Archive for the ‘dissertation’ Category

Post defense celebration at Otto!

My committee: Ron Sadoff, Cathy Benedict, Christina Marin

One of my dear cellist friends gave someone my email because she (my cellist friend) thought I would have some interesting words of wisdom re. her friend’s interest in doing a doctorate in music performance (specifically violin performance).  Since I officially passed my dissertation defense 2 days ago (YAY!!!), I figured now was probably a good time to do a blog post on what I actually think about getting a PhD in music performance (versus a DMA, for example, which oddly seems to have turned into the world’s most sought-after music performance degree).  Now, this begs a serious disclaimer: I am just now finishing my degree, so the question of “how does this degree work for you, how does this degree create work opportunities that allow you to gain back the thousands of dollars, not to mention blood, sweat, & tears you’ve expended in pursuance of the infamous PhD” is unfortunately unanswered at this point.  Give me a year or 2 & I’ll (hopefully!) be able to begin to answer those questions.

In the meantime, this is how I responded when I got an email from this violinist:

Thanks for your email!  I’m always happy to talk with people who are interested in the PhD program AND you happened to write me the day after I passed my dissertation defense.  So I’m in good spirits!!!

A PhD program in music performance is just like a PhD program in other academic areas EXCEPT that you have performance requirements.  So the academic load can be heavy, candidacy exams are intense & stressful, and the dissertation is heavily research-based.  If you’re not interested in research or contributing to knowledge in music at the scholarly level, then I would say go with a DMA.  With that said, the PhD is the gold standard of education across the board…but in terms of actually playing your instrument, it may give you more opportunities for private study & recitals, but a PhD really is an academically research-based degree.  You’re up there with PhD-ers in psychology, art history, computer science, sociology, etc.  It was years of blood, sweat, & tears…in a nutshell, a monstrous amount of work and ate my life away at times.  But I would never take it back for anything.

Many, many, many people have DMAs these days.  VERY few have PhDs in music performance.  But I’ve always been a bit on the fringes with my interests and it’s not something I would recommend to many people.  My dissertation was on classically-trained cellist-improvisers and how they have resisted the hegemony of classical music indoctrinated in their conservatory training.  So it was very sociological, very psychological, and involved a HUGE amount of heavy academic theory.  Not everyone goes that route, of course.  You could just as easily study some little-explored aspect of 18th century violin performance practice if you wanted!  NYU is a very progressive, very open-minded place to be, so I’ve seen dissertations from all sorts of areas.

But I feel one has to have a commitment to contributing to greater knowledge in academia and beyond.  If you’re only interested in becoming a better violinist or to teach violin and only violin (which is noble, don’t get me wrong!), then I would say go the DMA route.  A PhD can be an arduous journey and some people take forever to do it.  I took 6 years.

I hope this doesn’t sound dark!  Like I said, I wouldn’t take my experience with this back for anything.  It’s something you carry with you forever, and not a lot of people have this degree.  NYU doesn’t have much scholarship funding, at least they didn’t for me.  Huge downer, but I made it work somehow.  And I’m glad I did!

So that concludes my email to this person.  Now, I censored a few things.  1) the topic about 18th century violin performance sounds BORING AS HELL, but people do indeed suffer through that kind of research.  Not to mention, that just doesn’t seem like important research to me, but who am I to say.  2) This degree is stresssssssfulllll.  I have talked to a small handful of people who kind of swim through it without much drama, but that was not the case with me.  3) I’ve heard many a story about DMA programs & they sound ACADEMICALLY IDIOTIC to me and totally unimpressive on every level (except that I have no doubt they attract very strong players, which is the point, I guess).  Sorry.  I hate to brandish such apparent snobbery, but it just sounds sooooo easy.  Those programs basically sound like an extension of your Master’s degree, and I’ve known some total morons with DMAs.  Wow, did I just say that?

A PhD is a RESEARCH-BASED DEGREE.  Yes, you do 2-3 semesters of chamber music; yes, you do private lessons; yes, you do 2 recitals.  And all that is great!  But just get ready for major, major reading, writing, research.  That’s what it’s about in the end.  And working your ass off for a loooonnnng time & forking over probably way too much money to a school that should really be helping YOU out.  I mean, that’s how it is in music.  These programs don’t seem to have much money sitting around.

