Dr. Eric Simonson
While a graduate student at Indiana University I had the privilege of working as a teaching assistant (or "associate instructor," as they were called there) under Mary Wennerstrom, one of the leading voices in music theory pedagogy. What particularly struck me about her ways was not only her fluency and conservatism (for the sake of leaving some things for later--a kind of 'pedagogical timing') balanced with enthusiasm and adaptability (since some questions are not always anticipated), but her uncanny ability to give personal attention to and "know" each individual in a class of over 100 students from all over the world who had come to study at one of the largest schools of music in the world. Partly for that reason, I am not intimidated by numbers or diversity; I am only stimulated by it. What an enriching experience it was for me to teach in an area (Southern California) marked by such cultural ethnic diversity, and to teach those who are going into various non-music disciplines to boot! Also is has been quite rewarding to be a part of a liberal arts program at a community college (here in East Central Illinois) committed to egalitarian education. I've been able to get to know some wonderful people and, I feel, share something with them that cannot be measured according to the ways of the marketplace; indeed, it is something much closer to and essential to the human spirit.
Since coming to Danville Area Community College I have increased the number of course offerings so that students would have a greater breadth of experience with music, even as non-majors and non-musicians. Music is a vital part of history, culture, and spirituality. There is even such a thing as "musical thinking," I believe. And if students at DACC are to have a complete liberal arts education, they need more than just a few weeks devoted to it as part of a general humanities survey.
To that end, I developed Music 121 (Ethnic Traditions in American Music), Music 122 (History of Rock and Roll), Music 123 (Introduction to Electronic Music), Music 124 (Music History I-which covers Western musical history from medieval times to the time of Bach), Music 125 (Music History II-which covers Western musical history from 1750 to the present day), and Music 126 (Non-Western Music-which explores other world musical traditions). Two other initiatives that I realized were Music 152 (College Singers) and Music 115W (Music Appreciation Online). All of these classes have had impressive enrollments and, with the exception of Music 121 and 152, are still being offered.
I am a firm believer in the notion of learning through experimentation and creating. If I had to choose between teaching a student about Beethoven or about a sonata by Beethoven or how to play a Beethoven sonata on the piano or how to make a piece of his own, something original, and how to perform it in front of his peers, I'd definitely choose the last thing in the list, as much as I admire Beethoven and his music. It's when one tries to create something original that he engages the most critical thought and, in the process, learns the most about his world and himself. This, in sum, is where I stand in regards to teaching and learning.
Information is more accessible now than ever. It can be downloaded. A human being can't, because a human's will and commitment are involved. My will is always to strive to be a teacher with passion and enthusiasm for imparting understanding. No matter how many times I have approached the same subject, I have always encountered something new about it myself. And when I see the change in countenance in my students when they begin understanding something that I've taken for granted, it makes even what's "old" precious again. Technology is at our disposal to speed up and make more efficient this learning process. I am a champion of its deployment. But the foundation of effective teaching rests on such things as repetition and review, taking an appropriate personal interest in students (regardless of the class size), and ardor on the part of the teacher for things both old and new.