Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 17 (Round IV) "In the trenches": Equinoctial edition

Balancing on the cusp, all up here in this crib. Opening of the fifth week of the semester, and, as usually happens up here on the South Plains, an absolutely hellacious wind blew through last night (after the temperature dropping about 15 degrees in two hours yesterday evening), with some rain, and this morning dawned cold, clear, and with a new tang of fall in the air. The campus was filled with shivery little South Texans, still clad in their gym shorts and flip-flops, and exclaiming over "cold" it was.

But if you come from where I do, you don't really believe the year's turning until you can feel it in the air. So it's kinda gratifying when it All Comes Round that the season changes just as year hits the 12 hours light/12 hours dark cusp, and the first wave of exam hits, and everybody across the campus realizes that we're now deep in it.

Monday is a work-the-to-do-list day: no classes to teach, and I've kept the student meetings and lessons to Tues-Wed-Thur, knowing that I'd have a lot of away dates and long travel weekends. That means that I can still work my stuff on the Mondays--whether in residence on the South Plains or in England, San Antonio, Philly, Dallas, or any of the other places I have to travel this semester--without missing the weekly meetings with the kids who are counting on me to be present, and who I've got clustered on those Tues-Wed-Thur. Always a nice springboard into the week, when I am in residence, because I feel like I'm getting a jump on my own work before the week closes in. Also brings the weekly Mon AM meeting with my treasured VMC assistant, whose gig is funded by a "Growing Graduate Programs" grant, and who, for the first time, is helping us take action on all the initiatives that have been thought-up but shelved for lack of time over the past 9 years. It's great to be able to brainstorm with somebody who "gets" the point of certain ideas and can take them and run with them. Somebody I can task with 7 or 8 different projects and count on to follow up, and even to critique and enhance in ways I hadn't thought of. Her first task: finding the funding to continue the gig--I don't never want to be without this kind of help again.

The most *fun* task that came out of yesterday's session? This idea (lightly redacted):

My assistant's reaction when she saw it?

"I'm attending!!! Now where the hell am I gonna find a Mister Darcy?!?"

Balance of the day, hour after hour, was working on service stuff: commenting on student abstracts and proposals, designing and updating PowerPoints for Tuesday classes ('cause there's no time on TR to do that), finishing up some requested revisions on a quite-large (c40pp) solicited journal article, promotions for our own and colleagues' events, problem-solving some staff stuff, reading tenure and promotions dossiers in anticipation of Wednesday faculty vote, and so forth.

Today brought the two graduate seminars which meet TR: "Topics in Ethnomusicology" and "20th Century Music", the former of which I've taught once before, and the latter at least 4 times before and I just don't have to work them the same way I did upon their initial iterations. That's not to say that there is any less prep to be done for either of these classes, but rather that the prep is quite different: the Ethno course's previous iteration was done in the post-iTunes/PowerPoint/Breeze slideshow era, and that means that I have all the pdf's for articles, all the Discussion Questions (anyway from 10 to 30 questions, per article, designed to elicit close reading and thoughtful seminar discussions) for articles and textbook chapters, most of the images and video clips I might employ, and most of the websites and links I might want to send them to. So, about all I need to add is the pdf'd scores and links to same, so that students can both listen and also score-read online through the course Web 2.0 portal.

And that in turn means that I can finally, after 4 prior iterations of the 20th Century Course, think about expanding my own knowledge of the topic. I taught it the very first semester I was here, 3 months out of my dissertation defense, and had to write it on the fly, re-learning and figuring out how to present repertoires I'd only previously known as a student. That was a hell of a challenge and there wasn't really any point along the way where I felt I really had the command and comprehensive picture of the topic I thought could be created.

It's gotten a little better each year, as I've been able to tweak, expand, fill-out, and so on, but I've never--until now--had the time to think about a fundamental rebuild of the course. It probably won't happen this iteration either, but that's not the most effective way to rethink a course anyway.

Much better is to map multiple routes through the same terrain, which really means having a relatively wide range of alternate compositions which can be employed to make the crucial points. So, not only Erwartung and Pierrot Lunaire, but also Die Gluckliche Hand and The Book of the Hanging Garden, and so on. This pushes me, the professor, to expand my in-depth knowledge of a wider range of repertoire, while also making the same central/crucial points I want to present, and it broadens the students' understanding of the depth of those repertoires. Over time, it means my own grasp of the repertoire is more nuanced and complicated, and it makes negotiating multiple routes through the terrain itself part of the seminar process.

Feels good to finally have some time to move closer to what I think this course could be.

After that, it was another promotional meeting with a reporter for the student newspaper, and then the evening's set-dance class. 17 people in the room, 2 full sets, 3 more figures in the Clare Orange and Green and the Caledonian, and an absolutely crystalline evening to walk home in.

At the cusp of the seasons, the balancing point of the year, I'm aware of how fortunate I am in my life.

And I'm grateful.

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