Letter to Drury about decreasing humanities positions

A few days ago, this story broke at Inside Higher Ed. In the days that followed there was a lot of outrage toward and confusion about the idea that Drury will not be renewing some faculty contracts at the end of this year. My letter to the administration follows.


Dear Dean Combs,

I'm afraid we haven't had the chance to meet, although I did recently receive a letter from the office of development bearing your signature (cf. My name is Kyle Vanderburg, class of 2009. After graduating from Drury, I went on to pursue MM and DMA degrees in music composition at the University of Oklahoma, where I am currently on faculty. I owe so very much of my academic and professional success to the educational and musical opportunities I had while at Drury, and I have found that what I learned at Drury comes in more useful with each passing day.

Like many alumni, current students, and faculty, I have been dismayed at the recent news that Drury is not renewing the contracts of several full-time faculty members. Having been on both sides of the classroom, I understand that the decision to continue without these faculty members has been difficult and data-driven. However, one of the values of the Drury education involves making connections and the interrelatedness of different fields. With that in mind, I'd like to tell you a story.

As you may have noticed, Springfield, Missouri is surrounded by rural communities of varying size, including my hometown of Poplar Bluff. As a young musician, I looked up to the only professional musicians to which I had access: My high school band directors. The idea that someone like me could be a performer or composer was beyond my immediate experience. So I decided to get into Music the only way I knew was possible, by becoming a music education major. Although I did not continue on as a music education major, if the opportunity had not been there, and had Drury not employed Duane Harris (a predecessor to Dr. James Davidson) and the rest of the excellent music faculty, I likely would never have gone to Drury and some other school would be listed on the bio that I submit regularly for national and international performances.

I realize that my story is anecdotal, but part of the value of the music education program is that it recruits talented musicians that may (like many of us) change their major to music and later go on to become performers, conductors, and composers, which is a scenario that is not clearly outlined by any metric. What makes the Drury experience great is the ability to try out new classes, new majors, and make new connections. It is impossible to gauge the effect that removing these faculty positions will have on the undergraduate experience, and to release faculty contracts based solely on numbers is, at best, folly.

I of course realize that this decision comes from a financial necessity, and it is here that I do have some confusion. In your aforementioned letter, you mention that Drury is looking to expand with new majors and minors centered in media production, such as animation, digital media production, film and television production, digital design, and computer science and gaming. While these do sound exciting and contemporarily valid, I have concerns regarding the cost of starting these programs. As someone in the field of music production, I am (painfully) aware of the cost of starting and maintaining a production-capable studio. This seems like an unusual move for an institution that is losing 12 faculty members due to budgetary concerns.

Another point of concern is the recent division of Drury into multiple colleges at the undergraduate level. In my experience the creation of new colleges translates into new staff, and promoting professors to deans indicate higher salaries. While not inherently bad, it is, again, an unusual move for an institution that is losing 12 faculty members due to budgetary concerns. Additionally, sectioning Drury seems antithetical to the liberal arts mission. We should be building bridges, not walls.

I have spent time as an adjunct faculty member, and I see the validity of the possibility that adjunct faculty have had interesting jobs and careers, but given the current culture in higher education I'm afraid you may very well find the opposite to be true. With institutions granting so many doctorates, Drury may find itself filling positions with adjunct professors that have spent their lives obtaining a PhD and have less real-world experience than your hypothetical adjunct workforce. Drury deserves better. Our students deserve instruction from faculty that have a vested interest in the university, and our faculty deserves colleagues that are adequately compensated for their expertise and time.

The value of a Drury education has less to do with individual majors and more to do with the manner in which the program of study is philosophically based. When I moved from Drury to the University of Oklahoma, I suffered degree envy in that all of my newfound friends had Bachelor of Music degrees, and here I was with my BA from Drury. That lasted precisely until I realized that the students without a liberal arts degree hadn't had the opportunities that I had, and didn't possess the knowledge that I possessed. As more Drury alums have followed me to OU, I've heard the same thing. One put it succinctly, that “nobody here knows how to do anything outside of music.”

