Thursday, August 27, 2015

School Days and Philosophical Nights

Well, as promised, I took the month of July off.  I did write a couple of pretty cool brass pieces (he said modestly), but mostly I spent my "off" time resting my mind and playing a lot.  I built a bunch of models for a new game I love to play.  Painted even more models for said game and, mostly, spent my time with friends and family.

Then August happened.

August is school time.  And as I headed back into the classroom here in the oligarchical theocracy that is the great state of Kansas, I was reminded of why it was so important to me to earn my PhD.  Education in Kansas is under a constant siege.  And, dare I say it, it seems that this open attack on all things intellectual permeates the entire country right now.  Every day I see the effects this war against education has on my students and my colleagues.

Nearly four thousand Kansas teachers either left education or chose to teach in another state this past summer.  The previous year that number was closer to twelve hundred.  Let that sink in a bit.  Teachers have become so vilified, so overworked and underpaid here in Kansas, that over three times as many teachers as usual have either quit teaching altogether or fled to another state to teach.  It used to be even though we were the most underpaid professional degree holders in the nation, at least there was a modicum of respect for our role as guardians of our young people's education.  Now even that is gone.

Teachers are seen as the enemy by some of our politicians, pawns to others, and for the rare one that fully comprehends what we do day in and day out, as unsung heroes.  I have to be honest: it's been rough beginning another school year under these circumstances.  I've been an educator in Kansas for twenty-two years.  I used to jokingly say I was an Iowan just visiting Kansas, but I've come to accept that I've lived here longer than I have anywhere else and, quite honestly, it is home.  And I love my state but I worry that the damage being done through the underfunding of our schools will soon reach a point that we cannot recover from it.

So what's a Kansan to do about this?  Hopefully vote and raise hell come election time.  In the meantime, my PhD brain has become enamored with the idea of educational philosophy and how important it is that everyone, and here I mean EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, understands how important education truly is to each of us.  Not only kids, not only teachers, but every person in this state (and the entire world for that matter) need to understand not only the ACT of how education is delivered and received but also how and, most importantly, WHY we need education.  Now more than ever.

So my nights of late have been filled with research and the rambling scribblings and musings of a philosopher coming to grips with the world around him.  My thoughts have yet to congeal into a solid philosophical treatise, but I promise you that my mind is fixed on it.  I want to tell the world to wake up and to pay attention to what is happening to our young peoples' educational futures.

Now I just have to figure out how to do it.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ah, Summer!

It's been thirty-five months in the making, but my first "real" vacation started a couple days ago.  For the first time in three years, I'm not taking classes or teaching classes.  It's been a whirlwind, especially in the last couple of months - defended my dissertation in April, graduated in May, wrapped up teaching at the high school for the year and then started teaching a college course in June.

I'm tired!

So, I'm taking a couple days off to rest up and pamper myself a little.  But I imagine I'll be bored by next week, so I am looking forward to writing some music and maybe get started on a new book or two (writing, not reading).  In the meantime, I've finished up a Christmas Carol for a contest, I'm writing a trombone quartet on commission, and I have to finish up a brass band commission, all while getting sketches together for the Requiem we're premiering in February, 2016.

But first, a nap.

I hope you're having a relaxing, recuperative, and rejuvenating summer, my friends.



Monday, June 8, 2015

Professor Bishop

It's been thirty years since I met a college professor who made me change the way I think about music and music education.  I was so impressed with him and the band he conducted, I decided to attend that professor's college and major in music education.  Best decision I ever made (well, at least in regard to my professional life).

I've done a lot since I was that teenager enraptured by the "big time" college director.  I've gone on to teach my own program and to travel the planet as a composer/conductor/clinician/ne'er-do-well.  And tomorrow I start down another path.  Tomorrow I become a college professor.  No, not a "full-bird," tenured-so-you-can't-fire-me professor.  Heck, I don't think it's even considered a "professor" position.  More like "adjunct instructor," but still.  Tomorrow I get to teach at a university.

