Friday, September 15, 2006

Mi Vida Loca! Part II: My fight with beurocracy and Da Man... (Repost from MySpace)

I am going to be very careful about how I word this, because a wise mentor of mine once said not to put ANYTHING on the internet you don't want someone to find eventually…

Am I crazy, or isn't a university's goal to educate their students, prep them for their careers, and get them OUT WORKING IN THE REAL WORLD?!?!?

I have been going to Wayne State University for 13 years for my bachelor's degree and state certification in music education. I have been a music education student from day 1. I have not changed majors, nor have I ever decided to STOP pursuing my goal of being a certified public school music teacher. I have, admittedly, had several personal bumps along the way that have nothing to do with Wayne State. Marriage, kids (both worth the degree delay), jobs, money troubles, etc., have all made this trek towards my BA and certification a slow and arduous process.

As of late, however, it seems that the powers that be at good ol' WSU have decided to completely block any and all attempts for me to accomplish said goal.

4 years ago, I was anticipating graduating in Spring 2004 – roughly 6 years behind most of my classmates. This didn't disturb me much, as I didn't have the benefit of rich parents, a trust fund, or significant financial aid. However, since delving headfirst into my courses and attempting to plow through my degree at as close to full speed as my schedule, life, and finances allow, Wayne State has managed to come up with about every speed bump and obstacle they can find to prevent it.

There have been mysterious, unspecified complaints about my classroom behavior resulting in my transfer from my practicum assignment without explanation or appeal, course requirements that have changed mid-stream, lost paperwork and the like constantly popping up and further postponing my graduation, and now the biggest blockade – my private lessons.

I have about 2 semesters of classes to take to graduate, excluding lessons. I need 8 semesters of a 'C' or better to graduate. I have 4, despite having taken and paid for 8 so far. I took lessons with Ron Kischuk back in da day (93-95), and always passed with a 'C' or 'B'. He was a nice, easy goin' jazz player. Comfortable to work with and fun to discuss methods with, even if his ego was the size of Wisconsin, I worked well with him and progressed well.

Upon my return to Wayne after a brief financial hiatus, Ron was gone and I was assigned to Ken Thompkins – the lead trombone for the Detroit Symphony. A remarkable player, and a decent enough guy outside the 'biz'. However, from day 1 in lessons, I was constantly made to feel inadequate, unprepared, and above all – a waste of his time.

In college, he was a performance major. All of his students (other than myself) have been performance majors. This requires a level of playing ability I could never hope to achieve, even if I wanted to; a level of dedication to one's playing and a time commitment I could never possess. The world of professional performers is ridiculously competitive and getting more so by the day. These musicians need to be taught and rehearsed to prepare for that world.

I am a music education major. I am a fairly decent trombonist, when properly warmed up, relaxed, and prepared. I have NO plans or aspirations to make a living from playing my horn. I am also NOT a 20-year-old with lots of free time and parents paying my bills and tuition, bailing me out of time and financial difficulty. I am an adult, husband to a busy and working wife, and father of 2 with 3 jobs.

Yet, Ken seems to believe that he should have the same standards and expectations of EVERY student, regardless of their background, current ability, situation, or personal or professional goals. He seems to have no regard for anything his students think, want, or need (aside from occasionally acquiescing to a scheduling change for the lesson). He only has his goals, his standards, his outcome, and his perceptions of how things should be. 'Your graduation – or for that matter, education – is not my concern. If you're a student of mine, you must play to a certain level,' is the only impression or attitude I seem to get from him. Regardless, as much as I hate it and think his expectations and treatment unfair, I was prepared to have to press on if it was the only way to my degree. I would try and see if there were other options, through the department regulations and proper hierarchy and chain of command.

Back in May, my dear wife, Sonya, attempted to contact my old teacher, Ron, to see if there was a way for me to take lessons with him over the summer and have them credited toward my degree. This used to be a possibility in the early 90's, provided the teacher was approved by the department. He imparted that he would be on staff at Wayne again and I may be able to take lessons with him again. I never said word 1 to Ron Kischuk. This was all done as a surprise birthday present for me.

