Tag: teaching music

Falling from Grace: The Story of a Music Professor

Confession: my last post was supposed to be this one.

The cliffs notes version:

  • I’m interviewing my friends, but even close friends are afraid to be real.
  • The advantage to speaking with people I know is there’s already a trust in place. There’s less beating around the bush, more unabashed sharing of truths.

When I interviewed Melissa, I knew she would tell it like it is.

“I got some good shit,” she says, “but it has sort of a sad ending.”

The ensuing conversation was easily punctuated with upwards of 30 curse words, which was refreshing and not at all gratuitous. Melissa has four college degrees: an undergrad in music education, a master’s in education and classroom technology, or powerpoint, in her words. She has another master’s in vocal performance, and a PhD, all in music – related fields. As I write this, I realize I’ve failed in the note-taking department. Somehow, I managed to note that she once made me a funfetti cupcake when she hosted a sectional rehearsal, but did I write down the name of her degrees? No. Priorities…

I start to message her to confirm these things, and I stop myself. It doesn’t really matter. She’s educated, and she’s real. She’s real educated. She dons a pink shirt and sits in her kitchen on a Thursday night. She has just put her toddler son to bed and it’s like I’m there with her, sharing a robust red wine, even though we are a state away.

Melissa was always interested in attention (her name was Lola…). From a young age, she liked making people laugh and was convinced she would be on broadway. She met her first husband at 14, and they were engaged by the end of her undergraduate degree (she was 21). The decisions she made then, including her choice to teach music in a tiny area school for six years, were all motivated by that relationship, which she would discover years later was actually poisonous and abusive. She wouldn’t look for jobs outside of the area, and never auditioned to be in the top choir because the commitment would take too much time away from her relationship. All of this sounds like a perfectly legitimate decision-making process until she describes the time that she didn’t get a lead in a musical, and her husband shoved her down onto the bed and berated her for being overly self-absorbed and thinking she deserved more. Gaslighting at its best (if you don’t know what this is, look this up).

Melissa was cast in oodles of other leads in community theater. Maria in West Side Story, Cinderella in Into the Woods, Marion in The Music Man, among others. I first met her after this chapter of her life, in the foul trenches of our respective graduate studies. I had just accepted a music directing gig on the side for Annie at a regional theater; at the time, Melissa and I were in choir together.

I distinctly recall walking down the street beside her on the way class, humming a few sections of the overzealous “I Think You’re Gonna Like It Here,” sung by the charming character Grace, a young, nurturing secretary, opposite of the icy Daddy Warbucks. Melissa promptly rambled off ten of Grace’s lines. I felt like the mother ship was calling me home. As it turns out, Melissa played Grace during her years in community theater. While it wasn’t her favorite role, that didn’t stop us from batting back and forth in an impromptu exchange, like two hikers who meet joyously on some distant plateau and leave with the distinct impression of having known someone else a little better. I remember feeling a little more at home, because in our classically-charged world of Mozart arias, APA style, and trying not to be the problem soprano, so few people knew musical theater, and even fewer actually liked it.

Until this conversation, that syrupy little moment was lost in the archives, and we both reveled a little in the rediscovery.

Melissa spent close to ten years with her first husband, performing community theater roles because she “was allowed to,” and he could control the sense of esteem that came with being a big fish in a small pond. Somewhere along the way, she got out, though it would take her two years to realize the toxicity of that relationship.

She met her second husband in grad school, and they ended up in school together in Missouri. Going back for graduate training was rough, though. She hadn’t sung “for real” in years, could barely manage a scale, and would lose her voice after a day of practice and rehearsals.

Today, she’s a university professor of vocal music education, where she teaches choral conducting (something she never thought she would teach). Her husband is also a professor at the university. Together, they spent a year working for a small school near Nashville, where he was a band director, but found himself schlepping way more than the agreed-upon work, and the promise of adjunct teaching for her was yanked away with less than a week’s notice (#welcometotheadjungle). Her current title is deceptive. Technically, she’s a visiting assistant professor, which means that while her position is annually renewable, none of the work she’s doing (research, publications, teaching, etc) will count toward any sort of tenure. She’s maxed out her earning potential, to a certain degree (no pun intended). She admits she is lucky to have a full-time job with benefits, a rarity for the modern musician/academic, and she can care for her kid, who she considers a much more sound, long-term investment than a performance with an opera company or some other short-lived glory in the spotlight. She’s proud of the conversations she facilitates on how teachers also need to be fantastic performers, arguably more so than performance majors.

The lure of academia is disillusioning, and she still misses theater some. “I feel like one day I might say, ‘remember that time I was a college professor? That was fun…’” She trails off with a lackadaisical uncertainty, as if everything golden could disappear tomorrow, and she wouldn’t quite care. “I guess I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t gotten my PhD. I do like it, but was it worth me getting four degrees? I don’t know…”

“What is your future?” I ask.

She wants to be her own boss, enjoy music, and enjoy her kid and husband. “Honestly, I just want to run a bed and breakfast and do pinterest crafts.”

That sounds like the most appealing, greatest possible fall from Grace, that elusive entity. If only we could all fall so gracefully.


  • AMmaven

Unapologetic Teaching Outfit

Yesterday, I wore this to my job:

Yoga pants.
Yoga pants.

Anytime I get down and out about life, I remember that I could still be teaching in public schools, or work a corporate gig, or have to clean up poo, and I remember how wonderful it is to get to throw on a pair of these, make myself a hot cup of tea, and head downstairs to teach.

in my yoga pants. Without shoes.

