For Dr. Valerie Cisler, professor and chair of the Department of Music & Performing Arts, her professional career has never been about making a choice between teaching or research.
“To me, it’s all one. It’s all related. It’s the same goal. Whether it’s in the classroom or developing materials, it’s about making better musicians and teachers,” she said.
“The things I do in scholarship come from my teaching.”
And her teaching was recognized earlier this month with one of the most prestigious university-wide awards presented to faculty—the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA) .
In his nomination letter for Dr. Cisler, Dr. William Jurma, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities, wrote: “Her record and the accomplishments of her students are consistent and superior. In addition, her scholarship complements her teaching.
“She has an agenda as a teacher/scholar that has focus and depth. Her students are motivated, accomplished and recognized for the quality of their work,” he said.
One of her former students, Angela Leising, who is currently an affiliate piano faculty member at Athens (Ohio) Community Music School, said of her mentor,“During my years at UNK,I was a student in many classes taught by Dr. Cisler, including several that she personally developed. Her teaching was one of the most important and valuable components in my training.”
“Classes with Dr. Cisler required a ‘real-life’ approach with hands-on experiences in the field of teaching through demonstrations, internship experiences and observation opportunities…As a teacher and mentor, she continues to inspire my own teaching.”
“Dr. Cisler’s service record includes work related to her teaching,” Dean Jurma said. “She was instrumental in the establishment of a Music Pedagogy Resource Center at UNK.”
“Her efforts to improve the pedagogy resource center ensured that the students had access to the best examples of teaching materials and resources available,” Leising added. “The knowledge and experience I gained while studying with Dr. Cisler laid a strong foundation for my continued studies of piano pedagogy at the graduate level.” Leising now holds an M.M. degree in piano performance and pedagogy from Ohio University and has recently been named a finalist for the national MTNA Studio Fellowship Award.
Another former student of Dr. Cisler’s, Angela (Suing) Wright, was the first UNK student to complete the Piano Pedagogy program, which Dr. Cisler developed.
“In 1999, I not only graduated with a B.A. in music education, I was also the first student to complete the Piano Pedagogy program,” Wright said. “The Piano Pedagogy program developed my knowledge in teaching piano and has helped me become a qualified piano teacher.”
Earlier in her career, Wright almost gave up playing the piano.
“I had developed a technique in playing piano that was incorrect and had caused serious problems with my wrists and forearms,” she said. The hours spent practicing were causing the numbness and pain “Discovering this was devastating to me, as I did not want to give up playing piano or my dream of teaching music,” she said. In the fall of 1995, Wright began studying piano with Dr. Cisler.
“She worked with me in great depth on ‘re-learning’ how to play the piano. She had me work on a large number of technique exercises. Some of these exercises were from various technique books. Others were exercises written by Dr. Cisler, many of which are now published in Technique for the Advancing Pianist,” she said. “Through it all, Dr. Cisler was always positive and reassuring that I would work through this and be able to play more difficult pieces better than I could before.”
In November of 1998, Wright successfully performed a Senior Piano Recital consisting of six major works by composers from Bach to Muczynski.
“To this day, when I play piano, I do not experience any of the problems I had during my freshman year in college,” she said. “I credit this to Dr. Cisler and her patience and wisdom in teaching me how to play with correct piano technique.”
Dr. Cisler co-authored Technique and the Advancing Pianist with world-renowned piano pedagogue Maurice Hinson. The book has had international sales of more than 50,000. Her Composition Book Series, available through Alfred Publishing, earned her a nomination for the Francis Clark Pedagogy National Award. The first four books in the series are distributed internationally, including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the U.S. , and were recently translated into Korean. Her next book, Functional Skills for the Advancing Pianist, is projected for publication in 2009.
Her scholarly work was recognized in 2005 with a Pratt-Heins Award for Scholarship and Research. Other areas of curricula that she has developed include an accompanying and collaborative performance class and a keyboard class for non-majors approved as a General Studies course. Further, she has had a key role in the revision of class piano curriculum.
Her professional recognitions in and out of the classroom are numerous. She is a Fellow with the Center for Great Plains Studies, received the Mortar Board Award for Dedication to Teaching Excellence, was selected for the Nebraska Touring Artist Program by the Nebraska Arts Council and is a charter member of the UNK chapter of Phi Kappa Phi honor society.
As former student Leising said, “Dr. Cisler’s tireless work continues to shape her students, the music department and UNK for the better.”