someone will tap me on the shoulder and request my help on an epic quest. And when that day comes, I shall take after those Followers, put down my mocha, and begin something remarkable.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Teach by Deed

In which Daniel considers the mentors of basketball coach John Wooden, as well as his own.


To my dear reader,

I have always had an aversion to sports. There are many reasons for this, among them my small physical stature, my lack of bodily coordination, my distrust of the concept of “teamwork,” and the negative dissonance between social constructions of athleticism and homosexuality. But despite all of these reasons, a figure that has begun to loom large over my life is that of John Wooden, now late basketball coach, literature teacher, and author.

Alongside his remarkable achievements in the field of athletics, including leading the UCLA Bruins to ten championships in his time as coach, Wooden has become incredibly well known as a fountain of wisdom on the subjects of teamwork, discipline and life over all. It is only after reading his book A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring have I truly realized how much he has been an “invisible mentor” – a teacher that I have never met but has continually guided me through his writings and teachings – and all in spite of my initial trepidation.

This got me thinking about the role of mentors within my life, and who they have been thus far. In his writing, Wooden made a point of saying that mentors need not be people that one has necessarily met, but I believe that this principle extends farther: mentors need not even be real people. I have certainly felt more mentored by many fictional people than by the real people in my life, and the effects of this are no less valid or real. Thus came to be the following list of the seven most prominent mentors of my life:

1. Katy Perry


“If stars don’t align, if it doesn’t stop time, if you can’t see the sign, wait for it.”

I first truly came in contact with Katy Perry’s music during the end of my senior year of high school. I had decided, on a whim, to put her Teenage Dream album on my iPod, and sharing this album with Spencer Orbegozo – a classmate that was destined to become my best friend – was, unwittingly, one of the best decisions of my life. This album became the cornerstone of our friendship, and came to me at a time when I needed something that would propel my into the future. The simple, optimistic beauty of the line “Let’s run away, and don’t ever look back” encapsulates all the joyful momentum that I do not possess, but wish to have. Alongside opening me up to the world of trashy pop (an inexhaustible source of joy for me), Katy Perry taught me to look to the future with hope.

2.Tina Fey


“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.

If there is one mentor on this list that I am most similar to, it is undoubtedly Tina Fey. In her genius autobiography Bossypants, Miss Fey cites strong parental influence, bad skin, and love of musical theater as the driving forces of her life – if that doesn’t describe my life, what does? But more than simply providing me with a famous face to identify with, Tina Fey (and Bossypants itself) demonstrated the ability to laugh at one’s failures and find humor in the endless drudgery of life. Tina Fey taught me to accept my own disastrous self.

3. Uncle Iroh


“Destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

Being the most fictional of my mentors, it is somewhat more difficult to explain how this character from the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender has affected me. Avatar was only one of many fascinations I held as a child, the others including the works of Lemony Snicket and the Harry Potter series, yet no character in those other stories held as much sway over me as Iroh. Across the TV series, Iroh acts as the protective uncle and gentle guide to the series’ troubled antihero (his nephew), providing comic relief and wise perspective in equal measure. But it was the humanity of Iroh that really struck me. Iroh became angry at his nephew when his nephew was too prideful, became weary from his turbulent life, and became hungry more or less constantly. Iroh taught me not only to love tea, but also life, with good humor and perspective.

4. Tarn Wilson

“Write the book you would want to read.”

When I first joined her creative writing class in my junior year of high school, Tarn Wilson was merely another very nice and intelligent teacher employed by Gunn High School. After I turned in an autobiographical work describing some serious emotional troubles, however, Ms. Wilson called me into her office and had me speak with her to ensure I was emotionally healthy. Tarn Wilson taught me many suprising and insightful things about writing itself, but taught me even more about the act of creation – creating a story and creating a life. Life will not appear, she explained, until you do – not your parents or teachers or friends or even mentors, but you. Tarn Wilson taught me that my life is a story, and I must learn to be its author.

