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Juniata Music Faculty Go Extra, Extra Mile to Teach

(Posted December 23, 2010)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College is well known for its dedicated faculty who fearlessly go the extra mile to help students learn. In fact, some of the Juniata music faculty often have to drive more miles than long-distance truckers to teach the college's student musicians.

Juniata does have two full-time music professors -- Russell Shelley, professor of music, and leader of the college's vocal program, and James Latten, associate professor of music and head of the college's instrumental program.

"I really enjoy teaching, no matter what the level of the student. "What is particularly exciting about teaching at Juniata is that the students are taking lessons because they want to play and are doing it for fun."
Nora Gump, lecturer in music

Both teach a full schedule of classes and oversee the college's popular music ensembles. Latten, a drummer by profession before he became a music professor, can only offer so much instruction to the school's clarinetists, violinists, and tuba players.

"Many colleges and universities hire instructors to teach lessons in specific instruments, but if you don't have music majors most of the instructors will have to be part-time professors, called adjunct instructors or professors in academia," says Shelley, who is the department head for music.

Juniata currently has 14 adjunct music faculty, ranging in expertise from an expert in violin and viola to a jazz guitarist. Through coincidence and serendipity, many of the adjunct faculty teaching at Juniata travel quite a distance to deliver their musical expertise.

Nora Gump, instructor for violin and viola, travels 151 miles from Herndon, Va. to teach at Juniata, a trip that takes her about three hours unless traffic is bad. She says college-level teaching jobs are difficult to get, so many adjunct faculty teach at several colleges or universities. She also teaches at Shenandoah University Conservatory in Virginia, about a one-hour commute from Herndon.

"I really enjoy teaching, no matter what the level of the student," she says. "What is particularly exciting about teaching at Juniata is that the students are taking lessons because they want to play and are doing it for fun."

"Seeing a student progress and eventually develop their own sense of musicianship is what does it for me," says Craig Sayer, a percussion adjunct instructor who drives 100 miles from Harrisburg to teach.

Other faculty commute from State College, Pa., Portage, Pa. and Rebersburg, Pa.

Of the many music faculty used at Juniata, only a few live around Huntingdon. In fact, most of the long-distance commuters live in State College, Pa., which means a 90-minute round trip to teach a couple of students. The State College faculty point out that even with Penn State in the area it is difficult to find a full-time teaching job at the university level. Most agree that teaching Juniata students offers a different perspective than teaching students from a program with music majors.

"One of the challenges in teaching music at Juniata is that the students do carry a significant academic load, and thus don't have the time to invest in practicing and listening that a music major would," explains Herb McKinstry, a State College resident who teaches trumpet and other brass instruments. He has been teaching at the college since the mid-1980s. "This means our teaching has to be a little more practical and less theoretical."

Juniata's Shelley says more and more colleges and universities will use this model of instruction, mainly because a part-time faculty member does not receive tenure and rarely teaches enough hours to qualify for benefits or retirement programs.

"Teaching jobs, particularly for the viola have been few and far between and many schools are starting to combine violin and viola in one position," Gump says.

Regardless of how many different destinations they go to, the Juniata long-distance music teachers agree on one thing. It's great to teach students who are playing for the sheer enjoyment of music.

"I want more than anything for the students to learn how to learn," McKinstry says. "They are with me such a short amount of time, but will hopefully have the rest of their lives to put into practice what they learn."

And what do these drivers listen to while navigating the highways and byways? Not classical music CDs of their favorite musicians. It's mostly NPR, "Car Talk" or rock stations.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.