I always enjoy finding situations outside of music in which to explore aspects of the creative process. At TTU I’ve been a guest presenter at classes in mathematics, humanities, graphic design, etc., and outside the university I’ve worked with photographers, culinary students, business professionals and more.
William Westney has long followed the path of an Integrated Scholar. His efforts have earned him the university’s highest honor, being named a Paul Whitfield Horn Professor—for his excellence in teaching, research and creative activity—as well as receiving the TTU System Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award and the TTU President’s Book Award, among other commendations. Westney brings fervor to engaging his students. Since coming to Texas Tech as the Eva Browning Artist-in-Residence in 1978, Westney has expanded his focus from concert piano performance to the intersection of the arts, sciences and philosophy. His research concentrates on nonverbal interactions and understandings, and how these apply to the performance, teaching and aesthetics of music. This focus contributed to publication of the book “The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self” and underlies the experimental collaborative project—one that integrates performance studies with technology—that his research team has been pursuing under the aegis of Texas Tech’s Transdisciplinary Research Academy. Westney’s research continues to shape his teaching, whether in one-on-one piano lessons or in his larger performance workshops called “Un-Master Classes.” He is a popular guest presenter for classes in other divisions of TTU’s School of Music as well as for departments across campus, offering enrichment activities to students in such areas as physics, mathematics and art.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar William Westney in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
As someone who feels fortunate to have made a career out of playing (and teaching) the piano, I’ve always been intensely interested in what’s behind the music I love. How does music transmit or activate such vivid feelings and meanings within us? What’s the nature of its communicative power? What makes a performance come to life? What does musical experience reveal to us about nonverbal, body-centered “knowing”? Is there such a thing as musical “truth” or “honesty”? These are age-old questions that are still intriguing today, and they can be approached in so many different ways.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
In several ways my pedagogical approach departs from classical music traditions, and it has been encouraging to receive positive response to this internationally. I set out to reinvent and revitalize our standard form of group music instruction, the traditional master class, and have developed an alternative—a much more interactive group experience for performers called "The Un-Master Class," which has been written about in The New York Times and which I’ve given hundreds of times over the last 25 years on four continents. Each class is unique, so this is truly an ongoing, hands-on experiment. In addition, my book "The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self," which questions conventional ideas about practicing and perfectionism, has garnered a far wider international readership than I ever anticipated; from time to time I receive emails from readers around the world letting me know their thoughts in response to my book, and this is most gratifying and enlightening. Additionally, the collaborative research I’ve been involved in, transdisciplinary and philosophical in nature, has been presented at seminars and conferences throughout Europe and the U.S. My participation in the international philosophical conversation about music and aesthetics was expanded in many ways by the opportunity of having a guest professorship in 2009-2010 at the University of Southern Denmark. I was also a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Korea and China in 2006.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
I always enjoy finding situations outside of music in which to explore aspects of the creative process. At TTU I’ve been a guest presenter at classes in mathematics, humanities, graphic design, etc., and outside the university I’ve worked with photographers, culinary students, business professionals and more. It has also been rewarding to work with high school students through such programs as Shake Hands With Your Future and The Texas Tech Summer College Experience. In terms of professional service, I served two terms as chair of the editorial committee for the world’s largest-circulation music teaching magazine, American Music Teacher.
What are you currently working on?
Texas Tech launched its Transdisciplinary Research Academy in 2012, and I’m on one of its "inaugural" teams; this is my main research project right now. I am collaborating with three other professors—of philosophy, mechanical engineering and neuroscience—and we are applying cutting-edge science and technology to an experimental study of the body movements, the performing gestures, of pianists. The technology involves creating videos using motion-capture 3-D imaging and later having other subjects view those videos while in an MRI brain scanner. It’s a great team, and our investigation has turned out to be most stimulating.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Lively and dedicated colleagues, talented and interesting students, and courageous innovators of the past who questioned the status quo, invented new things, and whose ideas transcended disciplinary boundary lines.
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research and service—in their careers?
Choose a research area that you care about, that is rich with possibilities and that sheds interesting light on how we live our lives. Then the integration with teaching and outreach will be natural and inevitable.
My connection to the piano started at age 3, and my curiosity about how musical processes relate to wider realms of the human experience emerged more and more in graduate school. Teaching is something that has intrigued me ever since I started giving piano lessons at 16. As the years go by, I am ever more thankful that my undergraduate degree was in liberal arts! It’s such a good foundation, since we never really know where our careers might take us.
B.A., Music, The City University of New York (1968);
M.M.A, Piano Performance, Yale University (1971);
D.M.A., Piano Performance and Pedagogy, Yale University (1976)