I haven’t written a pure blog entry in a long time… It’s been mostly concert announcements and the like. But it’s Academic Job Season again. Which makes me think of the Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” variation from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer Fudd (who is hunting rabbits specifically) has both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cornered with his gun, and Bugs gets Daffy to insist on getting himself shot.
Bugs: It’s true, Doc; I’m a rabbit alright. Would you like to shoot me now or wait ’til you get home?
Daffy: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!
Bugs: You keep outta this! He doesn’t have to shoot you now!
Daffy: He does so have to shoot me now! [to Elmer] I demand that you shoot me now!
[Elmer raises his gun. As Daffy sticks his tongue out at Bugs, he is shot. Daffy walks back over to Bugs, gunsmoke pouring out of his nostrils]
Daffy: [to Bugs] Let’s run through that again.
Bugs: [deadpan] Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home.
Daffy:[similarly] Shoot him now, shoot him now.
Bugs: [as before] You keep outta this, he doesn’t have to shoot you now.
Daffy Duck: [re-animated] Hah! That’s it! Hold it right there! [to audience] Pronoun trouble. [to Bugs] It’s not “he doesn’t have to shoot you now”, it’s “he doesn’t have to shoot me now”
Daffy: [angrily] Well, I say he does have to shoot me now!! [to Elmer] So shoot me now!
[Elmer shoots Daffy again]
Anyway. That’s close to how I feel about applying for academic positions. But I just retooled my Curriculum Vitae, and created a teaching philosophy statement. I would very much appreciate constructive feedback on either one. I hope the Teaching Philosophy doesn’t come across as the same old, same old pablum.
While I’m at it, I wonder if anyone out there who has been or chaired a search committee might care to illuminate the process by commenting on their experience(s)? I have only taught adjunct, so I’ve never been on one. In the last three years, I have made it to the interview stage three times. The first time, someone with a choral conducting qualification got the job over me, because conducting was entailed. The second time, they broke the position into multiple adjunct posts in the end. The third time I was painfully nervous during the sample lessons I gave, and they gave the position to an internal adjunct candidate.
But I would love to know a few things, the most obvious being:
• What makes one person’s CV float to the top of the candidate pile?
But also random things about the process that sometimes contribute to it feeling like a hassle, like:
• Why do committees ask for things that will make the entire applicant pool spend money on something like official transcripts, videos of teaching, CDs or scores, etc., rather than waiting to reduce the pool to, say, 10 candidates?
• After just reducing the size of my CV from 8 pages to 5 (primarily by winnowing my complete list of works down to commissioned works only), I see a vacancy announcement specifying a desire to see a complete list of works. Why?
• As for letters of recommendation, which is more important, the content of the recommendation or the name-recognition of the referee?
• How important is it to see a cover letter truly tailored to the school to which it’s sent?
As a classroom educator, I model myself on a combination of several professors whom I have been fortunate to know. Teaching effectively requires flexibility, patience, humility, inquisitiveness, humor and creativity. I strive to be clear and methodical in my presentation, to keep the path between the specific and the general visible, and to individualize the learning experience as much as possible. Mistakes should be embraced as instructional opportunities. I strive to bring into the conversation about music ideas from other disciplines such as history, the sciences or psychology, in order to create multiple inroads to understanding for my students, but also to introduce them to the notion that an embracing open-mindedness to disciplines outside of music will help them become better musicians and critical thinkers. As much as possible, I try to treat the classroom as a laboratory environment for my students, where they learn by doing, by being active rather than passive.
When giving composition instruction (in addition to listening, score study, and reading), I follow an excellent model for discussion I learned when participating in a workshop at New Dramatists in New York City, led by Ben Krywosz. He learned it originally from the field of dance, but applied it here to an intensive workshop on collaboration between composers and playwrights/lyricists. There were five composers and five lyricists (and five singers plus an accompanist). We had to produce a lot of collaborative work, and every other day, we would come together and the performers would read through the pieces. When it was time to critique each other’s work, we followed a very specific five-step model for the discussions:
1. Say something positive. This forces us out of our typical reflex reaction, which is to find faults or something we would change had we been one of the authors. A lot of good-faith effort went into the attempt to create something artistic. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something positive to say.
2. You can ask them questions about the work, but not one that couches a negative opinion (like “How dare you?”). An example might be “What inspired you to evoke that image in the text?” or “What was the mood you were hoping to achieve?”
3. The author(s) can ask us questions. They might ask “Did that tempo work for you?” or “Could you understand the text in that vocal register?” etc. Truthfully, we as creators tend to have a sense about what is working well and what isn’t, and this provides an opportunity for the creator(s) to voice their own concerns. This can also preempt some of the content in the next step.
4. Opinion. This is the time we can present the negative aspects of our larger reception of the work. Here, whatever remaining technical or aesthetic issues can be addressed. All creative artists feel a certain emotional vulnerability that accompanies putting one’s work before other people. After steps one through three, that vulnerability has diminished, and leads to an ability to receive these opinions rationally and constructively.
5. Big picture. Here we examine the issues brought up in the discussion and determine if any are relevant to the discipline as a whole.
Perhaps one of the most important reasons I appreciate this model is the respect it accords people in their artistic efforts. I have found it useful when speaking with composition students, performers, or colleagues alike.