It’s been a crazy two weeks, with the bulk of it spent out of town, and too much of it spent away from my family, but it’s also good to get out and share insights and work with colleagues, and both of these trips allowed that.
First was the national conference of the College Music Society in Minneapolis. I had never been to the Twin Cities before, and I didn’t see a great deal of Minneapolis, but what I saw I liked. I was there to present a poster session on my research into rhythm–what I call quintuplous meters and their notation. When I found out that I would be giving a poster of my research instead of a large-group presentation, I was a little disappointed, but in fact, I discovered that the poster format was perfect–instead of giving my talk to everyone at once, I could answer questions one-on-one, tailoring my approach to the individual person. I probably had about as many one-to-one conversations standing there by my poster as there would have been people at my session, and I think everyone went away with their questions answered.
The other great part of the conference was the informal exchange of ideas. I feel that I’ve spent mine and the university’s money well if I come away from a conference energized and ready to try something back home that I’ve learned about in a session or discussed with colleagues. The persistent problem that kept coming up with my music theory and composition colleagues who teach at smaller schools is that more and more music majors arrive as freshmen needing the equivalent of what we call at OPSU “Fundamentals of Music.” They simply are often not ready for Music Theory I. At OPSU, we have been offering Music Fundamentals during the summer term, but most students who plan to take Theory I in the fall don’t end up taking Fundamentals in the summer first. The ones who do are generally more successful in Theory I, and the one’s who don’t, but should hold the class back as I spend more time than is probably necessary “reviewing” (i.e., exposing students for the first time in many cases) scales, key signatures, triads and the notation of rhythm. It turns out that we are not the only school with this problem, and I have brought the dialogue back to OPSU with the suggestion that all incoming music majors take Fundamentals of Music in the fall semester unless they can pass a test showing that they know the material. Theory I would then be offered in the Spring, with Theory II as a mandatory summer class for all first-year music majors. Still in the thinking stages, but with the vast array of subjects (ever-growing) that falls into the music theory sequence, I think students would be better for it.
I went to Minneapolis not really knowing anybody, although I expected to run into a few acquaintances. Nolan Stolz had the poster next to mine, and it was good to finally meet him in person (and to get his feedback on my poster). Alex Nohai-Seaman and I met through the Roommate Finder for the conference, and I am glad we did. It was good to see Jason Bahr again, and to hear his choral piece performed on a stupendous concert. I played a piece for Bonnie Miksch way back in my Cincinnati days, and it was nice to reconnect. Jay Batzner gave excellent and insightful advice, and I want to learn more about being a human from him. Rachel Ware had the poster behind mine, and I think our conversations in Minneapolis will lead to a collaboration down the road, so I’m very excited for that to happen.
Four days in Goodwell, then, and a drive to Garden City to catch the Amtrak, although not before having dinner with Jim McAllister, which is always a pleasure. At this conference, the Society of Composers Region V Conference at Augustana College, I was able to room with an old friend, Dan Perttu. As usual, some interesting music, some more difficult to listen to, played well by the Augustana students and faculty, along with invited guests. The highlight for me was finally hearing a live performance of Starry Wanderers by Dianna Anderson. Dianna was a master’s student at Cincinnati when I was there, and I was assigned to her studio for private piano lessons. I wish I’d practiced more, because there was clearly much more for me to learn from her! Her interpretation, as at the premiere that I missed last year, was the type that takes what I think is a pretty good piece and makes it better. She brings it to life in a way that makes me proud to have written the piece. On top of that, she is still the kind and down-to-earth person I remember from the mid-1990s. If you have a chance to hear her play, do it. If she is your teacher, learn well.
As always, it was good to see familiar faces, as well as a slew of new ones. At my paper presentation on Saturday morning, I was thrilled to see flutist Kimberlee Goodman in the audience, whom I haven’t seen since we were at Ohio State. Her performance of Jennifer Merkowitz’ Phyllotaxis was inspired, and since she asked me to send scores, I hope she can bring her talent to bear on my music in the near future.
A train ride home (I hope Amtrak finds my hat when the train gets to LA), and I’m back, but just as soon, Becky and Noah are off to see off her family at the Amarillo airport. Perhaps this week, the Saunders’ will actually see some of each other…