My Teaching Philosophy (2002)
by Jody Nagel
Teaching curious and motivated students about that which I have come in my life to learn and appreciate is one of the most deeply satisfying and rewarding activities that I have been privileged to experience. I believe all teachers teach best what they know well, love, and respect, and that internalized expertise in a subject is an essential prerequisite to being an effective teacher. I have long studied and analyzed harmony, form, compositional techniques and philosophies, orchestrational and synthesis & computer techniques, musical analyses of other thinkers and other composers, types of intentionality, symbol usage, and musical meaning. I have pondered opposing viewpoints of issues of our own times and of previous historical periods. I believe I have a coherent and personalized understanding of the subject of music composition, and that I have things of worth to offer a full range of student skill levels, from beginning undergraduate college students (or private high school students) to advanced doctoral students.
It is important that a student want to learn and is not made to feel that a particular subject is a requirement imposed on them against his or her will. On the other hand, a beginner will most likely need to be led to a subject matter in order simply to become aware of the existence of that subject. As an analogy, an adult should be allowed to eat food of his own choosing, but a small child must be told what to eat so that he does not consume only candy. Ideally, advanced music students should study that which interests them, while beginners should be asked to sample many different things. Even so, the teacher of beginning students should exude enthusiasm, confidence and expertise; this will assure that the student is given every opportunity to lay the groundwork for developing his or her own love and respect for that subject. After many such initial experiences, the student will discover what truly resonates with him and he should be encouraged to pursue those areas as much as he can.
In an institution of higher learning, students are given the chance to confront the best of human experience. In every field, in different times and places, instances of supreme accomplishment and skill have taken place. Students must confront the best of humanity so that they have an accurate measuring stick with which to evaluate themselves. Without an awareness of past greatness, there is little chance that a student will be able to manifest greatness in his or her own life. A student is ill-served if he is made to believe that an institution of higher learning should merely reflect society as it is, but, rather, he should also be made aware of what was, and what theoretically could be, so that he has the tools for making personal life-shaping decisions. The best form of job training is not to dwell on job-training while in college but to focus on becoming an educated, knowledgeable, adaptable, self-trainable individual. If one consciously pursues job training itself, then one is most like to prepare for a position that will inevitably become obsolete within the quickly changing economic arena.
A composition student should encounter the great range of ideas about composition that have been generated in the past and particularly in this past century. They should know the particularly monumental works of the preceding millennium. In electronic music composition, a student ideally masters basic techniques of synthesis (i.e., wave-tables, digital oscillators, modulation, filtering, reverberation, panning, etc.), but I believe it is just as necessary for that student to be able to recognize aurally whether an  tetrachord (or its inversion) is functioning as a dominant seventh chord, a German augmented sixth chord, a half-diminished ii or vii chord, or as the "Tristan" chord. The composer of electronic music should know the heritage that led from Brahms, Schoenberg, Berg, and Babbitt, to the early electronic masterworks of Varese and Davidovsky and into our own recent decades. Ideally, the student should master several pieces of software and hardware as foci for learning abstract concepts and principles. However, any particular piece of software or hardware is not crucial to the student's success. It is said that, if the English language contained just one word, a true poet would still manage to say it better than everyone else. A creative composer should be able to create with whatever sonic tools are available. Of course, repeated practice with a particular tool, just as with a particular instrument, leads to mastery. The list of hardware and software, which you have indicated you possess, seems to be quite well suited for the potentialities of teaching composers electronic music. I myself own and use some of the items on your list (MOTU, Alesis, and Tascam equipment; Logic and Peak software.) I use similar devices for sound reinforcement, and similar software as your Reaktor, though they are not actually identical to yours. I understand the basic principles of MIDI and digital audio, which these devices all rely upon. I would probably wish to add additional pieces of software to your set-up, such as Finale, C-sound, Super-Collider and Max.
I agree with the classical worldview of thinkers such as Socrates who said that the ultimate reason for becoming educated is to know thyself. It takes hard work, careful consideration, and comparison to all other humans before one can truly begin to know thyself. One has to learn to recognize which factors are cultural, genetic, components of the current zeitgeist, purposeful indoctrination, and which components are individual and based on free will. And more importantly, to realize that it is virtually impossible to disentangle all these components with sure certainty. Students of music must be confronted with the best of the past, the variety of the present, and the possibilities for the future. In this manner, a student of music (instrumentalist, singer, composer, conductor, theorist, musicologist, audio engineer, or educator) will begin to develop his or her own distinctive voice and personality.
Dr. Jody Nagel
February 7, 2002