Jury Duty

My old Tanglewood friend Roger Bourland blogged quite a bit about his jury duty out in LA. There’s another kind of jury duty we college music professors do: listening to the end-of-semester juries played by applied music students. (By the way, now that classes have ended I may be blogging quite a bit, at least until January 10 when I leave for a tour in China. And what I’d like to know is how the hell Roger has the energy to keep blogging so frequently while being a new department chair and actively composing.)

If you haven’t been a college music major or a conservatory student at some point in your life, let me explain. The applied-music “jury examination” is the equivalent of the final exam. The student plays a program (at DePauw, where I teach, about 15 minutes long) for a committee (or “jury”) of faculty. In some smaller schools, the entire music faculty may listen to all the juries; here at DePauw, we do it by department. We had about 35 string juries to listen to yesterday, in a marathon which lasted from 9:00 AM to about 6:00 PM. The students play, and the string faculty write comments on their performance and their progress. At some schools, the faculty also grade the jury. There are both advantages and disadvantages to that. At DePauw, in the string department, we just write comments, which the students can read in the music office the next week or the following semester.

I always approach these jury days with some trepidation. Will I be able to maintain my concentration and write coherent, useful comments once we get to hour five or six? Will I be able to remain positive and supportive in attitude, while also giving honest feedback? Will my right hand hold out after hours of writing, when it dos so little of writing-on-paper anymore?

I used to resent the time this took when my college teaching career began, but now, to my delight, I find I enjoy it. Most of the students play at their best, rising to the occasion, and most of them are making good progress. It’s great to hear how well they are doing and to see the good work my colleagues are doing with them. And I found it a pleasant intellectual challenge to write really good comments. I love to write, when I have time and intellectual/emotional energy. So it was like blogging all day long, except in longhand.

There were no disasters. No one fell apart, and no one was unprepared. A few students were underprepared, as happens, but nothing horrible. And many students played just beautifully.

I’ve been off of sugar, flour, and starchy vegetables for around two months now. My energy is higher, and my moods more stable. I found myself able to sustain my concentration throughout the day, which used to be a struggle back when I was eating a more conventional, unhealthy American diet. Plus I’ve now lost 30 pounds or so. There are about 50-60 more to go, according to the BMI charts. So far, though, so good.

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