In short, the music curriculum at Drury is as top-notch now as it was when I was a student, but it will not continue this heritage of excellence if positions are removed. The current faculty are stretched to their capacities. The removal of an entire position will cause the program to suffer and will have the opposite effect of your goal of “making a degree from Drury University even more valuable over time”. I can only speak to my personal experiences with music, but I am sure that other departments facing faculty cuts will suffer the same fate.

In a world that is becoming increasingly specialized and vocation-driven, the power of a liberal arts education–to make the connections between fields that specialists cannot–is not immediately obvious. One of the major selling points for Drury when I was being recruited was the Global Studies minor and the GP21 curriculum. Getting a guaranteed minor? Yes please. I'm afraid that I don't know much about Drury CORE, and in perusing the website with the mindset of a perspective student I'm afraid I still don’t know much. The recruitment materials at doesn't focus much on academics. Even from the admissions site, the list of majors seems quite disjunct from Drury CORE. There are great things happening on the 88 acres in Springfield, and from my vantage point, we're keeping that secret to ourselves.

With all of this in mind, I urge you to look at alternatives to releasing faculty to alleviate the budget shortfall. Perhaps a change in recruitment strategy. An increase in tuition would not be inappropriate. Adding new majors–especially those that do not require large startup budgets for equipment–is an additional option. Increasing graduate degree options, especially in strong programs, may be possible. Increasing student residency in campus housing is a possibility.

Perhaps these have all been tried and have been found wanting, but the lack of transparency and information through this process has been troubling. I first heard about Drury's faculty cuts through Inside Higher Ed and emailed a former professor to confirm. As you move forward, I would implore you to keep alumni and students in the loop. Whether or not malice was intended, the fact that so many of us found out through news organizations instead of through Drury comes across as a slight, especially given that the university has access to many of our email addresses. A university that does not do an adequate job of keeping its alumni and student base informed of massive changes via email is ill equipped to increase communication and technology-heavy media production programs. I leave you with some words from Drury's first president, Rev. Nathan J. Morrison: “Not scholars, not surveyors, not discoverers, not lawyers and clergymen, but complete men and women. Drury's first care, therefore, of the youth committed to its guardianship, will be the culture of the intellect.” Rev. Morrison knew what generations of Druryites know: Academic specialization is no substitute for academic breadth. We sacrifice this idea at our peril.

Sincerely yours,

Kyle Vanderburg '09, DMA
Composer and Sound Artist, NoteForge
Director and Programmer, Liszt Systems
Instructor of Music, The University of Oklahoma

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Fall 2015 International Performances

It's been a whirlwind summer, with Steven and Michelle's wedding in Canada in July, and Cassie getting the NDSU clarinet job and moving up to Fargo. For the latter part of July and the beginning of August, we made like three trips to Fargo, either from Oklahoma or from Manitoba. That made composing difficult, but we'll get to that in a minute.

While I was bouncing around the great plains, my music found some new performances around the world. First off, Creatures from the Black Bassoon found a spot on the Sonic Arts Forum's concert at the Oriel Sycharth Gallery of Glyndwr University, in Wrexham, Wales on September 9. I'm still debating on whether I get to buy a Welsh flag for this one. Reverie of Solitude, my new-ish work for environmental recordings, was accepted for the 2015 Congreso Internacional de Ciencia y Tecnología Musical (CICTeM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was performed on September 17. Creatures had its South American debut there in 2013. Reverie was also selected for EMUFest 2015, and will have its European premiere on October 9 in Sala Bianchini at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. This only barely counts as an international performance, but Reverie will also be performed at this year's International Computer Music Conference in…Denton, TX at the University of North Texas on September 28. I'll actually go to that one, seeing as how it's only two hours away from Norman.

After all of the driving, and some of my other summer projects (which included a lot of notation work and a magazine design), I didn't have much room for writing music. I have a lot of samples for a new tape piece, but I've really been wanting to write something for oboe and electronics, or oboe and piano. I finally (as of last week) got back into a routine, and here's what's become of that routine thus far.

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It's going to be a good year for creativity.

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New program note for Crosswinds

Walter Jordan has just delivered the program note for Crosswinds, and like his previous work, it's pretty fantastic.


Crosswinds represents a melding of the traditional woodwind sound of the clarinet with digital live electronic techniques, and the piece explores the potential for this relationship in three parts.

