Like the First Time

Recently, I heard an interview with Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally from the band Beach House. They were appearing on the Broken Record podcast and were discussing their new record Once, Twice, Melody. Besides talking about their musical influences (Stevie Wonder, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, etc.), the band mates also talked about how they approached their live shows. Although the pandemic sidelined a lot of concerts, Beach House was getting ready to go out on tour. The pair have been a touring band for the last fifteen years and will spend months and months on the road, performing live in front of different audiences around the country and internationally. To some bands, all of that traveling and performing can become repetitious and routine. To combat that, Beach House has worked to keep things spontaneous and fresh. They see that as being part of the job and their responsibility to their audience.

“It’s a responsibility. You have worked your butt off to put this thing together and we’re lucky people who get to have people come to see them and listen to them,” Legrand explains.

“Just from a specifics point of view. One thing you have to remind yourself on the road, and we do remind ourselves of this. ‘Yes, this is your third show in a row, but this is the first time you’ve played in Cincinnati in five years.’ And be in the moment and realize that this could be a special night for some of your fans who have never seen you before, ” Scally says.

To combat the repetition, they change set lists regularly and let audience members suggest songs before the show. They’re trying to keep things fresh for themselves, so they can provide the best experience for their audience.

I don’t know why this interchange between two musicians has stuck with me, but it’s been buzzing around my head for the last week. I’m not in a band and I don’t tour the country, performing in front of hundreds of people. I’m a teacher who works at a public university. There’s nothing glamorous or “rock star” about my job.

But I understand the repetition. Now that I’m entering my fifteenth year at the institution, my teaching schedule has become pretty routine. I’ve taught the same three classes every spring for the last four years. While my fall schedule has changed a bit, it typically involves the same three or four classes. Looking at the whole academic year, there are some classes I teach every semester. That repetition creates a predictable ebb and flow which can be comforting. But that repetition could also create a degree of tedium.

Like the members of Beach House, I have to remind myself that while this might be the third or fourth semester in a row that I’ve been teaching a class, this will most likely be the only time that the students will take the class with me. Like a person seeing a band for the first time, this could be a special moment for my students. It could spark their interest in the subject I’m teaching and can provide critical information and perspectives to inform their futures. That’s heavy and important stuff.

Beyond that point of view, however, I think educators who regularly teach similar schedules need to adopt processes to mix things up. Like bands who change their set lists night after night, educators need to regularly change the readings they use, the projects they assign, and their overall semester schedule. I know I do this regularly. I rarely use the same syllabus for different semesters, and I change my readings often.  In a way, it’s about approaching planning a course like it’s the first time it’s being taught. Like the members of Beach House, it’s about keeping it fresh so we can provide the best experience for the students we serve.

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