Prior to coming to UVM, Patricia Riley served for four years on the music education faculty at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam. Her public school experience includes twelve years in the Poultney, Vt. School District, and eight years in school districts in New Jersey. At UVM she is music education program coordinator for the College of Education and Social Services (CESS), and serves as the liaison between the Department of Music and Dance and CESS in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Riley has spent time in China, India, Ireland, and Mexico, where she has conducted research on music education. Her lecture on October 25 at 4 p.m. in Memorial Lounge, Waterman, is titled “Creating Music: What Children from Around the World Can Teach Us” and is part of The College of Arts and Sciences Full Professor Lecture Series. The series was designed to recognize faculty newly promoted to full professor rank. (Photo: Sally McKay).
Can you tell us about your early interest in music?
I remember always having a “song in my heart.” Like a lot of people who gravitate to music education as a profession, I was influenced by my high school band director. A lot of my students today are motivated by the same experience—they want to be just like their band or chorus teacher. And also, my mom was an elementary school teacher, so education was in my blood. I began taking piano lessons when I was in kindergarten—the biggest day of my life at the time was when that ancient, beat-up upright piano arrived. Later I moved on to woodwinds—flute was my major instrument in college.
Before you began teaching college-aged students, you had a lot of experience teaching in public schools. You must have a great deal of “real-world experience” for your students to draw on.
The first twenty of my teaching years were in public schools at various combinations of elementary, middle, and high school levels and in general, instrumental, and choral music settings. I started my career in 1982 teaching in New Jersey and moved to Vermont in 1990. I enjoyed teaching in Poultney, Vermont, because it was small district and I could teach in a lot of areas.
You were deeply involved in developing national standards for music instruction. Can you describe some of that work?
After the unveiling of the original National Standards in 1994, which emphasized music composition as one of nine content areas with which students should interact, I became increasingly involved with student composition. It starts with the viewpoint that all students should be creating, performing and responding to music from preschool through high school. It represented a whole new way of thinking about music—challenging teachers to help develop independent, lifelong musicians. The teacher becomes more of a facilitator, with students engaging in ways that had previously been in the teacher’s realm - like selecting and analyzing music. I served as Research Adviser to the Music Composition/Theory Sub-Committee revising the standards, and I am passionate in my desire to help pre-service and in-service music educators understand and implement the new standards we introduced in 2014.
How did you get interested in international music?
In the realm of music composition, nobody was really looking at cultural context. So I saw a place where I could contribute. As a music educator with an intense interest in children’s music composition and improvisation, I wondered how the original music created by children in China, India, and other places can inform how creating music is taught in the United States. The purpose of my journey, as I traveled, was to provide opportunities for children to create original music and to document, collect, characterize, compare, and learn from their creations. As I began this exploration, I wondered if elements of jazz, the blues, or characteristic rhythms such as those used in ragtime would be present in the music creations of the children from the United States and/or if obvious motives from folk or traditional tunes would be borrowed or adapted. I also wondered if and how the American preference for innovation and pushing boundaries would be incorporated and how the cultural pluralism of the United States would be represented in the music.