Monthly Archives: September 2011

I knew it!

The Messa da Requiem by Verdi is one of the greatest choral/orchestral works ever. It’s just amazing.

But for years I’ve wondered why the hell, if Verdi gave the opening section a tempo marking of Andante and a metronome marking of 80 to the quarter note, pretty much every conductor I’ve ever seen/heard do it takes it at a sort of Adagio/Largo with the quarter note at about 50 or slower.

I have even asked a few–the response is usually something unsatisfying like “Quarter note at 80 is just too fast.” I’m like, okay, if Verdi wrote it, and it’s Verdi’s damn piece, isn’t he the judge of that?

Turns out someone else has wondered the same thing. Ick Hyun Cho of the University of North Texas, in 2003 (about 6 years after it occurred to me that someone should maybe attack this topic but 8 years before I was in a position to do so myself), wrote a doctoral paper on this very thing.

I haven’t read the whole paper yet, but I’m going to. I’m just excited that someone else has decided to pay attention to this–and has found documentation and background and has explored what this really really significant change in mindset means to the piece as a whole.  Taken at a less dirge-like tempo, suddenly the opening movements hang together as a single unit and make sense.

Seems obvious to me. Maybe it’s the whole “uh oh, it’s about death, therefore it must be slow and dirge-like” thing.

The first word, even–at 80, the word “Requiem” becomes this gentle sigh, and not a heavy-weighted Pronouncement Of Doom.

And Monday I get to see the facimile of the original manuscript in Verdi’s own hand.

God, I love being at a research university.

Sometimes Inertia is Easily Overcome

Like, when one is doing something one really wants to do.

I like it here. It’s exhausting, my brain is killing me, and I keep forgetting to do silly things like, for example, eat.  And I’m walking all over the place, which is really good for me. But the thinking, and the learning, and the stuff going on…It’s beyond amazing.  I’m already having my brain stretched in new directions, and it’s awesome.

I also am finding myself a little surprised by how well-situated I am academically here; within a music performance environment, scholar-geeks are not found as easily as in other places where the “music studies” are more prevalent. I can hold my own.  I even, at the moment, find myself wondering if I could after all have taken an additional class, although come to think of it that may be because nothing has met more than once yet this quarter.  It’s easy to say “hey mon, piece of cake!” when you read the syllabus, less so as one progresses through things and has one’s own major area of study to work in…

But I like it here.  Even Dr. Lecturer greeted me with eye contact and a smile when I walked in today.  I am finding colleagues, and friends, and People Who Know Lots More Than I Do, and it’s generally a huge joy.

I who am but as a worm…

I of course recognize the right of every academic to be addressed as they choose by students.

But when a faculty lecturer indicates that he is to be addressed as “Dr. Lecturer” even by the doctoral students in his relatively small department who are not even his students (referring to those doctoral students in the same sentence as “all those freshmen”), I hope he realizes that said doctoral students have equal right to use that request as part of their judgment of his character, and that it will be weighed into their determination of the level of respect he will earn from them.

But then…I’m just a student. I turned over several IQ points, and most of my dignity, at registration along with my Financial Aid Form. What do I know?

I think I’ve just had my first taste of Hard Core Academic Atmosphere. I personally prefer mutually respectful acknowledgement of each individual’s respective humanity and knowledge, which up to now has been my academic milieu even as a Master’s student, but it is what it is.  I can make a learning experience out of anything, including this.

Registration Schmegistration

What’s the deal? Existing students get to sign up for everything in, like, May, and new students first get a crack at the process about 4 days before classes begin. The first two courses I really wanted were full before ours even opened. I have a very sweet and slightly obsequious note in to one of the professors to see if he’d let me into his class, but the fact is that my major class conflicts with about 4 other things that are still open and which I’d really like to take.  So at the times I actually can take a class, there were only two offered, and one was closed as of the morning of registration (though it had still been open the night before when I went to bed) and the other is one of those courses that’s so esoteric and not-what-anyone-wants that it will never fill.

So I’m not really sure what to do to fill up the rest of my course load.  I’m hoping I can maybe skip the extra class all together and take some lessons or something; I’ve got my technical full time course load in place, I was just really hoping to front-load this degree with the tougher theory and history courses now so that next year when I’ve got recitals I will be able to focus more on those. But if there’s nothing to take, there’s nothing to take, and I ought to take some lessons anyway to keep my chops up. Or there’s a composition class that looks not too bad…and a better grasp of instrumentation (if it’s what I think it is) could be very helpful to me as a conductor anyway…

I’ve also discovered that the one course I really wanted to take this winter is also in direct conflict with one of the things I’m required to take for my major.  I’m hoping I might convince that particular prof to let me do an independent study with her in that area at some point–I mean hell, how many specialists in qualitative analysis in music are there in the country, the world for that matter? And I’ve got one at my school and can’t take her class?

This is all very frustrating.

Feeling like I belong here

First there was discovering my teacher. Who saw me and gave me a big welcoming hug. Asked about my summer and my family.  Chatted with me and the Master’s student about his work in England last week.

Then the choral office, the place where We The Choral People go to hang out and have a place to be, was open. I no longer felt like a bag lady schlepping around looking for a place to park myself between Events; I have a place now. It’s a place with an uneven linoleum floor, battered furniture, and sopranos screeching vocalise exercises across the hall all the live long day, but it’s mine.  Better: it’s ours.

And at academic advising, the director of graduate studies responded to my request to accept a different music theory course in lieu of the one that conflicts with my major seminar by telling me that since I “scored very high” on the theory diagnostic, it would likely not be a problem. (This was about 10 minutes after my substitute adviser looked at me doubtful when I said I wanted to take qualitative analysis in music education this winter, telling me, “you know, that course will probably have a lot of reading and writing in it.” I just nodded and said calmly, “yes, I know.” Dude. I’m a doctoral student. I just did a frigging theology degree. You want reading and writing? Take a theology degree. Bring it on, man.)

