credo: a passion for music

While I treadmill I like to read the internet on my little netbook. It makes the time pass quickly and expands the usefulness of exercise in my mind.

Yesterday I lined up several articles to read while I was exercising.  But I was drawn in to an unattributed article on The Economist web site: “The Disposable Academic: why doing a phd is a waste of time.”

I myself have had a hate/love relationship with college all my life.

When I was considering college, my father arranged for me to have a lunch with Robert Anderson who later became president of the college my father graduated from.  He gave me sage advice about college from the inside. He told me it was like any institution and was best approached on its own screwd up terms.

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you - just one word. Ben: Yes sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Ben: Yes I am. Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.' Ben: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it? Ben: Yes I will. Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.

I thought of this conversation often as I later attended several colleges.

Throughout my life I haven’t had a lot of advice. My father tended to keep his distance both emotionally and intellectually.  But I can remember the people who have advised me.

At the first college I attended (Flint U of M) I quickly became dissatisfied with my English major classes. Admittedly the advisors put me in the advanced classes including an interesting experimental seminar which met weekly for discussions and assigned reading.  I got something out of my logic and French classes there, but for the most part my head was moving away from college.

I remember a final conversation with a counselor there in which I told him I was going to eventually study harpsichord and that I needed some time away from school.

I eventually did study harpsichord years later.  People who know me now are not very aware of my skills in this area. Recently a local college teacher told me there was no way that the college would loan my church its harpsichord for a performance.  She was surprised that I would even consider it possible.

Actually it’s not that preposterous for a college to loan a harpsichord out especially to someone who plays it competently (that would be me).  This is assuming that the college is interested in spreading and supporting the arts locally.

This is an example of how institutions blithely ignore the realities of content while emphasizing one’s ability to get credentials that in themselves often do not indicate any level of understanding. I sometimes say that my degrees do mean something because I got a good education.

That's right. My middle name is Bruce... Bruce Wayne's my namesake....

I threw myself into school when I returned to Ohio Wesleyan where I studied composition and piano for a couple of years.  From that point on in my life I was motivated by a passion for music which I still have.

There were a couple of good teachers there that helped me.  Eventually I wound up studying at Wayne State University. Here I studied organ and church music. Undoubtedly I received an excellent and well rounded education at WSU. Not only in my music course but in the other non-major courses. They were excellent and affect the way I think to this day (Nutrition, Physical Anthropology, Poly Sci).

My organ/harpsichord teacher and mentor was Ray Ferguson. Ray had a Masters degree from Oberlin.  He also was an active performer in Detroit and was the DSO organist. He was an excellent harpsichordist and while I knew him continued his education with excellent people all over the world.

He told me that all I needed was a Masters degree.  I’m not sure if he thought I was doctorate material but what he said was that I wouldn’t need one.  So far he has been correct. The article I linked at the beginning of this post paints a bleak picture of the need for doctorates at the university level.  It reminded me of Ray’s comments.

I am interested in learning but have never set my sights on a full time teaching position. I have some skepticism about the purpose of the university institution as an arena of learning (This stems directly but not exclusively from my conversation with Nicholson mentioned above).  Many professors I have known are obviously not curious people. They are trying to make the system work for them as individuals. But they are not primarily interested in helping others learn.

Any college student paying attention can reel off a list of people like this.

I did some adjunct teaching at GVSU. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed sharing my passion with students and learning about theirs.  The man who hired me was temporary chair of the music department. When the new chair came in, I don’t think he saw me as an asset. Rather I was an old guy with a masters degree who wasn’t interested in shit adjunct assignments.  After I refused a couple of classes, he quit offering me work.

This was probably because he was trying to get the professors to teach more and was trimming the adjuncts down to people who would jump when he said to.  I remember him telling me (he was my age or a bit younger) that he and his colleagues had done their share of adjunct teaching. He implied it was a way of paying dues.  He also said church music was a tough way to make a living. In that he was right, I guess. I have been underpaid for most of my career in this area, but have managed to pay bills combining two lousy incomes (Eileen’s and mine).

But church music has been a place where I have been able to live out my passion.

Craig Cramer, my teacher at Notre Dame (where I did my masters) had a doctorate from Eastman. The ideal behind a doctorate is that it is original research that contributes something to the conversation of ideas in a field.

This turns out to be a rarity. Craig consistently ridiculed his thesis.  It was about an obscure French composer, Alexandre Pierre François Boëly. I never heard Craig play any of this guy’s work.  In fact I never heard him speak well of him.

It was obvious that he wasn’t that interested in the research, that it was a way for him to get his doctorate. I don’t fault him for that at all. I do think that he has a good mind and is a good player and learned quite a bit from him.

Well this post is longer than I wanted it to be.  I was going to close with the links to the other articles I found yesterday but will save those for another time.

At this time of my life I can look at my own abilities and education and feel satisfied that I continue to learn and extend my formal education by composing, studying, reading, practicing and performing.  This is how my passion continues.

