CETL Podcast - Episode 15: Lynn Vartan

Tony Pellegrini: Good afternoon good afternoon friends Tony here starting our third season of teaching and learning at Southern Utah University. What an exciting time we have here today with Lynn Vartan, she is going to take a moment or two and introduce herself and then I’ve got a couple of questions for her to help frame some of the exciting things shes involved with in teaching a learning at Southern Utah University. Lynn would you be able to take a few minutes, a moment or two and tell us a little about yourself

Lynn Vartan: Absolutely thanks for having me Tony it's a pleasure, those who know me well know I love talking about teaching and I love talking about learning. For those of you maybe hearing about me for the first time I’m a music teacher here at Southern Utah University and I teach all things drums a percussion. so drums percussion world music anything you can strike and make a sound is what I do. That’s now become actually part of my situation here the other part is that I run the university lecture series which is called A.P.E.X events and that’s also been a new thing for the last couple years in my teaching and participation at Southern Utah University. Outside of that I do a lot of teaching internationally and nationally in the arena of percussion both in competitions and master classes, in person, online, concertizing, and such like that.

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting exciting. How long have you been with us? I know you’ve been here at least a few years.

Lynn Vartan: Yeah this is going to be starting my twelfth year!

Tony Pellegrini: Oh my goodness gracious!

Lynn Vartan: I can't even believe it!

Tony Pellegrini: Times goes by like that doesn't it?

Lynn Vartan: It sure does.

Tony Pellegrini: It absolutely goes by life that. Well one of the questions I wanted to pose to you addressed teaching of course. Can you share with us what is really unique about teaching music.

Lynn Vartan: Yeah absolutely. Well one of the things that is interesting is that people always find it a little bit mystical and magical how you teach in the arts and it is a little bit mystical and magical. It deals a lot with the individual student and the individual package. What we have is when the degrees we offer at Southern Utah University and really a national level are nationally accredited degrees so there are many many classes that are indoctrinated at the national level. So we have a list of courses just like all the majors that we teach but in music one of the things that’s particularly interesting is part of every music students instruction each semester is individual instruction. Private lessons. Just like you have your students in private lessons as they’re young people and they go and take you know flute lessons or piano lessons. We have that a part of our active curriculum, and so that's one of the things that makes it really unique because from a teaching standpoint, it’s such a challenge because every student you’re essentially coming up with a very personalized curriculum because you’re meeting with them one on one for an hour every week for their entire time at the institution so it’s an incredible opportunity. It presents challenges because everyone’s a little different but it’s an incredible opportunity to craft and mentor the individual at a very very deep level. So, that’s one thing that's interesting and different. The other thing is the ensemble experience. We have as part of our degree many performing ensembles so the students are playing with other people. They’re assigned music and then the job for the semester- the homework for the semester if you will is to prepare that music to perform in a public arena so that’s a really different experience also because there’s a lot of teamwork involved there’s a lot of refinement but they’re playing all the time and so they’re interacting with each other from the percussion side of things they set up, they tear down, they cooperate all these kinds of things but it’s not the typical “here’s your chapter to read and here’s your exam at the end” it's a very different kind of experience in that way. So those are a few things that make in unique.  

Tony Pellegrini: I think too, SUU would be a wonderful place to be able to have that happen because you really have the opportunity for these freshmen through seniors to be able to participate as you’ve identified across this wide continuum of activities not having a masters or doctoral learners in those areas who might pull all those opportunities to themselves but they really get to get hands on right away.

Lynn Vartan: And one of the nice things is that we of course can do this for our majors but non majors - you know people who have a music love but they’re not really wanting to major in it or they have other things, they can participate as well and that’s also a great part of the experience because students who are music majors are interacting with majors from all areas but yet they’re speaking the language of music together

Tony Pellegrini: And what a wonderful opportunity as well to be able to influence others that maybe are not music majors but have that passion. I can certainly sense your passion for what you do and I’m sure your learners can as well, what great great opportunities. Can you take a minute or two and talk to us more specifically on what teaching music really entails, are there any common myths thing that people think about teaching music. “Oh it’s an easy topic” or…