5. Cathrynne M. Valente


“As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”

I recently wrote a blog post detailing my feelings toward science fiction and fantasy author Cathrynne M. Valente, which can be found here (http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/04/01/an-open-letter-to-catherynne-m-valente/), but to get to the heart of what I mean to say, it is crucial to understand my first experience with her writing. I first discovered her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making the summer after my freshman year of college, and just like Teenage Dream, this book came to me at a time when I very much needed magic in my life. Over and over again in her literary works, Miss Valente has demonstrated a delicate mastery of intelligence, whimsy, humor and sensitivity that I can only dream of one day achieving. Cathrynne M. Valente taught me to find magic in all facets of life.

6. John Wooden


“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

By far the most pragmatic of my mentors, basketball coach John Wooden was introduced to me through my fraternity’s leadership program, the Wooden Institute. What struck me most about Wooden when I learned of him was his dedication to organization. Something that Wooden is famous for is his process of teaching new players the proper way to put on socks. He would ensure that the socks fit on snugly and without wrinkles, and that the laces were pulled and tied firmly, so as to avoid loose shoes, and therefore, blisters. This would ensure greater comfort during practice, leading to more better practice technique and ultimately better training. Many, if not all, of Wooden’s accomplishments demonstrate his commitment to quality, but this simple and tangible action demonstrated this to me the most. John Wooden taught me dedication to performing effective work.

7. Spencer Orbegozo

“There truly is no me without you.”

Of all my mentors, the one with the most powerful, immediate, lasting and obvious impact on me is my best friend. After spending a year in freshman Physical Education together during high school, we overcame our initial dislike for one another. This tentative peace became a tentative friendship, which eventually became the bond that remains to this day. Spencer and I call one another every other weekend, and periodically write letters of extreme length and detail to one another. He has taught me more things than I can count, and more than I’m sure I could actually recall, but more than anything, Spencer has taught me to believe in the worth of oneself no matter how others think. Spencer taught me, in the words of Gladys Knight and the Pips (a band he is fond of), to “keep on keepin’ on.”

And that’s just what I’ll do.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Words Just Seem to Complicate It

In which Daniel says something nice about Greek Life (and Ariana Grande).


NOTE: No opinion expressed here is meant to represent the University of Puget Sound, any of its faculty, students or staff, any of its internal organizations, Beta Theta Pi, any Greek house, or Greek Life as a whole. They are solely meant to express personal views that I hold which may change in the future.

To my dear reader,

Earlier this year, the student newspaper, The Trail, published an article about Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound (which can be read here: http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=12732). While the article was meant to be an impartial assessment of the state of fraternities and sororities at the school, I found the article to be somewhat pointed, implying that certain houses within our Greek system – if not the entire system – are flawed. The article left me with the impression that its writers were looking at Greek Life from a critical standpoint, but not necessarily with the intention of balancing out the examination of Greek Life’s cons with its pros.

I believe this to be understandable. Questioning our systems of social structure and power are crucial to improving them. But reading the article as a member of Greek Life (the fraternity Beta Theta Pi) made me realize that I have spent more time and energy examining Greek Life’s faults and discussing them with the wider community than appreciating its virtues and explaining them to the wider community. Of course there are many deep and enduring problems to correct, but time must be taken to say what is good alongside what it not. And because of the way the chips have fallen, and because the universe is sly and underhanded, there is no better way to do this than through Ariana Grande.

Allow me to explain myself:

During my first three semesters as a Beta – my entire sophomore year and the first semester as a junior – I was extremely skeptical. The concept of fraternities was one that left a sour taste in my mouth, and in some ways, still does. History classes have left me with the impression that groups of primarily white, primarily middle-to-upper-class, primarily heterosexual and almost certainly cis-gender men don’t tend to be terribly nice. Being the ones that most benefit from Western social structures, they can believe their value and worth to be intrinsic, and become very defensive if they feel that is being questioned. I don’t mean to attack people matching such a description; this is merely what history has suggested to me.

Beyond this idealistic skepticism, however, I held the more personal skepticism of the very concept of “community.” Why was I to give trust and respect to a group of people I barely knew out of principle? Weren’t they meant to be earned? I would never expect someone to trust or respect me until they got to know me better – and even then, maybe not.

