That is all.
Welp, it’s been a summer.
I mentioned a “family health” thing a couple of posts ago. On June 17, exactly one year after we lost my mother, my mother-in-law Lauretta Beck Philhower died. She was only 71, and her loss has been a gut punch. Lauretta was a kind soul with a great laugh and a love of good music. We miss her terribly.
Then there was some reshuffling at work, and now I find myself running the assessment program for the entire institution. That’s fine. My predecessor did a bang-up job of creating mechanisms, so all I need to do for right now is top off the fluids and keep the tires inflated. This does move me into an even-larger administrative role. Be careful what you wish for, kids.
Also, I’m recovering, as the Covid finally caught me last week. Made it 2 1/2 years. Since I’m double-vaxxed and boosted, it was just a really bad cold for me. Still, 0/10, would not recommend. This meant I had to bail on playing in my first pit orchestra in nearly two decades. My guess is, the mute changes were so involved they wore me out, which weakened my immune system.
Long story short, the opera isn’t done yet. That’s OK. I have no performances scheduled. I hope to get back to work on it some this week. I can tell you that Acts I and III are finished, and if I’m being honest, the ending is beautiful – everything I would want. This is primarily due to Dave Cole’s libretto, but I’m going to allow myself a little brag and say the music is awesome as well.
The Australian performance of Triple Double had to be postponed for one month, but it happened last week. You can watch it here – it’s the second piece on the program, but do watch the whole thing, as Kara Williams and her accomplices play a variety of excellent pieces by a variety of excellent composers. This performance is easily one of the top three performances of my music in terms of quality. I was honored and humbled to sit in my living room Wednesday night and listen. My beloved, not one for effusive praise, said, “that was really good.” Check it out.
I have started opening some channels for a performance opportunity (well, the playing of a recording) that would be out of this world. More on that if it develops into something. Suffice it to say that growing up in Pinhook, Indiana (pop. 19) you don’t expect to hear your music at essentially the Antipodes of Pinhook. So once I’ve been heard in Australia, what else is there? (I’m still working on Asia, Africa, South America, and yes, even Antarctica.)
Also, I saw Antipodes of Pinhook at H.O.R.D.E. in 1996.
Thank you all for coming on this journey with me. Let’s see what’s next together.
Well, it’s been a bit.
2021 was a tough year. My mother, Linda Flinn, died on June 17 after an 2-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was just a couple of months shy of 85. We’re all still heartbroken, of course, but Dad somehow soldiers on, though sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about the fact that they grew up together and he probably has no memories that don’t involve her in some way.
Work was challenging with COVID, but we did the best we can. Owing to a concatenation of events, I had to be discipline coordinator this fall, when we had turnover in all three ensemble director positions and when the other two tenured faculty were on leave. It was harrowing and I’m pretty sure I aged several years. But the adjunct faculty, staff, and students all performed admirably, and I am pleased to say we did not have to postpone or cancel a single event for weather-related or COVID-related reasons. I am fortunate to work with people this good.
Now comes the fun part – I am taking a sabbatical of my own this spring to write an opera! The plan is to write this spring, orchestrate this summer, workshop and revise next year, then do a full staging in 2024. This will hopefully also launch a summer festival of new opera/musical theatre works here.
I will try to do weekly (or hopefully more regular, anyway) updates on my progress.
The opera will feature a libretto by my dear friend David C. Cole and will combine elements of American history, science fiction, and politics. The title is…
John Quincy Adams and the Subterraneans
John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States of America (tenor, though a contralto could do the role as well)
John Cleves Symmes, Jr., explorer (Bass-Baritone)
Louisa Catherine Adams, First Lady of the United States (mezzo-soprano)
Monarch of the Subterraneans (dramatic soprano, possibly coloratura)
Andrew Jackson, General and later Seventh President of the United States of America (mezzo-soprano or countertenor)
I haven’t been excited about a composition project like this in a very long time.
