Category Archives: Ideas for Professional Development

What I’ve Been Listening to: All Kinds of Creatures… Big and Small

 

The music that has been occupying quite a bit of my attention during the past month was some of my own. As I have been sharing on the homepage for the past month or so, several of my new, short original compositions were featured on a program for families called “Libraries Rock!” at the Cape Girardeau Public Library in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on June 16, 2018. The character of the program was the brainchild of Dr. Sophia Han, violinist and faculty member at Southeast Missouri State University, with whom I’ve been collaborating on several musical projects during the past year.

Dr. Han, Zach Stern (saxophone), and Lesly Krome (narrator) presented the children’s books Harold and the Purple Crayon and Ellie In Concert at the library in a short program. As Krome read the books’ text, Han and Stern performed incidental music that I had composed for the stories. I wrote a combination of descriptive cues — such as ones for the apple tree and dragon in Harold — mood music, action music — such as for when Harold fell from the mountain or was sinking in the water —  and a theme song for each book. Children attending were encouraged to dress up as their favorite animals, and the performers channeled a peacock, a unicorn, and an elephant.

I’m looking forward to reprising the music at a future event with Han and Stern, for whom I also wrote four miniatures for violin and saxophone duet, and I’m especially grateful to the entrepreneurial Dr. Han for garnering attention for the program on local media. You can check out a video here.

 

 

 

Njal’s Saga: Literature and Leadership

By Stan Pelkey

In mid-January, during the last few days my two children were home for winter break, my son and I began to watch the first season of Vikings (Michael Hirst, 2013–2018) on Amazon Prime’s streaming video service. We’d watched The Last Kingdom on BBC America in 2015, and we’re huge fans of Game of Thrones, so Vikings seemed like a promising choice, given our preferences for epic storytelling on television.

Now this post is not a review of Vikings, which I do enjoy very much. I may post such a review later. Watching the program, however, motivated me to go back to my bookshelf of medieval European literature (yes, that’s a real thing in my office at home), which I collected while working on my MA in European History, and I began reading the great Icelandic prose text, Njal’s Saga.

What began as an exercise in “how well did Hirst capture the sense of historical Viking society, culture, and attitudes?” (with some collateral “ah, there’s a bit of Tolkien!” thrown in) quickly morphed into an exploration of historical “mentalities” embedded in literature, a practice that was central to my training as a historian. And then my reading became the basis for this, my third blog post on literature and leadership.

Njal’s Saga is long enough and dense enough and has a large enough cast of characters that I may mine its riches over several posts this year. (As a comparison, think of the size and narrative style of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, rather than his The Hobbit.) What I wish to focus on first is the importance—for a leader or would-be leader—of surrounding oneself with people of good character, being willing to find common ground, and using compromise as a tool for crafting the common good.

The events of Njal’s Saga take place roughly a century after the events depicted in the first four seasons of Vikings (i.e., the late 900s rather than the 800s). The first half of the saga focuses on four significant, recurring figures: the half-brothers, Hoskuld and Hrut; and the friends Gunnar and Njal. In each of those pairings, the latter individual is a wise man with powerful spiritual gifts who serves as a trusted advisor to the former man. Hoskuld and Gunnar rise to levels of great wealth and power by exhibiting the character traits that the Saga consistently celebrates in men: strength of arms (whether one is a farmer, trader, or lawyer); shrewdness; a core even-temperedness; reliability and loyalty toward friends; and ruthlessness toward enemies. (I think one could argue that these are also the character traits of Ragnar in Vikings, at least during the first two seasons, and perhaps even more so of his eldest son, Bjorn.  Likewise, John Snow and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones also demonstrate those characteristics, and one might argue that the lack of shrewdness was precisely the reason that the Stark men played the game of thrones so poorly.)

 

Hrut likewise rises to prominence and rightfully gains his place of power and influence beside his half-brother after spending time trading and fighting abroad and demonstrating those same character traits just enumerated. He’s motivated to go abroad, in part, because he is told early in the Saga that while his brother is a famous leader, he is unknown. In this way, Hrut’s rise from beneath his brother’s shadow could have been a model for the long narrative arc in Vikings in which Rollo continuously wrestles with his place and reputation in relation to his more skillful and successful brother, Ragnar.

Early in Njal’s Saga, Hoskuld’s family and Gunnar’s family are nearly swept into violent conflict. Hrut, however, urges his brother to resolve their dispute with gifts and pledges of friendship rather than by single combat, which he knows Hoskuld will lose. Hrut’s wisdom in pursuing a face-saving compromise between the two families is rewarded richly when Gunnar falls in love with Hoskuld’s daughter, Hallgerd – now widowed twice and a landowner in her own right. Through the subsequent marriage of Hallgerd and Gunnar—which Gunnar would not have contemplated but for the willingness of Hoskuld to settle their earlier dispute peacefully— the two families become bound by both promises of friendship and by blood.

