As a music educator over the past fifteen years, I have endeavored to develop dynamic and effective pedagogy both at the secondary level, and in the past five years, as an instructor and mentor in the Departments of Music and African and African American Studies at Duke University. I consider effective teaching to be a reflexive, layered and student-led process that allows students agency in their own learning while encouraging collaboration and the co-creation of knowledge. Three key principles guide my approach as an educator: teaching students to make sense of musical cultures through the lens of history and politics, instilling the value of critical listening as a way of accessing and producing knowledge, and valuing experiential modes of learning for students to integrate and apply knowledge.
I have won several grants through the Graduate School at Duke to support my teaching efforts, allowing me to design three courses aimed at a broad cross-section of Duke’s undergraduate student body. In the 2020-2021 academic year, I was awarded a $21,000 Bass Connections grant to co-teach a two-part course, “Arts and the Anthropocene: Crisis and Resilience in North Carolina’s Waterways,” with visual art professor Raquel Salvatella de Prada. Aimed at graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences, the course spans issues ranging from water pollution in rivers to rising sea levels from diverse artistic, activist, and scientific perspectives. We designed the course to develop student’s collaborative capacities for research-creation. Using practice-based assignments and groupwork throughout the course, students led the creation of collective research-informed art proposals. Student proposals reflect a variety of multidisciplinary perspectives as each seeks to provoke public engagement with urgent environmental issues threatening North Carolina’s waterways and the human communities that rely on them. Several proposals incorporate environmental sound recordings, a method they were introduced to progressively throughout the course.
One of the class sessions from this course focused on the practice of environmental sound art offers a clear example of my multi-modal teaching philosophy. I invited the composer and sound artist Annea Lockwood to present to our class on her Sound Map of the Danube project, a longform sound collage that weaves environmental field recordings and interviews with people from over 80 sites along the Danube river. Prior to her visit, students read scientific research about water pollution in North Carolina rivers and were also assigned to conduct their own experiment in river listening. I created a map of nearby waterways within walking distance of campus and provided students with a framework to practice critical listening and reflect on the experience. Student reflections took multiple forms, including short essays, brief sound collages, and works of visual art. This assignment gave students agency to develop their critical listening and creative practices, while also accommodating students’ different learning styles and strengths. Following their river listening exercise, students were assigned to listen closely to Lockwood’s own river recordings and to read an essay she had published about her environmental field recording practice. I shared the students’ reflections with Lockwood before she joined our class for discussion, allowing her to incorporate their own perspectives into her presentation. The preparation I facilitated between the students and the artist-guest led to a richer class discussion and dialogue.
One student wrote in her reflection on the river listening exercise, “I felt that sounds I made were disruptive, unnatural, and symptoms of an outside force taking over this delicate ecosystem. I felt like an intruder, and I wondered why we make a distinction between ‘man-made’ and ‘natural.’” This student’s reflection led to a class discussion about the nature-culture divide and, later, to that student developing a collaborative art proposal with another student on this topic. Sparked by her experience of listening, this student developed her idea through broader in-class discussion with her classmates and applied it through the development of an artistic work. This layered model of student-led teaching creates meaningful opportunities for students to access information and to internalize it through experience—developing knowledge though study, reflection, and application.
The example above indicates how I teach. As for what I teach, several principles structure my pedagogy. Foremost, I work to develop students’ understanding of the social and historical contexts that constitute musical traditions. In my Black Atlantic Music course, students work to understand how histories of slavery, colonialism, diasporic imagination, and networks of cultural exchange have formed the “black Atlantic.” By tracing musical and political histories through a series of case studies routed throughout the diaspora, students work to develop a theory of “the Black Atlantic” as a sonic geography. The course begins with key readings about the transatlantic slave trade, moves to discussion of the debate over “African retentions” in music of the Americas, and culminates with study of specific instances of ways musical cultures take shape and are influenced by historical and cultural forces.
In addition, I teach the value of critical listening as a way of accessing and producing knowledge. The skill of listening through layers of mediation on a sound recording requires understanding the practice of sound recording from technological and aesthetic perspectives. I help students sharpen their ability to interrogate the form and content of sound recordings as products of historical and cultural processes. For instance, in a World Music class, I find that listening comparatively to recordings of popular music across the African diaspora is one good way to begin understanding the forces that gave birth to these music styles, facilitate their circulation, and situate them in global discourses about aesthetics, politics and history.
My teaching also incorporates my personal background as an instrumentalist, record producer, recording engineer, field recordist and sound designer for films, installations and sound art. This unique set of skills and perspectives equips me with tools not only to help students understand sound as a medium for engaging with knowledge, but also to support them in developing their own research-creation projects in sonic form. Rather than a traditional term paper, I have asked students to produce podcasts as a culminating project that develops their writing and critical thinking practice. Students begin by researching and writing a script for their podcasts. I guide them through a revision process, an activity they become more invested in as they look towards applying the written product within a broader audio project. Next, I offer a workshop in DAW sound editing that prepares students to record their written narratives, produce field recordings, conduct interviews, and integrate all of this into a recorded podcast, along with clips from preexisting recordings that support or contextualize their argument. Asking students to discuss sound in the medium of sound encourages them to keep their writing practice and their listening practice in close relation.