Bienen School of Music Music Education Program

Whether a student is in primary or secondary school, music teachers can transform children’s lives. This episode of NU Declassified takes a look at what the Bienen School of Music’s music education major is and the opportunities it presents for future music teachers.

[music, Violin Concerto Vo. 2 in d minor by Henryk Wieniawski, performed by by Felix Garkisch on violin]

FELIX GARKISCH: People have this stereotype of a music major. It’s like, “Oh, they don’t have to do much. All they have to do is practice their instrument or they don’t have to do any real work,” which I think is right — totally, completely wrong.

ERICA SCHMITT: It was Felix Garkisch, a freshman in the music education program at the Bienen School of Music. Félix’s main instrument is the violin.

[music, Violin Concerto Vo. 2 in d minor by Henryk Wieniawski, performed by by Felix Garkisch on violin]

ERICA SCHMITT: While some Bienen students plan to play their instrument professionally, others, like Felix, strive to become teachers themselves.

ERICA SCHMITT: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Erica Schmitt. This is NU Declassified, a look at how the Wildcats thrive and survive in Northwestern. I don’t know much about Bienen, but I always thought music was a really cool field to study at university. So, in this episode, I spoke to students and faculty in the music education program about the unique opportunities and challenges of the major. Felix said the music education major is slightly different from other Bienen majors.

FELIX GARKISCH: We have a lot of courses that we have to take by the time we graduate not only for our teaching students but also to get our teaching license. So it’s like all the other music majors. I would say that our courses are more academic, in general. There are certainly other practical or performance-based courses, like the various methods courses that I have to take.

ERICA SCHMITT: Risha Hussain is a freshman pursuing a dual degree in Music Education and Chemistry. One of the first classes she took in the music education program was Music Education 260-0, or Introduction to Music Education.

RISHA HUSSAIN: We will visit many middle schools, high schools and elementary schools in Chicago, and observe the teachers and their different styles. Teachers who are more active, teachers who let the children take the lead more, and we write a lot of observational reports and we discuss in class.

ERICA SCHMITT: Risha said she learned a lot about different teaching styles in her class.

RISHA HUSSAIN: In terms of teaching, we talk a lot about the types of teachers there are, so we’ll be playing with teachers who let the students do whatever they want. We call it a musical playground. So you don’t leave anything forbidden, like you sit on the floor with your children, if they are sitting on a carpet instead of standing on top of them. As body language is something we talked about a lot.

ERICA SCHMITT: Felix said he liked the small classes in the music education program.

FELIX GARKISCH: Most of my teachers are really, really, really approachable. And that also means that even during class, they can see what your progress looks like, so even if you’re late or something, they can really, really, really easily help you out.

ERICA SCHMITT: For Risha, the program’s small size creates a sense of community and cohesiveness.

RISHA HUSSAIN: I feel like my teachers actually know me, which I guess feels a bit more like high school, at least for the standard high school experience where you have these consistent teachers. Like, if I take theory for two years, and it’s like I have this little tight-knit group of people because you usually take the same amount of time. And it’s as if you were part of the same group. And so you get to make a friend, and you feel comfortable around everyone. And then you don’t feel weird asking questions and stuff like that. It’s really nice to sit in there.

ERICA SCHMITT: In these classes, students must learn many different instruments as well as vocal and musical composition in order to prepare for the teaching environment. But on top of that, students also specialize in a specific instrument – ​​or voice.

RISHA HUSSAIN: So we have to take classes like percussion and strings and woodwinds to get used to the music that might be taught in an elementary school. And then you come into your concentration later.

ERICA SCHMITT: The music education program also offers three different paths for students to choose from: General Music Education, Instrumental Music Education, and Choral Music Education. Felix said the general track prepares students to –

FELIX GARKISCH: Entering an elementary or middle school class (and) teaching a music class.

ERICA SCHMITT: Félix pursues the instrumental music track.

