So, 2017 was a failure by any working musician’s count.
Sometimes it felt like I was no longer a flute player this year. Like I just claimed to be one, like those people who call themselves foodies. Or who say they’re hikers, own all the gear, but only hit the trails once in mid-June. But worse, because a better description would be that this year felt like forced exile—I was Napoleon on Elba.
I had imagined that completing 2 years’ worth of mouth work following a car accident would immediately mean the glorious return to my former gigging life: a concert every week, tours, and the satisfying conquering of new works. Take that, scary run! My metronome and I will slay you!
But the reality was a whimper, and after a handful of satisfying performances in April and May and a chamber music retreat in June, my calendar yawned, empty and ready, but unfilled. I had poured so much energy into performing those three months—the first time since 2015, and it felt so good—, but made no plan for the future beyond, so that when it became the present there was nothing for me to do.
I told myself that the quiet of summer didn’t worry me; that happens every year. But when September rolled around and nothing was in the books and no one was calling, I felt a pit in my stomach. Then my day job heated up in a big way, and in the evenings I would return home, exhausted but frustrated that there was no “5-to-9” work for me—nothing to work towards, nothing to challenge me, and, in short, nothing that made me a flute player.
I built mini performances into my classroom teaching, forcing myself to dust off Telemann, Kuhlau, Debussy, Takemitsu, and Korde. I told myself my students needed to hear this range of flute music to really understand classical music. But I just needed to play.
The fall was tumultuous in other, very real ways. I moved twice—no, three times—from September to December. I started a second university teaching job in October. I think back over the semester and remind myself about the reality I was living, how there wasn’t time to lay the plans to make music.
And yet, and yet.
That’s why I do all these other things: the day job, the teaching, the living in balls-expensive Brooklyn. It’s to give myself the opportunity to play. To make sound with people I admire, who inspire me, whose very existence encourages me to be better, in every sense of the word.
But 2017 isn’t over. I moved, for the last time, two days before Christmas, into the top floor of a small house. The first thing I unpacked—after my dog’s bed and food, of course—was my bookcase of scores and music stand. I didn’t actually get to practice that day, or the next, but it did allow me to physically put my priorities in order. And this week, I’ve revisited the technique-building exercises I couldn’t bring myself to do in the sad after-work hours of the fall. The best thing to come out of the car accident was becoming newly aware of my mouth—since it wasn’t my mouth any more but one my dentists had constructed—in a way that let me feel more confident in the sound I make. This week I’ve finally had the mental bandwidth to build upon that and listen to myself again, and I’m noticing all kinds of problems with my articulation. Yes, finally! Something to do, something to work on, something where I can improve.
And 2017 wasn’t a complete failure. My teaching game is on point, and I began curating a new chamber music series at my day job. And the time away from the stage has given me a chance to think about repertoire from a respectful distance, how I want to work in the future, and listen to those on stage even more attentively. As for 2018, I just don't have anything on my calendar yet.
I’ve been teaching music appreciation in some form since 2010. I look back on my lecture notes, lecture slides, and class materials from the beginning of the decade and see a scared graduate student, someone burdened by the immensity of music history, someone grounded in an extremely traditional educational experience (i.e., a near-exclusive focus on the musical, written, and philosophical work of white men, including a reliance on Schenkerian music theory).
I finally feel like I’m starting to figure it all out, though.
In 2014, I moved away from presenting a purely chronological history of music—we must begin with the Medieval period because it comes first!—to a more topical one: introducing music in terms of the various functions it takes in people’s lives, such as religion, dance, home music making, and art. When I began teaching at Queensborough Community College in the spring of 2016, I added an online blogging component to get students engaged in the notion of music playing many roles in the lives of many people—and to stave off the brain attrition engendered by a once-weekly class while also fulfilling the requirements of a writing intensive course.
My classes meet department- and school-wide curricular goals--
General education objectives:
—while adding a few of my own: making connections between different kinds of music, making connections between musicians’ lives and their own, learning personal responsibility, learning to see one's classmates as intellectual colleagues, becoming more confident in expressing oneself and doing so effectively, developing the art of conversation...
