Tag Archives: education

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.

APU School of Music, 1999 vs 2009

Today was a mid-year faculty retreat for the APU School of Music. A major part of the retreat was developing concrete goals for the next 5 years, how we wanted to see our program grow and change as we move forward. To prepare us for that, we looked at a similar list of goals that was set by the faculty in Spring of 2000, and how those goals had been met. The goals for 2000 were based on data from the 1999 school year, which gave us a great perspective on how the School of Music has changed in these last 10 years.

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. In 1999, we had 142 undergraduates, and 7 graduate students. In 2009, we have 250 undergraduates, 70 graduates, and 15 artist certificate students.
  2. In 1999, we had 43 total faculty, 16 full-time, 19 adjunct, and 8 private professionals (those are professional musicians who run on-campus teaching studios). In 2009, we have 96 total faculty, 27 full-time, 39 adjunct, and 20 private professionals.
  3. In 1999, four full-time faculty had terminal degrees (PhD or similar). In 2009, 14 full-time faculty have terminal degrees, and 5 are in process.
  4. In 1999, the MIDI lab was crammed into an unused storeroom under the back staircase. In 2009, we have a 12-seat teaching lab, with fully integrated media (projection, speakers, screen sharing, Logic, Sibelius, Finale, Pro Tools, etc.)
  5. In 1999, we had 4 choirs: UCO, Bel Canto, Male Choral, and Oratorio. In 2009, we’ve added to that a Gospel Choir, Chamber Singers, and Vocal Jazz ensembles.
  6. In 1999, we did not have a Symphony Orchestra (we had a chamber orchestra that hired outside professionals to cover vacant instruments). In 2009, we have a thriving Symphony Orchestra that recently gave the North American debut of a symphony by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Yup, we did it before the LA Phil did it.
  7. In 1999, we had one jazz band that was not fully instrumented. In 2009, we have 2 jazz bands with full instrumentation, and multiple jazz lab ensembles teaching improvisation.
  8. In 1999, we had no ongoing service activity for our local community. In 2009, the Azusa Conservatory offers free and subsidized lessons to 60 local children, taught by APU students. I think this is one of the most outstanding things we do. A few years ago, I heard a 9-year-old boy whose single-mother speaks only Spanish, who goes to an elementary school that is failing on every level, and he played excerpts from a Bach violin concerto. This boy’s life had been fundamentally altered by the conservatory program. It brought tears to my eyes.
  9. In 1999, we only offered a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2009, we offer a Bachelor of Music degree in Performance, and in the next year we’ll be adding them in Church Music and Commercial Music (the BA is a liberal arts degree, the BMus is a professional degree with a higher concentration of courses in music, and more credibility in the professional world).
  10. In 1999, we offered nothing for commercial music. In 2009, we have 75 students studying in the Commercial Music degree program, making it the fastest growing degree in our school.
  11. In 1999, we were not sending ensembles internationally to perform and record. The last time a large ensemble had toured outside of North America was 1992. In 2009, we’ve sent every ensemble on an international tour in the past 7 years, including tours to Armenia, Romania, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Korea, and Italy.
  12. In 1999, we offered no senior thesis course. In 2009, we have a dedicated Senior Seminar in Music Ethics.
  13. In 1999, we offered no artist certificate program. In 2009, we have 15 students in that program, where they study technique and literature in their instrument intensively and exclusively for a year. Students studying piano and strings in this program place and win at international competitions regularly.
  14. In 1999, we offered no graduate scholarships. In 2009, we award almost a quarter of a million dollars a year in graduate scholarships.
  15. In 1999, we didn’t offered a graduate degree in composition. In 2009, we have our first class of students working toward a Master of Music in Composition.
  16. In 1999, our program was accredited only as part of our university, not independently. In 2009, we have full accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Music. In a very rare move for the NASM, they bypassed the normal provisional membership stage, and inducted us as full members at our first application.
  17. In 1999, we offered no international study for music students. In 2009, we just welcomed back our first group of students from Heidelberg, Germany, where they studied for a semester. We are one of the only Schools of Music in North America to offer this kind of opportunity, where students go internationally for a semester in a program designed specifically for music, study with local instructors, perform in local ensembles, and learn about the history and culture of the place from resident scholars. We heard the report back from those students this morning, and they uniformly agreed that it was a life-changing experience.

