The Cost of Climbing the Ivory Tower
The first week of the new semester is over, and boy, has it been a busy one. As I intimated some weeks ago, I’m not teaching music theory anymore: I’m TAing a class in rock music from 1970 to the present, a very different kettle of fish from my assignment last semester. Composers at the University of Minnesota often wind up TAing rock; a significant majority of white male composers of my generation seems to have started out playing rock and roll, so I suppose the shoe fits. I’ve also been diving into Haydn’s string quartets and feminist critiques of language, not to mention rehearsing up Stockhausen’s Ceylon for a performance in a few weeks alongside visiting artist Rohan de Saram, who’ll be trading his cello for a Kandyan drum. I feel like I’m channeling the Master of Sirius himself when I play jabby, pointillistic gestures on my ring-modulated piano.
At the same time, though, I’m feeling a little restless: after all, this is my fifth year of post-undergrad schooling. My friends and I love to commiserate despondently about grad school, and certainly there are plenty of reasons to: It’s a gamble, essentially, that after years of making almost no money we’ll enter jobs where we’ll make only a pittance more for most of our careers in exchange for doing something we (one would hope) love to do. Our smarter friends who left school years ago now have houses and kids and real jobs and, wonder of wonders, disposable income.
But at the same time, I’d like to think it’s more than just inertia and periodic pats on the head that keeps us in school. In the past few days, I’ve rehearsed a piece of Stockhausen’s intuitive music with my awesome colleagues, met with talented and dedicated players about an upcoming project, and had a frank and penetrating discussion about the Bay City Rollers with about sixty people that I just met. That’s pretty close to a perfect week for me. But is it worth the staggering opportunity costs, financial precariousness, and long-term uncertainty?