Thursday, December 4, 2008

the end of "Romanticism and Music"

Today, as I hope to finish an "official" Diss Prospectus to be sent into my grad school "file" (who knows what that contains at this point) in Wisconsin, I also have to prep my last lecture for my "Romanticism and Music" class that I'll teach tonight. It's not the end of the semester quite yet, but we've entered the home stretch. Yahoo!!!

I've been entrenched in academia--with fits and spurts--for almost 20 years. Holy canoli, Batman. I've been teaching in it for seven, on and off as I've also had to complete course work for the ol' PhD. And, as a part-timer, I've also had to acquire side jobs and other means of income which I've written about here in M(MotT). This demands some kind of efficiency on my part--which also comes in fits and spurts--and the implementation of more than a few tricks of the trade, so to say.

An interesting thing I've noticed about myself is the wave of momentum that comes to me at the end of the semester. I've seen friends, peers and students bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived as they stagger through the last weeks of the fall semester while I, in turn, have the endless stamina of the Energizer Bunny. I don't know why. I see the finish line--in this case December 17--and sprint for it, completing assignments, sleeping well, checking tasks of the my list and checking it twice for gaps. My stuff gets done in these last few weeks better, faster, and with more gusto than I usually muster for other times in the semester. Kookie!

In my teaching duties, I pad the end of the semester in ways that allow me to do less of what I'm supposed to do and more of what I want to do. Several friends and classmates can attest to this--the "time to do what I want to do" thing. When I know I'm getting a break, I make it as long and personal as I can.

Sooooo, tonight I will present a mini-lesson on the last Romantic "duality" (a concept that I created to organize my Romanticism and Music class) we have to cover, "Tradition vs. Revolution." This is the eighth one. Previous weeks explored Crowd vs. Individual, Program music vs. Absolute, Man vs. Nature, Science vs. Irrational, Professional vs. Amateur, Nationalism vs. Internationalism, and Material vs. Ideological. By now, Tradition vs. Revolution is fairly obvious regarding music and other aspects of Romantic ideology. That's why it's last. So, I have 20 minutes of lecture tonight. My students will take up the other 120 minutes giving mini-lessons of their own based on their research papers.

I get to listen to their thoughts, make comments and run the audio equipment. Each presentation is 10-minutes. A powerpacked nugget that requires them to be concise and streamlined in their verbal skills. They have to give a one sentence definition of Romanticism as it applies to our class's exploration of it (not just the ol' standard of "it's a period in history between 1820-1900." I believe that strategy of teaching "history" is hogwash, if you're wondering). Then they state their thesis (which we've worked on creating), their musical topic, their reasoning for connecting these three elements (Rom, thesis, music), and an audio example that summarizes it all. So I get to be both critic and DJ tonight. Yes!

My presentation on Trad vs. Rev consists of two things: Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Opus 102 and The Who's performance of "Won't Get Fooled Again" from the Concert for New York City DVD from December 2001 (after the events on 9/11 of that year).

Here's my rationale for both: I've mentioned my affinity for Shostakovich. I can do no better describing how much I just friggin' dig his music other than, I do. From the get-go I always have. Plus, his life is fascinating from a historian's point of view (probably not so much from his). He had to constantly defend or shelter himself for the Communist regime under Stalin, to the point (many historians argue) that his "commitment" to Communism was an act that both saved his life and allowed him to circumvent the censors by writing "nationalistic" music that actually criticizes the regime itself. Gotta love that kind of subversion! Play by the rules to break them, I say. Anyhoo, this particular piece was written for and debuted by his son, Maxim in 1957 when the boy was 19 years old. It is an astounding piece (find it and take a listen) in its entirety but I will only play the first movement (there are three altogether). My thought here is that Pappa Shost passes the baton, so to say, to his son, and Maxim--who is still alive--which permits him to eventually live a life of artistic freedom that his father never knew and had to navigate and negotiate with his entire life. And you can HEAR it in the music. Well, at least I can. And I'm the professor, so...... (ha ha. just kidding). I have a kick-ass sound system in my room, and no other classes meet near mine tonight. Look out!

For The Who snippet, I have a DVD of the Concert for New York City which took place shortly after the events in Manhattan on 9/11. Most performances are ok, but The Who blows the lid off of Madison Square Garden. I have never seen men of this generation so poignantly defend the notion that music has power and tenacity like this brief performance. So, again, they pass the baton to the rest of us to be diligent against stagnation, laziness and conformity and to always strive for what we believe in. Good stuff. Let the wild rumpus begin, I say.

And then next week, the whole class session is the rest of the presentations (I have 26 enrolled). I've met with each of my students to discuss their research, and the topics range from Brahms to Bob Dylan, Chopin to Clapton, Liszt to Led Zeppelin. Makes my heart happy just to think of what these kids will come up with, and this has been a great class.

Next semester, I'm not teaching a section of "Romanticism and Music" (at least I still have a job---but we'll see what Gov. Paterson has in store for me....) and I will miss it. I will, however, sincerely enjoy the sprint to this finish line.

OK, back to the Diss. And I think I'll rearrange my office and go the gym...Two weeks left!

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