In contrast to the valiant Hoskuld and Gunnar and the wise Hrut and Njal, the saga continuously introduces a cast of minor, villainous, and often short-lived male characters regularly referred to as “scoundrels.” Unlike the valiant and wise leaders, these characters are led easily into trouble; lead others into misfortunate with poor and even malicious advice; lie, even to their allies; and mouth off.

As the first of these “scoundrels” are introduced, the saga moves into a peculiar phase in which Gunnar’s family and household are, for several years, pitted against the family and household of his friend Njal. The conflict begins with an underlying jealousy between Hallgerd (Gunnar’s wife) and Bergthora (Njal’s wife), and the two women use the scoundrels in their respective husbands’ households to needle each other. Over a series of chapters, there is a cycle of tit-for-tat murders between the two families, starting with household slaves, then moving up the social scale from freemen, to minor kinsmen, and finally to close and important kinsmen. With each cycle of violence, more fighters are forced to take part in the respective revenge killings (to ensure numerical advantages for the “winning” side), until the spiraling cycles of violence and vengeance threaten to suck both households into open warfare.

With each cycle of violence, Njal and Gunnar also agree to pay appropriate compensation to each other (in keeping with Viking law) in order contain the threat of open warfare and to maintain their personal friendship. They make these decisions despite the bitterness of their wives and the seething anger of their respective collections of hot-tempered sons. Again, the leadership displayed by Njal and Gunnar is embodied first and foremost in a willingness to find an appropriate compromise that is consistent with their “institutional” policies / procedures / safeguards rather than allowing disagreements between their clichés or camps to spiral out of control – which would only benefit their mutual enemies. Real leaders are often tasked with holding the line for peace in the face of opposition from even one’s closest friends and relatives. By maintaining the common ground despite opposition within their own camps, Njal and Gunnar hold their alliance together, and after the cycles of violence subside, the two families find genuine peace and are ready to work together again to mutually protect each other from both the ravages of famine and the threats of far worse regional opponents.

This leads me to my second observation: leaders must be sure to have a close circle of confidents and advisors who are of good character themselves. Hoskuld and Gunnar have that in their primary advisors – Hrut and Njal – and Gunnar also has a brother, Kolskegg, who is valiant and trustworthy. But why are there so many men of poor character in their households? One has to assume that some of this is simply a function of the need for a certain level of man power to run their farms, manage their flocks, and look after their logging and fishing enterprises. (Of course, their presence also serves a fundamental literary function, driving the plot forward.) But it is clear from the narrative that Hoskuld, Gunnar, and Njal do not seek the advice of such men. Contrarily, their chief enemies, who are not men of noble character, do turn to the unscrupulous characters in their households for advice – which leads to terrible consequences.

Gunnar for his part goes further: his is not simply a passive avoidance of the advice of the “scoundrels” in his inner circle; Gunnar also actively urges those men to stay out of trouble and to avoid being led astray by the scheming of the jealous Hallgerd. Nevertheless, neither Gunnar nor Njal resort to micromanaging the behavior of every single person in their households. This would be impossible to do and is not the best use of any leader’s time or energy. Thus, if they cannot avoid all problems caused by the actions and decisions of the people who work for them, they are at least ready to contain the impact of the potential crises caused by those other men. That being said, even good leaders reach limits with the scoundrels in their midst, as when Hrut finally kills in single combat one scoundrel, Thjostolf, who keeps getting his niece Hallgerd into trouble with her first two husbands.

Now I’m certainly not advocating that we settle modern leadership / organizational problems by turning to violence. Far from it. But in reading this literature as a study in human ideas and behavior and of leadership ideals and ethical systems, some of which appear to have remained remarkably stable for the past millennium, we can distill several timeless prescriptions: Good leaders will minimize risks to their organization to begin with by developing cadres of folks of good character— and note, these are not simply those one most enjoys or gets along with best—who serve as primary advisors and agents. Furthermore, when conflict emerges, whether within the organization or between one’s organization and another, a good leader will seek and hold the common ground for the common good for as long as possible (which will likely be longer than most people want). But finally, a good leader must be willing to be decisive when circumstances call for it and to act to protect others in the organization from the malicious influence of “scoundrels”. The alternative is becoming trapped in a spiraling cycle of internal and external conflict and recriminations that can derail the mission of the organization and ultimately tear it apart.

 

Music Entrepreneurship at the FSU College of Music in November 2017

More “Pop Up Concerts” at FSU

November 25, 2017

Again this fall, students from my “Introduction to Music Entrepreneurship” class at the College of Music at Florida State University gave a “pop up concert” in the Strozier Library at the heart of campus. The students served on two teams that were responsible for planning and performing the music, creating marketing materials, preparing and distributing audience surveys, and producing audio and video recordings to help promote the course’s next pop up concert, which will be given on December 6 — off campus at the Wesley Foundation.

Each pop up concert is a chance to practice basic marketing strategies, project management skills, and audience development approaches, as well as to draw attention to the College and to share information about the College of Music’s upcoming events as we engage with the audience members.

 

[All photographs courtesy of Michael Kimbrough.]

