Monday, December 28, 2009

Outside the rotation: Bears vs Vikings

22 seconds left in regulation, 4th and goal, and Favre grins as he takes the snap.

Cold weather teams, baby. Old men.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Outside the rotations: Back Home Agin

Dharmonia's home town:

Four old guys in the corner booth of the Dunkin Donuts, speaking Portuguese. They've been doing it for 60 years, even while the building itself began as a lunch joint, collapsed, moved across the street, changed franchises, turned into a riot of formica and orange plastic, got louder, added a drive-through, and so forth. They've always been there, in that same corner.

They'll probably be there another 60 years.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Outside the rotation: "Daughters"

One more once, headin' on up outta this joint for points East, North, and blizzardy.

A few weeks ago, in response to a very touching and heartfelt shout-out in a blog post by Shaniqua, I wrote this in response:

I wanted to write to you privately and thank you for your sweet note on the blog. I know that you have had a lot of sorrow and loss in your young life and I regret that.

But if the events of Dharmonia's and my own life had been different, I would have been proud to have a daughter who was as smart, brave, loving, and strong as you.

Much love,

Dr Coyote
The circumstances of my life, and of my life with Dharmonia, have precluded offspring: it's probably no surprise, given my own childhood experience, that my siblings have generally likewise avoided having kids. In our married life together, it's a combination of factors, none definitive in either "yea" or "nay" scenarios: poverty, psychology, 12 years of graduate school (and the poverty and psychological damage, not to mention the sheer exhaustion, which same conferred).

At any rate, ain't no kiddos in our crib. At this season, that's historically been, for me, mostly a source of petty frustration: as I've blogged before, it's goddamned tiring to be in my 4th decade of "going home to the parents' house for Christmas". If there'd been kids, at least some of those decades would have seen parents traveling, and us staying put, at this season: nothing will get a homebody grandparent out and on the road like the prospect of seeing, or not seeing, the grandchild. That was never an option for us.

Now, though, as the parents have aged, and deceased, and become child-like, I've come to terms with that, and I accept that we make the schlep because life is short, regret is long, and we don't know when we might see them again.

This year, because of a whole concatenation of factors, we opted to stay here in the Big Flat particularly late: Celtic Christmas was late, flights were exorbitantly costly, and, as I've said to several people, "when your only surviving older relative has Alzheimer's, it doesn't really matter whether you get there Christmas, or the day after." So we found ourselves in our own home, possibly for the first time or second time in our married lives, on Christmas Eve.

But we weren't alone: as a result of another concatenation of factors, several young'uns (Taiyo, T-Dawn, and the Dance Captain) found themselves at solitary loose ends also in Big Flat Place, and so for the first time we were able to offer some hospitality--some sense of home--to some younger others. It was a little tiring, as we had just spent 5 days hip-deep in the Desperate Gentlemen who were here for the Celtic Christmas, and then immediately rolled-over into hosting the Xmas orphans.

However, it was also pretty nice, because for the first time, maybe ever, I had something of the experience I surmise parents of grown children have: when the grown-up kiddos come back, and, as Dharmonia said, "you can hand 'em the keys to the house and say, 'feel free to use the books and the laundry, feed the cat, and don't burn the place down' and feel reasonably confident that'll all happen." This morning we're headed on up out of this joint to see my last, aged, infirm, childlike parent, and leaving Taiyo behind to feed His Highness and keep the home fires lit.

But, looking around that room last night where they all sat watching the 24-hour Marathon of "Christmas Story", after Dharmonia's lasagna and a little red wine, at those three young women curled up on the couch under the comforters, and thinking of Shaniqua's sweet and loving note, I thought of Greg Brown's (early) great song off of The Iowa Waltz, and, though childless, it was kinda nice to feel like they coulda been mine, too:
...And in the morning they magic the house,
The one that can walk, walks in warm and still dreamin' to give
me a hug or ask why it's so cold or why is there school,
"Why's it so cold?" or "Why is there school?"
And the one who can't walk or talk yet just lies in bed and laughs,
She just lies in bed and laughs.

I'm a man who's rich in daughters,
And if by some wild chance I get rich in money,
Like say another two thou a year or even one thou a year,
I'm gonna look in to havin' some more daughters.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Meet ye at the Rendezvous!

I've blogged before about the rendezvous that is the real reason why most musicians are willing to schlep the road--so that they can see one another again, and maybe pass along a little of the baraka to their students--and about the ingredients that fuel the rendezvous.

In this refrigerator shot: Kathy Morsell's hummus, local pita and tortillas, greens, homemade refritos, organic eggs, home-made yogurt. Black porter, IPA, quinine water, brown ale, a case of pinot noir on the back porch cooling, bottles of Black Bush and Laphroaig; looks like we're well-stocked to make our brothers welcome.

Welcome to the rendezvous.

Below the jump: Mr Man at his leisure.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thank you Eric Idle

Outside the rotation: Seeking communities

I have spent all of my adult life, since the age of around 14 when I first encountered the folk musicians who congregated around the old Me & Thee Coffeehouse--a holdover from the early '70s than which few venues except Passim/Club 47 were older, in seeking and learning and eventually building community. Most typically, music has been the glue that we used for this purpose--as I've blogged in the past, before I ever seriously entertained the idea that I could make a living as a musician, I wanted to be part of the social communities I saw the musicians manifesting. I think I knew, even at that young age, when I would volunteer to wash tea-cups and pastry-plates in the church kitchen as they came back from the music room, where Rory Block or Paul Geremia or the Gloucester Hornpipe & Clog Society was holding forth, that the quality of life, companionship and mutual respect I saw in the roots musicians was not only more enjoyable but just flat healthier, in the long term, than the values, priorities, and behaviors I saw being manifested in my upper-middle-class high school.

I found it in the Music Houses, about which I blogged in my very first couple of posts, and I found it again in the remarkable cast of characters who gathered at the old Guitar Workshop. Had I known--had I been healthier and better-equipped by my childhood/family experience--I might have seen it right in front of my face, in the musicians I almost met at CBGB and in the South Bronx, and almost met during my first work experience in the West Texas blues bars.

But by the time I got back to Boston, at the age of 20, I was primed to try to find something like what I'd experienced amongst the folkies five and six years before in the coffeeshops, and which I'd seen amongst the remarkable scholars and pedagogues at the New School. So when my brother-in-music Larry and I walked in the door of the Guitar Workshop of Boston around Midwinter 1979, I was ready to discover what I found there: the cast of characters who gave me a vision of artistic imagination and improvisational creativity.

The ending of that situation was hard, and it taught both Dharmonia and myself a lot about what you can and cannot depend upon in the small-business world. And it was hard times, for a couple of years. But that ending also sent me back to school, at U Mass Boston at the other end of the Red Line, and eventually it sent us both on to graduate school, where we became part of a third, or maybe fourth, fantastic community of creative musicians.

And that one ended too, because--as is inevitable in an academic community--people moved on, or graduated, or took other jobs, and such like. One of life's hugely crucial and unavoidable (but still sometimes, for some people, unlearnable) lessons is that positive situations end just as inevitably as do negative ones. The worst thing thing you can do with a magical situation is to try to clutch onto it, to freeze it, because you don't want it to end. And the best thing you can do with such a situation is to recognize its uniqueness, to engage with its magic as it is occurring. Only by learning to recognize the magic in situations, as they are occurring, do we begin to understand what makes them happen: to recognize the factors--chronological, biological, sociological, climatological, intellectual--that can combine to make a magical situation occur.

It happened again, late, in Bloomington, in the last couple of years before we departed; though, after 12 years, we (or I, anyway) had squeezed out of the situation most of what there was to learn before it too ended. My karma has been more directed toward new places, awkward places, places whose potential was nascent or non-existent--never already fully realized. We had begun to have an awareness of the ways in which situations are always inchoate--always coming into being and passing away.