In other news, I am pleased to announce that I finished several works in 2021. I wrote some miniatures for the Georgia Runoff Commissioning Project (Riff for solo piano; bent not broken for solo contrabass; Souvenir from a Canceled Trip for solo flugelhorn; Thibodeaux Breakdown for solo tuba; The First Amendment for SATB choir). A small consortium commissioned a three-movement trombone quartet, The True Saga of Charles Everett Mathews and His Search for a Perpetual Motion Machine (named for my maternal great-grandfather, who never found one). For my new-found interest in alto trombone, I wrote Everything About This Is Wrong, an exploration of a poem by my friend Emily Vieweg and scored for solo alto trombone with flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, soprano sax, horn, trumpet/flugelhorn, timpani, vibraphone, and snare drum. I finished the orchestration of Concerto for Piano and Wind Band.
My article on techniques of developing variation in the music of Morton Gould was published in GAMUT, and it’s nice for that research to have found a home. Might mess around and start writing a theory textbook too.
My beloved wife and the cats are all in some reasonable facsimile of good health, and I am grateful for that. I lost a few pounds last year (10-15); the plan is to keep doing that, though the fact that I bake more might make it difficult.
I hope you’re all well. Let’s keep muddling through together.
(Yes, that is a boring title.)
I’ve been Tweetstorming quite a lot lately, and someone said, “Don’t you have a blog?” This reminded me that, yes, I do have a blog and should probably start using it more. (There was a time when I wrote a blog post every day.)
I love this gig. It’s a great gig with great colleagues, great students, and administrators who more often than not get it. But it is not without challenges. First and foremost is geography. We are 90 – 100 miles from anyplace with more than, say, 25,000 people, and three hours from the Twin Cities. In many fields, that wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference, but since music is so specialized (you wouldn’t want me teaching, say, flute), the six full-time faculty cannot hope to cover all the possible areas of instruction. We rely more on adjuncts than I would like, but we do provide mileage for those coming from more than 10 miles away, and we do also put people up in hotels as necessary.
The problem with this is that it is unsustainable. Not financially, necessarily (though it may be that), but just in terms of building a traditional music program. I wouldn’t want to drive three hours each way every week for no more than four students, but we cannot in good conscience give a student less than the best possible instruction. We have tried some online lessons (through a partnership with MacPhail Center for Music) and that has worked to some extent, but to do that well we would need a large increase in our capital budget to update some rooms with a full spectrum of equipment for those purposes (cameras, microphones, necessary connections). This will be an ongoing challenge.
The other issue we face is somewhat tied to the first issue. Our curriculum is pretty much the Standard Undergraduate Music Curriculum (four semesters of theory, two semesters of history, lessons, a jury, a senior project, and some electives). It is designed to prepare students for graduate study, a teaching career, or a performance career.
But most of our students don’t do that.
We’re a liberal arts college on the prairie. Even though we have a high percentage of first-generation students, who are usually geared more toward music education as a career, most of our students don’t take that path. We have a couple of students who are carving out performance careers, but they are the exception. Same for graduate school. Our students usually end up working outside of music, using the ancillary skills they develop in the program and continuing in music on an amateur or semi-professional basis while paying the bills in some other way. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are days I’d do that. But it doesn’t make sense for our curriculum to reflect an approach that is simply not in line with what our graduates do. Thus, we are making some changes to the curriculum.
They haven’t all been ironed out yet, but when they are, I shall post them for your feedback. Like David Letterman in his Late Night years, the stuff may or may not work, but we’re going to try it anyway. If it doesn’t work, well, it wouldn’t be too difficult to return to the traditional model. But if it does work, we could change the face of music education in a liberal arts context.
Of course, this new curriculum would not likely earn the imprimatur of NASM, but we’re not accredited by them anyway, and many of the top music programs are pulling out. I have nothing against NASM; I worked with them at the last gig, and I think they do what they do very well and they should continue to do it. I just don’t necessarily agree that what they do overlaps much with what we do.
More bulletins as events warrant.
Looking through the files, I see my “On Academia” post still gets a little love now and then. Maybe I should write a sequel. There’s no shortage of material.
(I put this on my Facebook wall. Figured this would give me a better link.)
This is not an end point. I’m not even sure it’s a starting point. But it is what it is, and I welcome discussion.
