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ASU graduate student discovers passion for teaching music

Danielle Pivonka

Danielle Pivonka.

May 01, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

After completing her Bachelor of Arts degrees in music and psychology, and having taught private violin and piano lessons since high school, ASU School of Music graduate student Danielle Pivonka knew that she loved teaching. Pivonka also knew she had a strong interest in the way a person’s brain understands, perceives, learns and creates music. What she didn’t know was how to turn her interest into a career.

So she took a year off to figure out her next move.

“I did a yearlong yoga teacher training,” she said. “It was during that time that I realized that teaching was my passion and music was the capacity I felt I could offer the most.”

After that year off, Pivonka went back to school to achieve her goals and will graduate in May summa cum laude with both her Master of Music degree in Music Education and her Music Education Teaching Certificate, which she completed in only three semesters at ASU.

Now that she knows she wants to teach, after graduation, Pivonka plans to teach middle school orchestra at a public school in the Phoenix area. She also plans on returning to ASU to earn her PhD.

During her time at ASU, Pivonka worked as a graduate teaching assistant helping coordinate the ASU String Project, a community strings lesson program, by communicating with parents of children enrolled and meeting with the ASU students teaching private lessons to help with their questions about teaching.

Funded by the National Association for Music Education, Pivonka is currently a grant coordinator on a research project with the music education faculty. As a psychology major, Pivonka had conducted research, and faculty members invited her to participate in the music education doctoral seminar. Her original autoethnodrama, “Am I a Musician? An Arts-Based Narrative Inquiry Approach to Researching Music Identity,” was selected for presentation at the interdisciplinary Southwest Humanities Institute’s symposium hosted by the ASU Department of English. In her work, Pivonka raised questions about music identity in the music classroom — how traditional music education interacts with students’ musical interests outside of school to shape their understandings of themselves as musical or nonmusical beings.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: While as ASU, I learned that teaching music is about so much more than just getting someone to understand the "correct" way to do something. While teaching private lessons, I certainly valued what the students wanted to do, but my goal was to help them accomplish proper technique and move through pieces of music. I now realize that teaching music is about creating relationships that allow students to express their musical goals and what makes music meaningful to them. From there, the teacher helps students accomplish this in whatever unique way this may look from student to student. I experienced this firsthand as a student through my professors and colleagues over the last 18 months. 

Q. Why did you choose ASU?

A. The music education faculty and graduate students were extremely welcoming when I visited. I knew that I would be supported and could grow immensely if I made the decision to attend ASU, which is exactly what happened.

Q. Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A. Dr. Marg Schmidt taught me the value of treating students as people first, who might come to class with many things going on in their life. To be aware of that makes all the difference as you help educate them. Recognizing that while people want to learn and grow, they also have lives outside of the classroom that play a large role in how they show up each day or each week. Dr. Schmidt demonstrated huge levels of understanding, grace and support for myself and other students in a way that I hope I can provide for my own students someday.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A. Take breaks regularly and allow yourself time to rest. Use this time away from work to get to know the people in your school or major. These people are dealing with similar accomplishments and struggles as you, and they are your lifeline during your time in school. Rely on your community and allow yourself the space to build those relationships.

Q. What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A. I loved my office in the music building because of the people I shared it with — Alisa Hanson, Mallory Alekna and Dongju Cha were amazing friends and supporters while I was in school, and I loved taking breaks and spending time with them. There was a balcony right outside of our office on the third floor, which I also really loved to use while I read, ate lunch or lay in the sun.

Q. If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A. I would donate the money to places whose goal is to help improve the environment and save our planet — research for sustainable/alternative practices, agencies that can clean our oceans, companies that help reduce our carbon footprint, etc.

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