We’re gone in a week, and I want to make sure that I get to this.
When I was in fifth grade, I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The place was very much a work in progress at that moment, and was enjoying a surge in popularity brought on by the movie of the same name. They were building cool, futuristic-looking dorms that looked like something an astronaut would sleep in, but when I was there, all the boys were in a barracks-style dorm underneath the main building. The first night, after lights-out, the dorm manager came in and gave a little speech about his expectations for keeping the place in order (as all of us pre-pubescents lay stock still freaking out on our bunks). The last night, he came back, told us we had done a good job (after all, we were a bunch of kids who wanted to be astronauts), and ended with the phrase, “Gentlemen, I wish you good luck and Godspeed!”
Twenty-five years later, I’m leaving the place that has become my home, and the first job that I can say that I really liked, and I want to give the same kind of message to the Panhandle. I came here with my wife because it was a job teaching college music. These aren’t easy to come by, folks–you don’t just pick schools you like and send out applications, and when there is an opening, at least in my area of music theory and composition, there are typically about 100 or so applicants, all more or less qualified. I didn’t really have much idea how long we would stay, but I don’t think I would have said it would be five years. Now, though, I look back and realize that I’ve been at OPSU longer than I’ve been *anywhere* since I’ve been an adult. And most of it I wouldn’t do any differently.
I want to thank a few people who have made my time here good, starting with my wife and my son (did I mention that five years ago we had no idea that we would adopt a fantastic and perfect little boy who would be born in Guymon, Oklahoma?). Becky took her marriage vows seriously and left a good job in a great city to come with me. I joke that as we drove across the country to get here, it got flatter and flatter and browner and browner, and I kept watching for the brake lights on her car to come on so she could turn around and divorce me, but we pushed through, even when we drove through Greensburg, Kansas, which had been flattened by a tornado about six weeks earlier. She’s put up with my musician’s temperament and listening to all of my favorite music in the car for almost ten years now, and I don’t know what I’d do without her. We make a heck of a team, and I’m proud to have her as the best wife ever. And, just when I had life down, Noah came along and everything got even better–I can thank Becky for making that happen, too. I don’t know if he’ll remember much of this place, or if he’ll believe some of the things we tell him about it, but he’s an Okie from the ‘Handle, and we’ll definitely bring him back someday.
I need to thank Dr. Sara Richter, who has been a great person to work for, and who gave me a chance five years ago. I need to thank the other people I’ve worked alongside–especially Joel Garber, Mariah Carrel-Coons, Linda Hugghins, Steve Banks, Kevin Coons, Tito Aznar, Russell Guthrie, Matt Howell, Sandy Cross, and Rene Brain. You’ve been great colleagues, and I hope I’ve landed with as good a bunch at my new gig. Keep fighting mediocrity! Thank you, too, to all the administrative folks at OPSU.
If I didn’t say thank you to a larger network of colleagues and collaborators, I would be remiss. Guymon and Goodwell are not exactly artistic hubs (although I’ve made some good music here), so being in touch with people online has been the saving grace of my artistic life. Serendipity happens in all kinds of ways, though, and running into Nancy Joy on an airplane four Christmases ago was a fantastic opportunity for me. Thank you, too, to Dianna Anderson, Orieta Dado, Avguste Antonov, BJ Brooks, Rachel Ware, Skye Garcia, Mike Stone, Daniel Baldwin, Jim McAllister, Mike Manser, Milt Allen, Carly Johnson, CJ Talbott, Randolph Johnson, Greg Robin, and everyone else who, even if you have never set foot in the ‘Handle, has been a part of my artistic and professional life here. Some of you have commissioned pieces, others have performed music that I wrote for someone else, and some have just been great sounding boards and friends. I can’t thank three people enough–Don Harris, my graduate advisor (who, as of last month, is finally Dr. Harris), Dan Perttu, who, along with his wife Melinda, has been a great friend post-graduation just as he was in school, and Wes Flinn, who has been a conference roommate, fellow-candidate, and patient listener, in addition to being my first composition teacher back in 1996–if that weren’t enough, he sent me the posting for my new gig (and congrats on your new gig, Wes).
