The Moores School of Music is thrilled to welcome Todd Van Kekerix to the Preparatory and Continuing Studies (PCS) Program as a lecturer of piano pedagogy, coordinator of class piano and piano-area liaison. The former director of enrichment activities at the New School of Music Study, Van Kekerix specializes in providing engaging and effective piano lessons. His pedagogical philosophy advocates for a unique approach to classical music and teaching that goes beyond traditional virtuosity, incorporating collaborative and peer-based teaching to allow students to become well-rounded artists.
“My main goal with teaching piano is that students become life-long learners of music and supporters of the arts,” Van Kekerix says. “I think that comes from developing a love for the process of making music.”
The process of learning to play music is usually understood as a solo endeavor consisting of isolated practice sessions and one-on-one instruction. While it’s a time-honored approach, Van Kekerix also sees the value in building a community around music-making for both classical and recreational fields.
“I think a group setting is always an important aspect in piano education,” Van Kekerix says. “We need more connection in our lives, so I can’t imagine not having the element of group lessons present in a curriculum.”
Sharing music-learning and music-making is a way for students to develop a sense of camaraderie and support one another, ensuring that they return to the piano each day. Group lessons also encourage students to grow musically in a friendly but structured environment, and students learn from one another as they interact.
“There’ll be moments where students can teach other students and break it down in a way that you didn’t think about it,” Van Kekerix says. “The more that we can be together and share the gift of music, and our experience with learning the instrument, the better.”
Even though Van Kekerix believes in the benefits of group lessons, his overall approach to teaching takes into account individual student needs and goals.
“Most adult students seek to learn something because they want to… so I inquire at the beginning of lessons what goals and objectives they have for the lessons. I ask why they are pursuing the lessons and then we shape those goals from there,” Van Kekerix says.
Every students has a different idea of what music does for them, and Van Kekerix believes their lessons should reflect that. Focusing on a student’s individual needs is the best starting point for breaking down goals into achievable tasks. If a task or assignment is too challenging right off the bat, students may feel overwhelmed or discouraged, so Van Kekerix tailors lessons so that challenges can feel like small victories instead of insurmountable obstacles.
“It’s important to present something in a way that’s manageable,” he says. “That way, before they know it, the student realizes they are able to do it.”
As a professor of piano pedagogy, there’s a number of values that Van Kekerix hopes to instill in his students in how they approach teaching the piano, much of which is inspired by American pianist and author of “The Music Tree” series, Frances Clark. Touching on a concept of Clark’s that he considers the most influential, Van Kekerix says, “I want [my students] to realize that they’re teaching a student. Next, that they’re teaching music, and third, that music is through the piano. In my experience the student, the learner, knows best, and it’s up to me as the educator to really meet them where they are and use their strengths.”
While virtuosic classical music is often seen as the highest musical standard, Van Kekerix believes that we may be overlooking one of the most important things that music has to offer: the power to bring people together.
“It’s great to perform works by Beethoven. Those works are monumental and we need to know about them, but that’s not the end-all be-all,” Van Kekerix says. “Sometimes the music world can become very exclusive and we get tunnel vision, rather than seeing music for what it is — something that brings joy to people’s lives.”
“I think there’s room enough for all of us in this musical world,” he continues. “If we would allow people’s voices to be heard, or that creative element to surface a little bit more, it’d be interesting to see what the musical world would look like.”