To begin the piece, the stage performer breathes through the clarinet, which serves to inform the electronic elements to come. This initial breath is captured by the computer program and is modified and reduplicated to create the sonic tone of a soft wind always present beneath the piece to come. This is the first step in uniting the digital and woodwind elements, as the same breath which animates the clarinet also activates the electronics.

From this most fundamental element, the breath becomes a single sustained note from which the computer will generate all of its subsequent tones. The impression is one of a mentor relationship, where the traditional instrument provides the tools and the support for the electronic elements. The disposition is contemplative, though it alternates between a subdued easiness and a playful mystery, as if to introduce the digital aspects to the range and variety of the clarinet’s moods. The rapport between the two is hesitant in the first part: the electronics contributing a subtle reverb as the performer teaches the computer dexterity through a number of broad leaps, hinting at but never fully embracing the main motif.

As the theme becomes more self-assured, the digital element now produces its own tones, parroting the clarinet melody to signal its readiness to be an equal partner in the conversation. As the clarinet begins the second part of the piece, the computer now provides a harmonizing undercurrent each time it is invited to do so by the performer.

In the third part, the electronics play counterpoint to the skill of the clarinetist, the two elements intricately entwined. From the elemental sound of wind first produced by the performer and perpetuated by the computer, the piece concludes in a celebration of the relationship built between the two, and the main theme is fully expressed as the two take it in variations.

Crosswinds is, in many ways, an experience of the history of our music through the relationship between traditional clarinet and modern digital techniques: the common elements they share, the singularity of their own particular strengths, and the beauty that can be experienced when they collaborate.

Program note by Walter Jordan
Please credit Walter Jordan when using this program note

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Haiku, Haiku, Haiku, and other updates

I've had a lot of things on my plate this June with creative projects, teaching, composing, and a short vacation. I should be packing for my trip to the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (where Reverie of Solitude will receive its premiere), but this is more fun.

Here's the rundown of what the past three weeks have looked like: I've been working on the OU School of Music's 2015 MUSIC MOSAIC magazine. To the annoyance of the OU Printing Services staff, I did the entire thing in Microsoft Publisher last year. So in addition to curating content this year, I also had to learn InDesign, which I really like. If only I had a reason to subscribe to it all the time. Last week, I was the music technology instructor for the Norman Suzuki Piano Camp, which taught me a lot about what works and doesn't work when teaching young children about music technology. The kids had fun, I had fun, and they at least know of different musical possibilities than they did before. I've been working on substantial upgrades to Liszt and the Encore Concert Management System, which tracks concert attendance and helps plan recitals.

Those of you who pay attention to me on Facebook and Twitter will know about my Pointless Haiku project with poet Walter Jordan. So far I've put together two sets of haiku (a set of five and a set of seven), with an additional set of five forthcoming. You can find everything on the pages for Five Pointless Haiku and Seven More Pointless Haiku. While the haiku thing was going on, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) posted a call for works for electroacoustic miniatures, with the theme being…Haiku. So now there's another tape piece on the website, Automation and Autonomy.

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Reverie of Solitude selected for performance at ICMC 2015

I let this one get away from me, with the end of the semester and all. My recent fixed media piece Reverie of Solitude has been selected for performance at this year's International Computer Music Conference (ICMC). I'll post more details when the conference schedule is posted.


On behalf of the International Computer Music Conference 2015, I am pleased to inform you that your submission, entitled Reverie of Solitude has been accepted. Congratulations! We had a high number of superb works among the 650 submissions and we are pleased that your work is among those accepted for concert programming.

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Upcoming Computer Music Performances

Hey everyone!

There's a couple of performances coming up that involve both the Oklahoma Laptop Ensemble and my own recent clarinet and live electronics work Crosswinds. The first is OLE/N!CE's spring recital, on April 6 at 8 p.m. in Pitman Recital Hall at the University of Oklahoma. We've been working on climate data sonification this semester for a later performance at the 2015 National Weather Center Biennale. That's produced a series of climate etudes, where this thing will be unveiled.

