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Nonsense Teaching: Due Dates

I did a lot of nonsense teaching things last semester. Or rather, things that seem like nonsense, but that are grounded in my composition/creative and programmer/system-building tendencies. Some of these things worked. Probably the last part of a 3-part series that I thought I’d forget about but somehow didn’t.
Part 1: Late Work Passes
Part 2: Choose-your-own-adventure Projects

I read somewhere (if I had to guess, it was in A Perfect Mess) about how the most efficient use of crosswalks is when about half of pedestrians waited for the lights to change, and about half of pedestrians dart across the street to dodge traffic. If everyone were to wait, it would be terribly congested. If everyone were to ignore the signals, it would be chaos.

This semester I let my students pick their own due dates. Which sounds like madness. Here’s why it wasn’t.

I got this idea originally from Sanna Pederson at OU, who used to let us turn in our graduate musicology term papers whenever we wanted to. This worked fine for grad students, or at least it worked fine for me. Presumably if it didn’t work, she wouldn’t have done it.

For Entrepreneurship and Skills for Academic Success, students picked their own due dates, with some restrictions. In Entrepreneurship, required projects had set due dates, while optional projects were left to student discretion. For Skills for Academic Success, students could choose their own due dates, but one project had to be completed each week. (More information on the curriculum in Part 2).

In both classes, the first project is a “semester plan” where students plot their assignments for the semester. They get credit for schedule management, which is exactly what I want them to do as part of these classes. If they need to update their semester plan, they can do so via letter.

I kept track of all this in Excel, because Blackboard was no help.

As I mentioned in part 1 when talking about Late Work Passes, my late work policy is that all work is accepted in the week that it’s due. So if students pick a due date of Monday, I’ll accept that work through Saturday.

In Excel, I had a column for student name, class, and project. Next, I had the student’s due date, followed by a column showing the weekday of the due date (=WEEKDAY(D2)). This allowed me to calculate the late-work deadline with the formula (=D3+(7-E3)), or (=Due_date+(7-(Weekday of Due Date))).

When a student submitted an assignment, I just cross-referenced my spreadsheet to see if the assignment was valid. Like with the Late Work Passes, students basically took care of this and I could have ignored my spreadsheet. But I didn’t. And I won’t.

Grading

I figured that this would take up a lot of time, and to offset that I changed up my grading policy. I don’t necessarily need 100 points of gradation to give feedback for creative work, so I moved to check-grading, which looks like this:

Check-Plus: Acceptable; Needs no further work
The submitted assignment is polished, professional, and indicative of the level of work expected from a professional musician. Any improvements to the project would only add to the level of professionalism of the assignment. Receives: 100% of points.

Check: Acceptable; Could improve
The submitted assignment is acceptable and meets the purpose as requested, however, it still leaves some things to be desired such as additional information, formatting, word usage, etc. Receives: 80% of points.

X: Try Again
The submitted assignment is rejected for one or more of the following reasons:

  • It is not formatted in a conventional, useful, or ergonomic way.
  • The information it contains is lacking or false.
  • It is not presented in a manner that represents your work as a professional musician.

Receives: 60% of points

X-Minus: No apparent effort
The assignment was either not submitted, or the material submitted was so lacking that detailed feedback would be a monologue rather than a dialogue. Receives: 0% of points

Basically, for every assignment you submit, you can get an F, D, B, or A. But because I’m interested in feedback and iterative change, any check-graded assignment can be corrected and resubmitted for a newer grade, as long as it’s resubmitted by the end of the week it’s returned. Which is nice because it forces me to return work on Monday or Tuesday.

It also works recursively. Turn in an assignment, get it returned. Correct the assignment, get it returned. Correct the assignment, get it returned. It’s not only choose-your-own-due-date, but choose-your-own-grade, since you can keep submitting a project until your grade is where you want it.

How’d it all work?

In short, like it was supposed to, mostly. Let’s break it down into the due dates and the grading.

For the due dates, there was some legwork to get everything set up in Excel. But students who would normally follow due dates followed their own due dates, and students who have trouble with due dates had trouble with due dates. I think that fewer students had trouble following the due dates this semester, but I’m not quite sure. Students who totally missed due dates who came to me during the last weeks of the semester were given (or rather, just had) the opportunity to edit their semester plan, so nothing was technically late.