A dear friend of mine in the PhD program in anthropology (also at NYU) has a totally different scenario with grants & what-not.  Lucky devil.

I think the bottom line to all of this is: you have to have a burning passion for creating & sharing new & hopefully meaningful research, new ideas in the academy & beyond.  If this commitment isn’t there, go get a DMA & stay in the cave of a practice room for another 6 years.

Finally, let me say, I LOVED my dissertation committee.  They were totally amazing all around.  And I love, love, love Marion Feldman, my cello teacher.  Surrounding yourself with these sorts of awesome people is key.  But getting a PhD can be a lonely road.  I spent many, many, many hours alone in my apartment, slaving away in front of the computer.  But now I can look back with nostalgia.  Isn’t that always how it is?

Happy summer!

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Taking my dissertation to the graduate office!

Having officially made my dissertation deadline, I want desperately to write & publish on this blog a “PhD Survival Guide” for doctoral students…I’m slightly reluctant to compose said guide until I officially pass my orals, subsequently get the FINAL dissertation to the graduate office, and see my work published on proquest.  But in the meantime, I’ll impart some thoughts that might be useful to people thinking about doing a PhD or those who are indeed in the trenches as we speak.

First, for my own tendency towards profound nostalgia, I have to pay homage to April 8.  I’ve had two very, very significant April 8ths in my life.  April 8, 2005 when my sister and I went to see Tori Amos at the Hammerstein Ballroom for the Original Sinsuality (pardon the lame-o name) tour, and I was in the throes of being completely & madly in love with Jason.  This was also the first evening anyone in my immediate family met him.  Very, very special.  We had only been together a month.  🙂   And secondly, April 8 – yesterday!  Making my dissertation deadline, after almost 6 years of doctoral study at NYU.

Okay, so tip number 1 and the most important thing I could tell ANY doctoral student or anyone thinking about doing a PhD program: you may love your committee, but at the end of the day — YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.  In other words, don’t lean on them, expect them to promptly return emails, or show marveled enthusiasm re. your work.  These moments of light & positivity do indeed happen, but keep expectations low.  By the time you get to this point in your higher education career, they expect you to figure things out for yourself.

With that said, PICK A COMMITTEE THAT YOU REALLY BELIEVE IN.  Pick people you feel very, very confident will help you out, give you useful feedback.  This seems obvious, but it’s so, so important.

DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING TO BE EASY.  I know everyone’s situations are different, but I’ve had a particularly rough time at NYU.  My candidacy exams and the work that followed for said “pass with conditions” exam represented one of the worst periods of my entire life.  And unfortunately, it was right around the time Jason & I were planning our wedding – a time that is supposed to be really joyous, and I swear, those candidacy exams did me in.  In any event, I got through it…and so can you!  And seriously, some people get lucky with the people on their exam panel & have a pretty smooth time.  So it really depends a lot on luck.

BE A FANTASTIC PLANNER; MANAGE TIME WELL; PLAN AHEAD; MAKE THE TIME FOR SERIOUS WORK; KEEP PRIORITIES IN ORDER — If you’re not much a planner, become one.  If you don’t manage time well, figure out how to.  If you get distracted easily, do everything in your power to combat distractions.  There’s really no choice here.  You do it or perish.

READ THE DOCTORAL HANDBOOK VERY CAREFULLY; it seems overwhelming, but there’s no way around it.  Universities love rules, red tape, guidelines…you get the idea.

If you’re thinking about doing a PhD program, you HAVE to have a love of school, a love of knowledge, a love of research, a love of reading, a love of writing, a love of sharing new ideas, and an incredible drive to make & meet deadlines.  These things have to be really burning.  Otherwise, you’ll join the ranks of people who started doctoral programs & petered out.  Granted, a lot of people get big career breaks & realize they don’t need/want a PhD, so…well, lucky them.

