Todd Lowery, current director of music at Gunma Kokusaid Academy in Japan, visited the Eastman School of Music Education and Arts Leadership Program students this week to discuss teaching abroad.
Lowery graduated from Eastman with Bachelor’s degrees in both Performance and Music Education and a Master’s in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media.
After teaching music in the Guilderland Public School District in New York, Todd moved to Japan with his wife and began building programs in music education.
Discovering a concert hall in the middle of a rice field, Lowery and his wife decided to put together a concert for the Gunma community.
An estimated 1,000 people attended this concert, which led to more music events in the community. Lowery was given a $25,000 budget to put on another concert and was able to bring in some musicians from around the world.
He has been living in Japan for the past 12 years and in that time has introduced the “Jump Right In” method to elementary music students. This method, created by Eastman Music Education faculty members Richard Grunow and Christopher Azzara, deals with educating students by ear rather than by rote and encouraging them to be creative and improvise music.
Lowery adapted this method for Japanese students and explained that thinking creatively is very difficult for Japanese students, but they are beginning to have more success with the method.
Lowery explained that many students in Japan do not pursue music far beyond the elementary level because they have to prepare for entrance exams to get into high school, and eventually, this takes priority over practicing.
The Gunma Kokusai Academy is offering education all the way through high school with a balance of music and academics and is an entirely English immersion program.
Thirty percent of the coursework is in Japanese arts and history, but the remaining 70 percent is presented in English.
Lowery begins elementary students on the recorder to introduce creative activities such as improvising, and he later introduces wind instruments when they near middle school.
The Gunma Kosai Academy is publicly funded and is near completion of a new facility, due to open in the next year.
Lowery is in the process of recruiting music teachers who are familiar with the “Jump Right In” method to begin in 2006 and hopes that many Eastman students will be interested in the opportunity.
Lowery encouraged Eastman students to think about their future careers with an open mind.
“Don’t have a specific career in mind when you leave Eastman – instead, keep yourself open to all possibilities. Be able to recognize opportunities in the arts for yourself as a teacher or performer,” he said.
Lowery said he wished he could spend more time playing gigs in Tokyo, and his colleagues responded by saying, “There are 3,000 musicians in Tokyo who wish they had your job.”
Lowery realized that he has a wonderful life reaching out to the community and sharing music. “The joy of performing lies in the ability to inspire your audience,” he said.
In addition to his presentation on Jan. 24, he presented a seminar titled “Establishing a Career in Music Abroad” for Arts Leadership Program students on Jan. 25 and a talk about “Education Reform in Japan” for music education students on Jan. 26.
Kirk can be reached at email@example.com.