Learning to Push Back Against Life’s Unexpected Set Backs

My daughter, Madison, who has done some guest blogging on my website, has headed off to college back up in New York State, where she was born and where she spent her early high school years. She’s now writing a regular blog as part of her college experience. I wanted to share her latest, which is about what happened after one of the cars in which she traveled from Tallahassee, Florida, to Fredonia, New York, was broken into oWhy I've Stopped Dwelling On What-Ifsn her way to college three weeks ago.

I am proud of the mature way in which she has come to terms with the experience and the fear it initially caused, but I am also pleased that she’s able to continue to share her thoughts and ideas with others through her writing. I’m a proud Dad, and I think Maddie’s a gifted young writer. I hope you find value in her story.

Stan

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/why-ive-stopped-dwelling-on-what-ifs

(And in case you’d like to read something more humorous by Madison, check this out.)

How To Survive A Big Move (Like Leaving for College!)

How To Survive A Big Move:

4 Tips to Make Sure You Don’t Fear the Change, but Embrace It!

By Maddie Pelkey

When people ask me, “Maddie, where are you from?” I never exactly know how to respond. I’ve lived in four different states and five different cities, ranging from upstate New York all the way down to Florida. Because of when these moves took place, I attended seven different schools from kindergarten to my senior year. It sounds like a lot, but moving around this much has made me way more resilient and has opened doors for new opportunities and friendships. Being a bit of an urban nomad, if you will, has changed my life for the better.

That being said, digging up your roots and moving somewhere new can be really tough. You leave behind people, places, and things that you love with all your heart. Some people are really good at adjusting to their first big move. Some people, like I was, are not so good at the whole transition thing. Until junior year of high school, I’d spent my most memorable years in the wintery hinterlands of Michigan and New York. Moving to Florida, the land of palmetto bugs and mosquitos galore, meant I was in for some culture shock.

So, whether you, a family member, or a friend is gearing up for a big move, here are the best pieces of advice I can offer to make the transition as smooth as possible.

1. Don’t dawdle when it comes to unpacking:

This is really important. When I moved to New York in eighth grade, it took me weeks to find the courage to get my bedroom unpacked. For most of summer, I slept in an abyss of ugly brown moving boxes. At least subconsciously, I thought that if I didn’t unpack, the move wasn’t real and I could go back to Michigan. My mom ended up unpacking my room for me, but to this day I wish I could’ve found the courage to do it myself.

Once you’ve moved, you’ve moved. No going back. Get unpacked. You will feel infinitely better when your new house is a new home. Plus, it’s fun to put together a new room! If you’re having a really hard time, consider treating yourself to some cute new picture frames or wall decals to motivate yourself to get your room together.

2. Have something on hand to remind you of home:

Sometimes the moving grief will hit you out of nowhere. To help ease the sadness, I like to have something in my purse or on my keyring that reminds me of where I came from. At the beginning of my move to Florida, I carried a tiny rubber duck around everywhere I went, whether it was in my purse or my backpack. Now, the same duck sits on the dashboard of my boyfriend’s car; somehow, it’s miraculously managed not to melt on those 100+ degree days, so I see it whenever we drive around town together.

The thing to be careful about with this tip is that your sentimental item shouldn’t cause your grief. Pay attention to your feelings and your thoughts: make sure that your item of choice isn’t making you dawdle on your sadness; rather, the purpose of this exercise is to remind you that home is something you can carry with you, not something you’ve left behind.

3. Accept that friendships will be fluid for a while:

The harsh truth: some people are really good at staying in contact over distances, but some people, like me, are absolutely atrocious at keeping in touch. You will have old friends who expect you to text every day, and old friends who are okay with a single snapchat every six months. It varies from person to person. While it’s good to maintain friendships, keep in mind that you ought to make new friends, too. Don’t spend all of your social hours trying to keep in touch with people far away.

That being said, your new friendships could be sketchy at first, too. Sometimes the people you first meet when you move won’t be your friends a year from now, let alone six weeks from now. That’s okay! It can take a long time to find the people you’re really going to mesh with, but it’s worth it. Trust me when I say you’ll want the time to find your new self before you make super close friends, anyway. (See next point!)

4. Accept that YOU may be fluid for a while:

You know that typical Hollywood-esque cliche: Moving is great because it gives you the opportunity to completely rebuild yourself? Well, glib as it may sound, that’s not entirely untrue. You will grow and change as a result of relocating, whether you’re thirty miles or a thousand miles away from your old home. I am a vastly different person in Florida than I was in New York, and from New York than I was in Michigan, and from Michigan than I was in Massachusetts. Embrace the change! Be comfortable in your skin. This is the perfect time to try new things and meet new people. Besides, keeping yourself busy will distract yourself from those pesky “I wish I were home” thoughts until you finally come to think of your new place as home, too.

Above all, moving is change. And people say change is scary, but it opens up worlds of new opportunity. So embrace it, and try to stay optimistic about what lies in store!

Maddie Pelkey

Reposted on June 30, 2017

Reflections on Collaboration and New Ventures


Networking.

Collaboration.

New Ventures.

Risk taking.