DON’T EXPECT IT TO BE CHEAP.  Some programs (ahem, music) just don’t have the resources to give scholarships.  Sorry, it’s a fact of life.  Huge bummer.


Am keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well with my oral defense on June 24.  Am nervous, but thrilled I actually made yesterday’s deadline.  I’m very proud of my dissertation and have learned an ENORMOUS amount through this whole process.  However corny this may sound, this is a very real example of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

As time goes on, I would like to write more specifics on how a PhD makes sense (or doesn’t!) for MUSICIANS.  I think for most musicians, it does NOT make sense, but I’ve always been sort of on the fringes with my interests, my hopes for my career, etc.  More to follow on that, because I think it’s very important.

In any event, happy April!  And to all you PhD candidates out there, am sending good vibes, because man, I have no doubt you need them.  😉

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I want a shirt like this

Out of the population of professors, I'm glad someone looks like this...I mean, really.

In this post, I’m going to attempt to summarize some major concepts behind critical pedagogy, specifically the work of my current dissertation guru, Peter McLaren.  (And I promise, his appearance has nothing to do with my intense appreciation of and admiration for his work…but I mean, come on…we can still admire his tattoos and his western style button-ups with skulls & cross bones on them!!!!)  But more than getting into some of the juicy ideas (I love using non-scholarly language) of critical pedagogy, I’m also writing this to reflect on a current conundrum I face: where do I fit in with all of this?  I feel pretty “radical” or whatever with my thoughts (I don’t think “radical” is an overstatement, by the way), my philosophies on things, but really…am I putting this into practice or just theorizing about it all?  Obviously I’m writing my dissertation right now, so a huge amount of mental processing is going on purely in front of the computer.  But when does it or has it manifested itself in day to day life?

Well, lots of places, but when my mind seems to be the site of all this theorizing, it’s easy to feel a little isolationist.

It is with more than a little embarrassment that I copy and paste McLaren’s bio into this blog post, mostly because I’m not interested in doing  a “report” on him as an individual; but I think this is all important information in understanding where he’s coming from ideologically, and also to get a basic understanding of why he’s important.

Peter McLaren is a Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. Peter McLaren is one of the leading practioners of Critical Pedagogy in the U.S. as well as one of its leading advocates worldwide. McLaren began as an inner city schoolteacher in the Toronto, Canada area and later graduated with a Ph.D from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. McLaren’s work focuses on developing and implementing critical pedagogy strategies into the classroom. His critical pedagogy is based on Marxist theories applied to curriculum development and instruction, and the development of pedagogical theory and practice based on critical multiculturalism, critical ethnography, and critical literacy. In short, critical pedagogy confronts both teacher and student with questions about how power plays a role in their learning experience and examines how it favors some and not others. Professor McLaren was the inaugural recipient of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Award presented by Chapman University, California, April 2002. He also received the Amigo Honorifica de la Comunidad Universitaria de esta Institucion by La Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, Unidad 141, Guadalajara, Mexico. In addition, two of his books were winners of the American Education Studies Association Critics Choice Awards for outstanding books in education. (Taken from: http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~ganterg/sjureview/vol2-1/mclaren.html)

All of this is explored in great detail in my dissertation, so I’m just going to compile a list of McLaren quotes here to present an intro of sorts to the central concepts behind critical pedagogy — there are taken from his essay entitled, “Critical Pedagogy: A Look at the Major Concepts” (from the Critical Pedagogy Reader, New York: Routledge Falmer, 2003).  I’ll give brief general examples following each concept.

1.  (p. 72)”Critical pedagogy asks how and why knowledge gets constructed the way it does, and how and why some constructions of reality are legitimated and celebrated by the dominant culture while other clearly are not.”  Example question: Why are SAT scores so unbelievably “important” and who says anyway?

