The Waiting

Jonathan Bellman

To this late point, my summer (leaving out the trip-to-California, week-of-frenetic-activities-here-with-wonderful-visiting-nephews, and napping-in-the-heat episodes) has consisted of reading and writing. I read the wonderful recent books by Kenneth Hamilton and Halina Goldberg and wrote reviews of them for journals (by no means a quick and cursory business), read a book manuscript for a publisher (yes! publish it! right now!), and a book proposal for another one. Smallish, low-glory projects; I should have been working on a major article, while my own book manuscript is being read for my publisher (and, presumably, revisions recommended). For whatever reason, I haven’t had the focus; instead I’ve been pushing ideas around for my next book (a reception history of musical exoticism and critique of where this subdiscipline has recently gone) and for the new school year. I’ve also been practicing. But I really do need to get back to that Chopin article.
“The waiting is the hardest part,” sang Tom Petty. All auguries in this case are positive, and the people at my publisher tell me I shouldn’t worry, but still… This book—Chopin’s Polish Ballade, a contextual study of his Second Ballade, Op. 38, in its wider musical and cultural contexts—goes off in a sufficient number of unexpected directions that I can’t shake the feeling that the manuscript reader will come back with one line: “Bellman, are you kidding?” A research book is a substantial bit of work and emotional investment, and particularly when one is waiting for a reaction it is hard not to get a bit apprehensive. Will it be persuasive? Will this new assemblage of my bizarritudes make any sense, or will people just shrug and look sympathetic? The fact remains that if one thinks too long about almost anything, one begins to hallucinate connections that seem like brilliant ideas. I suspect that most conspiracy theories start this way, and the point of no return is when you sit bolt upright in the middle of the night, thinking “See? It All Makes Sense!” The paranoiac then sets about stockpiling guns and ammo and scribbling up manifestoes, while the academic happily begins assembling a book proposal and collecting citations. That’s me, out to pasture, swishing my tail at flies.
The points of similarity between research books in the humanities and grand-design conspiracy theories probably constitutes a subject I should avoid, for my own emotional well-being.
I’m also waiting for Randy Newman’s latest, which I seem to be the last person not to have heard already, whether via pirated copy or advance release. Signs and portents are that this one is superb, at least to judge by the chat on the Randy-list. So at the moment it is the Universal Upbeat, to borrow an idea from Edward T. Cone. I just need to make sure I’m ready when the music begins (is one ever really ready?). And when it gets crazy, I’ll doubtless wish for this fermata-like pause again.
Update: Timing being everything, I did just hear some news, and it’s good. I can set myself to revisions now, and stop with the neurotic self-doubt. (Any more of that and Debbie will whup me; she’s bone-tired of hearing about it.) I feel like I’m being cleared for takeoff.

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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2 Responses to The Waiting

  1. Paul says:

    Thanks for this. As I continue in the life of a musician tied to an academic calendar it has always been strange to explain the meaning of summer to outsiders. The music that needs to be learned while I still have a brain, the books I have meant to read for the last year(s) but never started, and most of all the grant and project proposals that only see the light of day if I start them before the school year consumes my attention–I love the metaphor of the fermata as that uneasy pause energized by anticipation of what needs to follow. (Leonard Meyer maybe?)

  2. Lisa Hirsch says:

    Hooray for the good news!

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