quick update!

Thus begins the spring semester!

I feel so bloody grateful lately. Things are going well, with a few minor setbacks. I’ve been in a writing frenzy for the thesis of course, but I’ve been submitting small grant applications for projects I have up my sleeve. I figured I would take a stab at finding research funding. Even if nothing comes from it, I’m learning from the experience!

Some quick updates: I’ve recently been hired to create a couple of websites. I’ve been waddling through materials for the Muhs Project – my biggest problem is the lack of dated material I have to work with. I’ve been in a decluttering mood lately – my office is spotless (this is unheard of). My schedule this semester rocks. Lots of projects in the midst – I’m starting to focus more on my Tibetan projects. Focusing on one at a time is the problem here. My goals are to focus on me, to crawl out of my spiritual emergency, and to be as creative as possible 🙂

More soon –

The Eightfold Path of Academia

     Yesterday I was thrown into a conversation about my heritage. It’s an interesting conversation, because I spend so much time in classes (both my own and those I assist) discussing the identity of others, and yet I have barely thought about my own or how I identify. I don’t identify with any specific heritage – perhaps because I grew up “a mutt” notwithstanding the strong links to various cultures. I grew up in a town with a large Buddhist community – one of the largest (probably the largest per capita) in the nation. Consequently, I was exposed to the teachings from an early age despite half my family calling the local practitioners “freaky” – they assumed that these people were leftovers from the 70’s age of cults and communal living. There were certainly leftover hippies. People always fear what they don’t understand.

One of my favorite hometown experiences happened when I was very young, though I don’t remember my age. It must have been past the age of ten because I was already performing in the local community band. After a Sunday evening concert one summer, I was sitting on the common eating an ice cream cone, and I met my first Buddhist nun. She had finished a walking meditation and was walking around the center of town softening clay beads in her hand to make a mala. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but I know that’s what cemented my relationship to the dharma.  I walked away with the mala she had created and kept it until Hurricane Katrina destroyed it in 2005 (ironically, after I returned to New Orleans I found it in the mud where it had settled inside a singing bowl as the water levels dropped).

My relationship with Buddhism has always been love-hate. The teachings are there, but I haven’t always followed them, even when they bubble up from the subconscious to play the angel on my shoulder. I’ve had wavering months of devout practice, and months lost in the land of capitalist-driven hedonism where my inner child considered the world to be its sandbox. All I can do is smile because of course the entire premise behind Buddhist teachings is an espousal of ‘the Middle Way”, commonly known as moderation. I’m a horrible example of this. Now, in the land of academics, the corners of my mouth turn into a smile once more because once again the teachings, this moderation, should be paramount to my existence… and once again it’s not. An example? I work exceedingly hard 6 days a week to the point where I feel like I’ll collapse and on the 7th day, I’ll sleep late and do nothing but watch ridiculous TV and play with my dogs. Wouldn’t my life be better served if for those 6 days, I practiced moderation, so that by the 7th, I won’t feel the need to laze around? Sure it would. Knowing and doing are two different things. If my life becomes an example for anything, it’s that.

The noble 8-fold path should be recodified for academics, and applied to our interactions with research, colleagues, and students: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  I think I’ll post the list on my office wall. Meanwhile… identity – I’m still working on that.



A Rebuttal Against NPR: Ethnomusicology Edition

A recent article posted by NPR has disquieted ethnomusicologists across the country on social networking sites, message boards, and mailing lists. The following was stated in an article that discusses college student debt:

“So what are the most worthless degrees or, at least, the hardest to monetize later on in life? Kantrowitz says he often hears from religious studies and theater majors who have a hard time paying back their loans… Ethnomusicology is another example. Kantrowitz describes one student who was thinking of borrowing more than $100,000 to pay for that degree. “There are only two main occupations for a degree in ethnomusicology,” he says. “One is being a music librarian, which doesn’t pay very well. The other is being [on the] university faculty, teaching other students about ethnomusicology.” -NPR Staff

There are several things wrong with this statement, and perhaps Kantrowitz should check his sources before publishing such nonsense. Ethnomusicology doesn’t get nearly enough media as it is, and we certainly don’t need anything negative, nevermind when it’s blatantly incorrect. There certainly are far more than the two above occupations for those with a degree in ethnomusicology. Additionally the last time I checked, a degree in library science is necessary to be a librarian. Many ethnomusicologists do choose to pursue a career in academia as faculty. However, do they only “teach ethnomusicology?” Of course not – they are researchers and performers. They teach music classes that many other faculty are simply not qualified to do – including several genres of popular and roots music. In addition to world music survey courses, these courses tend to fill up with hundreds of students each semester, adding thousands of tuition dollars to the university pocketbook.

