In a few days I will be leaving for Italy to set up all the materials needed for this year’s course; I already know that from the time I land things will be moving very fast—I will be looking at our hotel rooms, setting up a fairly sophisticated workstation with a wireless network but also a continuous connection to a server in Bloomington, and making all the last-minute arrangements. My expectations for the next weeks are very high—I am looking forward to an exhilarating teaching and research experience in the company of younger colleagues, and I will try my best to make it a humanly enriching time as well.
From the academic point of view, this will be a very hands-on course on how to study and describe musical manuscripts. In other words, we will try to improve our competence in dealing with sources from centuries ago, and to study and describe them in a way that will be useful to other scholars. Day after day, we will look for patterns and try to get a fair idea of what the process of collecting this enormous group of music books must have been like.
As far as my personal feelings go, I have been a University instructor for roughly ten years but I can candidly confess that I have never felt less prepared for a class. Sure, I have worked very hard for this course in particular, but I am also aware that this activity will test the instructor as much as the students. We are not discussing books I have read and thought about, or presenting historiographical topics that I find especially intriguing. In May, the IU students and I will work in real time, looking at material we have never seen before—each of the manuscripts is a unique object that can only be accessed in the original. So much for the twenty-first century and our delusion of universal access to everything. When I will be there, my instinct will be as valuable as my knowledge. I will make mistakes, and hopefully rectify them. The students and I will collaborate and discuss, and hopefully be able to connect enough dots to glimpse a piece of music history that nobody knew before us. They say teaching is a performing art—it will be especially true in this case.
There is of course more than manuscripts to the experience we are embarking on—this will be an intercultural endeavor, and I expect the non-academic part will be as enriching as the study of manuscripts. But this will have to wait until the next post.