Tag Archives: columbia

déjà vu all over again

hello AMB readers! when we spoke last, it was all about Stravinsky with no sort of real discussion as to what was going on with me (i know you’re all so interested…) so i think it’s back to basics around here, today being the first day in MONTHS that my head has been above water, figuratively, of course.

this post relates to this very recent change in my life and something that’s been on my mind, at least for the last fifteen hours or so. after a really tough decision between Duke and Oxford, i decided to finish my PhD at Duke & i’ve been very happy here. the program has been exactly what i needed & i feel completely rejuvenated not to mention the fact that it’s been bound up with some very busy months for me. i wouldn’t classify where i am as completely starting over but it’s definitely not where i left off at Columbia, and i’ve made my peace with that. but there’s one thing i haven’t made peace with & i’m not sure that i ever will.

for all intents and purposes, i am a first year at Duke. but i am not a “first year.” 

that first year in quotes denotes a certain type of person who, usually, is at a certain place in their life and knows nothing about the ways of graduate school. (and yes i know this is a generalization, many people start a PhD at various places in their lives with varying life & school experiences) and when people who i do not know meet me and find out that i’m a “first year,” i get all of the typical first year questions: “how do you like graduate school?” “what are you working on?” “what’s your cohort like” all with an implication that is reflected vocally that we’re your elders and know the game and welcome to our world. well, that’s not me & i don’t want to be treated as such. now, i don’t hold it against those people for talking to me in such a way (not a lot), but i feel badly that i feel that i have to correct them, that i have to say, “well, i actually was in the PhD program at Columbia for three years & left to come to Duke.” because that whole sentence sounds so entitled. but it’s really not why i say it.

those three years were a struggle as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows and i don’t want that time to be white-washed away because i’m now at Duke. i did coursework, got a degree, and took my comps. i TAed and taught my own classes. and all of that is really important to me. it doesn’t just disappear. 

so yes, i have to do a lot of that over again and yes, to a degree, it sucks (mainly time-wise, i think i’m doing all of it better the second time around) and i have no problem identifying myself thusly. but please understand that if i do mention my years at Columbia it’s because they still have some meaning. and also that i’m no spring chicken — i’m almost 30 with a dissertation on the horizon.

there’s a lot in my rear view mirror.

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return of the mack

hi internet. you’ve probably forgotten about me. in that case, let me re-introduce myself: hi, my name’s imani and i’m a recovering academic.

a lot has happened since i wrote here last. the two subjects of my penultimate post are both dead (and very recently so) and my status, for the time being, has changed. i’m leaving Columbia and applying to new PhD programs in the hopes that i’ll land somewhere in the fall. i’ll be spending the next six months or so in the real world (something i’m actually looking forward to), saving up money for my next grand adventure whatever that may be. i’ve given a few papers, attended a few conferences, taught a handful of classes and learned more than i had ever bargained for — a lot about myself, especially.

so what brings me back here? well…while attending the behemoth that was Alphabet Soup, er, i mean AMS/SMT/SEM 2012 in New Orleans a month and a half ago, i met up with Ryan Bañagale (of Amusicology fame and all around awesome musicologist) and we talked about social media among other things. i talked about my blog to which he actually said that he missed it. (you know i thought no one ever read this…a vain naïveté, i know but who cares?) sometime later, i realized that my tiny little voice was an important one for a whole host of reasons. while my journey is uniquely my own, a lot of people can identify with it (or at least parts of it) and it’s always been important to me to document my struggle.

(don’t worry Ryan, i still want to write for Amusicology!)

so here i am! granted, i won’t have that much to talk about in the upcoming months … actually, strike that. there’s the application process, the admissions and failures, and the life of a (hopefully) temporary independent scholar. plus, as we all know (though i think sometimes we need reminding) being out of school does not make me — or anyone else — less of a musicologist.

i’d like to think now that i’d have the time to devote myself to a different type of writing but we shall see. plus, i have *other* things to do. that means: go check out my Tumblr devoted to the Britten Centenary (and my place within it) A Birthday Hansel; it’s great fun and is a little less about me and my thoughts which is always nice.

so go, tell your friends and i’ll do my best to hold up my end of the bargain this time.