What else do ethnomusicologists do? They work at publication firms such as National Geographic, at iTunes, at Pandora Radio and other major music ventures, at Billboard venues and other “top music lists”, at museums, at art institutes, at festivals as directors and coordinators, at the Smithsonian, at record companies including the Recording Academy, at archives, for governments as cultural consultants, as humanitarians, as arts consultants, as primary and secondary teachers, as arts administrators, in applied fields, as healers, as anthropologists and musical historians, as musical archaeologists, as performers, as publication editors, as authors, in studios,as independent researchers, in media studies, as a program director, grant writer, tour publisher/manager, festival publicist, a consultant to film score composers or video game developers, radio DJ, as travel journalists and photographers, or a military consultant… what about working for TV stations like PBS, NG, or Discovery? Eat that, NPR.

At the end of the day, a lot of ethnomusicologists choose a less-than lucrative (usually) career in academia as university faculty, however the possibilities are endless. I don’t know any ethnomusicologists who are “in it for the money”. Ethnomusicologists are a rare breed, and have skills that the rest of the world needs whether they know it or not – we have the skills to discuss increased globalization and acculturation, cultural/spiritual sensitivity, and human diversity. I’m disappointed in NPR, a supposedly conscious public media outlet “on the side of the arts”. Where’s the love?

Finals are to Curry Powder as Winter Break is to ____.

Curry in the spice-bazaar (egypitan) in Istanbul

Image via Wikipedia

The end of the semester is so close I can smell it. In case you were wondering, it smells like hot madras curry powder.

Today’s the Sunday that leads us into the dreaded Finals Week. I’m currently at my desk sipping on pumpkin ale while I commit my schedule for the week to paper. Vacation is right over the horizon, yet here’s what I have left:

  • I have a prospectus due tomorrow on Sissy Bounce. It’s about 80% complete and I’ll finish it tonight.
  • I have 60 pages worth of lecture notes and a teaching philosophy due in the morning. It’s finished, but since I have ’til the morning I’m going to do a few last minute edits tonight which will take an hour or two,  including the addition of some potential audio/youtube clip links.
  • I have two exams this week. 1. bibliography – I have most of the week to prepare for this.  2. a global listening exam. While it doesn’t hold much weight, I’ll spend most of the week prepping for this.
  • A stack of 300+ papers to grade ranging from 2-12 pgs each.
  • 1 exam to proctor

This list is so much smaller than it was just a few days ago and that makes me a very happy grad student. My house looks like a tornado swept through it, I’ve been eating junk for a month, and my sleep patterns are ridiculously erratic. I’m ready for a break.

Of course, being the perpetual self-reflector that I am, I am already thinking of ways I can take things up a notch next semester. My biggest obstacle is time management, although I’m excellent at it when I’m under pressure. It’s not that I under-manage my time. I tend hyper-manage it. During the first half of this semester, I actually charted out each day by half hour segments. I was incredibly productive, but by October I had to tear myself out of the box and I haven’t been quite as productive since. It was a strangling experience. I need to find a balance.

In the spring there is a built-in time management system for my mornings in place as I’ll be TA’ing pop music courses at 8am five days a week.  I’m also taking on a wee bit more with the addition of two more ensembles, a Buddhist-text study group, and (if I get the okay) sitting in on two undergrad courses: Tibetan Historiography, and Ancient Tibetan Religions.  I also wanted to sit in on a Bollywood course being offered because I think it would integrate well with the Music of India course I’m registered for, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

I feel like I should personify my blog and thank it for being here for me to vent all semester. One almost down, a hell of a lot more to go –

3 down!

Sundays have turned into a cleaning and prep day. I rather like the ritual of it all.

Early in the morning, my partner and I glide through the house picking up our accumulated clutter, sweeping and mopping the floors, and unpacking a few more boxes- one day we’ll be completely moved in! Today was particularly productive.