Now that my first year teaching music entrepreneurship at the College of Music at Florida State University has drawn to a close, I have been spending time reflecting on these topics — which have been major components of class discussion this year.

Throughout the year, I have been reading up on these topics and surveying other people’s ideas and experiences about entrepreneurship broadly and arts entrepreneurship more narrowly. But I’ve also been trying to live out these ideas–more intentionally–throughout the past year. Within the structure of my FSU course itself, I guided students through the development and implementation of a series of “pop up concerts” around the Florida State University campus. These pop up concerts offered many more opportunities to think about event marketing, audience engagement and development, community engagement with the arts, and project management generally.

At the same time, I’ve been engaged in two new (and interrelated) artistic ventures of my own. First, I’ve been writing, recording, and producing my audio novel / podcast. This has been my most important new venture since August 2016. (Thanks to those of you have been listening!) Second, I’ve been intentionally composing more, both music for the podcast episode and new recital pieces, particularly chamber music. While the financial risk producing these projects has been low, my investment of time has been substantial. (And time, as we all know, is our most precious personal resource.) Most importantly, both projects have inspired ideas for more new artistic ventures, and I also have some thoughts about how I will expand my podcasting efforts. I will be sharing more about that expansion soon.

Both the entrepreneurship course at FSU and my podcast production work have given me more opportunities to reflect on the powerful musical experiences that can occur when one opens oneself to the insights of trusted colaborers. Allow me to share an example that is very important to me.

Back in March 2016, I began composing a relatively lengthy duet for violin and saxophone. The piece was inspired by conversations I had been having with Sophia Han, who has since completed her doctorate in violin at Florida State University. I completed the initial duo over the course of a weekend while visiting Houston, but I was not completely satisfied with the result. Further consultation with Sophia and saxophonist Zach Stern led to a completely new conception of the duet: a set of miniatures for violin and saxophone, with contesting styles and affects. 

Throughout Fall 2016, I continued to turn drafts of movement over to Sophia and Zach for their comments; this collaborative approach resulted in ever-improved drafts of the various movements. By early 2017, it looked like we’d be ready to either publicly perform or record the movements of the duo in mid-2017. In the end, we had an initial recording session on the afternoon of Saturday, April 22, 2017; collaboration continued to be the hallmark of the journey even then, as Sophia and Zach asked questions about interpretation, offered their own suggestions on several aspects of performance and interpretive nuance, and helped me to better understand the relationship between certain sounds we wanted, their notation, and the manner of their execution.

I’m sharing some pictures from that first recording session, which capture the collaborative nature of that moment in the duet’s history. But collaboration runs even more deeply: we were recording in Sound of Cypress, the studio of my friend and colleague, Michael Strickland. At the same time, we were being photographed and filmed by Brian LaBrec, a young, entrepreneurial photographer, videographer, and film maker. My conversations with Michael and Brian have helped to further shape my thinking about my own shorter-term (and longer-term) musical goals, but they have also furnished more real-world stories of musicians launching creative new ventures, even fledgling music businesses.

One of the key issues about arts entrepreneurship that has come up time and again as I have read, studied, and listened to radio and TV reports this year is the central place that networking and collaboration play in so many successful ventures. Although as a culture we tend to celebrate individuality, positive outcomes in life, work, and art are often much more communitarian. We cannot risk losing sight of that fact.

I look forward to bringing the insights I have gained as a composer and project manager to my class next fall, and I’m thrilled that I’ll also be able to show how some of my friends are working to bring their new ventures to life.  And as I noted above, I’ll be sharing more about the next steps ahead for my own new arts ventures.

In the meantime, enjoy the “backstage” photos, and check out the link to the video of “Four Miniatures for Violin and Saxophone,” movement two, which is available on my YouTube channel, found below. 

Recorded at Sound of Cypress Studio (Tallahassee, Florida).

Photographs by Brian LaBrec.

Check out a sample video from this recording session here.

Musings on the Undergrad Audition Process

MUSINGS ON THE UNDERGRAD AUDITION PROCESS

My name is Maddie Pelkey and I want to teach music. I’ve played oboe for eight years and English Horn for three years, have sung in various choirs since I was in fourth grade, and have studied soprano voice privately for about two years now.

Despite being surrounded by music my whole life, I was adamantly against the idea of following in my parents’ footsteps until about this time last year, when my choir director at school set me up with a paid oboe gig. The gig involved accompanying a chorus from Jacksonville at Florida State-MPA (Music Performance Assessment). Because I was only needed for one song, I was able to sit and listen to all of the other state-level choruses perform. They were phenomenal.  When I left the church sanctuary where the event was held, I knew that music would always be my passion and my language. I finally knew that I was meant to share this love with others.

Of course, this was the spring of my junior year in high school. I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to be ready for college auditions in less than twelve months. Thankfully, I was living with two of the best people to teach me the in’s and out’s of auditions: my mom and dad—my coach and my accompanist, respectively.

You may have read my dad’s blog post earlier this fall, which gave tips on how to get through auditions and become a music major. If you need a quick refresher, he made four major points: get some rudimentary theory training, get piano lessons, be comfortable using your voice, and learn one of the music notation software programs.