That awareness in turn helps us use begin to use skillful means--a Buddhist premise which believes that positive, intelligent action toward the good is always possible--to shift pieces, or factors, or premises, in such a fashion that the odds of healthy, loving, connected community occurring are enhanced, and that access to such a community by the widest possible range of individuals is likewise enhanced, and that the chance of those persons carrying away this vision of a way to be is likewise enhanced.

By the time we moved here, to the Big Flat Place, we had begun to recognize, and to know, and to be able to work with, the factors that make human community happen. And so, when we set to work to create it, it happened a lot quicker, and a lot more openly, and with a lot healthier intention.

And the time passed so fast. 10 years in Lubbock feels like nothing so long as the 12 years in Bloomington. And that's not just because we are relatively happy here, and treated remarkably well, and no longer in that absolute cesspool of dysfunction which a place like Bloomington can be (and was).

It's also a result of just flat better understanding what's important in life, what creates human value and quality of life, of the things that have shaped us in the past and that we can use to shape our present and the present of the community around us.

And it means that sometimes, less often than we would pray but far more often than never, and in some of the ways that it was offered to us over and over and over again down through the decades, we can in turn offer community to those who need it.

"And when you get it right, you pass it on."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Outside the rotation: sex/love/impermanence edition

Outside the rotation: semester ended for me, officially, at 11:15 this morning, when I posted the last of my grades.

For me, there's a bit of a dichotomy between semesters: Fall, when I'm teaching 2 (or sometimes 3) seminars, is very heavy on the preparation: write the syllabus, assemble the reading list, read (or re-read) all the reading list, create the Discussion Questions which accompany every single reading, prepare the lectures, deliver the lectures and elicit the seminar responses, ride herd on the online discussions at the website, respond to the multiple stages of development in the research project, proctor and write responses to the research presentations, and so on.

But, as is common for me in the seminars-only semesters, that's mostly "front-loading": that is, it's mostly prep that I need to do in advance. By the time the semester begins, and then by the opening of each seminar meeting, I mostly have done the work I need to do, and what remains is to deliver the material. In other words: to foster the process.

In the Spring, it's a quite-different situation: the courses are mostly written, much of the assessment happens online or via scan-tron tests (with 100 in the room for the undergrads, it's the only way), and the only major hands-on grading that has to happen is the paper, about which I've blogged before. We've ramped down the end-loading--that is, the glut of grading effort like a tsunami at the end of the semester--by incrementing the paper into stages, but there is/are usually two long days of reading paper rubrics. But that's it: I know the course like the back of my hand, I don't need to use notes--even though I'll edit, update, and alter every set of Powerpoint slides before a given lecture--and then that course's duties are done.

The annual Ireland seminar, though an overload to our traditional 2+2 course schedule, is also relatively labor-light, because the course self-selects: I can pretty much figure that anybody who's passed the entrance interview and agreed to take on the very heavy reading load is there because s/he wants to be--especially after receiving the Badass Warning Letter that I always send a week in advance of the semester, to help weed out the ambivalent ones. Just a mid-term and final essay exam, and a project which can be either research or creative. The load in that course, as with many seminars, varies widely according to the profile and motivation of a given set of participants. One or two years, when the group was divergent in terms of personalities, expectations, or engagement, it's been like lifting weights. But most years, because the kids who sign up both (a) have self-selected and (b) have been interviewed, it's engaging, engrossing, and rewarding. And sometimes pretty emotional--but not too much mindless busy-work.

Spring 2010 brings one new prep, however, in the third course: an Ives-Ellington-Zappa "American Mavericks" topic I've wanted to teach for at least 10 years. I've taught a semester-long Ives, and one on Ellington, and there's a chapter on FZ in my dissertation, but I've never stuck 'em together all in one semester. If it's to be anything more than a 78-rpm sprint through a huge hunk of chronological repertoire, I have to find legitimate, challenging, imaginative, engaging links between these three--deeper than the mundane and self-evident "boy, didn't they piss off the critical establishment?!?" trope. Am looking forward to blogging that course starting in January.

Winding down here. But before I sign-off for the night, "Imma just say one thing" here, about a syndrome I see entirely too goddamned often in my work:

If you live, and work at a university, in the part of the world that I do, and you deal a lot with young people, and especially monotheistic-religion young people, and especially monotheistic-religion young people who've been raised to believe that the only appropriate category of sexual relations is that which occurs "within the bounds of holy matrimony", then you spend a fair bit of time dealing with people who believe that sex equals love and love equals permanence.

And it's a mistake. It leads to a hell of a lot of pointless fallout that results from would-be moral arbiters trying to make other, usually younger, people believe factors about the human condition that are just flat bloody false.

One of my great teachers, who was both a great Bodhisattva and also a brilliant therapist, used to say "I believe that relationships should last as long as both parties are learning something from the relationship." Which is not in itself contrary to the bullshit hearts & flowers rhetoric that's been sold to young people essentially since Eleanor of Aquitaine

But then she would add, "and when people stop learning from a relationship, then it should end." Which was manifestly not in line with the bullshit cult of courtly love, a debased version of which has been used to try to guard the state's investment in the "sanctity of marriage" for at least a thousand years.

Because what it means is that relationships--like every other being, state, and created or uncreated phenomenon in the Universe--likewise end. Sometimes because somebody dies--and the pastors and preachers and moral arbiters call that "true love."

But sometimes because some thing just dies--or even just stops growing. No being, state, or created or uncreated phenomenon--least of all a bullshit fiction like "One True Love"--will last forever. We are all ultimately--in the sense of the ultimate end of existence--alone. We enter alone, and we'll exit alone, into whatever form the Outer Darkness takes.

What matters is what we do, with a situation or a relationship or an opportunity or a joy or a heartbreak, right here.

Right now.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ayn Rand was an adolescent fantasist

...and Digby nails her (and John Stossel):

Any person over the age of 21 who discovers Ayn Rand and takes her seriously is automatically disqualified from ever being taken seriously again.


Jesus: how could I ever have missed hearing about the great religious tradition of Zappadan?!? Praise be that I have finally seen the light!

Y'all really need to check this out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who would Jesus blow away?

First day of finals: no time except for quick hits. Here's a classic from yesterday:

On a 10-year-old Ford Escort with a malfunctioning alarm system:

bumper sticker A: "Better Living Through Sig Sauer"
bumper sticker B: "Lubbock Christian University"
I rest my case.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day 66 & 67 (Round IV) "In the trenches": done edition

Color it done.

Last day of the semester; before finals--for the kids, there's still a lot of work to do, most of which they'll accomplish on entirely too little sleep and entirely too much caffeine, sugar, and chemical additives, but for faculty who are competent and on top of their game, things are winding down. For those colleagues who have the writing-intensive courses this semester, there's a stack of papers to grade, of course--but even that task has been incremented by requiring the kiddos to complete the paper in six stages over the full course of the semester. And by the time the "final draft" rolls around, most of the pointless or irrelevant or space-wasting bullshit (actual Facebook Wall quote: "Dude! Just set your font size to 12.5 and your line-spacing to 2.2 and they'll never know!") is past, and the kiddos are supplying their own rubrics, within the body of the paper, and the grading is relatively straightforward, consistent, and manageable.

I realized the other day that this is the first time, in 10 years, that I've had a semester without the obligation of teaching a roomful of undergraduates. Up until Fall 2009, I've always had, as part of my load, at least one course per semester of the undergraduate large-enrollment history survey. This is the first time that my two courses were all upperclassmen and/or grad-student seminars.

It's an interesting dynamic: yes, teaching the cattle-call undergrad sections is a massive time-sync, it's hard work, there's a ton of busy-work (specially at the end of the semester), there's all sorts of ridiculous "my, isn't it enjoyable raising other people's overgrown infants?!?" plagiarism and other infringement of academic ethics, but there's an undeniable and enjoyable energy from engaging with the sheer uncontrollable lolloping-puppy vibe of a roomful of undergrads. Dharmonia had me in the past couple of days to give a potted 2-day "History of Jazz on Records" lecture--and, by implication, to scare the shit out of the freshmen with the "holy shit! you mean he's going to teach the fourth semester when we're sophomores?!? Jesus, I better get serious!" reaction.

