As any visitor will see, my blog progress has been very slow … in fact, non-existent for some time now. The reason/s? There are several: firstly, writing my thesis has absorbed all available writing time and energy. Once I am finished, which will be in the next couple of months (touch wood) I will be posting more often, and these will be research-related posts, rather than general interest.
The second half of 2018 was very busy. In July I co-organised an Opera Studies Day at the NZSM. This event took the form of a mini-conference, based on the study days that the Royal Musical Association runs at UK universities. With my fellow organiser, Sarah Chesney, we put on a successful event. Seven fascinating papers were presented, and we hosted two keynote speakers. The papers came together thematically – this surprised us – making for lively discussion. A large crowd attended as audience, and at lunch time, one such delegate told me ‘this has been the best day of 2018!’. When convening an event like this, many other worries dominate the mind: for example, the NZSM ran out of toilet paper halfway through the day, necessitating a mad hunt through the buildings. Not a crisis we were expecting! Thankfully, two delegates who are also NZSM lecturers remembered that they had seen a stash of toilet paper near their offices, so they found it and loaded up the dispensers in the main School of Music Building. We also had a slight shortage of tea/coffee cups, so keeping the dishwasher going (and making sure it finished in time to lay out the refreshments) proved to be another challenge. Amid these problems, presenting a paper and fielding questions seemed fairly easy.
Shortly after the Opera Studies Day I presented work again at the NZSM Music Forum ‘Sound Bites’ session. At these events, research staff and students present a mere snippet of their current research in just 6 minutes. ‘Sound Bites’ are really good fun, and good practise for distilling your work in a way that’s accessible and interesting to a diverse audience. Sound Bites also show just how diverse our research interests are.
In the second half of the year, July-November, I tutored on two papers: Hildegard to Avant Garde (the first-year introduction music history paper) and Nineteenth-Century Music, a second-year historical musicology paper. I hadn’t tutored since 2016, but nearly two years of note-taking and transcribing in my Academic Support Worker role (for Disability Services at VUW) provided me with some new ideas and approaches for these tutorials. The marking and administration load was also fairly high, in addition to teaching three classes per week. The tutoring experience is really stimulating, and educational: it’s interesting to see how student experience/expectations have changed since my days as a 1st/2nd year undergraduate, how student knowledge has diversified (thanks to a wider range of papers, and experience from their non-music papers), and where the gaps are. It appears that I’ll be tutoring again in 2019, so last year’s experience will inform this year’s tutoring, and I’ve been gathering ideas for helping students with research and writing activities especially. My belief now is that a focus on research/writing will never be wasted: the canny students can use the information and activities to get better, and the students who find some aspects of academic writing and research more challenging can really benefit. One of the best exercises I coordinated last year was on topic sentences and abstract writing. Almost entirely new concepts to most of the students, they processed the information very quickly, and the results became apparent in their next assignments.
In addition to working on the bare bones of academic techniques, my approach to the musical content of tutorials will also see some changes. Mainly, a focus on good listening techniques for discussing what we hear, and – if the student reads music – relating what they hear to what they see on the score. I believe in the importance of bringing alive the music, its composers, and the times in which the composers worked. In the tutorials where this approach succeeded, again, the results showed in the students’ work.
In December I travelled to Christchurch for the NZMS Conference. The theme was ‘Into the Unknown’, which suited my paper (discussing the transition of Die Fledermaus from the Theater an der Wien to Vienna’s Hofoper) very well. This conference was the best NZMS event I’ve attended. A series of great papers; a group of convivial, generous people; a friendly, welcoming organiser, in the form of Francis Yapp; a hospitable, comfortable venue. At the end of the conference, I received the runner-up prize for the best student papers, and this imbued me with confidence in my topic, and in its presentation. For the first time I worked especially hard on presenting ‘off copy’, and relying on notes, rather than reading a script. By tying the notes/ideas closely to a series of pictures and quotations, I could deliver the paper much more freely. One criticism – entirely justified – from the committee mentioned that I didn’t give the audience long enough to read the quotations, and this is something I’ll work on.
Outside of matters academic, I have signed up for a 20km swim event in March….so currently life is mainly write/swim/write/swim/write/swim ….