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Music Education at OU
Monday, August 5, 2013
Music Education at OU

by Gillian Ellis

Oakland University has a strong, vibrant music education program, and its strength is clearly represented in the number of OU educated teachers currently working in local schools. Our alums are working as general music, band and choral teachers throughout the tri-county area.

Others are working further afield, either in schools or as music educators at universities. Among them are Ben Clark, (B.M. '12) who was the winner of the 2012 Outstanding Student in Music Education MaTilDa Award and is a successful band director at Dekany High School in Spring, Texas; Elizabeth Davis Reynolds (B.M '05., M.M. '08) who teaches at Queen Creek High School in Arizona; Sharon Davis (Ph.D. '08) who teaches general music in Leesburg, Virginia, and has also published music education research articles and book chapters; and Alex Ruthmann (M.M., Ph.D.) who was recently appointed associate professor of music education and music technology (joint appointment) at New York University.

Two graduates teach on Long Island, New York: Tim Warner (B.M. '01) teaches choral music at Freeport High School and Mike Moreno (B.M. '00) has established a thriving choral program at his school, H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square. Tim and Mike have done some work together, conducting one another’s choruses and interacting professionally in other ways. OU Associate Professor of Music Mike Mitchell visited Mike Moreno and his students during the summer of 2012, when the Oakland Chorale was on tour in New York. You can see the Oakland Chorale and the H. Frank Carey Senior High Chorus sing together here.

Professor Jackie Wiggins, chair of OU Music, Theatre and Dance, is an internationally respected music education researcher. Prior to her arrival at Oakland in 1994, Professor Wiggins taught general and choral music in New York public schools for more than twenty years. She is known for her constructivist vision of music learning and teaching, and for her work in children’s musical creative process. The music education program at OU is grounded in social constructivist theory and practice. Music education professors Deborah Blair and Joseph Shively also share and foster this perspective.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the strength of the OU program than the fact that no fewer than six OU music education alums are currently serving on the Oakland County Fine Arts Council: Chair, Hedy Blatt; N. Marie Casorio (M.M. '09) from Avondale; Mike Medvinsky, (B.M. '05) who was the 2012 Oakland County Teacher of the Year, and who recently accepted a new position in Bloomfield Hills Schools; Roberta Libstaff (B.M. '99) from Madison Heights; Cheryl Ogonowski (M.M. '98) head of elementary music for Rochester Hills; and Jason Rose (current M.M. student) from Southfield.  At the upcoming Oakland Schools Arts First! professional development conference, which is scheduled for Monday, August 26 2013, the preponderance of music presentations will be given by OU music education alums.

We asked some of the alumni working locally to send us their thoughts on how their studies at OU shaped their educational theories and practices.

At the Arts First! Conference Lori Cleland, (B.M., M.M. '02) who teaches general music in Farmington Public Schools, will present a breakout session on “Formative Assessment and Creativity in the Elementary General Music Classroom.” She will talk about the informal assessment teachers use on a daily basis, which is designed to help students improve their learning and achievement while also providing the data required by the new teacher evaluation standards mandated by the state. Lori says it is not difficult to generate this data while still remaining true to the way she has always taught. “I ask myself several questions: What do I want my students to know, how will I get them there and how will I know they have learned what I intended for them to learn?”

Lori first attended OU in 1975 but left after completing only one year college. She returned 13 years later with a passion to pursue a degree in music. She says, “I majored in music education and vocal performance. Fortunately for me Dr. Jackie Wiggins had just hired on and became my mentor. I was also very fortunate to have Dr. Edie Diggory as my voice professor. I went on to complete my master’s in music education under Jackie’s tutelage as well. Jackie has always been a forward thinker in music education. Her enthusiasm and knowledge still amaze me! Her passion for music education inspired me every step of the way.”

Teaching from the constructivist perspective came naturally to Lori. She says she doesn’t think of it as a “method.” Summarizing her own teaching philosophy she says, “You just don’t follow the book . . . You follow where the students take you. I want them to think about what they are doing and get involved in learning, not just ‘sit and get.’ It needs to have meaning to them. There is an old Chinese proverb that is my mantra: ‘Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand.’”

Noting her own time at OU as “life-changing,” Lori agrees that the music education program is most definitely influencing the field. “OU alums have regularly presented at local, national, and international conferences, as well as published articles in research journals and textbooks.”

Matt Tignanelli, (M.M. '09) who teaches beginning band in the Troy School District, will co-present with some of his Troy colleagues at the Arts First! conference. Their topic is “Band Rocks! Strings Rock! A Beginner’s Guide to Recruitment.” Matt says the session will highlight both the underpinnings of the strong tradition of both band and orchestra in Troy and also demonstrate the current methods the district uses, which were developed once participation in the instrumental music program became required of all fifth graders. Matt says, “The model embraces successes of the past while focusing on and including all types of learners and using new methods of instruction. I have been able to share what I have learned at Oakland with my colleagues.”

Matt started his M.M. in music education at OU during his second year of teaching. He says, “There was an immediate impact on my classroom teaching because the classes were so meaningful and the content was very applicable. Many of the professors took an interest in connecting their courses to my teaching experience and became wonderful mentors. My classroom has become a very exciting place and my students are better musicians because of my studies at OU.” And he believes the constructivist approach is useful for students of all ages. He says he teaches from that perspective with his fifth grade students and his high school band students.

As an established teacher in the area, Matt now sees OU’s program from a different angle. “I have mentored a few undergraduate field students from OU over the past few years. Their knowledge of music education and willingness to gain experience in the classroom has really impressed me!”

Amber Cooper (B.M. '09) is teaching general music at Harlan Elementary in Birmingham and working on her master’s at OU. She attends the Arts First! conference every year. “I thoroughly enjoy . . . this event, and look forward to seeing many OU colleagues presenting and attending.”

Amber says, “I am so proud to have OU as my alma mater. In theory, history, pedagogy, and performance classes the professors showed empathy and concern in aiding each student fulfill their greatest teaching and musical potential.” And that support did not end when Amber left campus. “After graduation, I never felt the slightest hesitation in emailing former professors for guidance in the first years of teaching. “

And she says her own classroom most definitely reflects her time at OU. “I absolutely feel as though my teaching has developed from what I learned at OU in the ‘teaching for musical understanding’ approach. Pedagogical, organizational, communication, technological and musical skills that were bettered at OU allow me to best serve my students, and to continue to grow as I reflect on my efforts as a music educator. The emphasis on constructing one’s own understanding through hands on, project-based learning has guided my planning in the elementary music classroom, and allows me to have open discussion with my non-music colleagues, as well as parents in the school community.”

In today’s education environment, that ability to communicate outside the classroom and advocate for their students in a wider forum is an essential skill, especially for teachers of the arts. You can find more information about the Arts First! conference here.  You can read more about OU's music degree options here.

Photo: Matt Tignanelli conducts his students.


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