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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