My teaching encompasses a variety of musical skills, including composition, performance, theory and history. As a composer, I believe that without the merger of all these media, the language of music is unbalanced and can potentially sway toward the overly intellectual or creatively unchallenged. Some curricula separate these elements; however, as musicians, we draw on these various musical experiences in tandem, recognizing how each subject reinforces the others.
To prepare students for what is required of musicians and critical thinkers, I provide students with tools to think about these seemingly separate aspects of music simultaneously. In addition to following the more traditional music curriculum where the student takes theory and ear training, history, piano, and their primary instrument and/or specialty, I synthesize these “independent” subjects into each class or lesson by taking various slants using each musical skill depending on what the student needs.
By actively practicing what I encourage my students to do, students discover a fundamental skill for music and scholarship: how to learn through doing. Teaching students how to ask questions and find solutions is more valuable then teaching textbook facts. In creative fields, the answer is most always found in the question. If a sincere answer is to be discovered, the student can be the only one to ask the question. I help promote asking questions by explaining to students why I give them certain assignments, by discussing solutions I have found and by encouraging students to work and communicate together. Teaching demands dedication similar to that of writing music and playing an instrument. I believe that a balance between being a musician and a teacher strengthens knowledge and encourages inquiry on behalf of both student and the teacher. The most successful atmosphere for the student and teacher exists when both parties are thinking, creating and being stimulated by one another’s ideas and artistic solutions.
My job as a teacher is to structure learning experiences that challenge students to pursue wisdom, growth in judgement and the ability to discern their musical choices. I aim to inspire in students a sense of purpose; I aim to stimulate them to work hard and make critical appraisals of themselves, their peers and the community around them. Students have an undeniable right of empowerment, and my job is to facilitate their development into aware, thoughtful, and principled musicians who take charge. I tell my students, “I am here to help you achieve your goal of becoming an effective and creative composer. I will guide you, but you assume personal responsibility for the quality of your experiences.” Excitement about learning must be generated by creating a nurturing environment in which students have trepidation, thrill and the satisfaction of thinking and acting by themselves.
A few principals I find help me to be a better teacher and artist include:
- Directly engage and challenge the student, treating them as a valued colleague and an active participant rather than a member of an audience. The student receives by giving. The teacher gives by asking, encouraging, and exhorting. The same goes for composing music.
- Give learners something memorable on which to hang the most important point. I liberally employ vivid examples and humorous stories from my collage of musical experiences to help them retain their ideas. Likewise, I draw upon experiences that other composers have shared through not only listening but reading and interviewing. We also deeply analyze and critique craft which includes a variety of techniques actively and passively.
- It is learning, not teaching that matters. The best teaching is transformational: it affords a surprising “Aha!” to the student that makes a lasting difference. Such teaching transforms the teacher as well. The aspect I find most rewarding is observing and participating in human and musical development.
Summary of Teaching Activity My CV demonstrates a consistent dedication to teaching for 21 years. I have been recognized for my excellence in teaching at every institution that I have taught full time. At LSU (2017-present), two of my undergraduate students have received the highly competitive Presser Award in the School of Music. I have taught several students that also participate in the Honor’s College and most recently, Hannah Rice received the Outstanding Honor’s Thesis Award for her original opera (2022). At UMKC (2007-2017), I received awards through MNTA (Music Teacher’s National Association and Yale) acknowledging my individual teaching and larger scale mentorship within the Kansas City community. At both UMKC and LSU, I have at least doubled enrollment in the composition study warranting the hire of a second composition professor in fall 2022. The studio at LSU had 13 students (not all majors) when I arrived, and now, we have 28 (all majors). Our students go on to pursue degrees at highly prestigious institutions, win international and national awards and most importantly, receive jobs in the field. At LSU, I have chaired four Ph.D. committees, one just this past December, and three of the doctoral graduates already have academic jobs in the field which is a tough path to break into. My secondary (minor) PhD and DMA students also go on to work in the field consistently as well. I have been nominated for the LSU Rainmaker award (2022), I received an ATLAS grant for my bassoon concerto (Escher Keys, 2021); I received early tenure (2021) and a sabbatical coming fall 2023 to work on my opera in France at the prestigious Moulin a Nef residency in Auvillar.
My students at LSU have been involved in the following select festivals and received awards from: the American Prize, the Morton Gould Composer Award, New Music on the Point, Norfolk New Music, NYU screen scoring workshop, Mostly Modern, Highscore and many more. In April 2022, I led the Constantinides New Music Ensemble to Carnegie Hall, an ensemble that I started and directed from 2017-22 where 15 new compositions were performed by the new music ensemble comprised of top performance students. 13 of the composers were my students which many students reported as “the experience of a lifetime.” At UMKC, prior to my time at LSU, I initiated “Conservatory in the Schools” which placed graduate students in performance and composition into underrepresented local schools of Kansas City for free music lessons and workshops allowing the grad students to gain experience teaching and the area students to have access to high quality arts instruction. I received several NEA grants for the program.
I have four CDs published to date, I average about 3 new works a year with an average of 30 performances a year (of both new and older pieces) on both a national and international stage. My work has been described “haunting and epic with visceral energy, strikingly imaginative, emotional and profound.” Gramophone magazine describes, “What binds these pieces are Gibson’s concise handling of musical materials and her spectrum of sonic approaches. Sky-born displays a compelling contemporary voice with a restless imagination, able to morph other forms of artistic expression into daring, musical odysseys.” Fanfare magazine reports “Bassoonists will be thrilled to hear such imaginative new rep for the first time” of my most recent concerto Escher Keys.
In conclusion, I view my teaching and service to the field on equal footing as my own creative work. I thrive on teaching and composing together and gain stimulation by equally contributing to both; creating without teaching (and vice versa) would be in complete. My students bring me inspiration and from their successes and reports, the feeling is mutual.