May 8, 2008
Bye-bye, Cal State
Yesterday was my last day teaching at Cal State Long Beach. It was a one-year position, one day a week, generously offered by John Carnahan, and accepted because I’d never taught before and thought it would be fun to see what it was like.
The verdict, now that the year is done: I loved it. I had five composition students, plus the composition seminar each week. The seminar was basically just a weekly discussion about whatever we felt like talking about — from Corigliano’s “Circus Maximus,” which many of the students had heard at Disney Hall, to the relevance of music theory in actual composition, to self-publishing and the business of making a living as a composer, to the merits of Guitar Hero III. I’ve spoken at other schools where the comp students sat silently in seminar, either too scared or too bored to ever say anything, but the students at Cal State were always engaged and they were definitely a verbal bunch. I don’t know how useful I was, but as you might imagine, I definitely had some opinions to share with them.
The individual lessons were great, too. Before I started, I had no idea what to expect from the students — or what I’d end up telling them. I had given single lessons to composers during residencies at colleges, but I had never seen the same students week after week. In lessons over the past few weeks, I was really struck by the level of improvement that I saw in every student. A few of them even wrote pieces that have completely stuck in my head. (I fell asleep last night with Ryan Luevano’s violin piece in my head, and woke up this morning with Travis Melvin’s piano concerto stuck there.) One student, Matt Carlson, was a finalist for an ASCAP Young Composer award this year — an honor that I only received in grad school. Then there’s Sean O’Kelley’s percussion ensemble ear worm, and Brian Manolovitz’s awesome new bassoon piece with a harmonic language that’s completely over my head but still somehow fantastically attractive.
It was especially fun, looking at each student’s finished pieces, and seeing just a tiny bit of influence in each one. There’s something great about telling a student, “this moment doesn’t quite work,” and seeing it perfected by the next week. I get the reward of seeing it improve, but it’s a whole lot easier than writing the piece myself.
I’m going to miss the students a lot. I hope a school in the Austin area will provide a similar opportunity, ’cause this teaching thing is pretty great — particularly when the students are so good.
(left to right: Sean O’Kelley, unknown, Matt Carlson, Travis Melvin, Ryan Luevano, Emily Kilimnik, and Brian Manolovitz)