Arts & Culture

SMCC’s New Music Department Disrupts Traditional Methods

The Chorale a photo by Clarke Canfield.

Southern Maine Community College has a new music department, chaired by Rich Pitre. In the following interview, reporter Keannah Breault asks Mr. Pitre how he landed in this position. I want to bring attention to his program and all the wonderful people that helped to create his course. He and other members of faculty have an interesting perspective on music and how people should learn.

Fiddling a photo by Clarke Canfield.

KB “What brought you to music; was it something that you grew to love?
Music was always a passion even when I was little, when I was a little […] I asked for lessons and then I went on to do many other things and […] eventually got music degrees and I have been working as a professional musician since I was thirteen years old. There are a lot of people better than I am [at music] among our faculty, stated Pitre.

Pitre’s viewpoint of how music changes us is, for a lack of a better word, profound. “Music gives life, it helps students come alive, it makes life better […] worth living. It brings us together as a community even across cultures […] This is what music is all about. It brings joy even when it’s sad music because at least you’re externalizing the feeling.” he said.

Guitar a photo by Clarke Canfield.

His classes are unique in the sense that a music class or tutor usually teaches using a standard structure, where the student begins by learning the history and elements of music as well as other basics. However, in this course students learn to play using their ears first.
By the end of the course students will have the ability to replicate any piece of music they have heard, without having seen it notated in any form of sheet music. Session musicians don’t require any specific degrees or certifications but it’s a profession that requires extensive knowledge, training, and dedication

“We all stress that what comes first is our ears and making the sounds. Trying to learn how to read music first is a mistake because what you’re developing is hand eye coordination which anyone can do even without hearing.” There are many great musicians that don’t read sheet music and they lead successful careers. There are plenty on jobs in the music industry for session musicians. However there are circumstances where knowing how to read music is important, in most job descriptions for professional musicians knowing how to read music sheets is required, which in some cases can be unfortunate as there are many who possess incredible musical talent that can’t work for certain companies or national bands.

Western African Drums a photo by Clarke Canfield.
Western African Drums (#3) a photo by Clarke Canfield.

In Pitre’s course, the first semester is based on where a student is musically. Some already know how to play and they can help the others that are just beginning the experience… how to play, and hold the instrument. In this way the students begin to gather an understanding of the instrument’s sounds, the way the keys or strings are plucked to create beautiful sounds. Students will effectively be able to perform advanced pieces of music through the sound they hear.

Semester two is also based on how advanced the student is. Not much changes with regard to the teaching method but that doesn’t mean students with advanced skill won’t be challenged or have fun. “We’ll have chamber singers that will work on more challenging repertoire,” Pitre stated. By teaching this way, it helps increase the students’ understanding and improve their skills .
“I’d put our chamber singers up against anybody.”

Spring Concert a photo by Clarke Canfield.

So many amazing teachers helped put this program together, they each have a unique and important role in this course. They put so much time and effort into building this program because they believe in what they are doing. Pitre said that “all of our new music teachers have international careers; they aren’t just anybody; these are top of the line people teaching with us. They are very dedicated and so generous.” The music department has received many generous donations from teachers. Both students and teachers alike are proud to be a part of this program.

Adriana Ausch-Simmel will be teaching Music and Movement. She received her Master’s Degree in Dalcroze Eurhythmics (Music and Movement) and the Dalcroze License at Longy School of Music. She has appeared on television and radio, she has toured, and released CDs. Ms. Ausch holds several performance awards as a singer-songwriter.

Chris Humphrey will be teaching the piano. Mr. Humphrey currently directs music at Cheverus High School in Portland. He has taught music at USM, Bowdoin, and at UNH. He’s accomplished as a jazz singer and pianist having performed in international areas.

Nathan Kolosko will be teaching guitar. Mr. Kolosko has a Master’s degree in music performance on classical guitar along with over 25 years of teaching experience.
He performs model music of the Near and Middle East on several traditional instruments. He is a published composer, his work is internationally performed. He values teaching the student, rather than method. He inspires students while teaching, his lessons are insightful and fun.

The Piano Lab a photo by Clarke Canfield.

Mr. Pitre says, to those that wish to pursue music, “If you wish to pursue music as a hobby it gives you more freedom to express yourself. You can play anytime anywhere. It’s a lot of fun. From my own experience it gives you so much positive energy; If you plan to make it your career I’ll be honest it’s a lot of work. I know a lot of Musicians who have day jobs. You have to hustle and, but it is so rewarding. I remember years ago my philosophy advisor said I should stick to music because there are more jobs. I never forgot that. You can make it in music as I said before. You have to have a lot of energy, but it’s so worth it,”

Categories: Arts & Culture

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