“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe to be great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” –Steve Jobs
Forgive me, but having listened to heart-warming musicals all week for a school assignment, I’m feeling just a little bit sappy. So I’m going to feel all the feelings for a couple minutes here. I want to put a disclaimer upfront that this post may sound a bit like I’m down on my potential career path, but that isn’t the case at all. Just bear with me.
Something that’s been weighing on my mind since I started graduate work in musicology has been a personal desire to make myself and what I do socially relevant. While there is a plethora of things that attract me to the lifelong pursuit of academia (a pursuit that I find absolutely noble), I can’t stand the idea of locking myself away in the ivory tower for the rest of my life.
This semester, especially, has presented me with many opportunities to reflect on the current state of my discipline and I have to say that I’m not at all satisfied. To me, there is a three-pronged problem encouraging academics not to leave their towers:
1) the trap of tenure-track positions mainly requires us to demonstrate old-school expertise within our disciplines (i.e. publishing a monograph before we can be considered for tenure) if we hope to attain that coveted professorship;
2) the general unwillingness of academics (despite their general liberalism) to propose and accept changes to the discipline;
3) the disconnect (especially in musicology) between theoretical research and practical implementation of that research (I would argue that you see this less in the sciences who are much more highly pressured to prove their practical worth to society on a regular basis).
I’m not really going to touch the first two issues, mainly because I could probably devote an entire semester to each, but also because the rain lately is bringing my mood down and we’ve already been discussing the crap out of these limitations in one of my seminars (something that we’re calling the “bars of the [musicology] cage”).
Suffice it to say, that it can either be incredibly uplifting to realize you’re in a room full of people who agree with you, or incredibly depressing that only one of those people is a professor, and the other 8 are doctoral students, just like yourself. Of course, I truly believe that my peers here at IU are going to be the movers and shakers in our field (honestly, I don’t think I’ve met a smarter group of people in my life), but at the moment, the prognosis for musicology looks pretty bleak some days. And unfortunately, those are limitations that I’ve had to accept (to some extent) to even operate within my field on a daily basis.
Let’s be real, when you have 250+ pages to read in a week, an unruly term paper staring you down, and a pile of music appreciation exams to grade, you’re not devoting much time to pushing the envelope of your discipline; you’re just trying to keep your head above water and keep your kitchen clean enough that you aren’t embarrassed when your friends come over for wine.
Instead of railing on about the problems with musicology as a discipline, I want to talk about my hopes for my future and for the future of music academia in general. As I mentioned above, it is immensely important to me to find some way of making my work socially relevant. While I find writing program notes endlessly entertaining and a vital way to connect with the less musically erudite classical music patron (yes, #nerdgasm), I still believe that there is far more to be done.
It’s pretty commonly accepted at most music schools (especially conservatories), that there is a great divide between the performance departments and the more scholarship-oriented departments (this can include musicology, music theory, and sometimes composition or music ed.). This is always something that’s bothered me, and I’ve always made it a point to cross that boundary and surround myself with not only students of my own ilk, but also performers. Variety is the spice of life, but I often end up learning just as much about music from my performance peers as I do in the seminar room. Again, I’m not knocking my discipline, but there’s something to be said for reaching out to the practical end of what we do. New horizons and all.
The reason I bring up this divide is that while performers often invite academics into their fold, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the same is true the other way around. Which creates a self-reinforcing cycle in which there is little to no interaction sometimes between performers and musicologists. And therein lies my issue with trying to make myself socially relevant. Imagine the possibilities for the concert hall if we (with our powers combined!) created an academic performance environment and used our relationship to our advantage in teaching people how to listen to classical music. Now isn’t that just a crazy idea?
Isn’t one of the biggest struggles in keeping classical music (and hence, what we do in musicology) relevant to the general public that nobody taught younger audiences how to listen to music at an early age? I argue that we could help reverse that by creating a place for academia in the performance hall, and by welcoming performers into our own academic spaces more often. I absolutely believe that there is a time and place for strict, “high” scholarship, that there is a need to move our discipline forward independently for the sake of knowledge and academia (duh, or I wouldn’t be torturing my way through a PhD), but there are so many more possibilities for what we could be doing with our knowledge and skills to effect change and encourage societal participation. And hey, it might actually be fun!
There is not a single person who plunged, dove, or stumbled their way into musicology because they didn’t love music (making, hearing, playing, experiencing, feeling, teaching). It’s so easy to get caught up in what we perceive to be the requirements and limitations of our discipline (and fail to see the forest for the term paper trees sometimes). I get that; trust me, every grad student in Colloquium today looked just a little bit slap-happy. I just fervently wish for myself (and I know that many people in my field, most of my professors, wouldn’t agree with this) that I will find a way to effect change in the part that got me interested in this business in the first place: the concert hall. I’ll let you know when I figure out exactly how I’m going to do that.