I don’t usually say these things out loud or explicitly—they’re conveyed through (what I hope is) unrelenting enthusiasm for the subject, for my students’ contributions to our discussions, and the inertia of open-ended but curated assignments. This semester, more than any other, students picked up on these big takeaways anyway, and they did so in a big way.
On the last day of class, I ask them what the most valuable, interesting, or helpful thing they learned in our class was. Usually, our end-of-class writing is a rush job, 2 minutes and out the door to the next class, but this one took longer. Students kept writing because they had a lot to say.
I am enormously encouraged for my own teaching by their thoughtfulness, their introspection, and their nascent-but-growing critical thinking skills. At the same time, I am disheartened by the impression that the kinds of validation, satisfying challenges, real-world connections/relevance, and confidence boosting through skill development they describe as happening in this class don’t seem to be happening for them elsewhere.
I can hope, however, that they’ll keep developing their ability to engage with new ideas, to overcome the trepidation of feeling like they don’t belong in new situations (musical or otherwise), and that they use their experience in this class to find intrinsic joy and fulfillment in their lives.
From the trenches
The most interesting and valuable thing that I’ve learned in Mu 101 this semester would be how music stems from many different facets of life. Many different experiences through the creator, as well as the listener. I cam to realize that a lot of individuals experience music differently and that the way we hear and/or interpret it is different for many people, and that preference is not worth judging an individual over. But aside from that, I’m grateful for the new knowledge I was able to learn and take it. It most definitely made me a wiser individual as both a thinker and listener.
The most interesting and valuable thing I’ve learned in Mu 101 is that the skill of patience I’ve learned in therapy should be applied to music. Mu 101 has helped expand my knowledge and my preferences in a way I couldn’t do on my own. The discussions we had online and in class were thought-provoking. This class had given me proper skills and experience to analyze true meaning in music and helped me explore new ideas surrounding music.
The most interesting thing I’ve learned this semester would be that music is truly the benchmark for everything there is in the world. Every subject is intertwined with music. More higher thinking is expressed in music than I ever thought possible.
The most valuable thing I learned is that musicking is for everyone. So I’m not a great song writer or singer? There’s always room in music for every individual to play to their strengths no matter how obscure. And if there isn’t an outlet for you, you are free to create your own and force people to go along with you. Music can be a safe place for all walks of people to learn about the world and themselves.
I have learned to be more appreciative of the music around me, the sounds and new genres of music. I have also learned that there isn’t one way of listening to music. Music means different things to different people for different reasons. I have enjoyed some classical music that I am quite sure will be my favorite song for the rest of my life. I have learned the difference in music terminology like pulse, meter, and measure. I’m learning to have a keen ear; I’m going to continue to develop it until I am the best musicologist I can ever be. I’m also considering learning to play an instrument as well as taking music as a minor.
To be quite honest, everything that we have learned from day one throughout the course has been absolutely valuable and helpful Musicology reflects on past experience and makes up our genetic structure. The surroundings or environment in which we adjust or become accustomed to can also play a significant role. Individual interpretation of music is truly beautiful and makes me feel jubilant. I have developed more insightful, constructive, and productive or effective methods for becoming a musicologist. Music can be purely unstable dissonance and expands universally.
I have learned a lot this semester during this music course. I can’t say one thing is more important than any other. However, I feel like knowing that we all experience and listen to music was one of the most important things. The life we live, the experiences we experience, can be completely influential to our ears. I also learned that music isn’t only about lyrics. It’s actually much bigger than that. Now I listen to music for the texture, dynamics, harmony, etc. It allows me to look at music much differently.
