Friday, October 11, 2013

Reflecting on the dissertation, Part 2

I did not complete my dissertation in the spring.  No excuses, it just didn't happen.  I put very little effort into it over the summer.  I could blame the dozen or so concert performances of which I was a part, as conductor or player, but--again--those would be excuses.  Thus, when I found myself again on the margins of the profession (as I was for two years: 2010-2012--pitiful that I did no work then either) I actually set out to complete it.

It's not as though the work hadn't been "cooking" in my brain for quite some time; no, quite the opposite.  I would scratch out some notes or sources on the computer--or the old fashioned way: on a legal pad--and then put things aside.  It was not until the summer performances were finished that I finally started in earnest, and by October 1--two weeks ahead of the graduate school's deadline--I had submitted at least a working draft to the members of my committee.  Now, some 10 days later I've received no comments.  Must be no news is good news.

I know that I can write, and have been fortunate enough to have some fine teachers who taught me to write well.  Of course, my high school Latin classes (my deepest thanks to Magistra Depue) along with a (much later) German reading class, were contributors to my acquired skills.  When one studies a language so steeped in proper grammar (of course grammar in vital in English expression) it becomes engrained.  I find myself correcting my own grammar even in emails or facebook messages, and yes, MS Word, sometimes I do mean to write in the passive voice!

Yet, the most important advice I received in this sprint to the finish is found in A Manual for Writers, 8th edition, by Kate Turabian and the team that has taken over her important work since her passing in 1987.  The writers note in the "overview" to part one "Research and Writing, from Planning to Production," "from the outset, you should try to write every day." I took this to heart, trying to assure myself that I could at least get five pages finished every day.  One week, I encountered nothing but setbacks.  As I tried to defend in writing my choice of methodology (of score study), I kept wandering off on a tangent.  As a result, Tuesday's work ended up in the trash file; same thing on Wednesday.  Finally, I simply had to make the conscious decision to just say what I did and how I did not and not compare my methodology to Munch, Furtwangler, Mitropoulos, or the giants in conducting's pantheon.

One always has to remember that the best dissertation is a completed one.  Now we'll see how the committee feels....


Kenneth Woods, in his latest blog post, challenged his readers to write about women on the podium.  AND, we need to go beyond the obvious--conductor of the Baltimore Symphony--(Marin Alsop for the uninitiated).  I would weed JoAnn Falletta from the list as well, for certainly she has established a world-class career for herself as well (Virginia Symphony--since 1991; Buffalo Philharmonic--since 1998; the Ulster Orchestra in the UK, AND she is part of the team that has brought orchestral music back to Hawaii).

No, Mr. Woods is challenging us to look beyond the "big names," although it is quite sad that I can name only two.  Meanwhile, I must write of two women whom I have had the pleasure of meeting personally:

Tania Miller, recently celebrated her tenth season with the Victoria (Canada) Symphony Orchestra.  I met Tania when we were both considerably younger: at a (then) ASOL Conducting Symposium held in Ann Arbor.  Although she was one of the younger conductor's present, one could easily see that she was destined for greater things.  She matriculated from the University of Michigan (therefore she has to be great!), but that's not what drew me to this conductor.  Like many (and it's not just women; I could probably place Carl St. Clair in the list), she has stunningly expressive hands and, I'll be honest, I'm jealous.  Of course, great hands do not necessarily a great conductor make; I have seen my share of conductors who possessed such physical gifts but didn't have the brainpower to match.

I had to travel all the way to the Czech Republic to meet Roberta Carpenter, currently the conductor of Wisconsin's Oconomowoc Symphony.  She lives less than three hours from me and yet, I have not seen her in nearly 15 years--inexcusable!  Roberta is a very reflective conductor, a thoughtful conductor, a kind soul on the podium.  She, like Tania, brings distinction to our profession.  I can offer fewer exclamations of praise.

I hope that this is only my first foray into Maestro Woods's challenge.  In fact, I already have ideas for continuing "chapters."  But for now, it's back to supper and a little score study.