Teaching

Ash has experience as an educator in several disciplines. At Florida State University (and previously, UNC-Greensboro), he has taught courses in Music Composition and Theory, including private lessons, introduction to composition, model composition, 18th-Century Counterpoint, Music Theory I/II/III/IV, and Aural Skills I/II/III/IV. Outside of the university, he has seven years’ experience in curriculum development, staff recruitment, and management in the nationally-recognized aquatics programs of Camp Raven Knob (Mt. Airy, NC) and the Boy Scouts of America, regularly serving on the faculty of the BSA National Camping School.

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A statement on my teaching philosophy:

There is a room in my childhood home whose walls are decorated with countless jigsaw puzzles that my friends, family, and I assembled over the years.  Even today, "puzzling" is one of my favorite ways to stimulate creativity: forcing myself to search for patterns between the pieces and inventing new strategies for categorizing, relating, and understanding them. In a similar manner, I see the world of music composition and theory as a metaphorical jigsaw puzzle whose intricacy, brilliance, and interconnectivity are waiting to be explored and discovered. This is no ordinary 1000-piece rectangular arrangement, mind you; our musical puzzle has many, many more pieces of all shapes and sizes.  It is borderless, multi-dimensional, comes with no guiding illustration or box, and contains several extraneous pieces intended to distract the puzzler. How fascinating it is to explore the countless creative possibilities this puzzle presents to us!

Approximately 75% of the way through a puzzle, the assemblers will begin to understand the full breadth of the artwork taking shape—for the first time, everything comes into focus and starts to make sense. Moments like these excite me the most: those times when you think you have the trick figured out but then the magician does something even more spectacular, or when you realize that opening an umbrella indoors or walking under a ladder isn’t actually bad luck (it’s just dangerous), or when you discover that augmented sixth chords in Mozart and tritone substitutions in Coltrane can be derived from the same theoretical principle—when larger, underlying structures become apparent.

Through teaching, I seek to foster this same passion for exploration and investigation by creating an environment where students can forge their own conceptual connections. While describing surface-level details is certainly crucial to accurately representing larger structures, I believe that developing a deep-level understanding of musical process—the big picture—is where the most meaningful learning occurs. My students learn how to approach musical questions with a global mindset, rather than only what “the answers” are, so that they will be able to apply their analytical and creative strategies to the diverse musical and cultural traditions in which they are immersed. Instead of focusing on what to think, we learn how to think, how to create, and how to communicate with one another—skills that will last far beyond any class, lesson, or semester.

I sincerely hope that through my instructional guidance, students will be challenged to continually explore the puzzle of music—in the classroom, in the concert hall, in their interactions with others, and in their overall approach to life.