William (Bill) Seymour

Return to Significant Teachers

During my wanderings in the Music Department at the University of New Mexico, I happened to take a class entitled “Musical Behavior”, which was a senior/graduate level research course created by Dr. William Seymour. Dr. Seymour, a pianist specializing in pedagogy, investigated music teaching from the point of view of the learner, which he then augmented, analyzed, clarified, and translated back to the prospective teachers in the class. This was truly an interdisciplinary course, which took his students on many adventures, all of which were related to music learning and teaching. He taught us about cognition, and how memory limits the numbers and types of inputs that can be presented in one teaching segment. He introduced us to the works of Abraham Maslow, John Sloboda, Piaget, Howard Gardner, Frank R. Wilson, Vygotsky and many others and adroitly related them all to music teaching. In addition to cognition, we touched on topics as diverse as cultural anthropology, sociology, psychology, child development, and others. He also took the class to the Fine Arts Library and showed us how to find and implement current research in Music Education to our work as teachers. He encouraged individual effort and inquiry in the class, and we were free to write papers about subjects of our choice, as long as they related to teaching. Upon completion of the semester, I was eager for more and asked him if we could continue to work together. Lucky for me, he agreed.

I was able to take a series of Independent Studies classes from him, during which we read, talked about and studied a variety of pertinent topics. He opened my mind to many ideas and possibilities that amplified and supported everything I was learning from Leonard Felberg, John Kendall and my own students. Connections among disparate topics were numerous and soon became obvious. Each compelled me to investigate, and each took me on a convoluted road to new and exciting information. My good fortune was that I already had an understanding of the workings of the human body via basic principles of anatomy and physiology. I had also taken several graduate courses in research – quantitative, qualitative, and educational research – so I could read and understand most of what I read.

I still remember sitting under shady trees on the campus and feeling my heart pound with excitement while I read. I know it sounds a little corny, but that’s how I felt. That excitement has not waned, but has prompted even more exploration and experimentation.

One of the greatest surprises of my life came when I received a call from the Chair of the Music Department at UNM asking me to teach the Musical Behavior course, because Dr. Seymour was retiring, and had suggested that I be his successor. I felt great humility and honor at the same time, knowing that his were very big shoes to fill. His support continued for me as I began the daunting task of teaching his special course. At my request, he sat in those classes for a couple months, giving me feedback, suggestions and encouragement.

Bill Seymour also taught me a great personal lesson. It is OK to say to a student, “I don’t have the answer to that question, but let’s see if we can figure it out together.” I have never forgotten the dedication and love of this great man who taught me the joy of being a life-long student.

Photographs of Susan Kempter's Bisiach courtesy of Robertson & Sons Violin Shop