Professor integrates music and art in her teaching, writing

Jacqueline Couillard

Associate professor of music education Claire Wehr McCoy rolled her chair over to the piano in her Ferguson Hall office and played a few bars of Bach while describing the similar structure between the tune and a poem she knows.
McCoy is one of the authors of a collaborative book, which is going to press, on how teachers can integrate music, the visual arts, culture and history. McCoy advocates bridging disciplines and drawing connections between the things students learn.
“Sound Ways of Knowing: Music in the Interdisciplinary Curriculum” came about, in part, because McCoy and her two co-authors wanted to find a way to make music methods more relevant for elementary and middle school teachers.
“I think interdisciplinary forms of education are highly exciting for students and for teachers,” said Robert Bruininks, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.
Bruininks also mentioned that team teaching across disciplines is often more effective than teachers trying to teach knowledgeably in their own subjects and another subject.
“When teachers work together, they can often capitalize on the different strengths they bring to a teaching situation,” Bruininks said. “We find that children learn much more effectively when they apply what they learn and put that learning in context.”
To demonstrate her ideas, McCoy had students from her summer 1995 “Music in the Interdisciplinary Curriculum” class go through the Weisman Art Museum on a three-part assignment.
Students were to determine how the artwork there draws viewers in. Then, they had to come up with examples of musical forms in some of the art. Next, after viewing a sculpture entitled “Faces of Sorrow,” students had to think about musicians’ responses to the horrors of war.
McCoy uses students in her research, “because I can get pretty quick feedback.” But, she said, it is “always with the thought in mind of how I can be a more effective teacher for them.”
McCoy hopes to have her students use a CD-ROM released by the Weisman that allows a viewer to match music to a piece of artwork.
“I’m going to send my students to the computer lab and have them write to me about why they chose that particular piece of music (to view with the art),” said McCoy.
She wants to see if qualities such as the time period, subject matter or colors in a piece of artwork affect her students’ choice of music, McCoy said.
Her interest in crossing boundaries has increased throughout her teaching career, McCoy said. But, that interest hasn’t always been there.
“The frustration for me is when I went through college, I went through life on the fast track,” said McCoy, who was a music major.