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Music Educator Influences More than Students

Posted on Friday October 22nd 2010

Greenfield Community College’s Music Department Chair Matthew Shippee’s work as a music educator impacts more than his GCC students, it influencesmusic educators in community colleges around the country. An article he published recently in the journal New Directions for Community Colleges encourages community college professors and music educators to teach the class that he wishes was around when he was a student. Titled “The Sound of Starting Where You Are: Contemplative Practice in Music Pedagogy,” Shippee’s article is part of an issue focused on integrating contemplative practice into higher education.

Shippee knows there is more to being a musician than being a good technician on an instrument. As a student in college and graduate school, Shippee wanted courses to answer the question “what makes some performances have a profound emotional impact on the listener, while others are ho-hum.” Such a course didn’t exist when Shippee was a student, so, as a professor, he created one. Shippee helps GCC Music majors become more expressive musicians and explore the answer to his question in Creative Musicianship, a year-long required course he’s taught since 2003.

Shippee’s article, a distillation of what he’s learned teaching this course, encourages music educators to help their students develop a greater awareness of themselves in a musical situation and how they respond to external and internal stimuli.

Shippee said, “Musicians constantly make split-second choices, deciding how to create sounds, how loud, what sound quality they want to achieve, and more. Traditional academic training in the nuts and bolts of music theory, technique, and history only goes so far. With courses like Creative Musicianship we help students be open to an ongoing process of discovery and exploration, help them recapture a sense of ‘innocence’ and playfulness as they listen to and play music.”

One exercise featured in Shippee’s article involves Music students playing improvisational music in the Art Gallery while Art students do improvisational painting. In a discussion after the exercise, students become more aware of the emotions they and their listeners experienced and what they can create when they are in a playful, experimental mindset.

Shippee said, “We’re really fortunate that GCC is very open to innovative teaching strategies. A lot of colleges aren’t as flexible. Our students become more sensitive musicians and listeners through the process of developing more mindfulness. I hope my article will inspire other music educators to incorporate mindfulness and contemplative practice in their courses. I know there is a demand for this type of course – it’s very popular at GCC and, when I tell musician friends about it, they all wish they could take it.”

For more information about Shippee’s article, the Creative Musicianship course, or the GCC Music department, contact Shippee at 413-775-1228, email shippeem@gcc.mass.edu or visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/departments/newmusic/

By Mary McClintock, ’82


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