It’s hard to believe this is my fourth week of teaching. As with most high-intensity projects, it feels simultaneously like I’ve just started and that I’ve been doing it forever. The days have their rhythm, the gradebook is never caught up, and there’s always some conversation (or six) to snuff out in the middle of teacher talk.
Last night, though, I managed to squash catching up into the same evening as going out. For the second consecutive day, I stayed at school until 6. Monday I was setting up my classroom. Yesterday I was grading and catching up the gradebook so that my students can fully understand just how many assignments they have failed to turn in. Somewhere along the way my (awesome) wife talked me into getting a ticket for the Texas debut of Laurie Anderson’s Landfall (written for and performed with the Kronos Quartet).
I first ran into the Kronos Quartet while learning the ropes of composition as an undergrad. Along with the Bartok and Shostakovich quartets, I spent a good bit of time listening to the Macalester library’s selection of Kronos albums. They became my favorite ensemble, a status that persisted through grad school and only began to wear off when I moved out of the new music world and deeper into the dust of historical musicology.
I had never seen them live before. The year after I graduated from Mac, they played a concert in St. Paul. My wife went. I’ve managed to just miss them a few other times either through busy-ness or penury. Both were the case last night, but I went anyway. Going was harder to resist after I heard David Harrington and Laurie Anderson interviewed on my way home on Monday. I hadn’t known that Anderson was part of the production–she featured in the latter chapters of my dissertation. So…there were a lot of reasons to go.
I sat out the traffic (still thick at 6:15) in a Mexican restaurant an exit up the interstate from my school. My server spoke no English, which kept things interesting. (It was also interesting to discover that the long green strips with my carnitas were jalapeno and not bell pepper.) The food was good and I felt slightly less lame about my Spanish as guests from the neighboring hotel wandered in. Sooner or later, though, I’m going have to get my foreign language centers adapted to not break into German in the middle of trying to speak Spanish.
Traffic remained annoying even after I finished my dinner, but the U.T. campus was not far. I managed to find the parking garage without getting lost, even. (I stubbornly maintain my flip-phone usage, so I couldn’t fall back on GPS.) I still had time to wander around campus a bit before going to the concert hall.
Guys, being on campus on a fall evening as the sun is setting? It is awesome. It reminded me of all the fuzzy reasons that I wanted to be a professor in the first place. Green lawns, trees, big buildings full of books and classrooms and practice rooms…it’s heady, idyllic stuff.
It’s also stuff I was never able to notice as an adjunct, when I was busy rushing from parking lot to classroom and back. None of the campuses were ever mine to hang out on or soak in. My offices–when I had them–were borrowed, and I never really got to do the meditative staring out the window thing. Being on a university campus made me simultaneously miss my nonexistent professorship and glad that I got out of the biz when I did.
Missing the concert hall was less complicated. I spent so many years in and around halls as a performer, as a tech, as composer and student… Even a huge hall like Bass feels homey. Hell, I spent enough time laying out concert programs that even the smell of the ink in the series booklet felt like home. As ambivalent as my relationship with new music got, I still miss being part of that world.
The concert itself was good without being great. It was definitely Laurie Anderson’s show, with Kronos sometimes wholly subservient to Anderson’s electronics and multimedia. The moments in which the quartet got to play on its own were brilliantly clear. Anderson’s music wavered (as it usually does) between ambiance and melody. There were recurring motives and spoken word. The overall effect was dynamic but only intermittently pulled me out of my seat. The lighting and sound design, though, were awesome.
I got home late, and felt the short night this morning. I was almost happy that today was a designated testing day and thus short on the usual coaxing 13-year-olds into learning. I’m still tired. I still have heaps of work to do to get this 9-weeks wrapped up and lay the groundwork for the next one. By tomorrow, it might feel like drowning again, but for one night I got to come up for air.
Now all I need is to get back onto an ultimate field and I might even feel like my human self again.