It’s not that the members of Beta themselves did anything wrong in all that time. They were perfectly nice, well-meaning, intelligent men that wanted the best for the colony. But I’ve always been poor with interpersonal relationships, and I was growing weary of devoting so much time and energy to something in which I had so little investment.  By the end of December of 2014, I had my heart set on leaving.

But the universe, being sly and underhanded, prevented me from burning the bridge then and there because I had already signed up to attend the Wooden Institute, a leadership program run by the General Fraternity. Cursing myself for paying the registration fee, I begrudgingly attended in January of 2015. The universe, being sly and underhanded, brought me to the program so that it could change my life.

Those who desire may read about it here: http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/02/17/darling-were-a-nightmare-dressed-like-a-daydream/

Fast forward to the beginning of the spring semester and I told my brothers about Wooden. I had nothing but praise for it, but attending forced me to voice a complaint about out colony – namely, that I had grown closer to my brothers at Wooden in three days faster than my brothers at Puget Sound in three semesters. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought the rambunctious powerhouse of a person named Jake Ashby to me, insistent on rectifying the problem Wooden had illuminated to me. With all the subtlety of a wrecking ball, Jake Ashby barreled into my life and planted himself as a face both abrasively insistent and endlessly supportive.

But what does this have to do with Ariana Grande, you ask?

Patience, dear reader. All in good time…

A week or so into the new semester, I was hunting through some music that my sister had sent, which included several songs by that Princess of Pop Sopranos, Ms. Grande. I was not immediately thrilled by them, but was entertained enough that I considered finding more of her music. Oddly enough, I had spoken to another Beta, a fellow junior named Rae Hermosillo Torres, about Ms. Grande’s music and how much we indulgently enjoyed her, and so I stopped by his room one day and asked him if he could give me her two albums. Gracious man that he is he obliged with gusto. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought him too into my life as a face both unexpectedly warm and unceasingly friendly.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, right, Jake Ashby, left.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, left, Jake Ashby, right.

The remainder of the semester occurred as it did. There were trials plentiful, and enough tribulation to bury me alive. I drowned my sorrows in half-price Frappucinos during Starbucks’ Frappucino Happy Hour, and spent more nights without sleep than ever before. I fought valiantly to keep my grades high and less valiantly to take care of my health, and generally panicked about things that didn’t matter. But at the end of the day, the universe, being sly and underhanded, gave me two brilliant albums by Ariana Grande, a group of brothers at Puget Sound of which I’ve grown tremendously fond, and a blog on which I can write about it all. At the end of the day, I remember walking back to the Beta House after all my classes and rehearsals were done, exhausted and worn out, with Ariana Grande’s “Baby I” playing on my iPod, glad that I was heading home.

This is not all to criticize The Trail itself or to say that The Trail’s article is not valid. It is filled with completely accurate points about the state of Greek Life and ways in which it needs to improve and became more safe and inclusive. Sexual assault is absolutely a problem that must be solved; Greek Life must be made inclusive to minorities; the gender binary that Greek Life perpetuates must be faced. I don’t want to say whether it’s all pointless or good or bad. I don’t have enough experience, knowledge or wisdom to say if Greek Life is intrinsically problematic or not. Nor is it my place to say. But I don’t want to discuss only the faults. I don’t want to just say what’s wrong when good things are happening too.

All I’m trying to say is that maybe there might be something good about Greek Life. I’m trying to say that Beta is, in all truth, the most positive force that has yet occurred in my tiny life. But why should I say anything when Ariana Grande could do it for me?

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Tiny Victory

In which Daniel is his usual disastrous self, but with unexpectedly delightful results.

To my dear reader,

At the rick of exposing myself as the college student I truly am, I must say that there are few things more satisfying than completing a well-written paper. As a music major, my opportunities to write papers are relatively slim, and as someone without a passion for writing anything that is not either fictitious or humorous, this occurrence is even more rare. As of Monday, May 4th at 12:35 AM, however, I had the enormous pleasure of producing such a paper, completely from scratch and within the span of five hours.