I've got my lesson plans already to go.  I've mapped out all the materials my students will need as they progress through the course.  And I even bought a couple new shirts with the university's logo on them.  I'm excited and terrified all at the same time.  But, I'm also very thankful to the man who inspired me to make my dreams come true, to pursue my musical dreams and make them a reality.  So, tomorrow as I'm teaching, I'll be thinking of all the people who helped me get there: my amazing wife and kids, all my teachers along the way (from JJ, my very first true inspiration as a music teacher, to my PhD advisor), and finally, but certainly not least, Mr. Sergel.  Thanks for inspiring that small town Iowa kid to become a little bit better than he ever thought he could be.  I'll be thinking of you tomorrow.

Academically yours,


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jeffrey S. Bishop, PhD

Wow.  "Dr. Bishop" is a reality.  Thirty-four months after beginning the doctor of philosophy in curriculum and instruction (music education cognate) at Kansas State University, I turned in my dissertation and it's over.  Honestly, it's still not "real."  I mean, it's very nice to be called "Dr." because I worked really hard for it the past three years, but what does it really mean?

I have a few thoughts on earning a terminal degree, and I think it's appropriate that it's in philosophy as I muse on the following items:

  1. That term, "terminal," has always terrified me.  You mean like "terminal cancer?"  That's not exactly how I want to think of my learning - as a dead end.  Rather, it's more of a genesis degree - one that will open up a new world of research and exploration.
  2. Please allow me to keep going on the idea of opening up new perspectives.  Anyone who tells you that they are an "expert" is full of crap.  Those three little letters don't mean "I know it all," rather they say, "I know how to do the work necessary to seek the answers."  But sometimes, there are no answers.  A PhD does not give your opinion the strength of science.  Your opinion is bolstered by the research you can do with a PhD.  But, c'mon, don't give us your opinion, "Expert in the Field," give us your findings and let us sort it out for ourselves.
  3. After spending a total of ten years in college, I can safely say with all certainty that I don't know anything.  That's the joy of a PhD: it makes you realize that you don't really know everything.  Now, after nearly three years of research and the culminating research of my dissertation, I have way more questions than I do answers.  But now I have the skills necessary to continue to seek out those answers.  But I also know that there might not ever be any "true" answers.
  4. Truth.  Wow.  There's a small word with huge implications.  Having written a dissertation based  on qualitative research, I discovered that each person's truth is truly their own: their lived experiences, their life choices, their own answers - and it doesn't always jive with that of other peoples' "truth."  And that's okay.  I think that is one of the greatest things I learned through all of this - truth isn't a state of being, it's a process by which we live.
  5. Edit. Edit. Edit.  My advisor asked me to rewrite my dissertation twenty-one times.  Twenty-one!  I have to admit that, at first, I was livid.  But, after successfully navigating my defense with absolutely no problems (except for about a dozen typos), I understand why he made me rewrite it as many times as I did.  He forced me to look at it with fresh eyes over twenty times and that made all of the difference.  It's a nice little reminder that you can always make it a little better.
So, that's it.  I'm a doctor now.  Wow.  I'm a doctor now...still looks funny as I write it.  But I'll get used to it as a new phase of my life begins.  But for a couple weeks at least, I'm going to savor it.  And, as I do, I want to celebrate the people in my life who made it possible: my amaZing wife, SueZanne; my beautiful kids Emily and Aaron (and his fiancĂ© Kelley who we consider "ours" as well); my mom and dad who instilled me with a curiosity that is still growing; my doctor, Rusty; my faith community leaders, Fr. Mike, Fr. Bob, and Sr. Linda; and finally, but certainly not least in their influence, my friends and students, both former and current - I couldn't have done this without your support.

Now, I'm going to write some music, design a new course curriculum for a college class I'm teaching this summer, and spend an awful lot of time reading and writing.

