Dr. Liz Aleksander is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Tennessee at Martin, where she teaches clarinet and music theory. She is a passionate teacher who strives to provide valuable learning experiences for her students. Since arriving at UTM in 2013, Dr. Aleksander has brought in visiting artists from across the country. She has also started a clarinet choir and established a clarinet studio recital to provide additional performance opportunities for her students. In addition to UTM, she has worked with clarinetists in Brazil, Mexico, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, and Arizona.
Dr. Aleksander is an active chamber musician, performing primarily with the LCD Woodwind Trio, which has commissioned and premiered a number of works for the unusual combination of flute, clarinet, and saxophone. In addition, she is bass clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the Jackson (TN) Symphony Orchestra, Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, and Omaha Symphonic Winds, including a concerto performance with the latter. Dr. Aleksander has also performed at a number of international conferences, including the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest, the Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium, and Andover Educators International Conference; Dr. Aleksander has also performed at regional conferences for the ICA (southeast region), the College Music Society (southern region), and the Music by Women Festival. She has also been published in the ICA’s national journal (The Clarinet) and blog (BuzzReed).
Philanthropy is also important to Dr. Aleksander, who founded and serves as Director of UTM’s Community Music Academy; she also participates in many outreach trips with LCD Woodwind Trio. Sigma Alpha Iota international music fraternity is also an important philanthropic organization to Dr. Aleksander: she is currently an advisor for Epsilon Iota chapter, and she was previously Membership Trainer for the Bethel University colony and Province Officer for Xi A Province. In addition, during her time in Nebraska, she began the annual SAI outreach program Music at the Museum, which allows children to try different instruments and experience live classical music.
Prior to working at UTM, Dr. Aleksander taught at Midland University, Cornerstone Academy of Clarinet, and Southeast Community College in Nebraska. She holds a D.M.A. from the University of Nebraska, a M.Mus. with distinction from Northern Arizona University, and a B.Mus. summa cum laude from Ohio University. Her teachers include Diane Barger, Michael Sullivan, Rebecca Rischin, and Kevin Schempf.
College is a time for students to become not only the best clarinetists and all-around musicians possible, but also to develop into cultured members of society. To promote this growth, I strive to create a comfortable, encouraging environment in which my students can openly share their opinions, both with myself and other students; after all, sometimes students learn as much from each other as from their professors. I want my students to be able to approach me for advice, be it personal or professional. To forge this one-on-one connection, I make sure that I am myself around students, that I have a sense of humor, and that I admit when I make a mistake; this creates an atmosphere where it’s okay to mess up (although it will get fixed!). This establishes me as a role model and lifelong mentor for my students, and I look forward to seeing them continue to evolve and impact music throughout their adult lives.
When teaching lessons, I am as flexible as I can be while still maintaining a clear structure and set of expectations. Since everyone learns differently, I need that flexibility in order to meet each student where (s)he is and work on problem areas. However, at the same time, I need to set firm expectations in order to hold students accountable and to motivate them—and sometimes to show them just how much they can accomplish. My goal in lessons is to enable my students to make music on their own—essentially, to produce students who no longer need me. This necessitates a large “teaching repertoire;” I typically begin by getting students to listen to themselves critically (but realistically, without being overly critical). I also work with students to develop their “inner teacher” by asking them directed questions after they play; to set goals, both long-term and short-term, and work to reach them; and to refine their practice habits, often by having a “practicing lesson” wherein a student goes about practicing as if I’m not there.
In my classroom teaching, I abide by many of the same ideals: I want to create a fun, relaxed atmosphere where my students are able to come to me with anything. To do this, I have found that allowing my personality and sense of humor to show is even more important than it is in a studio setting. I’m also mindful of different learning styles, and I try to explain a concept in multiple ways to accommodate as many students as possible; in particular, I’ve found that providing visual aids, such as timelines and comparison charts, is crucial in courses like Introduction to Music. In these courses that are geared toward non-music majors, my mission is to inspire a lifelong interest in music, thus growing our audience and passing the love of music on to future generations. To do this, I focus on instilling critical listening skills, teaching important trends instead of memorizing names and dates, and relating our discussion to society in both the past and the present. I also utilize this opportunity to teach valuable career skills, such as researching, writing, and presenting, and I attempt to push my students out of their comfort zones by requiring them to attend at least one classical concert or recital.
Regardless of whether I’m teaching in the classroom or in the clarinet studio, I have worked to develop my substantial teaching repertoire by pursuing my interests in both music history and music theory. My background in these areas has provided additional pedagogical approaches for a variety of situations, from teaching phrasing in a clarinet lesson, to making chant relevant to my Introduction to Music class, to bonding with my History of Rock class over a love for the Rolling Stones. I form a connection with each of my students by relating to them on a personal level, and I make sure that they also connect with the subject matter by linking it to their outside interests and future career. However, perhaps the most powerful tool in my teaching repertoire is my passion. I am always excited about what I teach, and I strive to pass that excitement on to my students. My enthusiasm is what motivates them: they want to do well not because they’re afraid of getting scolded if they don’t, but because they don’t want to let me down.