(This was originally posted on Facebook.)
I am back home with my beloved and my kittens. Everything is unpacked.
It is no secret that I have a turbulent history with the discipline of music theory. The dissertation took far too long, and not all of that was my fault. I couldn’t get my work published or into conferences. The curriculum felt stale, like it was designed by people more interested in producing future graduate students than in actual pedagogy.
I was ready to walk away. Admin pays better, anyway.
We redid the curriculum. After about six years of the new curriculum, I feel like I’m getting a handle on it. In fact, I’m in the process of writing a textbook that aligns with our curriculum. It’s still loose and informal, but I’m happy to send it along for your perusal.
I got a couple of things published. The Journal of Band Research, the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, and most recently Gamut provided receptive outlets and a non-adversarial review and editing process.
I got into a couple of conferences. CMS was particularly good for this, but I also made it into a regional conference. The feedback was good, and I felt like what I was doing was working.
But there was still SMT.
Nothing I sent in seemed to get any traction. I submitted something like 13 times. Dissertation research, Carlisle Floyd, Morton Gould, pedagogy, the Overton window, nothing could get in.
Look, I’ve carved out a good life and career. I have tenure. I have the respect of my colleagues (and it is mutual). We own a home.
But there was still SMT.
I wanted that imprimatur, and it was denied me. So I made a decision: this was going to be the last time I submitted. I decided to swing for the fences and put in something that was unlike anything I’d put in before (or anything I’d ever seen there). If it didn’t get in, I was going to wash my hands of the organization and concentrate on other things.
April came, and people started posting the “Thrilled to announce” posts. A couple of hours into that day, I still hadn’t heard. I was preparing myself for the worst. Then I saw the “Well, not this year” posts, and was wondering if mine had somehow slipped through the cracks.
I checked the spam filter, and my world changed.
I wrote up the paper, practiced it, practiced it again, trialed it on Zoom and at UMM. Checked, rechecked, and re-rechecked everything. Got my travel grants, booked my flight and my room.
Saturday came. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was on HBO that morning, which I took as a good omen. I walked in. I set up. Stephen Rodgers introduced me. I started.
Four minutes in, an example failed to play. For a half-second, I saw it all fall apart. The laptop is old, man. Some quick thinking on the part of the room monitor and we were back on. The laugh lines (mostly) hit. The rhythm snapped back into place. “Live long and prosper.” Applause. “Are there any questions?”
Harald Krebs had been cited in the paper. Harald Krebs approached the microphone. I imagined a Marshall McLuhan moment (“You know nothing of my work!”) and steeled myself. I had told myself I didn’t care about the response. I got in, after all. But in reality, I *totally* cared, and I prepared myself for a explication of my ignorance.
“That was the most entertaining paper I’ve heard.”
Then he asked a question about emotion and Shatner’s performance. Apparently my answer was satisfactory, as he thanked me and sat down. Mark Spicer asked a good question and also remarked that he enjoyed the paper. A couple more questions, more applause, and I sat down, for the first time in ages feeling like a true music theorist.
I love music theory.