I believe the most interesting thing I have learned this semester was from one of our online discussions about music therapy. This stuck with me because I am studying occupational therapy, and I thought it was a great way to expand my knowledge about other therapy types. Also loved one of our last classes on minimalism, because it pushed the envelope on how I think of music. I find it truly interesting how I can appreciate music so much more now. Thank you so much, Dr. Jones, for taking the time to expand everyone’s knowledge about music in such a creative way. I enjoyed this course very much!
I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned this semester was just getting in touch with art and all its different forms. I’ve always had an interest in traditional art, like drawing for example, since I was a child. When I went to high school I was in the art program, but throughout my high school career, I had the same art teacher for three years and honestly she seemed very close-minded. I had an internship my junior year where I learned art on a whole new level. It opened my eyes to such beautiful different experiences but after high school I lost that aspect of myself with everyday life and all the stresses we each endure. This was the first actual music class I’ve had ever since elementary school and it was a really opening experience. It was art but such a different form I’ve never seen. I love music but this showed me that there’s so much more to music; there is a whole new world to it. It goes beyond sounds, and when we listened to every different composer today in class it was beautiful just to see and listen to every individual’s own style. Especially when we heard the bass and alto flute with electronic tanpura, it was just so beautiful and calming. Overall, I love that I learned so much in this course about the world of art and connected it back to my life.
In Mu 101, I learned that music is not just lyrics and a catchy beat, but music is any sound that can be heard. Music is valuable because it’s a way to spread out a message about any problems or any ideas to more people. Throughout the course, I also learned that the meaning of a song can change over time. Fore example, before I listen to a song I did not think so much of it, but Mu 101 helped me understand that every aspect of a piece or song can create emotion and feelings.
The most interesting, valuable, and helpful thing I have learned in Mu 101 is how to do discussions and share ideas with others. The online discussions were the most creative and useful thing I have done so far. The knowledge and the understanding of music I have gained in this course will stay with me forever.
My most interesting thing was the online discussions. That was how I could practice discussing with my classmates and interact with them. I learned how to use fluent English from them. It was valuable and really helpful for me. Also, I appreciate Dr. Alice Jones for teaching eagerly. I will miss Mu 101.
The most interesting thing that I learn from Mu 101 is to be able to analyze music. Even if I am not great at it, it was interesting to learn about all the different musical features and what they mean. Now every time I listen to a song I try to find the beat or analyze the text or the melody. I try to listen to the different sounds of instruments and their tempo. It was truly a very good experience that has taught me something new about music.
The most interesting things I learned and will take away from Mu 101 is how I can analyze music by using such vocabulary words like “cadence” and “dissonance.” I really enjoyed exploring new music. It really widened my range of how creative can be and it inspires me to really believe if you can imagine something you can make it. So many artists experimented and put out so many amazing things without caring what others would think. I will mostly remember that because it spoke to me a lot as an artist to not be afraid to express my visions.
The most interesting value I’ve learned in Mu 101 is to think beyond the norm because when analyzing a piece of music, you have to think about it in-depth, not to just only cover the surface of the piece but to listen to every note, compare and contrast the instruments being used and link them in a way to society. Mu 101 has definitely helped me develop my analytical abilities.
The most valuable thing that I learned out of this class is that sometimes you gotta step out of your comfort zone in order to evolve into the person you are supposed to be. This class really benefitted me for my music profession as a music producer, with just knowing that there are a lot of different sounds in the world other than the usual ones.
The most valuable thing I learned in Mu 101 this semester is to always keep your ear open to new sounds and experiences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with music all the time. Listening to your favorite type of music is fine, but listening to something you have never listened to can make you either like it or hate it, but at least you tried it.
The most valuable/helpful technique I’ve learned in this course was the different types of ways a piece of music can be heard. I’ve learned how the musical features of music can truly make a difference, not only the lyrics. Before this course I used to think the lyrics were the main factor of a piece and how it was basically the source or setting everything up (mood, for example). I’ve learned that the instruments are the true source to a listener’s ears and emotions. For example, the song can be very serious but the instruments can be creating happy, enjoyable sounds to distract the individual from a certain point.