I had no intention of pulling off such a rapid and ill-timed feat, but on the afternoon of the Friday previous, Dr. Geoffrey Block – my Broadway History professor – reminded the class to have our final essays, discussing a musical that was an adaptation of something else, turned in by Monday. Upon hearing this, I was struck by nausea and panic. How had I not noticed that the essay was due in three days? Why had I not written that optional rough draft? At what point was I to write this six-to-eight-page paper when I had to attend Relay for Life, a choir dress rehearsal, a friend’s recital, my a cappella group’s final get-together, a choir concert and my a cappella group’s recording session, all in the next two days?

The next forty-eight hours were marked by a quietly insistent undercurrent of terror. If I did not finish the paper, then I would be unable to pass the class, and if I wrote a terrible one, then I would get a poor grade – either way, damaging my GPA. I silently kicked myself for forgetting about the paper’s existence.

On Friday evening, I frantically helped my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, set up its tent and team for the university’s Relay for Life. After my a capella group performed at the event and attendees began to drift off, I walked the track of Baker Stadium and mulled over what on Earth my paper might be about. I had already decided to discuss the musical Ragtime and its original source, E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, but I had failed to read any literature on either work. As I passed the Luminaria after Luminaria, I consoled myself with the thought that I’d at least watched the musical and read the book before this.


            The next morning, after attending a choir dress rehearsal on four hours of sleep, I took a fitful nap, arguing with myself on whether sleep or the essay was more important. On one hand, I knew that I have little capacity to function while tired, but on the other hand, I knew that my evening would begin with a friend’s junior recital at 5 PM, and would afterwards spiral into frivolity with my a cappella group when we went out for dinner, played laser tag and gave our last gifts to our senior members. Tomorrow, I told myself, I would simply not sleep. I would stay awake for as long as I needed to, and write until some semblance of a paper existed.

Sunday morning came, and I was terrified. I wandered through my last choral concert of the year in a daze, and afterwards went to my a cappella group’s recording session with knots in my stomach. By the session’s conclusion, 6 PM had arrived and I’d still not written a single word. Attempting to maintain my sanity, I gathered all the books I’d found on ragtime music, the score of the musical, E.L. Doctorow’s novel itself and interviews with the author, bringing them with me to one of the university’s coffee shops.


            It was over my first Mocha that I suddenly stumbled upon a thesis, and in a few short hours, I had spit out an essay with the following argument:

When it was first published in 1975, E.L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime was wildly successful both critically and commercially, praised for its delicate intricacy, mixing of myth and fact, and its level-headed presentation of sexuality and political ideologies. Despite garnering thirteen Tony nominations and winning four, the musical adaption by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens was not a commercial success and received mixed reviews, critics expressing distaste for the show’s ostentatious production and spectacle.

            I argue that the musical, as part of the legacy of megamusicals (musicals of enormous production scale with many actors involved, such as Phantom of the Opera), is actually much more successful as a piece of art. This is because the show’s distinctively different characters and storylines allow for music that is distinguishable and meaningful, rather than an unending series of repetitions of the same melody, as in both aforementioned megamusicals. Despite this, however, the musical’s didactic writing and Disneyfication of the storylines, for the sake of mass audience appeal, strip the storylines of the sexual and political energy they held in the novel, and thus strip the story of the intricacy, subtlety and ambiguity for which the novel was so praised.

There you have it. Not genius level work, but I cannot deny that this is one of the few essays I have ever written in which I convinced myself of my own thesis. I finished my essay after five hours and, two hours later, had finished my last homework assignment of my junior year. A tiny victory, I suppose, but I have no apologies for the joy it brought me.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Large Words Used for the Purpose of Sounding Intelligent

In which Daniel unravels Grandiloquence for Cello & Piano.

To my dear reader,

In another life, I am an English Major. My days are a torrent of essays and journals, my years marked by the tide of literary studies. I count the days down until the university’s annual fiction contest, and I know Wyatt – the university’s humanities building – better than my own house. Bits of stories and essays fill my backpack, and my room is an ocean of assigned readings that I can never quite seem to navigate.

