Teaching Philosophy – Collegiate

(A performance of Brahms Requiem with the Wheaton College orchestra and choirs)

When I stop and think about what it is that I find most meaningful about teaching at the collegiate level, it is the one-on-one time that I share with my students, not only working through repertoire, but hearing their personal stories and professional aspirations. Whether my students are celebrating accomplishments or struggling through disappointments, it is this individual attention that makes our lessons together so rewarding. With that in mind and regardless of which field they enter, my students must also be musically, academically, and professionally prepared, and they must feel confident that our work together has helped them reach their full potential. The foundation in my teaching comes from three basic approaches: first, understanding and contemplating the artistry in music; second, mastering the instrument itself through proven methodology and processes; and finally, assessing student success not only to attain larger goals musically but also to ensure that they are professionally competitive.

The Artistry of Music

It would be impossible to begin writing about a teaching philosophy without first commenting on the important task of teaching artistry. In many ways, I love to speak about music as art in motion: the way the colors move through sound, the way the voices change and multiply, the complex interplay between musical lines and players, and the resulting rich musical legacy that has accompanied human history.

As a player, my emphasis has always been on the beauty and expressive qualities of sound as the foundation to all playing, whether virtuosic or lyrical. There are two great inspirations that inform my approach to sound:

1. In any form of art, whether visual or musical, it is the skilled manipulations of colors and textures that make the art come to life. Legendary teacher Joseph Mariano once spoke of the fundamentals of sound as a three-legged stool held up by dynamics, vibrato, and focus. Much like the primary colors in art, the mastery and artful execution of these three simple concepts can lead to infinite possibilities in communicating both the sublime and the powerful in music.

2. In terms of sound production, there is no greater model than a singer. It is my strong belief that a beautiful sound cannot exist when there is overall tension in the body. Much like a singer, the way we breathe, support our air, and hold our bodies have a greater impact on our sound than the flute itself. A relaxed and balanced posture contributes greatly to the release of tension and allows the body to be open and play more freely. A natural approach to playing becomes almost therapeutic, challenging us to work with the body rather than against it, and improving every aspect of playing, from technique to projection to vibrato.

In addition, the warmth and clarity of the voice, as well as the remarkable range of expression and lyricism, are an artistic inspiration, as well. Jan DeGaetani, Jessye Norman, and many other singers raise the bar for us as musicians in every way. I highly encourage my students to listen to, and collaborate with, singers, and I also suggest practicing vocal repertoire in transcriptions and in books, like Marcel Moyses Tone Development through Interpretation.

The Process

In the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music (where I have taught since 2002) and Elmhurst College (where I have taught since 2012) Flute Studios, the flutists take great pride in being exceptional players, whether they are a performance or an academic major. One of the great challenges and joys I have in teaching is to determine the most effective way to reach each student. However, within this individualized approach, three basic components structure all of my lessons.

1. A conceptual approach, requiring frequent musical demonstrations and an emphasis on creativity including imaginative discussions about musical phrasing, colors in sound, and artistry.

2. A cerebral, intellectual understanding of music in concrete terms, with a strong emphasis on history and theory, including rhythm, harmonies, and musical structures.

3. An emphasis on fundamentals, including exercises in tonal control and expressivity, technical etudes, articulation exercises, scales, and arpeggios.

Strategy is essential to the development of the skilled musician. The issue of pacing is often discussed in sports, especially as athletes prepare to be at their peak level of performance at just the right moment. The same principal holds true in music, as well. Without question, time in the practice room contributes to success on stage. However, the pacing of this preparation must be carefully directed to achieve the most benefit while preventing injuries. For example, a student may have the equivalent of six years of work to do during a four-year undergraduate degree program in order to be competitive when it comes time to apply for graduate schools during senior year. On a smaller scale, the pacing of practicing can determine success in everything from juries to competitions. Careful attention to long- and short-term goals also helps the performer to learn repertoire more completely while managing nerves and avoiding panic on stage.

