A Teacher’s Rhythm
By Lee Ann Cox Article published September 26, 2005
When Patricia Julien conducts, guiding music theory students through a series of challenging diatonic intervals, her light, graceful hand glides through the air and her reedish body moves up and down, as if by reaching high on her toes she can help a wavering voice make the skip up the scale.
If a student falters, she moves in strategically with a kind nonchalance to help him gain footing and turn it around. The old truism that you learn from your mistakes — one Julien herself fixed on as a young musician — now hits the wrong note for her. “What I really try to help students appreciate is their successful moments,” she says, “because it’s essential that they recognize what they’re doing right so that they can continue that, but also so that they develop self-confidence and self-reliance.”
Julien, assistant professor of music, says she doesn’t have perfect pitch, but her keen perception of students and what they need to grow as musicians and scholars has earned her one of this year’s Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Awards.
Teaching is a natural extension of Julien’s talents as a jazz flutist, composer and arranger. It’s part performance (her other venues include renowned concert halls from the Kennedy Center to Carnegie Hall as well as hipper spots like the Knitting Factory) and part passion for music that seems to resonate through her being. Julien has a pervasive smile that’s beyond the merely friendly; it’s more like unselfconscious joy.
“She has this almost mystical or spiritual aspect,” says Justin Monsen, a junior jazz studies major who Julien advises. “If you ask any question regarding music you can tell her whole body is flowing with music as she answers. It’s rewarding to see a teacher really into what she does.”
Jazz at the roots
Julien has been into music for as long as she can remember. But it was burgeoning feminism that led her into jazz, when as a young classical flutist she discovered her high school big band had no girls. If it was her flute rather than her femaleness that stood out in a jazz band, Julien didn’t care. “It really spoke to me,” she recalls.
Her first year at Ithaca College, where she earned her undergraduate degree in classical flute performance, she took no jazz classes and, in that absence, she discovered where her life would be.
“I just found myself really immersed in the music when I was playing as a jazz musician because of that need to interact with all the other musicians,” says Julien. “It’s very spontaneous, it’s not scripted, it’s not predictable and it’s something new every time. I also enjoy improvisation because it’s so social in that respect. Much of what I do is very solitary. Practicing is very solitary; composing is very solitary. But when I’m playing in an ensemble there’s so much communication and so much involvement with one another. That’s a really important aspect for me.”
But when she’s alone, too, composing at the piano in her Redstone office, Julien feels the pull. “Even when I’m working on something that’s a little bit traditional, there’s no doubt about the fact that I have jazz sonorities in my ears and those are some of the sounds that I seem to want to include — that I am driven to include,” she says.
If jazz is the root of Julien’s joyful sense of purpose, it links the many aspects of her professional and personal life (she’s married to jazz guitarist Alec Julien) and feeds the musicians who study with her.
“The pieces of the work that I do — teaching, composing, performing — they’re all satisfying in different ways,” says Julien. “Really, I think, they nourish each other, so in some ways they’re inseparable.”