At the point in which the house is ‘clean enough’, I tend to sit down in my office and take a look at my upcoming calendar, look at the assignments due this week, analyze my productivity data, reflect on last week, and clean off my desk.

So, as this week comes to an end I have about 100 papers left to grade, an assignment to finish, and a binder full of lecture notes to put together. As usual, I want to take a few minutes to recap the week –

  1. I’m not sure how this will work out, but in creating course binders as teaching resources I bought a package of insertable CD binder pages from Office Depot.  I’m going to create listening example CD’s for each chapter/unit, and include them in the same binder with my notes.   I don’t feel comfortable having only digital copies.
  2. I can’t believe how much I’m using my MacBook. I feel like I never close it.  This is such a change from last year when it was brand new and I barely used it.  It’s come to my attention that I should probably start backing up my work and my students’ files. I have hard copies of everything, but I am going to look into an external hard drive.  I have no clue where to start with that.
  3. This week I saw a fantastic photo-lecture on Bali, given by a PhD student who had recently returned from a 4-week intensive Gamelan program.  What struck me most were the similarities in the birth/death rites between Bali and New Orleans (and their musical rituals). Sounds far fetched, I’m sure… but I feel like every 45 seconds or so during the lecture I was able to make some kind of connection. There might be room there for a comparison panel.  At the end of the lecture, she gave us each a small book called by Nyoman Tantrayana –Storylines: The Guide to Balinese Arts & Culture Through the Stories That Inspire Them. Essentially, they’re folk tales. She was given several copies of it in Bali– I’m looking forward to reading it!
  4. In a class of about 100 students, almost all of them trace their development of musical taste in a chronological way, which maps significant points based on educational level and location. This is, of course, a ‘known’… but it’s never been quite so observable to me. Students changed their musical taste from elementary to middle school, and from middle to high school, all dependent upon what “everyone else was listening to”. One student in particular told a story about growing up in the rural south and being forced [by his peers] to enjoy country music. If he did not, he would have been shunned out of a particular sports team (This would be in the past two/three years).
  5. Alexander J. Ellis was “the Forrest Gump of ethnomusicology” (coined by a particularly insightful colleague).
  6. The phonograph was invented in 1877. (No kidding, you say?) Well – I’m adding it to this list because my mistakenly eager self answered 1891 and looked like an idiot for it this week, particularly because we were discussing an article that had been written in 1890 about phonograph usage. I doubt I’ll forget the date again.
  7. In teaching music to non-musicians, we become the lens through which they see music. This means that we have to carefully pick/choose the ‘elements of music’ that we teach them, and ensure that it doesn’t bind them into a box. For example, asking students to memorize basic forms in music is going to color how they hear music that does not adhere to any particular form.
  8. One of the problems with teaching ‘world music’ is that with one semester to cover the entire planet, we tend to teach traditional/indigenous styles rather than popular/current or, more recently relevant, world fusion genres.  It’s likely that all of our students will walk away thinking things like, “all music from Australia sounds like an aboriginal didgeridoo”.  The goal is to build the negation of this into our course materials.
  9. Justification for our jobs at colleges/universities includes that we teach, even if we’re hired as research professors. However, most college professors have never taken an education course, and therefore most have never been taught how to teach… doesn’t mean they don’t learn. So the question is, why isn’t there a push to teach graduate students how to teach? Well – there is (hence the program I’m in). I’m grateful for the push.


    an attempt to thank my body for keeping me alive

  10. Anxiety is an awful, awful thing. My blood pressure is through the roof (not completely caused by anxiety, but it doesn’t help).  However, I’ve been treating my body better these days. Today I made a delicious salad  for lunch with baby greens and seared scallops. Dinner with a bit heavier, but still low in sodium, which helps.

Starting tomorrow we have a Venezuelan Artist-in-Residence. This of course means that there’ll be several exciting lectures, concerts, and workshops. I’m looking forward to it! The music of South America is where I am weakest in acquaintance. I learned so much during Festival Brasileiro last year in New Orleans about the music of Brazil (and of course the NOLA connections there). I know this will be a comparable experience.

Here’s to week 4 and to 20% of the semester being behind us!