Dancers 1997

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4 thoughts on “credo: a passion for music

  1. The notion that the degree obtainment is materially relevant to the education of students is ludicrous. At one time there was an intellectual elite which offered study to students of those who could afford the education which is no longer. This changed substantively after WWII. The degree obtainment process is merely one element in the “journeyman’s card” in the eduction institutional game of remuneration. You are representative of the intellectual from long ago who used their mind to actually think about stuff. I approached the institution of education with a reticence of expectation. I merely wanted to share a lifetime of learning with young minds in hopes of improving their own prospects. Education is not enough. Talent is not enough. Only the person who is persistently determined to use their own intellectual gifts, whatever they may be, are successful. This is proven by your own example of your efforts. You are successful at achieving those things that are important to you and to your family. So, why do I comment about this? Well, that that you suppose is actually a great intellectual topic. I perhaps am a little less cynical, but feel that the business of education is not very good at educating.

  2. I totally commend you for wanting to “share a lifetime of learning with young minds.” On the other hand I don’t think that learning and education is primarily a business.

    I think it’s process and a life-lone one, at that. I’m pretty sure you agree with me when I join the chorus of US thinkers who think out education system is failing the US.

    Where I diverge from much of the discussion is that the purpose of education is to prepare people to be able to earn a living or even make a lot of money.

    The metaphor that life is business and business is life seems to permeate our values and public discussions in the US right now. I disagree with this basic idea as I suspect you do.

    I know you value critical thinking. I do also and would be happy to see more people coming out of educational institutions with this skill.

    But I think living is also about making meaning and connecting with people and simply enjoy life as a gift. As I age I see more clearly that life for me is at its best when I do things that help others. I do this in simple ways with my cooking and music.

    So living for me is passion and a lot of my passion goes into music as you know.

    Hope you and Susan are having a good holiday. My brother and his extended family arrive Wed or Thurs for a visit. That will be nice.

  3. I think that we agree, education though is a business, even though I have actually not wanted it to be that. This effort agree or not, does change the focus of education in numbers i.e. attendance, graduation rates, and jobs attained. Rather than giving the individual the tools to be able to use their own mind in the critical thinking process and the understanding of their use of the information, we have shoved them into programmed training outcomes that must be measured. Big topic and I deal with this stuff daily. I thought that I could make a difference on the Academic Governing Council, but I was mistaken. The gobbledygook of learning outcomes and communication elements to validate the current structure of education is dubious at best. I looked into the structure of independent colleges, like Hillsdale College in Michigan. This institution made the decision not to accept any public monies from any source. It has apparently made a difference to their intellectual pursuits. As to their success, it apparently, does relate to the financial ability of their students, but as I understand it, they do find private sources of funding to support their students who are financially in need. This topic is one that continues to bother me. The only thing that I really control is the classroom education content, but that is only based upon academic freedom.

    Our Holiday is at best marginal. Hope that you and Eileen are having a wonderful time. Say hello to your brother. I will post some pictures of him at our wedding. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  4. Here’s what I think for what it’s worth.

    Learning still happens despite framing the educational institution as a business. It happens despite not because of structures like business theology (sic) and educational theories.

    I think it happens because of people (rare teachers) who love to learn and love to spread this contagion and are not concerned with the bullshit of institutions.

    This has nothing to do with the business climate in the US to my way of thinking. If one persists in understanding educational institutions as businesses or in terms of flaky educational theories the chances that education and learning happen are further reduced.

    Hillsdale is not the answer. (I am familiar with this institution, and some of its teachers and students….. Frankly I am appalled at their ideological approach…. Even Notre Dame which is rapidly following in its wake of reactionaryism was not so narrow.)

    I think that Jeffersonian democracy is the answer: educate (truly educate) the people and they can govern themselves.

    You and I see this differently, Ray. That’s fine. I know its futile to expect the society to rise to this occasion. But it is how I think. There is no way I can bring myself to put my faith in business as an answer to moral and learning dilemmas.

    When I say business I think corporations not small business entrepreneurs. Corporation and money is a far more corrupt source of ideas and actions than government as far as I am concerned. If there is any hope it will be in the reform of institutions that are designed with public responsibility as their main concern. This means government. I know that there have been many leaders in the US who think that government is the problem and not the answer. Though there is some truth in this, to me it is even more true that business philosophy (I call it theology… ideology) is about profit not public service. In our time this has been short term exploitation (dare I say, plundering) of both the public and the government pocketbook.

    It all obviously needs reform. But the problem is that after so many years of dilution of education and learning, there is a dearth of people up to the task of understanding the situation much less reforming it.

    I hope I don’t offend you with my understanding. My experience of education is from the point of view of an artist, since that’s how I went through the educational system. I was just talking to my friend Jordan (who is finishing up his bachelors in music) about the idea that music is a difficult subject to fake in school. Many other areas are routinely more false than real,however.

    Once again I point you to Paul Goodman’s idea of the community of scholars. “It is by losing ourselves in inquiry, creation & craft that we become something. Civilization is a continual gift of spirit: inventions, discoveries, insight, art. We are citizens, as Socrates would have said, & we have it available as our own.”

    Remember it’s just how I see it. I don’t need to change your mind, only clarify my ideas and point of view.

    Sorry to hear you Holiday was marginal. I hope this improves. We should get together. I would be willing to meet you in GR for coffee sometime.

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