On Writing the Thesis: David’s Transformation

4 02 2010

teaching musicThe month of April brings the signs of change in seasons… and in students. The first Arts in Transformation class will be adding the letters “M.A.” to the end of their names by the end of the spring. The metamorphosis is almost complete! David sheds some light on the journey…

The thesis is coming along, but sometimes I wonder how it will all get done. I’m finding that I really love the topic I’ve chosen: “What makes Moravian hymnody and songwriting meaningful for new worship settings?” Overall, I really enjoy pouring time and energy into this question because it all contributes to my sense of call and passion. There’s a sense that everything I’m doing for the thesis is part of the artistic process: the interviews, the song recordings, readings, interview transcriptions and interpretations; it all goes into the work of art. So the final thesis document is a symbol for what has already taken place; it’s also a map for where a community of people think Moravian music should go. To have this process documented is incredibly valuable, because it makes the spirit of passion we’ve experienced tangible in a way that is accessible to anyone willing to read and listen.

However, when it comes to completing the thesis, there are some challenges. It feels like a rite of passage. The steps along the way can be painstaking and can seem trivial, but theres a lesson even in the grunting. I get tired of looking at a computer screen. I also struggle with wanting things to be perfect, which can get in the way of doing the work. But there need to be lots of sketches before the final image takes form. Theres also the issue of balancing the academic and the artistic processes. The artistic process needs to have space, time, and freedom to experiment and ask questions. The academic process asks us to boil most of this artistic passion down into something that can be communicated in sentences and paragraphs.

In writing this thesis, Im really trying to put in place a plan and process for my lifes work. Im searching for my core sense of artistic call and channeling my energy into a concrete project. The Research Methodologies class encouraged us to find a very narrow focus for our project. The discipline of a narrow focus is very helpful. However, focus is still my biggest challenge. I keep thinking that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I m hopeful that it can all weave together somehow. My thesis is a combination of formal (qualitative) research, a written project, and a collection of song recordings. So, it has allowed me to think prophetically about how the Moravian Church might need to adapt its hymns. It has also given me the motivation to ask other people what they think, and to encourage other musicians and poets to join in the creative process.

And lastly, here’s some advice for future Arts in Transformation students tackling the thesis: Starting early is always helpful. Focus on a topic about which you are entirely passionate. Maybe think of the thesis as a creative investment where you would like your time and life’s energy to go. We are transformed by this process, so it’s important to consider how you see yourself using your gifts down the road.

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