End o’ summer; rethinking teaching music theory

September 11, 2006


I just finished writing and recording the rest of the music for CAGES. The past couple of days have been a bit crash-and-burn from working hard, but also a knee problem that had me keeping my knee above my heart in hopes of the swelling going down.

The day I left for Hawaii, I tripped over something that “wasn’t normally there” and went flying, smashing my right knee into the carpeted concrete. I didn’t affect my walking, but I’ve had water on the knee ever since. Ah yes, life continues to remind me that I’m not 18 anymore. Slow down dude. What’s the rush?


Mark reports to me that his brother insists that Sudoku ONLY be done with a pen; using a pencil is cheating. Sorry, my memory doesn’t work that way, and I’m over it. I’ve advanced to the most challenging level. That’s Dr. Sudoku to you.


UCLA is on the quarter system as opposed to the semester, and as a result, we don’t go back until the end of September. Hmm. Let’s see, that is Oct.2 actually. That gives us five days in Chicago (another wedding), finish my new chamber opera, MOZART & THE GREY STEWARD, and pull together a syllabus for my upcoming two-year music theory class.


Last year, Mitchell Morris and I were given a grant –– course release actually –– to put our thinking caps on about teaching core music theory, and specifically looking into whether it can effectively be coordinated with the two-year music history sequence. My colleagues and our Dean are encouraging us to be open to new ways of teaching music theory that is not so tied to classical music as the only revered musical tradition. Many of our ethnomusicology students are weary of spending 20 weeks or more on only Bach. We drill rules into students minds about what and what not to do when emulating and imitating Classical music. It’s great technique, but that music is so 300 years ago, how can we teach musical intelligence and sensitivity to a musician in the early 21st century?

I’ve decided to add a category called TEACHING MUSIC THEORY for those interested in following my progress in this realm.


When I teach my 2-year music theory class, and face a class of terrified freshman who get to see ME as their first college professor, I see they need help outside of studying voice-leading. So I can not resist the temptation to be a big brother at the beginning of each class, granting them little bits of advice and pearls of wisdom for those who come on time called “commercials,” which are usually related to the lecture of the day, but sometimes not. [There are some old commercials from some years back at rogerbourland.com in the Professor section.] These don’t always hold up to the world outside of my small flock of 45 music majors, but maybe they do. I may label them as “Commercials for Freshmen” and post them here for your amusement.


Animal nature. We have two female African grey parrots and two male Italian Greyhound dogs. Aiko is the alpha-female parrot, Cody is the alpha-male dog. When one of the alpha animals is sick or hurt, the other wastes no time in assuming the new role in the pack. Aiko hurt her foot and wasn’t able to get around as well. Erin ended up hogging most of the food, and annoucing to the world that SHE is the new queen for the day, and not the wounded bitch over there. It’s so interesting to see “Wild Kingdom” right in front of our eyes.

So sad to learn of Steve Irwin’s death. Although he flirted with death in every show he ever did, it was an awful death, and tragic for his beautiful family who should have had him for another fifty years.


In meditation one strives for clearing the mind of the stream of ever-flowing thoughts. Something I, and I assume others, have a hard time doing. It seems when I’m in the middle of doing a Sudoku puzzle, I begin achieving that state. The focus on numbers is not really so much a mathematical experience: they could me 9 postage stamps, or 9 letters, or 9 pictures. The obsession for having these 9 items with no duplications can effectively quiet the mind. Today, I achieved a state where I was hearing my music WHILE playing the game. Recharging my creative batteries by raking my mental zen rock garden.


[Photo by Roger Bourland; from the Puerto Vallarta Set]

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