Even after a single semester, I'd already forgotten how much I like that arena-like situation of a lecture hall full of 100 kids. I love the energy that emerges when they're sufficiently rested, but also sufficiently full of testosterone and estrogen, and curiosity, and more than a little fear, and, really and finally, just raw friggin' untapped possibility. I love that vibe and I love to work with that energy.

This has been a hard-ass semester for everybody. And I see the exhaustion, more, and especially, in the grad students. Undergrads walk into class exhausted because they actually think they can get by on no sleep, or a hangover, or Red Bull and nervous energy. Grad students know better, and they walk in exhausted for better reasons: because they're holding down full-time jobs, or raising kids at the same time, or trying to carry 15 or 18 graduate credits (which pretty much trumps out to twice as much work as the typical undergraduate load). There's been a lot of suffering this semester, and a lot of exhaustion, and I think they're ready for it to be done. I sure am, on their behalf.

Just hoping everybody comes through and makes it to shore.

Color it done.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Day 65 (Round IV) "In the trenches": end-game edition

Entering the end-game all up in this joint. Today was the opening of the last (short, 1/2) week of the semester. We've got a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday left; then one day off; then final exams commence.

That means that today was the second-last meeting for the classes on the MWF rotation, and tomorrow is the absolute-last on the TR rotation. I've been away so jeezly much this semester that I'm feeling dreadfully behind in both of my seminars, both of which are on that latter rotation.

The funny thing is that we're not actually behind--well, maybe 1 day. Because both classes are upper-level seminars (and hence much more capable of maintaining their focus and productivity, even in my absence), and because it is so much more possible now than formerly to deliver and maintain material and discussions online, even while at a distance, we haven't lost nearly as much content as I subjectively feel we have.

I think what, for me, feels short-changed, is the actual face-to-face time in the seminar room. Both classes I've been teaching--"20th Century Music" and "Topics in Ethnomusicology"--are courses in which the person-to-person contact is important. Both have small enrollments; both depend upon a great deal of individual student reading, listening, and thinking; both really demand the back-and-forth of the seminar situation. We can replicate the reading/listening/thinking online via threaded discussions; we can get them to do the critical thinking on their own; but at some point we have to be there face-to-face, in real time. And there's no way to replicate that, completely satisfactorily, at a distance. So, though we've got through the material, I'm feeling the lack of the in-person time.

I'm also conscious, continually, of the ongoing observable stress I've been blogging about all semester. It continues (mostly) to blow by over my head and Dharmonia's--though it sometimes feels like we're crouching in a foxhole while the shrapnel blows by just above us--but I continue to hear, formally and informally, via official communication and the jungle telegraph, and sometimes by the most elliptical and indirect methods, of all the ways that various parties in our little community are freaking out and falling short.

I have to be careful not to dwell extensively on this. Various folks read this blog, and I neither want to over- or under-represent the situation: I want them to know that they're not alone, but I don't, under any circumstances, want to exaggerate: that helps no one.

I've got some folks coming out of the pit, and some folks who are still digging, and my buddy Coop moving his head and responding, and an old lady fading away less fearfully and more happily than she might have, and a job and a life-partner and colleagues and students I love, and infinite additional blessings from the universe, but goddamn there are people suffering, near and far. When people on the street in Lubbock ask me for money, I fucking give it to them. When students break down in my office, I listen. When yet one more of my beloved students tells me s/he needs to take the final exam early because s/he is facing deployment to a war zone, I control my towering, homicidal rage at the sociopathic little fuck down in Dallas and his crew of war criminals and murderers and help them get the course requirements done. And, in all circumstances, as Coop put it, I seek to "control my demeanor" and count the universe's blessings. And help people.

On a happier note, we finished up the run of the Madrigal Dinners for which the Celtic Ensemble supplies service music. I like to do these lobby gigs, though they would seem to be low-profile ("pleasant background noise" is the way I describe it), of nowhere near as much significance or central focus as the stuff that happens inside the hall. But they're a really valuable tool, for both pedagogical and preparative reasons. The kids get to play 4 gigs in a row, 4 nights playing the same short list of repertoire, in much more typical real-world conditions, to make and fix errors on the fly, and that's good for professionalism.

But it's also good preparation: By playing as many different tunes (with dances) from the current repertoire as possible, on these gigs, we're actually running them through four more rehearsals of that repertoire in advance of the Celtic Christmas. By the end of the 4-night run, they'll have played those tunes a bunch more times, which means in turn that those tunes don't need much rehearsal outside of the Madrigal gigs. We've done this every year since we started playing the Madrigal Dinners and it's a really useful jump-start for that Christmas repertoire.

Added bonus this year has been the added necessity of having some "filler" music, at the end of the lobby set, for the last few minutes when the larger crowds are still trailing into the hall. We're playing a bunch of Appalachian old-time long-bow fiddle music with Celtic Christmas guests, these guys, and so for the filler we've been playing these tunes. On this final evening, I had a further inspiration: I said to the band as a whole "everybody think of one of the old-time tunes you can start." So, once they were playing a given tune, I could say (while they were playing--this is great exercise in concentration, to be playing a tune and also have to listen for instructions) "who's got the next tune?!?", look for the eye-contact, cue the end of the current tune, point to the volunteer for the new one, and let them handle the segue.

This is a whole other level of improvisational magnitude, one even more unfamiliar to the majority of these kids--classical musicians as they are--and a whole other level of practical-gig expertise. If they can be playing one tune, and thinking of the next one, and can count on one of their number to manage the segue and get them into that next tune, then my role as "conductor" has been rendered, at least for the duration of that set of tunes, is largely superfluous.

That's the goal. That's when they become fully autonomous musicians.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Day 64 (Round IV) "In the trenches": constructive & peaceful edition

Another long crazy-busy day: recitals attend, book-work to do, another iteration of the Madrigal Dinners. Kids played good.

Lubbotians still don't really know what to do with live music in their midst: with the exception of the occasional old guy in a tam o'shanter and a kilt who's willing to tag-on to the end of the line of girls dancing the kopanitsa, the rest of them mostly smile, lean back, and look a little nervous about whether visible enjoyment, or active applause, might be an uncool thing to do. They're mostly good people, out here, but they're also pretty damned unsophisticated, about almost everything--especially unfamiliar music. When they're lucky, they're un-self-conscious, and open to new experiences. When they're not so lucky, they're self-conscious about all that they don't know, and nervous for fear of making the wrong move or reacting in the wrong way.

So they refrain from reacting at all, for fear of reacting the wrong way. Which is a shame, because with the kids in the green knotwork T-shirts are dancing right through their midst, they could be having a heck of a lot more fun.

Interesting dynamic, though: as the kids themselves get more comfortable with the situation (more comfortable than they were on opening night), they themselves start having more fun, and the audience can see that, and they begin to think that the range of acceptable reactions might be wider than they've been permitting themselves, and they begin to have more fun too. Hence the old guy in the tam.

Otherwise: as I mentioned, it's a mothering tough time in the semester: kids freaking out, kids spacing out, kids breaking down, people getting sick, uppermost administration realizing their full Olympian imbecility, and so it's tough to, as buddy Coop put it on a hard-lines tour of China , "control your demeanor": refrain from acting out the frustration, anger, resentment, fear you're feeling to people who can't do anything about it. Takes a hell of a lot of effort--and usually requires some pretty reliable and careful stress-release mechanisms elsewhere--but at least it avoids escalating the hassle in pointless ways.

Further to that: a set of precepts I suggested to a good friend who's working hard at digging out of a hole. Tryin' to help--and provide a set of tools for structuring the recovery:

So here's your plan:

"1. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully toward completion of my degree requirements. Therefore I must spend some time each day working on coursework.

"2. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully toward my own health. This means I must spend some time each day exercising, eating healthfully, and working on emotional health issues

"3. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully on my professional obligations. This means I must spend some time each day on assistantship, teaching, and/or other professional work.

