(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.

Then some things happened.

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.


I’ve still got a lot of typesetting to do, but two acts (I and III) have been written.

Writing the Andrew Jackson stuff was exceptionally difficult. You want the music to reflect the person as the person conceptualizes him/herself, but you also think about the weight of history. John Adams (the composer, not the father of this work’s subject) once joked that Nixon in China was “an opera for Republicans and Communists.” He’s not far off. Almost all the main characters are treated in a fashion that aligns with their own self-perception. (The notable exception is Henry Kissinger, who deserves no quarter and no mercy and receives none.) Dave did a great job of depicting a monster who is convinced of his own rectitude in his libretto. I hope I have created an equal characterization in my music.

Now on to Act II; I have already sketched the dance variations at the heart of the Subterranean scene, as well as the transition from the outside world to the hollow world. This is allowing me to stretch out a little bit, explore different sounds. The trick will be to not rely on sonic stereotypes of “othering.” Please let me know if I fall short on this one.

I might be able to have the vocal score done by the end of July. I was hoping to have the orchestration(s) completely done by then as well, but life being what it is (family medical emergencies, “other duties as assigned,” and OH YES HOLY CRAP I GOT INTO SMT SEE YOU IN NEW ORLEANS BUT NOW I HAVE TO WRITE THIS PAPER TOO), that’s not going to happen. No worries – the plan is still to workshop it in late Spring 2023, and for that I only need the vocal score.

Like a cheap set of drugstore nails, we press on.


Has it really been nearly a month since I’ve updated? Why yes, it has.

I went to the SMT conference in Charlotte and was blown away by the papers. This fills me with resolve. Next year, there will not be an annual rejection – next year, I will get in. I figured out a good approach for my current research (more on that once I get a couple of things nailed down), and this should work well with the direction of SMT.

Lots of good pedagogy stuff as well; that was the main reason I went. Also, because I livetweeted a couple of sessions, the number of Twitter followers I have jumped substantially. This is making me think about pedagogical applications of social media. We’re on the cusp of rewriting the theory curriculum in toto at UMM, and I want to make it one that implements all manner of tech (but not just because we like shiny new gizmos – everything must serve a larger pedagogical purpose).

The Great Speckled Variants are going well; I am meeting with a guitarist this week to see how idiomatic the writing is. I fully expect to do a lot of editing on this, but it’s worth it to get it right.

I’m sure both of you are disappointed by this, but I just haven’t been compelled to put up much in the way of political postings. I still follow it, but until next year’s election season begins in earnest (and until the Minnesota State Legislature is back in session), there’s just not a whole lot of the nuts-and-bolts policy stuff that interests me. Oh, sure, there’s the ACA and its computer glitches, but I am stupefied that people are upset that they might be getting better insurance. For 97%* of us, that means cheaper.

That’s all for now. Got some plans for the new year that involve expanding this website. More bulletins as events warrant.

*source: here


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.