Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day 02 "In the Trenches"

Tues-Thurs schedule: upper-level seminar "Musics of the African Diaspora." Here, we have to keep certain courses on a regular rotation, both in order to serve needs of those students for whom same are required (that's mostly the period surveys, Music bibliography, graduate history review, and so forth), and also to keep them in our catalog: the State mandates that if a course is not offered once every four years at minimum, it may not be listed in the catalog. It's a good rule, as it prevents Schools from listing courses as wish- or Diversity-fulfillment which in fact they can't/won't offer. But it means that we need to keep things in regular rotation and not allow anything to slip out of the catalog.

Hence "African Diaspora". It's not required for anyone, but it is one of the options that the graduate students and advanced undergrads can employ to fulfill those degree plans which require a 4000-level (senior) or 5000-level (graduate) history course. I designed and offered the course here for the first time in 2004, once again with the remarkable and unusual full support of my Division and of upper-administration, but haven't had opportunity within my overload to offer since then. Am looking forward to revising and retooling.

Also have a fantastic crop of students enrolled (any time you offer a non-typical or non-traditional seminar topic, there's a very useful self-selection process, as the students who don't want to be challenged by load or topic don't even enroll). This year for the first time I've used a prerequisite "by permission of instructor only", so that everyone enrolling (not just undergrads) has to have a conversation with me first, so we can establish that there's a realistic understanding of the course load. I also employ something I've come to call the "badass warning letter", which, in the guise of a friendly pre-first-meeting "welcome to the course" email, lays out load, weekly reading and listening requirements, and the pre-first-meeting reading and preparations to be done. This serves to both provide a jump-start so that Day 1 of the class can actually get to some meat (instead of just slogging through the syllabus and all its rules), but also serves as a wakeup call for students who might struggle. I don't intend to scare people away, but have learned that, if a student is going to arrive at week 3 or week 4 and realize that s/he can't sustain the load, it's better that s/he come to that conclusion week 1 instead--that way both they and I have other alternatives. The "badass warning letter" helps to clarify that straight up.

Heavy reading and listening: using Chernoff's African Rhythm African Sensibility, which while flawed in terms of its technical specifics about Ghanaian music (Chernoff apparently alienated pretty much every musician he met there) still contains very useful-for-Westerners explications of how West African people think about music and community. It has to be framed with a lot of disclaimers, but it's still a good intro. Supplementing with a ton of other readings, which, between JSTOR and the pdf format, I can now make available electronically.

Students will write a research project on a wiki, and then in the final weeks of class deliver in the form of a conference presentation: this provides useful training in that public speaking/presentation medium, appropriate for graduate students. Exams will be a mid-term and a final, both in essay format, for which I'll provide a list of "topics" questions as advance preparation: this provides useful training for taking exit exams. I also try to get as much participatory research going in the class as possible: dancing, singing, playing, etc. There are kinds of "scholarly knowledge" about some musics which you can only derive from such participation: reading, listening, and watching are all insufficient without this supplement.

Also off to Executive Committee meeting--about the last of the official "Chair" duties which I have not already assumed. Hoping that the official assumption of the title doesn't actually mean a lot of additional committee work; we'll see.

Below the jump: one more of dawn on the South Plains.


Banjosnake said...

Hey my friend! I have little doubt you have already thought of this, but 2 CDs worth of diaspora-heavy music for listening: Everybody Hollerin' Goat by Otha Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band... and Otha Turner and the Afrosippi Allstars. Just my 2 cents worth, but if I'd known about this man and his music when I actually lived there, I might be there still, a dyed-in-the-wool blues purist... and even more broke than I am now! Hope y'all are doing well!
The Right Rev C.T.

CJS said...

Good call. I've got some 'Sippi fife-and-drum recordings from Roberts's "Black Music of Two Worlds", and one of the students in the class, , is planning to write her Master's Ethnomusicology thesis based on N Mississippi fife-and-drum music fieldwork (bein' from Mobile, and a flute player, she has a bit of a cultural in).