In this life, I am a music composition major, and that is perfectly wonderful. I do spend most of my days doing something I enjoy immensely, and I have learned so much about how to build a musical world in my past three years here. But in the recent weeks, a musical composition of mine entitled Grandiloquence for Cello & Piano was performed at cellist Bronwyn Hagerty’s senior recital (poster pictured below), and that piece rose from my unending fascination with words.

My name is beside Debussy's. It's not a big deal. Can we stop talking about it?

My name is beside Debussy’s. It’s not a big deal. Can we stop talking about it?

This love of grandiloquence – large words used for the purpose of sounding intelligent – is due to the children’s book series A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket. The combination of misfortune, sardonic humor, ingenious orphans  and dastardly mystery all tickled my fancy, but what really enthralled me as I read the series was the abundance of bombastic language.  Words, as Mr. Snicket so elegantly demonstrated, are powerful, and being well-read can empower one in unimaginable ways as well as make one a better person. As the character of Justice Strauss said in The Penultimate Peril, “Wicked people never have time for reading. It’s one of the reasons for their wickedness”.

Lemony Snicket, who may or may not be the pen name of author Daniel Handler, pictured above.

Lemony Snicket, who may or may not be the pen name of author Daniel Handler, pictured above.

Grandiloquence itself, however, is a product of my fascination with another book, by American author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau, entitled Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the Weird and Wonderful World of Words. I read this book only once a few years ago, but the way that the book explored the history and etymology of the world’s most distinctive words has long since remained with me. Particularly unique words, such as noctambulation – the act of wandering about the streets at night – or spoffle – meaning to trifle about with trivial matters for the sake of looking important or busy – sparked stories in my mind, and alongside those stories came characters and music.


My subsequent desire to express the music I heard in these words manifested itself in a project I would call Grandiloquence for Cello & Piano. Written expressly for Duo Con Fuoco – a pair comprising Puget Sound cello performance major Bronwyn Hagerty, ’15, and Puget Sound piano performance and biology double major Brenda Miller, ’15 – each movement of the piece is titled with a different bombastic word and musically illustrates that word’s definition.

Bronwyn Hagerty, left, myself, center, Brenda Miller, right.

Bronwyn Hagerty, left, myself, center, Brenda Miller, right.

The three movements that I have composed thus far for the project are the following:

I. Twee – (adj.) excessively sweet and adorable to the point of being repulsive: Making use of the baroque counterpoint of Bach and Haydn, this movement opens with the presentation of an annoyingly dainty melodic idea in the cello. The piano then proceeds to present the same in melodic idea in a completely different key, and the two instruments battle to see which can be more disgustingly cute. Feel free to tell me which you think won.

II. Rapacious – (adj.) exceedingly greedy and grasping in nature: After an opening of atonal notes in the cello over a piano drone, a gentle lullaby melody rises from the piano, drifting back and forth between it and the cello. As the music progresses, however, atonality begins to slither back into the piano accompaniment, and by the movement’s ending, the cello melody has been completely gobbled up by the insatiable piano.

III. Espérance – (Middle French, n.) the hope that feeds the soul: With an opening motivic piano figure that echoes the opening of Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George, this third and final movement is a kaleidoscope of old church modes, trills and virtuosic melody. After a series of piano flourishes, the cello spins out a sweet and simple melody over clear piano chords that builds before leading into a new melody supported by tumbling piano arpeggiations. The piece spins and whirls over the cascade of notes before fading back to the sweet and simple piano chords of the opening – but with the cello whirling back in at the last moment to provide an expectant but unresolved ending. This is all meant to show both the inspiring beauty and the restless, inexorable momentum of hope.

I have no regrets about choosing a major in music over a major in English. To me, the language of words and the language of music are somehow two halves of the same whole. Composing this piece was the result of seeing how I could bring those two halves together, and I believe that this is the reason that this is the composition of mine that I am thus far most proud of. Enjoy!