That high score on the diagnostic means a lot to me. Mostly I just like doing well at what I attempt.  But more than that, this time–this exam represents my first objective and clear statement of “I belong here.” I mean, aside from getting into the school, but that can always be a fluke, I guess.  I got in, I’m here, and I succeeded at the first thing they’ve asked of me.

And the second thing? I say again: Bring it on.

School Begins…

Four meetings in one day.

First the New Student’s Convocation.  Then the Graduate Student Orientation Meeting.  A short lunch break before the Theory Exam From Hell. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, I just really really hate exams and theory and most of all tests that are open-ended enough that you don’t really know when you’re done.) Then the Financial Aid meeting.  And finally the doctoral music students’ meeting. At which just enough individual students felt the need to ask just enough really-only-relevant-to-them questions that I didn’t have any chance of making the 5:02 train, which means I had instead to get the 5:43, because there’s nothing in between the two. Which didn’t get me home till 7:00. I don’t suppose I should complain; it would have taken me easily till 6:45 if I’d driven, for a lot more money.  But  if I’d caught the 5:02  it would have gotten me home 45 minutes earlier.

Tomorrow there’s another meeting, and then advising. With the orchestra guy, because apparently my advisor is still out of town or something…hopefully I passed the damn theory test.

I’m wiped out.  This is wonderfully exciting, but am I going to survive the next 2 years?

Time is Elastic?

This is one of those things you read and desperately hope is a joke, but somehow think maybe it’s not:

“I made the crucial error last week of taking my freshmen students to task for wandering into class as much as 10-15 minutes late. I get supremely annoyed at that kind of attitude, because I’ve seen it too often infect other parts of students’ work ethic…Then this morning I see the following email from my Dean…”

This is just…insane. I know College Misery gets a little…overdramatic sometimes, but still…


My Friend the Librarian

This article from Inside Higher Ed caught my attention, but not really my surprise:

What Students Don’t Know: Study of Student Research Habits at Illinois University Libraries

(And yes, my attention was partially about “Squee! Qualitative analysis! Ethnographic research leading to real useful empirical data! Yay!”)

I honestly didn’t really discover the public library, let alone any scholarly ones, until a couple of years ago.  But once I did, I have never looked back.  My credit card charges to Amazon have dropped to almost nil, and I haven’t felt like new books were even something I was that interested in. And for school–oh my goodness, having a student ID that connects me to every university research library in the country and many all over the world leaves me feeling sort of giddy and trembling. And the real beauty is that even before I was in school, if there was any book I needed from a university library, my public one could usually get it for me.

The best discovery was how absolutely happy the library staff has been to help me, as though they sit around waiting for the opportunity to do something interesting and research-y, anything but just shelving books and sitting there stamping due dates onto cards. (A friend of mine who is a public librarian tells me that this is exactly how she feels whenever she gets to help someone actually utilize the resources of the library and the highly trained people who work there.)

Next week I will be heading into higher ed once again.  And so far my school’s sort of enforced engagement with the university library is encouraging.  There is a day-long (optional) course the day before school starts in using the resources of the libraries, with breakfast and lunch included, for which I have registered–they even sent me a reminder to register, indicating that they really do want people to take part in this.  A whole day (okay, 9-2:30) with breakout sessions and tours and all kinds of resources…it will be especially invaluable to me since, as a music student, I won’t otherwise get much exposure to the main library building and what it can help me do. (For one thing, there’s a qualitative analysis session as part of this library day, and I have this flickering hope that maybe I may have access to some of the software as a student without having to buy it myself for my sadly unfunded little study…)

Then there’s “Bibliography,” the course every new grad student has to take. Essentially it’s about How To Use The Library To Research And Write Your Thesis. What’s tragic is that, in the two Master’s degrees I’ve already obtained, no one has ever even offered me, let alone insisted that I take, a course like this.

Various academic bloggers, including the Higher Ed article writers, lament the poor research skills and abilities of students in universities.  And it’s a valid lament, as this study seems to indicate. But…where were students supposed to learn the skills? When do they ever actually get taught the art–and yes, it’s an art as much as a skill–of successful searches and primary and secondary sources and even proper citations and forms? Listing Turabian as a required text for a course is fine, but if that’s all students actually get, that’s just plain sad.

I have an instinct for searches, and a stubborn personality that keeps me pushing and pushing until I catch the scent of a profitable trail. It’s taken me more than a decade to develop that instinct into something useful, and it’s only that instinct itself that has let me do that–because in this case, the trail was “how to do online academic research.” I’ve followed a bunch of dead ends, useless articles, impenetrable webs of bullshit, and eventually learned a huge amount that I didn’t know before.

Why is “academic research skills” not a required freshman course at every single accredited university in this country? (Or others, I guess, but I don’t live there.) Why do students get taught all this Required Coursework, but never actually have someone sit them down and teach them the skills of how to choose a paper topic, how to research it, the entire frigging concept of “method,” how to write a footnote and a bibliography and why we do them, all that really basic stuff?

And if we never actually teach it, if we put students through all these other required and frequently useless courses (no offense to Descartes and Kant and Nietzsche, but Freshman Philosophy has not played an enormous role in my development as a scholar) before we give them a degree but never actually require that they learn to do research, how can we possibly expect that they will consider those skills important in the slightest?

Sort of depressing.

God help my students if I ever do make it into a university and teach any actual paper-writing courses. They will hate me.

And I’m really looking forward to it.

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