The most interesting, valuable, or helpful thing I have learned in music is to appreciate its art. It’s been around for so long and whenever we hear classical music I used to think it wasn’t interesting at all, but there is so much history to learn with just one piece of music. Every piece of music has a backstory to it. Whether it’s what the musician/composer wants us to hear, or what you may pick up as a listener, there is always something to take from a musical piece. Now I can listen differently. I don’t just shut something off but I appreciate and analyze it and I can make the decision not to play it again, but I know on a different level why I don’t like it—something I will always be able to use.
The most interesting thing I’ve learned in music class are all of the components that a musical piece contains. After this class, I’ve noticed myself occasionally listening for what type of texture the song I’m listening to has, or what instruments are used for higher/lower sounds. Overall, I am glad that I’ve become more knowledgeable about music from the past and today’s music.
The most valuable thing I learned from this class is how to see something from a different angle. The reason I say so is because the experience of student blog posts and online discussions gave me a lot of fun. And different people think about things differently. The conflicts between thoughts and ideas make things different. I really enjoyed it.
There are so many expressions of music. This class really broadened my horizons. And also I learned about many famous musicians who worked on different kinds of music and created amazing pieces for us that give people the enjoyment of listening.
Music is not just a subject. It’s about feeling; it’s about imagination, and comes from daily life. Music is around us. And I appreciate that I had such a good chance to learn it.
Of course, there are a lot of interesting, valuable, and helpful things that I learned in Mu 1011, but most importantly I learned how to analyze music, which is very valuable for me. I learned how instruments can present differently, which is very interesting to me. I learned how to face every different music which is most helpful to me.
The most interesting, valuable, and helpful thing I’ve learned is music isn’t just a sound played by instruments, or sung by a singer, or what sounds good in your ears. Music is sound expressed by you, based on your experiences, interpretations, emotions, and the passion you have. The most valuable and helpful thing was becoming a better writer and listener. Having these challenging questions to answer during the semester gave me an opportunity to sit down in silence and just listen to a piece of music. To express ideas I’d never thought of before. Also that the person singing has a huge impact on what you take away from the piece. This course has changed my whole outlook on music in a good way.
The most interesting/important thing I learned this semester is about the different elements in music and how we apply it to all musical pieces. Being able to further understand music not just as sound, and to truly appreciate it as art, is an important lesson to me. It has changed how I view music I listen to, as well as changed how I react to classical/other forms of music. When I started this course I did not like Classical, Baroque, Romantic music, but now being able to understand it I am able to appreciate it.
The most interesting thing I learned in Mu 101 this semester is appreciating classical music. I used to fall asleep and not care at all about classical music, but once I entered this class, that changed. I learned about composers like Mozart and Beethoven and the art they contributed many centuries ago is still relevant today. This course really helped me expand my knowledge of music and made me ask more questions. And the most helpful thing I learned is improving my communication skills. I am very shy, and this course not only tested me on being more social, but that being wrong is a good thing. I say it’s a good thing because I was here to learn and this course taught me to take what we learned in class into the real world.
The most helpful thing that I have learned in Mu 101 this semester is the way to interpret and analyze the true meaning of a song or a piece of music performed with instruments by a composer. Listening closely to the different elements of a piece of music has helped me to know what the message behind the song is or what it sounds like, either being compared to nature or describing an uncertain event or thing. The thing that I will value the most from my Mu 101 class is the different pieces of music we listened to and determining the actual meaning of the piece.
The most valuable thing I’ve learned so far hasn’t been the countless ways I could possibly listen to music or knowing about all the different types of music in its respected eras, but the realization that when it comes to my writing there’s still a lot of things I need to work on. I always thought the way I wrote was enough to get by in any situation, but seeing how important adding supportive evidence to paragraphs and making sure everything makes sense is in writing, I’ve slowly been able to refine and better it. In time and more practice I can get better but this course has certainly helped. Especially with being able to read long pages of notes right before class.
