Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Full Year of Country Music and the World Is In the Books! (...Almost)

Well friends, my second semester of teaching at the Global Village is just about in the books and I can honestly say that I absolutely loved it. There was certainly a learning curve involved with the course this second time around (particularly regarding how to adjust a 16-week course to fit into an eight-weeks only schedule), but somehow it all worked out. Once again 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!

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 once again 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, the inspiration to always improve myself as an instructor, and for sharing his wisdom and experience to continually improve the course. Sincere thanks are also due to new GV coordinator Andy Fak who assisted me throughout the semester with many mini course-related crises.

Even though I felt as though last semester’s course went well, I was excited to incorporate several of the student’s suggestions into improving the course for this second time around. Fewer papers were assigned, more listening exercises were done in class, a lot of new information on international country music was researched and presented, and a whole new group of distinguished guest speakers lined up to meet and/or speak with our class. 

Much like last semester, our lineup of guest speakers was truly spectacular. We kicked off our series by Skyping with the always affable and legendary rockabilly singer on Starday, Sun, and Capitol Records (and one of Elvis Presley’s first touring mates), Rudy “Tutti” Grayzell. We were then joined in class by Australian country music songwriter and performer Al Backstrom, who not only presented a stellar lecture on the history of country music in Australia, but also performed his own version of Australiana music for the class! (The Wild Colonial Boy!!!) We then phoned in Maine’s main country music attraction, bluegrass legend and Event Records founder, Al Hawkes. All three of these speakers were fantastic and raised some very interesting points about country music in all parts of the world (including Mexico, Australia, and Libya in particular) and provided some great material for later class discussions. In addition to our speakers, it was also a thrill to once again screen Beth Harrington’s 2003 Grammy-nominated documentary, Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly, as well as Lee Bidgood’s excellent documentary, Banjo Romantika, about bluegrass music in the Czech Republic. Words don’t seem to do justice in expressing my gratitude to these fine folks, but Rudy, Al, Al, Beth, and Lee, thank you all so much for your contributions!

Last but not least I’d like to thank the fifteen brave student souls who enrolled in my class and stuck around until the end. It’s been tough to keep up with all the work at times (not only do the students have half the time to do all their work, but I also have half the time to grade all their papers), but I greatly appreciate all of 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. I always love reading the final papers for this class because each student is assigned a different country to research and I love finding out which aspects of country music they discovered and explored. This semester’s locales included Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, and Sweden.

As I mentioned last semester, 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 be continuing my development as an instructor with 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 just help with future classes, or if you just want to go have lunch at Gresham, please do drop me a line and say, ‘Howdy!’