FELIX GARKISH: This usually involves a band or orchestra, but it can extend to other things as well. Like, I know, some music teachers who run guitar lessons or also like music production lessons. So it’s not like the traditional stuff. There are so many things, it’s so open. And it’s really like, I can shape it however I want, which I think is really cool.

ERICA SCHMITT: Risha is on the choir track.

RISHA HUSSAIN: The person who had the most impact on me was my choirmaster. And just kind of watching her watch all these kids grow up and teach and use music as a vehicle to not only talk about you know, music is pretty, but it can be a vehicle to inform a wider audience about things like social justice, and it can bring awareness to many things.

ERICA SCHMITT: Like Risha, Felix said he –

FELIX GARKISCH: Really, really admired my high school music teacher. And the experience I had in that class made me think, “Okay, I want to be able to give this to my own students one day.” So music education seems like the right choice for me.


ERICA SCHMITT: All music education majors must participate in a student teaching program, where they often work with certified Northwestern teachers. Each student works with two mentors during their teaching. To find out more about this, I spoke with Professor Stevi Marks, the student-teacher and assessment coordinator at Bienen.

STEVI BRANDS: So, to get a license in the state of Illinois, you must have completed all levels of prerequisite training. So that means let’s say, Erica, you came to me and said, “Man, I’m really interested, I want a high school experience.” But I love elementary kids, I’d like to be, you know, run an elementary program where I first introduce the kids to the instruments and then maybe rehearse them in middle school and then have an experience in high school. So I would be looking for something like that.

ERICA SCHMITT: Teacher mentors guide education majors through the teaching process in a hands-on environment. Marks said she matches students with mentors based on a variety of factors, asking questions like –

STEVI BRANDS: Who can we match you with that will work well for you? And do you have a car or do you rely on public transport? What kind of experiences do you want? Do you want a marching band? Do you want a mariachi? Do you want to work with a show choir or do you want to help direct the musical? We try to match our students with a position that will benefit them and really, really take them to another level as a teacher.

ERICA SCHMITT: Felix said he had a student teacher for his high school music program.

FELIX GARKISCH: I remember she was a music education student in the North West and she was a phenomenal teacher.

ERICA SCHMITT: Although the music education program is full of opportunities, it can be a heavy workload. For some dual degree students, the program can last five years.

RISHA HUSSAIN: I think mine is a bit heavier, because I have a four-year plan instead of a five-year plan but I’m, I was at 5.8 units right now. And the rest of my plan is around 6.3 to 6.8 units per quarter. And most of it is Bienen.

ERICA SCHMITT: Marks said the program has made some changes to its curriculum over the past few years to ease the workload for students.

STEVI BRANDS: We know that music education students have to take more credits than I think almost anyone across the University. So we were looking for ways to consolidate some of these courses. And so I incorporated some of the technical things about singing into my choral methods course, which all students have to take.

ERICA SCHMITT: I asked Félix about his experience with the workload in music education classes.

FELIX GARKISCH: I mean, I love them. But they are designed to be difficult. And I appreciate that. It’s not like you can browse them all, you have to put in the effort to get a quality product out of it.

ERICA SCHMITT: Marks said that ultimately her goal is to motivate students to remain passionate about teaching students as she always has been.

STEVI BRANDS: Music education offers every child the opportunity to express themselves in a way that they will not find in any other discipline. And so that’s the most valid pursuit. And we need great music teachers and I’m proud to serve in that capacity. It scares me, Erica, it’s a big responsibility. These fabulous young adults are going to come out and they’re going to have their own classroom. And God willing, they’re going to make a difference like someone did in their life, a positive difference. And that’s what I think about every time I go to class.


ERICA SCHMITT: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Erica Schmitt. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU: Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by me. The Daily Northwestern’s Audio Editor is Will Clark, Digital Editor is Jordan Mangi, and Managing Editor is Isabelle Sarraf. Be sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.


E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @eschmitt318

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