As Tim wrote, we met in Pittsburgh. But let me dig a little farther back. Some of my fondest childhood memories were spending hours in our local library, and listening to music. As a small child, we had an old phonograph record and my aunt’s childhood record collection. I remember being entranced by the folk song collections we had, from Peter Paul and Mary singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” to our orange cassette tape of Disney’s favorite folk songs, to Mahalia Jackson singing on a 8-track in our rickety old car.
When I turned 13, my family’s present to me and my brother was a piano along with piano lessons. It opened up a new world to me. I tore through the lesson books, and soon was digging into the classics from Bach to Beethoven to Bartok. And then I wanted to generate my own music. After writing a piano piece dedicated to my best friend (Jennifer!), my piano teacher suggested that I find a composition teacher as well. It led me into pursuing a music major in college. As an undergraduate, I kept studying music, kept composing, and found a mentor who opened my eyes up to the world of musicology.
But in the meantime, I continued down the path of composition as I entered graduate school. I became obsessed with issues of musical borrowing, composers who would use other bits of music and weave them into their tapestry. How do the bits of familiar tunes play on our memories? How do they create new meanings? I tapped into this and incorporated folk songs and Sacred Harp hymns into my compositions.
When it was time to apply for a PhD program, I had to decide which path to take, composition or musicology. And I applied to both programs at different schools, and was accepted into both. I had to choose my path, and the choice was incredibly difficult. I found a program—the University of Pittsburgh—where I could major in one path, and minor in the other. And it was a beautiful fit, especially as it was a wonderful place to continue my study of American music.
And the path I chose? Musicology. It’s where my love for the written word—the hours I spent poring over books as a child—came back into play. I could create a career writing and reading and teaching about music, history, arts, culture and literature and how they all connect.
I loved my PhD program, and I fell madly in love with Pittsburgh itself, a vibrant city that has preserved its immigrant roots. I worked at the Center for American Music during the summers, bringing theory and practice together. It led into work with the Voices Across Time project, an initiative that showed me the great potential for public musicology. My work with the library’s archives of Stephen Foster materials led to multiple projects, including coediting a performance collection of his works. And I began a dissertation project that wove together the threads of what I loved—analysis, interviews with composers, musical borrowing, Sacred Harp hymns.
During this time, I met a man at our little church who had thousands of records neatly organized in stacks all across the floor of his apartment (alphabetically, by genre). I found out later that he had removed all of the doors of his apartment—except the front door and bathroom door—to make more room for his stacks. We began spending hours chatting about music, film, art, literature. He introduced me to Joni Mitchell, I introduced him to Pete Seeger, together we kindled a love for Bob Dylan.
Of course Tim needed to become a librarian! And of course we needed to blend our lives together! And of course we needed to get industrial shelving to house his record collection!
I never thought I would meet a person who meshed so well with who I was becoming. After three jolly years of marriage, we had a great convergence: I finished my program except my dissertation, Tim finished his library degree, we both went on the job market, and we found out that we were expecting twins. We were deeply rooted in Pittsburgh, but a staff job as a music cataloger opened up at the University of Georgia for Tim, and I was given a Mellon Fellowship to continue work on my dissertation, without having to teach. Much of this happened within a three week period! So we took the plunge and moved to Athens.
The next couple of years are a little blurry. Newborn twins and finishing a dissertation were a difficult combination. But it taught me time management and how to use the small pieces of time that I had effectively. After successfully defending my dissertation—with two toddlers in a pack-and-play in the hallway!—I was itching to do professional work. The opportunity came to work as a contributing editor for the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of American Music. This honed my writing and editing skills, and gave me a wonderful professional network as I came to know fellow musicologists working on the project.
