Thursday, April 3, 2008

Listening, Talking, and the Comfort Zone

One of the things that has been attracting my attention is balancing your comfort zone with everything else. This semester I'm right at home teaching American music, but it lacks the spark of when I was teaching the world music last semester. That was great because of its challenge for me as well as for the students. I had to work harder to master things, but I also felt more comfortable not knowing things. I could draw connections to more familiar things, placing emphasis on the concepts and encouraging everyone to approach music with curiosity. This semester, it's harder for all the unexpected reasons.

This past weekend I presented some research I've done on Weezer (yes, Weezer) at the midwest Ethnomusicology meeting. I was certainly among the few historical musicologists there, but I didn't feel as much like an impostor as I'd thought. Several papers were fantastic and compelling, and it was fairly easy to find common ground to talk about. I tried to mix musical analysis with some theory, and I think it came of successfully, although it's not hard to feel like a success when you show music videos with adorable animals. But most of all, I enjoyed the experience of opening up the doors of research, of getting to explore different nuances of the same work. In many departments (ourselves included at times), there's a rift between historical musicology and ethnomusicology. It's nice to know how easy and welcome crossing that line is. And maybe the lines between performance and musicology and theory are similarly easily crossed, if only I could figure out a way to get it out of the classroom and into the coffee shop.

Having finished up that talk (I'll be re-doing it in Austin, but on the upside I don't think I need to change all that much!), I need to start on the talk I'm giving tomorrow here. Ostensibly I'm talking about my dissertation to come, but at this stage I know nothing. But my hope is that in not just listening outside my comfort zone but by having to talk about things I may not know, I'll think more about what I want to know. Maybe someone else will know something useful. Maybe I'll even realise I do know something. I like to think of my dissertation as a comfort zone I'm breaking in, slowly, safely at this stage, feeling around for the perfect spots.


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