ENMU hosting music teacher conference

Alisa Boswell

The first day of the Professional Music Teachers of New Mexico 61st annual state conference included several presentations, including one by the special guest speaker Peter Mack, an internationally recognized Irish pianist and music educator from Washington state.

Mack told his audience Friday at Eastern New Mexico University about several imaginative techniques for teaching students the piano.

“I’ve found if I can involve elephants or food, students can remember things much better,” Mack said. “If we try one idea and it doesn’t work and they just don’t get it then you try a different approach or idea.”

Mack compared teaching to the “medieval city,” because if an educator cannot reach a student with an idea through one gate, they need to approach the student through another gate instead of continuing to “pound” on the same one.

Mack spent his one-hour long presentation telling his audience of music educators how they can utilize colorful imagery to make ideas stick better with their students.

“The skill is the important thing you possess,” he said. “If you learn to ride a bike in Japan, when you get to New Mexico, you still know how to ride a bike. If you can play one Chopin nocturne, you can play them all.”

Eastern New Mexico University is hosting the three-day event for the first time in 11 years.

“Most of the time, the conference is held in the middle part of the state,” said ENMU event coordinator Cheryl Paycheck-Brooks. “But with the newly remodeled building, we wanted to show it off. We love showing off what we have to offer in our department.”

John Olsen, ENMU piano instructor, also gave a presentation Friday on what it has been like teaching foreign exchange students from China the piano, including the challenges and joys that arise with cultural differences in music. ENMU has an exchange program with China.

“In English, we have the monotone, the up and the down, so we have three tones,” Olsen said. “The Chinese have four tones.”

Olsen told his audience that Chinese students are highly ambitious and inspire U.S. students to work harder.

“Their ambition, their work ethic and their competitiveness with each other, it really has a profound impact,” Olsen said. “They’re high achievers and extremely motivated to do great things.”

Several more presentations were given Friday with the conference day ending with a guest recital at 7:30 p.m., in which Mack and ENMU Music Department Chair Dustin Seifert performed.

More presentations and events will follow today with the conference ending Sunday with a Music Teachers National Association membership breakfast at 8:30 a.m.

“People have been so generous and kind while I’ve been here. People think that conferences happen by magic, but to organize a conference is a labor of love,” Mack said Friday afternoon, giving recognition to Brooks. “It’s wonderful. I’m thrilled to be here.”