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

An Open Letter to Catherynne M. Valente

In which Daniel’s favorite author is the glorious sun, too bright to be near for too long, and he is the distant moon, only able to quietly reflect her brilliance at best.


To Ms. Valente,

It is, in truth, to the University of Puget Sound that I owe my admiration for your work. I came upon the first book in your Fairyland series, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, at the end of my first year of college while perusing the school’s bookstore. “What a delightful looking book,” I thought to myself (completely judging a book by its cover, as I am so prone to doing). “I think this would be a rather fitting reward to myself for surviving my first year at college.” Unable to resist, I bought the book and began to read it on my journey back to my home in North Carolina.

Immediately I was smitten. The difficult part is to say exactly why. The best explanation I can think of is this:

Have you ever been hungry for something and couldn’t say what it was? You wander around the kitchen of your house, opening the refrigerator and freezer and cupboards and drawers over and over again. Each time, you hope that your search will reveal what you’ve a hankering for, and each time, you are disappointed. But somehow, you continue along the way and happen to take a bite of something unexpected. Immediately, you realize that this is what your hunger has wanted all along.

Reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated for the first time was like that first bite. The love I’ve always had for both the possibilities of fiction and the nuances of language was suddenly reignited, and my mind came alive with new ideas and stories of my own. They say that you are what you eat, and swallowing up your words made in me something just as witty and sad and hilarious and timeless.

It was to my complete surprise when, over a 2 AM snack with a housemate, I was informed that you would be the closing keynote speaker at the science-fiction conference that the university was hosting – “The Once and Future Antiquity: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Fantasy” – on March 27th and 28th, 2015. The conference was to entail a series of lectures about how Ancient Roman and Greek culture have affected and shaped modern speculative fiction. I feel no shame in saying that I curled up on the kitchen floor in ecstasy. It’s fine. Let’s not discuss it.

The clever emblem of the University's international "Once and Future Antiquity"  Convention.

The clever emblem of the University’s international “Once and Future Antiquity” Convention.

This joy was nothing compared to the actual act of watching you speak before me. It’s funny how someone you’ve always imagined can be both so much like and so much unlike what you’ve imagined them to be. You were just as funny, just as offhandedly charming and unconventionally inviting as I anticipated. You were much shorter than I thought you would be. Your voice was also much deeper. What you explained over the course of your keynote address, however, was something that I should have understood but had never considered: that you are so heavily influenced by classics.

Ms. Valente giving her keynote address to a packed audience in the Tahoma Room of the University of Puget Sound.

Ms. Valente giving her keynote address to a packed audience in the Tahoma Room of the University of Puget Sound.

It is here that I am at a disadvantage. My knowledge of classics is limited to the point of being nonexistent. I am vaguely aware that the stories and myths of Greek and Roman civilization have been passed down through the generations of Western culture. I am vaguely aware that each time they have appeared, they have been transformed and reinterpreted, like a game of telephone. But I don’t know exactly what they are or what they meant to those cultures in their time.

During your keynote address, you explained many fascinating things. These included how you saw your childhood traveling between parents as a transformation of the Persephone myth, how your distinctive prose style initial arose from knowledge of multiple languages, and how your author superpower is that you are capable of writing remarkably quickly. What struck me most, however, is that when you were writing your first novel Labyrinth, you never considered it fiction because in the time of Ancient Greece, those myths were considered fact. Every story has mysterious labyrinths housing hungry minotaur, but it is mostly in fantasy fiction that these take their most obvious form. A minotaur might take the form of a librarian, or a principal, or a unpleasant waitress in other fiction, but the audience might not know that.

I doubt that you will ever read this.In some ways, I hope that you never do, so that the hour and a half I spent watching you lecture, meeting you and stealing the briefest of hugs from you will remain untarnished in my memory. In some ways, I hope that you will somehow stumble upon this, or that a friend will present it to you with a laugh, and that you will read it and be reminded of such a strange young man that did so love your children’s stories. Mostly, however, I just wanted to write this for my own sake.