Some of the Skills for Academic Success students were pretty lackadaisical about due dates–they were close, -ish. I’m chalking that up to COVID.

My intention this semester was to have sample due dates available as part of the assignment slates in Entrepreneurship (for those students not wanting to pick their projects a la carte). I didn’t get to that for the fall, but I’ve updated that for the spring.

The big thing that comes up when I tell people I let students pick their own due dates is that everyone will just pick the end of the semester. They really don’t. Maybe they’ll pick the end of the semester for a major project, but otherwise they’ll pick reasonable due dates.

Due dates didn’t surprise me too much. I’d do it again.

Grading, on the other hand, that kind of surprised me.

What surprised me in one sense is that it removed the middle from my classes. There were students who did nothing, and there were students with full credit, and almost nobody in the middle. Then I realized that with the resubmission process, this is how it should look. Then it corrected itself as the semester went on, which was even more surprising. The occasional student took advantage of grade re-submission, but not as many as should have. The class probably should have generated a bunch of As and Fs. There was a bit of a middle.

Students generally turn in acceptable work or none at all. This is probably due in part to the fact that I only used this grading scheme for creative classes, i.e., there are no wrong answers. But if asked to write a bio for the first time, or write up a travel budget, they do satisfactory work. Or none.

The idea of doing no work baffles me, and I have no correction for it.

I’ll probably keep the grading scheme for this spring too, but I’m not totally convinced of it yet.

Nonsense Teaching: Autonomy Curriculum

I did a lot of nonsense teaching things last semester. Or rather, things that seem like nonsense, but that are grounded in my composition/creative and programmer/system-building tendencies. Some of these things worked. This is part 2 in a multi-part series I have thus far not forgotten about. (part 1: Late Work Passes)

MUSC 385: Music Entrepreneurship

When I started teaching at NDSU, I inherited a class entitled Music Entrepreneurship. It’s always one of my favorites, and each class is its own unique collection of weirdness. But I’ve never quite been content with the curriculum.

The class started as an upper-division elective for our performance and general music students (excluding music education majors, since their schedule doesn’t normally allow for electives). However, at some point before I got here, it became a required class in the music curriculum. As in, all of the music majors.

I should stop here for a moment and point out how great this is–when I go to conferences and we talk about our teaching loads, everyone wants a required music entrepreneurship course. (They also want a required freshman “how to be a music major” class, but we’ll get to that in a second). But the projects, initially designed for final-year or last-semester enrichment, eventually became a part of a mandatory course that students take as early as their third semester. Building a website is a terrific skill for a motivated young performer about to enter grad school or the job market, but the battle with younger students (especially of the music ed variety) is that they don’t see the immediate relevance or utility of the project. Which is too bad, because *looks around* I have strong opinions on web design.

That’s one example–several other projects resulted the same way. Some I inherited with the course, and some I invented. A feature of the original class was a substantial (~40%) final project of the student’s choosing, which again worked great for motivated students, but less so for our less experienced ones.

For fall 2020, I decided to change up the class. I’d keep the successful projects that were immediately relevant, and I’d make the other projects optional. Out of 10,000 points, half would be required, and the other half would be up to the student, picking from a smorgasbord of options.

For required projects, I had the following:

1. Semester Plan–Map out your optional projects, and pick your due dates. That’s right–you get to pick when you’re submitting your optional projects.
2. Job Search–Find three job postings that you’d apply for.
3. Job Interview–Create your job materials (CV, Cover Letter, and Bio) and participate in a mock job interview.
4. Taxes (Schedule C)–Calculate your self-employed musician income and expenses
5. Travel Funding–Plan a trip to a conference or performance, make a budget, and fill out a funding request form.
6. Recording–Record an excerpt three times in different ways.

