Statement of Philosophy

 

People, preparation and passion are the driving factors behind all facets of my teaching, research, creative activities and service at the University of Texas in El Paso.  The circle begins with two people: student and teacher.  In this relationship, I see my role as the teacher carrying the following objectives: 1) to motivate, 2) to demonstrate, 3) to facilitate progressive momentum and 4) to substantiate decisions made by the student as he or she travels through this chosen path. 

 

Motivation

 

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”  

– Helen Keller (1880-1968)

 

Teaching music at UTEP brings ample opportunity to motivate students.  Motivation is an essential, compelling force which I believe must be infused into the core of each and every student that walks onto our commuter campus.  For many of these students, they are the first in their families to attend college.  Perhaps some of them have not had the musical experiences or the pre-college education that the students with whom I attended college had.  Others may need to hold full-time jobs while studying, just in order to be in school.  Whatever the challenges may be, my actions and words reinforce as many times as possible, “You can do this.  I believe in you and your ability to reach excellence.” 

 

The most basic teaching tools that I implement with each student seem simple enough:  to help define and set clear goals and to support with assistance in reaching those goals.  However, sometimes there is a break down in that system:  either students do not understand the goals or have not really made them their own.  This is part of the challenge in making those objectives—including the students, assimilating their thoughts, dreams and expectations into the reality of what I know they will need to become successful performers and educators.  Another roadblock may occur when the students lose sight of those objectives or the faith they must have in themselves to reach them.  Motivation again comes quickly to the rescue.  “I believe in you and your ability to reach excellence.”  Expecting positive outcomes usually rewards successful results.

 

Although it is important to establish a level of high standards, I often challenge the student to move beyond this plane and opt for even more exciting heights of music study and excellence.  In addition to the required course work, I encourage and facilitate the chances for additional opportunities beyond the UTEP campus.  Take your music study out to other people.  Let’s broaden this circle of two to include twenty, fifty, hundreds…Recent practical activities that follow this sentiment include performances at local schools, outreach concerts at retirement communities and musical collaborations with other music organizations.  I wish I could insert a photo of the smiles on the faces of students after such a situation, and if there were a way to measure confidence and happiness, the data would astound.

 

Demonstration

 

Being passionate myself about the study and performance of music, I believe it is essential for students to see their mentors demonstrating the very aspects that we all are trying to enforce: communicating through music.  As world-renowned performing cellist and music pedagogue Janos Starker recently remarked about the numerous successful students with whom he has worked throughout his nearly fifty years of teaching, “They are contributing to the cause.”  The cause, in this case, is the performance and education of classical music.  Every course offered at the UTEP Department of Music asks students to join in the intellectual, artistic and innovative study of music and all that it entails.  How can I not ask the same from myself?  By requiring from myself the very same things I require from my students—to engage with people, to be prepared and to play or teach with passion—they are learning about continuing education beyond the degrees offered at UTEP.  Music and education become a life long pursuit instead of a semester’s study.

 

Facilitation of Progressive Momentum

 

One of the most exciting concepts connecting people within this discipline is facilitating relationships amongst the students.  They are encouraged to work together and to mentor each other.  In the field of music, as I’m sure it is in every other area of study or work, there is too much separation, in my opinion.  We musicians are stereotypically famous for our backstabbing, undercutting and dishonest ways of working with each other.  Not to say that there is not any level of friendly competition amongst the students, I purposely force students to interact in scholarly and performance projects together in order to reaffirm the sense of community.  By viewing a peer successfully completing (or perhaps not successfully completing) various activities in music, we sometimes learn more quickly.  Under the auspices of unity, the students are overwhelmingly supportive of each other as a result. 

 

The music curriculum is organized so that progressive momentum is “built-in.”  However, I believe that an advancing incline in regard to difficulty and length of assigned repertoire, course objectives and leadership responsibilities within my studio help prepare students for what lies beyond UTEP.    

 

Substantiation of Students’ Decisions

 

A former student whose progress was detained for a bit—due to many reasons, but mainly because of an unanticipated new baby daughter—returned to my studio after several years.  Right after the baby was born, this student had realized that music was not to be her defined goal but that she excelled in the realm of business management.  Although the times leading up to that decision were not easy ones for our teacher and student relationship—as I grabbed for my tools of motivation, demonstration and facilitation—it was the best choice for her.  I never thought twice about supporting this student even after she had decided to change programs.  However, what I think she recalls the most in her studies with me were the aspects of passion and people, as defined in this philosophy.  One day as she returned to my studio years later and asked if she could speak with me for a brief moment, her eyes welled with tears as she quietly confessed, “I never meant to let you down.”  After disguising my own shock, I reassured her that she never let me down, that I was very proud of her achievements and that her struggles were not in vein.  After our conversation she left empowered, for all of the steps she took trying to be successful in music will always assist her in life.  This is the power and strength of music and in what I firmly believe and try to pass on to others.  Music connects people, engages one to always be prepared and emphasizes passion as a means of life.

 

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