Since then, the word has circulated around the department that I am a renegade, trying to usurp the system and weasel my way out of the credits by going behind everyone's back. By rumor, conjecture, and hearsay, they have determined that I will not follow the rules, and therefor they will make it that much harder for me to graduate because of it. Yet, no one asked me to explain, confronted me with the situation or said a single thing to me. I only heard a rumor from a friend and colleague that I wasn't very popular with the department right now.

As if this unfounded resentment and treatment of me weren't enough, a new development has made the idea of lessons with Ken, quite simply, impossible.

I was selling a euphonium on Ebay for a friend. He had no Ebay account and my Ebay rating was good. It was a Willson – a very nice, professional horn. He eventually sold it to one of his old students and had me pull the listing. The next day, Ken sent an e-mail to one of the salesmen at the music store I work at, asking why I was selling a Hirsbrunner (not a Willson) euphonium on Ebay and why I suddenly pulled it.

Hirsbrunner is one of the brands the store I work at sells exclusively. There is no other place to get, and more to the point, no way I could afford it. Naturally, this made my boss suspicious, and I was called away from a band camp to explain myself. I explained it was NOT a Hirsbrunner, but a Willson, and it was for a friend, even going so far as to print out and SHOW them the listing and give my friend's number. Situation over, thankfully, at work.

Never the less, Ken's lie (pardon me - factual inaccuracy) nearly got me fired, and quite possible worse had I not had the evidence that Ken's information was inaccurate. Why he LIED to my BOSS about a situation that clearly would at least result in getting me fired, if not arrested, and was CLEARLY out of the scope of his role as a teacher, I won't (publicly) presume. Regardless, it was unprofessional. I will bit my tongue and take lessons from a teacher I don't like if it means my degree, but I WILL NOT take lessons from someone who almost caused, through deceit or misinformation the loss of my livelihood.

I don't enjoy my lessons with Ken. After several semesters with him, and by his own account, I don't seem to progress with him. At this point, I loathe and resent my lessons with him, which makes progress even more unattainable. I don't enjoy dreading every hour I spend under his disapproving glare, critical sighs, overwhelming workload, and contemptuous attitude. I don't enjoy wasting the credit fees, registration fees, and departmental fees semester after semester while I get no closer to my degree. In my entire tenure with Ken, I have passed his course only once – when he wasn't there for the jury. Despite this, I was willing to keep trying, if that's all I could do. Now, however, I will not accept him as my teacher. If it means transferring to another university after 13 years and re-taking several classes, so be it.

More on the Music Department's response to this situation to come...

Mi Vida Loca! Part I... (Repost from MySpace)

Been a while since I blogged and work seems pretty slow today, so I figured I'd take some time (in between interruptions at work) to get some thoughts down. This'll come in 3 volumes, since it's been about a month since my last blog.

Mi Vida Loca, Part I…

Each season has its own set of craziness in my family. Winter and Spring are usually spent trying to work around my 2-3 jobs, my classes, Gentleman Songsters chorus or Coda Honor quartet events and gigs, Sonya's seasonal job with the City of Detroit, her doula/midwife births, and her duties with BirthNetwork, the kids school and/or childcare, and the inevitable odds and ends that fill up the rest of the time. Summer has all the aforementioned items, only replacing Sonya's city job with trips to her parents' cottage, more births, higher childcare costs with no school, and a slump in funds due to no paycheck from the city.

Fall, on the other hand, is total insanity. Fall usually involves everything from above PLUS more quartet gigs AND rehearsals and competitions for the Lakeview High School marching band I work with. This Fall is particularly nuts, now that Liam is in school, so we all have to get up at 7am to get Liam to school. This is particularly tough, since Sonya and I are usually night owls and up till 2am many nights.

As much as I hate the gas mileage on my SUV, I'm rather glad to have it in times like this. It becomes my home-away-from-home. I keep everything – my barbershop music, marching band music and drill charts, planner, note pad, spare shoes, instrument repair tools, spare trombone (the junkier one, lest it get broken into), mail, paperwork, even a spare blanket and pillow – in my car. Let's face it: I'm a big guy with a lotta stuff to handle at once. I need the room!

