When I was a little boy I wanted to be an archaeologist. In high school I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be, so I entered college as a double major in musical theatre and music education. I soon realized that dancing and acting are not strengths I possess. So, I completed my music education degree and headed out into the world as a public school choral music educator. I always thought my path would lead me to a D.M.A. (doctoral of musical arts) degree in choral conducting so I could continue to conduct and teach choral music/conducting at the college/university level.
My years in the classroom combined with my experience earning a master’s degree in choral conducting made me realize how much I love mentoring preservice teachers (undergraduate students) and how passionate I am about preparing future music teachers. So, when considering doctoral programs, the D.M.A. no longer seemed like the right fit, because it is a performance-based degree that would primarily provide training in music theory, music history, performance practice, and conducting. The Ph.D (doctor of philosophy) in music education, on the other hand, is a research degree that leads to a position in which one is a teacher of teachers. Luckily, I attend a university that enables a large amount of collaboration between music education and choral conducting (I’ve elected a cognate, or secondary area of study, in choral conducting).
The Ph.D is one of the oldest degrees granted, and is primarily a research degree. The core courses of the Ph.D program I’m currently in discuss philosophy, quantitative and qualitative research methods, measurement, and the psychology of music. This is all very different from my master’s program, which was very hands-on and performance-based. I came in with virtually no research experience and a lot of anxiety about the amount of reading and writing required by the Ph.D courses.
So I spent much of my first year being afraid. Afraid I was trying to be something I wasn’t. Afraid I was “just” a choral director trying to be a researcher. Afraid I will never be able to understand advanced statistics (if I’m being really honest I still have this fear). Afraid my writing isn’t good enough. Afraid I wouldn’t know what to study (or that the things I wanted to study had already been discussed). Afraid I would choose the “wrong” topics to research…. And the list goes on.
Luckily, I attend a university where I work with incredibly supportive faculty members and have a phenomenally supportive group of classmates. And, through my coursework and with many chats with eminently patient faculty members, I started to do some research, and started to put my work “out there” via conference session submissions and article submissions. And now, a year later, things feel a bit more natural. I still have some of the same fears I had before, but the act of doing research, reading and writing academic literature makes it a bit less frightening.
And, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have some sure footing academically. I am doing research I care about and think is important. I am especially grateful (and, I won’t lie, slightly terrified) to be engaged in LGBTQ research. After many years of my own struggles with how public to be about my gay identity, I am standing up in very public forums and encouraging others in the music education field to have an open dialogue about LGBTQ issues in music education. This has been at once terrifying, exhilarating, and ultimately, quite healing.
It’s a funny thing-- how doing these difficult things: reading dense literature, collecting and coding data, then synthesizing all this-- has helped me calm down (a bit). Helped me realize that the work I’m engaged in is important, but it’s not rocket science. Helped me realize that there are other people out there who care about the topics I care about. Helped me realize that there’s such beauty in connecting with others in the music education community. And somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention, I’ve begun to find my “research voice.” It’s definitely still in its infancy. I’ve got a lot to learn. (I’ve got even more to read!), but I feel like I’m on a good path (I’ve given up thinking there is a “right” path). And for all of you who have helped me on this journey (you know who you are): thank you. I’m so incredibly grateful.