These were the most successful required projects from earlier semesters, paired with a Semester Plan project. Then, I gave them some options for optional projects:

A. Written Review of Chapter, Guest Speaker, or Podcast episode (repeatable) 100pts

B. Cold Call (repeatable) 100pts

C. Return an unused Late Work Pass (repeatable) 250pts

D. Apply to a Competition or Contest (repeatable) 500pts

E. Start or Invest in an IRA 500pts

F. Apply for a grant (repeatable) 750pts

G. Create a Website 750pts

H. Volunteer with a nonprofit (repeatable) 1,000pts

I. Be a freshman mentor (Fall terms, Juniors and below) 1,000pts

J. Find a professional mentor 1,500pts

K. Create a comprehensive recruitment plan (band, choir, studio) 2,000pts

L. Create a Teaching Portfolio w/video 2,000pts

M. Create a Composition Portfolio w/performances 2,000pts

N. Record a CD or Album (repeatable) 3,500pts

O. Crowdfunding/Patreon 3,500pts

P. Execute an Outreach Performance (repeatable) 4,000pts

Q. Start a teaching studio with >2 students 4,000pts

R. Create Video/Audio/Print resources for future students (proposal req.) 1,000-4,000pts

S. Student-directed Project (proposal req.) Variable pts

Some notes:

Required projects across my classes are given numbers, while optional projects are given letters. We’ll see this again for 189 shortly.

Some projects are repeatable, meaning you can do them as many times as you like. For example, C-Return a LWP worked great this semester since I instituted “Covid Tests for LWPs” halfway through the semester. Or if they found them in the trash.

I totally messed up Project F (never writing the actual “apply for a grant” instructions, and instead just copying the Project A instructions). This gave some students a point boost, since I felt I needed to conform to the published version.

It feels like I’ve been writing a while. Here’s a cat picture:

If students found themselves to be completely overwhelmed or uncreative, they could also choose from a number of pre-formed Assignment Slates:

Custom
Choose 5,000 points from the above projects.

Classroom Education:
Teaching Portfolio (2,000)
Comprehensive Recruitment Plan (2,000)
Seven Written Reviews (100 x 7)
Three Cold Calls (100 x 3)

Studio Education:
Start a teaching studio (4,000)
Create a website (750)
Three Cold Calls (100 x 3)

Composition:
Composition Portfolio (2,000)
Create a Website (750)
Two Competition Submissions (500 x 2)
Volunteer with a Nonprofit (1,000)
Three Written Reviews (100 x 3)

Arts Administration:
Three Volunteer Nonprofits (1,000 x 3)
Find a Professional Mentor (1,500)
Five Written Reviews (100 x 5)

Performance:
Website (750)
Outreach (4,000)
Three Written Reviews (100 x 3)

They still needed to pick their due dates, though, since time management is such an important skill as a musician.

Some of these projects are all-or-nothing projects: Plan an outreach performance (P) and bomb it, that’s 40% of your grade right there. Some projects are small, like cold calls (B) and chapter reviews (A). And if students are particularly creative, they can propose their own projects.

I played around with the idea of having points gain interest, so that projects done at the beginning of the semester would be worth more. I still like the idea (it’ll help with my end-of-semester grading) but I can barely get Blackboard to work with this grading scheme as it is, much less if I were to try to use Grade Center to compound interest. I’d have to build my own Learning Management System for that.

And I still might.

Oh, and I should mention that while optional projects can enrich things going on in other classes, I avoid things counting double. For example, you can’t count your recital as an outreach performance. You can record your recital repertoire in album form and release it online, because that’s not a requirement of the recital experience.

So how’d this thing work? Overall, really well.

The majority of students picked their projects, executed them, and turned them in with the due dates they created. Their projects and experiences were relevant to their career goals and experiences.

Some students got to the end of the semester and realized that they had done nothing, and it was here that I had to tell them about a rather brilliant loophole built into the system: Once you file your semester plan (1), it can be changed at any time in writing, no LWP required. So if you were planning on doing an outreach performance, and it falls through at the last minute, you can file a new semester plan with new projects. This changed the conversation at the end of the semester to “Well, you gotta have 9000 points for an A, 8000 for a B, and so on…You have the list of optional projects, make a plan and file it and I’ll grade what you submit.”

Some project observations:

  • Grant Applications didn’t really happen this year, partially due to COVID–that project may also need some revision.
  • Nonprofit volunteering–ditto.
  • Several students picked professional mentors, and some of them had some rude awakenings about being a professional musician–things we tell them, but it finally hits them when a professional they seek out tells them. Things about practice and networking, etc.
  • I insist on proper copyright clearances for the album creation project, which in my mind indicates that students should record works in the public domain. Students this semester misunderstood, and just created all their own music. Which is way more work.