I hope that I never take for granted the blessing I’ve been given, to teach at a place like this. It’s wonderful to look at this list, and to think, “I was part of this, I got to help build this into what it has become.” I can look at this list and see specific things that I had a hand in. It’s humbling to think that I have a part in this, and more than a little overwhelming to realize the awesome responsibility that comes from shaping the future of the program.

God is at work in our little corner of the world. Today was a great reminder of that.

Polytonaly Yours, With Love

The opening lines of “It Is Well” don’t normally include clashing polytonality and inscrutably rhythmic patterns. I took a creative risk this morning. Note clusters. Non-functional harmonic groups. Painting with colors that are so far outside of our normal 3-chord pop-tastic worship that at one point I was screaming inside for a 3rd hand, so that I could fully realize the Eb / D(6/9) / Dbmaj9 stack that I wanted. I know. Using chord notation at that point is just gratuitous. You get my point.

And then, because I like my church and enjoy my current level of employment with them, the crashing cacophony resolved down into notes that made sense, notes that made happy, notes that made me fairly certain that I will be welcome back next week. But for a little while, it was glorious.

I blame Alex Wen, my ne’er-do-well teaching assistant. That kid causes me more trouble. He has a frustrating habit of dropping by, serving up some canapé of intriguing speculation, and then leaving me to process and re-process for the remainder of the week. I enjoy it so much that I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s supposed to work the other way around.

This week, it was on the role of music in worship. Alex was talking about the use of aggressive and difficult music, modern compositions that will not yield easily to passive listening, but that richly reward the engaged.

Which left me thinking about the role of music in church. Not just in worship, but in the institution at large, the cultural and social phenomenon that the gathered people construct around themselves.

Music is nearly gone from public education. We recruit our best musicians at APU either from secluded art-intensive high schools, or from other countries that still consider a musically literate public to be a worthwhile expense. The musicians who grew up in the church come to us either as butt rock guitar strummers of the most parochial kind, or as power-pop vocalists. Some are very good, but good only in the narrowly confined musical space that is useful for corporate worship. Good at dreamy delays and 3-note gospel harmony. Good at ripping off Coldplay. Good at dropping out after the bridge to build up to the final chorus.

Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we, as the church, be elevating the musical language of our congregants? Should we be force-feeding them dissonance, poly or even a-tonality, and complex musical ideas until they know how to understand that rich language of tension and resolution? Should we give them musical meat that is not yet useful in worship, until it is? Can we move to repair some of the musical poverty caused by our federal abrogation of all non-testable educational outcomes? Can we train up young players to understand and appreciate music that is just beyond them, until it isn’t? Should we bring in talented artists capable of transforming and elevating the congregation’s perception of what music is? Can we set them loose to play things that are not trite rearrangements of popular hymn melodies?

Once we move beyond music as marketing, music as useful, music as emotional scripting, is there a role for music in the church qua music?

A Short Survey of Interesting Topics

I have 7 students in my Music and Ethics class this semester. They’re just about cresting the first difficult climb in writing their thesis papers. They’ve done the bulk of the research, and had to turn in a full footnoted outline of their argument. All that’s left for most of them is to spill the actual ink, and turn it into something readable. And then, of course, the editing.

They’ve picked some pretty interesting topics, so I thought I’d throw them out here for you folks to peruse. These are their thesis statements, roughly, along with some background.

