For the past four years, university provost Dr. Linda Rinker has recognized a professor who is a great teacher. Professors often win honors for their research and earn tenure partly through their work on committees and other commitments to the university, but the Provost’s Teaching Excellence Award is based on how a professor works with students in the classroom.
David Smith, professor of music and music education who teaches drums and other percussion instruments, was the honoree this year. The consensus is that he is one of the most sweet-tempered people on campus. Everyone was ecstatic that he got the award.
I was going to interview him and tell a nice story but happily one of Smith’s colleagues, Marjorie Callaghan, associate professor of music and music education, did the job for me. Here is an excerpt from her introduction at the award ceremony.
In my freshman year of high school, when I attended the Western Regional Music Festival held here at WCSU, someone pointed and said to me, “That’s Dave Smith.” I looked over and saw a man with a kind expression helping a student. Then each year when I attended the festival, I thought, “There’s Dave Smith” as I’d watch him again helping students.
Many years later, when I was hired as a faculty member at WCSU, I thought “Wow, I’m here with Dave Smith!”
Early in my tenure, Dave asked if I’d like to play on a recital with him. We’d get together to rehearse and I’d think “Oh my gosh! I’m playing with Dave Smith!”
As I got to know Dave through those rehearsals, I realized just how special this man is. Rehearsing was a pleasure, with lots of laughter, lots of positive energy and lots of real music-making. Over the years, I have come to greatly admire and appreciate Dave’s values and objectives as a teacher. He truly cares for each and every one of his students. Dave nurtures his students with a firm but kind hand. He has high expectations, but at the same time is empathetic and aware of each student’s needs.
As professor of percussion, he motivates his students not only by his own exceptional performing (he is principal percussionist with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra), but also by taking them yearly to the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, holding master classes with internationally recognized percussionists, organizing field trips to the Zildjian cymbal factory, and encouraging students to participate in festivals and workshops. His students enthusiastically respond.
Student Deanna Baran describes Dave’s caring nature:
“Mr. Smith is very wise, and knows my potential capacity as a student better than I do. He pushes me hard to accomplish things I never thought possible with the chaotic lifestyle that I find myself in. He is always the one who believes in me and when I need it, he gives me that extra little nudge to keep me going. Mr. Smith cares just as deeply about his students as he does his music. It is a given that every time I see him, whether at my lesson or in passing, that he will stop whatever he’s doing or whomever he’s talking to just to say hello and ask how I’m doing. He’s like a father to me, and I feel as though I can open up to him because he understands me as a person as well as a student. Having a leader with such compassion is such a privilege for me as his student.”
Dave’s students are successful in their college careers and many go on to graduate school or become successful teachers themselves. Bob Ondeck, band director at Broadview Middle School in Danbury, remembers Dave’s teaching style and writes how influential Dave has been in his life:
“Now that I am a teacher myself, I look back on all of the time I spent studying with Mr. Smith and I try to emulate what he did as my teacher in the hopes of providing students with a safe, supportive environment to explore music and themselves as students. Having been a student at WestConn, I could not imagine having a college experience like the one I had anywhere else. Although I loved the campus, the classes I took and the friends I made, there is no doubt that the experiences that resonate with me permanently are the times I spent working with Mr. Smith and learning as much as I could.”
Smith’s students will be performing at 8 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 6, in Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. The performance will be free and open to the public.
If you attend, you will see not just a wonderful performance, but a great teacher.
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