Perseverance = Fourteen Years


Good news to share: I have been offered and accepted a tenure track position as Assistant Professor in the Music Composition, History, and Theory Department at Westminster Choir College.

More than a few acquaintances might be wondering, “Haven’t you been teaching for a long while? How long did it take you to land a tenure track job?”

Fourteen years.

I went on the job market, while still a doctoral student, in 1999. I received my Ph.D. in 2001. I’ve been applying for academic teaching positions, in hopes of finding an ongoing one, for fourteen years.

Halfway through my search, an op/ed in the Chronicle for Higher Ed told me to give up any hope of getting a tenure track job after three years. When I recounted this to a girlfriend (who was not to be my future wife), she said, “Oh, that’s just if you want to get a good job.”

I’m grateful that my stubborn Irish/German DNA, a score of friends, and another score of stubborn Irish/German-American relations told me otherwise.

During the time period from 1999 until, well, this past Friday, I’ve been employed as a contingent faculty member in seven different places, under a variety of job titles. Particularly early on, I sometimes didn’t know if I’d have a job until the next semester was about to start. I believe the record for a late job offer was two days after a semester started, but there were many Fourth of July weekends spent on tenterhooks.

I’ve listed the job titles below. Bear in mind that the commitments were semester by semester until 2002 and then again from 2004-’06. After that, they were mainly one-year appointments.

1999: Adjunct Assistant Professor
2000: Part-time lecturer and Adjunct Assistant Professor (freeway flier years: three campuses and three other part-time jobs)
2001: Adjunct Professor
2002: Replacement Assistant Professor (my first full-time teaching job)
2003: Substitute Assistant Professor (doesn’t that sound like you have an unruly homeroom class to mind?)
2004: Adjunct Assistant Professor (part-time again, for two years. That was the toughest time: going from having full-time pay and benefits to being eligible for food stamps)
2006: Instructor (one-year contract )
2007: Visiting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment)
2008-’10: Acting Assistant Professor (two-year appointment)
2010-’11: Acting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment)
2011-’12: Acting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment: line split between two campuses)

Do you notice how each of these job titles tells you “Don’t get comfortable?” I mention this not to complain: I am one of the lucky ones. For eight of my fourteen years on the market, I had a full-time salary with benefits. I have friends and colleagues who are extraordinarily talented, yet woefully underemployed. In fact, most of the new Ph.D’s who enter the higher ed job market today will encounter a struggle during the search to find their teaching “homes.” Some will be faced with job offers that they feel they ought to take, even though it involves moving away from family, friends, and the place they have come to think of as home. Many will remain underemployed for years; some will be kept as contingent faculty members for their whole careers.

Once most people get their “dream job,” it’s easy for them to forget these years in the wilderness. It’s natural: I imagine a human
response to coping with adversity. The one blessing I find in the long struggle to remain employed is that it will be difficult to forget what it was like to live semester to semester and year to year for so long. I hope never to take that for granted.

Indeed, it’s still hard for me to believe: I will be teaching on one campus next year, and I will be able to start thinking of myself as an ongoing part of an institution instead of a visitor. I am particularly glad that my wife Kay Mitchell and I (as well as four frolicsome felines) will be living under one roof instead of apart. So many academic couples have to get accustomed to living apart for years at a time. I tend to think that Anneliese  and Zelda would have none of that.

Without the many friends and family members who offered their support and encouragement throughout this long process, it simply wouldn’t have been possible. I hope to get the chance to express my gratitude to each of you in person, but I’d like to say it here publicly. Thank you.

I only wish that my father, who passed away in 2009, had lived to see this come to fruition. But to those still seeking the “right job,” and doubting their perseverance, I’d share one of his favorite sayings, one he’d say to me when the academic job market’s vicissitudes were weighing particularly heavily:

“Don’t quit before the miracle.”

Or, as Churchill said in his last visit to Parliament: “Never give up. Never.”

PS Lest you think that I will be resting on my laurels for even a moment, the conditions of my new job require me to come up for tenure almost immediately. So, if you are one of those kind people who has a concert program or tape of a performance to send to me: now would be the time. Thanks!

Sixty Postwar Pieces to Study

Sixty Postwar Pieces to Study

Recently, a couple of the undergraduate composers in the program at Westminster Choir College asked me for lists of postwar pieces to study. Given the vocal and choral emphasis in our program, I’ve compiled the list below to provide a different vantage point. Hence the emphasis on instrumental music and a preponderance of post-tonal composers that they might not encounter when learning their own recital repertoire. Given a different student population, composers like Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Donnacha Dennehy could just as likely appear on a listening list such as this.