2. (p. 74) “In addition to defining culture as a set of practices, ideologies, and values from which different groups draw to make sense of the world, we need to recognize how cultural questions help us understand who has power and how it is reproduced and manifested in the social relations that link schooling to the wider social order.”   Example question: In what ways do schools simulate or reproduce hierarchical social orders inherent in society at large?  I mean, we all know that social life issues we experienced growing up only come up again as adults…but how are these social divisions promoted in schools?  For those musicians out there, orchestras in conservatories and universities are absolutely representing the corporation that is the professional orchestra.  Hierarchy, control, upholding tradition, “do as I say,” “blend with your section,” “don’t stand out,” “bow down to the asshole with the baton”…No wonder David Hoose never liked me.  😉

3.  (page 75) “Subcultures are involved in contesting the cultural ‘space’ or openings in the dominant culture.  The dominant culture is never able to secure total control over subordinate cultural groups.”  Ex: first, let me say that McLaren references the punk movement in this section of the essay, which I had NOT read when I mentioned the punk movement in my previous blog entitled, “the Dissertation.”  So I was excited to read his mention of punk subculture.  Said movement seems far, far, far, far more genuine – and badass! – than ANYTHING I’ve seen in my lifetime, at least from a socio-musicological perspective.

4. (page 76) “Hegemony refers to the maintenance of domination not by the sheer exercise of force but primarily through consensual social practices, social forms, and social structures produced in specific sites such as the church, the state, the school, the mass media, the political system, and the family.”  Ex: Hegemonic structures within society are literally everywhere, so it’s hard to know where to begin.  In a general sense, a hegemonic thought would be (fill in the blanks here): “In order to be successful, I must make this amount of money; In order to be attractive, I must not look fatter or less sexy than ________; In order to be worthy, I have to appear ‘normal’ to my friends and family and ‘normal’ means_____.”  All of this stuff is totally and utterly subjective, but based on mass media & advertising & however many bozos we happen to know who impact their ideas onto us, I think we all can make a stupid guess at what the answers to these would be…all I can think of is TV commercials.  BURN YOUR TELEVISIONS.

5.  (page 82) “How have certain pedagogical practices become so habitual or natural in school settings that teachers accept them as normal, unproblematic, and expected?”  Ex: Why is rote memorization so frequently used or “busy work” like copying vocabulary words and their meanings FROM THE TEXTBOOK?  Lauren’s answer from a non-critical thinking standpoint…but one based in realism! — “Well, because rote memorization allows you to get the stuff in your head so you can get an A on your test.”  And that’s the answer, people.  How sad!  And yet, how often have I employed that way of thinking!  You have to take a test?  Well, memorize your facts.  They will leave your brain the second your turn in the paper to the teacher.  Example: Yesterday, I couldn’t remember what century Charlemagne lived!!!!  Ms. AP European History over here was 400 years off! **I should, however, give credit where credit is due and add that Coach Goode was an absolutely fabulous history teacher in every way, shape, and form…with that said, the impending AP exams definitely, definitely made us do a huge amount of memorizing.  I’m sure my parents remember all my studying!

Anyway, I digress.  So the point of my blog is not only to express the relevance to critical pedagogy – not just to teaching but to everyday life itself – but to ask the question, “where do I fit in?”  I’m not really a social activist, at least in the strict definition of the term; I don’t teach in inner-city schools or am lobbying for social change at the government level.  I’m basically the following: I’m a musician, cellist, poet, educator, aspiring PhD.  And to be perfectly honest, I find so many aspects of our society offensive, that I tend to prefer my role as an isolationist.  With that said, I’ve become much more chill about aspects of our culture with which I disagree (capitalism, TV commercials, commercialism in general, excessive focus on appearance, superficiality, anti- intellectualism, obsession with celebrity, obsession with infidelity of politicians, you name it).  And yet I’m able to engage with many of these things (I fortunately avoid TV commercials 99% of the time since J & I don’t have a TV) and maintain my distance, understanding the fucked up contradictions and “values” embedded within them…and well, I just get on with my life.

And as for the last part of the title of this blog post: to be honest, I have no idea if musicians care about this stuff.  It’s so easy to live in a bubble of…well, being a musician, that your world view is limited, I think.  I mean, to be blunt, I don’t even feel like part of the “work force.”  I’m a doctoral student, I don’t make much money, and the money I do make is either from “entertaining” people or from teaching upper class white kids how to put their finger on a little color-coded tape on their finger board, so their parents know they’re doing the “right thing” by going to their cello lessons.  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be this dark.  There are musicians doing some pretty amazing things today, and they are transforming reality in their own way.  They may not want to read McLaren – or god forbid, my blog – but many are transformers in their own right.

