Endings; and the momentum of the beginning

2012 was a big year for me. I had more freelance projects booked in than ever before, a fairly full load of regular teaching gigs, and three overseas conference presentations . If you take a look at my Project Diary page you can scroll down and see what was on in 2012 – and this list doesn’t include teaching full days in 2 schools and 2 universities (I taught one of the university courses online and in the evenings, as my students were in the USA and Canada). It was a very satisfying year professionally, with a number of new ventures, including the opportunity to work in north-western Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and running my own series of workshops at ArtPlay. But it was a tricky year in terms of finding balance. I felt like I never stopped working!

'Farewell' flowers given to me at the end of term by my two schools.

‘Farewell’ flowers given to me at the end of term by my two schools.

I am looking forward to a different pace and focus in 2013. The big change is that I am starting my PhD this year. Next week I will be heading up to Brisbane to meet with my supervisors and will officially be a student again. To make space for full-time study, I resigned from my two primary schools at the end of 2012. In some ways it was sad to say good-bye – I’d been at the Language School since 2005, and even though students were constantly arriving and leaving (it is a transitional school), I’d developed longterm relationships with the teachers, and built a really lovely, hand-picked collection of instruments. I’d been teaching at Pelican Primary School since 2009 for 2 days a week, and the children who’d been in the younger years when I started were now heading into the senior classes in the school. It is a wonderful thing to observe a cohort of children growing  like this. I’d built relationships with parents as well as with teachers, and it was sad to let those go.

At the same time, I was feeling restless. I’d started the year feeling that I’d “done lots of this before”. I found it more and more difficult to feel patient with the kind of frustrating timetabling issues that arise in primary schools everywhere that can really impact specialist programs. I loved the children, and loved playing music with them, but no longer felt as energised by the teaching work. Moving on at the end of the year therefore felt quite liberating.

There is a great momentum that comes with being at the beginning of something. I’m excited about my PhD topic (looking at music education and participation in post-conflict countries around the world), and about starting a new research project, which I find stimulating and inspiring in similar ways to creative project development (I’ve blogged about the commonalities here). And even though all of those who have already been through the PhD journey or know someone who has, shake their heads and say things like, “I hope you survive, it’s a lot of work!”, I feel undeterred. In fact, I feel relieved to think that no matter how much work it is, it will at least be just one big project, rather than the many multiples of projects I had in my head in 2012, all unrelated to each other, each needing their own amount of space and time. Having one thing to focus on for the next 3-4 years seems like a really straightforward proposition at this point. (Though perhaps I should revisit the optimism of this notion in 6 months time!).

 

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2 comments so far

  1. janet613Janet Swain on

    Hi Gillian, I’ve been reading your posts for a while now, always very interested in what you are up to and your ideas. I live in Singapore and I work teaching english and writing for British Council, and also I work with choirs here – I’ve started a kids choir recently, trying to engage the local communities and not just expat kids. Challenging. I’ve toyed for a few years about doing my PhD at Griffith as well, in choirs and singing as ways for communities to engage and learn from each other. I am becoming involved with a choir project in Cambodia, and I’m also heading to Uganda in April to sing and work with the African Children’s Choir (through an organisation in brisbane called Kwaya – http://www.kwaya.org)
    You should be coming with us!

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to following your journey into academia. You never know, we may meet somewhere along the track!

    Best regards

    Janet Swain

  2. Gillian Howell on

    Hi Janet,
    Many thanks for leaving this comment. It sounds like we share some common interests and musical goals in the ways we engage with other people – I’m very interested to hear more about your choir for local children in Singapore. Challenging to get their participation? Their understanding? Shared mutual goals? It’s a really interesting idea, and I hope it continues to develop and that you’ll be describing your experiences somewhere. Cross-cultural work always throws up fascinating unexpected things I think – even when it might appear that the ‘cultural distance’ being traversed isn’t so vast.

    Are we likely to cross paths at any music ed conferences, do you think? There is one in Singapore in October, but at this stage I’m not planning on going… I’ll probably submit a paper for the ISME conferences in 2014.

    Uganda and the African Children’s Choir… and Cambodia…. great-sounding projects. Will you write about them anywhere?


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