"4. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully on my own artistic development and self-expression. This means I must spend some time each day on art, music, writing, or other creative activity.

"5. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully on my own emotional community and support network. This means I must spend some time each day enjoying my living space, communicating with friends, thinking about or communicating with family, and so on. In addition, I must spend some time each day thinking about ways I can actively be a good friend and support-network-member for people who are important to me, and taking action on those thoughts.

"6. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully on my own spiritual health. This means I must spend some time each day in prayer, meditation, visualization, or other spiritual practice.

"7. I am obligated to work constructively and peacefully at building the future I want for myself. This means that, in addition to items 1-6 above, I must spend some time each day developing my skill set and my portfolio, visualizing the kind of job I want when I depart, searching the Chronicle or other job source to familiarize myself with current job profiles, revisiting and polishing written pieces that I might send out to specific academic targets, and so on."

A life spent engaging in some healthy combination of the above 7 activities would be a good life, and a full-time job. Print 'em out and stick 'em on the damned wall!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Day 63 (Round IV) "In the trenches": countdown edition

We're into the last week of the semester. Yesterday was the final Thursday of classes, today the final Friday, and so on. Pretty reasonably complete burnout on all sides: students, staff, colleagues, executive--we're all about done.

It's been a particularly hard semester--not so much on Dharmonia and myself, who have largely escaped the worst of the shit--but on an awful lot of friends and students: illness, family loss, financial breakdowns, just general massive uncontrollable change (change is always uncontrollable, but it can come in lesser or greater degrees of comprehensivity--this semester it's been pretty much total). It reminds us of the very first faculty meeting of the semester, way back at the end of August before classes even began, when the Boss said, "I think this is gonna be a tough one, folks. I think we're going to see an awful lot of stress, of various sorts, and we're going to have be especially aware and flexible about dealing with it." I think he saw, even back then, that the nation's general economic flaemout, which up through 2008 had mostly passed-over the Southwest, was going to hit us hard in '09, and also that H1N1 was going to be absolutely brutal in its far-reaching impact. Public health in this country, and especially this part of the country, is literally, criminally inadequate, and the Boss could see, I think, even back then, that both economic flameout and H1N1 were going to catch us in the end. And by God if they didn't.

And we've seen the results: kids crying, kids leaving, kids paralyzed by depression or fear or less, kids freaked-out by parents' financial or personal turmoil, colleagues (fortunately not many in our division--my Boss takes care of his people) losing their gigs, colleagues getting sick, and so on and on and on. We're massively luckier than some campuses and even than some divisions on this campus, because we've all--Boss, staff, faculty, grads, undergrads--worked hard, for years, to develop an institutional culture that was mutually respectful, constructive, and collegial. You develop that kind of culture when times are good so that people learn how rewarding it is, and so that in turn they cowboy-up in order to maintain the culture when times are bad.

So far we're doing OK, but it's damned difficult, all around us--and it's damned difficult to see friends, students, and colleagues elsewhere, and close-by, struggling deep in the shit. We do what we can.

Hence the countdown: I think pretty much everybody in our operation is just waiting for this nasty-hard semester to be over. We fight that every step of the way, because we don't want anybody to be feeling that others, or they themselves, are just marking time--that erodes productivity, efficiency, excellence, and standards. But at times you have to be prepared to relax those metrics for productivity, efficiency, etc in order to try to help people cope with shitty situations. That's kind of where we're at now--see yesterday's post.

And the occasional levity: here, Bhangraman takes on the wicked Morris dancers, to rescue ordinary people from "...a future of performing ridiculous outmoded folkdance routines"

Which of course is right where we live.

Trying to hang in there. Y'all do too.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Day 62 (Round IV) "In the trenches": telegraphic command edition

Still no time, but hanging in there as we can.

Arrived at the first iteration (of four) of the annual Madrigal Dinners for which the Celtic Ensemble and the Collegium have historically provided pleasant unobtrusive noise in the lobby before hand. We have learned over the years that our involvement is nearly as useful for public outreach, and about one-tenth as time-consuming and demeaning, if we provide such noise before hand, and then clear out. Otherwise, if you get roped into being part of the whole gaudy dinner-theatre production, which makes the W Texan patrons very happy but which is very complicated and demands a lot, you're likely to have to commit about six times as much time, and subject yourself to about twelve times as much frustration. So we just play and split.

This year, it's four dances from the Celtic Ensemble and a collection of short little instrumentals from the Collegium. Pretty quiet music, and on this opening evening, with the entire ballroom, dancers, singers, jesters, jugglers, open bar, and catering bought-out by the Dean of the Business College for his faculty and staff, and all of them elbowing their way toward the bar and ignoring us, it was actually very useful for our kiddos to play their tunes 2 or 3 or 4 times in a row, having to concentrate past the noise and distraction. They can get all their screwups out of their systems and have the very valuable experience of making errors and then fixing the errors on the fly. And that's good practice for the real world--and not just in music.

Of course, it was complicated this opening evening by the fact that the local Symphony's music director had summarily switched the start time of the orchestra's evening rehearsal (which all of my guys who also play for him could have made) to 1/2 hour earlier--which meant that those three guys had to rush to get to our Madrigal Dinner gig, and then rush off 10 minutes before we were done. I'd be a lot (or at least a bit) more tolerant of this particular kind of behavior if I hadn't had to deal with it before: going hat-in-hand to himself two months in advance of a rehearsal to try to persuade him to release these same three kids so that they could play one of our concerts. And here's this summary change of rehearsal to start 30 minutes earlier, preemptorily, at mid-afternoon of the gig we're supposed to start to 6:00.

So, my three guys who were caught in this impossible bind arrived at our gig massively stressed-out, and knowing that they'd have to leave 10 minutes early, in the midst of the gig. And afraid that they'd be in trouble with somebody.

In a circumstance like that, when it is so totally not the fault of the players, and so transparently the fault of high-handed egocentricity, the wrong thing to do is to lose your temper. The right thing to do is to model for the kids the coping mechanisms you want them to have and to share with each other.

So, after we'd got the first tune out of the way, and we were on break while the Collegium played, I pulled the Celtic kids aside and said, "guys, you ever heard the term from the armed services, FUBAR? You know what that means? It's an acronym: for a situation that is mmmhh'd Up Beyond All Recognition."

They all laughed, and then I said, "but that's not what we do in our band. In our band, we keep our heads up, we suck it up, we hang tough, and we look out for each other." Being kids, and good, earnest kids, they all nod vigorously and perk up. And then I say, "besides, we have a hell of a lot more fun. And there are cookies."

And then they laugh, and play their last piece grinning, and then the three run off to the other rehearsal feeling OK, and positive about their musical experiences.

You want to know the fundamental definition of leadership? The clear-eyed, objective, no-rose-colored-glasses conviction that no system is so perfected that it cannot be improved and that no situation is so FUBAR that nothing constructive can be done.

If you don't believe that, then you can't command.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

...a very bad feeling about this...

They don't call it the "Graveyard of Empires" for nothing. What makes us think we can reverse 2000 years of failed imperial policies?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Day 61 (Round IV) "In the trenches": notes-from-the-road edition

OK, we are now mired into the last full week of classes. Almost no time to blog--balancing end-of-semester grading and prep with prep for the Spring 2010 semester which is suddenly looming very near and large in the headlights--so here's a last-month archival note from the road: a good argument for avoiding domestic flights and selecting international flights carefully:

OK, I'm sold. I've ranted in the past about the toxic abuse and premptory conduct of the airline monopolies, and the degree to which we might need a trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt (and ain't gonna get one). But I'm sitting on this here refitted Continental Airlines Boeing 777, en route to a conference and colloquium at which I'm an invited guest and for which the uni is paying the freight, watching all three of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (on demand, one of over 300 films available individually to each seat), with the hotshot Altec-Lansing noise-cancelling earbuds I got for a song via the bargains announcements plugged into the free supplied adaptor (why do airlines still make headphone jacks that split the stereo signal into a two-pronged, completely eccentric input plug?), in the last-row aisle seat that Continental's website let me select last night (and thus preserve my bad knees), with the laptop open on the tray-table in front of me, and the power-supply PLUGGED INTO THE SUPPLIED 110-VOLT OUTLET (Holy shit! is that a nice retrofit!) and hence no worries about running out of power, and able to thus work, and watch the idiot-box with half an eye, just as if I were at home in the Papa Bear chair.