All of these points proved to be super important in my audition process. (Thanks, Dad.) Of course the adjudicators are primarily listening for the quality of your performance, but having experience in theory, piano, and singing gives you that much-needed upper edge as admissions decisions are made. This makes an especially important difference when auditioning for higher-ranked schools. Any experience in theory, composition, or music activities outside of your primary instrument will spark conversations with your adjudicators and help convince them not only to admit you to the music school but to give you financial aid, too.

This January and February, after months and months of arduous preparation, I auditioned for a spot in the Music Education Program at four different schools: one in Florida, and three in New York. These four schools ranged from private to public, big to small, and rural to urban, so, of course, my audition experience was different at each school. But there are a few over-arching tips, in addition to what my dad wrote in his previous article, that I would give to a future auditionee:

  1. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself during the interview process. It’s okay. This is one of those crucial times when you just have to advocate for yourself, even if you’re shy or nervous. If you’re worried about coming off as arrogant rather than confident, just be friendly, smile, and remember to listen as well as speak.
  1. Have one or two of your own questions prepared for your adjudicators, even if you’ve read their music school web page so many times you have all of the information memorized. At all four of the schools where I auditioned, there was a small interview-like session after my audition. My adjudicators reviewed my application and asked a few questions (usually why I wanted to come to New York, or why I was choosing to study voice when I had eight years of oboe under my belt). At three of my auditions, the adjudicators asked me if I had any questions once they were done. I would ask things like, “Are there ensembles I can be in as an oboist even though I’m a voice major?” My friend who was auditioning for music industry and sound recording technology, on the other hand, asked questions about the school’s equipment and opportunities to run tech for performances. The questions you prepare should be specific to you. Show your adjudicators that you’re interested in their school, and they’ll be more interested in you.
  1. The only variable you can control on audition day is your own preparedness. Practice, practice, practice. If you’re auditioning on voice, get with an accompanist as many times as you can before your audition. Memorize your music way I forgot some of the words to a song at my first audition, and the adjudicator cut me off instead of letting me finish the piece. I was mortified, but you can bet at my next three auditions I didn’t mess up a single word of my repertoire. Practice until you feel confident.

I ended up making the cut for all four schools, and now comes, arguably, the hardest part: making a decision. But hopefully these tips and my experiences will help those who, like me, only decided to follow the music path junior year. It is possible and you can do it, it just takes a lot of dedication and preparation. Good luck!

Maddie Pelkey

First posted on March 17, 2017

 

Music Entrepreneurship at the FSU College of Music in February 2017

February 23, 2017

Students from my “Introduction to Music Entrepreneurship” class at the College of Music at Florida State University gave a “pop up concert” yesterday (Wednesday, February 22, 2017) in the Strozier Library at the heart of campus. Music included original arrangements of pop songs as well as a handful of classical selections.

Several weeks ago, the students formed small teams that were responsible for planning and performing the music, creating marketing materials, preparing and distributing audience surveys, and producing audio and video recordings to help promote the course’s next pop up concert. Students will give two more pop up concerts this semester, and they will use what they learned from the first to try to improve the second and third concerts.

Each pop up concert is a chance to practice basic marketing strategies, project management skills, and audience development approaches, as well as to draw attention to the College and to share information about the College of Music’s upcoming events as we engage with the audience members.

(Students perform in the first pop up concert of Spring 2017.)

I am enjoying seeing the fruits of my students’ labors as they take to heart and practice the ideas we are discussing in my course. In the link below, you can also read about one of those students, Jose Hernandez, as he attempts to compose, perform, and record a new piece every day in February. Jose also shares what he has gleaned from the course.

http://news.fsu.edu/news/2017/02/17/28-songs-28-days-fsu-music-students-composition-quest/

(Jose introduces his piece for the pop up concert, the 21st he has written in February.)

Stan Pelkey

 

Saving Money by Cutting a Music Program is Harder than You Think!

Hello, Readers!

This is a slightly edited version of a post that I published in May 2016. I hope you find it useful.

Stan

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was recently talking with several graduate music students about threats of underfunding or complete elimination of a music program or unit at a college or university by senior administrators looking for ways to save money. Such risks are real because music programs do tend to cost more to run than do many other programs: we have specialized equipment and our studio model of individualized lesson instruction is expensive.

I began thinking about these issues about a decade ago when the provost at one of my prior colleges considered eliminating a studio faculty line when a senior music professor retired. In higher education today, provosts routinely pull back faculty lines after retirements—it is one of the ways they can reshape priorities and programs. But for music programs large enough and of high enough quality to have full-time faculty covering most, if not all, studio areas, the loss of the one studio faculty line for a particular instrument (e.g., the one trombone or the one viola faculty position) undermines the quality of the whole organization because each studio feeds into the overarching ensemble superstructure of a serious music program.

I’ve also been involved in campus-wide budget development and campus-wide program review, which included conversations about resource reallocation. The reality is that for many smaller colleges and universities today, budgets remain very tight, and music and arts programs take on the appearance of “low hanging fruit.”

