Teachers College alumnus and professional trumpeter Louis Hanzlik has joined the prestigious American Brass Quintet. The internationally recognized chamber music group was founded in 1960 and is the longest continuously performing brass quintet in North America. The group’s 2013-2014 tour includes 12 states and Australia. The American Brass Quintet is in residence at The Juilliard School, which means Hanzlik will also join the Juilliard faculty.
Hanzlik earned his Ed.D. from Teachers College in 2010. Like many TC graduates, Hanzlik says that his academic experience changed his perspective on education. “It got me to think about how I was teaching students,” he said. “I really questioned a lot of my practices.”
Hanzlik explained that in a traditional classroom, the students are expected to be quiet listeners. “The teacher is up there and talks most of the time,” he said. Hanzlik realized that the traditional approach is limiting to students. “Their ideas were never shining through,” he said. “I was dominating the class.”
His current teaching method is different. “I try to get students engaged and talking to each other almost as much as I talk to them,” he said. Hanzlik’s student-centered approach to teaching resonates with the spirit of chamber music, which he called a “democratic kind of ensemble.”
Unlike a band or orchestra, a chamber music group doesn’t have a conductor. During a performance, the members must coordinate to start and stop together and listen carefully to each other as they play. During rehearsals, all players can express their creative voices. “The point is for every musician to contribute their own interpretation,” Hanzlik said. “That’s the spirit and the richness of chamber music.”
Hanzlik’s doctoral thesis, titled “Fostering Citizenship and Democracy through Chamber Music Coaching,” examined how professional musicians approached teaching. “It’s important for [chamber music] teachers not to act like conductors,” Hanzlik said. In a band or orchestra, the conductor interprets the music and directs the students as they play. By contrast, members of a chamber music group direct themselves. The challenge for a chamber music teacher is to find ways for students to self-direct even when an authority like the teacher is in the room.
There are important lessons for educators in all fields, according to Hanzlik. Classrooms should be a place for students to express their creativity and collaboratively share ideas. “We should continue to remember the magic of chamber music,” Hanzlik said.