The first chapter of Jennifer Snodgrass’ new book “Contemporary Musicianship” is about Billy Joel. Why? Because in 2012 she noticed that her 8 a.m. music theory class students were sleepy. She used the piano man to wake them up, announcing: “You’re going to study Billy Joel. You’re going to write like Billy Joel. You’re going to learn everything you can about Billy Joel’s life and career!”
It was a spontaneous idea to make her students in Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music approach their studies through a specific and unexpected artist, but they were immediately more alert and engaged.
“Contemporary Musicianship,” published by Oxford University Press in April 2015, builds on this concept. Instead of the traditional coverage of basics and analysis, students learn fundamentals by studying the songs and stories of pop, country and classical artists. “This is a book written for students,” she said. “My students said, ‘Adele is amazing.’ So, Adele is in the book. They love Joshua Bell. So, Joshua Bell has a chapter.”
The narrative also draws from what Snodgrass learned during a sabbatical in Nashville, where she spent time observing how industry professionals – including sound engineers and songwriters – talk to each other about creativity and business.
“I know it’s hard to believe that students are near-screaming with excitement on the edge of their seats in an 8 a.m. music theory class, but that’s what happens,” she said.
It’s an enthusiasm that’s spread outside of the classroom. Snodgrass said, “After class, they grab their guitars, and they’re trying to figure out how to do what these musicians are doing with their own songs. It’s exciting!”
A recent gift shows that Snodgrass’ former students have taken her lessons to heart. To honor her book publication, a group of them flew her and her husband on an all-expenses paid trip to New York. Why? Because they wanted her to attend a Billy Joel concert.
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About the Hayes School of Music
The Hayes School of Music prepares young musicians for professional lives as performers, composers, music educators, music therapists, conductors and music industry professionals, ensuring the next generation of musical leadership for the state, region and nation. Noted for quality instruction by national and internationally recognized faculty musicians, the school offers four undergraduate degree programs and three graduate-level programs. Learn more at https://music.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.