Michigan Muse Summer 2023 > Dean’s Reflection

Dean’s Reflection

As I reflect on my time as a student at what was then the U-M School of Music, I realize that my peers and I were almost solely focused on the challenge of becoming the best musicians we could be, and on creating memorable musical moments for audiences. Students today are as deeply committed to their own art and craft, but they also want to use the power of the performing arts to engage with the world’s most pressing issues. In their minds, these are not incompatible pursuits. I’m continually impressed by how animated and energized our students are by the prospect of making a better future for all of us, and one way they will do that is by actively engaging with their communities. SMTD already has many alumni paving the way, showing our students what a multifaceted career in the performing arts looks like, identifying as a performer, creator, or scholar while also being an entrepreneur and an activist.

David Gier portrait at Moore Building, wearing a blue suit coat and SMTD pin

SMTD Dean David Gier

For many years and in many ways, SMTD has been in the process of rethinking the way a performing arts education should be delivered. Vital education takes place not only within the classroom or the rehearsal hall, but in the world outside of our campus. We evolve and innovate continually to meet the needs of our students and help prepare them for a gratifying, sustainable life in the arts.

Importantly, as an institution we are providing ever more opportunities for students to explore community engagement during their time at SMTD, where they can reap the benefits of mentorship and training, thereby incorporating socially engaged practices more deeply into their development. Much of that support comes from our faculty, who weave community engagement into the curriculum and their own scholarly and artistic work. We are in the midst of an unprecedented influx of new faculty whose careers have been distinguished by a deep commitment to social change as well as artistry and education. Their contributions to SMTD, combined with the substantial expertise of our longer-serving faculty, will have a transformative impact on our students.

Several examples of faculty and students working toward social change within and outside the classroom can be found in the pages of this issue of Michigan Muse: Antonio C. Cuyler, professor of music in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Leadership, pairs students in his courses with cultural organizations that have a focus on social impact; students combine classroom work with a semester-long service learning project. Ellen Rowe, chair of conducting and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Music in the Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation, recently took the U-M Jazz Ensemble on an East Coast tour of schools, including several in underserved areas, providing clinics, concerts, and mentorship. Ashley Lucas, professor of theatre & drama and the Residential College, works with SMTD and other U-M students to conduct theatre workshops with incarcerated people as part of U-M’s Prison Creative Arts Project. And John Pasquale, Donald R. Shepherd Clinical Professor of Conducting, director of Michigan Marching & Athletic Bands, and associate director of bands, and Richard Frey, lecturer of conducting and associate director of Michigan Marching & Athletic Bands, embarked on the first of a multi-year residency at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, where they will be working with colleagues to establish a regional music center.

Any discussion of community engagement at SMTD must include an acknowledgment of the extraordinary work done by our staff, notably those on the Engagement & Outreach and EXCEL Lab teams. Through an array of programming combined with expert training and guidance, the staff members on those teams devote themselves to connecting students who wish to contribute meaningfully to their communities with opportunities to do so in a sustainable, impactful way. In this issue, you can learn more about the Engagement & Outreach team’s many life-changing community partnership programs, particularly those focused on arts access, training, and education for K-12 students. And you can read about how the EXCEL Lab’s awards program and other activities have nurtured hundreds of student initiatives that prioritize social impact and community engagement.

Having spent almost my entire career immersed in the work of public universities, I believe strongly in the mission of such institutions to serve the public good. There are many manifestations of that principle for performing artists and scholars, and community engagement is one such manifestation. SMTD students are keenly aware of the deep, complex, and profound opportunity for growth and impact that comes from connecting with members of the community, and I look forward to seeing the many ways their engagement will effect change in our world.

Be well, and Forever Go Blue,

Dave Gier, Dean
Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music
School of Music, Theatre & Dance