Dr. Cowan currently teaches Music Appreciation at Auburn University. She also teaches flutists of all ages from beginners to collegiate level students. If you are interested in private lessons or masterclasses, please use the form on the Contact page.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY – APPLIED FLUTE
The three large concepts I wish for my students to have a strong personal grasp of when they leave my studio are:
What does it mean to be an artist?
As I guide my students through repertoire, I encourage them to articulate why they make the musical decisions that they do (or make them aware that they are making musical decisions every time they play) and to make sure they realize that their decisions are just as valid as any other musician’s. The style, form, and instructions from the composer are simply guidelines that we use to discover our own idea of a piece.
As we musicians progress through our studies and even after leaving university, we constantly shape and change what our musical aesthetic is and why we choose to communicate our ideas through music and not some other medium. It is so important that students remember that to be an artist, they must realize that they are in control of their musical decisions and what they wish to communicate with their performances.
Joseph Mariano, a legend and great influence in the flute community, said that the fundamentals of sound are like a three-legged stool that holds it up: vibrato, dynamics, and focus. The concept of sound is so important to achieving the different colors and textures that make each person’s performance unique. I work to make sure students are producing a sound that effectively communicates their ideas while also adhering to the expectations of a potential audition committee such as an orchestra section.
What does it mean to achieve mastery?
Mastery of any instrument is achieved when a performer has full facility and efficiency to perform a piece exactly the way that they wish it to be executed. I believe students can progress to this level through:
- a combination of learning as much repertoire and etudes as possible
- etudes reinforce technique, which I start heavily at the beginning of their studies and slowly lighten as they progress in the degree; repertoire then becomes easier as technical obstacles are second to musical expression
- receiving regular demonstration and reinforcement from myself at my highest level
- it is important to me that students receive their education through their strongest medium, whether it be aural, visual, verbal, or kinesthetic; aural is important with my demonstration and I am committed to keeping my ability at its highest level while I teach
- listening to as many performances from professionals and fellow students
- listening to other instruments, especially voice, can lead to completely different discoveries about one’s playing than just simply listening to the same instrument and repertoire again and again; listening to other students reinforces what the listener is doing well and what they should continue to aspire to
What does it mean to be a professional?
It is not enough to just be a great flute player. To achieve a successful career, my students will leave their studies with a full understanding of what it means to be a musician in the professional world. They must constantly be evaluating what the needs of their community are, avoiding elitism and drawing more inclusivity with their performance programs. They will leave my studio having developed a CV which is tailored toward their career path, knowledge of writing a cover letter, what to expect at an audition/interview, and how to market themselves within their community.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY – WORLD MUSIC/ETHNOMUSICOLOGY
As an educator, I believe that world music/ethnomusicology is studied as a way to understand one’s own culture better through analyzing others. As we study the ways in which others around the world express themselves through the arts, we slowly begin to find explanations of why we express ourselves in our own particular ways, especially with the daily acts we take for granted and never think to analyze ourselves.
Examining how people communicate through music brings a student into the most intimate networkings of a culture. Music is used to celebrate, show love, protest, mourn, or worship in practically every culture around the world. As musicians, we have so much in common with each other even if we all speak different languages, worship different gods, or live on separate continents. After studying in London for two years and traveling to India for five years, I have performed with people from every corner of the world and it still inspires me that we all can manage to sit down and play a symphony together with almost no connection at all except the music. The more we can connect with our similarities and differences, the more we can study how we can better communicate with our own communities and keep music as an important social tool beyond the concert hall.
With my Music of India class, I strive not only to teach students the complex and diverse offerings of music in India today, but to teach them how to explore the social world that music lives in, regardless of what country is being studied. Students actively interact with the music, learn new musical concepts such as taal or raag, and reflect on how their own traditions compare and contrast. The students also observe music videos, films, and live performances to see how music drives communication with other artforms such as dance and drama. My class also encourages students to write and form ideas about identity and how cultures display and solidify their identity through musical performance.
My goal is to leave students with the tools to express themselves and their thoughts through music, being socially aware as to why they have made certain decisions with their performances. I also believe it is important for students to know how to approach music that they have never encountered before, moving biases and assumptions aside to receive a music performance like a researcher rather than solely a listener.