I love what I do. I love where I do it. (This wasn’t always so.) I have great students, great colleagues, and an administration that seems to actually care more about education than cost-cutting, “disruption,” or being a toy of the Board of Regents. I recognize I am, in every sense of the word, one of the lucky ones. Having said that, Academia-with-a-capital-A is in trouble in many places. In 30 years, tuition has gone up over four times the rate of inflation, and fees have increased by a significant margin as well. The local community college, one of the few places where you could go cheaply and get a solid foundation or job training, has become unaffordable; four-year public institutions have seen a precipitous drop in state funding, and private institutions are now, in some cases, pushing $60,000 a year for tuition alone. For-profit institutions have been created to do nothing but suck up grant and loan money from ill-prepared students and saddle them with “degrees” that are less than useless. On top of that, even politicians I support on every other issue are woefully shortsighted, trying to apply the same “test-and-rank” methodology that has all but destroyed P-12 public education to the Academy.
And that’s just what you see on the outside. Inside, tenure – and the concomitant job security* and academic freedom – is rapidly becoming extinct, as adjunct positions, once set aside for a very few who had distinguished themselves in the field but outside Academia, are now often the only positions available. Those who would run Academia as one would Business love adjuncts, because (a) adjuncts cost way less, both in terms of salary and in terms of benefits, and (b) adjuncts are employed in a contingent fashion, so they fear for their jobs and will not cause trouble for the management classes. Since so many Trustees/Regents come from the world of Business, they see this as A Good Management Practice To Strengthen The Bottom Line, and reward those administrators with larger salaries, titles, and sinecures.
We in the Faculty are not blameless, though. We have contributed to this in two key ways.
First, through our disciplines, we took the idea of research and/or creative activity that will add to the body of knowledge in the discipline to an extreme. Through our scholarly organizations and our intradisciplinary promotion and tenure committees, we created “publish or perish.” Take note: I am not arguing for a removal of the research/creative activity requirement. What I am arguing for is balance and perspective. When I read that a community college – an institution that is geared towards teaching above all else – is now requiring publication credit for tenure, I worry. There simply aren’t enough outlets for all the knowledge we are allegedly creating, and it is getting more and more difficult to get into even a third-rate journal. (The ranking of journals is a topic for another time.) In addition, through peer review as it is now constituted, in many disciplines knowledge production becomes stilted and inbred intellectually, as the relatively small number of acceptable journals often have sizeable overlap in their editorial board (if not in actual fact, in intellectual history; certain programs dominate certain disciplines), so an idea that is not within the mainstream of that discipline’s thought has a much harder time seeing the light of day. Finally, a journal is a time-consuming and expensive thing, though the material costs can be much lower if it is online. (Of course, several disciplines still have a strong bias against online journals.) This emphasis on publishing more and more research in fewer and fewer journals has required the Faculty to spend a disproportionate amount of time doing research that, if it even gets publish, will reach a decreasing audience. And of course, research can mean grant money, so Administration loves to see that.
Second – and this is tied to the first – we have abdicated our role in shared governance. This was brought home to me in a recent post on Jennifer Jolley’s Facebook page, when a hale fellow named Steven Baker (a mid-level college administrator, from the looks of things), said the following:
“My one (obligatory, being an admin) response is that the disciplinary complex for faculty that has inflated basic requirements to be considered a “good” scholar has forced academics to shed a lot of their administrative and student-directed responsibilities they held for so long in order to feed the beast that is peer-review that admins need to fill those gaps. There are worthless admin positions, but done of us are just as overworked (and definitely underpaid) as many professors.”
Put another way, we don’t have time to do the shared governance things properly because tenure/promotion/grant money has overtaken everything else, including pedagogy. Nature abhors a vacuum, and into that missing governance unscrupulous administrators and staff are all too willing to step.