If only Dharmonia were here, it would be perfect.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 60 (Round IV) "In the trenches": Up Yonder edition

Dharmonia and I just returned from a Thanksgiving trip Up Yonder. Got back Saturday night, had one day of "vacation break", and landed hip-dip in the shit on the Monday morning.

That's OK--when you've been doing this for a while (10th year here, for me), you begin to be able to anticipate the biorhythms, the peaks & valleys, the watersheds & crises, of the bi-annual iteration of the semester--and you're thus much less thrown by them. I more or less know to expect that the kiddos will come back from the break having essentially forgotten essentially everything they're "learned" over the previous 14 weeks, and will need to be "re-trained after the coffee break" as we say up here. Fortunately, that re-training takes less time than the initial learning--and even less time if as instructor you know to anticipate it and splash some metaphorical cold water in their faces upon return.

Took a number of pleasant memories away from the high country, but here's one:

Post-hole digger in the high-mesa red clay, thinking of Gary Snyder's "Fence Posts", as I help the General lay in a few of the sixty or so needed for a friend's fence.

At age 50, using the post-hole digger is like wrestling a younger opponent, or your own younger, fitter self, driving the spade-tipped oak handles four feet down the hole and finding the hard-pan at the bottom.

Pausing, resting the wrists unused to the rhythmic jolt of impact, enjoying the silence, the absence of the usual background sub-sonic rumble of freeway traffic that is absent here at 8000 feet, the crystalline blue sky and the atypical lack of wind,

and hearing the slow chuff-chuff as three of the oversized, Taos ravens row across the sky in line-ahead above me, hearing the slow wing-beats as they bank in for a landing,

to stare down at us, cockeyed and cynical, hunch-shouldered and midnight-black.

Greetings, brothers.
Season's turning now.

No comment

Gonzales: he has to "dream big" because he's such an insignificant, syncophantic, criminal little man.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"The Office" (workstation series) 120 (pinon-smoke edition)

Up Yonder, with good friends. A full belly, pinon fire, good session last night, the festive board today, Dharmonia at my left hand, and my brother Coop breathing under his own steam (I've said it for weeks: lungs that could conquer Cotopaxi and go up the Great Wall two steps at a time can take out any bacterium ever spawned).

I'm thankful for all of it: death as well as life, loss as well as gain, enemies as well as friends.

The world is as it is, and could not be other.

May all beings find peace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blogging lite

Dharmonia and I are headed en route out and Up Yonder; blogging will be lite & lazy for the next couple of days.

May all beings be fed.

"Our goal is to have kind compassion for all sentient beings, every minute, forever." --Katagiri Roshi

Day 59 (Round IV) "In the trenches": 'tis the season edition

Sigh. We're into the season again: here's a (redacted) version of an email I sent to my staff yesterday:


"In response to one of our colleagues who wanted feedback about coping with plagiarized material in a student submission, I wrote-up a fairly detailed "best-practices" document describing how I've handled it over the past 9 years here . I am reasonably confident that what I've laid out represents ONE (only one) reasonably effective way of coping with the seeming inevitability of student plagiarism. Remember that now, nearing the end of the semester, is precisely the season when we are most likely to see it: be on the lookout for it, and, if you uncover some, feel free to review my document on the wiki [link].

Coping with plagiarism

In academia, occasional violations of ethics are bound to occur; unfortunately, they have become only more common with the advent of a digital "cut-and-paste" composition method.

However, there are good, and not-so-good, ways to handle this. If you find yourself in the position of having to confront an instance of plagiarism, begin by asking yourself some questions:

  • What percentage of the final grade is the assignment worth?
  • What is the deadline?
  • What has been the nature of this student's work otherwise: good, bad, or in the middle?
  • Do you have a "read" on why this person might have plagiarized: panic, criminality, insufficient understanding of academic ethics, other?
Answers to the above, while irrelevant to the severity of the crime, may give you a preliminary sense of the degree of severity with which you wish to respond.

I'm pasting in below the specific language in our syllabi, which is there not because we must enforce it to the letter of the law, but so that we can--while also providing the option of lightening up if our best pedagogical opinion suggests otherwise.

If you uncover a documentable example of plagiarism, I would suggest that you wait until you have returned the assignments; hold the culprit’s back. At the end of class, if the student asks for it, say "you need to set up an appointment to talk to me about your paper"; do not give back the paper. Make the appointment for at least a day or two later, not right away.

On the appointment day, have the student meet you at your office; have a photocopy of the student’s paper, with the plagiarized sections marked, and sample printouts from which the student copied. Sit the student down, put both the student’s xeroxed paper and the sample printouts on the desk, and say "can you explain this please?"

If the student denies any wrongdoing, point out that it is impossible that the student "coincidentally" mimicked the sample pages.

If the student admits wrongdoing, show the student the printout of the syllabus language and point out that the student can be EXPELLED FROM THE UNIVERSITY for this violation of academic ethics.

If the student refuses to say anything, say "this is a clear-cut example of plagiarism; here are the university policies regarding this violation of academic ethics" and dismiss him/her for the moment.

Regardless, prior to dismissal, tell the student, "I will need to consult with my superiors regarding how this will be handled. As of this moment, no decision has been taken. But you are liable for an F on the assignment, an F for the class, or expulsion from the university. We will be in touch with you."

Based on her/his response, after the student’s departure you yourself can decide how rigorously you want to apply the syllabus policies regarding plagiarism.

My own rule of thumb, in such cases, is to say to myself, "my ultimate job is to teach this young person--not just about music, but about ethical conduct. What scenario, resulting from this situation, will most effectively teach the student not to do this again?"

Typically, if a plagiarizing student expresses any regret or remorse, I usually do not want to expel or fail him/her. What I will usually do is communicate to the student, after another day or two, "you understand that you violated academic ethics, right? That you cheated? That you are liable for expulsion from the university?"

Then, assuming that the student expresses any remorse and/or understanding of the crime, I will say "I'm not going to flunk you out of this class. But this assignment is not your work. Therefore, you are receiving an F on the paper. If that means that you receive a non-passing grade in the class, that is a consequence of a dishonest choice you made. And such choices have consequences. In the meantime, you will need to fulfill every other part of the course requirements--and this incident will go on your permanent record. I hope you now understand why plagiarism is a very, very bad choice."

In my observation and experience, this "scare the absolute crap out of them, elicit their remorse, make sure they understand not to do it again, make them take their lumps with the F on the paper and possibly for the class" strategy is the most constructive pedagogical response you can make to plagiarism.

And, of course, you can consult with your superiors if/when the above doesn’t cover the possible scenarios, or if you have more questions.

[from the syllabus]

Academic Integrity: [link to university's O.P.'s]

It is the aim of the faculty of [] University to foster a spirit of complete honesty and high standard of integrity. The attempt of students to present as their own any work not honestly performed is regarded by the faculty and administration as a most serious offense and renders the offenders liable to serious consequences, possibly suspension.

"Scholastic dishonesty" includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, collusion, falsifying academic records, misrepresenting facts, and any act designed to give unfair academic advantage to the student (such as, but not limited to, submission of essentially the same written assignment for two courses without the prior permission of the instructor) or the attempt to commit such an act. ...

b. "Plagiarism" includes, but is not limited to, the appropriation of, buying, receiving as a gift, or obtaining by any means material that is attributable in whole or in part to another source, including words, ideas, illustrations, structure, computer code, other expression and media, and presenting that material as one's own academic work being offered for credit. "

Happy Thanksgiving. :-/

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 58 (Round IV) "In the trenches": self-selection edition

Not much time left in the day, or the semester. Right about now is right about when we start dealing with the panic-reaction of kids who've left undone that which they ought to have done, and/or who've never yet learned fundamental life lessons. Plagiarism (topic of tomorrow's post) is up, breakdowns & tears are up, dumbass Facebook Wall unethical between students: my favorite from yesterday, about eking out a too-short paper: "Dude! Just set your font to 12.5 and your line spacing to 2.2...that way it won't look suspicious." My opportunity to post, further down the Comments chain, "this is spectacularly stupid advice."