My hope is that I impart some of the more positive aspects of my thinking to my friends, my colleagues, my family, and hopefully my students.  I also hope to promote dialog with each other.  I can be very isolationist, and I feel that these ideas need to be shared and dispersed — ideas from all perspectives.  I don’t intend this to sound as dramatic as it might, but basically this is how I see it – and there are a lot of questions around this for me right now, so I certainly don’t have it all figured out: I walk out the door each day knowing that I actively resist established hegemonies within our culture and its various ideologies.  I’ve never felt like I fit in.  I’ve always had problems with societal “standards,” probably seeing and feeling the paradoxes inherent in them while at the same time seeing myself as a victim.  But now, I know that and can embrace that with hopefully not too much anger and frustration.  And my hope is that I can transcend any negativity and transform the thoughts and feelings I have into approaching the world differently; approaching my cello differently; approaching my colleagues differently; approaching my students differently.  Trying new things, thinking new thoughts, critiquing the world and yet moving forward in it and not being immobilized by cynicism.  I don’t know if music per se is going to be the vehicle by which I transform my reality, but it is one route, for sure.  But the avenues are endless.

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Examining data...and probably reaching a state of perplexedness at some lame-o sentence I wrote 2 years ago...

I’ve decided to include a relatively small blurb on the research I am undertaking for my PhD.  My blog, as many of you know, began as a purely fun endeavor, a way to talk (and perhaps dialog with people) about things in life about which I am passionate…namely, music, food, & wine, with the occasional nature or holiday-inspired essay.

Now I’ve decided to include some information regarding my dissertation research, perhaps mostly for people close to me who aren’t 100% sure of what I’m doing exactly.  Totally understandable, no doubt.  I wake up each day with the assumption that most people’s eyes will glaze over the second I start talking about said research.

But I am also doing this for the cellists who agreed to be part of this study and were so generous with their time and were so articulate in discussing their experiences with music, school, and improvising.

Please be aware: the following is a synopsis and only begins to touch on the purposes behind my research.  It is actually very helpful to me to be able to summarize this without a tremendous amount of explanation.

My research deals with issues of ideology, hegemony, resistance, and identity construction in the experiences of classically trained cellist-improvisers.  Through interviews with five cellists, I investigate how identity construction is related to performativity (that is, actually performing music, though ‘performativity’ refers to much more than just that) and also to established institutional hegemonies, namely the hegemony of classical music indoctrinated in conservatory training.

To clarify: Certain groups constitute counter-hegemonies,meaning that they resist the established paradigms (“norms”) inherent in the ideology.  (I keep thinking of the Sex Pistols, so those who know them…well, keep that in mind).  Through this “resistance,” their identities evolve and subsequently new paradigms evolve, and the established systems (i.e. music conservatories in this case) are challenged.  By examining the existing ideologies–and also by understanding how and why certain groups choose to challenge certain hegemonies within the ideologies–we can move forward and transform reality through critical ways of being (thinking, reading, listening, performing, acting).  If we can understand our individual realities as directly relating to the intricacies of our history, background, education, etc., we can see ourselves in the broader scope of society.  Through this understanding, change can occur on personal and institutional levels.

Moral of the story: roll with the times…and if you don’t, someone or something is going to push you out of the way, rendering you obsolete.  …I could quote Bob Dylan here, but I’ll refrain…okay, okay, it’s just too perfect:

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

So I would like to thank the cellists who are involved in this project.  My research wouldn’t be what it is without the experiences of these musicians:

1. Stephanie Winters

2. Will Martina

3. Tomas Ulrich

4. Jody Redhage

5. Daniel Levin

(I will do another blog post, if they’re in favor of my including them, that will give more information on them as individuals, their work, etc.).

Gotta love Butler!

