Monday, March 16, 2009

Paper-Less Musicology

Kyle Gann's recent post on his paper-less teaching got me to thinking about how much technology has changed my teaching, even in these few short years I've been in the business. Musicology, like pornography, is often on the leading edge of technological developments. I still remember when, as a sophomore in an electronic music composition class, I was blown away when our professor had the clever idea that we could "burn" our pieces to a CD-ROM. There was one solitary CD burner in the music lab, and we all waited our turn each week the night before our assignments were due. Then in one of the first classes I was a TA for, I remember frantically burning and re-burning CDs for the professor to use each day. By the end of graduate school, many of the professors I TA'd for would simply use a laptop or iPod hooked directly into the sound system.

Today, like Kyle I lead a largely paper-less teaching existence. I do hand out a paper syllabus at the beginning, but gone are the days of keeping a stack of extras around for those who lose them. I don't use handouts, preferring to just project things off my laptop. If I am being organized (which is not that often), I will rip a clip from an opera and put it into a PowerPoint presentation so that I don't have to fiddle around with the DVD player. I think the one thing I would like to be do is play music off of iTunes while still showing a PowerPoint slide. I'm not quite smart enough to figure it out, so if I need to show a score or a text, I will play the music off my iPod while using my laptop for images or text. I suspect there is a better way to do this!

IMSLP, the open source score project, is also a godsend for me, as it is for Kyle. I'm teaching a symphonic literature seminar right now. Rather than require them to buy a bunch of Dover scores or make costly handouts, I can just tell them to have a score in class, and most of them will just bring in a laptop with the PDF file downloaded from IMSLP. The downside, or course, is that it is difficult to make notes on a PDF score, and I, with my romantic attachment to print culture, still buy scores myself, and lovingly annotate them with analytical gibberish and timings from recordings. But using PDF scores allows one to have a course based primarily around musical texts without having to worry about costs and the environment--definitely worth it in my book (so to speak).

The other problem, of course, is that pretty soon my symphonic lit class is going to leave the public domain era behind, and enter the twentieth century. Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis is certainly not on IMSLP! Which is actually too bad. In the 1950s, Cage explored quite seriously a project whereby public libraries in the United States could all have free copies of his works. In a letter to the New York Public Library, he wrote "I, personally, feel very strongly the obligation to get my own music out of my hands...Satie said somewhere that Beethoven was the first to give his music to a publisher. It would be a pleasure to establish another means appropriate to another time."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In the news...

  • I think just about every academic has had this recent NY Times article forwarded to them by a sympathetic family member or three. In essence, the Times delivers the surprising news that in this Tough Economic Climate, the job market is bad. The poor ABD grad student they interview applied only got two phone interviews! Shocking. (Read a better analysis at The Valve.)

  • On the other hand, according to the Chicago Tribune, college music programs are booming in this Tough Economic Climate.

    Ergo, according to the traditional news media, we learn that only musicologists are going to get jobs in this Tough Economic Climate. Phew!

    Clearly, this is because we have conquered Broadway. Jane Fonda: the best thing to hit musicology since Prince.
  • Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    Also, the premiere of Carmen in 1875

    In 1950, on this day, my mother and her twin brother were born in San Francisco.

    Happy birthdays!

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    The Elite Humanities

    Dean Dad noticed this NY Times piece a few days ago, and has already provided the appropriate excoriation. But it is just so outrageous, I feel the need to repeat his points.

    It's an article claiming that because the economy is bad, nobody studies the humanities anymore. The evidence? Well...there isn't any. Literally. The author, a Ms. Patricia Cohen cites statistics that say that overall hiring academic is down. Okay... And also statistics that humanities degrees have been stable over the past two decades. There was a big decline in the 1970s, but it's been fine ever since. If anything, I found the actual statistics in this story comforting for my career prospects.

    Maybe I'm just being picky; maybe it's only we humanists who care about such things as "evidence" to support your "argument."

    But the kicker is this paragraph:

    The humanities continue to thrive in elite liberal arts schools. But the divide between these private schools and others is widening. Some large state universities routinely turn away students who want to sign up for courses in the humanities, Francis C. Oakley, president emeritus and a professor of the history of ideas at Williams College, reported. At the University of Washington, for example, in recent years, as many as one-quarter of the students found they were unable to get into a humanities course.

    As money tightens, the humanities may increasingly return to being what they were at the beginning of the last century, when only a minuscule portion of the population attended college: namely, the province of the wealthy.

    You get that? The humanities thrive in elite liberal arts schools. Unlike at big state schools, where...humanities courses are so widely popular they oversubscribe. Therefore, the humanities are now only for the elite.


    I'm going to guess Ms. Cohen did not major in the humanities; I sure hope not.

    Sunday, March 1, 2009

    The sweet sound hits me...

    As the older brother of an aspiring opera singer, I found the recent New Yorker profile of Natalie Dessay fascinating. What a weird world, opera. But the profile came out at a handy time, as I just showed one of my classes the YouTube video of Dessay singing the Lucia Mad scene.

    I am not an opera buff, by any measure. I know enough to teach it in a history survey, and to appreciate what my sister does. The only corners of the operatic repertoire about which I have a more intimate knowledge are certain twentieth-century works (particularly Berg, Britten, Adams, Glass), and also Wagner. The latter is the result of a grad school seminar, and also a certain amount of cultural inheritance from a Wagnerian grandfather. I can't say that I like Wagner; indeed, I often feel revulsion. And yet, when it comes time to teach Wagner this semester, I have three different versions of Tristan in my personal DVD collection to choose between. So, yeah.