From June 2019 to June 2020, I participated in the Master of Arts of Teaching Music (MAT) program at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Along with my cohort of 10 other grad students, I delved into an intensive study of the art and science of teaching music.
This web page was created to answer the core question about my music teaching philosophy: How has this graduate school enhanced or altered my perceptions and approaches toward music teaching and learning?
This page is intended for my graduate committee, my family and friends, and potential future employers and students.
I returned to school to study music education at the age of 47, after a successful 25+ year career in the sciences. I earned my second BS degree in two years, and then starting this program. During this program, I met and worked with a wide range of incredible people, and delved further into the processes, techniques and philosophies of teaching music than I ever thought possible. This year included many incredible highlights, but also saw the Covid-19 pandemic strike in March, which upended the world of Music Education around the world.
But, before we go any further, I would like to give you a glimpse into my life and my musical background. As David Byrne and the Talking Heads asked in 1981:
"And you may ask yourself:
Well, how did I get here?"
A Lifetime of Music
I grew up in a musical family in San Luis Obispo, California (those are the mountains of SLO in the background). Fun fact: my mother and father's first date came when they were the respective presidents of the Women's and Men's Choirs at Cal Poly SLO in the early 60's. My older sister and I sang together in choirs in high school and at home, and the entire family sang with a choir that toured Europe in 1985.
I first took piano lessons at age 8, picked up guitar and bass at the age of 11, and have sung in school and community choirs throughout most of my life. I also did a bit of theater in High School - that's me on the right as Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie my junior year (1986). I picked up a multitude of other instruments over the years, including piano, banjo, mandolin, lap steel guitar, harmonica, and a variety of percussion instruments.
FISHERIES BIOLOGY AND FAMILY
The Middle Years
OSU The First Time Around
My first career was as a fisheries biologist. I did my undergraduate studies at Humboldt State University, in Arcata, California, on the edge of the continent where the redwood forests and coastal rivers meet the ocean. I earned a Bachelors Degree in Natural Resources Management from HSU in 1995. I then spent seven years working fisheries jobs around the west for the US Forest Service, spent a winter as a lift tech at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe, and worked a few winters as a carpenter. I met my wife-to-be Sara in 1996, and were married in 1999.
in January 2000 I enrolled at Oregon State University, and received a M.S. in Fisheries Biology in 2005. My thesis project was focused on juvenile spring Chinook salmon in the Metolius River Basin (That's one of them in my hand on the right)
But, even as I developed my career in the sciences, music was still a big part of my life. I always kept singing in choirs, playing guitar, writing songs, and learning new instruments.
After graduate school (the first time around, in 2005), I moved with my family to Redmond, Oregon, where I took a position as a Fisheries Biologist with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. I studied and managed populations of spring Chinook salmon, steelhead, and a variety of other fish species in the Deschutes River Basin. I oversaw a monitoring project with a staff of 5-10 employees and a budget of around $550K annually. I collected and analyzed data, wrote a lot of reports and gave a lot of public presentations. I was deeply involved in efforts to reintroduce anadromous fish upstream of the Pelton - Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, and served as the liaison between the Tribes and several state and federal fisheries management agencies. I was in this position for over a decade, from 2005 - 2016.
While living in Central Oregon, I sang with the Central Oregon Master Chorale, and played guitar and led music for the Zion Lutheran and Community Presbyterian Churches in Redmond. I occasionally played out at open mics (that's me and my daughter Kate on the upper left). In 2012, I was given the opportunity to teach part-time evening guitar classes for the Central Oregon Community College, something I did from 2010 until 2016.
In September of 2015, I attended a 4-day songwriting camp that was part of the Sisters Folk Festival. At this camp, I got the chance to meet and play music with professional musicians, and it rekindled my passion for music.
I also realized that had the chops to hang with them musically, and I had so much fun I knew that I had to follow this path some way, some how. I made the decision to make music a bigger part of my everyday life, and began exploring avenues to expand my musical career.
First Full-Time Teaching Experience
In the summer of 2016, I was hired by the Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA) in as the Middle School and High School Band Director. I left my job at Warm Springs, said goodbye to the world of Fisheries Biology and dove headfirst into the challenge of teaching music to kids.
I had zero classroom management experience going into this new position, and I admittedly struggled at first. But, I had the musicianship and passion for music to make it work. I taught three traditional bands, and taught dozens of students to play guitar and ukulele using the methods that I had created for my COCC classes. Additionally, I mentored the formation, rehearsals, and performances of a funk/jazz band, a trio of rock bands, and was the Musical Director / guitarist for the school's production of Legally Blonde the Musical. The concerts and performances that we put on together during this school year were some of the highlights of my professional life.
Although I was only at RPA for one school year, my experiences with that group of students affected me profoundly, and I will always cherish my memories of RPA.
OSU (THE SECOND TIME AROUND)
Return to University
In the fall of 2017, the family made the decision to move back to Corvallis. Sara had a full-time job with the Oregon Department of Energy in Salem, and we had family that lived in town. I re-enrolled at OSU as a post-baccalaureate student in the Music Department, with the goal of ultimately earning a Masters Degree in music education.
I was involved in several performing ensembles at OSU, including
Chamber Choir, under the direction of Dr Steven Zielke,
Meistersingers, with Russ Christensen
Jazz Combos (playing bass), with Ryan Biesack, and
Lyric Opera, with Anthony Eversole.
I served as the Assistant Student Conductor for the Meistersingers and was Student President and Logistics Captain for the Chamber Choir.
I also taught beginning contemporary guitar classes and facilitated a songwriters group called Songwriters in the Round.
