A List and an account

Even though I haven’t been posting much on this blog lately, I have been working and writing a lot. In honor of my love of lists, here’s one describing what I’ve been doing this fall:

List! Fall 2016: Some Activities

  • Completed a draft of two of the three sections of A Troubling Teaching Portfolio
  • Planned to send those sections out to some people to get their feedback but somehow got stuck in messy, unfinished bits, lost steam and still haven’t even contacted anyone about reading it
  • Posted all of it, along with an edited version of my unofficial student transcripts, on its own site
  • Tried to prepare for the most difficult running race I’ve ever done, the “loony challenge” which entails running a 10k and 5k back to back on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday, and completed it even though I wasn’t really “trained up.” Ignored the reality that I am 42 years old and need to take longer recovering from loony races and ran a fast 4 miles only 2 days after the race was over. Developed some sort of hamstring injury and now, over a month later, still only running 5 or 6 miles a week. But, that’s okay, well almost, because I got to run in the same 10 mile race as Gwen Jorgensen!
  • Attempted to endure the increasingly terrifying and horrific nightmare that is the 2016 Presidential election by limiting my social media consumption, working on writing projects, binge-watching The Great British Bake-off and (not quite) obsessively following Gwen Jorgensen on Instagram and Twitter as she trained for the New York City Marathon
  • Learned that, contrary to my original assessment that best disease is the best disease having quirky vision problems is not that awesome and while finally knowing what has been wrong with me for so long is a relief it also becomes an excuse for closing myself off from the world even more
  • Tried unsuccessfully to read several books from the library. One was too long, one was too sad and one I just didn’t like.
  • Even as I struggled with doubt over what I’m doing and who, at age 42, I’ve become, experienced moments of joy and felt proud of myself and my willingness to confront the questions that haunt me

An Additional Account for my Student Transcripts

As I work on my teaching portfolio, I’m planning to combine it with my student transcripts to create an unDisciplined Dossier. Here’s the first draft of an account about my student life in high school, that I plan to add to the edited version of my transcripts:


In this account, I reflect on my love of practicing the clarinet, which I did frequently between the ages of 11 and 22. I was that weird band nerd who loved practicing scales: majors and minors up to five sharps and flats, three octaves, and very, very fast. I found comfort in the repetition of the notes. And I was energized by the challenge of it: I could memorize and perform the scales quickly, but even after years of practice, just barely. 

I didn’t include this account in the first edition of my transcripts because it seemed to contradict my claim to be unDisciplined. Isn’t devoting hours to practice every week for more than twelve years and being deeply involved in band, orchestra, woodwind ensembles, clarinet lessons and more, evidence that I was very disciplined? 

I started playing clarinet in 5th grade. Why the clarinet? I can’t quite remember. I think it was because we already owned one, a plastic Bundy, that one of my older sisters had played for a few years in high school. Did I love it right away? I can’t remember that either. But I must have; I kept playing it all through elementary school, junior high, high school and college. I even played in a few ensembles in graduate school.

It’s hard to overstate how important the clarinet was for me. It shaped my junior high, high school and college years. Countless recitals, private lessons, band, orchestra and youth symphony rehearsals, honor band auditions, orchestra concerts and daily practices. On the first day of band rehearsal of my first year at Gustavus Adolphus College I (Sara, age 18) met my husband, Scott. He played the clarinet too and sat one chair behind me.

Why did I play the clarinet for so long? While many reasons come to mind, one that makes the most sense to me now involves my love of practice, repetition and the rituals of sitting alone in a room with a clarinet, a stand, a metronome and sheets of paper filled with notes, preferably sixteenth or thirty-second ones.

When I practiced, I focused more on technique than artistry. I was a skilled technician not an artist. And that was satisfying and comforting to me. I liked practicing and memorizing Baermann scales and finger exercises from my Klosé book. Repeating difficult passages from my band music or etudes in Selected Studies over and over again until I got them right.

I always enjoyed practice more than any performance. Some players feel that the right performance can be religious. A deep and meaningful, almost transcendent, experience of connecting with the music and the audience. Not me. I always liked the private moments, when an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the notes, the music, and my instrument was created through repeated and habitual practice. Who finds transcendence through scales, played to the steady rhythm of a metronome? I did.