By Trudi Wright, Regis University (Denver, Colorado)
I come from a long line of hostesses. All of the women in my family are seasoned party-throwers and like nothing more than a house full of people in which to serve food and drinks. That is why when I was asked to chair the opening session of the AMS Pedagogy Study Group meeting in Denver (my home town!) I saw it as a chance to act as a conference “hostess,” if only for an hour. It is my feeling that the first minutes of any group interaction, including a scholarly session or the opening of a class, are crucial. These precious minutes set the tone for what is to come and have the ability to create a feeling of openness for a safe, energizing exchange of ideas.
The opening panel at the AMS Pedagogy Meeting 2016 focused on some excellent research by Andrew Granade (University of Missouri at Kansas City) on the state of musicology pedagogy throughout the country. He invited Anthony Bushard (University of Nebraska), Gayle Sherwood Magee (University of Illinois), and Patrick Warfield (University of Maryland) to join the discussion. Together, these four scholars share an impressive list of publications, awards, and knowledge to use in a traditional introduction. Thankfully, all were game to share something a bit different in Denver. Two weeks before the meeting, I wrote to each panelist asking for their most recent accomplishment(s) and a brief thank you to a mentor who taught them the most about teaching. This simple act of reflection on good teaching hopefully reminded everyone in the room why we fell in love with teaching music history and who ignited this passion for us and set the tone for an open dialogue of ideas. Who was it that inspired you to become a music history pedagogue? Have you taken the time to thank them for this gift?
This more personal approach to introductions could be modified to work at any session of any scholarly conference. The theme of the conference or session is a great start:
- For musical theater historians: What musical first influenced you to begin your scholarly work in this field?
- For musicologists: Which article first inspired you to begin your musicological work? Or Which scholar most inspires you and why?
- For researchers: Where is your favorite archive and why? What is the most interesting/important thing you have found in the archives? If you could publicly thank one archivist, who would it be and why?
I’m sure that many of you reading this blog also use these types of questions at the beginning of each semester with your students. It is a great way to invite everyone to begin their scholarly journey through the subject matter of the course. Here are some possible opening questions:
- Who do you think is a good musical artist and why? Or, Can you give me the definition of a good musical artist?
- What does the label “American music” mean to you?
- What is your definition of a good teacher? (Thanks to Louis Epstein for this one!)
Asking these questions is the beginning of a search for answers, which can and should happen as a community. It is the teacher-hostess inviting the students to commence their learning journey together. What questions do you ask your classes at the beginning of the semester?
This idea of teacher as host/hostess has been percolating in my mind throughout the summer, and, like many good ideas, I was not the first one to have it. My religious studies colleague reminded me that activist Parker Palmer writes about hospitality in The Courage to Teach (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998). (To learn about Parker Palmer and his Center for Courage and Renewal, visit his website at http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/#bio. It contains a bibliography of his published works, podcasts of his ideas, blogposts, and much more. This is a great resource of inspiration as you prepare for the fall semester!) Palmer believes, “Hospitality in the classroom requires not only that we treat our students with civility and compassion but also that we invite our students and their insights into the conversation. The good host is not merely polite to the guest—the good host assumes that the guest has stories to tell” (p. 79).
We all have good stories to tell, scholars and students alike, and we all have the ability to make others feel comfortable enough to share their lives and knowledge with us. I will continue to do this as a hostess—at home, at school, and even at conferences. If this doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, I invite you to let me know what does and why. Know that you are welcome at this virtual pedagogy party. We can’t wait to hear your stories!