…and I remember that life is about the little things, like teaching in your most unapologetically comfortable (yet strangely flattering) clothes.

…five years ago, I most definitely would have been concerned that this would reflect poorly on my character…

Today, do I really care about that?



Have a wonderful Thursday, everyone, and may today be as comfortable as a nice, stretchy pair of socially acceptable pajamas.



Remembering the Tie

A few weeks ago, one of my students called the musical tie symbol a “unibrow.”

The prodigal student returns…

Me (pointing to tie): remember this? What’s this called again?
Him: I think I called it a unibrow.
Me: yes, but that’s not what it’s called. It’s a… :::starts pantomiming the tying of a bowtie:::
Him: String? Knot?….Chokehold?

…said the TWELVE YEAR OLD.

:::shakes head:::

Yes. The ever-prevelant musical chokehold, ladies and gents.

choking notes since the dawn of music


Fifty Shades of Grey fans, unite (outside of this blog because I’m not one of them).



This Week in Studio Teaching…

A student, singing “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown:
Her: (stumbles) flappiness…I mean happiness is…two kinds of ice cream.
Me: Yes. Ice-cream does lead to flappiness. Of my triceps.

A student sees two tied notes, stems down. In the next measure, he sees two tied notes, stems up.
Him: Why is that unibrow upside down here, but not there?
Me: well…it could be that’s not actually a unibrow…

Parent, in an e-mail: ***** wants to audition for Legally Blonde. Can you send me the information and performance dates?
Me, Reply attempt no. 1:
Subject: Blonde Dates
Me: (pauses)…well, that’s going straight to his spam folder…

(the following interaction is non-studio activity, but related nonetheless)

Soprano, singing one of my original compositions on teaching….
Her, singing: but seriously, I SO need to pee, and I’ve got six more freakin’ hours to teach!
(another professional educator, watching) Him: that’s some truth right there.
Me, in my best sassy-black-lady affirmation: you know that’s right mmm-hmmm


Unfortunately, my next post is going to be a bit of a downer, but that’s life. Stay tuned. And remember how you felt after reading this post.

– your Maven

12 Christmas Songs Re-Named by Music Teachers: Have Yourself a *Dairy-Free* Little Christmas

Dairy: every singer’s nemesis. Even more so than the alto who keeps getting all the soprano solos.

Dairy produces phlegm. Phlegm totally cockblocks singers’ vocal mechanisms.

photo 2
brain vomit…

Once it gets all up in there, it’s hard to clear it out without sounding like a diabetic cat at the end of its years…

the struggle is real, kids
the struggle is real, kids


Pavarotti likely wouldn’t have been caught dead with a tub of Fage greek (but he probably would have been able to pronounce it…DICTION).

photo 4
phlegm police…what if that were real?
photo 1
poo = true.
doesn't a body good.
doesn’t a body good.
photo 2
I eat all them all.

It’s a shame that string cheese is so portable and healthy. The ideal snack, really.

Except that it produces DEMON PHLEGM ALL UP IN MY BUSINESS

photo 4
flatulence makes the world go round.

The only way to inoculate one’s self is to just AVOID DAIRY LIKE EBOLA.


Which isn’t that difficult, as it turns out.


In case you missed my other music-related carols that I re-named, here they are:

1. Blocking Around the Christmas Tree
2. All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Row Singers
3. O, Christmas Tea ™
4. Jingle Bell Mock(Jury)

May your holidays be dairy-free and bright…

12 Christmas Songs Re-Named by Music Teachers: Jingle Bell Mock-Jury

A few days ago, my college students gave their voice final aka jury aka life-reducer. Juries are kind of like bacon: reducing lives by seven minutes each time.

Where I went to school, if we gave a recital, we had to give a mock jury, which basically consisted of giving your recital in its entirety for all of the voice faculty so they could deem you worthy of performing.

Here’s what it was like:

photo 2
a flippin’ shit circus
photo 5
memorize every piece.

I’d psych myself out all the live-long day. Yoga, tea, beta-blockers, visualization…

photo 2


die Bach die
die Bach die

self-promises that as soon as it was over, I’d indulge my senses.

photo 3
judge-free zone

meanwhile, at the judger’s table…

contrived: kind of like your face.
yeah what of it
yeah what of it
does NOT even care
does NOT even care

Of course, it always ended up being okay…

::poops pants::
::poops pants::

Mock Juries: cruel and unusual punishment.

Also, the compulsory Christmas tree, just to bring it home:

look it's about the holidays.
look it’s about the holidays.


I’ve re-named some other pieces. Here they are:

1. Blocking Around the Christmas Tree
2. All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Row Singers
3. O, Christmas Tea™



12 Christmas Songs Re-Named by Musicians: O, Christmas Tea™

Singers go ape-shit over their tea…

photo 1
tea: infinitely better than any stupid, dying sack of prickly needles that are just out to hurt you

I drink a lot this time of year (TEA…and booze), especially since it’s colder and my kids are full of biological germ warfare.

me, minus the sinus clarity and lack of throat anatomy
me on tea.

Here’s why tea is the shit:

photo 3
dawn of man? go with it…it really is THAT GOOD (unlike my ability to photograph those words)
photo 1
also available in: Hug-Inducing

Beware, though…


I take mine with honey and lemon, like any sane vocalist.
Sharing; not caring.

and in case this didn’t have anything to do with Christmas, I went ahead and added a tree:

photo 3
afterthought. It’s whatevs.

Don’t be taking my tea.


How do you take your Christmas Tea ™?


Also, in case you missed it…

Day 1: Blocking Around the Christmas Tree
Day 2: All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front-Row Singers