Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Adventures of a Visiting Scholar in Utah (with link to my talk, “The Morality of Musical Men: From Victorian Propriety to the Era of #MeToo”)

Hello, everyone! If you’ve been following my social media accounts (either Facebook or Twitter), you’ll know that I was busy last week. I traveled to Logan, Utah for Utah State University’s Visiting Artist & Scholar series, part of their Year of the Arts. For two days, January 25-26, I was treated like a musicological rock star. It was an amazing experience, and I want to let you know what I did out there—for those readers who wonder what public musicologists do, or what an academic trip like this can look like, or just like to know what I’m up to.

A poster for my scholarly talk in the lobby of my hotel
 Poster for my talk in the lobby of my hotel. 
I received the invitation to USU in late 2016 from musicology professor Chris Scheer, whom I’d met through our shared Anglophilia and membership in the North American British Music Studies Association (the group that I mentioned in my post on Clara Schumann). Honored, I accepted, but I had a lot of concerns due to my health.

Long-term planning is difficult for someone with stage IV breast cancer, especially since my condition has been very unpredictable—in fact, last summer I had such a big setback that I absolutely would not have been able to travel then. I still haven’t gained back all the strength and mobility I lost then, so as my trip neared, I had to trim the trip down to the barest responsibilities of the position, knowing I wouldn’t have the stamina for much more.

Fortunately, Dr. Scheer and everyone else I met was accommodating and sensitive to my medical issues. The schedule was adjusted to four days: two days of teaching, discussing, and presenting, and a day of travel on either end. I arrived in Utah on Wednesday, January 24th, with responsibilities beginning on Thursday the 25th.

On Thursday morning, we kicked things off with a Music Blogging Workshop, mostly populated by Dr. Scheer’s music history class. The students, almost entirely undergraduates, had been assigned my essay for Musicology Now for some background on my approach and general philosophy, and from there they could pretty much ask me anything.

Leading a music blogging workshop at Utah State University.
I'm on the far left, seated in front of the attendees.
The students covered a lot of topics with their questions, from blog-related things like how long it takes to write a post (if I’m fired up, sometimes just a few hours, with trusted friends often giving me feedback within a day of me sending them a draft), to larger issues like expanding the audience for classical music. One student asked me an interesting question that I plan to turn into a future blog post. We spent quite a bit of time discussing women composers, as that’s been a major topic of discussion on my blog and on Twitter. I promised to send them a link to Brian Lauritzen’s stats on women composers programmed by major US ensembles in the 2017-18 season.

I kept coming back to some of the goals I’ve developed for the blog over time: Stimulate enthusiasm; don’t quash it. Don’t try to make anyone feel bad for liking something.  Don’t be proud of not knowing something—ignorance is nothing to celebrate. Be bold: Risk being wrong, and don’t be afraid to admit when you are.

Probably the thing that challenged them the most (due to the relative youth of most and the particularly authoritarian culture in Utah) was my passion for questioning the history we’ve received, pointing out that what’s been preserved isn’t the entirety of what happened, and that every history book has reasons for presenting what they do. (I’ve always thought of myself as a responsible person who follows the rules, but this made me seem like a real rebel!)

After the workshop and a nice lunch with Music Theory professor Tim Chenette, I had an interview with Visual Studies professor David Wall for a course called “Civilization.” As the title implies, it’s a general course, and it has many students enrolled, some attending on campus and some attending online. Our one-and-one interview was recorded in a small video production studio, to be edited and put online, accessible only to students enrolled in the course. Here, I talked about music and the arts in very broad terms, answering questions like, “What does it mean to study ‘reception’?” and “Why do we need music?”

That evening, I had dinner in Dr. Scheer’s home with his family and another musicologist, Rika Asai. Also, Dr. Scheer informed me that Tom Williams, the host of Access Utah on Logan’s Utah Public Radio, wanted to interview me for the show. Since I was only in town for one more day, that meant I had to decide whether I could cram it into my schedule for the following day. I’d just gotten through the interview with Dr. Wall, and public radio is pretty impressive, so I decided to go for it, even though it meant I’d have less time to rest between commitments. After all, it’s public radio!

Friday morning (January 26) started off with the part of the visit I was most looking forward to: office hours, which meant one-on-one conversations with students. I met with seven students, each of whom had signed up for a half-hour slot on the schedule. Some of them followed up on things we’d discussed in the workshop the previous day. One asked for advice in starting his own blog.

A few students were more concerned about the immediate future: Dr. Scheer had assigned a research paper, and they needed help figuring out a topic and learning how to start researching. I hope I gave them practical guidance and reduced their stress! One student and I had a fun, authority-challenging discussion about feminism and the classical canon. I could tell that it energized her, and it made me even more excited about delivering my (perhaps incendiary?) talk that evening.

Due to the UPR interview, I only had time for a quick lunch with Dr. Scheer and Music Theory professor Sara Bakker. Then I was off to a radio studio for an hour-long conversation with Tom Williams. Since the show would air the following week (that is, this week, as I’m writing this post), he told me to refer to my talk as though I’d already given it—I did manage to slip in an, “As I said at my talk last Friday…” to uphold the fantasy. He asked me about the Jeopardy! picture on my Twitter page, so we started talking about that—and I didn’t even realize we were being recorded until I heard the interview online today!

Tom Williams had clearly done his research on me, as he asked several questions pertaining to specific blog posts, some from over a year ago. (Fortunately, in giving his listeners a little context for my post, he refreshed my memory of what I’d written!) I think that interview was at the level I’ve been seeking for this blog—aimed at people who like classical music, but may not have much experience with the academic side of it. Anyway, this interview is available online on UPR’s website.

Finally, it’d come to my final responsibility, the one thing I had to prepare in advance: my public lecture. This was where I had to demonstrate my actual scholarly cred, using historical sources to make a compelling point. Rather than rehash a chapter of my dissertation, which was already over a year old, I decided to expand one of my recent blog posts, bringing in some discussion of recent events, and giving some historical context from some of the sources I used in my dissertation.

In order for USU to publicize the event, I had to provide a title for my talk before I wrote it, so I decided to be bold and told them, “The Morality of Musical Men: From Victorian Propriety to the Era of #MeToo.”

“The Morality of Musical Men: From Victorian Propriety to the Era of #MeToo”
“The Morality of Musical Men:
From Victorian Propriety
to the Era of #MeToo”
I’m pretty sure the title had the impact I hoped it would; the talk was well-attended, drawing some faculty and admins who apparently hadn’t attended any of the previous lectures in this Visiting Artist & Scholar series. Dr. Scheer confirmed for me afterward, the audience responded to my delivery with many emphatic nods and pointed scowls. A mixed response, yes, but strong reactions to what I’d written, which was my goal.

The question and answer period afterward was lively and challenged me a bit, particularly when one of the students called me out for noting a problem without proposing a solution. How do we disentangle works of art from the behavior of the artists who created them? Can we even do that with living artists who still profit (or at least benefit) from their art? I had to leave some things open-ended, which can also feel uncomfortable to students at the beginning of their college experiences.

I’m making the text of my talk publicly accessible on the Humanities Commons repository, which contains links to the PDF under the description. Please read and discuss, if you’d like.

Overall, I had a fantastic time. I savored it, knowing that I may never have another chance to be treated like a celebrity, with so much sincere enthusiasm for things I’d written and said. I am so grateful to Chris Scheer and all the people at USU who made my visit possible.

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