Friday, March 19, 2010

SAM Report, Part 1

Since both Drew and Rebecca have chimed in with thoughts about SAM, and I have a spare hour before going on a "soundwalk" with R. Murray Schafer, I thought I would chime in myself. (ding!)

As always, some great papers. So far I have particularly enjoyed seeing Jennifer Myers discussing the Federal Theater Project's depression-era Swing Mikado, Todd Decker's paper on how music was described in the scripts for Fred Austaire movies, Dan Blim on Balanchine's jazz ballets choreographed for the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes, and Glenda Goodman's fascinating look at concerts held in Philadelphia in the 1790s as a benefit for French refugees both from the Revolution and from Haiti.

I also greatly enjoyed my own panel session this morning. It was an unusually coherent panel, with a lot of intersections between the various topics. I particularly enjoyed Leanne Wood's look at the marketing campaign for the 1962 film version of The Music Man. Her paper reminded me I never reviewed here the production of that show I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, so make me do that! Keith Hatschek and Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett's papers on, respectively, Dave Brubeck's tours to Cold War-era Poland and HUAC, FBI, and State Department investigations of Aaron Copland, were both masterly in their exercise of archival research; I have a lot to learn from them.

Now, the big thing that took up my Thursday afternoon was attending the first of the new seminar sessions. As both Rebecca and Drew note, this is a new format that has those involved to distribute the papers electronically well in advance, with the idea being that the audience would have read the papers, and the two hour time slot can then be devoted to discussing their work in detail. This format can, I promise, work well; other scholarly societies regularly use it.

The seminar I attended did not, to be blunt, work very well. The papers, including those by both Rebecca and Drew, were great, and the audience was clearly enthusiastic. And yet conversation clumped around some fairly mundane details brought up by only one of the papers, with no engagement with broader intellectual issues that might have tied the essays together. The individual parts were by far much greater than their sum. That sounds harsh, and obviously the main issue is that the format is new and untested. Since I have no vested interest in this particular seminar (I didn't apply, so there's no hard feelings or anything) I thought I would bite the bullet and offer some suggestions for next year. Not that anybody asked, but I think it the new format is a great idea and hope the society will keep tinkering with it.
  • It's crucial that everyone attending have read the papers. This means finding the papers online needs to be easier (I knew about them and know how to use the web, but still had trouble figuring out how to get them.) And I think frankly that it means being a bit of a hard-ass, and telling those who drop by without having read the papers that they can observe, but not participate. If that means much smaller attendance, so be it. Maybe you should have to register separately to attend the seminar.
  • Those participating need to view it as, well, a seminar. I don't mean the authors, but all of us who showed up to talk. We were all in graduate school once; we know that successful seminars require having done the readings, but also taking steps to enable dialogue. That means listening as much as talking, it means taking arguments in good faith, and it means paying attention to the ebb and flow of conversation so that multiple voices can have their turn. Obviously this is hard to maintain in a graduate seminar, let alone with a bunch of senior scholars. But it should be the ideal we aim for. Some of that is up to the moderator, but he or she can only do so much.
  • Different physical space could be useful. This seminar was held in one of the larger meeting rooms, and the moderator was right to try to get everyone to sit in a circle. But why not hold it in a conference room around a table?

My completely-unsolicited two cents. As I say, I think it is great to be experimenting with this format; it says good things about the Society that it is willing to try new ideas. ahemAMSahem.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

As much as I try to avoid, "what he said": Thank you for this. You summarized my own thoughts beautifully.