Sunday, July 10, 2011

When worlds collide (not collide as such, really, more like overlap?)

As the two or three of you who read this blog might recall, I've been an academic musicologist to some degree (ha!, get it?) for the past decade-plus (close to two decades if you count my time in the musicology program at Florida State).  That role technically ended on or about May 31, but in practice managed to stretch out through much of June, as I was on a committee for a master's degree defense just four days before rolling out of Lawrence in that ill-fated Penske truck from a few entries ago.  Curiously, I managed to get through all of two Greek classes before that world came back into my life, if only for a few days.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure to be part of developing an academic conference for musicologists in the field of nineteenth-century music (for the uninitiated, that can include such classical composers as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms, etc. and also non-classical musics coming to prominence in the 1800s). Besides playing a small role in planning and organizing the conference, calling for papers and selecting the program, I had the privilege of being the host for the event, as it was held at KU in July 2009.  On the whole it was an interesting and enjoyable conference; the papers were generally well-done, thoughtful and informative, and folks in general seemed to have a good time both academically and otherwise.

I had to step aside because of my change of life plans, naturally.  The other musicologists involved in its planning, with a few new figures joining the committee, carried out the planning, organizing and such for a second such biennial event. By some divine joke, the second North American Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music took place this past weekend at . . . wait for it, folks . . . the University of Richmond.

Of course.  About a fifteen-minute drive from where we live.

I couldn't not go.  And this points to one of the great questions with which I will wrestle for, probably, the rest of my life.

My future is in some sort of ministerial or vocational religious calling. That's the given.  The supposed most logical end is some sort of parish ministerial position, but as I believe I've indicated before, there's room for that calling to evolve a bit if needed.

Given all that, how much do I have to banish the musicologist within?  And no, he isn't dead.  There are at least two major reasons why he's not dead, which involve the fact that he may still be needed.

For one, as much as I may have blasted the idea of measuring a church's or a denomination's health by numbers in an earlier entry, I can read the numbers as well as anyone.  I can't rule out the possibility, maybe even the likelihood, that one or more church callings in my future may well be part-time.  I'll have to make up that part-time income gap somehow.  The most logical way is, well, teaching (whether it be music history or music appreciation or something similar) part-time somewhere, be it a community college or small four-year school or who knows what.  In other words, I may need those musicological chops to support my future calling.  Heck, I may need them to support my way through seminary even before that.

Secondly, the way of thinking about music that has been instilled by my musicological education and research may well be needed as part of my pastoral vocation.  Maybe you've noticed that the way churches use music is sometimes . . . well, let's call it "interesting" for now. Fleshing that out fully may require a whole series of blog posts and a full career.  But what do musicologists do?  We inquire into how societies, or individuals, or groups within societies, make use of music.  Sometimes we even critique it.  To me, that sounds like a match.  I don't know if that's going to be a part of this vocational future, but I certainly don't want to toss that tool out of the toolbox only to find myself needing it shortly thereafter.

In short, there are compelling reasons for me to keep in musicological practice.  Beyond that is a much more personal factor: some of my best friends are my musicological colleagues. In particular, my colleagues in the subfield of nineteenth-century American music matter deeply here. I don't know how much you (particularly the non-musicians out there) know about nineteenth-century American music.  If you're like most people, the answer goes not very far beyond, say, Stephen Foster or John Philip Sousa. As much as this may surprise you, there is more. Even for devotees of classical music, there is in fact more out there; there is such as thing as what I fondly call "American Music B.C." (In this case, "B.C." stands for "before [Aaron] Copland.") It was in this realm of "American Music B.C." that I plied my scholarly trade.

Now you non-musicians will probably know even less of this particular realm. Does the name George Chadwick mean anything to you (and no, not your accountant)? Horatio Parker? George Frederick Bristow? Amy Beach? Charles Hommann? If you recognized one or more of these names, you either: (a) are one of my colleagues in what I'll abbreviate as C19US, (b) have heard me talk (or read my writing) about my research in the past, (c) are lying, or (d) are very unusual.  You are also (e) more knowledgeable about C19US than many trained musicians, and a not-small number of professional musicologists.  One of my greatest sources of satisfaction as a musicologist was undoing this ignorance.

Working in such a field tends to generate something not unlike a bunker mentality.  When the usual reaction to your subject matter in your own field is somewhere between benign ignoring and outright scorn, it's easy to feel a bit as if one is under siege.  When one finds fellow devotees of this treasure-trove of musical exploration, the bonds that form tend to be closer than the average academic collegiality.  So these are not just colleagues, they're friends, and one doesn't dispose of friends cheaply. As one of those colleagues said to me yesterday, "Friends come, and friends stay."

To sum up: I have compelling professional and personal reasons to hang on to some part of that previous life.  At the same time, my new life is a different one, and it is my priority, whatever it turns out to be. On occasion, worlds will collide or overlap or intersect or maybe even mesh. How that will work I don't yet know.

In the meantime, the new life calls.  Back to Greek.

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