End of Semester Deep Breath, Or: How I Survived Teaching Theory

At the end of every semester, I say, “Wow! Crazy semester!” And then I think it can’t get any busier and make a solemn vow to myself to not let that happen again. I’m wrong, of course, as this has been one of the busiest in recent memory. Ever since I stopped teaching in two states, which required criminal amounts of driving, sleep deprivation, and general mental anguish, my academic load has been reasonable. Until this semester, of course.

One of my strengths and/or weaknesses is that I feel compelled to take advantage of good opportunities when they present themselves and am reluctant to move on from them when I probably should. This is one reason why things tend to get busy for me. This semester, a colleague of mine was going on a one-semester sabbatical and asked if I would take his theory classes. Of course I would. (Compelled to take advantage of good opportunities, remember?) In this case, though, there is a definite end date. No matter how wonderful or horrible the experience may be, it would only be for one semester.

So I immersed myself in tonal theory. My extra load included theory II (written and aural), theory IV (written and aural), and form & analysis. Luckily, the theory prof uses the same text I used for my undergraduate studies, so I was quite familiar with it. (It also isn’t too many editions removed from the edition I used, which makes me feel decidedly Not So Old.) I also include theory within applied flute lessons, so it’s something I’m comfortable with and apply regularly. I’m actually a big proponent of integrating many aspects of music into performance and applied study, so this gave me another way in which to do this.

I have also come to realize that I just really enjoy theory. As a performer, my mind tends to go to the objective, to facts, to intervals and phrase direction and cadences and so forth. I usually don’t come up with narratives or pictures or extramusical ideas about works. (Lest you think I’m a machine-like automaton of a performer, I’m obsessed with sound and color, which are a bit difficult to quantify themselves.) Because of this objective approach I take as a performer, theory works very well for me.

I also really enjoyed returning to theory IV after I have essentially – unofficially – become a performer who focuses largely on contemporary music. As a sophomore undergrad, the most modern composer I had ever performed was probably Hindemith, and, upon reflection, I Didn’t Get It. To go back and revisit the theory that pushes tonality to its limits was fun. It also reminded me of the great theory classes I took as a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, which I loved.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the semester is over. Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Form & analysis students are taking their exam as we speak, and I still have a ton of things to grade. The workload this semester was intense, compared to the applied lesson or lecture classes I usually teach. I also had to come up with the day-to-day class outlines as I went, since it was the first time I had taught these classes. And on top of this extra teaching load, I still had my other usual stuff: world music, applied flute, studio class, flute ensemble, and a junior recital to supervise, all of which took place at two different colleges. This doesn’t include any of my professional activity; I presented and/or performed at three flute conventions and helped organize the Atlanta Flute Club’s activities this semester. Did I mention this is the workload of an adjunct?

So why did I take on this extra load?
1 – I thought it would be fun. No, really. Whatever they were going to pay me wouldn’t be enough if I didn’t really think I would enjoy the work. And I did, so that worked out.
2 – $$$. Let’s be real. As an adjunct, extra classes = extra money. Since I’m presenting at the British Flute Society convention this summer, this will help out. Airfare to England ain’t cheap.
3 – CV. Technically, my degrees are in performance and musicology, even though I took a substantial amount of theory during my doctoral studies. This gives me a more formal way to show that I’m qualified to teach these subjects as I send out job applications.

Unfortunately, my practicing suffered a bit, but I’m pretty happy with what I was able to get in, and I think I did a solid job teaching theory this semester. And I’m looking forward to summer and “free time,” where I get to practice (oh, sweet relief!), schedule performances, rehearse with musician friends (bliss!), write, move forward with recording plans, and work on my various projects.

Now to grade exams, so I will truly be finished with this semester. Next semester won’t be so busy. No, really.