Also, Cassie Keogh will be reprising Crosswinds The next is the spring Inner sOUndscapes concert, OU's electronic music series, on April 17 at 8 p.m. in Pitman again. Cassie Keogh will be presenting Crosswinds once again, with a variety of tape pieces curated by Dr. Konstantinos Karathansis. Also, this date's still tentative, but it looks like OLE will be presenting these works on April 20 at noon at the National Weather Center. I'll add a permalink when that date is finalized. Whee, electronic music!

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New works available!

Thanks to some recent updates, I'm able to offer some new buying options that weren't available before!

The acousmatic works Blueprints of Eternity, Creatures from the Black Bassoon, Off the Hook, and Reverie of Solitude have always been available through Bandcamp, but are now available directly from their composition pages. And now, the laptop ensemble work Your Call Could Not Be Completed As Dialed is also available.

There are several works for large ensemble that I'm updating, including the Symphony, Pipe Dreams, Some Assembly Required, and Palilalia, and I hope to have new digital buying options available for those items soon.

There are also new digital buying options for almost every piece available in my catalog. Most of the newer chamber works are still available through J.W. Pepper and SheetMusicPlus, but nearly all of my works are now available for immediate download through Gumroad.

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Updates to Composition pages

I hadn't realized that my clarinet and live electronics work Crosswinds took as much out of me as it did, and once I got that one performance-ready, I took a short moratorium on more writing. Instead, I did some website housekeeping, and introduced some substantial upgrades. Overall, I added some breadcrumb menus, like the one you see above, for better navigation through the entire site. With a few exceptions, they now appear everywhere.

Most of my work went into the Composition pages, starting with a revised color scheme for the complete catalog. I'm not sure that I'll keep it, but I think it's an improvement. Within each individual composition page there are some changes that I find pretty cool. The components of the page (program note, media, performances) have larger headers and an icon now, and some improved display logic only shows components that have content. For example, there is a new Awards component that appears if a work has been granted an award.

There's also a new Perusal Score component, which embeds an Issuu document, allowing you to see the score as printed. The Buying Options component now allows for some cleaner buying options, and I'm in the process of adding a bunch of never-before-available offers. I've started using a new score distribution system, and I'm excited to try it out. But one of my favorite parts of the new composition page is that it now includes an in-page menu that links to the various components. This menu travels with page scrolling, and highlights where you are in the page. Also, now all the embedded bandcamp plugins match. Let me know what you think!

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Reverie of Solitude selected for New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival

I'm pleased to announce that my new tape piece, Reverie of Solitude, has been accepted for the 2015 NYCEMF! Details below.



I am writing to inform you that your submission below has been accepted for performance at the 2015 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival. The information we have for your piece is as follows:

ID-266 Reverie of Solitude duration 10:00 2-channel fixed media

The festival will take place June 22-28, 2015 at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City. Concert schedules are being worked out now. The program will be posted to our web site,, as soon as it is ready.

NYCEMF will provide a sound system, microphones, cables, and a computer for fixed media playback. All other equipment required for live pieces (computer, audio interface, specialized MIDI/USB peripherals, etc.) will need to be provided by the composer. Speakers locations in our playback spaces will be fixed and cannot be moved between concerts to accommodate alternative schemes.

We look forward to seeing you in June!

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Advice that mattered to a student composer, a retrospective

Over the course of my composition instruction I was given an abundance of good advice. If I were to list all of it I'd have to dig into my nine years of course notes, but some of them have stuck with me more than others. To ring in the new year, I've listed my ten favorite pieces of advice below. Some are an exact quote, some are paraphrased. All are worth remembering.

10. Start Over
Carlyle Sharpe

For the most part, Carlyle was happy with the music I brought to lessons every week. However, on occasion I would bring in something terrible, and he would call me on it. Knowing that I had to start over was always awful, but I'm at a loss to remember a time he was wrong. Marvin later told me the same thing once or twice, but I eventually figured out how to judge when to start over by myself.

Takeaway: Know when to give up, know when to press on.

9. You're writing too fast/You're writing too slow
Marvin Lamb/Konstantinos Karathanasis

When I first started studying with Marvin, for the first month or so he kept telling me that I was writing too fast, and I should slow down. When I started studying with Kostas, he kept telling me that I was writing too slow, at least for the first few months. The fact that in both cases Marvin and I and Kostas and I figured out how each other worked taught me a valuable lesson in terms of how to teach composition.

