Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 10: Tapdancing on Shifting Sands

What is my research field? What do I teach?
I get asked these questions by other academics occasionally, and I'm not quite sure what to answer.

During my time teaching in my current post, I've been required to fill in a number of gaps that have needed filling due to staff illness or staff moving to new posts. I have taught on nearly every single module on the programme, and teach a reasonably significant number of students from the Popular Music programme as well. When a module looked like it might be shut down, I have stepped in. Where a replacement lecturer hadn't been found, I have stepped in.

Now this may sound like I'm bragging, and I don't want it to sound like that. I've invited these challenges and I have refused to let myself get pinned down to one job description. While it has been a challenge, I enjoy the challenge and I feel it has expanded my awareness of what it means to be a musician, and to listen to music, and to write music, and to think about music. There have been times where I've felt frustrated that, because of my versatility, I was being moved out of one area to cover another because I could, not to match my own strengths, but, if I'm honest with myself, I always found something to get excited about in the new area.

If I had come into the job and refused to teach anything other than composition or 20th century history or analysis, I wouldn't have been much use. Those subjects, the subjects that I was trained in, and experienced at teaching, were already being covered by other staff. In order to thrive, I learned new skills, and through that, I've grown.

When I started teaching, I was a composer, but I was a composer in crisis (more on that another day) and I'm still trying to find my way back towards seeing myself as a composer again. What has happened in the meantime, is that I have discovered that I have potential as a musicologist. At least, that's maybe what you'd call me. I don't really like the term. My conference papers that I have given, and the articles (and book(s)) I want to write have grown out of my teaching, combined with my knowledge of 20th/21st century music, aesthetics, music psychology, etc. Today, I have been reading about Music & Consciousness to see if my thoughts and plans can fit into this field. I think that most people pick a field and stick to it rather than thrashing around like me. I think that I'm still looking for where I fit, because I suspect that I fit between a lot of these categories.

I suppose my advice to a new lecturer would be to not stand still, and to not be afraid of investigating new fields. But at the same time, keep some stability. Constantly throwing yourself into new areas is disorienting and, to an extent, I'm only just recovering from that instability now. Don't feel like you necessarily have to fit into the structures that have been allotted you. Your line manager may tell you that is the lot of the academic, but I refuse to believe this. This job is not like any other (as I'll bang on about again and again) and we have the power, and (dare I say it) the responsibility to forge our own areas of teaching and research (within a team structure - again, not enough space or time to talk about that today...). As Elton John sings, 'change is gonna do me good'.

Looking back now, I can see that, to some extent, the seeds of my current practice were there in my PhD commentary - the post-structural critical theory, the pseudo-psychology - although I was blind to it at the time. This is what I want to be teaching in the future, and I'm finally happy with this area. At least I think so... Ask me again in a couple of years.

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