Tag Archives: musicals

the end of intersession (and what i learned)

last week was my last week of teaching and it was filled with so many emotions and feelings that, honestly, i was a little terrified. i felt like throwing in the towel pretty much every day — i was starting my own classes as well, a balancing act i could not have prepared for no matter how hard i tried — and i was worried i was running out of ideas and steam.

it was odd that i would feel so helpless during this last week considering that week had the topics that interested me the most. they seemed to be the most enjoyable classes and who knew the thing that would get my class the most riled up was an argument over whether or not Disney’s Snow White was a strong female character?

i ended the last class early after a very live conversation about the state of Broadway today and expressed to them how grateful i was to have had this opportunity and to thank them for being so patient with me. they gave me a round of applause which was unexpected and sweet. on the way out, i talked to one of my students about NYC and musical theater. he seemed very grateful for the class and enthused. that kind of validated it for me, all the back-breaking, ass-kicking work. that night i came home to a flurry of emails from my students, not only with their final papers attached, but with well wishes for my (academic) future.

so the other day, my good friend (and very talented teacher) Gina called me and in our conversation, she asked what i had learned from this whole experience, which, to be honest, i had never really sat down and plotted out. so saying it out loud was as new to her as it was to me. i told her that i learned not to take things so personally: i know what it’s like to be a student in a three hour seminar and i am never really a ball of sunshine. it would be a mistake to not draw upon my experiences as a student and let them influence me as a teacher. also i realized that i needed to trust and be confident in my own knowledge and i think that’s a very difficult thing to do. i still worry about it. i’ll be teaching two new classes in MH4 this semester (one new for me and one new for the course) and even though it’s material i covered in my own class (Gershwin and Weill), i still worry that the words that will leave my mouth will not correspond with reality in any way, shape or form. but they will and they do. and no one wants to learn from an insecure teacher.

so i couldn’t be happier that intersession is over. the weight was massive and now that weight has to be transferred over to my own studies. but i am thankful and blessed, hopefully a littler smarter, a little wiser, a little more relaxed from this endeavor.

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intersession days two & three [AKA laugh at my jokes!]

i think the most insightful things i could learn from this class are really about me and my capacity to make this my future. with each passing class, i become a little more relaxed and i try not to carry my stored anxiety about imparting knowledge. it’s difficult but getting better.

i felt bad for my students on wednesday because we spent the first half of the class talking about Wagner and his impact on drama. not what they were expecting, but they seemed to latch on to the complex ideas of integration theory and the Aristotelian orders of time. it’s funny because i have to keep reminding myself to “un-complicate” things — there is no reason why any of these students should be concerned with Neue Sachlichkeit — and try to let them know that while i know they are intelligent enough to understand these concepts when explained, all they need to do is be familiar with them. then i usually make some wisecrack about German being a debbie downer and we all relax.

the discussion on minstrelsy was probably the most frank we’ve had with the most participants while still being a little hesitant. but the comments that got to me the most were those about seeing artists with whom they were familiar (Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, et al.) under this new guise of blackface and how shocking it was to them. as someone who’s grown up with these films, that’s a reaction that is new to me and it was really nice to talk about it.

i think teachers dread their first monday and first fridays. as a student, i understand what those days are like (the word is awful) and today was no exception. i had a bunch of absences, of which i was aware, but those who came looked like they had been hit with mack trucks. i’m so glad i started with Gershwin — something about recounting the plots of Strike Up The Band and Let ‘Em Eat Cake out loud that always leads to hilarity. and then came the break. during the break, i asked if they were enjoying the class and apologized for beating them over the heads with a LOT of terminology. this led to a really spirited discussion about experiences in the theatre, what we like and don’t like and everyone laughed and shared. i was really surprised — it gave me the opportunity to get a little more personal. they enjoyed my Der Freischütz wolf call story and i didn’t know people could get so caught up in Beauty and the Beast the musical. the second half of class which started with Brecht was surprisingly rowdy, though i loathed having to talk about & describe things like non-Aristotelian drama and Gestus. turns out, many of them were familiar with Weill, partially because actor and Writing Seminars faculty member John Astin apparently talks about Die Dreigroschenoper almost every day.

(and yes, i mean that John Astin.)

in any case, the class enjoyed listening to a little Lotte Lenya and watching clips from the LA Opera’s 2008 production of Mahagonny, more than i could have expected. i didn’t finish my lecture, got started with Blitzstein but let them loose to finish it on monday and i was incredibly pleased.

i have to remind myself of what it feels like to be in their shoes, i mean, i should know. it’s just as hard to be a student sometimes and i don’t want to ask too much of them. as long as they get one thing out of this, then i’ve succeeded. unless that one thing is about Wagner because then, well, i’ve pretty much failed.