Me attempting to maintain my composure beside Ms. Valente.

Me attempting to maintain my composure beside Ms. Valente.

On one of the pages of my commonplace – a sort of intellectual logbook for quotable passages and facts – which I showed you, there is a page devoted solely to quotes from The Girl Who Circumnavigated. Each time I read the book, it never fails to entertain and touch me, but of all the wonderful passages I’ve copied down, the following is the one that struck me most, and to this day remains with me:

“As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Write What You Hear

In which Daniel showcases both the drab landscape that is his dormitory and some rather amusing doodles.


Of all the college dorm rooms that I have ever visited, mine is by far the most barren. Textbooks necessary for the semester’s courses sit in piles on my bookshelf, the small ocean of clothes I brought from home is stuffed into my dresser, and on my desk is nothing but my laptops, a lamp and some spare sheets of scratch paper. When I was a first year student at Puget Sound, I made the usual assumption that I would need so much more than I truly did – extra books, extra bedding, extra clothes and items of little use but nostalgic significance. By my junior year, I have since learned that moving in and out of one’s dormitory is much easier if there are fewer items to transport, and moreover, that much of what I thought I needed at college I either did not need or could find elsewhere.

On the wall above my desk, however, a few papers have been pasted with a combination of musical sketches, lines of poetry and doodles. These are papers of my musings that I began pasting to my wall at the beginning of this year, and each time I have filled a page, I have given it a place on the wall above my desk. Somewhere on nearly all of these papers is scribbled the phrase “Write What You Hear.” This phrase is not mine to take credit for, but an unwitting gift from a woman named Minah Choi.

Minah Choi pictured center.

Minah Choi pictured center.

Minah Choi and I met over the summer of 2014, when we both attended a chamber music and composition program called California Summer Music (CSM). Roughly 70 string and piano players and 10 composition students across the U.S. were selected to attend, ranging from middle school students to graduate students, and across the program’s three weeks, were intensely trained by guest professors and lecturers. Throughout the three weeks, both faculty and students performed concerts of chamber music, and at the program’s conclusion, each composition student had one piece performed by a student ensemble.

Like me, Minah was a composition student, but unlike me, she was ever so slightly a musical genius, a little gorgeous, and very much a graduate student. Needless to say, I was rather intimidated. Being so young in comparison, having had so much less experience, and coming from a university without a real composition department, I felt very small in her presence.

Being her magnanimous self, Minah decided that she and I would be friends, and to my surprise, I spent the next three weeks under her humorous and good natured mentorship, allowing her to poke and prod me in the right direction. In her adorable Korean accent, she gave me so much great advice, ranging from approaches to wardrobe (“Are you going to be comfortable in that? Yes. Do you care that it looks funny? You should not!”) to leadership (“Sometimes, you just gotta drag them in the right direction while they are kicking and screaming. You just gotta keep smiling all the way too”). But the best advice that Minah ever gave me was after the performance of my piece “Sema in Miniature: For Violin, Cello & Piano”, on the last day of the program.

“It was not the best piece, no,” she remarked as we stood in line at a taqueria. “But it was the most ‘you’ of the pieces – you know what I mean? Of all the students here, you wrote the piece that was the most yours.” She nodded sagely, bobbing her head back and forth as she decided upon her lunch. “This is the most important, you know? You can’t write because you wanna impress someone or sound like someone. You just gotta write what you hear.”


It was not until September arrived that the phrase resurfaced in my memory. Once there, however, I could do nothing to rid myself of it, and I found myself writing it over and over again on blank bits of paper. Eventually, I came to think about what the phrase meant, and once I did, I couldn’t help but feel liberated by it. What a wonderful idea, I realized, to make no attempt to sound like another composer or write in a specific way, but rather to put on paper whatever I hear in my head! It is simultaneously so much harder and so much easier than writing to be heard by a specific audience – harder because you cannot allow one model to dictate your creation, but easier because the connection between you and what’s on the page becomes so much more straightforward.

