Dean Ellen Waterman Interviews Alumna Nancy Dawe
Ellen Waterman: How did you decide to make music education your path?
Nancy Dawe: I graduated with an Honours degree in General Musical Studies in 2000. Heading into to my fourth year, I had been planning to apply to MBA programs and pursue a career in arts administration. Dr. Rose convinced me that staying an extra year to do music education would provide me with valuable transferable skills even if I did not continue with a career in education. I stayed and completed the Bachelor of Music Education in 2001, and I’ve never looked back. I have been in the music education field ever since.
EW: Can you tell us a bit about your research interests?
ND: My primary research interests relate to the use of narrative both as a research method and as a tool for professional development. My doctoral thesis is a narrative inquiry that explores the professional knowledge of three choral music educators from St. John’s. They each shared their life stories with me and welcomed me into their choir rehearsals. I have the privileged task of examining the relationships between their stories and the professional knowledge I saw them draw upon in their various choral settings. It’s really about understanding that our whole lives shape who we are and what we know as music educators. Through my thesis work, I have become increasingly interested in how to use narrative and personal story as tools for teaching music. It can be a powerful way of engaging students in meaningful conversations about how they experience music in their lives. It is a wonderful way to build classroom community and teach respect for diversity as students share their stories with each other.
EW: I understand that you have also been very active in student government, winning the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership award in 2008 for your work as Vice-President Internal of the Graduate Student’s Union and serving on the Music Graduate Student’s Association. Did you develop any of your leadership skills at Memorial?
ND: I have served on many committees, the School of Graduate Studies Council, and the Graduate Students’ Union at U of T, which has taught me a great deal about the politics of academia. Many of my experiences at Memorial contributed to the development of my leadership skills. I held positions on the Student Music Society and the Women’s Studies Society, and I sat on a number of search committees, program committees, and appeals committees. Those experiences taught me that I love problem-solving with a team, and I really do enjoy playing a direct role in decision-making processes. Other experiences that contributed to my leadership skills were playing in the Brass Quintet and helping organize the two-day mini-courses for high school students each year. Through the Brass Quintet, I learned how important it is to be accountable to your team, and through the mini-courses, I really honed my organizational skills.
EW: You’ve been very active in connecting alumni of the School of Music. What made your time at Memorial memorable?
ND: I loved my time at Memorial for many reasons. A few things that stand out the most are the community feel of the School, the relationships with professors, and the access to a wide variety of performance opportunities. I met some of my closest friends at Memorial—a couple of them live in Toronto as well. We became friends in the lounge, while taking breaks from practicing, and years later, we are still close. As a relatively small school, it was great to have the opportunity to really get to know your professors. Many of them would regularly attend student-organized social events throughout the year, and I don’t think that is something I would have experienced in a larger school. During my time at Memorial, I played in the Concert Band, the NSYO/NSO, chamber ensembles, and I sang in choirs. Trumpet was my major, but mostly, I was a musician. Having the opportunity to develop my musicianship skills in a variety of contexts was extremely valuable.
EW: As a music educator, what qualities do you most value?
ND: Above all, I value passion and commitment. Life is too short not to be engaged with work that you have a passion for, and I believe educators who are passionate about what they teach leave lasting impressions with their students. Closely related to passion, I believe educators need to be firmly committed to helping students work towards personal excellence. With respect to music educators in particular, I think we need to share our love of music with our students, and even more importantly, we need to show an interest in learning about the music they love as well. We can model many life lessons for our students by approaching teaching with passion, commitment, and an open mind.