Friday, October 31, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been writing and then rewriting the dissertation proposal, on a strict self-imposed deadline. But it's good, and better for the reduction, in part because I'm curbing my own tendencies to reference things I feel I a) should in order to be a successful musicologist and b) want to because I put the effort into reading them and I like what they have to say.

A couple weeks ago, I headed out to London (Ontario) for a weekend workshop on calling English country dances. This has been a long-term hobby, but it was also my first introduction into teaching. And while I focus pretty heavily on academic life to the demise of my folk dancing life, I'm finding much of what we talked about to be surprisingly helpful. Some thoughts:

- We talked a lot about the basics of good teaching- nonverbal teaching, being concise, choosing words carefully. In dance, words just delay the dancing, and talk over the music. But too little leaves the dancers confused, and they can't listen to the music, because they're too busy trying to figure out what to do. I encounter the same problems with audio examples- too much talking turns it into a boring exercise, but too little leaves them listening without a sense of why. I'm still tweaking both, trying to find enough words to whet the appetite and make it productive, but it's so nice as a dancer or a listener to do it and diiscover something without being told to.

- Practice, practice, practice. Actually, more like just do it. Because no matter how much you prepare, something unexpected will happen. Calling has taught me more about being quick on my feet and looking calm than anything.

- If you say something and it doesn't work, repeating it likely isn't going to improve the situation, not even if you say it with more volume. Which leads to my final point:

- The most advanced skill we worked on was how to teach advanced dancers, especially in a mixed crowd. GSI-ing is pretty tame: all the students are at the same level, they're all in the same course, and the one-size-fits-all model, while not perfect, is close to what I use. Chances are with most terms either everyone knows it or no one does. But the prospect of teaching mixed classes (as I will likely be doing next semester) or upper level courses still scares me. How to teach in a way so as to neither bore the advanced students nor lose the beginners? In dancing, beginners can learn on the fly, by doing it, and with floor support. I don't expect much of that in the classroom.

It's nice when hobbies don't just give you release but help put your work in perspective (and nicer when you have time to actually pursue them!). Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how this helps with dissertating yet.

PS: GO PHILLIES! I wish I could be there to enjoy it with my Philly friends, but it's a good feeling nonetheless to watch something you love get what they wanted for so long. And it didn't happen while I had class!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Open books, open ears

I've just submitted my first draft of a dissertation proposal, which is a significant relief. It's a funny little process. In one way, it's a summation of your work so far—I drew on books I've read for class, books I read in undergrad, books I felt I had to read, books I read for art history classes. It has a way of nicely tying together several of the strands I've been pondering for a good time. But at the same time, it opens up all these new roads. And while it's satisfying to feel like ideas have come together and spur more speculation, it's also a little scary. As it stands, I haven't nailed down the layout. I have too many ideas, so that's the next step.

But having something concrete, I'm resurfacing here. In other news...

I'm still enthralled with musical color. I've had the treat of hearing Brahms's rich, shimmering clarinet quintet and Bartok's 5th Quartet, with those gorgeous transcendent slow movements, little insect noises, eerily displaced howls, and calm triads. And the orchestra played Petrouschka the next day, which on rehearing seems like the perfect blend of Rite's churning ostinatos and the dorky tunes of his neoclassical stuff.

These concerts may not get the dissertation written, but it's a similar tale revisiting favorite musics and some beloved texts. The problem is with listening, my mind is freer to wander, to find new things. The dissertation (as much as I'd like sometime) probably shouldn't wander as much as my post-concert conversations tend to. And therein lies, I think, the hardest part: how to rein in the wandering without losing the energy I feel after hearing a good performance (or reading a good piece of writing).