News, Thoughts, Soapboxes, and/or Essays

Smoke Bombs

One of the things that I like about my job (and I mentioned this earlier) is that I get to have ideas that other people don’t, by virtue of being a composer in a music department. Since most of my job is creating things, I get to think about things in a different way. Often I refer to this as throwing “smoke bombs.”

You think you know how things work, and then someone makes a suggestion and it reframes your idea of how things work. That’s a smoke bomb.

I got to try this out recently in a committee meeting. We were discussing general education requirements and how we could rework an undergraduate certificate. The idea came up of how we structure the program, and how to get faculty buy-in for keeping track of another list of classes, and different hoops to jump through.

After sitting for a while, I suggested the idea that we make the certificate student directed. What if the students put together their curriculum and we approved it on an individual basis, rather than doing all of the work to create a unified standardized curriculum. This was not a terrific idea, but the conversation that happened after I made the suggestion was substantially different. The smoke bomb that I threw changed the nature of how we thought about the problem and how we might find a solution.

This isn’t all that different from the work that I do in composition. Students bring in different ideas, and by and large it is my job to give them other ideas that might interact with the ideas they have. Often the ideas that I suggest are painfully obvious to the student once I say them.

It’s not that they would not would not have come up with the idea on their own, but they needed a second set of eyes, a second pair of ears, or a second brain to make that obviousness known to them.