Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Updates

New Semester

My semester is getting off to a pretty good start. The students in my classes are very engaged. One class goes galloping off full speed in all directions -- I love their energy but it is a struggle to channel this energy productively. It's early enough in the semester that I am not worried -- I have confidence that we can connect this energy to more forward motion.

I am even feeling reasonably caught up with grading! So, even though I started off the semester already feeling a little behind (see earlier posting), to my surprise, I caught up again. How did this happen? There are two important factors at play. One is that I am no longer department chair. The other is that I have a course release this semester and so am only teaching two courses.

Not being department chair makes a huge difference in my life! There is a lot that no longer comes to me. A few things still do, but I can just pass them off to the new chair. I have been keenly aware of how much this simplifies my life and opens up time.

I do still offer advice and support to the new chair. And she is taking all of this on with cheerfulness, even saying, "I think I do better when I am very busy!" And, although I wonder how long her good cheer will last (it might last!), I am content for both of us to ride our respective cheerfulness as long as we can! Right now it's working. I will let it work! And I really do have confidence that she can handle this well over the long-term.

My life is still not simple, as such. I still coordinate our new Peace Studies program, and there is a lot to be done to continue to develop this. But last year I was doing both. It's nice to be able to focus my energies a bit more.


Also, music is returning to my life, which makes me very happy. I have four performances coming up: one on recorders, two on modern silver flute again, and one on Irish flute.

It's been an amazing experience coming back to the modern flute, after a long time of not touching it because I shifted my attention to the historical flutes. Modern flute really is a much easier instrument. But I'm not all the way back. I regained a lot of where I had been very fast -- I'd say that 75% came back in just a few days of serious practice. Then I plateaued. With a lot more hard work, I can reach 80% on a good day. I hope to reach 90% by concert day, but I might not make it. Still, my fellow performers seem pleased with where I am. One said, "it is such a joy to play with someone who is so musical," and I nearly fell over. When I confessed that I had not seriously worked with this flute for 18 years and I felt I was really struggling, she was surprised.

Embouchure comes and goes. The mark of 90% will be when I feel more consistently in control of tone quality. The high notes are really easy to hit in comparison to wooden flutes, but hard to play well, with fullness and richness of tone. They still sound thin and weak. The fingering patterns are much easier on this flute (one of the major reasons for the total re-design), and so once they came back, that part has been joyously easy.

Then there is playing style. On historical flutes, you use less vibrato. You work hard to get a rich, interesting, beautiful sound without vibrato. But the expectation with modern flute is to use vibrato more. And since I'm playing music written with this expectation, I have to go back to that style of playing. At first I felt resistant, not wanting to undo all the years of work of learning a different style. Finally I just told myself I have to trust myself now to be able to switch back and forth as appropriate. And as I leaped back into the way I used to play, I felt a mixture of amazement and joy that it was all still there and I could let it come back.

But everyone is noticing that I'm playing a little too carefully, and they tell me, "trust your instincts." They even add, "you do have good musical instincts!" What's hard at the moment is playing so many different styles on so many different instruments. But I want to be able to do this: switch back and forth. So, ironically enough, I have to work hard at letting go!

In the recorder concert, I will be playing three recorders. Some professional musicians will coach us tomorrow during a rehearsal.

Recently someone saw me with my flute case, and asked, "Is that a flute?" "Yes," I replied. "So, you are really a musician at heart, but took up philosophy in order to make a living?" I laughed and said, "Something like that!"

What struck me as really funny about that was the image of taking up philosophy as a pragmatic way to earn a living! Philosophy as a fall-back plan. Philosophy as a "day job."

Yet, this is kind of how my life is! The only real correction I need to make to that person's analysis is that I really do love philosophy too. In fact, I cannot honestly say which I love better. I just feel lucky that I get to do both.


I do finally have a closing date on my house. It's starting to feel real again. I am hoping to move soon. Then my life will look and feel very different. I am looking forward to it. I am even actually looking forward to the move itself as a creative opportunity! I will have to enter chaos for a bit, but that chaos is a necessary stage to create the opportunity for establishing a new order to my life.

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