hard to believe it has been a month since i’ve written anything, but i have been mildly filled with anxiety for awhile, and that never seems to be a good time to put things in print. today as i had a conversation with a dear friend i was reminded of a time at northwest, and yes, i haven’t really gotten to that point in this blog, but i’ll jump there anyway. we were discussing “easy” and not being taken seriously, and though terms meant different things between today and another previous discussion, today i was reminded of how i felt my second time around at my alma mater, and it also brought back some joyous memories.
one of the things i had the pleasure of teaching at northwest both 2 year stints there, was music appreciation. now most people bitch about having to teach this course. many “real” professors find it not fun to teach non-majors who are just taking an elective and may have no real interest…they are just looking for the “easiest” class. and a lot of these lecture classes are large. at northwest they ran 40-60 students. i think 55 was our cap, but you could let up to five more students in (enough seats) if needed. and two of us usually did. myself, and bill richardson. we were the “popular” teachers for this course. for me, i think it was the class i felt most confident teaching, and maybe because there weren’t majors questioning each little thing along the way. my first time teaching the course (after my first year i actually always taught two sections) i had spent a good month preparing over the summer, part of the time at my friend robie’s in silver springs (right outside dc). she would go to work at 6 am, i’d get up around 7 am, spend 2-3 hours prepping the class and then head into dc and go to all the free museums, return home in time to spend an hour or two with her for dinner, and then she’d go to bed (early–like 8:30) and i’d do some light reading. i was totally prepared for this class. and, i made up my own tests in this time frame.
i had always hated classes where teachers just regurgitated the book. so i had gone through the book to highlight things that needed to be stressed, but after the first part of the book (more on that in a bit) most of my lecture was supplemental (also on purpose as this part of what would be on the test you would have to attend class for–ending with a preposition, so i’m definitely not an english teacher). ok, so the first part of the book dealt with terms and musical ideas….all of this before starting with medieval music…and i had worked with enough theory students and general music students to know where a lot of disconnects are, plus, there is a lot of early music that i find pretty hard to stomach, and for the most part, music apprec. students do too. so my examples for all the terms and such were modern music. an eclectic array of 20th and 21st century music. and then we would start with the early stuff, of which i totally sped through until getting to the baroque (as seriously, other than a dusting of exposure, what non-music person really wants to spend a week on chants and such). and even the baroque and classical, i know we covered quicker than my counterparts (except richardson) as they all gushed over the myriad of examples the text and accompanying cds gave. again, i had told the students that they were responsible for anything that was contained in the text, whether we talked about it or not, whether we listened to it or not, and in addition, anything i would lecture over (1/4 text, 3/4 additional info and listening). once we got to the romantic period i slowed down a lot. the connection to the other arts, the connection to what was happening in the world….it all seems to resound more in the students starting here. they can relate. so we moved at a normal pace, and then, miraculously, it also gave us time to get to 20th century music (all the different types–post romantic, impressionism, expressionism, atonal, etc), including jazz, musical theatre, gospel, pop, etc. i would spend a whole week on musical theatre as that was a strength. bill would spend a week on jazz. and both of us gave students a chance to present a short lecture on a strength of theirs if they wanted it (the only extra credit i offered). i think in 4 years i had 5 students take me up on this (one great lecture on ska, and another on american progressive metal come to mind). and bill and i would would try to incorporate really cool things. for instance, we both after lecture and demonstration would have the kids write 12-bar blues lyrics, and then we would set the better ones to music. i would do the pink floyd “dark side of the moon”/wizard of oz demo. things to make this course not so dry (in fact my friend mary jane would brag about this aspect of my teaching when she introduced me to people–but she was also a good example of really trying to connect with students to increase learning). again, not a music major course.
and my tests were hard (according to students, and according to grades received). as promised, you had to read the text (although anything from the text on a test, i did mention in class), you had to come to class to get the supplemental….and, there were sooo many times i gave away test questions by saying “now this would make a great test question” and writing something on the board. but still i’d have a handful of A’s, a few more B’s, a shit ton of C’s, some D’s and usually 3-4 flunking. crazy.
this second time around, there was a new teacher, schultz’s replacement, pam shannon. a great performer, not so great voice teacher, and apparently a really boring apprec. teacher. her class followed one of mine. i had 60 in mine and she had 50. i would usually have 45-55 students show up, and she would average 25-30. she asked me on day after seeing a almost full class leave how i got kids to come. i told her a few of the things i tried to do to make the material more interesting, and how each day began with a “listening” assignment which was worth 5 points. basicly it was an attendance policy that would raise your grade at the end if you were borderline, but as class was to start, you would listen, or listen/watch and write about the selection using terms discovered in the first section of the book. 5 points a day no matter what you wrote, but most things were pretty on point. and if you missed the listening, you missed the points….so not a lot of latecomers.
two days after our discussion, all the apprec teachers are called to a meeting to see how we can all line up our “curriculums”. we are all using the same texts but apparently their are discrepancies in the way we present material. some of us aren’t as “serious” and are “easy”. which is funny as i have fewer A’s at the end of each semester than my “serious” counterparts. bill and i were pissed, but, it really wasn’t going to effect me as my time there was almost done. but it did bother me that people didn’t see me as serious about what i was doing, or thinking that i was doing it well….or even that they thought i was easy. i still keep in touch, and am facebook friends with kids that came out of sections of music appreciation. and, it was a course i’d miss teaching when i started at cookman. honestly, i’d have volunteered to teach all sections of that if anyone wanted…..i think the passion for it is more important than whether you are getting to work with majors. but hey, what do i know, i don’t have a doctorate, and i’m not really a performer. just a public school teacher who got lucky in the eyes of most of my colleagues.