  1. Sacredness is an ascribed quality, not an objective quality, therefore music that is sacred is always sacred to some person, or group of people. It is sacred because it serves the function of producing desired internal states, considered spiritually significant by people who call the music sacred. This means that 1) people outside of that group have no obligation to the “sacredness” of the music, and 2) it is inappropriately limiting to the creative process to force composers to work within a certain genre of music because of its “sacredness”.
  2. The emphasis on competition within High School music programs is detrimental to the education process. A music educator has an obligation to select repertoire for their ensemble based on artistic merit and educational value, and not competitive value.
  3. A film composer’s evaluation of a potential project should be based on the over-arching primary theme of the film, rather than content that serves that theme. She may choose to work on a film with a strong positive primary message, even if the film also contains graphic sexuality and violence. If the strength of the primary theme outweighs the presence of objectionable content, the project as a whole can be considered good, and worthwhile.
  4. There are three categories of repertoire that are frequently controversial in music education: music with sexual themes (sensual and explicit operatic works), music with overt religious themes (everything written between 600 and 1600 C.E. in Western Music), and music by controversial composers (Wagner’s pro-genocide stance, for example). A music educator has an obligation to perform these works, in spite of the controversy. To avoid them both limits that artistic experience of the students, and presents a skewed perspective on the scope and history of musical literature.
  5. A composer’s original intent is the fundamental guiding principle for the interpretation of a work. Contemporary performers and conductors have an obligation not to deviate from the best understanding of the composer’s intent in their interpretation and execution of a work.
  6. A musician has an obligation to only create works that best express their aesthetic judgment. It is a violation of the purpose of music, and the nature of the musician, to make choices based on values of broad appeal or commercial viability. There are strong parallels between a musician using their craft for less-than-art purposes, and prostitution, in that both treat the person as a means to an end, in violation of the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative. (This is going to be a helluva paper – this student is incredibly bright, and is making some very, very strong arguments in support of this thesis. Once he’s finished, I’ll give more of my thoughts on this topic).
  7. The lyrical content of music is capable of making moral claims, even in poetic and non-propositional formats. Songwriters have an obligation to produce works whose moral claims contribute to social unity. Songwriters may not plead ignorance in their understanding of these moral claims, and must take responsibility for their social impact as contributing factors to social change. To claim that songs are not sufficient causes for any particular social change is not an argument against their contributory power to those changes. The two primary case studies will be the identification by Klebold and Harris with the music of Marilyn Manson prior to the Columbine High School shootings, and the release of the song F*ck Tha Police by NWA prior to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (I think this student is going to argue that the moral claims of F*ck Tha Police actually fulfill the obligation toward social unity, by exposing an underlying reality that then prompted broader attention and calls for change.)

It’s fun to sit in conferences with these students and read through their arguments, to see the evidence of their critical thinking. I love the fact that I don’t have to prod any of them to find the value in this process – they all seem to understand that spending time thinking deeply about these themes will be beneficial to their development as musicians, and as people.

Professor Lee

Today is a big day. A very big day. Huge.

I had an hour-long meeting with Duane Funderburk, Dean of the School of Music at APU. It turns out that the Michael Lee brand of “Amuse and Abuse” teaching is in high demand there.

I’ve been offered a full-time contract. For those of you outside of the academic world, it might be hard to appreciate just how momentous this is. For the school of music to get administrative permission to add new full-time faculty is roughly as difficult as, say, growing a third arm. There are people with graduate degrees from heavy duty schools who having been waiting 10 years for full-time positions to open up. The Dean had to do some pretty deft political maneuvering to get this one; he actually borrowed a contract that belongs to a different position, and is using it for me for this year, while they work on getting final approval for the new expanded position.

We spent most of the hour talking about what my new faculty responsibilities will be. I’m going to continue teaching the Introduction to Music Technology courses, going to expand my teaching in the Master’s of Worship Leadership program, and am going to develop and teach a new Senior level course in Music, Ethics and Spirituality, something I’ve been spending a lot of time on.

About a year and a half ago, Gretchen and I started looking at full-time church positions. I flew out to candidate as some places, and talked with a dozen or so search committees from mega-churches all over the US. Nothing felt right. There were some positions that we felt we could be successful in, but they would fall through, or we would get through a month of conversations, and the church would suddenly decide that I wasn’t the right fit. It was tiring, frustrating, and I emerged from the experience feeling like I had a valuable skill set that nobody seemed interested in making use of.

A few months after the final interview, after we decided that we weren’t going to look at any more church positions, I had my first meeting with Duane, where he proposed the possibility of this full-time position. I remember sitting in that meeting, thinking, “This is it. This is what was waiting for me, why everything I tried to force into place fell through.” I marveled at the providence of God in the midst of my own stubbornness and short-sightedness. I also remember thinking that I could do this for the rest of my life, and be very satisfied.

Here are some of the things that are very cool about this:

I get to go back to school, to get a Doctorate in Music, and they’ll pick up 75% of the tab.

I get to stop writing a $650 check every month to pay for medical insurance for our family.

That thing I do where I dork around in the studio, create music, that whole thing? It’s now officially called “Research”. And releasing the CD is called “Publishing”.

I get an office. With administrative support. And a ficus.

Sophia gets to go to APU for free. Also, Gretchen and I have worked out this thing where we’ll charge you 1/2 of what APU does, then we’ll adopt your kid for 4 years while they go to school. It’s called a “win-win”.

