new year, new syllabus

happy new year! I resolve to…continue sending out this newsletter.

I interviewed the amazing Linda Shaver-Gleason for The Log Journal; I hope you read it, and Joshua Kosman’s tribute too, and all of her writing on her blog.

The book is basically on hiatus right now — if you recall, the manuscript is out for peer review, and I anticipate getting feedback in February. In the meantime, I’m prepping my two courses for spring 2020 at UMD: music appreciation, which I wrote about here and will wrote about more soon, and a graduate seminar on public musicology. Let’s talk a little bit about that.

I last taught the public musicology seminar in my second semester at Maryland. I was an absolute rookie — there’s nothing stranger than flipping roles around the seminar table — and created a monster syllabus that was less of a This Is Good For Teaching syllabus than a This Contains Everything I Think Is Relevant To Public Musicology syllabus. Once the class was over, I disseminated it online; you can read it here. At the time, I was thinking a lot about how “public musicology” was an overused and under-theorized phrase, and so I saw compiling a syllabus as a way to make a statement about what I imagined public musicology to be, and what I would want someone learning about it to know and do. It was, in essence, Syllabus As Manifesto.

In that sense, it seems like it was somewhat effective: Tamara Levitz linked to it in her recent Current Musicology article; when you search “public musicology” it comes up in the top ten.

But sprawling lists of things to read do not necessarily make for an ideal graduate course as a learning experience. The syllabus was over-stuffed, and had some structural flaws in how the assignments played out over the course of the semester: the students had too much to read, too much to do, and not enough time to let their final projects (the creation/execution of a major public-focused project) to develop. I weighed the first half of the course towards theory and the second towards practice, which in effect meant we spent too much time talking about stuff and not doing stuff.

So I’m working on a total syllabus rewrite, making a syllabus that’s less about capturing-everything-that’s-important and more about doing focused dives into specific topics and skills. Each week we’ll learn about a different way of doing public music scholarship, and most of the time we’ll also try it out for the next week. They’ll still do the big final project, but will work on it over the entire second half of the semester rather than cramming it into a few final weeks. I’ve pulled back a lot on theorizing, and pulled back even more on looking at non-music public scholarship; I had been leaning too heavily on wanting students to become Los Angeles Review of Books-like public intellectuals (an impossible task in a semester, anyway), partly because of my own biases in what kind of public scholarship I like. We’ll do thinkpieces and cultural criticism, but we’ll also talk about (and meet with people who do) cultural preservation, museums, educational initiatives, preconcert lectures, program notes, and more. The students will also each maintain a blog/newsletter through the semester in which they’ll talk about their learning process — kind of like this newsletter! We’ll be reading a lot of Linda’s work, of course.

This is my third time teaching a grad seminar, which at Maryland include our MA and PhD students in musicology/ethnomusicology, but also include MM and DMA students from elsewhere in the School of Music. As I’ve done these I discover more and more that it’s useful to give more guidance in terms of what students should bring to the table when they arrive at seminar; if I simply list a bunch of readings and then expect students to be prepared to discuss them for 2.5 hours, there will be a decent amount of of hemming and hawing and silence. Silence is fine in discussion — it’s useful and productive! — but it often takes me a few weeks to realize that it’s good to give more clarity about what students should bring to the table each week. Now I’m trying to pre-empt that via the syllabus itself. Here’s a sample week:

Week 2: Public intellectuals + blogging (2/3)

What is a public intellectual today?

What is a public?

  • Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics”

Why blog?

Blogs to peruse (we’ll divide these up -- read at least 5 posts and get a sense of what the blog’s about):




When you come to seminar:

  • Be prepared to discuss different perspectives on the role of the public intellectual today, and Warner’s theory of publics/counterpublics + have 2 discussion questions ready

  • Be prepared to discuss, in-depth, the blogs that you examined

  • Begin setting up your blog website, and be prepared to talk about it

Last time around, I provided a giant list of blogs and no indication of what to actually do with them. As I remember from my grad school days, when you get a giant reading list without guidance, the instinct is often to do as little as possible. This is a totally understandable and necessary survival skill in grad school: you are faced with an enormous amount of work every week, and the strategic thing to do is to prioritize the essentials. Learning to skim is part of learning to be a scholar. And, professor-by-professor, expectations can vary widely: sometimes you’d get a massive reading list and the prof would ask detailed questions about each reading, down to the individual page; sometimes the prof would seemingly not remember what had even been assigned, and the discussion would be driven entirely by student interests. Instead, this time around I’ll assign each student 2 or 3 blogs to check out, with specific instructions to report back on.

Here’s another sample week, which I worked on this morning. Previously, I told students to check out a bunch of cultural websites like The New Yorker, LARB, New Inquiry, etc. That’s not a lot of guidance, and I don’t remember anyone having much to say of significance about their findings. (Again, not their fault; I take the blame for not thinking through the learning outcome implications of what was assigned.) Instead now I’ve just made a list of specific pieces—all music-focused—that we can delve into more deeply to understand what goes into a timely op-ed/thinkpiece/essay. Also, if you have recommendations of public-oriented essays by music scholars written for major press outlets that aren’t listed here, let me know! (As you can see, I’m short on ethnomusicologists right now.)

Week 7: Thinkpieces/op-eds + final project (3/9)

What do timely music scholarship op-eds/thinkpieces look like?

What are strategies for writing op-eds?

By the day before seminar:

  • Pitch a “thinkpiece” aimed towards a specific mainstream publication: in fewer than 200 words, describe the article you want to write (“what’s it about?”), its significance and impact on a general reader (“why should we care?”), its fit within the mission of the platform (“why should we publish this?”), and its timeliness (“why should we publish this now?”).

When you come to seminar:

  • Be prepared to talk about all the op-eds/thinkpieces in detail: not just their content, but their structure, and how they balance incorporating scholarly thought alongside public-oriented writing

  • Be prepared to talk about your pitch, and have read your colleagues’ pitches

  • Be prepared to talk about initial ideas for your final project!!! 

After they pitch their piece, they’ll actually write it, of course.

I’m excited about the course; I’ll probably newsletter about it more soon, and maybe link the full syllabus when it’s done. Of course, writing about what you hope happens in a course has almost nothing to do with what actually happens in the classroom, so we’ll see if any of this actually works!

In other exciting news, we moved! We now live in an cute rental house in Silver Spring, which means that Georgia has a fenced-in backyard in which she can frolic/eat sticks.

She’s also had some pretty great visitors, including her aunt Bonnie

And her new friend Lucy

Finally, we kept up our Christmas Day tradition of visiting FDR’s Fala

Hope you’re having a great 2020, more soon!