Lynn Vartan: Yeah absolutely that is what you just said that is one of the biggest myths I think a lot of students come into the major thinking “I love music I played in band in high school or I played in Orchestra I love music I’m going to be a music major” and one of the common myths is that it is an easier degree. Actually it’s one of the more difficult degrees on campus because in addition to all your academic coursework, academic music classes, which have homework and all these things for your lessons you’re expected to practice a minimum of like 2-4 hours a day. I mean, and an undergrad I was practicing 8 hours a day and that’s just such a huge commitment of time. Yo also have very specific individual responsibilities. If you're in an ensemble, like a percussion ensemble for example, and you’re not ready for your part or you're not prepared for your part there’s no hiding, I mean that part won’t be played and so that part just won't happen so it is a big challenge and it’s a lot to juggle there’s a lot of it. On the flip side, I think that one of the advantages to that system is that it really becomes a really familial environment very family kind of oriented because you're sort of in the music department all the time you’re practicing all the time and so these very very deep collegial relationships develop right from the get go where the students can support each other and also give advice to each other on their musical growth. So those are some of the things that are maybe unexpected about- [AUDIO CUTS]-- spark when the light turns on and I know it’s a bit of a cliche for teachers right you know you see this spark you see the light turn on and then you just think it’s the best thing and that’s it, I mean when we’re able to share something that we know and to help somebody understand that and find their own excitement for it- seeing that light goes on, there’s just nothing like it, so that’s what excites me.

Tony Pellegrini: I can absolutely see that and engage that I think that’s wonderful. You’ve been honored for your teaching style your teaching methods- we’re curious as peers, we may not be able to come in and see everything you’ve got going on in class, can you take a moment or two and share with us a little about your teaching methods and approaches and styles so that maybe we can follow those.

Lynn Vartan: Yeah I love talking about this stuff. I actually do a talk about different types of learning styles and it’s something that you’ll run across in other research but I believe in really highly individualized learning and highly structured learning and I think what people would say is that I’m a very- my classroom environment is very structured and it’s structured so that everybody gets something out of it at all times and it’s a really positive structured learning environment. But, in my individual interactions with the students and with the groups I tend to really hone in on individualized learning styles or some people might call it multiple learning styles and I do a talk on some research that I did on visual aural and kinesthetic learning and so I’m a big fan of looking into those styles. There are other and that’s just one was to kind of codify learning styles but one of the things I get really excited about is sort of thinking about visual learning, aural learning kinesthetic learning. And so when I do a talk about this and I do it with my students each semester I hand out a little quiz and I ask them some questions like, “When you go to the beach, what is the first thing that you notice. Is it the color of the sky or the sound of the waves or the feel of sand in your toes” and so there are all of these questions that kind of help someone determine which learning style may be first for them. We all have bits of all of them but we may have one that’s a little stronger than the other and so we talk about that and we talk about what tendencies strong visual learners, strong aural learners, strong kinesthetic learners have and then we we figure out, “How can we enhance our natural learning styles” and as teachers, “how do we learn to speak or interact in multiple learning styles”. So if you’re going to impart some information, let's say in a private lesson, I might write something down and that might be great for the visual learners, but the aural learners might not connect with that. So I need to make sure that I sing a phrase to them. Or kinesthetic learners may be more touch oriented so I may have them just put their finger tips on my wrist so they can feel how much tension or how little tension there is there and so there’s all these different tactics you can use to get your point across or get some information across so I really love geeking out on that kind of stuff and yeah so I think the visual, aural, kinesthetic learning has been something I've really been enjoying exploring over the decades now and then making sure that your classroom is really structured is another thing I think that some teachers especially just get started in the arts but really in anything they’re so excited to get their information out that it all kind of comes out and I think you have to be very careful i mean, I’m a fast talker and fast mover and all that but you have to be very careful to think about the entire audience in the room and are they getting it, so those are some things.

Tony Pellegrini: That “getting it” kind of leads me to a question I'd like to pose to you, kind of going back to working with students strengths and not necessarily weaknesses that’s probably too strong of a word but what they’re maybe a little challenged (by), as you work with your learners and I know it’s very idiosyncratic - dependant on each and every student but do you like to work more with a student’s strengths to improve those, and maybe that’d only  be incrementally if they’re particularly strong, or do like to work with maybe where they’re more challenged where you may be able to see a greater growth because of the investment of time and energy and instruction that you do. What are your thoughts?

