Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

Monthly Archives: January 2011

opening up

A full week of student teaching under my belt, and I definitely feel more comfortable in the classroom than I did before, which is progress I’m very happy with. Along with that, I’ve had less events occur to me in this past week than I did the week before (refer to: endurance), so that has certainly helped me to feel more at ease in the most practical education I’ve received in my life so far.

One interesting event this week (note the lack of bold and italics :-D) was that former show choir director from Onalaska, Wisconsin, Paul Gulsvig, came to Brownsburg for two days and worked with a few of the performing groups in as a clinician. I had not heard of Mr. Gulsvig before this week, but, apparently, in the American choral music world, Paul Gulsvig is kind of like Yoda; great at what he does and wonderful at dishing out guidance and advice. He built up an excellent choral department in Onalaska over thirty years and now spends his time traveling around to high schools and workshopping with different choirs, as well as giving motivational talks about music in our lives and our lives in general. He’s quite a delightful fellow to listen to and work with; he has this wonderful ability to use sarcasm that doesn’t offend but to get his point across (so, unlike him, I almost always manage to use sarcasm to tick somebody off) and to use his extensive knowledge of working with music and high school age students to get visible progress out of performing groups in a short period of time.

He was at the school on Monday and Thursday and, on Monday, he asked me what I learned and all I came up with was, “You make all of this look so easy.” And he started to explain to me that it wasn’t really fair for me to look at what he did or what my coordinating teacher does, because they’ve both been doing what they’re doing for much longer than I’ve been doing it (which would be about twelve days at this point). For some reason, this really resonated with me. I then spoke with him yesterday, where he basically picked up his conversation with me as if we had started it two minutes beforehand and not three days previously. First off, he said that he had the “gift of experience”, whereas he said he was sure that I had the “gift of talent”, which was extremely flattering coming from this man who I felt I couldn’t have possibly made such an impression on. He then said to me that I wasn’t being fair to myself if I was going to constantly compare myself with him or with my coordinating teacher because I was never going to be them; all I could do was be the best version of myself, because no one else could do that. I know this sounds extremely hokey, but it really seemed to provide a moment of clarity for me. I spent the first eleven days of student teaching being absolutely terrified of teaching where I was because of how in awe I was of my coordinating teacher and the impressive work that I know she’s done with her program. It wasn’t until this choral director from Onalaska, Wisconsin looked at me and, essentially in the nicest way possible, told me I was super insecure and needed to stop being so about who I am and what my abilities are did I realize how insecure I had been.

I decided to try my best to change that today; by being brutally honest with my students and trying to be as open with them as possible. I realized that in the past eleven days I had been extremely guarded in class, attempting to project this kind of removed professional, which, for anyone who knows me, I can tell you that “removed” is the last thing someone would describe me as. So, I told the two choirs I’m primarily working with two things: 1) I’m really happy to be working with you and 2) I’m extremely sorry I still don’t know all your names. This has been the bane of my existence so far as a student teacher; I honestly hate that I don’t know every student’s name because it creates a barrier between me and them. I love talking to people, and in doing so, knowing their name and their story is instrumental with being able to honestly converse with them. That’s why I told my students today that if they greeted me and all they got was a blank head nod and a “hello” from me, then they should feel more than welcome to introduce themselves to me and tell me about their favorite anything. I want to know their stories because I want to make music with people, not with a faceless mass of teenagers.

I can only hope that I do my best to be me, and I hope that you can too (be the best you, don’t bother trying to be the best me, I’m having a hard enough time with it as it is).




So, I’ve survived my first week of student teaching…it may have (fortunately) only been four days (no school Monday because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day), but I made it through relatively unscathed.

However, my use of the term “relatively” is extremely, well, relative in this case.

I’m unscathed in the way that I am in possession and good usage of all of my limbs and I’m in a pretty decent mental state. Besides that, this first week was full of adventures (as I like to lovingly refer to them).

Tuesday, my first day, my cooperating teacher’s eyes lit up when the piano tuner showed up in the middle of her intermediate concert choir’s rehearsal, which is one of the groups I will be primarily working with. Her eyes lit up because she had to go show the piano tuner where all the pianos were throughout the choir wing that needed tuning. She turned to me and said, “Well, here’s your chance, Mr. Hughes”. I think my cooperating teacher’s a great lady, but I swear there was some sort of good-natured sadistic pleasure in this situation where I had to take over the rest of the group’s rehearsal on my own. Unfortunately for me, my piano skills are, at best, at the level of a monkey typing Shakespeare; add that to the surprise of taking over in the middle of the rehearsal and let’s just say the results were less than spectacular. Nevertheless, I made it through without 1) yelling profusely or 2) breaking down into the fetal position, both of which speak towards a hopeful future as an educator, I’m sure.