Here’s the catch: I am not going to make the case to save a music program on the merits of the arts generally or of music specifically or of student well-roundedness in the abstract. Arguing from the “inherent value” of the arts or the quality of your specific program is pointless in this situation. If your president or provost believed in the inherent value of the arts (not to mention the value of a well-rounded, liberal arts education), you would be having a different conversation! They would be looking for other cost saving measures or efficiencies, or they would be hitting the pavement to find more donors committed to the arts in higher education.

My argument takes as its starting point the belief that your only chance of winning this debate is with data that demonstrates that eliminating your music program will not generate the hoped-for savings!

Let’s begin with some basic financial numbers. Assume we are teaching at a mid-sized, private liberal arts university of about 4,500 students. We’ll call it Presbyterian College of the West, and with 4,500 total students, it is not unrealistic that it would have 150 music majors. On a cloudy Monday morning, the chair of the music department let’s her faculty know that PCW’s provost is considering closing down the music program. It is too expensive, and resources are needed elsewhere.

So let’s investigate the potential cost-savings by considering the basic financial data: At most small- and mid-sized colleges and universities, the single largest cost in an academic program

is usually its fixed faculty salary commitments. Assume 150 music majors are being instructed by about 20 full-time music faculty. According to recent national data, for faculty in the arts, the average Associate professor salary at masters-level institutions is $63,438.  (https://www.higheredjobs.com/salary/salaryDisplay.cfm?SurveyID=32). Assume a 35% add-on for benefits, and for 20 music faculty, PCW is spending around $1,712,826–a tidy sum of money that could be saved if PCW’s provost carries through with his plan to close down the music program and eliminate the majority of those music faculty lines.

Furthermore, for the sake of the argument, and to be as “generous” as possible in terms of assumed savings, let’s also factor in staff costs. There are probably 6 full-time staff working with 20 music faculty and 150 music majors faculty (assuming a 1:25 ratio between music majors and music staff). If the average staff salary is $48,000 and total compensation with benefits is about $64,800, then PCW is spending $388,800 on staff in the music program. Lastly, we’ll assume that the rest of the music unit budget runs to about $250,000 per year and covers remaining adjunct salaries, equipment repair and purchase, and production costs. The total expenses for the music program would thus run to about $2,351,626 per year.

At the same time, the average annual tuition at four-year, private colleges is currently about $32,405. Average room and board adds about $11,516 to the annual bill (see http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2015-16). If most music majors at PCW are getting about a 50% tuition discount (which is not unrealistic today, especially at private colleges), and if only half of the music majors are living on campus, then PCW would be collecting about $3,294,075 from 150 music majors. Now do the math: for a savings of $2,351,626 in music faculty, staff, and other costs, PCW risks a net loss of tuition and room revenue totaling $942,449.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Why assume all that tuition and room and board revenue will be lost to PCW just because it shuts down its music program?”

The answer is simple, though it may be hard for some senior administrators to accept: Music majors—at least in my experience at four different higher education institutions—choose to become music majors and THEN select and apply to target colleges with the studio faculty, ensembles, and music degree programs that they wish to pursue. Most do not choose a college or university and then enroll there, regardless of whether or not there is a (quality) music program.

In other words, music is not a “landing” program; music is not a major that students stumble into once they arrive on a campus with which they have fallen in love. This certainly does not happen on campuses with serious music programs that require auditions of its prospective students.

Music is a “destination” program.

So if PCW closes down its music program, its potential music majors won’t suddenly decide to come to PCW anyway but become nursing majors or psychology majors instead. No, those young musicians will decide to go to one of PCW’s regional competitors.

Furthermore, many of the current music major are going to expect that PCW “teach out” the music major until most—if not all— currently matriculated music majors are finished. (PCW’s state may even require such a “teach out” period.) Depending on PCW’s president’s tolerance for lawsuits, threatened or actual, the teach out might take four or five years. That length of time minimizes whatever savings might come from closing down the music program and delays when those savings actually hit the university’s financial bottom line.

Five years is a long time – long enough to move through a national or global business cycle, with all of its impact on demands for certain types of majors, and long enough for a college presidency to run its course.

OK, so if the reality of the financial data does not scrap the plan to close PCW’s music program, how about football?

“Football?”

Yes, football.

If PCW’s president is trying to reallocate money from music and the arts or “low performing programs” to fund other programs that could “raise the profile of the university,” then athletics is certainly on her mind.

But if the music program is eliminated, there will be no marching band. And if a marching band already exists to support an existing football program, what will the booster organization think (and do) when the marching band program begins to erode and the football experience is diminished?

You cannot sustain a substantive marching program without a core of strong players from the music major.

So far in our scenario, cutting the music faculty and program has resulted in a net tuition loss because music majors (potential and current) will begin to go elsewhere. And the boosters are upset by the loss of their beloved marching band program. But here’s the next major problem: What will PCW’s administration do with that empty music building?