Lynn Vartan: So I think it’s both you know I think that one of the things that I see that works really well is that students, once they recognize that they’re good at something or that they have a strength in something that’s just a great way to get them real excited because that’s something that really distinguishes them. “Hey you’re really good at this - let’s maximize this” because then they feel a lot of confidence and they have a lot of comfort to take risks then because they know they have something in their back pocket that they are really good at so I do definitely like to bring out strengths and identify them and make sure the student knows that they’re strengths as well.However, I think that my students would all say that I’m also very honest, I think that’s a really important thing I’m definitely not one of those that’s like, “Everything is great all the time!” You know my students will tell you for sure that’s not the case so that they know that when I say something is good it’s really good, but because of that I’m very honest about what things need to be worked on it’s really important to me that we- especially in a small environment here we really keep the national perspective in mind you know our students not only need to be competitive in southern Utah or in Utah but they need to be able to stand up to stand up to what’s going on in the rest of the United States or even abroad if they want, so it’s very important to me to be very honest with students about, “listen this is something, this is  a part of your musicianship or whatever that you are not strong in right now, and now is the time to fix that. Do it now, don’t wait until later”. And what I always am telling my students is that, “You have more time now than you will ever have in the rest of your life”  which I know they think sounds ridiculous at first but it’s true, so take the time now to really work on those things that you maybe are afraid of or that you feel you want to hide from, or work on those now in the nurturing environment that we have here so that you come out a really complete package ready for the world.

Tony Pellegrini: And I love that earlier you shared that you have this opportunity to teach nationally and internationally because you're out there seeing what's happening today across the country, across the world and can respond intelligently and intellectually to, “This is kind of where you are right now, learner of mine” and that’s a wonderful wonderful wonderful perspective. Our time’s about up, let’s just do one last question, you’ve talked about students and student learning styles but let’s focus on you for just a moment, and we have been, but can you talk to me about any successes you've had in teaching or in recent events.

Lynn Vartan: Well one thing that comes to mind I had a great time this summer, very fortunate to travel to Australia the last two summers for two totally different events but both music festivals where I’ve been a guest artist and guest teacher. This past summer I spent a week in Perth and then  a week in Sydney working with young musicians from Australia, all parts of Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan. And they all came and were really sort of embedded with just a few guest artists for a week, and that was absolutely just a really incredible experience. It was just so engaging great to kind of be in the thick of it at the international level and so I would definitely that a moment that was very special. We were able to teach private lessons to the students, we were able to coach small ensembles, we gave gave workshops, I gave my visual aural kinesthetic workshop, I gave a talk on resilience as well which is something that I’m thinking about a lot in our students and then they had all kinds of downtime and meals and things to interact with us and then we performed every night and so it was really a very high quality event and a really high level of teaching and interaction so I felt really honored to do that

Tony Pellegrini: That is so exciting and you've got me thinking about now too is again like you had mentioned earlier these opportunities to learn and teach and study abroad are so critical in making relationships with other professionals other peers, but also in recruiting. “Oh my goodness I had fun I learned so much from Lynn that week. Now how can I sign up to go to SUU and learn a little bit more from you in Cedar.” I know that maybe not all the time-

Lynn Vartan: Well in fact it did happen it was kind of cute the festival was posting on Instagram of course all the time and one of my incoming freshman was saying, “I just feel like the luckiest person in the world because I get her for the next four years” which was great and then some of the Taiwanese were saying, “Oh I wish we could go!” And so yeah you’re absolutely right, and for our students it bridges- it makes these relationships for them as well they get an opportunity to connect with other professionals in my circle and other students from all over the world

Tony Pellegrini: I think that’s what it’s all about. Would you take just a moment or two any last minute thoughts or  ideas or suggestions for peers for students to make learning and teaching here at SUU wonderful.

Lynn Vartan: I think one of the things that’s on my mind right now is I worry a little bit about resilience in students and for all of us really I know we’re all so busy and we’re all dealing with stress and anxiety and all of these things that are very real, but I would just encourage everyone who’s listening to you know have the conversation with your students or look for opportunities to bring up the building of resilience because I think that’s something that I think is already right on the forefront of what we’re dealing with and I think we’ll continue to be helping students to understand that small pitfalls, small little things in their river that get in the way of the flow are okay you just have to find ways around it and build tools in your toolbelt to become more resilient as things come at you. So, that’s something that’s been on my mind and I’d love to encourage everybody to sort of dig their teeth into.

Tony Pellegrini: That is wonderful, Lynn thank you for taking a few minutes with us this afternoon and friends I would encourage you to reach out to Lynn she’s very open to follow up with conversations that you've heard here with her at a future point and go check out what’s happening in her classes. Thank you one and all for listening, and I appreciate your time and effort.


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