For next semester, I think the only thing I’m going to tweak is going back to making part of the book required–possibly having an extra 1000 mandatory points through 10 book chapters from Beeching’s Beyond Talent.

Meanwhile, this sort of structure wouldn’t work well for 189.

MUSC 189: Skills for Academic Success.

Another class I inherited at NDSU is our “welcome to being a music major” class. Sometime before I came north, the class was required of all NDSU freshman as UNIV 189, and when it was discontinued university-wide we decided to keep it in music. The first two years I used Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, a great book but not quite well-formatted for our purposes. And the assignments were generally chapter reviews, which aren’t necessarily the most interesting.

I’d already thought of the Entrepreneurship curriculum, and I knew I definitely didn’t want students picking their own projects, that would be madness. But I did want them to have some form of autonomy. So I picked the following projects:

1. Create a Semester Plan (required first project)

B. Submit the Musician Personality Inventory

C. Create a Weekly Plan/Schedule

D. Read and Review Klickstein Chapter 1: Getting Organized

E. Assemble Your Personal Cabinet

F. Read and Review Klickstein Chapter 2: Practicing Deeply 1

G. Create a Practice Plan/Log

H. Interview an Upperclassman/Mentorship

I. Read and Review Klickstein Chapter 7: Unmasking Performance Anxiety

J. Music Website Scavenger Hunt

K. Read and Review Klickstein Chapter 12: Injury Prevention 1

L. Visit Resources across Campus

M. Have an Advising Meeting for the Spring Semester

N. Read and Review Klickstein Chapter 14: Succeeding as a Student

15. Submit an end-of-semester review

Each project is worth 100 points, and the class is made up of 2000 points total. The remaining 500 points are attendance-based.

All projects are mandatory, but the lettered projects are optional in their order. Students will (or should) complete all 15 projects, but weeks 2-14 are up to them. Like Entrepreneurship, the first project is writing a semester plan to pick due dates. Students are gently reminded that they should look at their other class schedules, and maybe do some of the easier projects during weeks where they have other assignments due.

Oh, and one project is due per week. This was obvious in the course materials. It will need to be obviouser.

What I like about this project is that it combines things they should already be doing (creating a schedule, a practice plan, talking with upperclassmen) with things they might not do on their own (Creating a personal cabinet [their “academic success team”], visiting resources on campus, finding stuff on the music website). It also ties in with several chapters from The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein.

I forward this curriculum to the music faculty, so they can be involved in this process if they’d like. Since we only get to five chapters in The Musician’s Way, there are plenty more to cover in lessons, studio classes, or future semesters (including in Music Entrepreneurship).

Some reflections on this setup:

Student choice either led to drastically improved investment in the class, or the usual inaction. Most students who would be kind of “meh” about the class ended up being more invested.

There’s enough to say about “choose your own deadlines” that I’ll write an entire other post about that.

Given that everyone is doing their own thing, lecture planning is, simply, hard. Entrepreneurship works alright, since there’s enough required projects to keep structure. For 189 though, everyone was doing their own thing, so much of what we discussed in class was centered around what was going on at NDSU or in the Challey School of Music, and answering questions that came up.

Overall, I plan to keep it in the Spring for Entrepreneurship, and maybe tweaking it for 189.

Some supplementary materials:

Entrepreneurship Syllabus: https://ip.kv.fyi/files/document/4312F1C1-3EE3-4A5F-B0DD-3C6AB6C8463D/

Entrepreneurship Course Pack: https://ip.kv.fyi/files/document/24A65DB2-333C-403F-A214-6E1543FAFFAC/

189 Syllabus: https://ip.kv.fyi/files/document/78D666B7-93D6-4A9A-8932-A41823A2C167/

189 Course Pack: https://ip.kv.fyi/files/document/E7C9FF51-8423-4110-8F6D-6B2B8907D139/

Nonsense Teaching: Late Work Passes

I did a lot of nonsense teaching things this semester. Or rather, things that seem like nonsense, but that are grounded in my composition/creative and programmer/system-building tendencies. Some of these things worked. Part 1 in a multi-part series I will probably forget to update in about January.

I hate late work, but I’m no good at being mean. So I decided I needed to figure out some sort of system to get around both those things.