And, maybe more than once every six months, I'll update this blog.

Peace, my friends,

Dr. Jeffrey

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Happy New Year (Already)?!

Wow.  Has it really been since the Fourth of July that I posted on here?  I really am bad at this blogging thing.  Sorry about that.

So, what's going on around here?  Hmm.... Nah, too long to explain.  Let me sum up a bit:

2014 was awesome!  I got married, adopted two amazing kids, and finished up all my doctoral exams and began work on my dissertation.  My job is great.  My students continually challenge me to be a better teacher every day.  And, more often than not, they teach me way more than I teach them.  It's one of the few perks of teaching in Kansas these days, I guess.

I'm looking forward to defending my dissertation in April.  I'm REALLY looking forward to being done with the dissertation and spending my summer reading books I want to read (and don't have to read for my studies) and painting.  And crafting.  And walking.  And spending time with friends and family.  And enjoying life.  In short, I'm really going to enjoy NOT being a student any more!

I've got some new music coming out this year: the third movement to my third string symphony (the Christmas Symphony) and the Sarabande (from Bach's Sixth Cello Suite) that I arranged for string orchestra.  My "Theme with Academic Variations" is being published as well.  That's three pieces from three publishers.  Pretty cool for a nerd like me!

And, speaking of seeing stuff in print, I'm very happy (and daresay proud) to say that my "Assemble the Minions" is one of the top-selling pieces in the country right now!  Always cool to be "famous" and "not dead" as a composer.

Again, sorry about the hiatus.  I'll try and write more before, oh, I don't know...Flag Day?



Friday, July 4, 2014

Sometimes You Just Want to Connect....

I couldn't take it anymore.  I was addicted, I admit it.  So I had to do something about it.  And, I feel strangely liberated because of it.  Yes, I did it: I quit Facebook.

Here's what I had to say in my last post:

This may be a little “TLDR,” but it will be my last post for a while, so bear with me. 

I’m a social scientist.  I’m very proud to say that I am, in fact, a real scientist.  Granted, I’m not into quantum physics, advanced mathematics, or astrophysics, but I am a researcher, and mostly, a teacher.  I’m well versed in behavior theories enough to know when something is awry and needs to be either limited or eliminated.  I’m at that point with Facebook.

I believe that Facebook is a wonderful tool by which people can connect with people, businesses, organizations, and events with which they want a relationship. It also is a way in which people can insulate, inculcate, and withdraw from a civil discourse in the greater community outside the pixilated walls we create.  In short, I’ve seen too much hate, bigotry, ignorance, and anti-intellectualism on here that I am feeling overwhelmed by it.  I also must protest Facebook’s use of our information to conduct experiments on us.  I am not willing to be complicit by my own inaction to this activity on Mr. Zuckerberg and friends’ part.

Instead, I am hoping to enrich my own experiences.  I have spent far too many hours on Facebook.  It’s not healthy for me and for those whom I love dearly.  I would rather talk to them in person or on the phone rather than see “feeds” as our lives pass by.  This is not an indictment or some kind of vilification of those who use Facebook.  This is me, getting in touch with who I am and what I want out of life.  I am not finding it here on Facebook.

So, with that, I ask that if you want to see what I’m up to, please give me a shout at (913) 558-1142.  Or better yet, let’s get together and discuss grandiose philosophies over tea.  I’m going to maintain my SMNW Orchestra Alumni page, SMNOFI page, along with the pages for my music business and books, because as a business owner and teacher that just makes sense.  Now it’s time for me to read books, do some research, write some music and a book or two, and reconnect with the people in my life the old-fashioned way.  I wish you only the very best and I hope that we stay in contact, because if you’re reading this, you’re important to me.

Yeah, so that's it.  Now what?  Well, hopefully the people who matter are reading this and know how much they mean to me.  As for me and mine, well, we're going to be reading, writing, researching, and making connections.  Because, that's what's really important.

