Edward Klorman wins the 2018-19 Teaching Award in the full-time category

Published: 27 May 2019

Congratulations Edward Klorman, winner of Schulich’s 2018-19 Teaching Award in the full-time category!

Since joining Schulich’s faculty in 2016, Edward has been very active in classroom teaching, graduate supervision and mentorship, curriculum development, and more. He is described by colleagues and students as an exemplary teacher and is praised by all for his organization and creativity of course material and devotion to students. In a desire to create a bigger sense of community and peer learning among music theorists, Edward founded the McGill Association of Music Theorists (MAMuTh) in 2016. Since its founding, Edward has acted as their advisor and coordinated workshops, assisted students with grant and conference proposals, and facilitated networking, a contribution that has not gone unnoticed.

In celebration of this achievement, we asked Edward to elaborate on his teaching approach over email.

What is your teaching approach?

Teaching music theory is a lot like teaching a language: some ideas can be explained through abstract rules, but the only way to really become fluent is through the “doing” of music theory, that is, from playing, singing, composing, and analyzing. One course I regularly teach, MUTH 150, is an introduction to music theory focusing on Baroque music. On the first day, I tell my students to imagine they were undertaking a music apprenticeship around the year 1720. We learn some principles of harmony from bass lines composed by G. F. Händel, and then we study some small-scale compositions by contemporaries of J. S. Bach to provide models for a number of original compositions students will write over the course of the term. It’s remarkable what students can achieve in just thirteen weeks, and the course culminates in a concert of their final compositions performed by Early Music students using period instruments.

In higher levels of music theory, the focus gradually shifts toward students learning to frame their own questions for analysis and research. One way to cultivate these skills is to devote class time to discussions or even debates, which call on students to articulate and to provide evidence for a particular analytical argument. It doesn’t matter which idea is “right”; what’s more important is to learn to develop an idea about a piece of music, to consider its implications, and to appreciate counterarguments. For graduate students in music theory, these sorts of discussions and debates often spark ideas for conference presentations and publications. It’s humbling for me to think that a reading I assign or an off-hand comment I share might inspire a student to develop a fascinating, original contribution to our field!

How does your background in both performance and analysis influence your teaching?

The vast majority of my undergraduate students are performance majors, and even those with other majors have some kind of music performance background. Analyzing a piece of music can be a lot like the process of “interpretation” that musicians undergo in preparation for a performance. For example: imagine a conductor or chamber music coach asks the ensemble to play the bass line in a particular passage more clearly, since it points the way toward an unusual modulation. From my point of view, that’s an analytical observation just as much as a performance one.

We’re doing the same sort of work in my classes: perhaps an unusual D-flat in the second bar of a piece bears some relation to a surprising C-sharp chord at its climax, and becoming aware of this connection might help a performer to imbue this connection with a particular intensity.

Or suppose I’m a singer preparing a Schubert song for a recital. Many Schubert songs are written in strophic form, with the same music for each stanza of poetry. But in some songs, Schubert recomposes the music for the final stanza. It’s important for the singer and pianist to spend some time considering what about the final stanza might have led the Schubert to rewrite the music for the last part. Perhaps some ironic turn in the text is underscored by a particular motive or harmony in the musical setting. Exploring these relationships between the text and the music can deepen my connection to the song and might lead me to emphasize a certain word or to foreground a detail in the accompaniment in my recital.

My highest aim as a teacher is to inspire and equip my students to become responsible, informed, and articulate advocates for their art. It’s not so important to me that every student will remember the details of each musical term or concept that we study for the rest of their career. (If students forget which notes are in a German augmented sixth chord in B major, they can always look that up.) But I do hope to foster habits of thought and to inspire a musical curiosity that will stay with students long after they complete their formal studies.

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.

Back to top