A Contrivance


I performed my latest toy piano composition, A Contrivance (see image) a couple of nights back. It was a great show and the first concert in which I’ve participated at UMass Lowell since I began as an adjunct at this university in fall 2010. (I do look forward to full-time employment in my future where my music gets regular exposure). I had the opportunity to better acquaint myself with some other faculty, both full-time and adjunct, and felt just a tiny bit closer to those I see fleetingly between jobs. I listened to our Chair laud the copious achievements of some of the full-timers at the pre-concert reception. I also spoke with another adjunct who asked me if I was applying for tenure-track jobs, and who seemed somewhat pessimistic about my chances when I declared I’m not a research person.

I believe that composers with PhD’s to some extent do get tenure-track teaching jobs without doing the scholarly research and article-writing that, say, music theorists do. My understanding is that universities expect composers to produce music at a certain rate and have it performed and recognized internationally. Truthfully, many adjuncts meet these expectations, too. In any case, I’m not sure I would do well with an administration keeping tabs on me in such a way. Sure, it would provide incentive to compose more regularly, and maybe even allow me to travel outside the country more than once every five years. So.

I’ve contrived the mechanisms of my life into its current form. There’s tons of work (two adjunct positions, about thirty piano students, tutoring) just to make ends meet, and each summer I almost go broke. But there’s the freedom of not being completely beholden to or dependent upon any one institution. April found me moved into a new loft here in Lowell, which has also been an overall improvement. Still, I believe that the one right teaching job—at one college, such that I need take no extra employment and can compose more—exists.

I try to comprehend my envy of others’ accomplishments, understanding that comparing oneself isn’t always healthy. But is it sometimes healthy? How does envy transform into inspiration, and inspiration to accomplishment?

Lately, I’ve appropriated  I’mma do me as an internal reaction when I’m envious, as if others have somehow goaded me into defending myself. In other words, “I’m doing just fine in my own very special way, thank you.” Then I take stock of my accomplishments and while they’re pretty good, I feel I can do better and that improving my lot is the only direction to go. I’mma do me begins to feel like a copout.


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