While I was in Oklahoma, I heard of a class–I think it was a gen-ed class, and I think it was economics, or poly sci, or some such thing–where you had to have something outrageous like 10,000 points worth of participation. Rather than keep track of this, the instructor would come to class every day with a fat stack of printed-off participation points in 100-point notes. He’d ask who had insights on the chapter, students would crawl over each other to answer the question, and he’d make it rain. Students then just had to turn in enough points they had gained through the semester.

As it turns out, people like stuff.

For the spring, I made two changes to my late work policy. The first was that most of my due dates were early in the week–Monday or Tuesday. But my late work policy was that I would accept all work through the end of the calendar week. If students wanted to think of the assignment as being due on Monday/Tuesday, that was fine, and that’s what Blackboard showed as the due date. If students wanted to think of the due date as being Saturday at 11:59, that’s fine too. Blackboard would show it as being late, but whatever; Blackboard has a tendency to do whatever it wants anyway.

The idea was and is that there’s a built-in cushion in case things come up. Because as music majors, things always come up.

The other thing I did was create physical late work passes (LWPs). Here’s what they look like.

I designed the front and back in Paint.net and had them printed up by Moo, using their Luxe business card template–32pt weight with a forest green color seam on the edge and rounded corners.

I designed the LWPs to be bearer instruments–I don’t track them, there are no serial numbers. If you physically have one, you can use it. The rules are pretty simple.

  • I can only say they’re usable in my classes.
  • It’s only good for one assignment.
  • You can’t use it outside of an academic term*
  • And some other stuff that might be on the syllabus (but currently isn’t).

I starred the academic term requirement. What I wanted to avoid is having students try to turn in late work after the end of the semester, so they go invalid at the end of finals week. But they reactivate at the beginning of the next term. Technically speaking, there’s no reason you couldn’t stockpile them.

I give one out to each student at the beginning of each course I teach. What I found myself doing in the Fall of 2020 was making the announcement that for every four COVID tests that students take, I would award them one LWP.

For Music Entrepreneurship in the Fall, I also included an optional project (more on the curriculum for that class later, it’s more nonsense) that was essentially an LWP buy-back. Turn in an LWP, get 250 points (repeatable).

What I expected to happen was that it would make my conversation with students easier–“Oh, you don’t have a late work pass? You can’t turn that in late.” What happened instead is far more interesting.

By and large, students just took ownership of keeping track of late work. Although I keep detailed records, it doesn’t really matter. Students didn’t even consider asking for an extension or if I’d accept late work. Although, this fell apart late in the Fall 2020 semester due to COVID and being online (especially with the freshmen), but in person, it has worked great.

If I were to do it again, I might go with wooden nickels–I think they’d be more durable, and in some cases, they’d also be cheaper.

New Program Notes for Thaw, and Joyride (Finally)

Thaw was set to receive its premiere this summer at Clarinetfest(r) in Reno, but that’s been postponed for obvious reasons. Which has given me the opportunity to finally write its program note:

I wrote Thaw during my third winter in Fargo, and it was an act of optimism, because spring hadn’t hinted its arrival when I completed the piece. My intent was to provide a meditation on the nature of melting snow and the slow, steady revealing of things last seen in November. I thought of the piece as figurative as well, hinting at the defrosting of our preconceptions, our assumptions, and our expectations. In hindsight, it seems appropriate that this piece was written in 2020, a year in which has seen a thaw in a number of ways.

Also, I’ve finally–FINALLY–written a program note for Joyride, which I wrote four years ago. I’m pretty happy with it.

Joyride is a duet that oscillates from being loud and raucous when it thinks you’re not looking to well-behaved and almost polite when it catches you watching. The back-and-forth motive suggests either a lack of control by either player or a complete abdication of any responsibility. Sure, there are some nice chorale-sounding moments, but even those get a little out of hand when in the hands of these two. Seriously, don’t trust them. Years later, they’ll look back on this and say “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

New Program Notes for One Sows, Creatures

Program note for One Sows for the Benefit of Another Age, which is new this summer:

I started writing what would become One Sows for the Benefit of Another Age in 2013, as I was sketching ideas for what became a piano trio. I liked what I had created, but two things became evident: The piece was destined to be for orchestra, and I was not good enough as a composer to finish it. Over the next seven years, I kept returning to this piece in my spare time, adding some sections, tweaking some others, and at some point I gained the experience to finish it. But the trade-off was that I no longer had the time. At least until Spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic put most of my projects on hold, and I was able to return to–and finish–the work.

