Month: December 2017


Institution Faculty/Staff of the Month

School: University of Maryland, College Park Region: CAACURH
Nominee: Professor James Fry Nominator: Ben Reichard

On-Campus Population: 12500 Chapter Size: 125

Please explain the outstanding contributions of the nominee during the month of nomination

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin

Like several other students in the class without previous musical training, I was slightly apprehensive heading into Professor James Fry’s course “Modern and Postmodern Music: Trends, Styles, Issues and Ideas.” It was an honors seminar focused on 20th century composers, of which I could name none; nor could I identify musical elements like key or tonality. I wanted to take a risk and dive into something new. Thanks to Prof. Fry’s masterful teaching techniques, the entire class was able to access and engage the material, regardless of their musical talent or background. Particularly in the month of December, Prof. Fry turned classroom norms on their head to involve students directly and allow us to genuinely learn and grow.

Prof. Fry’s approach to his lectures is innovative and makes the content accessible. The homework is to listen to a set of music, read a little bit about the composers, and then write a reflection about the pieces. Students have the freedom to enjoy the music at their own pace and can write about anything that stands out to them. His lectures revolve around listening to the assigned music and related pieces, and then having an open discussion to identify trends and differences. Musical lingo is kept to a minimum and explained plainly. There are no memorization-based tests or demanding essays. The assignments and lectures are literally just about experiencing and immersing oneself in the music; students can reflect and express themselves without the fear of being “wrong.”

Prof. Fry gives students the freedom to explore modern composers and share with the class. On December 5, students presented research about a self-selected topic. I talked about my favorite video game composer; other presentations ranged from Indian vocal music to tango. During the presentations, Prof. Fry stepped back and became a student just like the rest of us, intrigued by the topics and proud of everyone’s passion. By allowing us to involve ourselves with topics we cared about, the presentations were engaging and informative. It gave us space to consider music we already liked in a more critical light.

On December 7, the last class before exams, Prof. Fry ended the course on a happy note. He shared his homemade bread with the class, told us powerful personal stories, and gently reviewed the movements we covered during the course. While most professors were stressing out students with monstrous final exam reviews, Prof. Fry reminded us why music has personal value and encouraged us to continue our musical exploration beyond the end of the semester.

His final exam format was also accessible and open-ended. He assigned two seminal Twentieth-century operas and told us to write a two-page reflection. Again the reflections were self-guided; I was able to incorporate my passion for social engagement into my essay.

While I listened to hour-long operas on repeat - which might sound like a drag to some - I realized that Prof. Fry had found a way to make abstract and alien music subjects relatable. Not only could I identify factors like tonality, I could explain how they make me feel about a piece. I even found myself critically evaluating music I listened to casually. I wanted to dive into something I knew nothing about and grow as a person. Prof. Fry heeded Benjamin Franklin’s advice and delivered, involving students directly in their learning and creating an environment of immersion. Prof. Fry deserves to be recognized as an outstanding faculty member for opening the world of music to his students.

Word Count: 600

Date of entry into database: 2018-01-03 13:53:59

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