In my own experience, I have found that a balanced approach to music includes work both in and out of the practice room. This includes, work in the academic classroom, as well as careful study of scores and recordings. Academic work gives students the ability to understand music within a much broader context culturally, historically, and analytically as well as artistically. Also, a strong academic background gives students greater flexibility should they choose to pursue a career outside of performing.

Faith, Art, and Learning at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music

Teaching at Wheaton College’s Conservatory of Music allows me the opportunity to consider the intersections of Faith and Art within a learning context.  How does our faith impact our musical life?  Here are a few samples of some simple points of discussion I’ve shared with students.

In the Old Testament scripture passage below, Zephaniah 3:17, I love contemplating the idea of the Lord expressing His rejoicing through songs and how this might be relevant to our own lives.  What could be more beautiful, and what might His songs appear like to us?  We can only imagine and interpret these words.  Is it a figurative description of the awe we feel when we witness the exquisite beauty and majesty of the natural world?  Is it a general description symbolized in a tender moment of love or generosity shared between people?  Is it a literal description that is mimicked in our lives when we are so moved by the power of music?  Are these ways that we experience echoes of this – God rejoicing over us with joyful songs?  There are so many ways that students can ponder and meditate over these words.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT) For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

In the New Testament verse, Ephesians 2:10, we are reminded that although we value our musical giftedness, ambitions, and accomplishments, this is not where our value lies.  We ourselves are God’s masterpieces.  When our identities are too tightly woven with our sense of “winning” in music, then stress and anxiety can be unnecessarily heightened and emotional health can be too quickly compromised.  We can seek peace and assurance in these words.

Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Finally, another New Testament verse that connects not only with my work at Wheaton College but also with Credo Music, Philippians 4:8 brings us to the discipline of mental focus not only in our moment to moment thoughts, but also as an inspiration to how we interact with the world and ultimately our professional field.  How do each of these points guide our thoughts and behaviors?

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

These verses address three very key ideas in our studies — the beauty of music as an expression of God’s joy, our own intrinsic worth as God’s children, and finally a guide for how we receive and move through the world.  Discussions between students and myself and the excellent bible curriculum at Wheaton College allow students to explore their faith profoundly, within biblical context, and with a beautifully diverse range of perspectives.  Wheaton College’s mission “for Christ and His kingdom” is simply central to the work of my colleagues and me, and students will find that the balance of nurturing and equipping at the Conservatory creates an environment where they can thrive, be challenged to grow, and launch their best lives.  Wheaton College flute graduates have continued their studies at the country’s top graduate school programs and abroad and share their music and teaching in virtually every corner of our field.  I have served on faculty at Wheaton College since 2002.  For a sample lesson and a prospective student tour and visit, please contact me at Jennie.Brown@Wheaton.edu.

Looking to the Future at Elmhurst College Music Department

When prospective students walk into Irion Hall at Elmhurst College, the comment I hear most is that they immediately feel a sense of encouragement and welcoming.  This is a place where everyone belongs and will find their community.  Throughout the department, you will find faculty who are committed to helping students by giving them the tools they need to succeed and the encouragement to try.  Additionally, the institution itself supports students through outstanding financial aid and merit scholarships.  I have been teaching at Elmhurst College since 2012.

One of the things I appreciate about Elmhurst College is the integration of opportunities off campus.  J-term (a mini-semester in January scheduled between the two main semesters each year) gives students easy opportunities to study abroad, study special topics, or pursue independent studies.  Additionally, Music Education students go off campus beginning their sophomore year to receive hands on training in the schools with students.  Music Business students pursue internships in Chicago’s most exciting arts organizations and receive credit towards their degrees.  Elmhurst College’s jazz students have participated in award-winning recordings and concert tours throughout the country and overseas.  Finally, with a clear faculty connection to the Chicago music scene, students see first hand what it’s like to perform with any ensemble or venue in town from Hamilton to Symphony Center, and often develop meaningful professional connections themselves through the faculty.  Students are energized to think entrepreneurially and to reach outside their comfort zones to reach for the next steps in their careers.

