Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yay! I have a Master’s Degree! Now What Do I Do? -Part II

I want to start off with an apology for taking so long to get this to you, our loyal readership. In explanation of my tardiness I will say that I have been consumed by a project that I intend to publish; I have been examining the significance of the invocation of place in Memphis rap. As a tangential aspect of the research, I have also been working on a proposal for presentation at a national conference, which was just submitted (as in, about an hour ago). So, without further delay, here is a recap of my first year as a doctoral student.

Yay! I have a Master’s Degree! Now What Do I Do?

–Part II: Doctoral Studies

I recently finished my first year as a doctoral student in the Musicology/Southern Regional Studies program at the University of Memphis. During the first two semesters, I was able to take ethno courses in American Folk/Popular Musics, The Blues, World Musics, and Fieldwork and Methodology; my final papers ranged from the important of place in local rap (see above) to measuring the acculturative process on the indigenous music of Easter Island. I learned a substantial amount and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of doing in each case. I also realized that there is an exciting (read: intimidating) amount of material out there. Even after working in two separate traditional music archives and spending countless hours reading about/playing/listening to music that is not Western art music, not to mention serving as the graduate assistant for three separate World Music courses under two instructors, I went into this year with only the slightest understanding of humanity’s musical capabilities. The great (read: scary) part is that in reflection of my first year of doctoral studies, I am now even more aware of the vast amount of music with which I am still not familiar.

In addition to the ethno courses, I also had the chance to take a couple historical musicology courses: Renaissance Music and American Amateur Brass Band. Though the latter is more akin to the folk/pop side of the coin, my final paper focused on Ives’s compositional relationship with the brass band. Coming into the program I was worried that I would not be able to take musicology courses as the SRS coursework is a hefty load, so I was relieved to have the opportunity to fit these in (I have a M.M. in Music History and Literature). The brass band course was particularly fun as we spent the last portion of the semester playing the music, all of which was new to me. This experience also served as my foray into the bass drum, which was cause for lots of laughs and hopefully not too much frustration on the part of the actual musicians.

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned over the last year is that ethnomusicology is not a science and it cannot be approach like one—historical musicology, while I will still argue is not a science, is at times more “scientific,” especially when the analysis is based on universal theories and the composer/performer is able to explain his/her intentions using a language that is understood by the field at large. By this, I mean that music, as a part of living culture, is always in flux. The ethnomusicologist is responsible for documenting music in situ, as it existed, exists and changes and the ethnomusicologist must be willing to arrive at a destination other than the one s/he was aiming for. As such, I now see that the music we study is not benefited by examination in a vacuum, which is a problem that many historical musicologists face.

I believe the hardest lesson that I have learned is that not everyone in a doctoral program (be it musicology, performance or otherwise) approaches school the same way I do, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I obsess over assignments and am notorious for tackling papers from the moment they are assigned. I also write dozens (I mean this literally) of drafts, editing for hours on end. And, after all of this, I am rarely satisfied with the final outcome. For others, a 25 page final paper can be whipped out in a week and still receive a good grade, with which the author is content. In doing so, those who prescribe to the latter method are spared my anxiety and mental distress. The lesson being that what works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and that is ok. Also, I guess the better lesson is that I shouldn't take my self so seriously.

Another hard-to-learn lesson is that undergraduates are often times morons. Though I have been in academia for the better part of a decade now, this past semester’s Italian I was the first 100 level course I have had in many years. I was dumbfounded by the lack of focus, the reprehensible behavior and the desire to distract from others’ learning. I am inclined to write this off as an isolated incident, though I think that Prof. Hausmann might be able to support the contrary. We will see, I suppose, if the situation is any better in Italian II.

Like Prof. Hausmann, the biggest difference between the fall and spring semesters was also my comfort level. Just having a semester’s worth of experience with doctoral studies really helped me to produce better work. Not only had I had time to get comfortable with the new expectations of a doctoral student, but I was already settled into my job and into the city as well. I also didn’t have to spend the entire break leading up the semester studying for entrance exams, which was certainly a plus.

The most difficult adjustment I have had to make, aside from being 8+ hours from home, is that I have had to work on building a new support network. By the time I left Louisville, I had made many great friends and developed wonderful relationships with a handful of faculty members. Needless to say, it was never difficult to find someone with whom to share a meal and drinks, or even to coerce someone into reading over a draft or a proposal. Though I am starting to build those sorts of professional and personal relationships here, it was not easy. It also is taking longer than I seem to remember it taking when I first arrived in Louisville, though I am not sure why.

The biggest benefit to doctoral work, at least for me, is my assistantship and stipend. Working in the music library I am surrounded by scores and books all day, which is a nice reminder that I should be doing something productive. I also work with some amazing and talented people, which is always a good thing. The best part, though, is that I don’t have to work an outside job. I spent my time at UofL working in an art museum, which was a lot of fun, though it was less convenient. I also feel more appreciated now that I have a fancy scholarship and stipend. If you can get paid to go to school, I highly recommend it.

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