Teaching: on the front line

June 18, 2004

What is your experience of teaching? Mandy Garner asks teachers how they manage

Name: Rachel A. Harris

Age: 35

Job: Lecturer in ethnomusicology at School of Oriental and African Studies

Salary: £24,121 (+ £2,132 London weighting) Qualifications: Masters in ethnomusicology, a PhD from Soas and a diploma in Chinese music from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing.

Practical training/experience: In the final year of my first degree in Chinese language and culture I read a book called The Ethnomusicologist and was hooked. I got a scholarship to study in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, a very mixed experience. Then I managed to get to a folk-song festival on Lotus Mountain in a remote corner of Northwest China, and that fulfilled the dream. I came back to Soas and did my masters and PhD. Since then, my interests have spread into Central Asia, my main area being the Xinjiang Uyghur Auton-omous Region of China, working on Uyghur music with local musicians.

Hours spent teaching: An average six to seven hours a week.

Hours on red tape: A couple a day.

Hours on research: Impossible to quantify. Does it include, for instance, time spent playing my dutar (long-necked Central Asian lute)? This is the foundation for the kind of "performance-based research" that the discipline is now emphasising. I have very little job-life separation. I have an article waiting to be written every holiday.

Teaching bugbear: The extraordinary range of students we have at Soas. Last year I taught an introductory course on the music of Central Asia. Three students had little idea of where Central Asia was and no experience of studying music as culture. Alongside them was a practising musician in Turkish classical music who was fascinated by the continuities between Turkish and Central Asian modal theory.

How did you solve it?

I have to cater for the beginners and take things at their pace. However I welcome people with their own areas of expertise sitting in on lectures, and I encourage them to give a presentation.

Worst teaching moment?

Interpreting for a crusty Beijing Opera drummer leading a percussion workshop. When there was a problem, he would scream insults at us in Chinese, and I would try to put them across in an encouraging way.

Best or funniest?

We have a lot of fun now with Beijing Opera percussion. It's very loud.

My teaching tip?

I use a lot of audio-visual materials and hands-on methods. Students can feel those "limping" aksak rhythms more easily if we're all playing along on frame drums.

Outside interests: I listen to music from other parts of the world too.

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