This Monday I gave my music theory students their final exam. It was at that lovely, indulgent hour of 8:30 in the morning, because what would a stressed-out, existentially broken college student rather be doing at that time (besides just about anything else)? I’ve been teaching Music Theory Fundamentals at Lewis and Clark College since January. It’s been a privilege getting to know each of my students, and in the process I’ve vicariously relived the grind of academic life, the back-against-the-wall fight that’s your reward for educating yourself. I remember it well. Nearly a decade ago, I went for my masters program at Western Oregon University (while I was living in Portland, I might add). I worked four separate teaching jobs while commuting four days a week to a campus that was 65 miles from my home. I look back today and I still don’t quite recall how I made it through, let alone how many of my brain cells didn’t become microwaved popcorn. So was it worth it?
The truth is, yes. If you know what you want out of it, and you enjoy learning, it’s absolutely worth it. I reinvigorated myself as a composer, wrote the best and most ambitious music of my life, fell in love with Medieval and Renaissance music (eras I had always steered around), and got myself a masters degree. I see it now as a bubble of time and ambition that’s entirely mine, and it’s a good feeling. So what’s next for me, a doctorate? If you hear me laughing, those are just the brain cells I still have left.
I really do hope I’ve made a difference for those students at Lewis and Clark. It occurs to me that they’re about the same age I was when I first got involved in music, and it was not the easiest time for me. Crossing that threshold into your twenties, not sure what you want to do with your life–it can be a scary time. I was fortunate to have teachers who seemed to come into my life exactly when I needed guidance, and I only hope I’ve given some of that back this spring. I’m grateful to my students this term, every one of them as much a teacher as I was.