For Dr. Valerie Cisler, her professional career has never been about making a choice between teaching and research.
“To me, it’s all one. It’s all related. It’s the same goal,” said the professor and chair of the Department of Music and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“Whether it’s in the classroom or developing materials, it’s all about helping people become better musicians and teachers,” she said. “The things I do in scholarship come from a desire to enhance my teaching.”
And her teaching was recognized with one of the most prestigious university-wide awards presented to faculty—the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award. This award is presented each year in honor and recognition of meritorious and sustained records of excellence in teaching and creativity related to teaching to two full-time faculty members of the University of Nebraska.
Scholarship Enhances Teaching
“I have tried to concentrate my efforts on two main areas of scholarship and creative activity,” Dr. Cisler said. “First, my performance and research on musical composition and interpretation that is directly linked to my desire to be an effective teacher.” Her works on the life and music of Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Muczynski were selected for inclusion in the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. “Second, my research in the area of publication of pedagogical books and workshop presentations.” Music pedagogy, Dr. Cisler points out, is not a static area of study but a dynamic, and ever changing, art and science. Her online piano pedagogy courses are believed to be the first offered in the country.
A ‘Real Life’ Approach
In his nomination letter for Dr. Cisler, Dr.William Jurma, dean of the UNK 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. 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.
A Role Model for Students
Dr. Cisler shares her research interests with her students to serve as a role model.
“Through my example, I want students to understand that successful teaching is not limited to the simple acquisition and transmission of knowledge, but expands to a richer, ever-evolving devotion to discovery and shared learning experiences,” she said.
UNK music students also get a taste of practical research through experiential learning. Each semester, the college students teach children’s piano classes. Class content is developed and taught by UNK students under Dr. Cisler’s supervision and includes theory, technique, repertoire, functional skills, and creative activities in improvisation and composition. All sessions are video-taped for self-evaluation and class discussion.
“Student research is a vital component of the piano pedagogy program at UNK,” she said. “Creative projects with practical teaching application are interspersed throughout the curriculum. Students have the opportunity to perform and present their assignments on a regular basis with student and faculty feedback. Opportunities for specialized research assignments are administered through independent study projects.”
Dr. Cisler’s students have been active participants at the annual UNK Student Research Day. Three were selected to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Several students received scholarship funding for participation and research at workshops and festivals, including the American-Russian Piano Institute, St. Petersburg. Three students had articles published in the national journal, the American Music Teacher.
Writing International Music Books
Dr. Cisler’s ability to adapt to the needs of her students is partly based on her research that provides fresh perspectives and ideas. She co-authored Technique for the Advancing Pianist with world renowned piano pedagogue Maurice Hinson. Her pedagogical books have 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 books are published and distributed internationally, including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the U.S.; the first four were recently translated into Korean. International sales of her pedagogical books have reached more than 50,000.
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 received the Pratt-Heins Faculty Award for Scholarship, 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.”