The title came last. My ideas while I was writing centered around Americana (I was listening to a lot of Copland, Barber, and Ives) and infusing my history and experience in the Ozarks and on the plains. I knew I wanted to make use of the idea of illumination, of dawn. I wanted to start in the shadows and end aglow. The darkness was such a defining feature that my working title was Aegri Somnia, loosely translated from Latin as “troubled dreams”. As I continued working, I realized that the focus wasn’t the darkness–the focus was the change.

I discuss change a lot in my teaching. Students often see change as transformative change–massive, radical, sweeping change, like winning the lottery, or winning an audition. Transformative change is easy–it usually involves hoping for a situation or a Deus ex Machina, and if it happens, it benefits us immediately. Iterative change, however–small, repeated, incremental change that builds up over time–is hard. An extra half-hour of work every day, a little extra contributed to savings every month, these changes add up over time and become significant. But it requires intention and action, and it doesn’t reap immediate benefits. It may not end up benefitting us at all.

One Sows changes iteratively. It starts from a dark place, but is sprinkled with seeds of hope. A descending motive introduced in the violins brings us out of the darkness, albeit slowly. The idea spreads, develops, and eventually becomes part of a new idea, a new paradigm, that takes over.

In searching for a title, I came across “Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit,” North Dakota’s Latin state motto, whose English translation is the title of this work. It’s a recent addition to the North Dakota statutes, but a timeless message. Our work isn’t finished yet.

Listen here:


An upgraded program note for Creatures from the Black Bassoon:

Creatures from the Black Bassoon is, as the title suggests, a virtual menagerie of beasts and environments fashioned entirely from processed and unprocessed sounds of the bassoon. Key clicks, reed squeaks and squawks, multiphonics, notes played through various stages of assembly and disassembly, and other traditional and extended techniques are organized by similar properties into species. Some of our creatures appear to be cute, chirpy, fuzzy critters, while others are vicious predators. These beings are placed in a number of tableaus of length devised by the golden ratio, with certain sections designated as “windows” with substantial contrast to the surrounding sections.

Some assorted thoughts about working from home the last half of the semester

In no particular order

We had like a thousand high school students in the music building at NDSU right before spring break. I had just flown in from Nashville at the beginning of March. Knowing what we know now, that’s kind of terrifying.

We had a pretty good warning that classes would move online, and I spent one evening writing a disaster plan for what I’d do if my teaching went online. Within ten minutes of NDSU announcing that we’d continue with online classes, my students had a copy of that plan in their inbox. I’m kind of proud of that.

The fact that the plan changed multiple times after I sent it is less impressive.

I planned on teaching from school, until over spring break I watched the cases in ND jump from 1 to 6 to 15 within a day. I quickly discovered where my comfort zone is.

I spent part of spring break shopping for new components for my studio computer. I did not spend spring break measuring my studio computer to see if those components would fit. I spent the next week shopping for a new computer case.

For spring break and the next couple of weeks, I had the worst sort of writer’s block. Most of my projects had evaporated or were delayed, and I didn’t have any real deadline. Some of my attempts to get rid of writer’s block involved trying to write bluegrass clarinet music (I failed) and setting government proclamations about COVID-19 to music (I didn’t fail, and that’s somehow worse).

I read a lot of words about how if you weren’t taking advantage of this opportunity to stay distraction free and work on your own projects then you weren’t doing it right. I also read a lot of words saying that if you weren’t actively grieving then you weren’t doing it right. I read a lot more words where people argued with each other about it.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how we metabolize and process events like this. Some of us need projects and distractions. Some of us need comfort and connection. There is no single right answer.

I spent some time thinking about how the above applies to education and teaching, and about how I can make my courses more customized, especially if we’re still online in the fall. I also thought about how in developing a career in music, there is no single right answer.

I think we’ll be online in the fall, despite our best efforts, and I’m planning my courses as such. An online class can be transitioned to classroom learning much easier than a face-to-face class can be transitioned online in no time. Worst case scenario, I spent this summer making resources that supplement my classroom teaching.

