Music & Academia: Interview with Elyse Kahler

Elyse Kahler

I recently interviewed Elyse Kahler. Elyse is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at The University of Texas at Arlington. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Texas Tech University, a Master of Arts from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor of Music in Composition and with All-Level Certification from West Texas A&M University. ​She writes for a variety of ensembles and levels, and has particular interests in fun and engaging music for middle school students and inspiring music for the modern church.

ASN: Tell me about your current job and what you were doing before you came there.

EK: Currently I’m an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington where I teach composition and theory. Before this job, I was piecing things together after graduating with my doctorate with jobs including part-time adjuncting teaching Humanities, teaching clarinet, and conducting a church hand bell choir.

ASN: Are you still doing other musical activities on the side, like the handbell choir? Or are you essentially teaching full-time?

EK: Sadly, I’ve not been able to pick up any other side musical activities. I had just moved here and started in fall of 19 and was getting my feet wet with teaching full time. Then Covid started in March and I haven’t gotten out and about till now. I may try to find a church this fall to start playing hand bells again. I do teach at Interlochen Arts Camp in the summers though.

ASN: What experiences and activities do you feel made you attractive to this position?

EK: I believe that my experience teaching collegiate music theory as a Graduate Part-Time Instructor during my doctorate was a big factor. I also did a poster presentation on my music composition pedagogy research that I believe caught the eye and attention of my now-colleagues as the job came open.

ASN: For you, how does composition pedagogy differ or reflect pedagogy for other classes?

EK: There are definitely things that carry over from other pedagogy – Bloom’s levels of taxonomy, the art of asking questions, etc. What I’ve really been focusing on with my composition students recently is getting them to talk about their creative process and troubleshooting why they may be experiencing writer’s block, or why this particular measure isn’t working, etc. We also talk a lot about time management, how to promote themselves/run a business essentially, and those sorts of things that I often gloss over in other classes.

EK: What are your upcoming career plans and how are you preparing?

I’m continuing to look for an Instructor, Lecturer, or Tenure Track job for a bit more stability than semester-contract adjuncting. I’m composing new works, seeking out commissions and performances, taking a professional development course on effective teaching practices, and dusting off a theory article that’s been in the works.

ASN: Tell me a bit about semester-contract adjuncting. When do you know what you’ll be teaching? How much time do you have to prepare? How many different “preps” do you have each semester?

EK: UTA has been very good about letting me know what I’ll be teaching in plenty of time. My supervisor usually lets me know mid-way through the previous semester what I’ll be teaching and I get the official load letter by finals. Currently, all the courses I’m teaching I’ve taught before, so preparation isn’t too bad. It’s just me tweaking things each semester, not fully designing a new course.

I have 2-3 lecture courses each semester, and they are all different, so 2-3 preps. I had three courses my first three semesters, but just two this spring and next fall because my hours were getting too high when private lessons are added in. The way lessons and pay works however, always stresses me out. Lecture courses are paid at a flat rate per credit hour, but lessons are paid by the number of students signed up, so it always feels like a huge question mark until the first week or two of classes when I actually see enrollment. It’s near impossible to do any kind of budgeting ahead of time because I just don’t know.

ASN: If you don’t mind reporting, can you tell a little about your job search–how many positions, your “success rate” (# times on shortlist, # times phone interview), etc.? And any advice for those following in your footsteps?

EK: Sure, I can send you my excel sheet. If I remember correctly, dark blue means I got an official rejection, light blue means that the wiki said the job had been filled or it didn’t seem like I was moving forward. Hot pink indicates that I had moved along somehow, either an interview or asked for further materials.

ASN: Elyse applied to 53 jobs in 2017-18. Of those, she moved along on 10, include 5 phone/Skype interviews and 3 campus interviews. In 2018-19, she applied to 37 jobs. This time 10 asked for “additional materials,” (usually they “shortlist” folks and ask for representative compositions, papers, etc.) 8 asked for a phone/Skype interview, and 6 she had campus interviews.

EK: You won’t see my current job on this list because it was very much an “I knew somebody” situation. I met with my contact over coffee in November and was asked to come do an interview/teach a class in March. I never officially applied or anything.

Advice . . . don’t use red for rejections. It’s disheartening to look at. Apply and forget about them. Put them out of your head until you hear otherwise. That’s what I needed to do anyway – otherwise I would obsess too much.

Keep doing music things to keep your CV fresh and active, as hard as it can be while also looking for a job and making ends meet.

Check out Elyse’s chamber piece Perspectives, which also features dance and video. More info

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