PCW’s provost is not going to just start having biology or chemistry labs in an un-renovated music building that—let’s be honest—is likely to be old and outdated if the music program has been struggling! Science laboratory buildings today require modern and sophisticated ventilation systems and ample electrical systems to power expensive equipment, things that will probably be missing from PCW’s music building built in ca. 1965.

And your music building classrooms are not going to suddenly host an overflow of humanities classes that do not need a lot of specialized equipment. If music is struggling on PCW’s campus, chances are the humanities are in much worse shape in terms of numbers of majors in those programs.

And PCW’s music building is most certainly not going to become a dormitory. Colleges and universities do not win today’s “amenities cold war” with renovated dormitory spaces! No freshman will want to live in a refurbished music practice room on an interior hallway with no windows!

So not only will the music building require massive amounts of investment to make it useful for something other than music, PCW’s president and provost will have…. tons of unused pianos to unload! In other words, there will be even more assets that have now become useless.

Cutting the music program ultimately saves very little because tuition revenue will typically outpace faculty and other instructional costs until the ratio of full-time music faculty to music majors (at a private college or university) reaches about 1:5. The exact ratio depends, of course, on a particular institution’s tuition rate and its “discount rate,” that is, the amount “returned” to students in the form of scholarships. PCW’s music major enrollment would have to drop to about 107 students before tuition revenue and unit costs (including faculty and staff salaries) balanced out.

It would be far better for PCW to make a renewed financial commitment to its music program in an effort to attract more tuition-paying students to use the facilities and equipment in which the institution has already invested. Granted, to get ahead financially, the music department would have to hold the line as best as possible on additional instructional costs. But as a moderately sized college, PCW’s budget would benefit from even as few as five or six more music majors.

In closing, here are a few more questions that music department chairs or concerned faculty members should be able to answer at a moment’s notice if and when talk begins about cutting into or eliminating the music program:

How many students matriculate into the music major, then drop the major but stay at the college?

How many students audition, are not accepted into the major, but still come to the college to participate in music ensembles?

What is the exact percentage of students overall who participate in music ensembles each year?

The answers to these questions may provide further evidence of how the quality of the musical life at your institution draws students to and keeps them coming to your college or university.

Stan Pelkey

May 2016

 

Watership Down: Literature and Leadership

Literature and Leadership: Watership Down

 Stan Pelkey    

“My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here.” (Bigwig to General Woundwort)

“The Sky Suspended,” Watership Down (First Avon Edition, 1975; p. 451)

It’s not difficult to find reflections on leaders and leadership. Northouse (2010) notes, “Bookstore shelves are filled with popular books about leaders and advice on how to be a leader” (p. 1). An extensive body of social science research on leadership also exists. And we could cast our net even more widely and consider how Western literature has reflected—explicitly or implicitly—upon human motivation, behavior, and leadership for millennia. Our collective obsession with heroes and heroic stories, evident in our mass media culture for over a century, as well as in traditional historical narratives, points to wide-spread fascination in Western society with social organization, leadership, and the exercise of power in its various forms, including referent, expert, legitimate, reward-based, and coercive power.

This is my second blog on leadership through the lens of some of the literature and media that I most love. This series of posts grows in part out of my personal vision of the humanities as a repository of collective memories and wisdom, an ongoing conversation about both abstract values and highly practical ways to think about living well and being just. This blog focuses on Hazel, the principal character in the novel Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams. I first read Watership Down when I was in sixth grade; it has remained one of my favorite books ever since. About five years ago, my daughter read Watership Down for English class, which gave us the chance to discuss the book and motivated me to re-read it.

Originally, the story of the rabbit Hazel and his companions struck me as an allegory about various forms of social organization and their influences on the values and characters of individuals. I still believe that is a meaningful way to understand the book, but during my more recent readings, I have come to view Watership Down as a brilliant portrait of highly effective and virtuous leadership. Indeed, Adamsʼs placement of quotations from European literature and philosophy at the head of each of his novel’s chapters invites consideration of the book as much more than a story about rabbits.

Hazelʼs journey is an archetypal representation of the growth from emergent to recognized and transformational leader. He begins life as an unimportant member of his warren, where legitimate or institutional power was exercised with some coercion. As he tells his brother, the mystic Fiver, “Iʼm sick and tired of it…. ʻThese are my claws, so this is my cowslip.ʼ ʻThese are my teeth, so this is my burrow.ʼ” (Adams, p. 14) Although we witness far worse forms of coercive power before the end of the novel, the point is well taken: social organizations from the very small to the very large rely heavily on rewards and punishments; in doing so, they alienate many, especially “out-group” members (in this case, smaller animals). Interestingly, despite being introduced as an outsider or “outskirter,” Hazel is also marked by Adams as different from most yearlings with words such as “shrewd” and “buoyant” from the moment he is introduced. (Adams, p. 12)

Almost immediately after their simple conversation about coercion, Fiver has a vision of the impending destruction of their warren; this unexpectedly thrusts Hazel into the first of a long series of decision-making moments around which the book’s plot takes shape. He rises to the challenge each time and steadily establishes himself as the undisputed leader of his band of breakaway rabbits.

