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.
Joanna & Tim
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