After all, never let a crisis go to waste (thanks Scott Meyer for that).

I have no idea how 189 (Skills for Academic Success) is going to become an online class.

I’ve been trying to create distractions for myself and my students. At NDSU, we’ve been having composition contests and an online creativity book club. At VCSU, we’re planning for our annual composer’s concert–all online.

I started an orchestra piece in 2015, but wasn’t good enough to finish it, and was fortunate to realize it at the time. By the time I got good enough to finish it, I didn’t have the time. This semester, I’ve had both for the first time, and I’ve written about eight minutes of orchestra music. Some of it is really good. The rest of it will be.

I remembered, for the umpteenth time, that my creativity is all-or-nothing: Either I have multiple projects, or I have zero. Picking up some coding projects kickstarted my reading and composing. I reinvented AudioAtlas and uploaded the code via Bitbucket.

I finished Ray Dalio’s Principles, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, and Scott Kaufman’s and Lindsey Gregoire’s Wired to Create. I’m working my way through Robert Greene’s Mastery and re-reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.

I’ve ordered from Amazon less in the past two months than at any other time in my life since getting a prime membership. And I don’t miss it. I’ve ordered from SheetMusicPlus like three times already. I also discovered that you can buy online from Ace Hardware, and that changes everything.

I bought stamps. I didn’t need stamps, but I needed to buy stamps.

I remembered podcasts are a thing.

I set up our home media server, my new computer, and the NoteForge Backup Server to contribute to Folding At Home, which is a distributed computing platform for protein folding. One of their projects right now is COVID-19.

It’s been nice not being in the music building until 9 every night.

Like most of the world, I’m very much in need of a haircut.

My seasonal allergies are awful this year.

Earmarks named finalist in The American Prize

Earmarks has moved from the semifinalist stage of the Chamber Music division of The American Prize to the finalist stage: Read more here: http://theamericanprize.blogspot.com/2020/04/finalist-composers-instrumental-chamber.html

Inertia

I spent the beginning of the year planning to write a small blog post every day. Well, at least every weekday. I had a backlog of blog ideas, and I posted one every day. Trying to channel my inner Seth Godin. And then I got to January 29.

What happened on January 29 was that I had a grant application due on February 1, and I desperately needed to finish it, having never written a grant application before. So the 29th of January came and went with no post.

And then January 30.

And January 31

And the weekend of February 1st and 2nd.

And so on.

I did post on February 5 about booking travel, written more for my music entrepreneurship than for anyone else, but since then: crickets.

I attribute all of this to inertia: we do the things we’ve been doing. Despite a month of writing short posts, it took one day to derail, because I’ve not been writing a blog for far longer than I have been.

I could connect this to my students, and how they practice.

Or I could look at my own composing.

I took a break during spring break to make sure I could get all my classes online. And that break, combined with several of the projects I mentioned earlier being put on the back burner, my output the past couple of weeks has been slim, and the only thing that has kept me from transitioning from “composer” to “guy who checks his email” has been that the first three hours of my day, every day, are cordoned off as Dedicated Creative Time. Scheduling inertia.

Thinking about my own inertia, paired with teaching fully online for the rest of the semester, has led me to think about the inertia in our music curriculum: What sorts of things are we doing because we’ve always done them that way? Music doesn’t change quickly, but the technology with which we can teach does.

There’s a semi-rant in here about the number of schools wanting to something Eric-Whitacre’s-virtual-choir based, despite the fact that the idea itself is a decade old. A more useful question is “what can I do to escape inertia in how I teach composition in North Dakota and promote new music.”

That’s a separate blog post, which by this rate, I’ll post around July.

On booking travel to music conferences

This post is primarily for my students, the ones in Music Entrepreneurship who do a similar project.

This evening, I finally booked my travel to SEAMUS 2020 at the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. In all honesty, I was procrastinating putting together this week’s Comp II masterclass, but regardless it needed to get done.

SEAMUS is an electronic music conference, where they’re doing the US premiere of The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow. I’d already paid the registration fee earlier this week, so the logical next steps were to handle the travel arrangements. This was complicated by two things, the first being that the schedule isn’t out yet (the conference is the 12-14 of March, but without knowing which day I’m on I’ll just have to stay the whole time), and the second being that Charlottesville isn’t particularly close to large airports.

