Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Trained as a cultural anthropologist, I teach on the ethnomusicology track of the Department of Music. I offer courses on the history of rock and roll; gender, race, and sexuality in popular music; and African American women musicians. The simplest way to describe my teaching philosophy is to say that I try to have fun and to keep learning. I do my best to put this philosophy into practice in the classroom because I have found that clearly conveying my enthusiasm—my fascination with historical details, my enjoyment sharing the music of specific artists--is an effective way to present material, but I also hope that in taking this approach, I am modeling behavior that will ignite students’ passion for learning.
Although the specific subject matter varies from course to course, I am generally concerned with giving my students the opportunity to learn about
- U.S. culture and history, particularly African American culture and history, through a focus on music;
- different styles of popular music, particularly African American music, and their artistic and cultural significance;
- the importance of grounding interpretation and analysis of expressive cultural forms such as music in historical and social context;
- some of the concepts and methods that ethnomusicologists use to study music; and
- ways to read texts (both written and musical) with a critical eye and to write about these texts in a clear and incisive manner.
The students I teach come from a wide range of demographic and educational backgrounds. Addressing this mix can be challenging. I have to be sensitive to differences in the knowledge students bring to the material as well as to the different ways they might respond to it based on their own identities. The history of race and power in the United States, which I address in all of the teaching I do, can be difficult to digest. By teaching them about this historical context, though, I am able to help them understand the roots and significance of the music, from spirituals to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to Beyoncé’s Lemonade and much in between.
In recent years, I have established an assignment in which I invite students to design an additional class session that would cover material that is relevant to the course, but that is not on the syllabus. The project is an opportunity for students to do sustained research about an artist or theme connected to the material discussed during the semester that they find especially interesting and to introduce the material to the entire class. The students do independent work that builds on what we’ve discussed during the semester and most are excited (if also a little nervous) to share what they learned with their colleagues. I have also worked with music majors who are writing honors theses. In both cases, it is a pleasure to watch as students develop intellectual autonomy and a sense of excitement about research.