My beloved piano teacher in Atlanta retired, and I took over her studio. I spent a couple of years commuting to Atlanta two days a week with kids in tow to teach twenty-odd lessons. And here—even though it was difficult—I came to realize just how much I loved teaching. When I had the chance to pilot music courses at a local technical college, I jumped on the chance, and that soon led to a chance to teach and develop classes at the University of Georgia. Both of my departments are supportive and have given me wonderful opportunities to create new classes and to work in innovative formats (face-to-face, hybrid, and online). This past summer, I designed a new course on Bob Dylan and American music, and have been commissioned to design a new course on Bruce Springsteen for this summer.
Throughout these twists and turns, my love of Sacred Harp music continues. Last year, through support of colleagues in the Athens Music Project, I helped to organize a public symposium on Sacred Harp music in Athens, and have conducted oral history interviews with local singers.
Once again, we’re deeply embedded in a local community. And we work to create a holistic life for ourselves. We write, we teach, we edit, we present papers, and we watch our kids fall in love with books and music.
I had a “non-traditional” entry into academia. I worked at a credit union throughout my twenties and early thirties as a single guy living in Pittsburgh. I had vast expanses of time and infinite resources to indulge my interests, and became an autodidact, a self-teacher. Sitting in coffeehouses, I read all of Shakespeare’s plays, several of Dickens’ novels, Moby Dick, The Divine Comedy, The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, The Lord of the Rings, and others, but I must admit that I never made it to the end of Proust! I studied history, philosophy, and theology. I spent hours in Jerry’s Used Records amassing a collection of over 2000 classical, jazz, and rock records. I spent even more hours listening to all of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, mapping out every occurrence of over 100 leitmotifs. I assisted with the Sewickley Bachfest, a music festival produced by two dear friends. Before I took a three week trip to London, I spent months studying British history, the layout of the city, the subway and bus maps, the great architectural wonders, the best historical sites, and, of course, the best pubs. I wanted to learn French, so I began translating Edith Piaf songs into English (Google Translate didn’t exist back then). After two years, I had translated over 220 of them and, voila, I knew some French. I was, and still am, a Teaching Company junkie. I’ve watched dozens of lecture series, and almost all of Dr. Robert Greenberg’s lectures on classical music history, some of them multiple times. In short, I like to take on big projects...and complete them!
And then I met Joanna, who took me to the next level. While she was formalizing and finishing her dissertation, I realized she was formalizing and finishing my education. She had a plan, and what a good one it was: “Be a music librarian! Get a master’s degree!” “Eureka!,” I exclaimed, in Archimedean delight. After I completed my MLS from the University of Pittsburgh, Joanna heard from a music professor at the University of Georgia that an entry-level music cataloging position was opening at the Main Library. I applied and got the job. We moved down to Georgia, had twins, and suddenly, we were juggling parenthood and academia. It was difficult at first but each year got easier. Then we thought about me getting a music degree. I discovered that all my years of autodidactism turned out to be the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in music, so I was able to skip that and get a master’s degree in musicology. I wrote my thesis, then a few encyclopedia articles, then a chapter in a book, then some more encyclopedia articles, then another chapter in another book, and then (whew!) my own book. So here I am helping others achieve their academic dreams.
So my story of becoming a musicologist and author by the “non-traditional” path has two lessons. The first is simply to study what you love, rather than try to be “relevant” or anticipate what the “hot topics” will be. When I started collecting records of my favorite rock bands (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Rush, Kansas, Steely Dan, U2, etc.) as a teenager, I didn’t realize it was also “research,” or that I was teaching myself something, or that it was something I’d be studying the rest of my life. I never imagined I’d actually write a book about rock music, interview one of my favorite musicians like Ian Anderson, meet him, and have him write the foreword for the book. The second lesson is to trust that what you are interested in, and write about, will intrigue other people. I thought my interests were of interest to me alone. To my great surprise, I’ve discovered that other people are intrigued by 45 minute rock songs, and will buy a book analyzing them in great detail! So write about what you love no matter how obscure or arcane, and trust that if you work hard and write well, what interests you will interest other people.
Joanna & Tim
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