Philosophy of Teaching

Shawn T. Eaton, D.M.A. 

The Integration of Faith in Teaching:  Christian professors should live for the glory of God including the transformation of people though Christ. This means that we must first be living examples of the types of people and professionals that Christian schools aim to produce. We must be excellent in our love for God and our love for people; in our knowledge of Scripture and its application in Christian scholarship and living; in the knowledge appropriate to our field of study; and in demonstration of the skills that we hope to impart to others.

General Philosophy of Teaching:  My aim is to foster excellence in learning and in music making in all that I teach, whether it be teaching voice, worship studies, conducting choirs, or teaching other classes. Good teaching requires keeping the student and his/her development at the center of the process. Therefore, I must consider the manner in which I would want to be taught, and then apply this wisdom in the classroom. Being well prepared, organized, on time to class, and reliable in returning tests and research papers is essential in fostering a learning environment where students anticipate and prepare for an excellent learning experience. Good pacing in regard to the amount of time spent on various concepts (or pieces in voice lessons or rehearsals) is critical to maintaining student interest and enables the professor to cover materials as planned in the syllabus. Engaging the students with questions encourages thoughtful student interaction with subject matter and classmates. This framework forms a solid sense of order—increasing student expectations for the classes I teach.

Although historic philosophy, technique, artistry, and theory continue to form the basis for much of what is taught in music schools today—examining the values exhibited in these elements is crucial to excellence in real-world involvement. Students must be taught to think critically regarding the arts in a manner that encourages them to have a vision for applying their knowledge and skills in an ever-changing environment. In so doing they will learn how to communicate enduring values and ideals that they learn in the classroom and studio to others—taking their place as servant leaders and culture shapers in ministry, education, and as performing artists.

Philosophy of Voice Teaching:  Studying private voice is a highly personal matter for the student. It is therefore crucial to craft lessons to match where the student currently is—in regard to development of the voice physically, technically, and with respect to song literature. The classical approach that I use in my own singing and teaching is based upon Italian methods of pedagogy. Although delaying song singing in order to sing only vocalises for the first year of study has proven effective in Italian studios, in the American university setting, literature must always be studied even in the first semester. Therefore I believe in using Italian art songs in the early phases of study and then progressing to other languages. Singers are trained to employ the freedom and placement used in Italian song to English as well as Latin, German, and French literature, modifying as necessary to accommodate good diction and expression in each language. As soon as a student is ready, training as a singing actor affords new vistas of artistic expression and experience as the singer “becomes” the character he or she is portraying. This experience may be gained in musical theatre or opera and is invaluable to the aspiring artist. Often the voice is freed to become better than it could have ever been without the acting experience.

Philosophy of Choral Teaching:  Building a strong, attractive choral program requires being a strong leader. This means that the conductor should teach in an engaging, yet encouraging manner, while demonstrating a solid knowledge and mastery of his or her craft. The conductor should have a clear vision for what his/her choir can become, and yet be approachable in regard to the concerns of choir members. Literature should be chosen from a variety of style periods and genres that are appropriate for the ability level of the choir. The choir should be challenged to grow from one semester to the next, and expectations of difficulty and richness of literature should grow as the choir develops. Exciting performance opportunities for collegiate choirs should abound including a variety of venues and touring. Each of the above is essential in making the collegiate choir an exciting and dynamic music making enterprise.

Nurturing individuals as well as their voices is important in achieving the overall sound of the choir and in developing future choral pedagogues. Decisions regarding choral tone should consider the vocal health. Although singing without vibrato is desirable for choral music in many styles and is often my personal preference for choral tone, the voice should always remain free.

Philosophy of Classroom Teaching:  Teaching background material and broad concepts first, followed by the particulars of any field of study is best. Choosing textbooks that present material in a similar fashion is essential, and often supplemental material should be provided by the professor—as supplemental material may profoundly contribute to students’ understanding and interaction with subject material. For example, music history when fully explored affords the opportunity to teach about the theological, philosophical, scientific, literary, historical, musical, and aesthetic influences upon the formation of music. When seen through the lens of a biblical Christian worldview, these elements may provide wonderful classroom discussion leading to thoughtful application.