Excellence is hard--but it's also far more gratifying than mediocrity. This is a valuable life lesson which many learn too late.

Removing the Plate of the Pump
on the Hydraulic System
of the Backhoe
for Burt Hybart

Through mud, fouled nuts, black grime
it opens, a gleam of spotless stell
machined-fit perfect
swirl of intake and output
relentless clarity
at the heart
of work

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 57 (Round IV) "In the trenches": tears edition

I see a lot of tears in my job. Mostly they are those of others, and most of those others are young people who, as I've blogged before, are being buffeted, many for the first time, by the storms that every life brings. Tears of joy, relief, connection--and also of sorrow, loss, fear, disappointment, and so on.

But I don't weep much, myself. Partly it's because the idea that Dr Coyote could weep, if promulgated amongst the general student population around here, would probably be somewhere nearly as disorienting and distressing as thinking that John Wayne (that pandering, posturing, draft-dodging, war-mongering asshole who is nevertheless an icon in Texas) could weep.

But more significantly, it's because my job is to maintain a compassionate, but dispassionate, sense of perspective--and to supply that for the young people under my care who, precisely because of their youth, may have trouble supplying same for themselves. One of the only profound statements that appears anywhere in the entire corpus of Robert Heinlein, a great storyteller but a self-aggrandizing, sexist, knucklehead elitist almost as bad as Ayn Rand, and a closet fascist as well, is in the opening pages of Starship Troopers (a good yarn which the fucker wrote to try to justify prolonging the war in Korea and which was made into a beyond-awful film), in which his legendarily hard-assed Drill Instructor, Sergeant Zim, says, of the raw recruits under his care:

"We must not hate them. We must not love them. We must teach them."

I might nuance that: I'd agree that, as their teachers, we damned sure can't hate them (and if we do, we are fundamentally failing at our professional and ethical obligations). It's a profound truth nevertheless.

We maybe can love them. But that love has to be, paradoxically enough, objective. It must be separated from the more conventional understandings of love, in which the one-who-loves does so, in part, because s/he expects or anticipates that love to be reciprocated.

And that desire for reciprocal love cannot be any part of our personal, professional, or ethical mechanism. If we're teaching them because we want them to love us back, we are again failing at our professional and ethical obligations.

"We must not hate them. We must love them only without expectation or payoff. We must teach them."

But I can say that the times that I do weep, privately and without expectations of payoff or comfort, are when I actually believe that I might have helped someone.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 56 (Round IV) "In the trenches": hit-by-a-bus edition

The universe can be a motherin' cold and hard place, full of suffering. There's a reason that the FIRST of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is "Life is suffering", though I prefer the slightly more nuanced "All lives contain suffering".

One of the reasons that I follow the Eightfold Path ("right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration") is because of the bedrock practicality and realism of its teachings. In Buddhist wisdom, bad things happen, not because somebody is a "sinner", or an unbelieving "infidel", or "non-Galt inferior", or not "one of the Chosen," or any of the other bullshit reasons which the world's wisdom traditions have sometimes tried to employ to explain-away suffering as something that "doesn't have to happen" or that "only happens to people other than we true believers."

That's bullshit.

The First Noble Truth says that "all lives contain suffering." This isn't pessimism or masochism: it's wisdom, because it acknowledges that suffering is inevitable, unpredictable, and inexplicable. That suffering is not tied to "goodness" or "badness".

Buddhism teaches that the cause of suffering is desire--unexamined, unthoughtful, desire. Especially to hold on to thing: the desire to try to make permanent that which is, and must be, impermanent.

Absolutely nothing in this Universe is permanent. All is in flux, every natural or created phenomenon is simultaneously arising AND passing-away. All is mutable, everything changes.

This is the fundamental teaching of the universe: that all things--love, wealth, health, joy, and life itself--will end. Seeking, in ignorance, to make these things permanent, when this is impossible, is what causes suffering.

When Allen Ginsberg visited the (then very young) 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in north India, he asked--with typical, lovable, open-hearted impatience--what he should do about the frightening visions he was having while tripping on the hallucinogens which he had convinced himself could provide a short-cut to insight. His Holiness said, simply, "If you see horrible things, don't cling to them. If you see beautiful things, don't cling to them."

The great insight of this statement is the same as those above: the recognition, the deep, practiced, calm, "awake" realization, that both horrible things and beautiful things are impermanent--that both joy and suffering will end.

When you come to believe this, you come to a place in which living or dying begins not to matter quite so much.

Quite often, I will say to my students and younger colleagues, about a new/positive possibility, initiative, or idea, "Well, I'll make that happen. If I don't get hit by a bus first." Typically, the Texans are quite shocked--there seems to be an ethos that it is in bad taste, or bad luck, to mention the reality that you're going to die. Sooner, or later. Or sooner.

But I'm OK with being reminded of it. It reminds me that I don't really give a shit about eternity, or about a legacy, or a "lasting reputation", or the plaudits of my colleagues (though I sure do appreciate those last).

What I care about is making a positive impact on lives while I can--recognizing that this "while" represents a very, very, very brief time.

I want a life in which, as I lie down at the end of the day, or drive to work in the morning, or cross the street at noon in the face of a barreling bus, I'm OK with dying the next minute--knowing that day was a day of constructive, positive action. A day in which, as I've blogged before, I've made something and taught something...and ideally both

How do I make sure of this?

I'm a teacher.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 55 (Round IV) "In the trenches": bootlegged edition

Another day with too many events and too little time, so here's a comment bootlegged from over at Dean Dad, again: one more once on ethics:

I have the good fortune to teach in an academic discipline (music history) in which cheating is comparatively irrelevant to issues of student assessment. On the studio-performance side of things, it's not possible for a student to "cheat" his/her way into having the musical/instrumental/vocal skills required to pass a weekly music lesson. On the academic/history/music-theory side, it is still comparatively impossible for a student to "fake" or cheat his/her way into a passing grade. Here are some ways we cope:

1) we use multiple iterations of assessment: 3 exams, 5 quizzes, 6-10 online assignments, a writing project in 6 assessed stages, plus in-class attendance and participation. We do this with sections of 80-100 students and 2 TA's in addition to the instructor of record. It is not much possible for a student to "cheat" his/her way through so many separate assessments.

2) we of course take all the appropriate stages to "control test security" in the classroom and in online testing.

3) we require students themselves to "maintain their own test security"--telling students during a quiz or test that if they observe someone else cheating, they are enjoined to report that behavior in order to protect their own academic ethics.

4) we talk about ethics and right-conduct. In fact, I use the analogy of music lessons and ensemble rehearsals, saying "well, you couldn't cheat your way through a rehearsal, could you? If you did, you'd get cut and somebody else would take your place." We also articulate, early and often, that "cheating" is a fast track to failure in acquiring the skills for success in the professional world of music.

5) we frame ethics versus cheating as an issue of peer respect and peer pressure, saying that "somebody who is cheating, or talking, or texting, or otherwise misbehaving during a class or lecture is taking something from you; don't let them do it!" We find that, often, students who either passively accept cheating, or even engage in it themselves, would actually prefer not to, if they feel empowered by their teachers and by their learning situations to resist unethical behavior.

6) finally, we model these behaviors. Young people, as the above article makes clear, are not given clear messages about the social, community, and personal damage wrought by unethical behavior. But we operate from a presumption that, at some level, even students who have been given bad or no messages about ethical behavior actually will respond favorably and constructively to more positive role modeling.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Home again, home again, only somewhat bruised and battered after 5 weekends away in 6 weeks. Young'uns played great, down south of here. Anticipating return to regular blogging schedule tomorrow. In the meantime, here's (one set of) the 100 best quotes from the greatest television program ever created:


Friday, November 13, 2009

C8H10N4O2 Thought

[on waking in Philly at 5:30am]

If I can't have good coffee, I think I don't want to be part of your revolution.