Once again, I am most assuredly not saying “research is unimportant.” Far from it. My research and my creative activities have made me a better teacher. We in the Academy have a singular responsibility to create and disseminate new knowledge and new ways of looking at things. What I am saying is that we have to be careful to not let our search for new knowledge become so all-encompassing that we allow the Academy to be overrun by charlatans and grifters. If taking a more active part in the life of the college means one less paper on motivic manipulation in Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah**, then perhaps that is not the end of the world. The paper will still be there. If we rotate and share duties, then no one person need do too much work.***
I am taking my fellow faculty members to task here because we ultimately can do something about this. Instead of buying in to the system, stand up to it – especially if you have tenure already. This is one of the reasons tenure exists! Then we can devote our energies to other problems, like legislators and Trustees/Regents meddling in curriculum, politicians and professional rabble-rousers using higher education as both a whipping boy (see the slashing of state budgets in the name of a false “fiscal conservatism”) and a fiefdom (see Florida State University), and the copious problems facing our compadres in P-12 education. But it can’t begin until we stop running good people out of the club.
*Once again, “tenure” doesn’t mean “you can’t be fired.” It means “you have rights of due process to make sure your termination is for a just cause.”
**Of course, I’ve already got that paper written – I just can’t find anyone who will publish it.
***We do that pretty well here at UMM, for the record.
Below is a proposed rubric for my MUS 1102 (Music Theory II) final. I am giving this in 10 days, and am trying to hash out a rubric (which the class will be given ahead of time). Any and all comments are appreciated.
The final examination is in four parts. Three of the parts will be sent as a take-home preparation for your oral final. The fourth part will be a series of listening questions that will be given when you actually take the oral final.
Part 1: Figured Bass Realization. This will be worth 50 points. You will be given a short figured bass and asked to complete it in four parts with good voice leading. You will also be asked to give a Roman numeral analysis. Finally, you will be requested to add two embellishing tones to your realization. Grading will be as follows:
Correct pitches for the figured bass – up to 15 pts
Proper voice leading – up to 10 points
Correct Roman numeral analysis – up to 20 points
Proper preparation and resolution of embellishing tones – up to 5 points
Part 2: Analysis, W. A. Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Act II, sc. 1, “O Isis und Osiris.” This will be worth 75 points. You will give a complete Roman numeral analysis, and prepare to identify phrase structures at given points. I will ask questions about your analysis (“why did you choose this Roman numeral at this point?” etc.), and you will be graded on the logic of your answers in the context of the rest of your analysis. Grading will be as follows:
Appropriate Roman numerals – up to 45 points
Demonstrated understanding of phrase structure – up to 15 points
Responses to oral questions – up to 15 points
Part 3: Analysis, J. S. Bach (attr.), Clavier-Büchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach, selected excerpts. This will be worth 50 points. You will give a complete Roman numeral analysis and a complete phrase analysis. I will ask questions about phrase structure and your harmonic analysis (“You’ve identified this as a secondary leading-tone chord. Tell me why you did this.” etc.), and you will be graded on the logic of your answers in the context of your analysis. Grading will be as follows:
Appropriate Roman numerals – up to 30 points
Demonstrated understanding of phrase structure – up to 10 points
Responses to oral questions – up to 10 points
Part 4: Listening. This will be worth 25 points. There will be five listening questions, each worth 5 points. They will be in random order, and will involve the following concepts:
Identifying the inversion of a chord
Identifying the embellishing tone used in a musical situation
Identifying the type of second-inversion chord used in a musical situation (passing, neighbor, cadential, arpeggiating)
Identifying a period as parallel or contrasting
Identifying a secondary-function chord in context
Grading for these will be based on accuracy.
I am currently serving on a search committee (which is why I haven’t been able to blog much).
One of the things that is utterly fascinating* about a search committee is how stylized everything is. We get to generate our own questions for the phone interview/campus interview, but they seem to be derived from some ur-Questions from some years back. There are very clear lines as to what is and what isn’t relevant (and this is how it should be, of course), but you still try to get a read from the candidates in the hopes that you can find the best “fit.”
“Fit,” of course, is often used to make sure the status quo is never upended, and in higher education right now a great debate is raging as to just how sustainable – or unsustainable – the status quo is. Academia treats its contingent faculty horribly, and the non-academic staff usually don’t fare much better. The security of the tenure-track position is denied to all but a few lucky ones, and even then, the tenure process** is getting harder and harder to navigate. Between publication expectation bloat and the demands of accreditation agencies, tenure may in fact be impossible for all but a rarified group. I remarked the other day that “research, teaching, and service” is now more accurately stated as “publication in a narrow range of journals, assessment, and administrative work.”