Why not wait to book? I usually try to book no fewer than six weeks in advance, and we were coming up on that time. I don’t know that this is the best time to book, but I think I read that somewhere once and it’s stuck in my brain.

I have a Chase United MileagePlus card, so I usually try to book through them if possible (read: cheap). The first thing I do in this case is pull up ITA Matrix and look for Fargo (and close airports) to Charlottesville (and close airports). Matrix allows you to do trips to FAR-IAD with a return DCA-GFK or things like that–some of which I’ve done before. For this flight, I looked at flying to Richmond (RIC), Washington Dulles (IAD), Washington Ronald Reagan (DCA), Baltimore (BWI), and Charlottesville (CHO). Dulles on Delta turned out to be the cheapest option, so I picked that.

I could have gone cheaper if I’d done basic economy–I’ve done it before, and the Chase card makes it a decent option–but I like the control of picking my own seats. Aisle, left side of the plane, as far back as possible.

I also could have gone cheaper if I’d flown out of Minneapolis instead of Fargo, but once you add in four hours of driving each way, and parking (I’ve also done this before, it’s a decent option).

Personal preference: I don’t fly American. They stranded me in Dallas once, and I rented the last rental car at DFW at 2 am–but that’s a story for another time. Others have had great luck with them, but that’s not me.

So, flight booked, now to tackle the hotel. The conference has a hotel with a conference rate, and after some looking around it seemed like a good deal. I used to use Hipmunk to search for hotels, but they’ve gone away unfortunately. I usually use my AAA membership to bring hotel rates down further, but in this case the conference hotel won out. The hotel will be close enough to walk to the venues, so that’s good. However, getting from Dulles to Charlottesville will still require a car.

Extra charge: Hotel parking: $7/night.

Next, over to Hertz to get a car. I usually pick one of the SUV options if it’s not much more expensive than the basic rental (though the last time I did this I ended up with a full-size truck. At a new music conference.), I usually pay up front, and the Chase card substitutes as their damage waiver/insurance. Being a AAA member brings down the cost quite a bit.

A few words about AAA: We got a membership a few years ago less for the auto repair options (which I think we’ve used once) and more for the travel discount options. What we found was that with our travel, at worst we break even and at best we save a great deal of money. The only other better deal that we’ve encountered is the ND Government State Rates on ND Hotels or through Hertz.

So I get to Virginia the day before the conference at 1, which gives me the rest of the day to get to Charlottesville. The drive puts me pretty close to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, so why not? Two fun travel things this summer were driving from Park City, UT down to the Great Salt Lake, and driving from Denver to Parachute, CO for the Aspen Composers Conference.

I get an inbox full of confirmations, all of which I forward to Tripit for keeping track of my travel plans.

Irons in the Fire

As the semester started, I hoped that things would be calmer than the fall, and thankfully in most ways they are. In some ways, however, there’s more work. Here’s a list of some of the things on my radar this spring, some moving into next fall and further.

  • At NDSU: I’m part of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Course Curation Committee, which is looking at how to update/streamline some college requirements.
  • At NDSU: I’m continuing as a member of the NICE Faculty Fellows, which promotes and explores Entrepreneurship.
  • At NDSU: As part of the NICE center, I’m also helping out with the Civic Innovation Force, which will pair students with the City of Fargo to solve problems.
  • Through NICE I’ve happened to get involved with a project to promote nanotechnology by writing music about nanotechnology. It’s supported by an NSF grant.
    • To Do: Learn how nanotechnology works.
  • NASA is interested in linking to Calibrating the Moon on the Arcstone project website.
  • I have two recording projects in the works.
  • I’m negotiating a commission of a new large ensemble piece–details forthcoming.
  • I’m negotiating a consortium for a second piece very similar to the first one, and writing a grant.
    • To Do: Learn to write a grant. Before Friday.
  • I had these grand plans to start work on an opera this year, and I still might.
  • Then there’s that clarinet choir piece.
  • I’m giving a faculty recital in a week and a half.
  • The composition studio is giving a Student Composers Recital in March.
  • I’ll likely be doing some bassooning in Wind Symphony this semester.
  • Two CMS regional conferences, in Tennessee and Michigan (and a third performance in Arkansas)
  • SEAMUS National at the University of Virginia.

Oof.