Congratulations to Jennifer Messelink, winner of Schulich's 2020-2021 Teaching Award in the MUAR Teaching Assistant/Graduate Instructor Category.
Throughout the past year teaching MUAR 392 (Popular Music after 1945) — her third time leading the course — Jennifer has proven to be an engaging and knowledgeable instructor with a commitment to and command of the material. Though students are immersed in popular culture on a daily basis, she strives to help them make sense of the vast amount of popular music accessible at their fingertips.
She encourages students to question how music history is produced by interrogating whose views and values are being expressed or critiqued, to read between the lines, and to examine what might be going unsaid. That approach fosters a space of inclusivity and participation in her classes.
Jennifer’s ability to translate her passion through deep knowledge and broad background is evident when students describe the curriculum as organized, interesting, and fun. Course material was done mostly online through lectures, videos, sound recordings, and discussion, promoting a diverse ways to communicate and connect. In letters of recommendation, students also speak about the care that Jennifer put into the classes, mindful of the anxiety that some might be facing, and taking time to ensure they could succeed during the pandemic.
In celebration of this achievement, we asked Jennifer to elaborate on her teaching philosophy, share a stand-out moment from this year, give advice to her starting-at-university-self, and more...
What are some elements that are important to your teaching philosophy?
The foundations of my teaching philosophy are participation, care, and diversity and inclusion. I try to instil the knowledge that popular music is not separate from our daily lives. Musical and social practices are not mutually exclusive; as consumers we are all active participants in popular music history. I bring this into the classroom by relating course material to current events and fostering an inclusive environment in which all students can feel safe to participate at the level they are most comfortable. The students in the popular music course come from diverse backgrounds. I have found that, especially throughout the pandemic, the majority of students have varying degrees of anxiety that manifest in different ways. I have tried very hard to implement a caring and understanding environment, and I will carry this into the future in my teaching.
What do you want your students to leave your classroom with?
Most students come into the class with an already deep knowledge of popular music. They know what they like, they have a keen understanding of the shifting landscape of musical genres, and many are aware of the inequities in the pop music field. I strive to help them make sense of the vast amount of popular music they have access to at their fingertips, and on educating them to become more critical consumers of popular culture. One of the ways I encourage student engagement and participation is to build into the assignments the groundwork of critical thinking—to always be asking questions. I build on this type of knowledge inquiry throughout the term by helping them develop skills to analyze popular culture media as historical documents. I encourage students to always be questioning how music history is produced by interrogating whose views and values were being expressed or critiqued, and how these factors contribute to formations of musical genre.
Do you have a stand-out teaching moment from the past year (knowing that it was a pretty unconventional year, to say the least)?
There was no one thing that stood out, but a series of small things that, for me, culminated in an awareness that teaching and learning is a collaborative effort. The students this past year deserve a lot of credit for showing up and working with me and their peers even when they had extreme Zoom fatigue. Their participation and engagement made the class a success and inspired me to work hard for them. Having done the bulk of my teaching online during the pandemic, my teaching philosophy has been greatly influenced by the online learning environment. Teaching during the pandemic has forced me to think about how students learn and try to devise alternative methods of evaluation. For tests and quizzes, I give them more time to think about the questions. This allows them the time to respond to complex ideas and concepts in their own words, rather than simply memorizing and repeating lecture materials. Like everyone, I miss the interaction that comes from class time, but I was impressed by how the students rose to the challenge. For me, the take-away from this year is the realization that an important part of learning includes community engagement and building relationships.
What advice would you give to your starting-at-university self?
Go easy on your instructors if (and when) they make mistakes!
What is your earliest musical memory?
Music is the most important part of my life. Thankfully, I had some excellent music teachers when I was in elementary school. I remember we had a huge music room that I loved to spend time in either singing in glee club, playing recorder duets with my best friend, or just trying out all the instruments.
If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would your alternate career path have been?
I would definitely have been a celebrity chef. I haven’t ruled it out yet.
Jennifer Messelink is a PhD Candidate in Musicology at McGill University. She received her B. Mus. (flute) from the University of Victoria (2013), and her M.A. in Music from the University of Alberta (2016). Her dissertation research focuses on generic formations in postwar popular music. In particular, she examines the stylistic differences, historical significance, and issues of race and gender in mood music and exotica; distinct types of instrumental music that, along with others, constituted the broad category of easy-listening. She has presented at various conferences in North America on topics such as race and gender dynamics in easy-listening music, musical exoticism in pop music, punk and local music scenes, music and settler colonialism, and women’s music clubs. She is supervised by David Brackett, and her research is supported by the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. In 2021 she was awarded the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement to conduct archival research in Honolulu, Hawai’i in conjunction with the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
About the Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards
Each year the Schulich School of Music recognizes faculty members and student instructors for their outstanding contributions. The Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards recognize excellence, commitment and innovation in teaching, and the importance of these qualities in the academic experience of students at McGill. Prizes are awarded annually to each winner at Spring Convocation.