Professional Experiences that Make a Difference

This is my final "President's Comments" essay as my tenure as President of The College Music Society comes to an end. I wish to thank everyone who responded to my last nine essays. I hope this final one will not be seen as a farewell, but rather as further food for thought that may inspire some future directions for our Society and its members. I would like to be somewhat self-reflexive in three areas as I try to elaborate on what I call "professional experiences that make a difference."

The three areas of my self-reflections are the following: (1) Peace Corps volunteer in Chile (1966-1968); (2) School of Music professorship in ethnomusicology at The Florida State University (1973-2008); and (3) The College Music Society presidency (1999-2000). These have certainly been the most important professional activities in my lifetime, and from them I would like to construct a springboard for a "professional initiative plan," which I see as an important future path for The College Music Society.

Peace Corps Volunteerism

The Peace Corps was established in the 1960s as the brainchild of Minnesota senator Hubert H. Humphrey, who suggested the establishment of an American overseas volunteer corps to President John F. Kennedy. The President made it so, and the Peace Corps has flourished ever since, with volunteers serving in dozens of countries around the world. In its approximate forty years, the Peace Corps has certainly changed the lives of countless Americans, from young idealistic college graduates to retired senior citizens, most intent on making a difference in the world.

We all remember JFK's famous statement, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." These were great words of inspiration for Peace Corps volunteers, as they have probably been for many Americans. Recently, at a sendoff for several Peace Corps volunteers in Tallahassee, I repeated those words of Kennedy and then changed them slightly, as I said, "Ask not what you can do for your host country, but what your host country can do for you." I did not mean those words to be a selfish attitude of a person who takes something and gives nothing in return. To the contrary, I realize that Peace Corps volunteers give a lot of themselves to their host countries, as they should. However, I believe it pales in comparison to what Peace Corp volunteers learn from their experiences abroad. In most cases they become better Americans who are more sensitive to world affairs, human needs, and other cross cultural ideals and values. Being a Peace Corps volunteer literally changes one's life and often creates a new career goal, one that is frequently concerned with helping to create cross cultural understanding. The experience, for example, changed my life and turned me into an ethnomusicologist. Moreover, the tone and direction of my "President's Comments" these past two years have been shaped by my service as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1966 to 1968, in Santiago, Chile, where I was not doing community development, but was performing as the principal flutist of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Chile.

I have repeatedly stressed in these essays how The College Music Society is an organization with global and multicultural interests, attitudes, and goals, thanks to its enlightened volunteer leaders (the elected officers) and administrative staff, possibly since its inception. This leadership and those interests, attitudes, and goals will undoubtedly continue, just because they are the right interests, attitudes, and goals of a professional music society that stands for the best professionalism in higher musical education our country (and possibly the world) has to offer.

School of Music Professorship

I was blessed with the offer of a tenure track position in ethnomusicology at The Florida State University in 1973. I did not realize it then, but FSU's School of Music (some 85 faculty) is sort of music academia's "heaven on earth," because everybody attempts to work together for the good of the School (a fact corroborated many times by numerous NASM reviewers over the years). While I partially attribute this to Florida's warm weather, it is mostly because of certain enlightened deans who have realized the breadth and importance of music in all of its manifestations. Such mutual understanding and camaraderie is built upon dialogical communication between faculty and administrators, and this is a concept that The College Music Society also strongly encourages and endorses. Through its mentoring committee, Board members' communication with their specific societies, the music administration task force, and other efforts, CMS makes many attempts to create dialogue among all music specialists in higher education.

The College Music Society Presidency

Serving The College Music Society as its President has been my greatest honor, and working with my esteemed colleagues in the Board of Directors, the Executive Board, the various committees, the CMS national office, and many others has been a true joy and invigorating experience. I cannot think of a finer and more brilliant group of people with whom to work. We have brainstormed, edited, polished, passed, drafted, defeated, and tabled numerous ideas to make CMS the most important scholarly music society in America. An umbrella organization we may not be, but a trendsetter and model we certainly are. We are the soul and heartbeat of professional music societies in academia, and as such, I propose that The College Music Society develop a professional initiative for all musicians in higher education.

Professional Initiative: The Plan

The three areas discussed above can be shortened to three words: volunteerism, communication, and stewardship. These can perhaps be seen as a tripartite set of professional initiative commandments: (1) Give of your time and talents; (2) Communicate your ideas, needs, concerns, and praises; and (3) Lead the way to greater heights and achievements.

These three areas are by nature synchronic and dialogical. That is, they occur at a particular time and they involve both sides of the equation. For example, volunteerism, communication, and stewardship are synchronic because they are events in time, and they are dialogical because they involve both the producers and the receivers. At the same time, all three areas must also be diachronic, meaning that they must occur across time. Volunteerism, communication, and stewardship are not only important during the peak of a career; they are crucial throughout all levels of "professional" lifefrom student days through retirement.

The College Music Society has always had an interest in the complete professional life of a musician in higher education (as well as other musical professions). Because of limited resources, however, some areas have received more focus than others. Nevertheless, CMS has always tried to focus its resources so that it could do a selected number of things as well as possible. As the Society's resources have expanded, so have its services. Now, four areas that need to receive further consideration by CMS are: (1) student preparation for music professional life; (2) continued professional growth after retirement; (3) increased dialogue with professional societies to consider the future of the music subspecialties and their role in music and higher education; and (4) advocacy for community college and adjunct professors.

At its meetings, the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee have considered and will continue to consider ways in which CMS might bring greater organization and focus to discussions of what it means to be a musician from student days through retirement and how to enjoy most fully all possibilities and opportunities that present themselves as the years pass.

Music in higher education in the United States includes over 30,000 full- and part-time persons teaching and working with musical materials from nearly every culture of the world in an increasingly wide array of educational settings. All have evolving musical interests and areas of expertise, and all have committed themselves to a lifetime of devotion to the art of music. Each time in our lives—during student days, through our years of professional service, and throughout retirement—holds immense possibilities for musical growth and satisfaction, as well as service to our profession. A vibrant future is in store for the Society if we consider ways to enhance and enrich our members' lives through the scope of their careers.
 

 

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Dale A. Olsen

Dale A. Olsen is Professor Emeritus at Florida State University, where he taught ethnomusicology for 35 years. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees in historical musicology and flute performance from the University of Minnesota and the Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UCLA. Dr. Olsen is a recipient of Fulbright-Hays, Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, Distinguished Research Professor, and many other awards and grants. His major books include Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest (winner of the 1997 Merriam Prize for the "Most Outstanding Book in Ethnomusicology"); Music of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient South American Cultures; The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 2; The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music; The Chrysanthemum and the Song: Music, Memory, and Identity in the South American Japanese Diaspora; and Popular Music of Vietnam: The Politics of Remembering, The Economics of Forgetting. Dr. Olsen was principal flutist in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Chile from 1966-68 and in the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra in 1970. He has traveled, lived, and conducted fieldwork throughout Latin America; East Asia; Southeast Asia; Polynesia; Europe; and North America. He has served on the Council, Board of Directors, and as First Vice President of the Society for Ethnomusicology; as Board Member for Ethnomusicology/World Music and National President of The College Music Society; as President of the Florida Folklore Society; and as President of the Southeastern-Caribbean Chapter of SEM.

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