Year One of New Beginnings

I’ve neglected this personal space more than normal this past academic year mainly because i feel like i’ve been running a mile a minute ever since last August.  The job has always had a measure of crazy-busy-all-of-the-time, but this year was different – this year I was promoted and became the Assistant Director of Bands, and it all happened rather suddenly in the closing part of last summer.

I remember very clearly a conversation that Mark and I had sometime in june where he said, “I guess I’m here for another year”, and then suddenly there was a job prospect for Amanda that turned around in an insanely short amount of time – between the time that she found out about the job and her saying, “yes, i’ll take the job” was about three weeks.  There was some bleed-over of responsibility that Mark had regarding music and visual design, but I started the new role as assistant director basically at band camp.

In addition to adjusting to that new position, I also became an active participant as a composer and performer in the contemporary music collective Versipel, and, with the help of my strengthened relationship with one of the newer composition professors at Tulane University Max Dulaney, I also expanded my once-a-year nineteForte contemporary music concert into a three-day contemporary music festival.

Yeah.  It was a busy year.

The last time I felt as stressed out as I did this past year was probably grad school at Oregon over a decade earlier.  A lot of that came down to the fact that we elected not to hire a full-time replacement for my old position until the end of this academic year, so while we had someone in front of the drumline for rehearsals, I was still doing the Operations Manager part of my job in addition to the Assistant Director job.  My boss Barry took some of that slack, but not a whole lot because there’s a lot of my job that he doesn’t know how to do.  So there ended up being so much new stuff that was constantly being thrown into my face between dealing with logistics regarding the new football stadium, the running of rehearsals and coordinating the staff, taking over the Green Wave Brass Band, and a myriad of new administrative responsibilities – just to name a few new things –  on top of most of my old responsibilities, and it put me in a state of stress where i always felt behind and could never catch up.

Particularly in the fall season it was incredibly exhausting and at times very frustrating.  I was very earnest about trying to do my best for the band and had to dig my heels in and work and work and work in order to get even halfway to where I wanted to be. I came out of many of my work days late into the evening and feeling so tired but yet when i got home i couldn’t shut my brain off because I felt like I had to plan out the next one or two days to feel truly prepared.  Add the other new external projects and pursuits, particularly with nienteForte, and I had very little time for rest and detox in my waking hours.  What break time i had i devoted mostly to cooking, trying my best to stay in touch with friends both local and remote, and the occasional board game, video game, or poker game as a means of unwinding and trying to shut my brain off.

It’s hard for me to be truly objective about how well I achieved at all of these new responsibilities.  As it relates to my role as the Assistant Director, I personally look back and say to myself, “you dd a good job but not a great one.”  Not that I think that I’m incapable of doing a great job with the band, I think I have that potential, but I feel like I need two or three more years under my belt to learn, improve, and resultantly have a better handle on how to steer the program in a way that I feel is right for the members and for the organization.  I have weaknesses in how i teach, how i administer, how i plan, etc. that need fixing, and to me those stuck out like a sore thumb this past year.

I still think that that opinion has validity, but that’s counterbalanced by a Thing that Happened at the end of the fall season that completely floored me and forced me to acknowledge to the students and to myself that I did a better job than I thought.  The story is a bit uncomfortable for me to relate to in print because it feels too self-indulgent, but suffice it to say that i severely underestimated the impact that I had on my students at an individual level until the Thing Happened.  It was very disorienting at first, but once i came to terms with it, the mentality I came away with afterwards was – and still is – “Now I have to do great.  I have no choice.  I need to be on my best game all of the time so that I can be great for my kids.”

As it related to the stuff I did with nienteForte, I have to say that I am pretty amazed that the festival was as successful as it was and I’m happy that I was able to have a hand in its success.  The mission of the entire nF project was to expose and excite people about contemporary music, and this year because of Max’s instrumental contribution and drive, it grew into a place that is so much bigger than me and its humble origins.

With all of the new stuff that I had to juggle, some part of my productive life had to take a hit – that hit ended up being my personal compositional pursuits. I had already planned on shelving my LEAP Motion project for a year or two down the line, but I was also supposed to write a wind ensemble piece for a high school out in California, and i had to postpone that indefinitely in addition to two other pieces that I promised people  On the one hand, dropping those projects and breaking my internal rule/goal of writing at least one new piece of music a year was frustrating, but on the other hand, I needed to make sure that I could achieve life balance between my professional and personal goals and what little social life i could squeeze in.

In the past month and a half or so as the school year was coming to a close, I started to reset myself for this upcoming academic year and the goals that I have for myself and for the program in year two.  We finally hired a replacement drumline instructor/operations manager, so once he gets trained and gets into the groove of what’s going on in the office some of my burden here will ease up and i’ll go from an “always-feeling-behind-panic busy” to a mere “insanely busy”. My professional compositional pursuits will gain more prominence again, both creatively and administratively. The featured guest ensemble for nienteForte 2016 is going to bring in ECCE and i’m going to be writing them a piece of music for the festival.  In my head I already know what the piece is going to be about as well as the title - comma you know comma – and i hope to write most of that over the summer so that fall can be devoted to revision.  If i can get that in a good space and stay on top of the music and drill for Tulane, the next creative project will likely be the brass quintet/sextet that i promised Catherine Wilcoxson over a year ago because I suspect that will be relatively easy to churn out once i have a firm idea of the big picture concept in my head.

We’ll see what year two brings.  It’ll definitely be exciting.

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