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New department head plans to add
global dimension to music education

It was the sound of Brahms' 2nd Symphony filling the Savannah Civic Center that inspired Robert Stephens to pursue a career in music education.

"As a high school senior in Georgia, I heard, for the first time, a symphony orchestra," says the new head of the music department at UConn. "It was one of the most moving experiences I ever had in my life. I chose to go into teaching because somehow I wanted to be able to help others understand what that moment was like," Stephens says.

Before coming to UConn in July, Stephens chaired the music department at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he was also coordinator of the music education program. He received his doctorate in music education from Indiana University, with concentrations in ethnomusicology and flute. He received his master of arts and master of education degrees from Columbia University and his bachelor's degree from Savannah State College in Georgia.

Robert Gray, dean of the School of Fine Arts says Stephens' appointment "is a major advancement in the next phase of the development of music at UConn. Today, as we are about to break ground for the exciting new buildings and renovated space for music, I am personally grateful for our opportunity to work with Dr. Stephens. Bob's leadership has already established a new sense of purpose and destiny with the faculty and students."

Stephens says when he interviewed for the position, he was struck by two things: the commitment of the students and the dedication of the faculty to teaching.

"First I met with a group of students in a closed meeting. They asked very pointed, insightful questions. I came out of the meeting so impressed. The students were insightful, they were serious and they were committed to their art and their craft," Stephens says.

Then he met with various faculty members. "After talking with them and listening to students talk about them, another thing came to me just like a nuclear bomb," notes Stephens, "and that was how dedicated this faculty is to teaching. It is extraordinary."

Stephens sees the department as one that's on the move and is excited about the possibilities for the future.

A strong advocate of travel and field experiences for students, Stephens hopes to globalize the curriculum through exchange programs with other countries. It gives the students another world view, he says.

While at Montclair State, he directed Project Southwest, a field-based research and teaching and learning experience on the cultural traditions of Indians on the Hopi Reservation in Second Mesa, Ariz. He also took students on field trips to Ghana, where part of the field study was to do a comparative analysis of Western and African aesthetics. "The world is becoming a global village. Our students are going to have to address these blurring boundaries," he says, adding that plans for exchange programs are in the works.

Stephens says he wants the department to maintain a level of excellence. "We are going to have to look at our role in relationship to the University's strategic mission, and how we fit into that mission as we define ourselves in the future."

Sherry Fisher