Takeaway: Composers have different processes. Respect them.

8. “It doesn't have to be hard”
Tristan Kasten-Krauss via Steven Eiler

When Steven was writing an acousmatic piece for his master's recital, I think his challenge was to create something that sounded difficult but wasn't actually (at least for him, the guy's like a Pro Tools wizard). Tristan's advice to Steven was that difficulty in creating a work was not a requisite for quality.

Takeaway: Have fun.

7. “The subtle gesture is the lost gesture”
Marvin Lamb

This excellent quote from Marvin must be good, because I've been thinking about it since 2010. I believe the original context implies that ideas which are subtly obvious to the composer are rarely noticeable by the audience. I've expanded the meaning to include a multitude of actions. For example, the act of creating implies that the creator will release the creation into the world, and that takes a certain amount of confidence in which subtlety will not do.

Takeaway: Mean it.

6. “We both have baccalaureate degrees in music.”
Marvin Lamb

Marvin's quotes show up here multiple times because my first year at OU was my first real time outside of the Drury bubble, and I had yet to discover if I was as good as I thought I was, or as I hoped I was. I've been blessed with fantastic composition teachers who have known the right thing to say, and this quote was one of the things I needed to hear. At a time when I was unsure of my talent, Marvin's reminder that we both held baccalaureate degrees in music and that we were academically both qualified in the same way–we had both convinced someone to give us a bachelor's degree.

Takeaway: Don't be afraid of your own power and knowledge.

5. “There is a thin, bright line between being eclectic and being a whore”
Marvin Lamb

This is another Marvinism that I am still trying to wrap my head around. As best as I've unpacked it, it talks to personal style. It is one thing to learn techniques and integrate them into works or my personal style, it is another thing entirely to have no real style, being an amorphous composer with no interest in originality or individuality. Despite my nebulous understanding of it, I get the distinct impression that one is not supposed to cross that line.

Takeaway: Be yourself.

4. “A Composer without a deadline is a …janitor”
Carlyle Sharpe

I think “Janitor” is the first thing that popped into Carlyle's mind while he delivered this gem to a group of us after the premiere of his An American Postcard. He had just finished a large orchestral work, due in large part to the fact that it was recently due to the commissioners. I like to think that part of his point is that unchecked (and unscheduled) ambition doesn't produce good music, or maybe more accurately, doesn't produce finished music.

Takeaway: Finish the job and move to the next.

3. “You don't want to be an Education major”
Jayne White

I was a music education major for one year, and at the end of that year I was nearly a nervous wreck (long story). Up until my first day of class at Drury the only real music professionals I knew were all band or choir directors, and so I thought that was what you did. And then after a year of studying with Drury faculty, my interest in education waned. I wasn't quite aware of this until Dr. White, one of my education professors, let me know. “Maybe someday you will return to education” she mused, “But for right now, your heart's in music. Follow that.” She wasn't wrong.

Takeaway: The best advice can come from unexpected places.

2. “Yeah, that's going to be pretty hard.”
Roland Barrett

In 2013 I was working on a saxophone piece that eventually became Caffeination. I had a great groove, I had this fantastic melody at the climax, and I couldn't figure out how to get from A to B. I brought it to a composition lesson thinking that Roland would give me some advice on how to write that transition. I thought wrong. Instead he left me with “I'll be interested to see what you come up with.” The next week I brought in a transition, one that neither of us expected. The fact that he had the confidence that I would come up with the answer on my own motivated me to find the answer.

Takeaway: Trust yourself 1.

“You just don't get to not know anymore”
Christopher Koch

The original context for this quote was regarding conducting. What Christopher meant was that if one were conducting, and a performer asked about a certain note or passage, the conductor could not say “I don't know.” What's beautiful about this quote is that it's vague enough to work in almost any situation. I thought about it a great deal when I applied for masters and doctoral programs. I think about it often when reading new works with ensembles. It's a call against inaction.

Takeaway: Decide.

There is, of course, a lot more out there, including other non-compositional inspirational quotes (the perfect is the enemy of the good, done is the engine of more), but these make up the major life-altering phrases that stuck with me through the many good times and the occasional bad ones.

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Kyle Vanderburg