Monday, November 2, 2015

I'm Bad at Blogging...

But I am doing pretty well doing that whole "writing music" thing.

It's been a busy year already, and by year I mean "school year."  I've already written a trombone quartet, a brass band piece, I'm 4/5ths of the way through my Requiem: foliorum caducorm sketches, and I just received a new commission for a string orchestra piece.  Oh, and then there's that whole "teaching" thing as well.

I recently read an article about how almost all composers throughout music history weren't the beneficiaries of the patronage system.  I have to admit that this was news to me, as I was taught that most of the powder-wigged types of the Baroque and Classical periods were propped up by fat cats with lots of cash and a desire to look cool by having the hottest new composer on their pay list.  But, it turns out that is pretty much bunk.  So what was REALLY happening?

Composers had jobs.  *gasp*  What, Jeffrey?  Say it isn't so.

Yep.  Jobs.  They had 'em.  Granted, most of their jobs were actually composing music for their patrons, whether it be church, royalty, or random rich dude, so they were writing music as part of their job, but that's just it.  They weren't paid to just "write whatever you want."  They actually had to write music for very specific occasions.  And, if they didn't do their job, they were fired.

Somehow that gives me a little more hope as a modern composer.  It's nice to know that, in addition to chopping wood and boxing the choir boys' ears when they wouldn't sing in tune, Bach had to write cantatas for Sunday's service.  That is, Bach had a JOB in which only a part of his gig was writing music.  Other composers had various day jobs as well.  Mostly they taught lessons or conducted the local orchestra, but they had to supplement their compositional commissions with other work.

So that makes me feel a lot better.  Granted, I don't have a powdered wig, but I do have a day job that I love.  And it allows me to write great music for people who want to play it.

Now, if you'll pardon me, it's time to get to work.  Hand me my wig....



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It Doesn't Get Easier

I received another rejection letter today.  Not for my music.  I've received an awful lot of those of late (which I could wax philosophical about - however I'll save that for another post), but this was for my first novel.  This makes sixteen rejection letters over the last thirteen years.

A lot has happened in those thirteen years.  An awful lot of stuff.  Some of it awful, actually.  I never really get my hopes up about publishing the novels.  It's too easy to go over the edge of "what if" and lose myself in it.  It's better to "keep it real," as the kids would say.  But it never really gets any easier, receiving rejection.

It's easy to become jaded or cynical about the prospects of publication.  Maybe the fact that I get most of the music I submit published each year, peppered with the occasional rejection here and there, makes it easier to understand why this particular book hasn't been picked up for publication.  It has received great reviews on Amazon and people who've read it tell me they like it.  But, as the publisher who passed on it today told me, "it's a little too quiet."

And that got me to thinking about the world in which we live.  We live in a fast-paced, instant-gratification society in which everything is delivered in 140 characters or less.  The world wants fast and easy.  I don't fit that particular mold.  To be labeled "a little too quiet" is actually quite a compliment to me.

I am a writer.  I'm also a teacher, composer, and philosopher.  I am a husband and a father.  I am a son.  I dabble in painting and in calligraphy.  I illuminate manuscripts.  I mentor young teachers and composers.  I am committed to my faith and my faith community.  I am all these things and more.  And as I look at that list, I understand that none of those particular labels are exactly "loud."  Well, perhaps the teacher is, but I have a bunch of kids with noisemakers in my room!

As I settle into my middle aged years, because let's face it, none of us are getting any younger, I embrace the quietude that has surrounded me.  My research and my music are just that: mine.  I don't write what doesn't interest me, either fictionally, philosophically, or musically.  I have the luxury to spend my evenings writing what I want; researching what I want; painting what I want; or burning a few brain cells playing video games.

And as I continue this amazing journey through a life I am just now beginning to realize how very fortunate I am to live, I have to stop and give thanks for all that I have.  Not many people can say that they spend their days doing what they love and their evenings doing things that bring them joy.  I am blessed and I know it.

It doesn't make the rejection letter any easier to handle.  But it does give me hope that somewhere there is a publisher who is looking for a book about a bunch of Critters who deal with some really difficult situations, albeit in a very quiet sort of way.  And, if not, that's alright, too.  It doesn't mean I'll stop writing.



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?