Parenthood and Ethnomusicology

For our last series post of 2015 (don’t worry! We’re continuing into 2016!), we thought we’d change things up just a little. Thus far in the Parenthood and Ethnomusicology series, we’ve heard from current or very recently finished graduate students. In this week’s post, Dr. David Harnish, Chair of the Music Department at the University of San Diego, shares his memories of having and raising kids while pursuing his Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and later his PhD in Ethnomusicology at UCLA.

David Harnish and family


An incoming Master’s student, I arrived as a slightly older single male at University of Hawaii (UH) in January, 1981, and left as a married man with two children. Ethnomusicology—and particularly long-term fieldwork—can destabilize relationships; I had seen many partners separate during my undergraduate years in a program that required a year abroad. I was not married during my 14-month master’s-related fieldwork in Indonesia and my wife-to-be, Maxine, joined me in the field for about six of those months with her daughter, Malini, from her previous marriage. We married shortly after returning from Indonesia, I adopted Malini as my own, and we had a son. Colin was an infant—infants require different types of attention from toddlers and school kids—during my last year at UH. Through planning and our natural rhythms, Maxine and I developed a routine that optimized time to write my thesis. Maxine and the children also tended to go to bed early and wake up late; those times were opportunities to write. I still recall Saturdays when Maxine and the kids were in bed around 8pm. I would work most all day until 11:30pm, and then finally take some time off. I would drink a few really good beers, eat ice cream, watch Saturday Night Life and Second City TV, and laugh myself silly until 2am! Sunday I allowed myself to read the newspaper, and then it was back to work (in between courses and gamelan) until the following Saturday night. And, suddenly it was over. After a recording stint in Japan, we were off to doctoral school at UCLA in fall, 1985.

Maxine knew what she had bought into. She knew that I would be doing some gigs and going to conduct new fieldwork projects and to conferences. She worked and completed a paralegal degree during times when we could manage, but most of our lives revolved around my studies. I did, however, make it a point to change diapers (and we used cotton, reusable diapers). “We” got pregnant again while at UCLA, our daughter Gaby appeared in 1988, and I assumed control of the kitchen. We resided in family-student housing and many families there were also struggling to balance time with family and time to get through degree programs. Our housing complex was a unique and very international community, and the families helped each other out. Some trusted neighbors could look after our children, and we could look after theirs. My son grew to love Korean food.

There were some constraints, of course. Ensembles met in the evenings; I could take Javanese gamelan (my assistantship) and, later, Balinese gamelan. I could rationalize those courses to Maxine. But, I could not take other evening ensembles, and, to this day, I regret not having worked with Jihad Racy. I bought my first computer in 1986, a Mac Plus, which really helped facilitate my work. While I interacted with my children daily and often for long stretches, sometimes I could not play with them; I remember a time when my son really wanted to play, and I said I was too busy. He said “You’re doing your work,” and turned and walked away. That is still a little heartbreaking to recall—particularly as he is now 31!

I cut my fieldwork into smaller pieces while at UCLA to avoid being gone for long periods. I went to Indonesia for one- and two-month intervals and once for five months but had Maxine and all three children fly over for two of those months. (She still has nightmares about that flight with one newborn, one toddler and one elementary school child!)

We were growing out of our little two-bedroom family-student housing unit. I worked on my dissertation at every free moment. I defended in fall 1990, we moved out of LA that December, and I deposited my dissertation in January for the March 1991 graduation date. Graduating and moving away didn’t end the issues surrounding family and work (and the promise of more conferences and fieldwork) but they did change the equation and presented a new, fascinating set of problems.

Harnish Family photo Christmas



2 thoughts on “Parenthood and Ethnomusicology

  1. I so enjoyed reading this, David (and Heather). It’s nice to know that at some point life will normalize. I’ve just finished, but job applications have taken the place of dissertation work, not to mention finding stable work in the meantime and still balancing family life. I would love to see a companion piece or a follow-up to see how transition to first job life changed things for your family. I’m sure having your first academic job was not a cakewalk to start. Would be nice to hear that transition.

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