Musing musically about research: reflections on Dr. Grotevant and what’s upcoming…

As described in my previous two posts, Dr. Hal Grotevant and I had a chance to speak extensively. In Dr. Grotevant’s words he loves research and is thrilled by investigation, sharing, and efforts to grow our collective understanding of family dynamics (particularly relating to adoption). Nonetheless his “avocation” is music. He is an avid lover of music, both as a player (clarinet, voice) and as a listener. He had the opportunity to be at the heart of his high school’s band and in the University of Texas, Austin, marching band. While a faculty member in Minnesota he had the opportunity to sing with multiple choirs, taking in, and adding to, the gorgeous choral traditions of that region.

As a musician, he found his place harmonically and driven by the passion for music that lives in so many of us. This struck a chord between us (excuse the pun) because of my own lifelong love and involvement with music. The musings that have been echoing (again, excuse the pun) in my mind are something like this. As a clarinetist in a marching band, young Hal would have been front and center — often carrying the melody with his sectional peers. As a male vocalist in choir, Dr. Grotevant would have been relied on to support and blend with his fellow singers to effect the musical harmony. Leader and harmonizer. Center and back-up.

Grotevant and his collaborators have devoted considerable attention to a central theme in their scholarly work: individuation vs. connectedness. Does one strike out (sorry about that pun) with her own melody (oops), or blend into the harmony (yikes!) of the family? As a young man Hal pressed forward to compose (ok, just go with the puns) his own path. He was a first-generation college student who pursued an undergraduate degree with honors, went through a heart-wrenching decision to enter the military and serve with the Navy during the Vietnam War, and then returned, not to his tonic (tonic as in the first note in the scale — in this case, Texas — and again, sorry about the pun) but instead entered a doctoral program in Minnesota. Young Hal began on a fairly strong individuated path making decisions both bold and taking him far from the roots created by his supportive parents. When starting as a young Assistant Professor, collaborations became his jam (if I said no pun intended would you believe me?). Connectedness with Drs. Cooper and McRory (and many others) became canon (that’s only sort-of a pun, hardly worth a groan) in his work and the most impactful parts of his career are clearly borne out of collaboration.

As a musician and as a scholar, there is a sense in which one might view Dr. Grotevant’s actions as a leader who found his power in collaborative groups. His ability to bridge these perspectives is evident in his theories of family dynamics and development. Successful music and successful adolescent growth feature the development of a voice, but that voice only seems to thrive when it connects harmoniously with the other voices supporting and nurturing that development.

Where does that leave us  in this journey 2 psychology? There is so much more to say about Dr. Grotevant and the many contributions he’s made to Psychology (and to be elaborated at length in the book project).  But the list of people I plan to speak with is long and my attentions now turn to the next conversation. This week I will walk in the vaunted halls of arguably the oldest university in the United States and meet a wonderful scholar therein (the first of several at that institution). It’s a tough step. There’s a part of me that is expecting to be rejected from the building. I’ll scrutinize how I dress, what I bring, the level of modesty in my demeanor, the tone of voice I use to broach questions.  If J. Alfred Prufrock can dare to “wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach” and listen to the “mermaids sing each to each,” then I suppose I, too, can be bold enough seek out their song. Wherever this path might lead.


(Image with this post is a small sample of the honors adorning the walls of Dr. Grotevant’s office)

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