Pax omnibus,


Friday, May 2, 2014

May I? Oh, yes I May.

Wow.  It's May already.  I mean, really?  It was just Christmas Break, wasn't it?

Or was that Spring Break?

Huh.  Well, either way, here we are.  And where are we,  exactly?  We're at the end of another year of teaching.  My twentieth, by the way.  Twenty years teaching music to kids.  I need to let that roll around in my head a little bit. Twenty years.  It's funny, really.  Twenty years ago I took a part-time gig at a local high school while I was finishing up my master's degree in conducting.  I was planning on getting the degree and go straight to a doctoral program.  Didn't know if it'd be in conducting or composition, but I knew I wasn't going to be teaching, that's for sure.

Boy, was I wrong about that.  And thankfully so, I must add.  That first year of teaching I fell in love with the kids, with the process, as archaic and bizarre as education can sometimes be, and I just ran with it.  I remember being in the "teachers work room" my first week when an older teacher tried to run me out of there.  "This is for teachers only," she snapped.  I showed her my brand-new district ID and smiled.  "I'm the new band guy," I said.  She slunk off, embarrassed.  And, now that I think about it, I never did see her again.  I also remember how badly the choir teacher hated me and resented my ability to get through to students.  Those two situations taught me my first two important lessons about teaching: 1) Learn to laugh; 2) Wherever there are people there are politics.

A couple years later I won a national composition prize while teaching here in my current district.  I was a long-haired whipper-snapper who thought I was pretty big stuff.  "Award-winning composer, that's me!" I thought.  But, then as now, my students didn't really care about that.  Or the conducting gigs across the country, or the fact that I have a hundred pieces published.  Around here, I'm just Mr. Bishop.

I'm the Mr. Bishop who is up at school early in the morning and stays too late some afternoons.  I'm the guy who writes the most amazing recommendation letters, well, as long you deserve a really amazing one.  I'm good at writing letters that don't say much, either.  But I try to avoid writing a bad one at least.  I'm the Mr. Bishop who guides kids through the murky waters of college auditions and deals with the tears when the boy/girlfriend is found to be less than perfect.  And I am the guy who gets to stand in front of the most amazing young people on this planet when they rise above themselves and play absolutely sublimely, if only for a moment.  Because, at the end of the day, I'm just Mr. Bishop, their teacher.

Twenty years ago, sitting in the band office of that old high school in an urban core, I was daydreaming about writing movie soundtracks or conducting a major orchestra.  Now, I'm sending students out to do just that.  Two former students of mine were chosen, from two different masters programs, for the Yale School of Music doctoral program.  I'm sending another student to major in composition for the first time in my career. And, I'm happy to report, he's already writing music better than I did when I was thirty!  I've got several music teacher alums, too.  And that makes me so very proud and happy.

May is rough.  April is brutal - more required events (concerts, contests, festivals) than all the rest of the school year combined - and it doesn't let up until graduation.  But, like tonight, as I'm sitting here in my studio with the sun streaming in, the fan in the window blowing in the smell of fresh cut grass, and the cat lounging nearby, waiting for a belly rub, there are moments in May that I harken back to that first year of teaching.  That moment when I decided that I wouldn't be pursuing what I thought was my dream, but instead looked around me and saw that I was already exactly where I needed to be.

It's trite, but it's true: teachers often learn more from their students than the students learn from the teacher.  And, as May bashes her way past me once more, ineloquently pushing me to the ground as she makes a mad dash for June, I think I'll just lie here in the cool, fresh cut grass and enjoy the view as I think about all I've learned these past twenty years.

And, if you happen to be one of those students from whom I have learned so much, I invite you to stop by, plop down in the grass beside me, grab a dandelion or two, and just sit and listen to the clouds pass overhead.  And, if you can't do that, well, let's just leave it with "Thanks. I wouldn't be here today without you."