Day 2 consisted of warming up the aforementioned concert choir and the freshman men’s choir; this in and of itself went relatively well. My adventure that day was temporarily getting lost in the school because, like a dope, I hadn’t really been anywhere in the school besides the performing arts wing, and entering from the opposite side of the school from the staff parking lot (ooh la la) completely threw off my sense of direction within the school. So, like a stubborn male and embarrassed student teacher, I wandered the halls until I figured out where I was, instead of asking for directions from a faculty member (I feel this is more about being embarrassed to admit I didn’t know where I was than being a stubborn man).

Day 3’s adventure was the most extra-curricular, in that it had nothing to do with being in the classroom. I pulled into the parking lot after driving through the treacherous weather and looked at the clock- 7:40. Nuts; class starts at 7:50. I turn the car off, open my door, push the manual lock down, get out and shut the door. In the microseconds that passed as I let the door go behind me and hearing it shut completely, I realized that my keys were neither in my hands nor in my pockets because they were still in the car. I walked inside and immediately asked my cooperating teacher if she knew a good locksmith, to which she quizzically responded “Why?”, to which I responded with my wonderful story about quickly getting out of the car and being a dope. Luckily, the school has a police officer on premises who has a tool to get into cars if folks have locked their keys inside of them. The officer was quite personable and managed to get into my car and retrieve my keys. This great news was immediately deflated by the officer telling me it was the fastest he had ever gotten into a car, telling me it took him “literally, two seconds”. Why bother locking my car at all?

Anyway, today was a bit shorter because of a two-hour delay due to yesterday’s horrible weather, which was nice and, more importantly, uneventful.

And, of course, all of this nutty stuff would happen in just the first week, which means there’s more to come. Next week will definitely be more involved personally, as my cooperating teacher wants me to fully take ownership of the two groups that I’ve been warming up with this week. I’m excited and daunted by the whole thing. Excited because there’s so much more you can do with a piece of music that you can take off the page than you can with vocal warm-ups and stretches. I’m terribly daunted because I’m still getting my listening ears into proper working order in the classroom. I know that statement may not make much sense, but what I mean is that I’m still working on being a critical listener in terms of choral sound. I was listening to the concert choir (a mixed group of men and women) just today and I know there things that were wrong that I could hear, but, for the life of me, my brain couldn’t pick everything apart to start breaking it down to work on it. In my mind, it was like a giant wall of sound hitting me in the face, and all I can see is the wall and not the bricks. Hopefully, this will be something that gets easier in the coming weeks; as daunting as it seems, it’s also quite an excellent challenge.

So, in terms of guidance, I’ve entitled this post “endurance” because of my desperate need for it in this student teaching semester; it’s also in reference to a Bible verse that I’ve found helpful to reflect on in times of difficulty (sorry to get all theological on you here; please feel free to stop reading here if you’d like):

“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
– Romans 5: 3-5


Here’s to endurance, character and hope.


coming and going

Given I haven’t started my Student Teaching semester yet, unlike one of my DePauw compatriots, I’ve spent copious amounts of time at home reading and thinking about the future (so I guess much hasn’t changed since my last post). I have also watched way too many episodes of the British TV series Doctor Who (my inner nerd rejoices).

Besides straightening out what my auditions will look like for graduate school and prepping my monologue materials for said auditions, the thought of how we live our lives has crossed my mind quite a few times this week. One thing that I thought about was how we’re always “going” in our lives, feeling a need to get out and go somewhere, anywhere. The resulting thought that came from this was how we never seem to be arriving anywhere (sorry to get existential on you all here).

It always seems like we’re so busy to get to places in our lives, but never concerned enough with enjoying where we are. I kind of got the idea from Repacking Your Bags: How to Live with a New Sense of Purpose by Richard J. Lieder and David A. Shapiro; it’s one of those cheesy self-help books I had told myself I would never read, but, when I saw it in a bargain bin at Barnes & Noble for three bucks, I thought, “Hey, if I can’t reassess my life for three bucks, what the hell can I reassess it for?” It’s basically about how to repack the “bags” in your life, because we spend so much time dragging things around in our “bags” that we need to let go of. It’s a pretty good, straightforward read, and actually made sense to a person as terribly cynical as myself.