On campus, Elmhurst College’s Jazz area is particularly noteworthy with its celebrated Jazz Festivals on campus in February and outdoor festival during the summer.  ILMEA District 1 Festival is often held on campus and gives visiting high school musicians the chance to visit campus.  Our bands, choirs, and orchestra are growing stronger every year and have had opportunities to perform at Symphony Center, with Andrea Bocelli at the All-State Arena, and at the ILMEA All-State festival.  The flute studio is filled with ambitious students who are focused, diligent in their work, and consistently and amazingly kind to each other.  It is a beautiful place to be, truly.  Students have pursued graduate studies at top graduate school programs and are entering a diverse range of music careers.  The future is bright for our Elmhurst College students!  For a sample lesson and a prospective student tour and visit, please contact me at Jennie.Brown@Elmhurst.edu.

Assessing Success

Throughout the years, it has served my students well to have prescribed performance competencies. Although choices of repertoire can vary according to students tastes, I strongly believe that there is a core set of pieces, etudes, and exercises that each student should play. Additionally, juries and recitals help students to assess whether they are reaching certain standards in their playing. I also believe that it is imperative that students pursue competitions, professional opportunities, and summer festivals off campus to help them understand the competitive market they are entering.

My Purpose in Teaching

The truth is that I really love teaching, and I consider it an honor and privilege to work alongside my students during this particular phase of their lives. There is a certain sense of self-discovery that comes from studying any form of art, but the daily discipline of being a musician makes music such a vital part of our lives, that it feels as natural, and as essential, as breathing. For some, this love of music will leadto a clear desire to perform professionally and pursue a career on stage. For others, it will lead them to study the academic side of music, perhaps in history, theory, arts administration, or education. For others still, music will become the respite in their lives as they raise families and pursue careers in completely different fields. Regardless, my purpose in teaching is to help my students discover their own unique talents and gifts, use these gifts to enrich their own lives and the lives of others, and to simply enjoy a lifelong love of music.

 

SAMPLE TRAJECTORY THROUGH UNDERGRADUATE STUDY FOR PERFORMANCE MAJORS

INCLUDES:

Taffanel-Gaubert, 17 Daily Exercises

Marcel Moyse, De la Sonorite

Walfrid Kujala, Orchestral Techniques for flute and piccolo

Jeanne Baxtresser, Orchestral Excerpts for flute

 

FIRST YEAR

J. S. Bach, Sonatas in E Major and C Major, Henle or Barenreiter Editions

W.A. Mozart, Concerto in D Major, Barenreiter Edition

Music by French Composers, edited by Louis Moyse

P. Hindemith, Sonata for flute and piano

C. Debussy, Syrinx

B. T. Berbiguier, 18 Etudes

M. Moyse, 24 Petites ètudes mèlodique

 

SECOND YEAR

J. S. Bach Sonatas E flat Major and A Major, Henle or Barenreiter Editions

W. A. Mozart, Concerto in G Major, Barenreiter Edition

Music by French Composers, edited by Louis Moyse

F. Poulenc, Sonata for flute and piano

E. Varese, Density 21.5

Andersen Etudes, Op. 33 or Karg Elert 30 Studies

M. Moyse, 20 Exercises et ètudes sur les Grandes Liaisons

 

THIRD YEAR

J. S. Bach, Sonata in e minor and Partita in a minor, Henle or Barenreiter Editions

J. Ibert, Concerto for flute and orchestra

P. Sancan, Sonatine

L. Berio, Sequenza

J. Andersen Etudes, Op. 15 or Altes Etudes

M. Moyse, Ètudes et èxercises technique

 

FOURTH YEAR

J. S. Bach Sonata in b minor, Henle or Barenreiter Editions

C. Nielsen, Concerto for flute and orchestra

Dutilleux Sonatine for flute and piano

Paganini Caprice(s)

S. Prokofiev, Sonata for flute and piano

J. Andersen Etudes, Op. 60

M. Moyse, Tone and Development through Interpretation