We can buy a house, because for the first time in a long time, we know where we’ll be in 5 years.

I get a free MacBook Pro. The big one.

I get to do music. Everyday. With students who want to learn to do music. With peers who love to teach. In a place that recognizes and values the spiritual dynamic of creative work.

Today is a big day. A very big day. Huge.

Why You’re Not My Favorite Student

Yes, I do have favorites, and no, you’re not one of them. This is why:

1) You ask bad questions. You ask questions designed to make you look smart, not to advance your understanding. You ask questions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, simply to let other students know that you’ve already mastered these petty concepts, and are ready for something more challenging. You use big words that you learned just this morning, because you think it projects intelligence. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a pretentious jack-ass. I’m not smiling because I think you’re smart; I’m smiling because you just used that word wrong.

2) You are lazy. You ask me things that you could find by reading the syllabus. You turn in assignments with spelling errors. You leave out those segments of the project that are designed to make my life easier. You do this because you survey the world with lazy arrogance, and assume that the 3 minutes it would take you to format the project correctly are more valuable than the extra hour it takes me to grade 60 projects that ignore the formatting. You email me to ask for special treatment to accommodate your uniquely difficult circumstances, which look amazingly similar to the difficult circumstances of every other first year student at a University.

3) Your knowledge is bounded by your bigotry. I get it. You’re indie. You hate everything that reeks of formalism and conformity. You like bands with names like “The Decemberists” and “A3”, but you will immediately stop liking them as soon as you hear that I know they exist. Every time I give you an assignment like writing 4 part choral harmony, or programming a funk drum part, you have to protect your indie cred by informing the entire class that this type of music sucks, and that you don’t need to learn how to do this, because your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb. Two things: first, the fact that you think Coltrane sucks does not, in fact, make Coltrane suck. It makes you a narcissist with a myopic range of cultural influences, which is basically the exact opposite of people I like. The second thing is this. Your parents are spending $30,000 a year to send you to this school, where you chose to study music in a formalized setting, from people who make their living in this industry, and where a significant portion of your education will come from imitating the artistic masters who came before you. I don’t know what indie cred is, but I’m pretty sure that you lost all of it when you chose this path. Wanna be indie? Drop out, move to Silverlake, rent a room from a cross-dressing coffee shop owner, work at an organic grocery co-op in NoHo for minimum wage, and practice your instrument 9 hours a day. If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don’t just wear the clothes.

4) You only care about your grade in the last two weeks of the class. Here’s the thing. If you don’t care about grades, and just want to drift in and out of class to absorb the knowledge when it suits your whim, I can respect that. I honestly don’t mind it. But if that’s your mode, don’t come to me two weeks before the final and ask what you can do to raise your grade up from an “F” to a “B”, so that you won’t lose your scholarship. The answer is nothing. There’s nothing you can do. I’m not going to grade 15 projects that you turn in on the last day of the semester for late credit, and there aren’t enough points in the final to move your grade that much. I do sometimes allow students extra-credit assignments, but I reserve it for students who have worked their asses off all semester long, and need 1 or 2 percentage points to bump up to the next grade. I like students like that. I don’t like students like you. If getting an “F” in my class means you lose your scholarship, there’s a damn good chance that you shouldn’t be here on scholarship.

5) You assume that your approval is important to me. It isn’t. I don’t need your approval, or encouragement, I don’t need to be hip in your eyes, I don’t live or die by how you rank me on www.ratemyprofessor.com. I couldn’t care less what you think of me: I have friends for that. When your response to my policies, assignments, teaching method, whatever, is “that’s so uncool”, I silently laugh inside at the idea that you think I might care. I’m 30. I teach at a University. I’m a dad. I listen to Jazz. I’ve played keyboards on songs for Radio Disney. I’m the opposite of cool. And guess what? I’m at peace with it. My job isn’t to make you like me. In fact, sometimes my job goes better when you don’t like me. Sometimes, there are students who get that, and they respect it, and we end up being friends after they graduate. I think that’s cool.

Please, be assured that none of this will affect how I teach you. I’m quite adept at swallowing my own bile and doing unpleasant tasks. I also realize that sometimes, my least favorite students end up maturing nicely, and actually become decent human beings. Here’s to hope.

Until then, please stop IM’ing me at 2:30 in the morning to ask when the next project is due. It’s due tomorrow. And no, you can’t turn it in late.