Thank you to the music educators who sent students to play and study music at OPSU, and who have also made music with me, and made my job easier by letting me into your classrooms to recruit your students–from west to east, Lendell Ford, Misty Viner, Chris Lehew, Melissa Law, LaQuita Graham, Tom Lee, Travis Hathcote, Sandy Cross, Seth Boothby, Tina Zollinger, Mike Minton, Dan Faulkner, Angela Flanagan, David Christie, Jim Parham, Charles Trayler, Fred Pankratz, Lance Burnett, Cara McDonald, Rachel Nuse, David Mudd. “If your program is strong, then mine will be strong!”
I need to thank my church family at Guymon Church of the Nazarene, especially Pastors Wayne Dawson, Gregg Counce, and Angela Walker, Kenny and Jane Mason (Noah’s first babysitters!), Monty and Debbie Sanders, and the long-suffering college students who were in my “Crazy Love” Bible study in the summer of 2010, along with all the musicians I’ve worshipped with.
And I need to thank my students–all of you. From that first class of guinea pigs, who suffered through my first attempts to teach many classes, to my Fundamentals of Music class this summer, it has been my privelege to be a part of your education, and I hope that you learned things that you will find useful, whether they be about music or about life. It is my privelege then, to offer these parting bits of advice, things that I either learned or relearned while living in the Oklahoma Panhandle:
1. It may sound like the wind is going to rip the roof off of your house while you are trying to get to sleep in your new home, but it probably won’t. Just put some music on.
2. Even if your new hometown seems unbelievably remote and strange to you at first, lots of the people here are here because they can’t imagine living anywhere else. Figure out what they see in the place and relish it.
3. Some other people want to get out of here much more badly than you do, so do what you can to help them see the good.
4. Keep making music. Find opportunities and make your own. It’s OK to ask people if you can make art for them.
5. Don’t quit learning. Ever. Find projects that overlap the transitions in your life and keep your mind active.
6. Don’t be afraid to contact the conceptual artist you read about in an airline magazine whose work seems cool. You just might end up with a neat plaque about a made-up land in front of the building where you work.
7. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Be cheerful and polite to everyone as much of the time as possible.
8. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and those who depend on you. Make a habit of trying to do what’s right.
9. Take the time to look at the stars. Encourage others to do the same.
10. Try to find a way to get to go to interesting places. If you can do this on your employer’s dime, even better (in academia, we call this “professional development,” and I’ve had the privelege of developing professionally in Aspen, Chicago, New York, Charleston, Seattle, Houston, and some other places over the last five years).
11. On the other hand, don’t go first class on your employer’s dime. This may help you enjoy the journey a little more. The drive to Aspen from Goodwell, for example, was fantastic, and flying in couldn’t possibly have been better.
12. Amtrak is a great way to travel.
13. Fatherhood is an incredible thing.
14. You must observe the difference between the bass of a chord and the root of a chord.
15. The attendant at the parking kiosk is not a machine for giving you a parking pass. Smile and be nice to her, because she probably doesn’t wake up every morning feeling excited about her job the way some of us are lucky to feel.
16. You don’t have to do this: you get to do this.
17. Don’t write music unless someone is paying you or has at least agreed to perform it if you write it. Writing for the drawer is like taking a shower with a raincoat.
18. All schools (and many other institutions) have two kinds of people. One kind takes full advantage of the opportunities presented and the other does the minimum necessary to get by. Make a firm decision to be the first kind. (My students know this as the difference between “Oklahoma Panhandle State University” and “PSU”).
19. Contrary to what one might glean from meetings of Liberal Arts faculties or Faculty Senate, there is usually less cause for alarm than you think. Civilization has always been ten years away from certain doom.
20. If you always get foul-smelling gas after eating at a certain place, stop eating there.
21. Keep fighting mediocrity.
22. When you’re going to be in a city where you have an old friend, try to get together for dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or whatever).
