Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

How do the days and weeks so quickly come back around?  The end of the year is rapidly approaching.  I begin cleaning the house and preparing for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  We expect 16 this year, not our largest gathering, but still plenty.  After Thanksgiving I have one week left of classes, then finals, and a progressive dinner, a race to get exams graded and grades turned in, then one week to get all my Christmas gifts made and holiday baking done in time for Christmas.  Everything seems more rushed this year since Thanksgiving comes so late.

I won't be teaching over winter session this year, so in theory I should have about 5 weeks off before the Spring semester starts in January.  During my "time off" I will be reading ten massive books and prepping for a new course I will be teaching in the Spring, "Genocides of the 20th Century."  Since this will be an entirely new class, I have to create all new lecture notes, PowerPoints, a syllabus, assignments, and schedule films and speakers.  This means I will be in the office 5 days a week to get this done.  It's a lot of work, and had I known last May that I would be asked to do this, I would have worked on this while recovering from surgery.  Oh well, I'm happy to be given the opportunity to teach a new course, and one that I find endlessly fascinating.

I would be freaked out right now if I hadn't been studying genocides since 1997 as a hobby, also, I've assigned all of the genocides I will be covering as paper assignments since I began teaching in 2007.  Each semester I would assign a different genocide for my students to research.  I would require them to use a specific number of scholarly articles from JSTOR.  I would have them search for obscure information on the genocides.  This forced me to read all the scholarly articles that they would find, so I could make sure they were understanding the articles and using them properly.  This kept me reading scholarly articles on genocides, because if left to my own devices, I would have likely squandered my time.

Also, of the ten books I am using for source material to build the class,  six I have already read in their entirety at some point since 1997, and the other four I have read a great deal of, so I will be doing a lot of re-reading, reminding myself of the details, and scanning for parts to use as excerpts for the class.  Since this is an undergrad class, I can't assign more than four books.  The kids would run like hell in the other direction.  Even though my course flyer warned students would have to begin reading the books prior to class beginning in January, and that only serious students need to apply, my class filled up fast when registration opened, so that's a good sign. Based on the outline  I had already created for the class, and my previous experience teaching history and genocides, I was told my class would count toward the Social Justice minor the university offers.  I really hope I'm able to pull it all together and I deliver a great class.  It's important to me to teach more than core courses, teach something I'm passionate about, and have an impact on my students.  No pressure, huh?  :-)

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I'm taking a break tonight.  I've been grading papers day and night all weekend while M was out of town.  It was just as well, it is FREEZING here!  I've had to venture out a few times because the dog demanded it, but even under three layers of coats, a scarf around my face and gloves, the strong winds just cut right through me.  So tonight, M is back home and we have retired to bed early, we've got the electric blanket cranked on high, and are settling in to watch the American Music Awards.  Katy Perry just opened the show.  Her voice sounded deeper and a little off, like she might have a cold, but the set was gorgeous.
American Music Awards

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Of Brains and Music

I am teaching history to a group of music majors this semester.  Tonight I have been grading their papers on Beethoven.  This has been a learning experience for me.  While grading the papers, my first response has been shock at what horrible writers they are, their grammar and the mechanics of their sentences are a mess.  I don't consider myself an authority on grammar or the English language, but I like to think I can string enough words together to make sense. 

After my initial shock at the jumbled mess of their words, I found myself astounded at their complete understanding of musical composition, how instruments and sounds moved, how holding notes, or teasing sounds out of violin strings could change the emotion of a piece of music.  Reading their descriptions so enthralled me that I went to YouTube and began playing the pieces they were describing, not only of Beethoven, but other composers they were comparing him to as well.

Their understanding of how Beethoven composed his music as opposed to how other masters composed their music, and how the sounds and emotions differed was breathtaking.  Throughout my life I've heard many pieces of classical music, and I can count the pieces on one hand that have moved me. 

I never understood or liked classical music.  Much as I couldn't understand musical composition, these students couldn't understand the mechanics of grammar construction.  Tonight, however, by re-reading their descriptions of different pieces of music, and playing that music, those particular sections of the music, side-by-side, I think I finally get it. 

I'm having one of those moments of awakening.  I'm listening to music that although I've been exposed to it before, I've never really understood how to listen to it before.  I am amazed, I am moved, it's like a few words in a foreign language have finally clicked for me. 

Whereas my brain naturally understands words and how when they are put together in different variations can mean different things, these kids' brains hear and feel music in ways that I have to be taught to understand.  I'm getting chills just listening to what they've been describing.  I must thank them when I see them again next week. 

Here is a link to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" that I have been listening to over and over.  It starts out very moody, painful, then veers toward lonely.  The kids have told me about Beethoven's penchant for unavailable women, and his longing for closeness.  In this piece they described his desolation, and how some notes hit bitterness or anger.  How he's slowly working his way through his emotions.  Then a light, as he starts to regain strength, understanding, pushing through his depression and working his way to a position of lightness.  You can hear the lightness as the notes go higher, and then he slips back to sadness and the notes lower again.  And their descriptions go on.  Anyway, listen for yourself and see if you can hear and feel what they did.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tr0otuiQuU
Moonlight Sonata

European Vacation - not the movie - Spain

We successfully visited and drove in four countries speaking three foreign languages well enough to get what we wanted without insulting any...