Butler's Gender Trouble - key source for exploring issues of identity construction

Gramsci, Freire, & Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action

Paulo Freire...please don't be worried that this has the word "oppressed" in the title...I realize the text is backwards thanks to my computer's 'photo booth.' The book is called Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Afterthought:  All my life I have been fascinated by institutions and people who went against the grain (pardon the cliche).  Kids who talked back to teachers, the “alternative” crowd at Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC, of which my sister was a part (and I would have been a part had I not gone through that rebellion rather early on), the punk movement, any music that sounded innovative to my ears, sex stores geared towards women’s freedom & education,  you name it.  I tend to be attracted to most things considered to be “on the fringes”…with the exception of the hipster “movement”…wait, is it even a movement?  I mean, come on.  And sadly, the impression I get is that hipsters love to think they’re “on the fringes,” but they’re just fooling themselves.  And maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’ve always felt like an outsider.  And as I get a little older, I realize how much I appreciate that about myself.  And even more importantly than that, how much I appreciate that in other people.  And now I’m lucky enough to be writing about people who are literally changing the course of history.

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I used to view Halloween as one of the key partying high-points of the entire year.  One of my first…uh, illegal experiences, was on Halloween…circa 1999.  Alas, said view has changed.  I love to go out, I love to party (though “party” has taken on a different color as the years have gone by, and I’m happy to say so), I love to see the city in all its vivacious, ‘partying’ glory (minus the excessively drunken NYU undergradutes that permeate both sides of the Village).  But soggy fall nights are often best experienced inside my ever-cozy apartment with my cats, the jack-o-lantern inspired by Martha Stewart, some good food, some good books, my trusty laptop, and hopefully my husband who is in a state of chronically working his you-know-what-off.  I digress…

Today was brilliant!  I’m aiming for the April dissertation deadline so any and all work time is like pure gold…or like the candy corn that I was unable to find yesterday at either Duane Reade or Rite Aid.  Let’s just say it’s profoundly cherished time, particularly when I have enough motivation (i.e. am not too distracted by fall and/or general holiday festiveness).  So I finished the last (I hope the last!) of my interview transcriptions, which was an interview with the wonderful cellist-improviser Daniel Levin…if you’ve ever done transcriptions, you’ll know that it takes hours and hours and hours and hours….

I am currently working on the infamous “Tomas Ulrich chapter,” which is great fun and interesting to say the least.  His interview was/is one of my favorites, particularly because (apart from being insanely witty) he went to BU as well, and though he was there a number of years before I, had an almost identical experience regarding the joys of crack-of-dawn theory classes.  Gotta love walking down Comm Ave. in windy, sub-zero temps at 7:45 in the morning for species counterpoint, harmonic dictations, etc.!  Fun times!

Apart from that, my Halloween has included admiring the gorgeous & charming jack-o-lantern that Jason carved a couple nights ago…we copied my sister whose jack-o-lantern is inspired by the cover of the ever-enjoyable Martha Stewart Living.  I made a Moroccan chicken tagine via a recipe in the November Cooking Light issue — delicious & easy!  Just be sure to simmer MUCH longer than they suggest — you want the chicken to tenderize & that only happens with a long, uber-slow simmer.   And dump on the spices.  I don’t know why recipes are always so stingy with their spice recommendations.  Also made hot cider as I was expecting one of my best friends to stop by.

Wine buying tip for white wines: I recommend the “La Linda” viognier from Argentina.  It is CHEAP – $10 and delicious.  I’ve bought it a number of times, and it’s wonderful.  I’ve also bought the La Linda rose, which is pretty good.  Rose is absolutely not ‘white zinfandel,’ for the record.

Music-wise, I’ve been listening to “Peaceful Pat & Brad.”  I made myself a mix a few weeks ago with said title referring to Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau.  I chose the ‘peaceful’ tunes of theirs – some together, some not – and made an itunes mix.  I think I’m going to make it into a CD to give my parents at Christmas.

Happy Halloween, happy cooking!  And best wishes for this holiday season…Duane Reade already has their Christmas decorations in stock.  Oh my goodness…time to whip out Vince Guaraldi.  😉

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