In the spring of 2019, I earned my B.S. in Music and was accepted into the MAT Music Program.
Courses taken during the MAT Program included:
Developing Music Curriculum
Music Education Research
Philosophical Foundations of Music Education
Advanced Choral Conducting (Summer Choir)
Foundations of ESOL Education (English for Speakers of Other Languages)
Elementary Music Methods
Secondary Vocal Education (University Chorale)
Secondary Instrumental Education
Included fieldwork at Cheldelin Middle School
My assigned student teaching was at Central High School in Independence / Monmouth, Oregon, where I worked with Choir Teacher Jeff Witt and Band Director Ed Propst. I was able to work with the students for a few weeks in the fall and winter, but unfortunately, spring term student teaching was cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid -19 pandemic. I regret missing out on the opportunity to work with the great kids at Central High.
Research / Literature Review
Engaging Non-Traditional Music Students: Guitar Class in High School
As part of this program, we had a course in music education research. At first, having had a career in the quantitative sciences, I was challenged and had difficulty accepting the qualitative nature of music research methods and analysis. However, I eventually realized that for music, there really is no better way to conduct research, and qualitative analysis can be valuable.
I chose to conduct my research on the use of guitar classes in high school music curricula to reach non-traditional music students. Although guitar classes will never (and should never) replace traditional ensembles in a high school curriculum, they can be a means to engage those students who may have “oppositional personas” (Seifreid, 2006, p.175) or otherwise would not be in music classes at all (Cape, 2013, Tobias, 2012, Abramo, 2010). Reimer (1989) suggested that roughly 15 percent of high school students nationwide participate in music classes. That means that approximately 85% of high school students don’t engage in music. Offering guitar classes is a method to engage a different demographic of high school students, and give those students the opportunity to reap the benefits of music education while in high school.
I experienced this first hand when teaching at RPA - the kids I had in my guitar classes (and rock bands) were often not the same kids I had in my traditional band ensembles. These non-traditional classes allowed me to reach a different demographic of students, and allowed them the opportunity to engage in music at school that they might not have had otherwise.
Popular Music Theory and Songwriting
To complete the capstone teaching project required for my MAT Degree, I was able to find 10 volunteer high-school students to join me in an online songwriting class. These students had attended the OSU Choir Camp in the summer of 2019, where I was a teacher. In a five lesson unit, we learned to analyze popular music and used music theory to break the music down into component parts. Each of the students was able to create their own original music using Soundtrap, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
The five Lessons in the unit were:
Analyzing Pop Music
Diatonic Chords and Using Soundtrap DAW
Writing Successful Lyrics
Song Forms - 12 Bar Blues
Classic Chord Progressions and 16 bar Phrases
plus a final presentation of original music.
Music Teaching Philosophy
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without."
Confucius (551- 479 BC)
Why Music Education?
Music surrounds our everyday lives. We are surrounded by it all the time - in the car, at the supermarket, or while watching tv or internet videos. We interact with music both actively and passively, and it is a common thread that ties communities together, both socially and culturally.
Students that are exposed to music early in life get a chance to explore the many ways that music can enhance lives. It can be used as a form of expression, and it serves as a conduit to connect and bond with others in their community.
Although few people become professional musicians, I believe that being a musician makes a person better at whatever it is they choose to do. Being a musician will make anybody a better doctor, scientist, or engineer.
Who Should Teach Music?
Although I have been training to be a a music teacher, I believe that music can be taught by anybody to anybody. Mothers teach children, neighbors teach neighbors, and elders teach the younger. Music is for everybody, and one of the joys of life is being able to share music with others at any time.
But, in a school setting, trained teachers are needed to to deliver musical education to their students. I taught music to middle and high school for a year, and although I "survived" the year, I knew that more training would made me a more effective teacher. That is why I went back to school.
Who Should be Taught?
Music education should be introduced to children at a young age. Each student learns in different ways, and brings different skills and challenges to a classroom. One of the main tasks of a teacher is to attempt to understand the cultural and social background of each student, and create ways to engage with that student and expand their involvement with music - or not. As a child grows, they should be allowed to make their own decisions on how they interact with music.
And, there is no age limit in terms of who should be taught music. People of all ages can (and should!) be involved in music.
What Should Be Taught?
Music is a rich, multi-faceted subject that has been expressed in multiple ways in multiple cultures throughout history. Music education of today needs to be as multi-faceted. Students should be introduced to traditional "western European" music, as much of the way we understand music today is based upon it, but should also learn about from cultures around the world, as a way of exploring the river diversity of human cultures around the world. And popular music, the music that kids listen to today, is a great starting point to engage students.
The music classroom should be a non-judgmental space that belongs to the students as much as it belongs to the teacher. The modern music classroom should be a hybrid space, one that incorporates technology as well as traditional rehearsal space to facilitate engagement with music in multiple ways.
"I believe in the power of music
It breaks down walls and opens doors
I believe we have to use it
to find the answers that we're looking for."
THANK YOU MAT COHORT
Thank you Drs. Brewer, Babb, Bulgren, and Zielke
Returning to University in my mid 40's was not easy. I was attending classes with students that were less than half my age. But, we grew to respect each other because of our connection through music. Two years as an undergraduate student honed my musical skills, greatly increased my understanding of musical theory and application, and led to my BS Degree in Music.
In the MAT Program, I learned more about what it means to be a teacher, and was introduced to new techniques and philosophies that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I have gained confidence in my abilities, and also have better defined my weaknesses. I feel like I can go forth and teach choir, band, orchestra, guitar, technology or any other kind of music to people of all ages in my community. And, I learned a great deal about myself, and how I can choose to make a difference in the world.
I choose to be a music teacher.