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intersession: day one [AKA wits, skits & tits]

this was it. today was the first day of my intersession class, The History of the Musical and my anxiety about teaching was amplified by my returning home to baltimore sunday night only to find that the water in my bathroom pipes had frozen solid. luckily, that issue had a very straightforward solution but it raised my heart rate. i got to my classroom early to get all of the A/V stuff together (it worked but my projector’s color scheme is off and everything is purple?) and survey the landscape. one by one, students came in, unsure of what they were walking into…

the class maxed out at 21 people, a great number. i did my introduction and had everyone go around and say their names, their major and why they wanted to take the class. i got some surprising answers. many had theatre/dance backgrounds, many knew nothing about musicals and the class interested them and many just like to watch musicals. i didn’t know people still did that in this day and age. after the intros, i told everyone to stand up and push all of the chairs to the side. that can only mean one thing…THEATER GAME. thanks to the sound advice of my colleagues, i picked machine to do on the first day. i put everyone in groups of four (myself included) and each group had to form a machine with their bodies, sounds and all while the other groups guessed. they seemed rather into and came up with some great ideas. when i proposed the idea of doing one every class, they responded with a resounding yes. i think it was this that broke the ice for me.

after that, class was standard fare. i think my lesson plan was cohesive, they asked a few questions and responded to the few questions i had for them. i feel the first class will always have hangups as they have no material assigned beforehand so i didn’t let it bother me that i was doing most of the the talking. i felt bad that i was assigning Wagner’s “Art and Revolution” to read for the next class (and told them so) but you know, such is academia.

i’m not sure why this post is as colloquial as it is, possibly because it’s 12:43 in the morning or because the only way i can relate this story, at the moment, is from a place of pure giddiness. over the course of the next three weeks, i hope to learn a lot about myself as a teacher and as a student. maybe the next few classes will be a little more revelatory.

wednesday’s class is “Wagnerian form and the Early Musical” and “The Continuation and Effects of Minstrelsy” about which i am very excited. that might be the first time in my musicological career where “excited” and “Wagner” appear in the same sentence.

and because i fouled up and didn’t show my dance clip of the day in class, here it is for all of you..a little Fred and Ginger, the best way to start a semester.

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twelve drummers drumming

well i’m snowed in here in baltimore, which presents the unique opportunity to either a) get a lot of things accomplished or b) do absolutely nothing. you can take a guess how the day played out. in any case, a handful of musical tidbits for this particular season:

  • a fabulous post from the guys over at Amusicology, on, ironically enough, how to get to work on your dissertation. i should really implement this…
  • this is the season when everyone puts out a christmas album (much to my dismay) and my time working at the gap has taught me to guard your music wisely! Pandora is working well as i made a “This Christmas” radio station (after the classic Donny Hathaway song & my favorite christmas song), try it out if you’re looking for some new music.
  • a yule log doesn’t hurt (even if it’s electronic)

this past week has been interesting and has raised a lot of issues and thoughts that, i suppose, need addressing. i’ve been taking a class this semester called Community Engagement and we all had to give final projects at the end of the year. mine took place on friday — a selection of musical theater songs with some theater games and info at a baltimore city middle school. over all it went well but there were moments when i wondered if i knew what i was doing. first, what we were up against: middle schoolers. no matter what part of the country, what class, race or socio-economic strata, middle schoolers are all the same. too cool for everything and hormones, hormones, hormones. so the thought of getting 20 kids to listen to me talk about rodgers & hammerstein seemed highly unlikely. and i was right, partly. the first group of kids (all girls, actually) was really excited and seemed cooperative. the group that followed wanted nothing to do with me and i choked. i learned a valuable lesson, many, actually, and tried to keep moving forward. my performers were unfazed which is testament to their professionalism and willingness.

but how do you lose the academic veneer that you’ve been working on? how do you make music history approachable to 13 year olds? i had an interesting conversation with my performers before we started about how to reach people. in the last year of my undergraduate, my new music ensemble along with students from the drama department took a full version of Stravinsky’s L’histoire on tour. our second stop was a high school in bay ridge (brooklyn) where we performed parts of l’histoire and parts of Steve Reich’s Drumming. they seemed unimpressed, at best. my pianist mentioned that they may just not have known how to express interest because, let’s face it, who hears Reich and Stravinsky live in their high school?

so i hoped in vain that part of this project would hit home and i think it did. an adorable 7th grader came up to our vocalist asking all sorts of questions. made me feel good even if i kind of flaked. (if you’re wondering, i got a B+ in the class which was to be expected). i think sometimes, we’re so caught up in academia and the impractical aspects of our field that we forget about their very practical applications. as far as getting out in the community, i’m a little rusty but i plan on rectifying that (in the form of an internship at the BSO’s ORCHkids program). how many musicologists, professors or what have you would have been able to do what i did on friday or would have even entertained the idea? if middle schoolers and church goers and kids at the Y don’t know about a symphony, what’s the point?

you can contend that point if you wish. my platform is that there isn’t one, but that’s just my take.

for something a little less existential…i was lucky enough to receive, as a thank you for my GA work, two tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall from my advisor. i’m taking advantage of this present tomorrow and watching Donald Runnicles conduct Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem. i really have fallen in love with this thing, on so many levels. for the inner tech geek in me, the quality of this is just outstanding, from the website to the actual production. it’s a pleasure to watch and feels like a grand event. and, of course, the music is just first rate. it seems that this is a venture that the Berlin Phil is strongly behind, using it to allow people all over the opportunity to hear great music. their outreach program that is tied in with this (with the help of Deutsche Bank) is also outstanding. so maybe it is related to what i discussed before. programs like this and the Met Live in HD (their cinema showings and their online player) make me slightly less worried about the future. it’s work on both ends of the scale that matter.

well, if i don’t see you before the new year, merry christmas and happy holidays. relax, be safe and love one another. i’ll leave you with a song from my very well guarded christmas mix, James Taylor’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic, River.

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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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