Looking at my dorm room now, there still is little in it. Although crammed with my tiny and cramped handwriting, there are still few pages adorning my walls. The ideas on those pages, however, are in many ways some of the best I’ve ever had, and even looking at the ideas which never came to fruition, I feel accomplished. Perhaps it’s just the physical act of filling a page with my words and thoughts, or the knowledge that I am capable of creation, but I must admit my debt to Minah Choi.




Darling, We’re a Nightmare Dressed Like a Daydream

In which the Tay, in her ever-present wisdom, reveals the truth of Daniel’s relationship with his fraternity by means of chart-topping pop music.

To my dear reader,

Every year, for several sessions of four days scattered throughout the summer and winter, over one hundred members and friends of the fraternity of Beta Theta Pi from across North America gather at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There among the endless stretch of fields, they participate in a leadership program entitled The Wooden Institute, named after the famous basketball coach and member of Beta John Wooden. The alumni of the fraternity and friends of Beta lead the undergraduate members in a series of programs, lectures and presentations on different leadership styles, tactics and applications.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Looking back on my time at this short program and the four days in January I spent there, what I remember most clearly is not the leadership lectures or the plans for personal development I wrote. It is the music – namely, Taylor Swift and film scores.

For those of you so foolish as to not have been following my blog posts before this one, it is imperative that you know this: two of the things that I hold most dear are the music of Tay Swizz (praise be unto Her) and movie soundtracks. They make me feel empowered and elegant in equal shares – two things that I am unlikely to feel strongly in my everyday life. That being said, I came to this fraternity leadership program with no anticipation of them being relevant, and although Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound has been a relatively positive experience for me, I was tentative to place trust in a gathering of college men to whom I would be a stranger.

Upon arriving, the eighty undergraduates of Beta from across the nation were gathered into six “chapters” of twelve members that did not know one another whatsoever. This was, needless to say, a somewhat stilted and awkward interaction, filled with the necessary combination of dead silence and short burst of nervous laughter. But when we arrived at the room where we were to debrief on our new chapter’s get-to-know you activities, we were greeted by “Harry In Winter” – one of the best tracks from the score to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

“All right,” I thought tentatively. “Perhaps I may enjoy myself.”

Three days later, after learning of John Wooden’s life and the history of fraternal life and the many ways to trick people into working together, I sat in a chapter brother’s car as he drove us through the snow on the streets of Oxford on our way to one of the program’s last events. As his phone began to play a new song through his car’s stereo, he grinned and said “Oh man, let’s turn this up!” I had a moment of confusion as he turned up the volume of the speakers before I realized that the song was none other than Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. He rolled down the windows and we sang to the night – poorly, loudly and out of tune, but together.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity's Hall of Chapters.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity’s Hall of Chapters.

Friendship is a curious thing, and like many other curious things, such as meatballs and childbirth, may be best left uninvestigated. But despite my trepidation and inhibition, four days of unravelling our lives and finding new ways to change the world around us brought me and my little band of brothers closer than I thought possible. The words of Tswag’s “Blank Space” ring true: “Hey, let’s be friends; I’m dying to see how this one ends; grab your passport and my hand…” And, as the Wooden Institute Demonstrated, I can, in fact, make the bad guys good for a weekend.

With the recent induction of our newest members, the Delta Epsilon colony of Beta Theta Pi at the University of Puget Sound gave to me a sophomore named Zachary Miller as a “Little Brother” – a new member to whom I am to be a “Big Brother” and provide mentorship and guidance. Needless to say, this is a recipe for hilarity and disaster, because Lord knows that any advice from me would likely end in chaos and general discomfort for everyone involved. But a great deal of time has passed since last I felt this excited about anything, and as disastrously as it may end, I am thrilled to share what wisdom I gleaned from my time at Oxford University. Zachary Miller and all the other new members of Beta Theta Pi had best prepare themselves, because after seeing these boys…

Zachary Miller (left) and myself (right): a very big little and a very little big.

Zachary Miller (right) and myself (left): a very big little and a very little big.

…all I can think is “Oh my God, look at that face; you look like my next mistake.”

Love’s a game. Wanna play?

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert