A Year of Dreaming

A few days ago I read a new book by Paul Angone of All Groan Up called 101 Secrets For Your Twenties... in a single sitting. This quote pops out:

Truly going after your dream can feel like rappelling into the Grand Canyon— enormous, overwhelming, breathtaking, and a very real feeling that you might fall to your Death.
It may come as no surprise that getting your PhD in Musicology at UCSB is hard work. Just the first year involves roughly nine months of traveling, scheduling, overcommitting, teaching, reading, email answering, lunch scrounging, paper writing, score analyzing, and mental breakdown-ing. BUT, I am living my dream. It's not many people's dream, mostly just mine, but it fills me with a white-hot lava of concatenated joy and pain. Only now with summer half over have I found the strength to remember what this first year of my dream has required of me and my family. This post gives some tiny clue, both to readers and myself, of what happened. The thing that makes this my dream, however, is not the mere survival or grades (both which I've achieved); this is my dream because I am making it my own, coming into my own, as a student, a teacher, a colleague, a person. That's worth figuring out, despite the danger.

First, a few notes:
     1. Transportation - UCSB is built like St. Petersburg, on a salt marsh in the middle of nowhere. (Whether or not it rests upon the countless bones of the peasants who were forced to build it is another matter...) To get there one must get out to Goleta on the 101 and then head south on CA-217, a thin drawbridge of a highway that passes over Goleta Slough, a picturesque, crane-patrolled moat. Because of this the campus has a feeling of isolation and autonomy, of traveling to through a distant ecosystem to misty Avalon, but an Avalon buzzing with the killer bees of academic pressure. I take the bus or ride my Honda scooter—takes about 20–25 minutes.
     2. The Quarter System - Doing in 10 weeks what the semester system does in 15! It's a bit intense.
     3. Seminars and Proseminars - A seminar is a focused and specialized class, both in topic and in students. It usually involves only graduates, has a lot of reading, and is a great place for intense discussion. A proseminar covers a broader span of material, usually in a semi-survey fashion. It has a wider spectrum of students from different departments and areas.

§ Fall 2012 §
     Schenkerian Analysis (Theory Seminar)
Heinrich Schenker was a late nineteenth-century German theorist. He came up with a way of analyzing music in which you relate pitch elements hierarchically in a sliding scale of importance, and codifying your information in a spiffy-looking graph. This class involved a textbook and weekly graph assignments. It was a good course for helping me to listen to and look at music differently, get to know my colleagues, and not feel like a complete doof when I encounter one of those graphs in a scholarly article. Thanks, Heinrich!
G. Biringer's Schenkerian analysis of Bach's Wenn wir in höchsten Noten sein.

     Nineteenth-Century Piano Concertos (Musicology Proseminar)
After watching the Warner Bros. "Rhapsody Rabbit" cartoon we dive into readings and recordings, making our way from Field to Brahms. Very interesting music with very interesting ideological and formal challenges. Dr. Derek Katz worked by problematization and the class went a great deal towards challenging any preconceived notions of canonical absolutism. I especially liked the early Romantics: Field, Hummel, Kalkbrenner, and the whole idea of the traveling virtuoso—such a different but evocative world. The group was quite large and involved many graduate performers, some undergrads, and a few musicologists. For the final paper I introduced and analyzed a piano concerto by August Alexander Klengel (1783–1852). (Really interesting story: first half of his life spent as a virtuoso touring performer who traveled to St. Petersburg and could outplay his wildly famous teacher, Clementi; the second half he settled down as an organist in Dresden and wrote a set of 48 canons and fugues à la J.S. Bach. Baller.) For the project I researched by translating from his German-language biography and analyzing an original scan of the first edition of his concerto.
I want my "professor look" to
be modeled after A.A. Klengel

     Directed Teaching
Every budding TA rearing to fill young minds with knowledge must first take and pass a pedagogy class. Here we learned how to: answer emails (especially rude, weird, or hilarious ones) effectively, make a lesson plan, try to engage all types of students in all types of ways, etc. The most challenging part was taking this course while simultaneously taking...
     Teaching Practicum (MUS15)
This is how I earn my generous stipend: working as a Teaching Assistant, this year for a class called "The Enjoyment of Music" (MUS15). (Warning: name of course may not accurately reflect the pedagogical aims of class.) I taught a class quite like this at EWU, so I thought that I would have an idea of what awaited me... I was wrong. MUS15 is a beast: 450 undergrads packed into a huge concert hall, 90 of them under my supervision during weekly sections, administering of quizzes, grading of/weeping over papers, and proctoring of finals in the style of a pacing Berlin Wall guard. This first quarter was especially difficult, what with juggling all my other responsibilities and culture shock, but I made it through knowing that I still like music and I still like teaching.
     Musicology/Theory Forum
This is a little get-together of the faculty and gradstudents from the musicology and theory departments: professional workshops, paper presentations, announcements, departmental discussions...

Winter 2013 §
     Opera and Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Musicology Proseminar)
While still in the tradition of a survey class, this course, attended by many a Voice student, focused on an extremely dynamic century of opera history. We explored works from A. Scarlatti to Mozart, watched quite a few movie clips, read from a wide range of resources (including a rather chilling study on castrati), and, something that Dr. Stefanie Tcharos is particularly gifted in cultivating, had some excellent discussions that unearthed a lot of fascinating information on the relationship between culture and opera. My final paper for this class explored performative and aesthetic aspects of a prison scene from Handel's early opera Almira. I was attracted to this obscure work by its alien hybridity of style, macaronic text (uses both German and Italian), and soap-opera-y plot: suffice it to say that at the end of this intrigue-drenched, hormone-pumping spectacle, there's a miraculous triple-wedding and much ascending of thrones.
     Travels in Eighteenth-Century Tragic Opera (Musicology Seminar)
Since its invention in the seventeenth century, people have been discoursing about opera. By discoursing I mean insulting, lauding, broadsiding, lampooning, degrading, propagandizing, or any-other-kind-of-ideological-speech-act-ing it. This class, bravely captained by Dr. Tcharos, delved head-first into this mixed-up and contradictory world of opinions, critiques, and valuations. Highlights included:
     1. Martha Feldman, Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy - really interesting cultural case studies, plus now I can say and spell the word "sovereignty."
     2. Any of the writers on French opera (Thomas, Cowart, Dill, Johnson, Bartlett), especially when it takes that creepy, Revolutionary turn for the worst.
     3. Anything having to do with "absorption" as an artistic category - paintings, novels, and stage-works where the audience longs to span the distance between them and the characters, to assuage their pain, but [gasp] cannot!

David = Drama

     Orchestral Conducting
I've been toying with the idea of getting a MA in Choral Conducting and this class is a requirement for that degree. Though we met very little, I did get some good practice on score prep, transposing clefs, program planning, and the potential for physical gestures to communicate musically. We worked on Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony and Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and I was given a whole 3 minutes in front of the university orchestra to run lugubrious Variation IV and unconscionable Variation V. I do enjoy making music with people and if given the chance will definitely follow up on future conducting opportunities.

Variation V: good luck with that.

     Teaching Practicum (MUS15), again
Different Teaching Instructor, so... everything was different. It's good to see all the different angles people take with this class.
     Musicology/Theory Forum, again
Yes! I did want to stay late every Wednesday and then ride home on my scooter in the rain!

Spring 2013 §
     Serialism (Theory Seminar)
Dr. Pieter van den Toorn has been threatening to retire probably for longer then I've been alive and has been teaching/writing extremely dense and prolific books for a good chunk of this past century. His class was a series (hehe, little serialism joke) of interesting experiences: dense with handwritten syllabi and assignment sheets; readings by Babbitt, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Perle, and Lerdahl; intentionally confusing words like "aggregates," "combinatoriality," "pitch-class collections," and "spans" (yes, the dodecaphonic composers turned that into a complicated term too!); and lots and lots of counting from 0 to E (be thankful if you don't know what that means). I really enjoyed getting to know the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Babbitt, Boulez, and Ligeti better, and liked tracking along with Lerdahl's musical models based on cognitive research (ie, our brains are pretty darn cool!).
     Genre (Musicology Seminar)
By far my favorite seminar so far! Dr. Tcharos knows how to do it right. "It's a genre issue!" has turned into my most insightful mantra. Take this example: I'm eating a home-made salad (yes, I'm that excellent), made of lettuce, dried fruit, and way too much balsamic vinegar (maybe not that excellent). After that, I take out my PBJ and get ready for some good ol' American cuisine when... BAM, the lingering taste of the balsamic dressing mixes with the peanut butter in my mouth and suddenly transports me to a completely different "cuisine genre": Asian stir fry! Genre! [Allow for a moment to let life-changing import to sink in.] Genre studies is about expectations, definitions, boundaries; the ways we have made and continue to make them, break them, argue for and against them, use them for all manner of wonderful and nefarious purposes; and what these things say about us as label users, abusers, addicts, and defiers. So cool! I especially liked:
     1. The East European formalists: Todorov, Tynyanov, Opacki, and especially Bakhtin and Propp.
     2. Getting to know quite a lot about many different genres including: Gaelic song, Betty Davis, funk, rock, rap, heavy metal, Noise, canzone, etc.
My paper for the class focused on identifying the different categories for understanding the "piano prelude" as a genre in early nineteenth-century Europe. It's a groundwork piece that should eventually lead to bigger things.
     PS. If you think you have a topic that does not fall under the category of "genre issue" please let me know what it is and I shall get very real on you very fast. :)

Haven't heard Betty Davis' music? It's a genre issue!

     Dramatic Theory from Aristotle to Nietzsche (Extra-departmental Seminar)
Now I know where another building is on campus! And the Theater Department has high tech seminar rooms and ergonomically stupendous chairs. Dr. Dave King started with the cave drawing of Lescaux and the etymology of the words for "story" and "drama," and we didn't really have a chance to breathe until we lay panting (and existentially bereaved) at Derrida, poking holes in the Western philosophical tradition with Grammatology. In between we got a good dose of Plato (more cheeky then I ever imagined), Aristotle (more rational, but a little lacking in fire), Georgias and Isocrates (too much time on their hands), Longinus (simply sublime!), Le Querelle des anciens et des modernes (inspires me to read more Perrault), Nietzsche (now I can spell his name!), Brecht (brought up a lot of connections to opera seria last quarter), Artaud (creeper, and the Theater People made me improv!), and Benjamin (really great article on storytelling and on the history of photography, but a bit of a downer). Some days we didn't even talk about theater per se, and the class exploded with intense conversations about philosophy, being, defining... genre issues! The Theater People were very gracious and continually asked about my outside perspective. My paper, which I really enjoyed writing, explored the moment of the performance of a prelude in the nineteenth century, through Romantic aesthetic philosophy, especially Schiller. Excellent experience!

Nietzsche, the original hipster

     Teaching Practicum (MUS15), yet again
Same teacher as in Winter. Great to try it again and work out some of those pedagogical kinks.
     Musicology/Theory Forum... always
When we have a joint forum with Ethnomusicology, they always bring a feast of post-forum goodies!

That was the content of my school year. I realize this post doesn't do a very good job of getting down further then the merest of "on paper" surface levels. There's so much I can't even begin to describe or mention, so much that I don't even understand. I guess I want to show how this last year was very big, very challenging, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes monstrous. It's simultaneously a dynamic reality and a beckoning dream. These things move me and I believe that I am striding further up and in to this mysterious dream of mine. That's something worth doing. :)

1 comment:

  1. It was crazy-incredible-scary-cool to watch you do this past year. You are amazing. xoxo


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