The most interesting thing that I have learned in this class is EVERYTHING. That might sound like an exaggeration but I mean it because as a liberal arts full-time student I take a lot of lecture classes where I sit and just listen to the professor. In this class, however, I not only listen but I take in everything you teach us and I am able to take part in every single topic. This course and you being my professor have given me confidence and opened up a whole new field that I will now always focus on. Nothing is ever non-valuable as long as it contributes in experience and learning, but one of the most valuable things I have learned in this class is appreciation of art and music of all times.
If I had to be totally honest, everything about this class was valuable because even though this is mu 1011, we earned more than just music and its history. We learned about art, culture, history, economics, science… the list goes on and on. This class was more than just a class; it was space in which we truly had the opportunity to ask ourselves “What is music?”. I’ve realized that music is communication, one of the fundamental pieces of life, and that is something that will stay with me forever. Thank you for the great time.
I still think the first 2 blog posts that showed the importance of learning music were the most interesting. I also enjoyed reading the other student blog posts and hearing the songs they chose.
The most interesting thing that I have learned from this course was the amounts of different music that was made and how people think when they make or listen to music. There is a variety of different pieces of music that I haven’t listened to and I think I will start expanding and trying new things. Music is a very big thing in today’s world rather than back then because of the Internet and how quick social media is. I’ve never come across most of the things that we learned in class and some of it was very, very, very interesting. I hope to share it and learn more about it one day.
This semester I took the right choice of taking this writing intensive music appreciation course because it has taught me terms I wouldn’t have ever learned otherwise if I didn’t come to college. This course will help me in the long run when I apply new perspectives to the everlasting music being made every day. I learned about the first kinds of music and eras leading up to the present. For a music production major student, this class was anything but useless or boring, although it might seem that way only because it is at 9am. The most interesting things to me were the musicians of the Classical era and how they composed despite any life around them, having hearing loss, or scarce jobs.
TI, “Whatever You Like” (2007)
Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like” (2016)
Desire is front and center in both of these songs. TI and Mars paint alluring pictures of social status-driven fantasies—“Oh, what a jealousy-inducing life we’ll lead!”—designed to tempt and charm their female conversation partners, as if they had no other desire than to fulfill the women’s every wish.
I am completely convinced of the necessity of arts appreciation in a college education.
This semester, I’ve been teaching at two different campuses, SUNY Purchase and CUNY Queensborough Community College. The student bodies are quite different, so this has been an interesting experiment in essentially teaching the same course to three different classes of students. I’ll reflect on this properly at the end of the term, but this week there was a presidential election.
Earlier this month, I attended the Resonant Bodies Festival at Merkin Hall to hear fantastic singers present compelling 20th and 21st century music that moved them. This year, the festival is kind of a big deal, and all three women headlining the well-attended opening night were unquestionably a big “get,” and the audience seemed to know it. I found the music to be lovely and the singing to be exceptional, and I was especially captivated by the exactitude and charisma of Tony Arnold’s opening set. Most reviewers gushed about the entire program, understandably.
Last night, I graduated from the CUNY Graduate Center (family in town, the hooding ceremony, all the official pomp!), and it was such a mix of sensations: trying not to dis/encourage my wildly waving brother in the audience too much, awe at the range of impressive dissertations by the new doctors from all the disciplines (Doctor of Audiology! Doctor of Urban Education! Doctor of Criminal Justice! oh, and the PhDs, too), the concentrated endurance of focusing as nearly 250 graduates were named and hooded on stage, and nerves.
The story-of-the-week in music-no-one-has-heard is that of Jonas Tarm's unceremoniously-cancelled Carnegie premiere with the New York Youth Symphony (Klinghoffer, anyone?). A friend of mine posted a link to the NPR story on my facebook wall with the added question: "Should he have to disclose his intent?" My immediate TL;DR reaction was "no," followed by a TL version I've pasted here. (There's also a passionately persuasive plea in the New York Times for the necessity of just letting the damn thing be played).
Is it possible to want something without wanting to have to work to get it?