What do you get when you combine a passion for teaching, a love of music and a bundle of energy? You get an outstanding music educator…and you get Jackie Davis, Class Piano Instructor at Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, GA, and this issue’s featured Roland Clinician.
Jackie Davis has been teaching class piano for over 30 years and her love of teaching has only grown with time. Jackie began piano lessons, like many of us, as a child and she knew at a young age she wanted to major in music in college. But it wasn’t until her last few years at Tift College in Georgia that she discovered her love of teaching. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree with majors in Music Education and Piano Performance, Jackie went on to receive a Masters of Music degree from Georgia State University in Atlanta with a concentration in Piano Pedagogy and Performance. “I began teaching private and group piano immediately after college and continue to love teaching to this day.
But, a lot has changed over the course of Jackie’s teaching career. Not only has technology begun to play a bigger role in music education, the concept of group lessons has evolved over time. “When I began teaching class piano 30 years ago, I had to teach on acoustic pianos. My lessons have been greatly enhanced through the addition of the many different sounds, recording and rhythm features on the digital pianos.” At Strong Rock Christian School, Jackie has what she calls the “State of the Art Roland Piano Lab” complete with 13 HP-203s for the student pianos, one KR-107 for the instructor, a lab conferencing system for easy two-way communication, and several laptop computers, including one on the teacher’s instrument. In asking Jackie why they chose Roland pianos for the school, she replied “I particularly like the piano sound and, from the teacher’s standpoint, it has to be easy to use in the classroom. Roland pianos are very user-friendly.” In addition to the pianos, Jackie utilizes a Sonar Sequencing Program, the Alfred Essentials of Music Theory software program and an Interactive Smartboard, all combined to create a vital visual aid for her collaborative learning environment.
While Jackie has spent most of her career teaching class piano, she has also seen a change over time in the perception of group instruction. “I have seen the “stigma’ that group lessons are inferior to private lessons decline.” I asked Jackie why she thinks that is. “The fundamentals of playing the piano are fun and motivating to work on in a group setting. These fundamentals, such as note reading drills, technical exercises, theory, rhythm skills, and ensemble playing are essential for all musicians. Through the use of the headphones and conferencing system, I can work with the entire class or work individually with each student on their solo repertoire.” She continues, “At Strong Rock, I see my piano classes four hours a week. The students also practice at home as well (they are motivated by the friendly competition with the others in class). Unfortunately, many students that take private lessons once a week for 30 minutes don’t practice at home as consistently as they need to in order to develop the skills required to play well. I also know that group dynamics encourages student accountability – good natured competition encourages learning.”
With the opportunity to see her students so often during the week, Jackie realizes how fortunate she is in her teaching environment. Strong Rock Christian School opened in the Fall of 2007 on 148 sprawling acres in beautiful Locust Grove, GA. And Jackie had the opportunity to be a part of the planning and implementation of the piano lab right from the start. “During the early phases of planning and development for Strong Rock, the founding family and I discussed the many advantages of adding class piano to the Fine Arts Department. It is the plan to eventually have three campuses, each containing a piano lab. It is our goal for all students in the elementary grades to have class piano at least once a week. The middle school and high school students may select class piano as one of their yearlong enrichment course electives. We also offer group lessons in our After-School Music and Arts Program.”
In times of such cut-backs in the arts in many schools across the nation, what advice would Jackie offer for educators and administrators who are looking to develop a stronger music program but are constrained by lack of funds? “Class piano at my school is among the most popular classes offered. The addition of the piano lab sets our school apart from the other schools in our state and has proven attractive to prospective students. My suggestion would be to begin with as many full-sized pianos as you can afford. Then, add pianos periodically until you have a full lab. The Twin Piano feature on the Roland pianos works very well for student partners. The other students in the class can play rhythm instruments, sing words/note names, clap, count, etc., all while “waiting” their turn on the instrument.
With such a busy teaching career it’s hard to think that Jackie has time to add any more activities to her already full plate. But Jackie confesses the love of her family tops her “favorite things to do” list. “I have been blessed with a loving, supportive husband and two wonderful children. My husband Don makes learning CDs for the Georgia chapter of MENC. He sequences and records practice CDs for their All-State auditions, as well as sequencing and recording choral rehearsal CDs for several state and district Honor Chorus and All-State events. This summer my daughter will become a Licensed Practical Nurse and my son will become a Marine. I am very proud that they both chose to serve others and our country! And playing with my little granddaughter is certainly at the top of my “Fun to Do” list!”
Educators come to teaching for a variety of reasons. We all have different teaching styles, methods and motives for doing what we do. But all great educators have one thing in common…a passion for teaching. “I receive much pleasure and gratification from working with students that love to play the piano. I still get excited watching a student master a new concept or discipline. Stimulating minds and helping students learn is one of the highlights of my job. It is very rewarding to share with students something I cherish. For me, teaching music is not a job…it’s my vocation.”