23. Keep track of your ideas, and learn to put the really good ones on hold until the right time.
24. Sometimes the right time is now.
25. Sometimes the best ideas come during the second half of Lady Aggies basketball games. Make sure you have a pencil to write them down.
26. If you’re part of a team, don’t act unilaterally.
27. Lead by example, not by dictate. Tolerate discussion at appropriate times.
28. Repertoire is not curriculum, no matter what the skill level of the conductor who says it is. Teach music-making, not individual pieces of music.
29. One of my teachers was right: most conductors are charlatans most of the time.
30. Get in touch with collaborators you want to work with now, before they retire.
31. “Creativity is letting yourself make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”–Scott Adams.
32. Listen more than you speak.
33. If you aren’t learning from your own teaching, you aren’t doing it right.
34. Hug your wife and your son as many chances as you get.
35. Never refuse to give your wife a foot-rub.
36. Talk to strangers when you are waiting around at the airport, when you go to conferences, or really just about anywhere else, but don’t bore them about your work. Instead, find out about theirs.
37. Keep reading. Read good fiction, bad fiction and lots of non-fiction. Read the Bible.
38. Learning may have been a game in and of itself for you, but sometimes people learn better if you make it a game.
39. Most people don’t find MacGAMUT to be a fun game, but if you can convince them that it is, they will develop aural skills more quickly.
40. Don’t agree to write a book just because someone asks you. There is no deadline for your book that is too far away. Don’t submit a book proposal that is essentially, “I’m going to write down a summary of everything I know about the field in which I have a doctorate.”
41. Don’t wait until tomorrow to quit procrastinating.
42. (Jay Batzner gave me this one): A composer’s bio in the concert program is utterly boring to everyone (including the composer) when it is a list of schools attended, awards won, and pieces written. Every composer has attended schools, won awards, and written pieces. Why not make a bio that is about who you really are? (Since I switched to this type of bio, I have felt much less like a poser and gotten many compliments on my excellent bio at conferences).
43. British journals don’t appreciate articles by Americans about British composers. American journals greatly appreciate articles about Honorary Life Presidents of their sponsoring organizations. I’m just sayin’.
44. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, try to fake it and sometimes succeed at pulling the wool over everyone else’s eyes for a time. I didn’t always believe in the Peter Principle (One rises to the level at which they become unable to do the work effectively), because I thought it was overly pessimistic. At age 37, I see it more clearly now, which is a positive thing.
45. A greater epidemic than incompetence is the self-perception of incompetence, or the Imposter Effect. In academia, it is quite common for people to believe (usually secretly) that they have no business being in their position and that it is only a matter of time before they are found out. This accounts for a huge amount of workplace unpleasantness, as one might imagine.
46. A greater epidemic still is loneliness. Be kind and friendly to the people around you as a habit, because it costs you nothing and may mean everything to someone else.
47. Practice is not simply playing or singing through what you already know. Organize your practice, set specific goals, and practice smarter, not harder. Learning the notes, rhythms, and pronunciation is only the beginning of learning a piece.
48. When you get frustrated, do something else and come back to it. If you’re frustrated by practicing your instrument, that something else should be your aural skills homework. If you’re frustrated by your aural skills homework or MacGAMUT, that something else should be practicing your instrument.
49. Set goals for yourself. Don’t let others set your goals for you.
50. Ask questions when you don’t understand, and take notes.
Have you made it this far? You’re almost done. I’ve loved my time in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and I’m glad that we moved here five years ago. It’s been my pleasure to be a part of an amazing community of great human beings. I’m going to miss the sunsets (although the ones over Lake Erie are great, too), the stuffed sopapilla at Marla’s, the chance to drive and drive and drive and still not be to Woodward yet, the winter night sky with the Milky Way so bright you could drink it in, and the reminder that there are still real-life cowboys and cowgirls out there. Most of all, though, I’m going to miss all the people here, who have given my family and me their friendship, support, and comraderie. The Panhandle wasn’t a part of our book proposal for the story of our lives, but we will always look back on it as a crucial and wonderful chapter.
It is with utter sincerity, then, that I say, “Panhandle, I wish you good luck and Godspeed!”