Last semester was quite a challenge. But a new semester has begun, and that means new opportunities to be a better teacher, scholar, and colleague. With the first week of the Spring 2015 in the books, here’s what’s on tap for the rest of the semester, including some of the goals I hope to accomplish in the next five months.
I finally have the opportunity to teach something outside the core sequence. Form and Analysis is my first upper-level teaching attempt, and I could not be more excited. Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching intervals and sequences and secondary dominants and melodic dictation as much as the next person. Really, I do. But teaching Form and Analysis gives me the chance to branch out and gain some much needed experience. Plus, I really like studying musical form, so teaching it should help my research.
As psyched as I am for it, though, I’m also a bit anxious. Despite my apprehension, I’m making a conscious and concerted effort not to stress too much about the preparation. For the sake of my other classes, not to mention my research and service commitments, I cannot spend too much time planning Form and Analysis. I’ve got to trust myself (and the colleagues to whom I most certainly will call upon for advice . . . again) to make the right decisions and not be too hard on myself when I recognize something I could have done differently/better.
The first week went pretty well, I think. The students answered questions readily and willingly, which is usually a pretty good sign this early in the semester. I hope that continues. So far, the text has proven a solid choice. The questions and exercises posed at the end of each chapter have come in hand as starting points for discussions, which has helped reduce my planning time.
Focus on the Focus
I really like my schedule this semester. The times that I teach seem to be favorable for balancing teaching preparation with research. When it comes to potentially having some time to research, however, my biggest issue thus far in my career has been actually getting to the research. Lesson planning and teaching prep tends to dominate my time at school, leaving little time for research and service commitment. This semester, I have at least two chunks of time each day that should help me balance the three academic tentpoles.
In an effort to maximize my on-campus productivity, I’ve been trying to stick to my to-do lists and calendar. I’m happy to report that after only a week, the method is already proving effective because of both a very structured schedule and my strict adherence to the timetable. I was able to achieve a nice balance of planning and research this week, and I’m hoping to build on that momentum and get even more done as I settle into daily and weekly routines.
I’m at a place called Vertigo
For my first doctoral seminar back in grad school, I wrote a short analytical paper on a Ligeti piano etude, “Vertige.” While not a great analysis in and of itself, I think it’s a solid foundation for a more detailed examination. Contour and graphical analyses (cartesian and possibly 3-D) are my methods of choice as I attempt to find 1) similarities between the “melodies” in “Vertige”; 2) the connection between these melodies and the semitone runs, if one exists; and 3) if these similarities and connections carry across to other etudes. I’m really looking forward to getting more familiar with these piece and to see if analyzing them is as fun as listening to them.
(That’s probably the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written.)
The Interverse, part 2: The Two-Part Interverse
Some rock and pop songs have an interverse that is comprised of two parts. While the relationship of those parts to the rest of the song is usually fairly easy to determine (independent/dependent, sectional/continuous), the functional designation of the two-part interverse as a whole becomes more difficult to determine because of the presence of two subsections. If each part has a different designation (e.g. independent continuous and dependent sectional), how is the entire interverse designated in relation to the rest of the song? Additionally, does the section’s overall designation alter the definitions of “independent” and “dependent” material, if at all? I’ve had this idea in the hopper for a while, so I’m trying very hard to get it on a conference program or two, which will force me to research the music and write the damn paper!
Reading = Writing
My father always told me that good writers read. A lot. He is a fan of the editorials and interviews because those were the most stylistically interesting pieces in newspapers and magazines. Despite his best efforts, however, reading never caught on for me as a primary hobby. Instead books, I’d always reach for video games, the TV remote, or my bike. Now that writing is a part of my job, I’ve discovered two things: 1) my father was right, and 2) I wish I read more as a child. But since I can’t change the past, the future is my focus, and that includes a lot more reading. My issue with reading is that I often feel guilty when reading non-professional things (e.g. novels, stories, poetry) because I feel like if I have time to read that stuff, then I should spend it reading for research (e.g. articles, books, dissertations). Like many things in life, though, it’s all about balance. Just like a healthy food diet is composed of a variety of foods, a healthy reading diet includes a variety of sources, . What I read necessarily influences how I write, both stylistically and procedurally, and since I’m looking to improve my writing, it only makes sense that the first step is to read more.
Writing = Reading
I’ve also realized that it works the other way. The more I write (professionally, creatively, or otherwise), the more I will read, and necessarily so. For research, I have to read what’s been written in order to write something original. The same goes for my personal creative writing. As my writing time increases this semester, I expect the same to happen to my reading time. Reading leads to writing, which leads back reading. It’s a cycle I hope to start this semester and sustain for years to come.
Perfection Doesn’t Exist
I don’t know a lot about many things, but I do know enough to listen attentively when smart people say things. With a lot of help from my wife, I now recognize the vast difference between excellence and perfection, chief among them is that the latter doesn’t actually exists. According to Stephen Hawking:
One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. . . . Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.
For a great majority of my life, I have been a perfectionist. While those tendencies have undoubtedly helped me achieve many goals, I have realized that aiming for perfection is choosing to go after an unattainable goal. And someone of my ilk likes to accomplish goals. I like checking items off a to-do list. I like finishing one thing so that I can starting something new, something fresh. Plus, being a perfectionist is exhausting. Seriously. When every little thing has to BE. JUST. SO. AT. ALL. TIMES, it’s no wonder why it was tough to get out of bed.
This semester I’m going to try to go a little easier on myself. Some methods/examples/lessons won’t be as successful as others. I know that. But what I need to do this semester is believe that wholeheartedly and truly be OK with that. Just take notes and try to do it better the next time. No one has it completely figured out. That’s why there are a lot of really good teachers who succeed using different methods. The common trait among these methods is the fact that they all are constantly being refined and tweaked. Just like mine.
Here’s to a great semester!