And what’s more, that’s not accidental.
I’ve made no secret of my wish to move into administration at some point, and one of the main reasons is to be there on the front lines of trying to change things. The current model of higher education is unsustainable. We need to look at the entire system. We need to get away from a model that treats human beings as cogs. We need assessment procedures that build on what faculty do, not ones that needlessly add to their labor. We need publication guidelines that reflect the new reality of the dissemination of academic inquiry. We need new models for peer review that expand the knowledge of the disciplines, instead of codifying current biases. We need administrators who understand faculty, faculty who understand students, and students who understand how much they don’t understand.
What are the solutions?
*”fascinating,” perhaps, for about twelve people
**for the record, I am not referring to my specific situation. UMM has been great thus far.
Same as it ever was:
Only a few of these denominational schools were equal to good second-rate grammar schools, Lindsley charged, and he scorned their “capacious preparatory departments for A, B, C-darians and Hic, Haec, Hoc-ers–promising to work cheap, and to finish off and graduate, in double quick time.”
The quote is from Richard Hofstadter, Academic Freedom in the Age of the College. New York: Columbia University Press, 1955, p. 212. Hofstadter is known today as an historian of populism and anti-intellectualism, but in this instance he turned his gaze on the development of academic freedom and the beginnings of American higher education. In this case, Hofstadter is quoting Rev. Philip Lindsley, an 1804 graduate of Princeton and later president of Cumberland College (which became the University of Nashville).
So when I rant about the low standards and fly-by-night nature of most of your for-profit “universities and colleges,” at least I’m part of a grand historical tradition.
This article came to my attention the other day, and I wanted to let it marinate before responding.
One thing I’ve gleaned from my position of Temporary Honorary Colonel is that the hiring process is the most delicate and important part of the academic life. Get that right, and invariably it leads to a better institution. Get it wrong, and, well…The problem is that every candidate these days comes in with a PhD, scads of publications/presentations/performances/what have you, and letters of recommendation that would imply this person would walk on water if it wasn’t for the fact that s/he is an Olympic swimming champion. So I understand the impulse to find Yet Another Way to seek out that A-1 top-notch person who is perfect for the position. We have more data (and the ability to access more data) than at any other time in human history. We routinely use technology that was unimaginable two decades ago to do things impossible ten years ago. I am most certainly in favor of adapting technology for our needs, including this process.
There was a line in the article that concerned me.
“It offers a way for his GameChanger unit to avoid wasting time on the 80 people out of 100—nearly all of whom look smart, well-trained, and plausible on paper—whose ideas just aren’t likely to work out. If he and his colleagues were no longer mired in evaluating “the hopeless folks,” as he put it to me, they could solicit ideas even more widely than they do today and devote much more careful attention to the 20 people out of 100 whose ideas have the most merit.”
My fear is this: who controls the algorithm? Throughout human history, attempts to seek out “the best and the brightest” almost invariably fall back to “the best and the brightest from a very specific social, intellectual, and cultural circle.” Maybe this is the old class-warrior chip on my shoulder, but in an age where social mobility is declining and income inequality is increasing, I can’t help but think that folks like me (working-class/agricultural background, not exactly in a Major Metropolitan Area) would have been still passed over for the possibilities generated. Put simply, no matter how good I would be, my background strongly implied I would be one of “the hopeless folks.”
What does this mean for higher education?
I never really believed in the idea of the “intangible.” I wanted to believe that American Higher Education was truly a meritocracy, and that it didn’t matter where you came from so long as you were among the best. Then reality hit, and I saw people far better at this than I limited to long-term adjunct positions (assuming they were able to get positions in academia at all) and people far worse end up in positions of power. I saw brilliant minds from the working class shunted off to career paths that were not in their best interest and mediocre minds from the upper classes given control over higher education. I remain skeptical that even a pure data-driven exercise would be set up in such a way as to remove this basic unfairness, especially now that the megacorporations are taking hold of this idea. So now I do believe in the “intangible,” and when I serve on a hiring committee I take the time to look beyond the data and see what kind of person is lurking under that CV.
What say you?
