With his student-centered approach, assistant professor of music Christopher Cicconi builds relationships inside and outside of the classroom
Christopher Cicconi has an open-door policy. Visit the assistant professor’s office in the music department and you’ll likely find a student or two hanging out, talking through a challenge they might be facing in school or just giving him a good-natured ribbing for being a Steelers fan.
It’s the type of environment and relationship Cicconi experienced with his college band director Stephen Gage as a music education student at Youngstown State in Ohio, and one that he works hard to create for his students at Towson University.
“After working with him for four years, I wanted to be a college band director [too],” Cicconi says. “I want to give my kids here what I got in undergrad. The way that I come across to people is a direct reflection of how he came across to me.”
In his fifth year as director of bands and orchestras and assistant professor of music education, Cicconi was drawn to the position for its combination of band conducting and teacher prep opportunities. But it was an interview with current students that made him take the job.
“The thing that really sold me on it was the culture of the kind of kid that was here,” Cicconi says. “It’s the Towson kid that really fuels my energy for what I do. And I waited [for the right position to find] that. Because there have been jobs that weren’t that way. And a music student deserves, in my opinion, to have someone fully vested in them. My kids have that with me.”
Under the direction of Assistant Professor Chris Cicconi, TU Symphonic Band students present an array of music without boundaries, from classical through contemporary genres.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, 8 p.m.
Center for the Arts Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall, CA 3042
Get tickets at tuboxoffice.com.
Cicconi’s student-centered approach to teaching and challenging performance repertoire has his students enrolling in symphonic band and symphony orchestra year after year, although only one term is required for graduation.
In his seventh semester of symphonic band, Joshua Fleming ’20 credits Cicconi’s passionate conducting for keeping him coming back. “Every semester I think, maybe I should take a break from ensembles? Then I see an email from him over the summer, see the amazing rep that we’re about to do, and just remember that familial aspect that the symphonic band gives me,” says the french horn player and senior music performance major. “I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Students describe working in Cicconi’s ensembles and playing the music he selects as a “privilege.”
Colleen Michael ’20 says she likely won’t have the opportunity to play the type of music she performs as a clarinetist in the symphonic band much after graduation. “The repertoire he picks for us to play is like no other,” Michael says. “As a music educator, I’ll probably be teaching Hot Cross Buns to elementary schoolers, so the chance to play music like this is amazing.”
Cicconi pairs his supportive approach with high expectations. The combination gives student musicians the confidence to do their best.
“He’s definitely made me want to be a better musician, because his standards are really high for the group, but also [for] individuals, and that motivates me to meet him at the expectations he has for me,” says Leah Kwiatkowski ’22, a music education major and french horn player. “I think I can do the things that he thinks I can do because he believes in me.”
“The caliber of the ensemble is incredible, and it’s all really thanks to his direction,” Kwiatkowski adds. “His support and dedication to the group really motivates people to meet his expectations, because I think we in general try to give back to him in rehearsals as much as he gives to us, [both] in rehearsals and outside of rehearsals.”
In his classes, Cicconi covers a wide range of topics, from teaching music education students strategies for success when leading their own bands or ensembles one day, to ensuring they have tools to cope with the stress that comes along with being a college student.
When he detected a heightened level of stress among the symphonic band during a mid-semester rehearsal, Cicconi devoted part of the class to an open discussion, inviting students to talk through what was bothering them and offering suggestions for managing their stress.
“He told us the reason that he comes to campus on the days he doesn’t have band or class is because he might run into one of us,” Kwiatkowski recalls of that day, “and that just really stuck with me.”
Cicconi does everything he can to support students inside and outside of the classroom. And they feel it.
“He’s the kind of teacher that pushes you to be better than you think that you can be, while making sure that you’re OK as a human being,” says Brennan Traube ’19 a computer science major and euphonium player in the symphonic band.
When asked how he gauges himself as a successful teacher, Cicconi looks to how well his students are doing.
“If it’s a great concert, I love the fact that my kids pulled off an amazing concert,” he says. “If things went poorly, I’m also highly reflective, and look back at myself, like, How could I have prepared them better? Did I give them music that was too hard? Was it appropriate? All of that.”
But for Cicconi, there’s more to teaching than student success. “The other thing that I’m maybe more passionate about is their experience on the way to that success. There’s going to be failures and successes along the way. But what did they gather, or what kind of life skills do they get?”
Part of Cicconi’s student-centered approach to teaching means he never stops learning.
If a rehearsal doesn’t go well, he’ll record the next one to check his own behavior for potential problems. He asks students for their feedback, and invites outside professionals and colleagues to sit in on his classes and offer an evaluation. And he stays busy outside of the classroom, regularly visiting high school and elementary school band programs around the state, especially if one of his former students is involved.
“I’ve become highly reflective,” Cicconi says. “Because my kids, our kids, here at Towson deserve to have the best person in front of them. And you may be the best, but you won’t be the best forever if you don’t continue to grow with them. You can be the fastest runner, but if you stop practicing, eventually you’re not going to be anymore. And so it’s that. It’s that highly reflective nature about myself.”