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Faculty Spotlight: Nancy Weems, Madison Endowed Professor of Piano

Q&A with the chair of the piano program at the UH Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts.

Nancy Weems, who has been described by a critic as a “rare treasure” and was even designated as an official “yellow rose of Texas” by a former governor, radiates warmth when she discusses the Moores School of Music’s (MSM) history and evolution. “I’ve watched this wonderful school grow over several decades now — so much change and development! At MSM, everything constantly continues to get better.” 

Weems joined the MSM faculty over three decades ago to work alongside her mentor, UH professor Abbey Simon. Since then, she has been instrumental in elevating the piano program. She prides herself in providing individual attention to her students and crafting unique goals for each student — and her efforts have paid off. Her former students include active concert pianists, such as London-based Andrew Brownell (BM Piano ’00), who has won numerous international competitions, and Jay Peng Chieh Sun (BM Piano ’01), a Yamaha performing artist in China. Other former students include piano faculty at top universities and emerging artists, such as the 2017 Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition winner Kenny Broberg (BM Piano ’16).

Learn more about Weems’ approach to teaching and the MSM piano program here:

Q: What is your teaching philosophy?

A: Every student, regardless of their innate talent or skill, deserves a really great teacher and a really great experience. I try to develop my students to their ultimate potential by designing a plan that’s right for them. I have some students who want to become great teachers and others who hope to develop careers as performing artists. But, regardless of their career intentions, the first step is to design a program that covers important styles and composers that may be missing from their previous repertoire development.  It’s crucial to cover as much repertoire as possible and to design a program that addresses the student’s weaknesses and builds on their individual strengths.

Q: How do you balance your love to play piano and your love to teach?

A: I probably devote more time to my teaching than to my performance now, but musical performance is the seed, the basis of everything for me. I don’t think I would be a good teacher if I totally gave up performing. So, I try to perform as much as my schedule allows — last year, I performed and taught in a four-city tour of China and this summer I’m scheduled for recitals and master classes in North Dakota, Texas and California.

Q: What is special or unique about what the Moores School of Music offers students?

A: I think we have a warm, supportive environment here where our students can blossom and develop their talents, plus an excellent faculty and wonderful events going on year-round. Our school is small enough to provide friendly, individual attention, but large enough to be an energetic and inspiring place. Our students are diverse and form lasting relationships with their colleagues from all over the world. 

Also, as a future All-Steinway School we have these wonderful new pianos in the teaching studios, the concert halls, the classrooms and the practice rooms — it’s a real plus for our piano students!

Q: How has the Moores School of Music changed since you began teaching here in 1982?

A: I’ve watched the school go through so many changes over the year: the improved facilities, the addition of so many outstanding faculty, the increasing quality of our student body, the fabulous development of our performing ensembles, our improved national and international reputation as a major university school of music — everything has been on a constant upward swing — and we certainly aren’t finished yet!

Q: What are you most looking forward to as the school continues to grow with the new Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts?

A: I think that we are all looking forward to the increased collaboration between our arts programs. I’m excited to see the things that we can do to enrich our students’ lives by encouraging them to interact with other performing and creative arts. In becoming an educated and contributing member of the arts community, it’s important that our students not simply stay in a practice room twenty-four hours a day seven days a week! Students must also develop a larger sense of cultural and historical context for their musical studies. This isn’t only important for their development as artists, but also as intelligent and sensitive human beings.

Q: What is most rewarding about teaching piano at MSM?

A: It’s immensely satisfying to observe a student begin from whatever musical background they might have and see just how far they can go. That’s what keeps me energized and keeps me excited about teaching every single day. I have wonderful graduates who are doing great things in the City of Houston and around the world. It’s incredibly rewarding to see them take their own places as professional teachers, as performing artists and as supporters of the art of the piano. It’s a source of pride for all of us here at the Moores School when we see our students, as a result of their excellent musical training, creating their own lives and careers as musicians around the world!