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you are not alone

never underestimate the importance of community.

i just came back from a fabulous talk by my professor George Lewis (it was Columbia University’s University Lecture, which one professor gives every year) and it was great but what was even more of a highlight for me was meeting people that i had yet to meet before. a whole community of african-american colleagues was right there, waiting to be found. they were all incredibly nice, interesting and welcoming. but the thing that struck me the most was the lack of feeling within myself that this community was forced. for the first time in, possibly, my entire life (most assuredly my scholarly one) i don’t feel alone. but i didn’t feel alone when i arrived. Columbia felt like the perfect environment for me, one in which i was not constantly reminded of my otherness (a feeling that was magnified by my time at Peabody).

when i talk to people about what i do, i brace myself for the looks that accompany “you study opera/British music/etc.?” as if i should be doing something else, as if they expect me to do something else. that is not encouraging but it’s nothing new. tonight, i spoke about my interests with a little more confidence, as if i had no fear of being judged. when i was home this weekend, i had a talk with my young cousin who is a freshman at the University of Virginia. she expressed to me all of these feelings, feelings i’ve known for years. it was hard to see what i’ve gone through happening to her, that feeling of loneliness and sadness at the fact she had no one with whom to relate. i hope that i was able to reassure her that she, too, has a community. a family filled with strong, intelligent, black women who are there to help her when it gets rough.

as President Bollinger said tonight, the academic life is a lonely one. and more so, it’s a life that is difficult to describe to those who are not a party to it. couple that with the very plain fact that it is not the most diverse and that this brings about its own sets of challenges makes it even more difficult for several of us. and that is why, in the end, what matters most is community.


who are the musicologists, anyway?

(before i begin, just a note of apologies for my absence. the past couple of months have been, well…that’s a story for another blog.)

this entry has been long in the making because several things have come up to influence how i feel about this topic. a few months ago in one of my seminars, the question of musicology vs music came up. i noted how we as musicologists are so quick to judge others from other disciplines who write on musical/musicological topics. but on that same note, we also judge musicologists who value their musicianship. so the question is, who are the musicologists?

i’ve never been a fan of that “those who can’t do, teach” adage. i can do and quite well. and my many encounters with musicologists have made it clear that in order for me to have turned to musicology, i must have failed at my musicmaking career. is this some way of passing on past failures? i know many musicologists who are active in their musicmaking and i genuinely feel it makes them the better for it. some would say that there are many reasons for this somewhat irrevocable split. if you read Suzanne Cusick’s article in Rethinking Music, it comes from the battle between the academic and male musicology and the feminine act of musicmaking. i definitely give this idea some credence. but is that all? for some reason, i believe it goes deeper than that. i fear it might be a real hatred of what performing is or is made out to be.

the other day i had a revelation. yes, there is something very physical about performing but there’s something else. your blood is pumping, there’s sweat on your brow (if you’re doing it right) and you’re filled with endorphins. and the best part is the connection your brain feels with your entire person. there’s a wholeness that comes from practicing and performing that is hard to find anywhere else. i realized that my brain has felt disconnected from the rest of my body. uncovering secrets, relating facts, proposing topics are all amazing feelings but not quite like the rush playing provides. how could anyone be against that?

somewhere and somehow, we need to find away to connect the two divided halves of ourself. we need to listen to music in our seminars (because honestly, how can we question and analyze if we don’t listen?) and try to not denigrate our colleagues. believe it or not, insight can come from the strangest places and it’s time for us to accept that. this may be a futile argument but i, if anything, am convinced that in order for me to be the best musicologist, nay, musician that i can be that i must keep cranking out those Bach suites and Vivaldi sonatas while reading manuscripts and writing abstracts. and if i fail, then i fail but i’m not too concerned about that.


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