Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Schooling Old School Style

I have made a midlife decision to return to school.

For the past couple of years I've been sifting through the dregs of my life in an attempt to re-do or undo all the events from my past which made me unhappy. Taking music lessons was the first step of this process, and all humanity marvels at the benefits the world has reaped from this foray into the musical arts. If nothing else, the literary legacy of this blog will survive the ages as one man's brave journey into the terrifying world of sharps and flats; of tremolos and crescendos; and of scary German composers.

But it's time to take the next and even bigger step. One of the major turning points of my life was the derailment of my Plan A into Plan B, which eventually led to my somewhat shaky career as a professional entertainer. Plan A was to pursue a college degree to the PhD level and teach Art. I was going to be a Professor. Various life passages occurred which made this impractical. Then I entered a long, demanding phase of my life where I was too emotionally drained to create artworks. Instead, I got a degree in the Engineering field (I know, a complete 180 degree turn there) and worked in that area for a while, where I wasn't particularly happy, and when the big Recession of the 1990's hit, I segued into entertainment as a way out of a completely miserable situation. It wasn't the work: it was the people. I found I hated over-analytical, opinionated nerds who knew everything. There are several factors contributing to this reaction, involving Jungian archetypes and deep reaction formations, but in summation, if anyone other than me acts in this pernicious manner, I can't stand it.

My undergraduate career at the University of Tennessee was marked with a series of disasters which would rival Odysseus' adventures. My living quarters burned down, forcing me to seek temporary shelter in the loft over a friend's bar (and try getting quality sleep directly over a jukebox booming until 3 AM--when you have 7:50 classes). Then the death of a parent. An expectant wife, impending parenthood. My car stolen and turning up, engine destroyed, in Evanston Indiana. Seeking various employments to support my family while juggling school. I finally realized this dream of mine wasn't meant to be. I dropped out of school and concentrated on supporting my family. Until I divorced, then I went to State College and earned the degree in the engineering field, and worked there for a while.

One of the problems that plagued me all my life was a lack of focus and discipline. My parents never ingrained these values in us. They were too busy engaging in marital warfare to take interest in raising their children to be successful students. I know my parents never made me do homework, nor helped me with it when I halfheartedly tried do it. I don't think either one of my parents could even do math, even if I were foolish enough to ask them to take a break from plotting each other's ruin to help me navigate the puzzling maze of long division. Furthermore, I've decided both my parents were masters of self-destructive behaviors, which they passed on to their kids. I know I've dropped time-bombs along the path of my success pretty much all my life which detonated just at the moment of victory. I've tried to stop doing that but old habits die hard. One other thing I learned over the years if if you have trouble completely wrecking your own success, hook up with a destructive or needy life-partner who will do it for you and save yourself a lot of planning and effort. This is another behavior I've tried to nip in the bud.

I was an adult before I figured out discipline. Discipline and focus are the same thing, and both require you to eliminate distractions. If you eliminate distractions from your work environment your mind will become bored and focus on the task at hand. One of the huge problems with our information-laden society is that there are so many interesting distractions all around us. Between Facebook, Tweeting, e-mails, and Internet surfing, it's a wonder anything gets done.

Back to my decision to continue my interrupted schooling, it turns out I have to perform a course-by-course credit transfer from my old courses from UT to my current intended college, Indiana University. The complication? When I went to school circa 1982 (yes, thirty years ago) we were on a quarter system, not semester. We also wrote on stone tablets and used abacuses in math class. So transferring credits becomes problematical. There is a concept in math called homogeneity of units, which means you do not perform operations with disparate units. You must convert them to similar units before performing mathematical operations. In other words, you don't multiply inches by feet--you must convert feet to inches first, then multiply or divide. Otherwise, buildings fall down. This type of error is actually more common that you might think--which is why buildings and bridges fall down. So my quarter-to-semester conversion is causing the system to choke, hiccough, sputter, and beat its cybernetic breast. Not since Captain Kirk hurled the Imponderable Paradox to Nomad has a computer system been presented with a more baffling conundrum. So far I've been sent to four different departments and spoken with six department heads. Nobody seems to know quite what to do with me. But the Admissions Department is processing my application for Spring semester (not quarter) so the gears are turning.

I am both excited and apprehensive. I have no doubt I'll ace the classroom studies. But the studio art classes?'s been a very long time since I've spread my artistic wings. This may be a good thing as my former works were a bit childish. Although well-executed at times the concepts were usually immature. I have grown a bit in the past thirty years and look forward to seeing what visions erupt from my long-repressed artsy side.

I want to make it plain this decision isn't simply a mid-life whim nor an attempt to return to my youth. I'm redirecting my career path. I plan on going for a Master's degree with the intention of eventually teaching on the college level; which was my original plan. I can finish this program well before my mid-fifties. It's within the realm of possibility. Barring house fires, the earth swallowing me, my head exploding, or someone dropping a nuke on the Midwest, I foresee smooth sailing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Beginnings

As I put the finishing touches on THE ENTERTAINER (not quite mastered it yet, but have learned the entire opus, and am polishing the final two sections with laser-like diligence) Teacher and I set out to make a plan.We will finish out the year going over Cristofori's Dream line by line, polishing out the lumps, and I'll place it and The Entertainer on the practice list, and then we'll start on a new and exciting piece of music. I found a piano transcription, by none other than Camille Saint-Saens, of one of my favorite Bach pieces: The Sinfonia to Cantata Number 29. I first heard this in the 9th or 10th Grade I think, on an album of Bach pieces, and it has remained dear to me. It puts me in a happy place. Bach must have loved it too, as he recycled the piece at least a couple of times, as a Viola Partita and as a Lute Sonata.

I've included two videos here, both the original organ presentation of the Sinfona and the Saint-Saens piano transcription. I look forward to tackling this. I suppose it will take me a year or so to be able to play it at all. How long it will take to play it skillfully--who knows. But I love this piece so much I'm a highly motivated learner.

Monday, October 3, 2011


It's now October, and I'm working on finishing up The Entertainer. I'm also looking into going back to school: Grad School that is, to work on a Masters Degree. A MFA, aka Masters of Fine Art. I will either focus on Art or Creative writing with the intent of teaching. I feel very peaceful at the thought of actually working toward a future, and not having to get up at the age of 75 and going out to perform shows.

I guess you're never too old to take care of unfinished business.