Musical Steps

Not long after taking her first literal steps as a child, Maureen Yuen began taking her first musical steps at age 3, which ended up being her first career steps as well. Maureen allegedly begged for a violin for a year. Her parents had hoped she would just stop asking, but when she didn’t, they got her a violin - a move that ultimately opened doors and led Maureen down the path she’s still pursuing enthusiastically.  Naturally, there were some bumps in the road as teenage Maureen wanted to break up with the violin, but with some encouragement from her mom, she continued taking lessons though high school, and ended up falling even harder for the stringed beauty. “It’s become such an internalized part of me, part of my identity. It’s just part of who I am and what I do.”

After completing both her bachelor's and master’s degrees in music performance in Canada, Maureen went on to perform, adjudicate, and work all over the world, but has made New York home base, still travelling often for different jobs. Typically, a musician like Maureen who wanted to advance in her career would pursue a Doctorate of Musical Arts (D.M.A), which is a performance based degree. Maureen explains, “You do a bunch of recitals, give a lecture, and publish a dissertation on a piece of music.” Since she already does those things, she wanted to do a doctorate that would challenge her and push her boundaries, allowing her to contribute something to the field.  Already the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, selected from a pool of nominees from the 64 campuses that compose the State University of New York, Maureen wanted to continue to grow. As an adjunct of 15 years, Maureen also noticed that the adjunct budget is often being slashed, “So I thought the only thing missing from my resume is a doctorate.” Wanting the possibility for career advancement, but also wanting to continue working, Maureen’s ideal program was one that would allow her to pursue her doctorate without giving up her job. She found that perfect balance in the Music and Music Education Doctor of Education in College Teaching Summer Program at Teachers College (TC), where she takes online classes during the school year and spends the summer on TC’s campus working towards her degree.

Starting in the summer 2018 cohort, Maureen encountered the scholarly aspect of academia that she had never really been exposed to before since she is a musical performer. This idea of becoming a scholar is invigorating for Maureen. “I’m excited to be a scholar and that maybe I’ll make my mark on the world through my research.” Her primary research interest is in applied teaching, or one-on-one teaching. She has discovered that the literature in this area is very limited, but that the implications of this line of research are huge. “My biggest problem right now with this area of private teaching is that, from my experience in encountering it at the college level, the students who come to audition for it are really unprepared, which means that they’re receiving bad teaching. It really bothers me that there’s bad teaching because these students are spending tens of thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it. I would like to change that. And actually by extension, just make all one-on-one instruments teaching better and have teachers be more accountable.”

Maureen has noticed that many private teachers have no education and training in teaching at all; many are performers and not necessarily trained educators. “When you have a performance background and don’t really have any training in how to teach, yet you are a private teacher, there’s an obvious disconnect there. I’m really interested in better teaching practices. How are we serving the next generation and future generations of musicians? What can we do to make things better for them or give them the tools they need to succeed? This degree offers that in a way that no other music degree I know of can.”

TC’s knowledgeable, inspirational, and available professors and emphasis on social justice were just a few of the things that drew Maureen to the program. About the professors, Maureen claims, “The way their minds work never ceases to amaze me. I’ve known all of them for such a short time, but they’ve been so influential in my life already.” In terms of social justice, Maureen appreciates the value of diversity, saying, “TC’s courses have developed to reflect the values of the school. They’re not really concerned with preserving this old Western, European tradition of music in the same way as other schools.”

This value has carried over into Maureen’s day job, where repertoire selection has changed due to her experiences at TC. “All of our graduating seniors have to choose a piece and prepare it by themselves for a performance. Usually it’s something from the Western canon. But I decided this could be an opportunity to branch out in our repertoires. So now the self-prepared piece is either a modern composer or a female composer, or perhaps a composer with a similar heritage or background as the student. It’s broadening what’s out there for our students.”

Maureen was pleasantly surprised at how immediately she could take other things she was learning in classes at TC and integrate those things into her teaching practice in her full-time job as well. “During my first 6 credits at TC, I thought, ‘This is amazing! I can bring all this stuff back,’ and I have. What I really want is to have my own tenure track job so I can have the freedom to fully implement these things, but I’ve already brought so many things into my practice from what I’ve learned at TC.”

One example of bringing TC learnings back into her job is a change in assessing music. “Discussing how we assess music in general has been really influential.” Before, students were given grades somewhat arbitrarily with no clear rubric; now that Maureen has discovered the importance of clear and practical assessment, the grading practices have been reformed. “Now they just get comments at the jury, and the private teacher gives them a letter grade.”

When asked about her very impressive resume, Maureen comments, “The sum of all those experiences has been really incredible. All my musical experiences are pieces of a larger puzzle that have influenced my life. I like change and I like new and different experiences. My resume is probably as full as it is because I like doing different things, doing things I haven’t done before. That motivates me. The doctorate really motivates me because I’m excited about what I’m working on; I’m excited to contribute to the body of research.” To those considering an Ed.D. in music and music education, Maureen has some advice. “If I encountered someone who had a passion and aptitude for teaching, I would encourage them to follow the path of the Ed.D. rather than the D.M.A.”

Just like learning to walk, balance is key in the music and academic world. Maureen embraces this life, reflecting on where those little steps of 3-year-old Maureen have taken her. “I like the balance of all the different duties. I really enjoy teaching, adjudicating, performing and practicing, administrative stuff, and everything else that goes along with it.” Her steps in this direction began as a 3-year-old; the possibilities of where they’ll take her next are limitless.