“More highly diversified curriculum, the product of a greater specialization, is a two-edged sword. It provides fascinating new opportunities, but also creates the risk that people can lose a common language. We must always foster communication across disciplines.” – Jonathan Hall, USA

What do a piano, an organ and literature have in common? If you’re Jonathan Hall, they all lead to one thing: connecting with others through music. Hall has been studying and teaching music for most of his life, most recently as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Steinhart School. Hall teaches undergraduate students Aural Comprehension – or “ear training” of music – and music criticism to graduate students. Many of Hall’s students are majoring in music technology, music business, music education and performance.

“Knowledge by itself is great, but education is knowledge in relationship,” says Hall. “By whatever means, I try to work with that ideal in mind.” Hall’s approach works. In fact, one piano student said that the difference between studying piano with Hall and with anyone else was the difference, “between a French teacher who teaches the kids to count to ten during commercials, and a teacher who takes you to Paris.”

Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Jonathan Hall.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

I have always tried to explain complex ideas so they become (more) transparent, without doing injustice to them.  It is tempting to go the other route and make even simple ideas seem horribly complicated! Only by taking the risk of transparency — stepping away from the security of obscurity — are we free to innovate. Innovation comes from a desire to make things clear(er) to oneself and to others.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

First of all, I hope that I myself have changed. Secondly, I hope that my students have changed, becoming more curious and passionate about the subjects they love, as well as more tolerant of the subjects they dislike.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Sharpen communication skills, and use technology to aid the process, not to substitute for it or avoid it. Remember that learning is knowledge in relationship, and all that we do must foster a good environment where this can happen.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Honestly, much of my teaching is done at a piano keyboard with a blackboard and chalk at the ready!  My use of technology is essentially mainstream. To date, I’ve integrated the DVD in our prescribed course textbook, and made use of the university’s online course system.  Also, there are good online resources for basic music practice — essentially, customizable exercise programs for the basics of musicianship and music theory — of which I keep a frequently updated list for my students. These are comparatively easy to set up and automate, are always available, often free, and never lose patience!

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

There is a lot of anxiety out there. Tuition is high and getting higher, and many students are anxious about their job prospects.  There is a delicate dance between pragmatism and the joy of learning for its own sake. Still, I’ve always leaned to the latter!

What is your country doing well currently to support education? 

My country, the United States, is founded in large part on the assumption that education is absolutely essential, a first principle, a given, a sine qua non. I embrace that wholeheartedly. To realize that brilliant ideal as fully as it deserves is the labor of a lifetime. It’s most definitely a work in progress.

What conditions must change in your country/region to better support education?

All ideals come at the price of real hard work. Much conflict over educational practice is a conflict among good ideas, not between good and bad ideas. The better you think, the harder you have to work. In my country, we have to remember that the comparative abundance of technology must always serve the core of education, which is knowledge in relationship. We are at risk of relating to our “stuff” better than to one another.  We must remember who we are, and whom we serve.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Finding ways to facilitate communication and serve the encounter with personal passion that is at the heart of the endeavor. Means of fostering independence with accountability.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Relax! Be yourself! Try hard, but not so hard that you are seen as “trying too hard.” Always listen. Remain curious. Don’t let obstacles lead you to accept a lower standard; find a way to make them serve your purposes. Remember that teaching is a two-way street, and expect to learn a great deal from your students.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning? 

A more highly diversified curriculum, the product of a greater specialization, is a two-edged sword. It provides fascinating new opportunities, but also creates the risk that people can lose a common language. We must always foster communication across disciplines.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Music lessons, whether in voice or whatever instrument is available. The mental and physical discipline of music, the combination of rigor and freedom, the objective and the subjective, the public and the personal, is an incredibly grounding experience.

About Jonathan Hall

  • Birthplace: New York City, USA
  • Current residence: New Jersey, USA
  • Education: Doctor of Music, Indiana; Master of Music, Roosevelt U Chicago; Master of Arts (English literature), U. of Chicago; BA (English and philosophy), Cathedral College. Fellow of American Guild of Organists, Fellow of Trinity College London. Certified Mensa Proctor.
  • Website I check every day: Facebook, several friends’ blogs, my own course pages!
  • Person who inspires me most: First piano teacher, Mrs. Grace Kromer.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Christmases in the family apartment in NYC.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Organ recital near Rochester, New York.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh so much, I can’t remember the specifics. Probably last night’s choir rehearsal.
  • Favorite book: Besides the Bible, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.
  • Favorite music: Organ and piano music, all eras and genres.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “I go to school — to youth — to learn the future.” -Robert Frost, “What Fifty Said.”

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