But, I digress, my point is basically that, perhaps, if we took just a little more time to appreciate and take in everything about where we are, we won’t be nearly as stressed or concerned with getting to somewhere else. Am I saying that we need to become complacent with where we are? Absolutely not (I have a personal mantra that I’m terrible at following that goes like this: “Complacency is not an option”). Essentially, I’m saying that being able to live within a moment can be a very valuable asset, and something I know I personally need to improve on, especially as I keep having to draw my focus to the present from my constant planning and worry for the future.

Now, on a completely different note, I went bowling with my siblings on Saturday and I saw two offensive things in the lane next to us on one person. 1) This guy was wearing a Colts’ jersey; now I’m going to do my best not to offend my DePauw classmates, but, hey pal, you’re in Chicago, home of Da Bears. I mean, he looked ridiculous…which leads me to my second point. As if his wearing a Colts’ jersey wasn’t silly enough (once again, sorry Indiana folk), this guy wore a Bluetooth headset the whole time he was playing, as if some matter of national security was going to arise whilst he bowled and he would have to take a phone call the second it came in on his headset. I get the point of a Bluetooth headset…when you’re operating a motor vehicle, and that’s basically it. There’s no conceivable reason why else you would need to wear one outside the confines of an automobile of some sort; sure, it allows you to wildly gesticulate while you talk on the phone (although people who know me well enough know I’m able to do that enough while holding a cell phone), but, besides looking like you have something growing out the side of your head and like you’re talking to yourself as you walk down the street, Bluetooth headsets are reserved for people operating motor vehicles, 24 villains and aliens from Doctor Who trying to take over the world.

I’ll step off my soapbox now; see ya in the funny pages.


the future

I’m pretty saddened by the fact that I have not posted here in a little over two months. When I started this, one thing I was wary of was how this might become an infrequent passing fancy. Of course, part of this is because I always feel like I need to have something worthwhile to write about when I post, rather than just churning out a general “this is my life right now” kind of post.

So, here are some thoughts about my life that I feel are quite worthwhile for the moment. About four and a half months ago, I had a setback with the beginning of my senior year at DePauw, because of a surgery and the ensuing recovery period that I had no control over. There were so many times during those two extra weeks I spent at home that I felt like I would not be able to stand the next day, let alone the next week. Then, I finally got back to campus and immediately started doubting whether or not I’d be able to successfully complete the semester because I didn’t feel like I was settled. And then…

the semester was over. All of us music education seniors celebrated being done with on-campus classes. Goodbyes were said and we all left for the Winter Break.

And, now, I sit here in 2011, wondering where it all went. It sort of puts the phrase, “The night is darkest just before the dawn”, into some sort of perspective, since there were so many times I was bemoaning my fate as I recovered at home in August, thinking that, for one reason or another, I’d not recover fully until I was super far behind at school. And, yet, it all somehow worked out: I caught up, settled in, kept up relationships (and built new ones) and managed to get grades that won’t indicate that I missed a week of class.

The really funny thing is how much can change in the course of four months, especially as future plans start to take very concrete form before my very eyes. I’ve submitted everything for my Graduate School applications, with the only thing left between me and knowing what I’m doing next year being the auditions for each school and program I’ve applied to. It’s a terrifying yet amazingly liberating thought.

What’s interesting about it is the adversity I’ve encountered regarding my future. Being told that I am choosing a path in life that has little stability and, in a lot of cases, not a whole lot of satisfaction, I keep coming back to why I’m doing what I’m doing now. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love stability and being satisfied; I’d love nothing more than to have a steady job that makes me happy. The thing is, right now, the only “steady” job (and by “steady” I mean a job that I would enjoy doing on a regular basis) I can see myself doing with some degree of success and being satisfied with is performing, which is why I want to see where auditioning for Masters programs in Acting goes. The way I see it, if I go into my auditions and no program sees fit to admit me, then, hey, I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles, but at least I tried.

It’s said that author Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, among others) once said, “I live by the fever that consumes me.” That’s sort of the way I feel right now: The kind of rush and satisfaction I get out of performing for others is that fever. It’s part of the reason why I want to study it on a Graduate level; I want to study it and refine it and do it because it’s always been a part of my life and I love doing it. It’s one of the things I’ve done in the past four years that I’ve sacrificed so much for because I don’t know what my life would be like if I stopped doing it. I can’t imagine or conceive what that would look or feel like, because it’s something I feel is so much a part of me, part of my being.

Of course, I also bowled a 202 yesterday, so maybe I’m missing my calling elsewhere 🙂

Happy New Year, may 2011 bring new blessings and joys and, remember, no one is a failure who has friends.