University Lecturing: One Year On

I have now officially been lecturing at York St John University for one year. It’s been a remarkable experience, and I’ve had a lot of fun being here. At the same time, though, I don’t think I’ve worked harder in my life. Here are five things that I have taken away from this year:

  1. Work doesn’t always feel like work. There are many times that I stop and wonder how I’ve managed to finagle my way into a position where I get paid to talk about and make music. Even some of the most arduous tasks such as editing modules for revalidation are still, at their core, based around helping people become better musicians. Perhaps I am slightly biased after working within a Further Education environment (which has significantly more paperwork involved than in Higher Education), but I’m going to try to hang onto my admiration of life in HE as long as possible.
  2. Play doesn’t always feel like play. I had forgotten what it was like to fully dive into a university music department. Going from rehearsal to class to a meeting to yet another rehearsal can be really tiring, particularly as the year progresses. I am increasingly realising the benefits that can arise when making music with my students, and firmly believe that music lecturers should spend a decent part of their time actually making music. However, adding rehearsals for concert band, big band, samba band, brass choir, electroacoustic ensemble, and occasionally chamber choir, klezmer band, and a Rush tribute act to teaching and administrative duties can drain one’s energy rather quickly.
  3. Teaching music is not just teaching one thing. I am part of a fairly small and well-integrated department. This means that we are each involved in a wide range of modules and are expected to cover a range of subjects. This past year, I have taught about everything from conducting, dealing with performance anxiety, performing contemporary music, and improvisation to national anthems, Pauline Oliveros, music criticism, music and social oppression, social networking, and what covers can tell us about musical identity – all in addition to my ‘official’ specialism of ensemble performance. This next year could find me teaching similar topics, but there is a significant likelihood that there will be a few new things thrown in there as well. I can’t imagine trying to tackle this job if I dogmatically restricted myself to one area of expertise, and am thankful that I had the support in my own education to explore such a wide range of topics.
  4. I have to be on my toes all the time. Individual tutorials can allow you to help students the most, but they require you to be the most sensitive to how each person learns. However, there is rarely time to prepare for the topic of a tutorial unless it has been agreed beforehand. You never know what will be on a student’s mind when they walk through the door. Often, it is something that has been bugging them for a while, but they haven’t spoken to you about it yet because of scheduling or (as happens more often than not) they assume the problem will go away. For any students reading this: it is better to book a tutorial and not need to use it than to bottle everything up! I’d rather talk to someone about how they’ve successfully dealt with an issue than try to cobble together a battle plan with deadlines looming.
  5. I’m actually interested in… music education? I never thought that I would be very bothered about how people learn music. For longer than I care to admit, I brushed ‘music education’ off as something found in primary schools. However, being up close and personal with so many people who are trying to become better musicians has forced me to reconsider how people learn. This has not only driven a lot of my harebrained ideas throughout the year, but has actually had an impact on my research interests. This year, I will turn some of my experiments with the YSJU concert band into a full-blown collaborative research project, exploring how musical play can help musicians work better together. I’ve always wanted to be better at what I do, and what I do now is teach music.