Tag Archives: grad school

the listserv goes on and on…

i have wanted to write about so many things over the last month or so. at one point it seemed like anglo-american musicological academics were losing control. it’s calmed down and some other things have happened that i thought would be good to compile all in one place.

some time in december, my facebook/twitter BLEW UP with somewhat confusing and vague comments from my friends/colleagues, all related. in the wake of Charles Rosen’s death, the AMS listserv went bananas. and not in the good way. but it was so bad, so intense that it caused me to do something i didn’t think i’d have to do for quite some time: rejoin the listserv.

background: when i became a member of AMS in 2006, i went whole hog. i had my copies of JAMS, poured over the newsletter, and subscribed to the listserv. over time (a short period of time), that enthusiasm waned. the emails on the listserv were insipid, confrontational, and (the worst part), never-ending. i jumped ship pronto with no intention of looking back.

but the outrage that seemed to be pouring out of the internet was too important for me to refuse to participate. what took place after Rosen’s death seemed like slander and it was malicious. and one email after another caused the whole thing to snowball. most people wondered if this was the right conversation to have, if this was the right place, or the right time. (i disagreed.) and at one point, it was all anyone could talk about. and as i witnessed it, i became more and more distressed. musicologists fight about stupid, hypothetical shit all the time — it’s absurd yet tolerable. but this was new. now don’t get me wrong, at some point, all of our careers and decisions will be discussed but this seemed like — no, was — an attack. many people expressed a fair amount of outrage but the conversation and its many offshoots went on for weeks. thankfully, another happy little event came and distracted everyone: Zachary Woolfe’s review of Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker’s new book The History of Opera. in one very short paragraph, Woolfe denounced and insulted all of musicology, especially opera scholarship. i was slack-jawed when i read the review (i had just purchased the book maybe a month before) and it seemed like many people were asking where did Woolfe get the stones to make such a bold statement (in so many words). now as a contemporary opera scholar, i acknowledge that there is opera after Britten and that opera scholarship has been slow to recognize this fact (and this points to endemic problems within the discipline, ones i’m ready to debate at any time) but work is being done — good work. and for an outsider to be so incredibly dismissive seemed like someone taking a battering ram to the door. and when you’re on the other side of that door, regardless of what your feelings might be, you join the troops and prepare for battle.

it’s all quiet on the electronic front and now (with help from Columbia’s new Gmail server), i have once again relegated the listserv emails to their own folder, away from my inbox. i check on them from time to time but that’s about it.

in other news, i’ve been accepted to Duke’s PhD program. as you might imagine, this comes as a great relief. for those who have never applied to graduate school (for any field), i try to explain the “all you need is one” concept — sure, we all have our top choices and our safety schools but in the end, all that matters is that there’s one school that will take you, one place where you’ll be able to continue your studies and write your dissertation. this made my rejection by Cambridge a few days later a lot easier to swallow. what i’ve learned after going through this the first time three years ago is that this process is not personal. there may be personal aspects to it but they are few and far between. Cambridge told me not to take my rejection personally and i didn’t (well to a degree. as a human i, like anyone else, hate to be rejected by anyone) and if i get rejected from the other four schools i applied to, i won’t take that personally either. (well except UNC — if they reject me a second time, god knows what i’ll do) but regardless, i can go about the business of my life knowing that come fall of this year, i’ll be in school again.

and can i just say how humorous i find it that all of my NC friends are like “come home!”? i appreciate the enthusiasm, i really do but right now, there’s still a little ways to go before i decide on moving back home. my facebook status announcing the news garnered almost 200 likes (and 60 comments) which i think is so absurd and, honestly, it makes me feel a little ashamed. thirsty much? but i share everything, how could i not share this? plus, 200 people out of approximately 1800 friends is a drop in the bucket. still, it was an overwhelming drop. i think i’ll choose to be thankful rather than ashamed.

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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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money, money, money, money

before i get to the business of this post, a little news (& it partly inspired it but i’ll get to that in a moment). i found out on thursday that i had been accepted into the Ph.D. in Historical Musicology program at Columbia University. needless to say, i’m ecstatic. i’ve been on the phone/emailing with the area chair all day today to talk about their offer and as great as all of that is, it’s just nice to know that there is a plan. i still have three more schools to hear from and i welcome their decisions (i am by no means decided) but the knowledge that there is a place for me is, well…comforting. (go lions!)

now to the post at hand. this acceptance, conversations with friends & professors and the state of the american economy have made this post pretty much inevitable. i am part of a new generation of musicians, one that has to deal with very specific issues. this is not to bitch about those problems but to point out a divide that i can no longer tolerate.

