Monday, January 14, 2008

Day 04 "In the Trenches" (Web 2.0 edition); also "Office" 88

Not a lot of time to blog today, but herewith update on "Trenches" and "Office":

Monday of first full week of the spring semester. Kids are sleepy (probably most of them stayed up all weekend, trying to prolong the sense of still being on winter break) but not unresponsive. Today was "what is 'modernism' and how did it differ from the previous 'romanticism'?"

We tend to teach the "Modern Period" section of our three-semester undergraduate music history sequence as the history of about 140 yea,rs (say, the Wagner Tristan Prelude of 1857 to the Reich Different Trains of 1990) as a chronology of the interaction, contention, modification, and evolution of "Isms"--that is, of artistic philosophies which are usually subsumed under the heading of "Romanticism" or "Impressionism" or "Serialism" and so forth. This lets us link the wild diversification of musical style (the "SHRMG" characteristics) in the period with the diversification of the influencing artistic and compositional philosophies. So we can teach "exoticism" in music, but also painting, or theatre, or poetry, and we can look at all of these other art forms as we listen to Rimsky or Ravel or Chavez, and try to find the artistic links. These kids tend to be incredibly responsive to such cross-media investigation, because it is after all how they take in most information about their world: not through text, but through the juxtaposition of diverse information sources. They're great at iconographic analysis, for example: they have very good interpretive insights, though they have trouble distinguishing between a subjective observation ("this music sounds sad") and an analytical insight ("this music uses a lot of minor chords, slow tempos, and falling melodic lines").

Nevertheless, they are very responsive and very intuitive, and very receptive to the task of interpretation. Our main job is to keep pulling them back to concrete analytical language and insights, and to help them see that the subjective observations that the music elicits are both constructed (by composers making "SHRMG choices") and intentional. That's why we call the course "Music AS Cultural History."

In "Office" news: today sent in a second chapter, at Editor's request, so that she could include that chapter in the package of materials that goes to outside readers. These readers are charged with the task of reading the samples, the prospectus, the Table of Contents, and making a conclusion regarding whether (a) the project fills an existing gap in the literature and (b) the project has a research design--and fundamental writing chops--sufficient to make an original contribution to the literature. So, as submitting author, you try to provide enough sample material, and a sufficiently-detailed descriptor, that the outside readers both understand and empathize with the project--but you avoid sending material that either (a) can't stand on its own without the rest of the manuscript or (b) isn't sufficiently polished to make a positive impression.

Not all presses permit you to either suggest or even know the readers--adhering to some archaic bullshit "blind review" standard, which in practice just increases the odds that the outside readers might be obtuse, disinterested, or actively hostile (I've had a few of those), but some presses do permit you to know--or at least to suggest sympatico candidates. I am fortunate enough to be in the latter situation, so was able to suggest 4 outside readers who were familiar with my prior work (in fact, had served on my tenure review committee) and also with the topic.

Unexpectedly, I have recently been able to suggest a fifth candidate for outside reader--a noted scholar who happened across this very blog, and the name of my antebellum painter, and was interested enough to read, and collegial enough to write to me, about the topic. He's also agreed to serve.

The above is thus a huge relief--the project is off my desk until such time as the Editor gets back to me, but at the same time, I can be reasonably confident that the proposal is receiving a detailed, sympathetic, and useful critical review. That's the way the "community of scholars" is supposed to work.

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