I thrive on being busy. If I'm not in motion doing something productive, I get overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and dread over what I'm neglecting. Still, it'd be nice to have a day or 2 once in a while where I could just put everything aside, grab a beer, and spend the whole day in front of the TV without worrying about the dishes, laundry, kids, cooking, cleaning, rehearsals, work, paperwork for school, home repairs, cat boxes, lawn mowing, or any of the other myriad tasks I tackle in a day.

"I would sit on my ass all day – I would do…nothing."
- Peter Gibbins (Office Space)

Guess there'll be plenty of time to do nothing when I'm dead. I hope they have Comedy Central and Cartoon network in Heaven!

I rant on this today because this week has been even more nuts than usual. Monday had me getting Liam to school, going to work, therapy appointment, marching band rehearsal (with Liam in tow due to Sonya's play rehearsal), dishes, then bed. Tuesday was getting Liam to school, work, watching the kids and doing chores while Sonya went to a play rehearsal, then bed. Wednesday was Liam to school, work, feed the kids while waiting for Leigh to be available to sit the kids, band rehearsal, sing with the quartet for our Bass's dinner party, home then bed. Thursday, Sonya got Liam to school (extra hour's sleep for me – thanks Sonya!), home, feed the kids, then off to a fund-raiser for Alternatives for Girls (chronicled in "Part III: Last Night..." blog – actually had a lot of fun!), and home to sleep.

Today, Sonya's off at a BirthNetwork convention, so I got Liam to school, recorded the voice-over narrative for the band's show, got Courtney to daycare, ran by the mall to exchange a pair of pants, off to work (where I'm wasting time and milking the clock blogging), then Sonya's dad gets the kids for the night while I go to my OTHER job at Blockbuster, then home.

Tomorrow, I have band rehearsal in the morning, drive by the Everetts' to drop off my Goddaughter's christening present (long overdue) on the way to the band's first competition in Flint. Afterwards I go to the in-laws to watch the kids while they go out, then drive home at about 11pm to catch some shut-eye. Sunday I have to try and recover the house from the past several days before a Coda Honor quartet rehearsal at 3pm to come up with a set list and banter for our gig at the Troy Daze Festival at 5pm.


Okay, this blog was mostly for my own benefit, I guess, to work the minute-by-minute for the next few days out in my own head, but this is just a sample of Mi Vida Loca!

Mi Vida Loca!: Part III - Last Night... (Repost from MySpace)

Last night…

Sonya wrangled me into going to a fund-raiser for Alternatives for Girls, a non-profit that helps teenage runaways, abuse victims, and the like. A good cause to be sure, but with all the things going on in our house right now (to be chronicled later), I just wasn't sure I could afford the time. Sonya's mom works for the non-profit and they needed some seat-fillers, so the cost was only parking and drinks (still adding up to about $35). Still, it meant finding a sitter (thanks again, Val!) and spending 3-4 hours doing something other than catching up on our crazy life.

The event was a buffet and casino games, followed by the newest show at the Gem Theater, The Rat Pack is Back, a tribute to Frank, Dean, Sammy & Joey. Sonya and her mom figured this was right up my alley, being a big Sinatra fan. I was rather ambivolent, but a bit curious. Tribute shows usually aren't my bag. I'd rather crank the MP3 player up in my car and croon along, usually, but a free meal, free show, and a chance to help out my mom-in-law seemed worth the hassle.

My dear sister, Valerie, was willing to help out with the babysitting, albeit reluctantly, but we still got a late start. We got there for the pre-party, consisting of a WONDERFUL buffet and casino games. The 6 top winners chose from donated prizes. After only gambling with my complimentary chips for the last 5 minues, I managed $600 at the blackjack table! Not quite enough to win anything, but it was fun.

The show. I cannot emphasize enough how great this show is! Dean is AMAZINGLY convincing! Looks great, even though acting a bit more "swishy" than "sloshy" at times. Joey is hilarious, Sammy has the original's move down, and Frank has the overbearing, but fun-loving attitude nailed. All sing wonderfully, the orchestra is fabulous, and the close, club-like atmosphere is electrifying! They cover most all the standards and you can't help but mouth the words along. Check it out!