In my last post, I made a reference to this horrific event. As word of this has filtered out, we’ve seen an array of reactions, but the general consensus is that people are finally starting to realize how precarious a position most people who work in the academy actually have. (Even tenure is not as stable as it once was.)
So what to do about it?
My friend (an outstanding composer as well – if you’re in central NJ on
SundaySaturday, go to his recital!) Christian B. Carey mentioned this idea on Twitter yesterday, and I think it shows some promise: Why not have consortia of colleges that, between them, can hire an adjunct at nearly-full-time status and split the costs of benefits? It’s not perfect, as you’ll see from the discussion, but some systems (Mike Berry mentions the Washington State higher ed system) are doing things like this already.
Another solution, of course, is to separate health insurance and access to care from employment. The new exchanges may help with regard to that, but we need to pressure all states to expand Medicaid (since many adjuncts are below the poverty level) and/or push for a single-payer/Medicare for all system.
Here at UMM, at least in music, we’re lucky – for the majority of our adjuncts, this truly is a second or third gig. We also offer some pot-sweeteners because of our distance from major population centers. We have an “adjunct coordinator,” and we make it a point to include contingent faculty in the governance of the discipline as much as possible. Still, I have been in positions where adjuncts have been mistreated, and having lived that life myself and knowing how challenging it can be (and knowing current adjuncts), I recognize that we need to fix this. It is unsustainable over the long term.
What thoughts do you have on the adjunct crisis?
I read this at The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier today, and something about it really popped for me.
As both of my readers will recall, I spent the spring semester serving in a minor administrative capacity. This all-too-brief introduction to real academic administration* got me to contemplate the critical issues facing academia. Among the issues that have been on my mind:
(1) Treatment of adjuncts. How we treat these freeway flyers can have dangerous consequences; this is nothing short of shameful. No doubt I’ll have more on this later.
(2) The continuing destruction of our commitment to higher education. At a time when we’re asking – nay, demanding – that everyone get a college education, we are defunding our public higher education system at a breakneck clip. This can’t end well.
(3) MOOCs and online ed. This is where the above article comes in. I’ve taught online, and I can see certain situations where it can be quite effective. But, just as there’s no substitute for a fresh tomato from your own garden, there’s nothing like a master teacher, working in concert with excited, ready-to-learn students, operating with a real sense of place. Small liberal arts colleges, like the wonderful institution that pays me every two weeks to do things I love, are uniquely positioned to provide this opportunity. Take advantage of it. Support your local college.
*I’ve headed up theory-composition programs, but those positions lacked budgetary and other responsibilities.
In my previous post, I asked what could be done.
I think you’re looking at one path.
Blogging with commentary has the potential to help reshape scholarship. We are already seeing some experimentation with this, and in an age when publication can be instantaneous it is patently absurd that major journals in most fields take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years in the submission-to-publication process.
Further, blogging allows for ideas to be “workshopped,” with input during the whole process, rather than a big hit of commentary after submission but before publication (assuming the work is even allowed a “revise-and-resubmit”). In this way, authors can work out issues and problems in a timely but not rushed manner instead of trying to do a large amount of revision in a short amount of time.
Further still, a more transparent process means people are able to see different intellectual trends and major players thereof develop in real time. Instead of “anonymous” responses, people put their name – or a reasonable pseudonym, let’s be honest – on the line. If it’s a question of making sure that only actual scholars in a field will have a chance to take part in the commentary, there are ways to maximize security. I actually like the idea of enlightened amateurs taking part, but I can see how it could be problematic.
Finally, it can conceivably cost nothing (or, at worst, the price of webhosting and DNS registration). I am using a free blogging platform. The material can be put out, reviewed, and accessed for no financial outlay (beyond the cost of Internet access).
I am told the SMT Conference this year will feature a session on peer-review. If I don’t end up doing a research trip in October, maybe I’ll go there and check it out.
This article came to my attention this morning. While number 3 doesn’t apply to me (and is very impressive), numbers 1 and 2 do to a certain extent, and number 4 really applies.
I have written before about the problems inherent in our discipline; I am still working on formulating part 2 of that particular discussion. So, consider this part 1.5 – You Are Not Alone. This discipline of music theory is wider than you would know from examining our journals (which showcase a fairly wide discipline to begin with).