"Mr. Holland's Opus" this is not. Yet there is something incredible about having a professor or teacher who is musically inclined. They manage to become human while still maintaining that air of inspiration. It seems like a rare treat to discover something personal about a professor, such as finding out he or she is an accomplished musician, or shares a common obsession with an obscure group or that he or she spends any given weekend shredding in some garage band.
There seem to be two kinds of musical inclination. On one hand, anyone who has been in band or choir in high school probably has some idea of the spectrum of musical tendencies educators can run. From nerdy to inspiring, those of us who donned the ubiquitous marching band uniform probably has some conception of being educated by some one with a passion for playing.
"I played the clarinet for two years in elementary school. ... Mr. Forte was a lovely individual who sweated profusely and was very inspiring," said Laura Schuetz, a freshman in the School of International Service, on her experience with music education early on.
Jen Zurek, a sophomore in SIS and the College of Arts and Sciences, had a choir teacher in high school who was "worse than the Jehovah's Witnesses that come to your door."
"She was constantly trying to recruit. She used to tell people, 'my you have a lovely speaking voice, I bet you'd be a great singer,'" Zurek said.
On the other hand, there are those that defy standard expectations for professor or teacher, bestowing many levels of coolness. Gareth Smail, a freshman in SIS, had a choir director who "looked like a toad." Fortunately, Smail had a physics teacher in high school who he said could be defined as a "Renaissance Man."
"He was a former punk rocker, an amazing wrestler, a published author, knew about wine tasting, had hair down to his shoulders and wore Birkenstocks every day. ... He wore shoes once when the wrestling team bought them for him," Smail said. "[He] was really into the '80s, Grateful Dead and Radiohead. ... He listened to punk rock and classical. ... He was awesome."
While some of us may have only been exposed to the traditional marching band instructor or loopy trumpet teacher, others have been lucky enough to encounter those professors or teachers that gently remind us that they are real people with real, awesome interests. Educators like Smail's physics teacher and others are the inspiration for this piece. To pay homage to these interesting and creative people, we at the Eagle have selected a few professors at AU that may or may not have revealed their musical sides to the student body. If one these fine educators leads you in your academic endeavors, take a moment to get to know them better.
Dr. H. Kent Baker Finance Professor
When AU finance professor H. Kent Baker was 8 years old and growing up in San Diego, he received a visitor at the door who would change his life forever.
"There was this person coming to the door giving accordion lessons," Baker said. "So I started taking accordion lessons and playing in accordion bands, all accordions. It was really big back then."
From the accordion, Baker moved on to organ and piano, and eventually bass and guitar. By the age of 14, he was giving music lessons to 25 students per week.
Since his father was in the military, he moved around a lot. Everywhere he went, though, he played music. Most notably, he played lead guitar for the Starliners, which started in Baker's undergrad years at Georgetown. With that band, Baker played shows all along the East Coast - everything from fraternity events and dances in Georgetown to the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.
After graduating, Baker channeled his inner Billy Joel, playing piano in bars and lounges in the District. He also joined the band the Embers and played "tons of weddings, bar mitzvahs, that kind of stuff," as well as hitting "the country club circuit, playing various country clubs in D.C.," he said.
Before he started teaching, Baker owned his own music studio in Wheaton, Md.
Now Baker spends most every weekend playing with his band, Inner Circle. He plays keyboards and sings in the jazz three-piece, which has a regular gig at the Army and Navy Club downtown. The professional musicians also play parties and weddings. They released an album of jazz standards, "Mood Swings," last year on KGF Records.
Dr. Zehra Peynircioglu Psychology Department
Dr. Zehra Peynircioglu, affectionately known as Dr. P, began playing music in Turkey at the age of 6, like many youngsters. And, like many youngsters as well, she quit at the age of 12. She picked it up again in the 1990s when she came to AU. While teaching, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in piano performance.
Dr. P, as students call her, is a graduate of Stanford, Princeton and Rice universities and now focuses most of her time on the study and research of musical cognition. She teaches a course titled Psychology of Music and works with doctoral candidates in the field of human cognition. She is interested in music cognition and nonverbal memory, which meld together two of her main fields of study, psychology and music, a feat few can boast. She has written many research-based articles, including one titled "Name or hum that tune: Feeling of knowing for music." In her spare time, Dr. P plays the old greats, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
Dr. Robert Lovering Philosophy and Religion Department
Philosophy professor Robert Lovering's Web site is devoted to philosophy to be sure, but scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you'll a link to "Oxford's finest," Radiohead. Lovering is, of course, a huge Radiohead fan, and has been since "The Bends" came out.
"They're just a great band; musically, incredibly pleasant and lyrically brilliant," says Lovering.
Lovering started his musical career in college at University of Colorado at Boulder in 2001, playing guitar in the alternative rock band Edgewise. Lovering describes the sound as "hard rock," in the vein of Rage Against the Machine and Tool. Upon graduation, the band moved to music mecca: Austin, Texas, to seek not fame and fortune but mere respect from the music scene.
While Lovering says it's unlikely he'll start another band, he is still an avid music listener, listing everything from the Toadies and Weezer to Jeff Buckley and Sigur Ros.
Besides guitar skills, Lovering also gives killer advice.
"When I was getting my doctorate, I won this award for something. So when I received it, I found out like two or three minutes before that I was supposed to give a speech," he said. "So I went up there and said 'There are three ingredients to being a good professor: 1) know the material, 2) be passionate and 3) listen to Metallica before every lecture.'"
AU faculty, take heed.
Lovering's Web site can be seen here: http://academic2.american.edu/~lovering/
Kylos Brannon Film and Media Arts Department
It's always special when a professor can bond with his students over the unfortunate circumstances that come with being born too late. Kylos Brannon, 28, a visual media professor at AU, guards a weighty knowledge of the D.C. punk music scene and its beginnings, though, due to his young age and hometown origins, he hardly had the chance to experience it.
Professor Brannon first became interested in music in Scranton, Pa., when then-dying acts like Genesis struck his interest. It wasn't until he attended Pennslyvania State University that he realized that things existed outside the realm of his father's record collection.
The latest project Brannon has delved into combines his talent in film and electronic media (for which he received a master's degree from AU) and his love of music. It's a short documentary film that he and fellow professor Leena Jayaswal cooked up in the name of bands like Fugazi, Beauty Pill and Black Eyes - bands all on Dischord Records, the original D.C. punk record label.
Through this project spawned from the Goethe Institute, a young filmmaker is chosen from select major cities to create a film with a focus on a cultural aspect of the city. Brannon and Jayaswal have completed their film and are now sending it to small film festivals.
Brannon visited icon Ian McKaye (the man behind Fugazi, Minor Threat and Dischord Records) on occasion in the making of the film.
"He's very supportive of the whole thing and really helpful," Brannon said.
Brannon tries to incorporate music into his classes by mixing music videos and bands' websites into his lesson plans. Brannon lists his top five favorite bands of all time (in no particular order) as Fugazi, Braid, the Smiths, the Pixies and the Clash.