Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How To Be a Musicology Adjunct

Okay, here's a useful topic to blog about here: How to be an Adjunct. Adjuncting, or becoming "contingent labor" as it sometimes delicately put, is not a very fun life. The pay is not much, rough commutes are often involved, and the work is sometimes dispiriting. But in these Tough Economic Times, and in an era of shrinking tenure-track prospects, adjunct work can help fill the gaps. Or if you need to be located somewhere specific because of family reasons, or are trying to keep your hand in the game while raising kids or whatever, adjuncting can be great. I've been oddly successful at this, and as I've talked many of my friends through the process, I thought I would share some thoughts with you, dear reader.

How do you acquire adjunct work? Well, obviously, usually these hires happen informally, with a phone call to a friend who recommends someone. But say you've moved to a new city where you have no connections. What do you do? It is perfectly acceptable to cold email the appropriate person at local institutions. Don't harass them, and I wouldn't recommend telephoning, but nobody minds a random email out of the blue.

What to do:
1. Find a list of schools in your area. This might seem like an obvious point, but remember that no matter how long you have been an academic, there are schools you have never heard of. The key here is not to limit yourself--get in touch with every random Catholic/military/regional-state/for-profit/whatever school within your commuting distance. I recommend going to Wikipedia, where there are lists of schools for each state.
2. On the school's website, figure out who you should email. At smaller schools, there will often not be a music department, so you might need to look for a "Performing Arts" department or some such, maybe even just a general "Liberal Arts" department.
3. Email a nice polite message that says something to the effect of, "I'm here in town, can teach anything you want, so please keep me mind if you need any classes covered. Here's my CV just in case."
4. Remember, people qualified to teach music history are in shorter supply than you might think. This might be less true in Boston or New York, but if you are in some area without a local musicology graduate program, you might actually find yourself in demand, especially if you are finished with your doctorate.
5. There are usually two phases of hiring: in the beginning of the spring semester, when the schedule for next year is being finalized, and in the summer, when previously arranged classes suddenly need a teacher for whatever reason. Emailing around these times is a good idea.

What To Expect:
1. If you went to some fancy-pants university for your graduate degree, you will quickly learn that there are many things you have been taking for granted. This might include free parking, access to a functioning copy machine, an office, motivated students, etc. Don't be snobby. Welcome to the real world.
2. To be an adjunct at many schools is to be like a small child in certain households: you are there to be seen, not heard. By this I mean, don't expect any hand-holding. Some schools have adjunct orientations where they explain how to submit grades and whatnot, but that is uncommon. You will have to figure out most logistical things yourself, and adapt yourself very quickly to new and different student cultures. You'll need to be flexible and independent.
3. You're not going to get paid much, you realize? Good. And certainly you're not getting health care, unless you are lucky enough to be in a unionized environment like the Cal State system.
4. Enjoy yourself. Given the previous three points, this might seem counter-intuitive. But adjuncting is also an opportunity to hone your teaching skills, a chance to experiment with different techniques in an environment that is relatively hands-off. Go crazy; these teaching evaluations won't appear in your tenure file.

This post obviously just represents my own experiences in one area, and at a few schools. If you have any tips or suggestions, post 'em in the comments!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Moribund blog?

This blog ain't seen much action lately, so I'll try to revive with a question for any readers it has left.

So you all know about Pandora, right? The whole Music Genome Project? I find it moderately fascinating. I love putting in an artist and seeing who the "similar artists" are. I also adore the bizarrely opinionated artist descriptions: "Definitely the most talented and arguably the all-around best jazz vocal group of all time, the Boswell Sisters..."

Really? The Boswell Sisters!?

Obviously, since I get artists like the Boswell Sisters, I'm not using Pandora the way its creators may have expected. I listen to "The Andrews Sisters Radio." And in exploring the complicated constellation of artists-my-grandmother-sings-along-with-on-the-car-radio-in-her-blue-Buick-with-the-padded-steering-wheel (do a Google Image search for grandma car, and the first hit is exactly the car she drives), I've noticed something odd.

Christmas carols. Tons of Christmas carols. Buckets and buckets of them. Every fourth or fifth song, some days. Pandora's hipper cousin, Last.FM, does the same thing, but even more so!

Does this confluence of "oldies" and "Christmas" point to a nostalgia that automatically associates nuclear (white) family, holidays, the forties, the "Good War," and similar It's a Wonderful Lifeiana? Or is there something else? Were Christmas recordings simply more popular in the Bing Crosby era, before all those dangerous non-Christians and evil secularists attacked America?

I really want to know what this all means. I have a suspicion that the nostalgia surrounding Christmas has allowed songs in styles otherwise considered quite dated to remain in the public consciousness. I mean, who the hell listens to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola" anymore? But everybody knows "Winter Wonderland!"

Okay, I still listen to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola." I find its blatant colonialism problematic and fascinating.

Now, if you're still out there, discuss!