I won’t lie – sometimes I’ll be crouched down on the concrete, using a roll of black gaffer tape to fix a hundred feet of speaker cable to the gallery floor, and I’ll think to myself “I’m certainly putting my PhD to good use.”
But really those moments are few and far-between, and I certainly don’t regret any steps that took me from an undergraduate degree at Berkeley, to a PhD at NYU, then by commodius vicus of recirculation back to Berkeley a decade after I left. I’ve got a great job, work with fantastic people, and life is good. I think it helps that I have an innate “journey, not destination” mindset, and with that in mind, an overview of the journey follows.
I liked just about everything about going to graduate school, but of course I was very lucky that way. I was studying music in one of the best music cities on earth, had a fellowship with a low teaching requirement, and had a cushy part-time job to boot. Even at the time, I was fully aware of my good fortune, and made the most of the experience (among other things, I helped start the Look and Listen Festival, which I continue to work on today).
The classic “two body problem” brought me to the west coast while I was still working on my dissertation. I (stupidly, in hindsight) turned down an adjunct teaching job to pursue a potentially lucrative consulting gig. Let’s just say the lucre remained potential. I did finish my dissertation and degree, though, presented at a couple of conferences, published one article, and kept on applying for academic jobs.
When my daughter started school, I dropped the slowly-dying consulting and other temporary work, and looked for a full-time arts-related job. I ended up taking a position at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, part of the UC Berkeley campus. The job was very attractive – stable, great benefits, flexible hours, and a chance to keep one foot in the world of the arts, though not music specifically. The pay wasn’t the greatest, and it was fairly rote office work, but it was an exciting environment filled with smart, creative people. I thought of it as a decent, fulfilling job, but really just a stopgap in my working career.
That changed a few years ago, when a performance series started at the museum. Since I had some background in producing music events, I helped get it off the ground, and my role has only grown since then. Now I handle all the ins and outs of putting on about 30 performances a year in this stunning non-traditional hall, working with artists I admire, and exploring the overlaps and interstices between music and visual art. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, in other words. Every week is a different kind of challenge, and I’m very pleased I stepped sideways into this work.
Do I miss academia? Somewhat – I definitely miss teaching, and sometimes I miss categorizing music composition as something I might do for a living, rather than as a side pursuit. On a daily basis I use a lot of the skills one accumulates getting a humanities doctorate, and while I may not be writing invertible counterpoint or analyzing pitch-class set transformations, I’m certainly bringing to bear a lot of musical knowledge that I learned in graduate school.
Tomorrow, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of what I do all day. Brace yourself for temperamental artist tantrums, thrilling excel spreadsheets, and dazzling feats of bureaucratic coordination, all ending in a sublime musical experience on Friday.