That is all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 51 (Round IV) "In the trenches": U-curve edition

In the throes of annual meeting of the tribes--so can't comment at length. Herewith an alternative, bootlegged from a comment over on Dean Dad, about the impact of the economic recession on enrollment rates and classroom profiles.

He was commenting that, at his community college, they are seeing a larger admixture of non-traditional students who might otherwise be entering the workforce, but who--given that there are no jobs--are doing a year or two of college instead. And that the diversity of expectations and modes of conduct in his classrooms is increasing--yielding a "U-curve" of two divergent poles of behavior, with concomitant frustration or lack of understanding across the gulf between.

Here was my response:

To the extent that my (public, soon-to-be-R1) university has always tended toward a regional, middle-to-working-class clientele and economic profile, and given that our recruitment varies from major TX and OK cities to quite small towns, as well as within the county, we have always experienced the u-curve you describe: that in itself has not changed.

The graduate population and profile are different--many more national and international recruits there--but our undergraduate population tends to show differing levels of skills, preparedness, and (for lack of a better word) maturity according to their widely divergent secondary-school backgrounds. I'm in music, so our UG population tends to show profiles based upon three different source groups:

1) students from relatively small rural towns; typically with very narrow experience, of the world or of "difference"; excellent work ethic; often challenged by college's expectations of "critical thinking and critical writing", after NCLB-oriented secondary schools' bias toward teaching to the test (e.g., regurgitation). They are usually quick studies but need a good deal of remediation.

2) students from middle-class economic backgrounds, typically Dallas, Austin, Houston, El Paso; usually reasonably well-prepared with basic entry-level college skills (aforementioned critical reading/writing, etc), but wild divergence in their levels of independence and initiative depending on the calibre of their (typically public) high schools. In this large group we will have (a) students from good high schools, with many AP courses, lots of critical thinking skills, good work ethic, desire to do well and grow; versus (b) students from underserved or -funded schools who need massive remediation.

3) home-schooled. This third, in this part of the world, is a not-small group. Motives for home-schooling parents may differ widely--the commonest here is the "I don't want those Secular Humanists at that public high school teaching my kid about evolution!" social and intellectual conservatism; these are typically what we would think of as white working-class. But we also have a substantial portion of home-schooled kids whose parents took this own in order to compensate for inadequate public school options; typically white middle-class. These third group tends to be very well-educated, with lots of individual initiative, good work ethic--but can also be quite undisciplined if subjected to the "you're going to do the same task as your classmates, at the same *time* as your classmates" necessary in groups of up to 100.


We have found that it is a huge problem if we subject whole groups to the remediation (reading, writing, thinking drills; English composition; library skills; etc) which only a portion (say, group 2b above) most need: if we do this, group 2a and ESPECIALLY group 3 will scream bloody murder with impatience.

We've had far better luck when we identified particular skill areas in which all 3 populations agreed that they needed remediation (in music, it's "critical listening"--the ability to listen to a piece of music and have good tools for hearing and articulating what makes it sound the way it does), and emphasized those skill areas during classroom work. So we'll spend a lot of time in the classroom on those areas for shared remediation; this tends to level the playing field: all are challenged, no-one is frustrated or bored.

In contrast, we "chunk out" those areas in which prior preparation and resulting facility are most divergent (basic reading comprehension, library skills, note-taking skills, etc) into outside-of-class assignments, typically delivered via Blackboard and often only "spot-graded." By making these homework assignments, we are permitting (or requiring) students to allocate the time to them which the students individually need. In effect, we can say to the AP and home-schooled kids, "If this assignment takes you 5:00 minutes, you'll be done in 5:00 minutes and it's an easy A," while conveying to the more skills-challenged kids, "OK, this is obviously something on which you might need to spend an hour or two, in order to catch up in your skills."

Overall this has worked very well: classroom efficiency, satisfaction, and group cohesion have gone up, as has the median acquisition of skills, while frustration, boredom, objections have gone done. It took us a few iterations before we hit the right balance and we're always tweaking.

Day 50 (Round IV) "In the trenches": waiting-in-line-for-gravel edition

I pretty much hate going to conferences, but I hate it the least when Dharmonia is traveling along with me. Compared to life as a grad student, or even as pre-tenure faculty, these days I spend much more time on the road, and like it much less. But, when Dharmonia is along, as she is on this trip, it tends to feel a helluva lot more like fun and a lot less like a demeaning, demoralizing slog. As Kevin Murphy put it in his great A Year at the Movies, speaking about his own "beloved Jane": "we can have a blast waiting in line to buy gravel."

Myself, I pretty much hate going ti conferences. Mind you, I more-or-less enjoy being at conferences, for the chance to meet old friends and to hear new scholarship ( although generally would prefer fewer days and earlier nights), but the going is the part I dislike: the hassle, hazard, time, and personal mistreatment to which modern travelers are now uniformly subjected. I can grit my teeth and get through it, especially if the end destination feels like it's gonna be worth it, but the getting there is never fun. Especially when you're six-foot-five and shoehorned into coach class.

But it's a lot less un-fun, and a lot more bearable, when you're traveling with someone you love.

Aw haw hey.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 49 (Round IV) "In the trenches": braggin' rights edition

About four times a year, our College's administration is tasked with submitting a report on faculty & student "accomplishments" as part of a report to the university's Board of Regents. Now, I know who some of those people are, and I know some of the reasons that they wind up appointed--by our helmet-haired wingnut Governor--to serve on that Board...and let's just say that I don't invest a lot of effort into hoping they're going to understand the value, or the metrics for determining that value, of what a university does--and particularly not the value of what a "College of Visual and Performing Arts" does. These are people who, having heard a lengthy, detailed and articulate description from my boss of all that we do, are wont to say "yeah...I shore do love that marchin' band!" So I don't hold out a lot of hope that they're going to understand the significance of the range of accomplishments revealed in Musicology's part of that quarterly report.

But I do.

See below:

LJ (MM Musicology) was accepted as a PhD candidate and teaching assistant in Musicology at the University of __ School of Music (Fall 2009).

CG (MM Musicology candidate) began a semester-long internship at the __ Museum in Oxford, England, cataloging the photo-archive of FDW as assistant to Music Education professor SB (Fall 2009).

HD (MM Musicology candidate) began a semester-long Study Abroad experience at Syracuse in Italy as part of her thesis research on ancient music (Fall 2009).

ES presented a paper ("__") at Music and the Moving Image Conference sponsored by New York University (May 2009). Her paper "__" was accepted for the national meetings of the Society for American Music (Ottawa Canada, March 2010). She also received the Summer Thesis/Dissertation Research Award 2009, funding a research trip to Philadelphia (June 2009) to study primary source materials of __.

ES and KR (MM Musicology candidates) both presented papers on their thesis research (on __ and __) at the 2009 Women's Studies Conference.

Dr IR (PhD Musicology), a first runner-up in the awards for Outstanding Thesis or Dissertation, accepted a post teaching at __ Community College in Houston, TX. Dr R continued as coordinator of the MUHL3310 "History of Rock 'n' Roll" distance-education course.

Dr MB (PhD Musicology/Arts Administration) was appointed first Director of the Community Exchange initiative.

Dr MM (PhD Musicology/Arts Administration) joined the staff of the __Symphony Orchestra.

JB (PhD Musicology candidate) accepted a post as Music Director/ Honors Program Coordinator at __ University.

SC (MM Musicology candidate) was accepted into the Law School at __.

RL (MM Musicology candidate) assumed duties teaching MUHL3310 "History of Rock 'n' Roll" on the __ campus, a course enrolling over 425 students per semester.

JS (MUBA-Vernacular Music; percussion) was awarded the 2009-10 Vernacular Music Center Scholarship.

