Saturday, August 15, 2020

Joe, Cristin, and Jackson are, thankfully, back in NY, a/c intact. I’m sure they spent yesterday cleaning their kitchen and, likely waited for a stiff drink before opening their refrigerator. Glad they’re home, and glad they had an almost-week in a place they love (Maine) with Allan and Sharon, and that they got to connect with Kyla, John, and Owen. Here’s a final pic i got, which i really just love.

Ellie, Jackson, and great uncle Allan

What a whirlwind week this has been.  And if it feels that way to me, I cannot imagine the ride it’s been for our students, especially the frosh.  The adjustment to being away from home that every frosh goes through, to the oddness of being in a dorm room and taking online classes, to not having a reasonable ensemble/rehearsal experience…let alone the accelerated curricula that’s happening as a result of the compressed “block” schedule; so much to take in.

Many students only have face-to-face experiences in lessons—though many are taught remotely.  Some only in the oddly rostered ensembles, with far fewer people than usual in large groups, or ensembles rehearsing in enormous spaces to facilitate distancing, but an acoustic concept that’s just bizarre.  I haven’t spoken to my conductor-colleagues yet to get their sense of things, but will likely do so late next week, after they’ve gotten a sense of the approach they’ll take.

My frosh class, honors theory, has gone pretty well from my perspective.  That is, the materials are being delivered online properly, they’re accessible, most students are both accessing things and, based on their performance on homeworks, understanding things as well as students in past years.  But these students are dealing with much more than other years: there’s the materials, and there’s the online system, their wifi service, their adjustment to college, the pressures of being on their own, the covid-19 cloud over their heads threatening a return to home at any moment.

I’ve checked in with all of them, and 10 of 17 have chosen to respond with concerns.  The stress level is extraordinarily high.  They know about resources, they know that I and, knowing my colleagues, then entire SoMusic faculty, are hear to check in with, to get help from, etc.  The support system is there for them—but it’s always so—and now it’s in their hands to reach out as needed.

Some are being great about emailing questions; I’m being diligent about responding to submitted homeworks with very quick feedback (usually less than 30 minutes), unlimited resubmissions, etc.  But I’m wondering if the quick feedback and offering optional re-submit opportunities is actually creating additional pressure.  Am really not sure.

All of the videos (13) I’ve created re counterpoint are, essentially, putting that entire curriculum online for students to do on their own time.  There’s very little I’m doing on that topic during classes.  Rather, I’ve set the tone of “active, analytical listening” and am already moving on to materials which would usually not be addressed until the second MONTH of class.

I’m worried about how fast things are moving.  As I wrote to a colleague last night, we’ll see if it’s me or the students who cry ‘uncle’ first.  I am ready, at the first sign of serious distress on the part of more than 2 students, to put the brakes on, big time.  That would drastically impact the materials covered as they enter the second semester of this five-semester sequence, but that may just be the price of this block-compressed term adjustment we’ve been cornered into.

The other classes are fine, largely because they’ll run the full fifteen weeks, so don’t feel the same time pressure.

Yesterday’s Composers Colloquium (weekly meeting of all students studying composition, all levels, all teachers; this term slightly small 18 students) went ok.  As the person who runs and shapes the composition program here over the past few decades, I’m usually the one who sets the ‘curriculum’, tone, etc., of these weekly sessions. 

[My youngest colleague is an enormous help, very eager to offer input and ideas.  He is taking over the NewMusic Initiative director’s spot, something we’ve been working towards for the past three years now, and I’ve no doubt that when I retire he’ll really be running the comp program.  Another composer colleague is very occupied with music theory research, and with administrative responsibilities which he takes on and does with vigor and rigor.  Another colleague is, and has always been, a poster-child case against tenure.  ‘nuf said.]

So yesterday’s session included about six students and me via Webex; the other students (eleven or twelve were there, I think) and my colleagues were in a large room, in person.  I ran the session, sharing a document with points of discussion, etc.  The tech in the room needs some work (which we will get from an excellent engineer at school, thank goodness for Alex!) to allow for more smooth discourse and engagement.  Hopefully this will be squared away before next Friday.

In soliciting responses from my colleagues about how the session went, whether it makes sense at all for it to be led by me remotely, rather than by those in person; they’re questioning the sense in even having a face-to-face component, especially given the expectation that at some point things will shift to all-remote.

At any rate, I am looking forward to making the most of all of this.  I’ve foreshadowed discussions about identifying and creating community (in these times, or any times), both musically, artistically, and more broadly; and about trying to figure out what it means to be/make “relevant” art or other contributions.  Lots of friends, I think, might have something important to offer on these topics.  Do you have a few minutes and/or idea you’d be willing to share with our students?  Nothing would make me happier than to introduce our students to some new perspectives.

Just not knowing is creating so much stress for everyone.  Would you be a part of helping our community incorporate new thinking?