Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 01 (Round II) "In the trenches"

Here we go again: Day 01 of the semester, second time that I'll blog day-by-day the content of the work week (see the series here). Ain't gonna be a lot of time available, though I will try to return and update through the day:

6-8am: up, polish last bits of online webct course materials and syllabi

9am: play the Delta blues for opening meeting of Rock History class, now passed-along to the 3rd faculty member (finishing-up PhD student, teaching as instructor-of-record) since Dharmonia founded it. The course covers, roughly, Robert Johnson in the '30s to the punk revolution of the '70s, and it's become a bit of a class tradition that I come in first day and hammer away at the National steel. Fortunately, we've got a top-notch crew of student assistants, several of whom have worked the class for multiple semesters, all of whom take care of business technologically and kick asses efficaciously.

10am: opening meeting of the first semester of 4-semester undergraduate history sequence, a "tools & skills" class which we employ as a jump-start in both college skills and college attitudes. Mostly our incoming students are really good kids with good attitudes and work ethics, but they come from such a wide divergence of preparations that we need something (as least a semester) to teach them bibliographic skills, research, critical reading, critical writing, critical listening, etc. We used to teach or remediate all those skills on the fly over the course of three period-based semesters, but it just didn't work: it would be superfluous for some kids, insufficient mitigation for many others, and massively limited the amount of actual history we could teach them. So now we chunk it out, front-load the remediation, and put the emphasis upon teaching/learning very specific and remarkably sophisticated listening skills--which they uniformly, good prior preparation or bad, need loads of.

Plus, I enjoy catching 'em the very first morning of their college careers, and setting the bar. It's a good, salutary shock to their systems, and sends the message out-front that College is Not High School (thank Christ!).

11am: guest in colleague's "The Early Period" sophomore-level survey course. Our 3-semester sequences runs "The Common-Practice Period," "The Early Period," "The Modern Period." We avoid traditional "early - middle - modern" chronology because that doesn't line up effectively with either their theory sequence (which moves from scales, keys, intervals, triads, to modes & species counterpoint, to post-tonal theory) or with their familiar repertoires. Most of them, in high school, would have played or sung mostly common-practice (c1780-1880) repertoires, so giving them the "Common-Practice Period" first lines up with both the repertoires they've previously played or sung, and with the musical elements they concurrently getting in their theory classes. Then, in the fall semester of their sophomore years, when we've had them for a year already, they can begin to deal with the modes & counterpoint of "Early Period" repertoires, and then, finally, in the 4th, sophomore-spring semester, the "Modern Period."

Historically, I've taught the first (fall/freshman) and fourth (spring/sophomore) sections. This is both because they address my own areas of expertise within our faculty (cross-cultural musics in the first, 20th century in the fourth), because initially I was the only person on staff teaching the undergrads, and--I'll confess it--because I like to get 'em right at the beginning, to set the tone. Plus they're funny as hell, when they get over the freshman jitters and start having fun.

Hell if I can remember what comes up in the balance of the day--but I 'magine it'll fill up.

Here we go!

[ETA: in the event, all three were great: 9am Rock class was jammed to the rafters--indicative that the course-brand is holding its value with the incoming general population--but the crew was equal to it: calm, confident, authoritative, in command of their material, systems, and clientele; 10am new crop of freshmen were pretty-well engaged, certainly responsive (laughing at the jokes, anyway); 11am guest presentation was good--if you've been an improvising performer for enough years, then you understand some of the expressive and psychological mechanics necessary to create the slightly-heightened experiential space that maximizes student receptivity. I'll have to say about all this in the coming weeks, I'm sure!]

Below the jump: dawn and the waning moon on the South Plains


Terminal Degree said...

You get FOUR semesters of music history there? We cram it into 3. The students take music literature during their freshman year (essentially music appreciation for majors, with extra emphasis on form, listening, score study, research skills, writing, etc.) and then two semesters during their junior year. How I wish I could have one more semester to really focus on 20th century/contemporary music!

CJS said...

Yeah--we fought really hard for that 4th semester. So far it's working.

Terminal Degree said...

Wow, that's great. But here's the question: What did you CUT? Here we're limited by the state to having only X credits required for the major so that students can (hypothetically) finish in four years.