in my first year at peabody, my (bassoon) teacher and i had a very important conversation that changed the dynamic between us drastically. he asked me why i wasn’t making as many reeds as my peers. i looked at him point blank and told him that i did not, at that time, have the money for cane. (for those who don’t know, prices for cane can vary depending on the state in which they are bought and can tend to be very expensive for very few pieces) he looked at me with shock and a face that communicated to me that this was not a sufficient answer. i, however, was the one who was shocked — shocked that he could not understand my situation. i then told him, very frankly, that i am the one supporting myself, paying for my tuition, paying my rent, bills, food, car insurance, the whole business and while i would love to spend all of my money and all of my time on bassoon-related activities that i could not or i would be homeless.

we never had that conversation again.

it was after that that i had to understand where my teacher was coming from. he’s from a generation of American (orchestral) musicians who went to school with the sole purpose of getting a job, graduated at 21 or whatever age, went out into the world and won jobs. and of course, the chances of winning another job rise exponentially after winning the first so, in his case, he won a job and kept moving up until he got his current gig where he’s been for almost forty years. this is an easy scenario to diagram: the “American conservatory” was a mere enfant, struggling to find its way through the world of academia, schools were sparsely populated and employed teachers who taught in the tradition of the Conservatoire because they themselves went there. there were great American orchestras with a fairly average turnover rate and more were emerging. so while my teacher, who is amazing, won a job, lots of other musicians, who varied in skill, won jobs as well. as the social stock of the American orchestra began to rise, many orchestral musicians saw a career laid out for them, especially as the base pay increased. and it was then, that those musicians who had won jobs decided that they would stay put for as long as they had life in their bodies.

fast-forward to today. most orchestras that would be formed have been formed and those musicians who, in the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s decided to never quit their jobs are still there. and who could blame them when the base pay in one of the “Big 13” orchestras is $100,000, double that if you’re a section leader, principal wind player or concertmaster? but now there is a music program in every major school in the country and more and more students are encouraged to apply. this is all well and good even though we all know that that our schools are populated with people who will not make it as musicians in any capacity. luckily for me, i went through an undergraduate program that based itself on weeding people out (my first history class had 40 people in it, my last history class had 6) but this is not always the case. so the number of people graduating with music degrees has multiplied by who knows how much and the number of jobs is the same, or actually less. all of these people are competing for a job that will never exist.

so what does this has to do with my first point? well many of us in my generation have been taught by people from my teacher’s generation. and because most of us will never understand what it’s like to graduate from college and win a job, we have to make certain decisions. many of us choose to stay in school for years, many of us choose to leave. but those of us who do stay have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to better ourselves as musicians and i’m pretty sure that, like me, most students just don’t have that money laying around. so we throw ourselves into debt to work at our craft but at the same time, we have to hold down what i like to call “real person” jobs just so we can feed ourselves and have a place to live.

and people wonder why our work is shoddy, why we don’t improve, why art is suffering.

for the first time in almost ten years, it looks like i may be experiencing a respite from all of this tomfoolery. but even while i may be able to pull myself out, i know it’s still happening. so many teachers have never felt what it’s to struggle so hopelessly monetarily while trying to educate ourselves. and out of all of the things that it is, it’s frustrating the most. so is this a rant on the problems of conservatories, American higher education, the repressive orchestral structure? well it could be, but mainly, it’s a plea to those who are, hopefully, trying to educate. if we could have the life that you had, we would, but we don’t. we face a new set of problems that affect us as people and as musicians. the sooner you come to understand that, the faster we can focus on becoming the best musicians we can be.

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courage, amie.

well today i got rejected from my first Ph.D. program. i don’t know how i feel just yet and i don’t think i’ll be musing on the subject for very long or often (either on my own or on this blog). i have to go about my day, take a look at myself, take a look at the process and try to be as emotion-less as possible. it’s hard. but taking pictures and playing chamber music with friends helps.

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how sweet the answer echo makes to music at night

i know i’ve been absent for a few weeks…it’s crunch time for me. what’s that you ask?

THREE grad school applications
ONE intersession syllabus
ONE community project
THREE standardized tests (one of them NOT in english)
ONE thesis abstract

yeah. but i have lots of fabulous blog posts coming after the storm has passed. look forward to active listening vs. passive listening, musicians in the community and the real world peabody: exam season edition. so until then, pray that i make it out alive and with some semblance of my sanity in tact.

and to tie you over, have a little steve reich.

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from the library stacks 11/5

Mobile Photo Nov 5, 2009 10 24 59 PM

books from top to bottom:

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas
Evolution of Communication Systems
Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw
Britten and the Far East
Scandals and Follies: The Rise and Fall of the Great Broadway Revue
Britten’s Musical Language
Britten’s Gloriana
The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity
The Origins of Music
The Cambridge Companion to The Musical
The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig
Bach Cantatas for Bassoon

all for 1) my Master’s Thesis (forthcoming 2010), 2) editing my Ph.D. application writing samples, 3) preparation of course materials for my course on the history of the musical in 2010 and 4) my laborious and ongoing study of all things baroque bassoon. bring it.

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