And, of course, it is frustrating what one must leave out to keep a list manageable in size. Note that I am not attempting to give them the “greatest hits” of the past sixty-five years. Instead I strove for a diversity of selections, both watershed masterworks and vibrantly interesting pieces that merit attention, even if they may not be the first ones that come to mind for the given composer. On a different day, we could come up with sixty different pieces: a composer must be prepared for a lifetime of listening, score study, and learning. Even after that, they must also be humbled by the fact that they will only get to a fraction of all the good stuff out there!

Let’s say that an undergraduate composer began working with this list or a similar one at the beginning of their junior year; listening to and, if possible, studying the score for one of these pieces every week. Between their own performance experiences, WCC’s theory and history courses, and this survey of recent works, by the time that they were ready to consider applying to graduate programs in their senior year, they would have a decent grounding in the repertoire.

1-     Adams, John C. Nixon in China (1987)

2-    Adams, John C. Chamber Symphony (1992)

3-    Adams, John Luther. Red Arc/Blue Veil (2002)

4-    Andriessen, Louis. La Passione (2002)

5-    Babbitt, Milton. Philomel (1964)

6-    Babbitt, Milton. Arie da Capo (1974)

7-    Berio, Luciano. Circles (1960)

8-    Birtwistle, Harrison. Secret Theatre (1984)

9-    Boulez, Pierre. Le marteau sans maître (rev. 1957)

10-  Boulez, Pierre. Répons (1984)

11-  Cage, John. Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1948)

12-  Cage, John. Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958)

13-  Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 1 (1951)

14-  Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 5 (1995)

15- Chin, Unsuk. Akrostischen-Wortspiel (1993)

16- Crumb, George. Ancient Voices of Children (1970)

17- Czernowin, Chaya. String Quartet (1995)

18-  Davies, Peter Maxwell. Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969)

19-  Feldman, Morton. Rothko Chapel (1970)

20- Feldman, Morton. For Samuel Beckett (1987)

21-  Ferneyhough, Brian. Bone Alphabet (1991)

22- Ferneyhough, Brian. Terrain (1992)

23- Foss, Lukas. Echoi (1963)

24- Glass, Philip. Satyagraha (1980)

25- Grisey, Gérard. Les espaces acoustiques (1985)

26- Haas, Georg Friedrich. In Vain (2002)

27- Harrison, Lou. La Koro Sutro (1973)

28- Kurtág, György. Kafka-Fragmente (1986)

29- Kurtág, György. Stele (1994)

30- Knussen, Oliver. Where the Wild Things Are (1983)

31-  Lachenmann, Helmut. Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (1990)

32- Lang, David. Little Matchgirl Passion (2007)

33- Ligeti, Győrgy. Atmosphères (1961)

34- Ligeti, Győrgy. Violin Concerto (1993)

35- Lim, Liza. City of Falling Angels (2007)

36- Marshall, Ingram. September Canons (2003)

37- Messiaen. Olivier. Éclairs sur l’au-delà… (1991)

38- Monk, Meredith. Songs of Ascension (2008)

39- Nancarrow, Conlon. Three Canons for Ursula (1989)

40- Nono, Luigi. …sofferte onde serne… (1976)

41-  Pärt, Arvo. Fratres (1976)

42- Penderecki, Krzysztof. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)

43- Reich, Steve. Music for Eighteen Musicians (1976)

44- Reich, Steve. Different Trains (1988)

45- Riley, Terry. In C (1964)

46- Saariaho, Kaija. L’amour de loin (2000)

47- Scelsi, Giacinto. Prânam 2 (1973)

48- Sciarrino, Salvatore. Vento D’Ombra (2005)

49- Schoenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw (1947)

50- Shapey, Ralph. Millenium Designs (2000)

51-  Stravinsky, Igor. Variations (Aldous Huxley in Memoriam) (1964)

52- Stockhausen, Karlheinz, Kontakte (1960)

53- Takemitsu, Tōru. From me flows what you call Time (1990)

54- Turnage, Mark-Anthony. Blood on the Floor (1996)

55- Xenakis, Iannis. Pléïades (1978)

56- Xenakis, Iannis. Tetras (1983)

