Jennifer Hutchison has always been passionate about becoming the best teacher she could possibly be. So she became a student again.
The Western Music alumna (BMus’01, BEd’02, MMus’11) had taught for almost a decade in the Niagara region. She taught both instrumental and vocal music at the secondary school level.
“You can get focused and isolated in your own classroom,” she said. “I was teaching kids to be broadminded, and decided to take my own advice.”
After earning her master’s degree through the summer program, Hutchison wanted to continue her studies in music education as a doctoral candidate.
“I am fortunate to work alongside Dr. Ruth (Wright) and Dr. Carol (Beynon) in their research projects. It has allowed me to see parallels in my own desire to look into different forms of music education and how we can improve the learning experience for people at every age and stage.”
Those projects include Musical Futures (a program to bridge the gap between experiences of music outside and inside school), composing and improvising in the undergraduate music program, and an inter-generational singing program involving research with secondary students and people with dementia.
“I saw a connection with getting people involved in music education and why seniors are still drawn to it. I am discovering the needs of different generations to facilitate optimal engagement in music education.”
To assist program developers in nurturing those needs, Hutchison is developing a model of cross-generational needs that include components such as responses and reactions to music, social relatedness, and musical recollection. “It is relevant to our lives, and has a social component. Seniors also need reconnection and rejuvenation or a return to their previous musical self.”
The self-determination theory states basic needs as autonomy, competence and relatedness. “I look at how music program specifically can meet those needs,” she said.
Hutchison is also working in the school system to improve student success through retention and achievement. “Do they want to be there? What’s keeping students, and seniors, coming back to music? What is at the heart that makes music a vehicle for enhancing the quality of everyone’s lives?”
In a world where everyone can be connected all the time through technology, it can also distance people. Hutchison is looking for the real social connections made in playing in a band or singing in a choir. In addition to her research, she conducts the UWO Choir, a club offered through University Students’ Council for non-music majors, and the Althouse Choir. These are students who seek the opportunity to sing with others, despite the demands of their school life.
She has instructed introductory music education courses at the Don Wright Faculty of Music and she currently teaches at the Faculty of Education. “I’m passionate about the future of education. So improving the quality of leadership in anyone that is a leader in music education programming is where I’d like to go. I want to inspire teachers to be engaging educators and open their minds to see what programs inspire and engage students with the world outside the classroom, to take risks.”
Part of her research into Alzheimer’s and dementia also happens in a choir. She supports secondary school students’ visits to seniors’ centres where they sing with the residents. “It is so enriching for them and changes their perspective musically and socially,” she said.
“Supporting program leaders and developing programs that are musically enriching for all generations is where I see my future.”
She appreciates the opportunity Western provides for her to take her research into the classroom and implement ideas to assess their success.
“Western has a social community that is supportive of research at the Faculty. I am inspired by the philosophies of Dr. Wright, Dr. Beynon, and Dr. Younker and the direction of music education. Western is where I am meant to be.”
While she may officially be a student again, Hutchison has found ways to incorporate teaching into her learning. She is also the Lead Graduate Teaching Assistant, which includes mentoring other graduate students in their teaching.
While one could consider the choristers, students, and seniors in her research lucky to have been connected to her, Jennifer believes she is the lucky one: "It's not just about enriching my research in music education; it's about enriching our lives through music education."