When I started writing my PhD proposal in 2012, on dark nights between dissertation planning, seminar reading lists and Christmas shopping, I had no idea where it would take me. Now, on the brink of beginning, there’s a pretty daunting ‘blank page’ ahead of me.
A Doctor of Philosophy in Music sounds very grand. What does it really mean though? Well, for the next three years I’ll be reading, researching, thinking, jotting down notes, drafting and writing 100,000 words of original research. Finally, after a transfer, countless supervision meetings, and probably several tantrums I’ll be ready to submit (all nicely bound) and then defend my thesis in front of a board of examiners, who hopefully, fingers and toes crossed, will declare it passable and make me Dr Ellen A. Davies. Crazy, right?
My PhD proposal went through several drafts, and several changes of ideas. I spoke to various professors, lecturers, parents, colleagues, friends, siblings (having a sister studying physics and maths really makes you narrow down your hazy definition of ‘time’ in a musical temporality concept), and even once on a blind date – the date went badly but at least it helped me clarify the distinction between ‘time’ and ‘temporality’ in attempting to explain it.
I started with the vague notion that I liked French music. I was born in a beautiful town in the suburbs of Paris, which happens to also be the birthplace of Claude Debussy (as well as Louis XIV, the Sun King). Naturally, I’ve always been drawn to Debussy’s music, and French music of his era in general. My previous research efforts from my undergraduate and masters degree had also focused on French twentieth-century music, namely music and gender in the form of a study of Germaine Tailleferre’s work for my masters thesis.
And so I began thinking around other topics of French twentieth-century music. I came across an article about musical time whilst listening to Erik Satie’s music on my iPod – I put the two together and my research ideas blossomed from there. I branched out to include concepts of temporality across various French composers of a similar period, and then narrowed it down again, to focus specifically on the year 1913. (If you want to know why, you’ll have to wait until I’ve eventually finished writing this thing, then – big dreams – get it published.)
Last week, I put together a folder with all the notes, articles, snippets written of PhD things I’ve already amassed. My parents were quite surprised to find this was already a full-to-bursting folder. It’s quite daunting thinking about the blank page staring at me before 100,000 words of original research. But it’s reassuring to know that I’ve been thinking about this for almost a year now – so perhaps it isn’t so much of a blank page after all.