Actively Composing, Teaching, and Magic: No Retreat!


Receiving my diploma from George Benson at Berklee College of Music, 1990

I desire two things with equal fervor.

First, to compose as much music as possible.  I love music so much. I love listening to all kinds of music, composing, and having something I can give that will hopefully be appreciated.

The other is to continue to teach music to undergrads, but full-time, not as an adjunct.  Including my teaching fellowship, I’ve had  seven-plus years experience teaching music theory, composition, musicianship, and class keyboard both at the  University of Oregon and at Umass Lowell.

There’s a notion, often subtly communicated,  that understanding how music works strips it of its magic. Bull. There may be some minimal truth to the bliss of ignorance if a person has zero personal investment in music. But who is that person?  The first time a kid asks why something sounds a certain way—happy, sad, wrong, ugly, beautiful, scary, foreign, cool, etc.—ignorance is no longer bliss, and should no longer be an option.

When I teach, I don’t contain my emotional ecstasy in response to certain music, and it’s always in the service of analyzing and understanding that music. I love the a-ha! moments that I get to impart.  A dominant-seventh chord enharmonically reinterpreted as an augmented-sixth chord? Holy crap, that is truly awesome!

I began adjunct teaching in 2010, having earned my PhD in 2009. Because I don’t drive, I can only work for one school, and this causes some financial difficulties. The answer is, of course,  full-time teaching with job security, and like many adjuncts, I’ve been hunting for it all along, all over the country and internationally.

It seems that people who get the full-time teaching jobs are those with active careers in their field rather than those who are just good teachers. Because of stress related to finances and other constraints, I’ve had less time to compose than I would like. My compositional output since 2009 has been rather meager. (Oh, I’ve composed quite a few little pieces here and there, but these are for pedagogical purposes in the classroom.) But a resurgence last summer with “To Finish the Moment” for chamber orchestra and now two trios has put me back on track.

To that end, there’s the upcoming residency at the Banff Centre (see entry below), which is ten weeks composing a trio. What I want potential backers to understand is that this is no retreat.  For every one of my seventy days at Banff, I will be at it dawn to dusk composing, copying, conferring, consulting, and collaborating. The result should be a significant piece (or two) of music  that will likely receive repeated future performances and provide me a good deal of momentum for my composing and teaching careers.

The Banff residency is a crucial springboard. It is a financial risk whether or not I meet my Kickstarter goal, but in my view, a risk  worth taking because of its potential yields. On the composing side, these include more commissions, and so more compositions and more exposure.  On the teaching side, I will be recognized as not just a good teacher, but as an active composer.  I am thus more likely to be hired.

To bring it full-circle, I see myself in the near future balancing full-time college teaching (with benefits and job security) with a successful and prolific composition career. It’s my observation that those teachers most secure in their positions seem also to find the time and energy to dedicate to their personal careers. In fact, their employers most often demand their professional development, and frequently provide the means for such.

Composing and teaching: When one career nourishes the other, I’ve seen that the result can allow the best of both to shine. This is what I want for myself—to give back shiningly to my listeners and to my students.



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