57- Varèse, Edgard. Poème électronique (1958)

58- Wolpe, Stefan. Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Piano, & Percussion (1954)

59- Wuorinen, Charles. A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1975)

60- Young, LaMonte. The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-present)

Want Ad: FIU looking for a Music Tech faculty member

College of Architecture + The Arts

School of Music

Music Technology Program Area Coordinator

Position 44727

FIU is a multi-campus public research university located in Miami, a vibrant and globally connected 24/7 city.  Miami’s captivating skyline, tasteful tropical cuisine, vivid arts, historically rich and diverse neighborhoods, trendy South Beach scene, bustling international trade, and youthful exuberance provide a perfect environment for our engaged university.

Serving more than 42,000 students, FIU offers more than 180 baccalaureate, masters, professional, and doctoral degree programs.  As one of South Florida’s anchor institutions, FIU is worlds ahead in its local and global engagement, finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our times.

The College of Architecture + The Arts at Florida International University is accepting applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Music Technology in the School of Music.


  • Earned Doctorate in Music Composition, Music Technology, or Digital Media
  • Record of performances and commissions on the National and International level and/or record of scholarly publications in music composition and music technology
  • Leadership and administrative skills
  • Evidence of excellence in university teaching
  • Ability to advise graduate and undergraduate research in music composition and technology

Responsibility and Expectations:

  • Teach undergraduate and graduate Music Technology courses
  • Advise all Music Technology students and supervise recording and lab assistants
  • Observe, mentor and supervise students in internships
  • Coordinate the Music Technology area including revision and development of  curriculum and other related aspects of the area
  • Develop and maintain a regional and national profile within the profession, and engage in scholarly and creative activities
  • Be actively engaged in the department recruitment and retention activities
  • Provide advisement related to music technology to Music administration

To apply online for this position please visit https: // Review of applicants will begin on January 12, 2011.

To ensure full consideration, please submit on line a cover letter, the names and contact information for 3 references that the committee can contact, a complete CV, a philosophy of teaching statement and a vision statement for the area. For additional information contact: Jason Calloway, Chair of Music Technology Search, School of Music, Florida International University,

10910 SW 17th Street, WPAC 143C, Miami, Fl. 33199

FIU is a member of the State University System of Florida and is an Equal Opportunity, Equal Access Affirmative Action Employer.


Yesterday, I travelled to Fredonia University to give a talk about Ralph Shapey and my own music to the composition students there. Had a lovely time and got a chance to catch up with Rob Deemer and debrief about and decompress from the Sequenza 21 concert. It seems like a fine school and Rob is really building the program there into something special. Those looking for a place to study composition would do well to check it out.


Music and Ecology  Homework

Read chapters 2-3 in R. Murray Schafer’s Tuning of the World

1) A sound walk is not dissimilar from a regular walk, but the participant(s) is more mindful of the sounds around them. For Tuesday, take a couple of short sound walks, taking note of the sounds you hear around you, paying attention to distance, direction, loudness, variety, etc. Be ready to report on what you heard in detail (it’s advisable to jot down some notes afterward).

2) We all create soundscapes all the time. A soundscape is different from a soundwalk in that, rather than walking through an environment and observing the sounds that are made, we are creating a sonic ambience to our taste. Try a soundscape at home. It could be while you are doing a mundane task, such as cooking or cleaning, or during some other activity (reading, eating, etc.). What sounds do you insert into your environment. Why do you like having them accompany you? Are any of them used to mask other sounds? If so, why? If you could have an environment in which only sounds you “liked” were in operation, what would they be?

3) What’s a spectrograph? What’s noise abatement?

4) What are the principal difference Schafer draws between manmade sounds and sounds from the natural world.

5) What do you think Schafer means when he says that a musician is “an orchestrator of sound?” Notice he doesn’t use the word composer. This has to do with soundscaping and soundwalking.

Introduction to Modal Theory

Today I’ll be giving a talk at the Westminster Choral Pedagogy Institute. I’ve been asked to give a brief introduction to modal theory, including construction and cadences. Below are two handouts that I’ve prepared.

Introduction to modes 1

introduction to modes part 2

The scores we’ll be consulting during the talk are:

“Ave Maria…” – Josquin

“Why Fum’th in Fight” – Tallis

“O Magnum Mysterium” – Victoria

“Mass in G Minor: Kyrie Eleison” – Vaughan Williams