In the very first night of flight from their home, Hazel begins to establish himself as the leader of the breakaway rabbits. First, however, he has to accept that he has talents and value, especially in the face of the arrival of the larger rabbit, Bigwig. Next, Hazel has to take the risk of exercising authority publicly for the first time in his life. He does so by ordering a group of rabbits sent to bring them back to the warren to go or be killed. Immediately after, he —and he alone—makes the decision that the group of rabbits with him must stop waiting for more (potential) mutineers and must move out. Then, during the night’s journey through a “desolate, grassless woodland,” with terrifying night-time animals all around (Adams, p. 34), Hazel takes physical risks himself in order to guide and ultimately protect the group—in short, he leads from the front. He does so again the next morning, scouting ahead on his own to find a safe place for the group to rest, then getting them safely across a large field the next night. By that point, other rabbits openly acknowledge Hazel as their leader.

Leading from the front is one of Hazel’s most significant leadership qualities. Over the course of Watership Down, he demonstrates his other. Hazel repeatedly rejects brute force and coercion as the basis of social organization and cohesion. Instead, he reveals a knack for sizing up and valuing the individual qualities and skills of the other rabbits in the coalition as it continues to expand around him. Hazel then harnesses the abilities of those best suited to solve particular problems at particular moments rather than relying on the sharpest claws or mightiest teeth. The result of this leadership strategy for the other rabbits is “buy in” to the larger vision and process charted by the coalition; for the coalition as a whole, the benefit is that skills and abilities are not lost from the group simply because they come packaged in smaller, weaker, or less popular individuals.

First and foremost, Hazel accepts the gift (and truth) of his brother’s visions. He also welcomes other smaller, more vulnerable, or less talented rabbits, recognizing that in launching out on a risky new venture, one cannot always pick and choose one’s allies. (Adams, p. 26) How many could-be-ventures – personal, cultural, business – never get off the ground because a potential leader becomes trapped into waiting for never-to-arrive ideal moments and never-to-arrive perfect participants?

Two of my favorite scenes in the early part of the book exemplify Hazel’s ability to draw upon the talents of those around him, for the good of the whole. On the first night of their journey while in the woods, Hazel realizes that the group must rest, but he also knows that they are exposed and that without something to distract them, some of the rabbits might bolt from fear. His solution is to ask Dandelion, the master storyteller in the group, to entertain them. To his credit, Dandelion realizes why Hazel makes this request and is able to work through his own fear to settle down and tell a story. As leader, Hazel catalyzes the mutual care that can occur by turning to those with skills for the moment rather than using force to push through his own agenda (e.g., moving forward). Similarly, the next day, Hazel has to put his trust in Blackberry, “the cleverest rabbit among them,” to come up with a plan to get everyone, including the small rabbits, safely across a river. (Adams, p. 45) Hazel comes to realize from this that he can regularly lean on Blackberry’s uncanny technical understanding.

What is extraordinary in terms of the overarching narrative is that these early scenes repeat themselves at the end of the book, but on much grander scales. Hazel learns from the early input and ideas of his fellow travelers and is then able to marshal their skills in even more complex ways when it matters even more. In essence, under Hazel’s guidance, the coalition becomes a learning organization.

By the end of Watership Down, Hazel is the universally respected and undisputed leader of his people, having guided the community as it created a shared vision, a common purpose, and a mutually edifying social structure. Thus it comes as no surprise when at a crucial moment, the most physically powerful rabbit in the new warren on Watership Down, Bigwig, once Hazelʼs principal rival, is willing to sacrifice himself to carry out Hazelʼs wishes, for the good of the community.

This is Hazel’s greatest victory – though not necessarily in the way you might think. It is not simply that Hazel wins out or wins over Bigwig; rather, the victory is that in having done so, he does not reject Bigwig. From early in the novel, Hazel actually learns to appreciate even Bigwig’s gifts – and not just his superior strength. Rather than rejecting him first as a potential rival and then as a vanquished one, Hazel draws Bigwig into the center of his “executive team.” Hazel the leader can then utilize Bigwig’s talents, but this decision also transforms Hazel: he comes to understand that there is a place for Bigwig’s gifts within the larger social structure that Hazel is shaping in opposition to the more coercive systems he has witnessed. By rejecting the destructive or continually bitter rivalry that could have been all too natural between them, and by coupling themselves into a tight friendship and partnership, Hazel and Bigwig achieve more together than they could ever have achieved on their own. That is the greatest victory for Hazel, as well as for Bigwig: self-mastery where it matters absolutely the most, and openness to self-transformation.

In the end, all leaders will run up against situations, obstacles, or people that they cannot win over or “master.” Given that reality, one could argue that self-mastery and openness to self-transformation are ultimately the most important character traits of leaders. There’s no guarantee that modeling such behavior or traits will inspire others toward their own self-mastery and self-transformation. But one can keep growing and continue to offer oneself to others for the good of the community.

Stan Pelkey

August 25, 2016 (Tallahassee)