An Anti-Whine

Jonathan Bellman

I’m not sure what lessons can be derived from this, but I’m going to do it anyway. If it jinxes the entire rest of my life, I’ll take the consequences; it seems valid to make what is a highly atypical point for an academic blog.

This semester, Fall 2008, may just be the pedagogical high point of my career.

I have two graduate seminars, Music History Pedagogy and Seminar in the Romantic Period. For whatever reason, enrollments are quite low. Also for whatever reason, I have nary a passenger in the entire two seminars. I have a couple of Asian doctoral students in musicology, an undergrad (Poor deluded fellow! Won’t you help? Send your contributions to…) who is highly promising, is attracted to musicology (he told the music history sequence teacher, “I want your job!”) and is going all out in my class, apprentice pedagogues of all stripes: an Education Professional with a community college affiliation, a card-carrying, philosophically informed education utopian, a band guy with extremely wide-ranging musical taste, a musicology grad student with serious twentieth-century leanings, etc. Everyone comes well prepared and ready to just mix it up, whether we’re talking about music, the reading, a text package, or a pedagogical approach. It feels as if I have never worked less hard to teach, and that my classes are the most successful they have ever been—everyone (including, and especially, me) having aha moments all over the place.

So listen up, young’uns:

Other Duties have resulted in my having something like an Ivy League-type load, even though this is no Ivy and our salaries are, frankly, a fraction of Ivy salaries. But every time you read a despondent academic blog about bad administrators, a terrible workload, funding disasters, lack of support, lack of respect, students trying to get away with stuff (something I now mostly encounter with others’ students, since I’m the Next Rung of Authority Up), and all the other vagaries of academic life: they’re true, and I’ve experienced all of that. Still, you are not entirely at others’ mercy when becalmed in torpor. Sometimes THIS is true too, and I’m looking at my own present situation with a cold eye and it’s staring me straight back: it really is as I’m describing it. This semester really is this good. My book manuscript is off in the mail, I’m finishing a review, I need to hit the piano hard, there are plenty of other projects clamoring for attention…I’m feeling energized, determined, and participatory about a certain national situation, and it currently seems—in professional and family terms—like the prow is just slicing through the water.

Why the personal testimony?  Because it can be like this, too. You always hear about the other way, but never forget that it can be like this, and I cannot conceive of a professional situation where an individual can feel more wind in his or her sails, more buoyed by those around him or her. I cannot imagine a better mix of the incontrovertible knowledge that, as someone devoting your life to an education in your discipline, you are making a real contribution—and the selfish personal satisfaction in doing so, and in spending your time doing and thinking about what you want. Now: competition will always be brutal, even though I’m seeing far more job listings than there were in the early 1990s. But we’re pulling up to AMS time again (I’m not going this year), so it seems appropriate to remind: get back to that diss, that article, that teaching proposal. You want what I’ve got? It’s here, it’s around, and you’ll doubtless be far better paid! Don’t flag before the finish line, though: you really do want Plan A. Live conservatively as far as your physical health and well being, but for your mind and ambitions…Damn the Torpedoes!

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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8 Responses to An Anti-Whine

  1. Avior Byron says:

    This is true for people who are willing to relocate in order to find a job. For most people who cannot or do not want to do so, it is harder. I live in Israel and the possibilities here are very poor. Nevertheless, I enjoyed your post and positive thinking!

  2. Jonathan Bellman says:

    This is absolutely true; I was thinking of the U.S., and of people willing to relocate in the U.S. (I used to be annoyed by people on the job market who complained about “no jobs,” when they really meant “no jobs within a hundred miles of New York City.”
    Of course, the situation in Israel (limited number of institutions and much smaller population) is very different. Friends tell me the departmental situations are different too–perhaps more like European institutions than American ones. Certainly, though, if one is unwilling to leave Israel possibilities will be limited. It is really difficult elsewhere, too–I did not want to imply that jobs are growing on trees, out in the galut; they’re not. But, then again, we have more than two or three institutions.
    I know your Doktorvater through Chopin studies, and like you am part of the OUP stable, and am interested in Performance Practices/Performance Studies. Quite a few points of contact.
    L’shana tova!

  3. Wrongshore says:


  4. eba says:

    Hurrah for good times!

  5. Glad it’s going so well. When the job is good, it’s really, really good.
    I wish I could take your pedagogy class!

  6. Michael says:

    You and Mr. Ford are ALWAYS timely . . . I just met some resistance writing the diss, and this was a perfect word of encouragement. Back to work!

  7. Peter Alexander says:

    What a great post. I am delighted for you, Jonathan.

  8. Lisa says:

    Thank you! I’m working on applying to grad programs and feeling very enthousiastic but also a little overwhelmed/terrified. Encouragement is always helpful. Back to it!

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