OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY VICE-CHANCELLOR: ACADEMIC & STUDENT AFFAIRS
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Citation for the 2015 Senior Distinguished Teaching Award,
Associate Professor Catherine Foxcroft
The Vice Chancellor’s Senior Distinguished Teaching Medal is presented annually to an academic with 10 or more years of experience who is able to demonstrate to a Committee of peers from this University that their teaching is truly exceptional. In 2015, Associate Professor Catherine Foxcroft of the Department of Music & Musicology more than demonstrated that she was worthy of this honour.
Catherine Foxcroft is a renowned concert pianist and chamber musician who has performed in places as far afield as Germany, Norway, Italy and Greece and who has been a finalist or semi-finalist in international piano competitions in the Czech Republic, the United States, as well as in Greece and Italy. However, it is not for her exceptional ability as a performer that we celebrate Professor Foxcroft’s achievements today, but rather because of her work as a teacher although, as only a brief glance at the portfolio of evidence submitted as part of the processes for evaluating this Award shows, these two roles are profoundly linked.
Most of Professor Foxcroft’s teaching takes place in one-to-one situations as she sits beside her students as they practise. This, as she notes, means that her interaction with her students is ‘personal and intense’ and involves much more than simply preparing a young person to perform a set of pieces for an examination since essentially it is aimed at ‘developing a young musician’.
Professor Foxcroft’s experience as a performer is particularly important in her teaching at postgraduate level for it is here that she supports her students in developing ‘the art of practising’ which she defines as a highly personalized approach to preparing for a concert recital. This is where…
. . . each student has to learn how to identify what his particular obstacles are and how to overcome them, how much time to spend on one or two aspects of preparation before pushing on the next aspect, how to keep a piece which she has completed “at completion level” while focusing on another piece so that it can be refreshed closer to the recital time, how to set personal goals along the way …
Throughout the intense interaction of each class, the focus is on the provision of feedback – not in the sense of ‘correcting’ a young performer because, as Professor Foxcroft notes, ‘in order for [a] student to mature artistically enough to be able to think independently and creatively, I believe it is crucial to encourage him to express his opinions of how he would like the music to sound’. This freedom to allow young performers to ‘find themselves’ is evident throughout the descriptions of Professor Foxcroft’s teaching provided to the Committee judging the Award and is epitomized in her insistence on allowing her students to select pieces to play that they love for, in the teacher’s words ‘if you love a piece of music, you’ll play it well’.
Professor Foxcroft works in a Department of Music and Musicology, however and not all her teaching is of performance. Her interest in Music Psychology has led her to introduce a very popular semester-long course called ‘Music, Health and the Brain’. Topics in this course include Music and Emotion, Music and Meaning and Music and Identity. Even here, however, the making of music is an integral part of students’ learning since their ‘personal experience of how music-making affects well-being and health plays an integral role in the course design’. The interaction valued so intensely in her one-on-one encounters with students is also an important feature of the course for, as Professor Foxcroft notes,
I enjoy class discussions as I believe the more passionately a point is argued, the deeper the learning associated with the topic. I therefore generally allow strong disagreements between students to be debated to the end. Music enjoyment is strongly biased by personal preference (personal relaxation is caused by heavy metal vs trance vs classical vs indigenous music vs blues?) with the result that there is room for great diversity in opinion. It is exhilarating to witness students’ acceptance of each other’s preferences as they encounter totally different preferences to their own which are argued with equal passion.
Mr Chancellor, Rhodes University is one of but a few universities in this country which has retained the general formative degree. It is also arguably the only university in this country that offers a flexible curriculum allowing students to choose from a rich array of areas of study as they work towards their degree. Fine Art, Physics, Journalism, Politics, Computer Science, Music – the list goes on – all offer young people the opportunity to become unique graduates because of the way they have been able to combine subjects on their journey to their degree. The diverse array of disciplinary offerings also allows them to engage with many different minds and kinds of expertise and to encounter many different kinds of teaching all of which adds to the enormous growth they experience in the undergraduate years.
The description of Professor Foxcroft’s exceptional teaching in this citation today is indication of the experiences offered to our students by a performer and a teacher who is shown herself to be distinguished in both areas and, in being so, adds to the wealth of this university in ways which could never be reflected on a balance sheet.
Mr Chancellor, it is therefore my honour to request you to confer the Senior Distinguished Teaching Medal on Professor Catherine Foxcroft.