Friday, December 20, 2013

Wa-hoo! The first course is officially in the books!

Well friends, my first semester of teaching is officially in the books and I can honestly say that I absolutely loved it. There was certainly a learning curve involved with the job (particularly in terms of how much time goes in to preparing and executing a brand new course), but the semester was filled with incredible guest speakers and interesting student papers and I still can’t believe that I got paid to teach about country music around the world. It’s been a sweet gig and I am happy to announce that I have been invited me back to teach the same course again this spring!

I’d like to take just a moment to sincerely thank both Indiana University and the Global Village Living-Learning Center for providing me with this opportunity. Specifically, I’d like to thank Dr. Jeff Holdeman, director of the Global Village, for his tireless work promoting the course to new students and student-advisors, his always creative pedagogy tips, and for sharing his wisdom and experience to help make this course be the best that it can be. Similarly, I’d like to thank Dr. James Akenson and Dr. David McDonald for their encouraging and thoughtful feedback during the early stages of the course design.

Despite my nervousness about returning from Finland just days before the semester began, it all seemed to come together in the end. Our course met twice a week, focusing on country music in the United States one day, then looking at international influences and global permutations of country music (in the broadest sense of the word) the next. This structure made for some excellent in-class discussions and we even had a chance to talk with our primary text’s author, Dr. Jocelyn Neal. As fortune would have it, she was a visiting scholar at IU's Jacobs School of Music for one week this semester and I was overjoyed when she accepted my invitation to come and meet with our class to discuss her chapter on bluegrass music. Thank you again Professor Neal. Your teaching style is incredibly inspirational and I took a lot of great tips from that lecture and our after-class milkshake!

Country Music & the World students with Patterson Hood

From a guest speaker standpoint, it really was a magical semester. I’m indebted to so many friends who took time out of their busy schedules to come and talk with our class about their craft and country music. In addition to Professor Neal’s surprise lecture, we had the opportunity to Skype with world-class Finnish bluegrass musician Jussi Syren and discuss many of the differences between bluegrass music in the United States and bluegrass music in Finland. Then we watched the 2003 Grammy-nominated documentary, ‘Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly,’ and followed it up with a fun Q&A with the film’s producer and director, Beth Harrington (who is also a fantastic singer and former member of one of my all-time favorite bands—Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers). We were then joined in the classroom by Indiana rockabilly legend (and all-around fantastic person) Art Adams to talk about all things rockabilly, rebellion, and European revival. Shortly thereafter we were joined in class by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, who was passing through town on a busy tour schedule. In between the bus arriving and the band’s soundcheck, Patterson took time out of his day to talk with us about all things southern rock (and Southern Rock Opera), alt-country, socially conscious songwriting, country-soul music, as well as just plain ol’ rock and roll. Then finally we capped off our movie series watching Dr. Lee Bidgood’s Banjo Romantika, a really great film about bluegrass music in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Words don’t seem to do justice in expressing my gratitude to these fine folks, but Professor Neal, Jussi, Beth, Art, Patterson, and Lee: Thank you kindly from the bottom of my heart!

Art Adams lecturing in the classroom

Last but not least I’d like to thank the fifteen brave student souls who enrolled in my class. I greatly appreciate all the energy and thought they put into our discussions and readings and I am mighty proud of their work, especially on their final research papers which addressed different aspects of country music in various countries. Those papers were phenomenal and I loved reading about their country music discoveries in Vietnam, Australia, Italy, Mexico, Korea, England, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Finland, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Japan.

These kinds of courses don’t happen without the help and encouragement from a lot of different people and I’ve been extremely fortunate throughout my academic career to have people in my corner rooting for me along the way. I’m excited now to finally be making the switch to teaching my own classes where I can now be in a position to help students by being that person in their corner. And in that spirit, if any of my students ever need any recommendations or seek advice about future projects or classes, please do drop me a line and say, ‘Howdy!’ And to the University: Bring on round two!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää minun suomalaiselle ystäviälle! / Happy Independence Day to my Finnish Friends!

A poem for my Finnish friends on Finnish Independence Day: 

(kuva on Vaasasta kun mä asuin siellä 2011:n kesänä)

oh finland.
i am glad you are free.
hooray for finland.
strong finland.
mighty finland.
triumphant finland.
not boastful finland.
finland of joy.
but finland of not overly celebrating said joy.
but still happy.
for the most part.
most of the time.
certainly the summertime.
but free year round.
most importantly, free.
from russia.
not part of russia.
not anymore.
just finland.
all by itself.
well, part of europe.
and the eu.
and scandinavia.
but mostly by itself.
and yeah,
some of it went to russia.
but it had to be.
and so finland exists.
as finland.
so, celebration.
but reserved celebration.
maybe some candles.
and solemn songs sung in unison in public squares.
but its cold outside
so not for long.
best to head home
to watch the party at the president's house.
no fireworks.
not a lot of flag waving.
no suomi flag sunglasses or bikinis.
just elegant parties.
occasionally with angry birds dresses.
and class acts.
and celebrities
whom people hope will do something outrageous
but they usually don't
because its finnish independence day
and finnish independence is reserved
and not outlandish.
but simple.
because freedom.
is to be celebrated.
within reason.
and long live