Monday, September 22, 2008

First steps

The problem of starting the writing (for me) is that there's so much literature out there. And every time I think about formulating a comment, I wonder what others have to say about it. So, libraries yield up their enormous riches, and my floor disappears in discrete rectangles. And the research is interesting, eye-opening, and frankly easier to make myself do than write. But at some point the fear of what you haven't said outweighs the fear of what you haven't read, right?

So today, I wrote two paragraphs. Not much, but it's very rewarding to actually have started it. More to come?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Syllabus Shuffle

So, I was attending the local production of Into the Woods (which is, oddly enough, one I've never managed to get to see), when I discovered they'll be doing Follies in January. This is amazing for many reasons, not least because that's a heck of a show for community theater to do. It will be another of the Sondheim canon to cross off my list, but more exciting is its coinciding with my Sondheim class that I'll be teaching next term. This is twice as good because it's a key Sondheim work, and one without a proper video recording (the closest is a rather impressive concert production that has some good behind-the-scenes info, and stellar performances across the board). The problem is it goes up the second week of class. This means having to teach a complicated work before we even get to his early stuff (West Side Story, Gypsy (which incidentally is I think crucial to understanding Follies)). So now I have to go about rethinking how to approach it, whether to return to it later, but all this pales in comparison to my own excitement to see it and talk about it.

I miss teaching this semester.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Academia Out of Bounds

Thinking a little bit about my last post, I realized something. I think it puts too much stock in the classroom. While it would be great to have the chance to just talk about how we listen and why we like certain things, the classroom isn't the only place to do it. It's just a convenient place, because we're all there, charged with the task of being good listeners. I feel like arts organizations have tried to capitalize on this idea, offering happy hours, but part of the problem is a) it's often more comfortable to talk about these things with people you haven't just met and b) I think most of the events happen before the concert, not after. There ought to be something like a book club, yeah? Where people select pieces to hear, get together and talk about it.

And on a related to this title note, academia is more fun when unleashed into the broader world. Consider ye this resounding endorsement.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Camp stories

50 posts. To celebrate I give you an inexplicably bizarre ad for the arts. I remember back in college coming up with a fake ad for Berli-Os ("They're Fantastique!"). But this is even better, in part because it's a) memorable and b) gets the point across without being preachy.

In other news, I'm back. Physically at least. Mentally, I'm still latching onto my one week of true vacation, spent in the backwoods of Massachusetts doing what I love: folk dancing. And returning is kind of like waking up. The possibility that you could stay up all night contra dancing and playing games and stargazing and listening to jam sessions go late into the night with a bunch of friends seems more absurd when in the library, and I find myself struggling to remember it all, just the way you would a dream.

The lessons of folk dance camp are surprisingly salient to life as a graduate student in musicology:

- You really do need sleep, but it's kind of nice when you really don't want it.
- I still want to learn the accordion/ I wish I played piano better
- Classics remain favorites for a reason
- Music/Dance is more fun when you do it with friends

This last point seems particularly key. I find it sadly rare to experience music as I really enjoy it: as a collective activity. Studying music is a solo activity. Earlier posts on Kyle Gann's site disassemble the idea of the audience into individuals. Even talking about it music is rare. In the classroom, I'm either teaching it and having trouble eliciting responses or feeling pressure to spend the time only on exam material, or I'm a student and spend most of the time absorbing what other people say, and the concern that what you say about the piece has to be supported by evidence (or sometimes simply agree with the professor's viewpoint).

One day, I brought in the Elgar first symphony. No real academic reason. I just wanted to share with my students the magic of this piece. The fourth movement features an ominous theme which quickly becomes martial in character. But about halfway in, the theme returns in the most lush, heartbreaking manner possible. It's easy to miss that it's the same theme, but once you hear it, it's magical. And the students smiled. And I wished I had time to just have them bring in more examples, to have them teach me how to listen to something.

And so every summer, I return to this sylvan place. It's an escape from work, from everything outside the forested walls. And I wish there was a way to bring that feeling more easily into my scholarship, the feeling when the only thing that matters is the music and who you share it with.