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UMass music professors practice what they preach

  • <br/><br/>Felipe Salles teaches a Jazz Theory Improv I class at Umass Tuesday morning.
  • <br/><br/>Felipe Salles teaches a Jazz Theory Improv I class at Umass Tuesday morning.
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Felipe Salles, teaching a jazz class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of many professors on the music faculty who combine teaching duties with an active performing career.
  • <br/><br/>Felipe Salles teaches a Jazz Theory Improv I class at Umass Tuesday morning.
  • Jeffrey W. Holmes' CD "Of One's Own"
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>UMass music professor Christopher Kreuger says that in the performing arts, lessons are best taught by example.
  • Jeffrey W. Holmes's newest CD, "Of One's Own," with the Jeff Holmes Quartet, features original works by the longtime University of Massachusetts Amherst music professor.
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/><br/>Jeffrey W. Holmes' newest CD, “Of One’s Own,” with The Jeff Holmes Quartet, features original works by the longtime University of Massachusetts Amherst music professor.
  • Christopher Krueger's CD, "The Telemann Album"
  • Felipe Salles' CD, "Departure"

In the music department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, professors not only know what they teach, they practice what they preach: Many of the professors have composing, recording and performing careers in addition to the work they do in the classroom.

Indeed, says Jeff Cox, chair of the Department of Music and Dance at UMass, applicants’ professional experience is a critical element in the decision to hire faculty. The goal, he says, is to find teachers who are able to balance active professional careers with the time and devotion required to assure that students are getting a quality education.

“It’s simply essential that if our faculty are performers, we want them performing,” Cox said in a recent interview on the UMass campus. “This is a faculty I can’t keep off the stage.”

To encourage and support such endeavors, the university offers grants and other funding resources to professors. Felipe Salles, one of three music department professors who recently released CDs of their work, says money made available through the university played a large role in the production of his latest CD, “Departures,” which was released in the fall.

“Funding for personnel and recording expenses ... it is very helpful,” said Salles, 39, of Northampton, a Brazilian saxophonist who has taught in the jazz department at UMass since 2010.

Two other faculty members also released CDs recently. They are Jeffrey W. Holmes, director of the Jazz and African-American Music Studies Program at UMass, and Christopher Krueger, a flutist and senior lecturer of music.

Been there, done that

With active professionals as teachers, students in the music department receive a comprehensive education, Cox says, complete with first-hand experience, real-world opportunities, and practical knowledge passed down from teachers.

Experience, Holmes says, is something that textbooks just can’t offer. A pianist and trumpeter, Holmes, 57, who lives in Sunderland, has been at the university for 32 years. He says his professional experience allows him to relate to what the students will go through as young professionals.

“I know what it’s like to have to stay up all night trying to get something done because it has to be done. I know what it’s like to be writing circus music, or writing for hire,” Holmes said.

Krueger, 62, of Belchertown, said that in the performing arts, lessons are best taught by example.

“It gives me standing to know what the game is about,” said Krueger, who has been a professor at UMass for 12 years.

Though active musicians surround them, Holmes says, students often aren’t aware of that fact.

“The funny thing is, because the students are so close to you all the time, they aren’t inclined to ask you what you’re doing,” he said.

Krueger says he was entertained by an email he received from a student who found a “Chris Krueger Channel” on the Internet radio website, Pandora. It was rewarding, he says, to read the student’s enthusiastic note: “Oh my gosh! You have a Pandora Channel!”

Such reminders that their teachers are active and successful outside the classroom give students a sense of purpose, Salles said.

“Sometimes, to them I’m just a teacher, but we make sure they know that we are training them to be a musician for a reason, and that reason being we are musicians ourselves,” he said.

In addition to receiving experience-based learning in the classroom, students are sometimes invited to perform alongside their professors in professional settings. Holmes, for example, says he tries to give students opportunities to be a part of his professional activities: The Jeff Holmes Big Band is made up primarily of former students.

“If I have an opportunity to bring in a student, I will,” he said.

Salles does the same: “I do feel that a huge part of staying young in your area is to interact with young students. ... I think the teacher who doesn’t think they can learn from their students is missing a lot and is getting behind.”

Sometimes the tables are turned: Recently, former student Dan Gable asked Salles and Holmes to perform with his swing band, The Abletones.

“Once you’re out in the world, the only hierarchy that matters is if you can play, Salles said. “So if you’re my student or my teacher, it doesn’t really matter. We are equals in the bandstand.”

Balancing act

Blending the professions of professor and performing musician is not easy, says Krueger, who appears with a number of groups, including Collage New Music, a contemporary music ensemble, and the Cantata Singers, a choir and professional orchestral ensemble, both based in Boston. In addition, he is a member of the Aulos Ensemble, a chamber music group with whom he has a newly released CD, “The Telemann Album.” A typical work week, he says, is 60 to 80 hours.

While combining teaching with a professional career is “a lot to take on,” Salles says, it offers the best of both worlds. “I don’t know how to be any other way. ... Teaching doesn’t actually take away my ability to perform,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to not always have to be on the road, and the stability and support to do research and compose.”

As the music department continues to employ faculty who both perform and teach, Holmes says, the university and its students will continue to benefit.

“In the past five or so years there’s been a new infusion of faculty being hired and they’re bringing a great energy,” Holmes said — proof that the UMass music department is making all the right moves.

In the end, the professors say, the most rewarding aspect of their hectic balancing act is watching their students get excited about music.

“It’s enormously fulfilling,” Krueger said. “And that happens just about every day I’m here.”


UMass professor Jeffrey W. Holmes releases CD — ‘Of One’s Own’

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jeffrey W. Holmes, received a bachelor’s degree in music theory and a master’s degree in jazz and contemporary media, with a writing emphasis, both from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. In addition to teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and performing around the world, including in Russia, Japan and Australia, he is a member of the …

UMass professor Christopher Krueger releases CD — ‘The Telemann Album’

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christopher Krueger, a graduate of the New England Conservatory, spent much of his early career as a free-lancer in Boston, where he performed as principal flutist with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, the Opera Company of Boston, Boston Ballet and Boston Musica Viva, among other organizations. He was a founding member of the Emmanuel …

UMass music professor Felipe Salles releases CD — ‘Departure’

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Felipe Salles, who moved to the United States from Brazil in 1995, received a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston and a doctorate from the Manhattan School in New York. After graduation, Salles stayed in New York until joining the faculty at UMass in 2010. His arrangements and compositions have been performed by The Metropole Orchestra, Helsinki …

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