the 57 year old hermit muses about his community

I have been thinking a bit about collegiality and collaboration.  I listen to my brother the priest talk about the many colleagues in his professional life. One of the things I liked most about grad school was having people to discuss even argue about music and other stuff with. Also play music with. 

I am realizing how much I have isolated myself from conventional collegiality. Much of this isolation results from my own eccentric take on music and life and the local community where I live. When I lived in Detroit I was very active with the American Guild of Organist. I helped plan a national convention there. I sat in on many meetings. I was active on the Episcopal Diocesan Commission on Music and actually edited the little zine this group put out called “Pipeline.” 

Since moving to the west side of the state, I have been active in the Roman Catholic National Pastoral Musicians organization. I have had good collegial relationships with many Roman Catholic musicians. But at this stage in my life, it occurs to me that the number of breathing musicians and colleagues in my life is kind of low.

My extended family continues to be my most active community and it is one in which ideas are important and for that I am very thankful. 

Probably my most important professional colleague right now is my priest. It’s kind of tricky to be an appropriate colleague with your boss. The area of our collegiality (church and its attendent issues and struggles) is not even my primary interest these days but I do find my boss a good solid colleague I can talk freely with.  My definition of colleagiality includes being able to express myself freely even passionately to someone and not ruffle them. It also includes assuming competence and learning from the conversation. Musical collegiality would include shop talk and playing music with people who can play their instrument or are competent singers or interesting composers.

I have been thinking a bit about how I ended up like this. I think the specific circumstances like living in an area that is largely anti-intellectual and being older than most people I deal with are not that interesting. In fact how I got to this point is not that interesting except to a few intimates. What is more interesting is that I am managing to eek out collegiality at all in the musical desert I live. 

First of all I do have a few breathing people that I work with and talk to besides my family and boss. My friend Jonathon Fegel, singer, song-writer and general creative interesting person, is a delight to work with and to talk to. Today I am going to play a jazz gig with my colleague, Jordan VanHemert sax player extraordinaire. Both of these men are about half my age. They are both as eccentric as I am myself. So I am managing to find some colleagues to make music with from time to time.

Yesterday I called one of those people I knew in grad school. He has carved out a career in church music and is working for a large liturgical church in the Midwest. We were very close colleagues in school. I’m not mentioning his name because I want to share a fact that he is not comfortable with yet and that is that a young doctoral student is writing his doctoral thesis on his compositions. I think this is very cool and kind of funny. This person is a good composer and he and I have discussed composing many times. Over the years our views about composition and church music have diverged considerably. He, I think it’s fair to say, has gotten or remained more conservative. I more radical. He has succeeded in publishing hundreds of thousands of copies of his church music and I have done some of this but have ceased to submit manuscripts to church music publishers at this point.

But yesterday I needed to hear a collegial musician’s voice so I called him up. It was great to talk to someone who at least can understand much of my own professional stance if not condone it and also lives the composer’s life.

I have some other church musician and composer colleagues in this area but our connections are sporadic. I have alienated myself from the local American Guild of Organists. Some of this stems from the fact that the organ teacher at the local college was in open conflict with my teacher at my college in Detroit when I was working on my bachelors. I have tried to repair this a bit. But actually more fundamental is the fact that my philosophy differs radically from most trained musicians my age and older that I rub shoulders with locally.

But I do not actually starve for collegial conversation. I just have it with the dead and absent. My world is populated by people I don’t talk to in person. I feel like Sir Monocle and I have collegial  connection via our blogs. There are web sites that I read regularly like Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise  and others that I read and leave comments at like Kyle Gann’s PostClassic and Full of Grace: Composing Sacred Music. Everyday I sit at my piano, organ or guitar and connect to the heart and soul of musicians whom I consider great and important in my world (that would be people like Bach, Schubert, Bartok, John Adams). Not to mention the people whose writings I read in sundry fields. 

These people are actually my collegial community. I would prefer breathing types. But I think it’s silly to live in a small Republican Dutch Reformed community in Western Michigan and then complain that people are not interested in what I am interested in or share my points of view.

Thank you God for the few friends colleagues I have left and the wonderful music and books that keep me alive and also the INTERNET.

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