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?

Peace,

Jeffrey

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,

Jeffrey

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."

Peace,

Jeffrey

Friday, February 28, 2014

To begin again, anew.

It's tough sometimes, to remember what it's like to feel the rush of something new.  That exhilarating thrill of "Wow! I want to try that!"

I've been at our state MEA Convention (Music Educators Association) for the past couple days and I can honestly say that I have been inspired.  Not only by the very fine concerts I've attended (I heard some amazing bands, choirs, and orchestras), but also by the sessions given by my peers and guests from across the country.

I'm often asked to give sessions while I'm guest conducting at an event (all-state or regional orchestra conventions).  It's a lot of work to prepare these sessions, so when I'm able to attend one (or three), it's a  pleasure to just sit and ABSORB.  Too often we teach in a vacuum, surrounded by only our students and, if we're lucky, some great colleagues on the music staff.  To be able to attend sessions where you are given great information that make you want to get back to the classroom as soon as possible, well, that's a little piece of heaven, thank you very much.

Sometimes it's the littlest ideas that give you the biggest push.  And I'm thankful for my colleagues that have helped me renew and revitalize my teaching as we head into the busiest part of the school year for us music teachers.  It's time to begin (again).

I wish you peace and a little bit of rejuvenation,

Jeffrey

Monday, January 13, 2014

Well, there you are!

Here I was frantically finishing up my first string quartet, getting stuff ready for my Pilot Study in preparation of my dissertation, and then *BOOM* it's a new year.

Funny how that happens.

But, that's life.  And what a great life it is.  I have so much to be thankful for as we begin a new year: an amazing fiancĂ© whom I am marrying this summer and starting our family together; a career that I thoroughly love and through which I get to work with some of the most amazing students in the country; and an education that I'm enjoying so much that I find it hard that I'll be "done" this summer (well, except for that whole "write the dissertation" bit).

Whether you've been part of my world through playing my music, being part of a commission, or a student for years or only a couple days; whether you're a friend or part of my amazing family; whether you brought joy into my life by either coming into it or leaving it, I want to thank you for all you've done for me in 2013.

And I wish you only the very best life has to offer you in 2014.

Peace,

Jeffrey

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hays, America! And the State that I Love....

You can tell that school has started.  Long time since my last post. I'm still pretty giddy about having my second symphony played on NPR!  (Yes, when you're a living composer, that's a pretty big deal!)  So, as I settled into my last class of PhD work this summer, the months rolled by rather quickly. And so, here we are.

I had the good fortune to receive a commission from the Hays (KS) Symphony Guild to write a piece for their 100th Anniversary.  The Hays Symphony premiered "Hays, America!" last Saturday evening. I was very proud, not only to be involved in such a storied organization, but also because the music really captured the essence of Hays and Western Kansas.  My congrats and appreciation goes out to the musicians, concert master Matt Means, and conductor Ben Cline.  They performed beautifully and really brought my work to life.

But that's got me thinking, as a PhD student is wont to do from time and time again, about what it means to not only be a composer, but a composer from Kansas.  I've lived here longer than any other state, going on my twenty-first year now, and I am proud to say that I'm a Kansan.  (Although, without getting too political here on my business site, I'm not exactly proud of my state government and some of the yahoos who garner national media attention with their hate and stupidity!)  And even though I love my home state of Iowa, I'm a Kansan now.  And because of that, I feel it's my responsibility to represent what it means to be from a "flyover state," lest someone compare the Great American Symphony to the Tallest Skyscraper in Kansas (see my last post for that inside joke).

I clinic orchestras all over the country as a composer and conductor.  When I tell people I'm from Kansas, it's often met with a look of surprise.  I used to say I was from Kansas City to avoid any undue rolling of the eyes, but not anymore.  Now it's just, "Hi, I'm Jeffrey. I teach and compose in Kansas."  I think it's about time people know that there are many intelligent, inspired, and creative people here in the Sunflower State.

And so, it is with great pride, and a little trepidation, that I come to grips with what I only recently coined "Prairie Style."  Yes, my music can sound like Copland.  But it can also sound like Stravinsky, Kancheli, or any number of composers whom I like to emulate.  But mostly, this mishmash of sounds is my own expansive, if not frenetic at times, exploration of what it's like to live in a state with as much potential as it has horizon.  "Prairie Style" means open, blocky chords that ring out, clarion-style, like Carrie Nation with her hatchet, or William Allen White tick-tick-ticking on the keys of his typewriter.  It means John Brown raising hell and Missouri Ruffians trying to quell it.  It means history and progress, sometimes in great leaps, but other times in tiny increments.  It's Dorothy and her red ruby shoes and "I like Ike." It's six hundred miles of beautiful scenery along I-70 that's there for the viewing if you just take the time to really look at it.

I'm an ardent tonalist.  I'm a Romantic at heart.  And, as I come full circle with it, I'm a Kansan.  And although I hear it much too often for it to be funny, it is true when they say "There's no place like home."