Jonathan Bellman

Ben (14): Dad, how many classes are you teaching now?

Me: Two.

Ben: You lazy bum!

Yes, he understands about search committee work, endless meetings, graduate exams, constant writing projects and papers to prepare for, guest lectures, occasional piano work, and so on—not mentioning running him to music lessons, soccer practices and games, and study sessions. He sees his mother constantly doing editing work (correspondence, editing, so much else) for her musicology journal. He was simply, for pure pleasure, “tickling a sleeping dragon” (in the immortal words of J. K. Rowling). Of course, the end result was a wrestling match, and two destroyed dignities, which was the original goal.

He lives with this, and whether his future holds 25-hour days of similar activity or a completely different direction will be his decision. (Of course, I say this with all due piety and earnestness but still think I can make it for him!) But he understands—he knows exactly what our lives involve, the fires that motivate us, and why we live like this.

How many members of University Boards of Trustees, state commissions on higher education, or national boards of same have the slightest clue? I once heard about a conversation with a New Jersey legislator (I think; for that matter it could have been apocryphal), in which a professor was asked by a pol about his load.

Prof: Nine hours.

Legislator: Well, it’s a long day, but at least it’s easy work.

As I say: perhaps apocryphal, but all too indicative of what most people think about the higher education endeavor. I’m trying to get beyond “rage” to “wonder.”

After that, presumably, come “dull, anaesthetized acceptance” and “administration.”


About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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3 Responses to Conversations

  1. TTU Theory says:

    In case you need more evidence of legislators not understanding what we do, consider the Texas state legislature’s decision to cut all undergraduate degree programs to 120 hours so that students can graduate in four years. It seems to me that most students who don’t graduate in four years fall into two categories: 1) Those who are particularly driven and take on double majors and/or extra courses to give them an edge on the job market, or 2) Students who regularly miss their classes, midterm exams, etc. and have to retake classes two and three times. We’re desparately trying to determine what can be cut from our theory and composition degrees, both of which are over 130 credits. But we can’t get rid of core curriculum requirements, and NASM and other accreditation agencies require us to have a variety of other music degree-specific requirements. Regardless of what we cut, the two types of students listed above will doubtless still take more than four years to graduate.

  2. Jonathan says:

    It’s the same in Colorado, sadly.

  3. I hear similar sentiments in Virginia as well..

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