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.

WF

Since I’m getting ready to start my second year at UMM, and since I haven’t yet broken the publication drought (couple of near-misses, got two rejections on Memorial Day, and let me tell you that stung), I’ve been trying to get my publication record back on track. I do have a book chapter which I should be finishing within the next couple of months, but I haven’t gotten anything into a peer-reviewed journal in…oh, let’s just go with “a while.”

In my field, there simply aren’t very many journals. We have Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, Journal of Music Theory, and maybe 8 – 10 other online and print journals. (There are more music theory journals than that, but they often have a narrow focus like computing in music or Schenkerian theory – or they’re specifically designed for graduate students or people in a certain country.) The process is, as is standard, blind peer review. I would like to make the case that (1) peer review is likely not so blind, and (2) as it is currently constituted, peer review as currently constituted may not be an ideal gatekeeper. I would further like to make the case that this is ultimately bad for the discipline, as it leads to narrow foci and intellectual insularity.

As I mentioned above, this discipline is not particularly large, especially when compared to other disciplines in the Humanities. There’s a general kinship with each other. We’re Facebook friends. We get everyone’s Twitter feed. We hang out at conferences and when it’s time to read the AP exams. Many of us went to grad school together – more on this in a moment. We know, at least generally, on what subjects people are working. So when a paper crosses an editor’s or reader’s desk, it’s likely not all that blind. “Oh, this sounds like what so-and-so was doing.” As a friend further points out, if you write a paper on topic X there’s a pretty good chance you know exactly who is going to be reading it, even if the review is officially blind, because there are only so many people in the world qualified to read said paper. I do believe that blind peer review can be a good way to examine a paper, but I further believe nothing is truly blind.

The second point is a little darker. I mentioned above that “many of us went to grad school together,” and that may be the problem. There are a handful of schools that produce the lion’s share of theorists. These schools – good as they are, and they are very good – do have specific ideological and philosophical approaches to this discipline. They may have a decent variety of approaches, but they’re certainly not pan-philosophical. I am not saying the approaches are ill-formed or irrelevant, because they are not; I am simply saying that these approaches tend to dominate the rest of the field, to the exclusion of different ideas. When a discipline is limited to a handful of approaches, then no matter how well-developed or how reverberant those approaches are, the discipline’s ability to develop further is stifled. Format becomes formula. New – or potentially effective but not yet fully-formed – approaches are dismissed out of hand. With so few outlets for publication, and with those dominated by the handful of approaches above, it becomes more and more difficult for scholars who don’t easily fit into molds to get a fair hearing for their ideas. We hear people talk about what a friend who is on the editorial board of an academic journal calls the “fit” of the paper, but if the number of journals is limited, then there aren’t very many places where something might “fit.” (This has ramifications for the tenure process as well, but that discussion can be reserved for another time.)

Perhaps this is all sour grapes on my part, but I don’t think I am that bad. I believe my work has merit, I believe it can inform performances and understanding of the pieces I study, and I believe the discipline benefits from it being out there. I don’t want this to be about me, however; my beliefs are applicable to any number of theorists – young and old – who are outside the mainstream of the discipline. I have heard it suggested that we should get away from single-author papers as well, as the process of collaboration often works out the issues most brought up in peer review.

So what can we do about it? More on that at some point in the future, but you may have the answer right in front of you.

Postscript (courtesy of Mike Berry): It’s not just us.

WF

I’ve taught one session of every class I will be teaching this semester. So far so good, though getting through the syllabus took longer than I would have liked.

Teaching aural skills for the first time in a *very* long time now. Scared, but excited as well. Good to stretch out and get some experience with what may be the single most important part of the undergraduate theory curriculum. Plus, given the textbook I use for Form and Analysis and what I can see doing with Counterpoint, I may redefine the AS curriculum as an ongoing thing rather than just the four-semester basic undergraduate sequence. Ideally, you never stop using these skills.

(I guess this technically qualifies as Theory Thursday!)

WF

So I’ve been thinking…there are large gaps in my research portfolio and writing skills. (Don’t worry, CCM professors, I don’t blame you. I blame myself for trying to so many things while working on the PhD.) I’ve decided what I need to do is try to fill in these gaps by doing things like research notes, book reviews, article responses, etc. (You know, all the stuff I was starting to do during doctoral coursework a decade ago but then put on hold to pay the bills.) Further, I’d post these on a new blog (with links on FB) or wherever people might be interested. If something showed promise, I’d keep polishing them and submit to Real Journals.

Any theorists/composers/musicologists out there want in on this?

WF

(This has also been posted on my Facebook timeline. I’d like to bring it over here as well.)

One of the things I want to do at the new gig is get students writing earlier and more. I’d like to have them read some articles to get a sense of what academic writing in this discipline is all about, but I don’t want to throw them into the deep end. Can anyone recommend good articles (solid, good research and analysis shown) that are geared more toward people who are starting out in the field? I figure if they get used to this early on, they’ll have a better sense of how to write.

Some articles/books that have been suggested include Deborah Stein’s Engaging Music, Joseph Kerman’s Contemplating Music, Leonard Meyer’s Music, the Arts, and Ideas and Explaining Music, David Epstein’s Beyond Orpheus, David Lewin’s article “Figaro’s Mistakes,” and Edward T. Cone’s article “Three Ways of Reading a Detective Story – or a Brahms Intermezzo.”

WF

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the nice things about moving is going through everything to determine what makes the trip. I’ve found a few things I had forgotten about, including a paper I wrote for my History of Theory class about the paradigmatic shift in instrumental instruction treatises in the 17th and 18th centuries.

If anyone wants to read it and offer comments, I have a .pdf of it. I think I might actually be able to expand it into a small article.

WF

I miss it.

I used to play, sing, conduct, compose just about every day.

I miss it.

I used to be really good at some of those things. At one point, I was a good enough player to be principal euphonium in the Kentucky All-Collegiate Band and back up acts like the Temptations, Melissa Manchester and Aaron Neville. In the past year I wrote about 50 minutes of new music, 35 of which got performed. I’ve conducted bands, choirs, orchestras and pit orchestras. I even got to conduct William Warfield once, though that was more along the lines of “You do what ever you want, Dr. Warfield, I’ll make sure we follow.” I tell you all this not to toot my own horn, but rather to give you some sense about what has been missing.

I miss it.

I’m going to say something bold here: It may have been a mistake on my part to pursue the PhD in theory. This is not to say that I shouldn’t have done it, but I shouldn’t have done it in the way that I did. I got away from music-making while working on it, and consequently, my analyses, while thorough and solid, were often amusical. The music that I studied deserves better. I stopped being a good musician during the process, and my work suffered because of it.

So…what does this mean?

There are some changes coming up in my life, and I hope for the better. I am going to take advantage of these changes (and I’m letting you all know this in the hopes that the hive mind will help me keep to them) and get good again. Get the horn on the face. Dig out the Hanon exercises and a metronome. Write something as often as I can. Learn the literature and take those lessons with a big-shot conductor. Write analytical and theoretical papers that resonate with actual music-making.

It won’t be easy, but it needs to be done. I need to get good again. I need to let music – this wonderful, wonderful discipline – work its magic on me again. Those musicians who got me to this point deserve no less. I deserve no less. MUSIC deserves no less.

Who’s with me?

WF