Knight in the Life: Piano Pedagogy minor inspires interdisciplinary musical creativity

The piano pedagogy minor is a performance, teaching, theory and history blend that provides the keys for students that wish to continue their piano education alongside otherwise unrelated major course studies.

Associate professor of music Amy Stanley has directed the piano pedagogy minor for 15 years and is the only piano instructor within the school of the arts, where she oversees all levels of pianists, from beginning keyboardists to seasoned concerto soloists.

Stanley meets one on one, weekly, with every piano pedagogy student, providing feedback for their ongoing progress on “high-level pieces to more moderate solo pieces” and preparing students for “playing in recitals or competing in concerto competitions,” she said.

Most noticeable about the program, Stanley said, is the number of students with majors outside of the arts, adding that the minor was essentially set up “because they wanted to keep really interested pianists engaged without having to overwhelm them.”

Freshman Samuel Evans and junior Mary Coble exemplify this trend; as physics and speech pathology majors, respectively, each with 13 years of piano experience, Evans and Coble spend their days between Sturges and Brodie Halls and the Integrated Science Center, balancing labs with lessons.

Coble said that her major and the piano pedagogy minor can go hand in hand, as “a lot of elements of speech are related to music.”

The 21-credit minor calls for completion of a well-rounded set of courses that includes music history and theory, keyboard literature, a piano teaching practicum and a final directed study that involves a 30-minute senior recital.

According to Coble, keyboard literature involves “analyzing piano scores or full out movements of symphonies” while the piano pedagogy class - what Stanley referred to as the “art of teaching” - focuses on all aspects of teaching piano, such as “how to start a piano studio and all of the different things you have to look at … even something as simple as scheduling and make-up policies.”

Students display their teaching knowledge in piano practicum, a semester during which they gain classroom experience and student teach, according to Stanley.

“Everything we’ve been doing up until this point has been gearing us toward teaching,” Coble said, who will complete her student teaching in spring 2014.

The performance aspect involves weekly seminars with all piano pedagogy students where feedback and critique is circulated in preparation for the required annual performances and for some, the senior recital.

Repertoires are varied, and according to both Coble and Evans, options range from baroque to classical, romantic to modern.

“My really involved pieces have been [Johannes] Brahms and [Claude] Debussy,” Coble said, revealing her favorite: Johann Sebastian Bach. Evans said that while there are many options, “I think most people tend to choose things on the same wavelength.”

Stanley emphasized the challenges that piano pedagogy students sometimes face: “You have to have a physical process and a cognitive practice, you have to understand patterns, understand historical and theoretical elements,” she said, adding that finally, “You have to put it together with the time you have.”

Acceptance to the piano pedagogy minor is audition-based. Students play three contrasting and memorized pieces from different time periods and present scales, arpeggios and sight reading to be accepted into the program.

“They do have to have pretty solid chops already when they come in,” Stanley said. “So it’s a little bit tough to get a spot unless you’re committed to the program.”