KB (MUBA-Vernacular Music; fiddle), the 2008-09 VMC Scholarship recipient, will graduate with the MUBA in Vernacular Music, with Irish fiddle concentration, in Dec 2009.

Dr Coyote (Chair of Musicology & Director of the Vernacular Music Center) gave a presentation ("__") for the Teaching Academy's "Jump-Start New Faculty series" in August 2009. Dr Coyote also: visited the University of L/L as expert consultant to their new Chair in Music and Acadiana Studies (September); gave a paper at the "Music and Migration" conference in Southampton England and another in the University of Southampton's Musicology Colloquium series (October); taught bouzouki at the O'Flaherty Irish Music Retreat in Midlothian TX (October); served as member of the Program Committee at the national meetings of the American Musicological Society (November).

A contingent from the Musicology program attended and participated in the Fall meetings of the American Musicological Society SW chapter in San Antonio, TX (October).

The Vernacular Music Center was awarded a grant by the Growing Grad Programs initiative to fund Ms AR (MM Musicology candidate) to serve as vMC administrative assistant for the academic year 2009-10; she will engage in promotions, fundraising, and recruitment for both the VMC and the Musicology graduate program.

The Celtic Ensemble gave a concert ("Across the Western Sea: Music of Anglo-Appalachia") in the Legacy Great Hall in October 2009, which program they will repeat as part of a tour to the Metroplex in performance at Tarleton State University (November).
I am bursting-my-buttons braggin'-rights proud of my guys. All of them.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Day 48 (Round IV) "In the trenches": maritime Celts edition

I've blogged before about my own maritime background, both as regards birthplace and one of the favorite records of my childhood. I've also commented upon the strategies that we use for programming the Celtic Ensemble--and how much I like running that group.

Well, we're in that stage of the Fall 2009 semester when we have to start nailing down concert dates in the available venues for the second half of Spring 2010 semester. Partly these days are a product of available openings in the venues, partly it's a product of what I think the kiddos can get together in time to make a satisfying and effective program, partly (a big part) it's a question of what I predict will be both pedagogically effective and artistically satisfying for the kids.

But part of it is also the same kind of decision-making in which any competent concert promoter has to engage: what will be accessible, yet intriguing in promotion; engaging, but also challenging, in performance for the audience. As a concert programmer, as a radio presenter--hell, even as a blogger--I have a tendency to succumb to the musicologist-within-me; that is, I have a tendency to want to give too much context, too much back-story, just too goddamned much information (Dharmonia will roll her eyes when I start telling a story and first feel that I have to back up two or three or four events or anecdotes or years). As my buddy Coop (goddammit Coop! get that shit out of your lungs! we--especially your stalwart girlfriend--need you too bad! get better!) will say, in the indirect-but-nevertheless very clear manner you learn as a Preacher's Kid in the Church of Christ, "aw, shit, there he goes teaching again!" To an extent, I've learned to suck it up, shut up, and get on with presenting the music. But the impulse is always there. Not, probably, much alleviated by kids in the Ireland seminar field-trip saying, out of my hearing, "I could listen to him talk all day"--which is like musicologist's methamphetamine.

Anyway, it's one of the things I like about running the Celtic Ensemble: I get to teach music that I love, dictate (or, better, "direct") how it gets played, turn kids on to stuff that I think they'll dig, and, oh by the way, talk about it. One of the CE kiddos said, on a long drive back from a teaching weekend when we were talking about the strategies that have gone into shaping the spring "Easy" or "Big" program, "I love how our programs often have a kind of historical component--that seems different." Well, of course, it's fundamentally the musicological meth talking--but I like that factor too.

As I've said to friends and colleagues (and ranted to Dharmonia when I'm particularly fed up with Lubbock), in a place like this, where the musical receptivity is very high--fantastic tradition of blues, rock, and country in this region--but the musical diversity is very low, if you play a relatively esoteric or unfamiliar music, literally every gig you do has to include audience education. Not the old-school NPR "listen to this Great Music because it's Good for You, even if the music, or more accurately the pompous presentation, bores the snot out of you" kind of way.

But, rather, with a vibe/mood/manner that conveys to an audience, "hey, this is great music, and the fact that you're here means that you're somebody who's receptive to great music, and we think you're going to really dig this music because we really love it." Such a vibe/mood/manner can go light-years toward making an unfamiliar music seem interesting, intriguing, rewarding, and mind-expanding to an audience with low familiarity. It's the best kind of "audience education" a musician can engage in, and sets up by far the best kind of performer/audience interaction.

Where I come from--and where I spent some time this past summer--"sea music" is if not ubiquitous then at the very least quite sufficiently available. It seems like every little tourist seacoast town, every little day-long folk festival, every one-night-a-week folk coffeehouse, will exhibit a large percentage of guys (mostly guys), mostly bearded or in the most extreme cases luxuriantly sideburned, usually beer-bellied and/or red-nosed, guys who at the very least provocation will stand up, stick a finger in one ear, and start roaring out sea shanties.

"Sea music" has become something that, like Irish "pub ballads" or Renaissance Fayre "filk songs", can cover a multitude of sins, mostly revolving around bad music-making, egocentric posturing, and/or drunken obnoxiousness. These issues are not lessened by the fact that some "sea music" people also have a tendency to show up at Irish music sessions--guitar, bodhran, or (shudder!) spoons in hand--and busk along semi-competently to the tunes, transparently waiting only for that momentary lull in the music upon which they can pounce with "OoooooooO Santy Anna gained the day..." et cetera.

Now, as a child and adolescent in the early '70s, going to many of these self-same or similar festivals and coffeehouses, I got to see some giants in the world of this music, in rooms where the sound of waves and the smell of the sea breeze came in through the windows, whose oak floors were bent and twisted off-kilter because of the sheer age of the buildings--when I wasn't hearing them on the decks of little coasting wind-jammers and schooners.

And some of those individuals were people whose music AND character I still admire: John Roberts and Tony Barrand, the late Stan Rogers, my brother-in-music Larry, and, most notably and famously, the legendary Stan Hugill, the "last of the shanteymen"--that is, one of the last men to have shipped out on a wind-driven deepwater craft, and to have served as the singer whose various song-types coordinated the work--hauling, pumping, capstan shanties to raise anchor, and so forth. When I met him, that one time, at a coffeehouse on the North Shore of Massachusetts, he was probably already 74 or 75: with a slight stoop, impossibly weather-beaten face, a white goatee and long hair tied back, and palms, at the handshake, that felt like rough-hewn oak boards--and still able to knock back the ale, roar out the songs, and spin impossibly long and impressive tales with the best of them. He set a pretty high standard-

So I got to thinking that, in the tradition of the CE's spring-semester "easy" or "big" programs of more familiar, typically English-language repertoire--so-called because they're intended to provide (a) a respite from the "hard" programs in more challenging styles or languages of the Fall, and (b) an accessible, engaging program for the festivals and guest shots which tend to come our way later in the spring, we might be able to do something with "sea" music. Precisely because what might seem tired to me, or the people I grew up with, or carry too many associations redolent of Aran sweaters or pub ballads or filk songs, might seem wildly exotic and intriguing to people who are now living, and many of whom were born, 600 miles from the sea. And it's *certainly* wildly different than much of anything that the CE kiddos have previously experienced.

Program title: "The Rolling Wave: Maritime Celts"

And, really, how you gonna go wrong with a list like this?

Albion Band
Andy Irvine & Paul Brady
Battlefield Band
Brass Monkey
Cliff Halsam and John Millar
Ewan MacColl
Jeff and Gerret Warner
Joe Hickerson
John Roberts and Tony Barrand
June Tabor
Louis Killen
Martin Carthy
Martin Simpson
Michael Cooney
Peter Bellamy
Stan Hugill
Stan Rogers
Sweeney's Men
The Watersons

Pretty much any record by any artist on this list is going to be killin'. And a wonderful discovery, for the kiddos and for our audiences.

Sure was for me.