The Ploger Method® at The Blair School of Music
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Marianne Ploger joined The Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University as Director of the Musicianship Program in 2008. Under her leadership, Blair re-created its Musicianship curriculum, using The Ploger Method® as the foundation.
All university music majors at Blair take four semesters of Musicianship; after completion of these core requirements, students can opt to take Advanced Musicianship classes during their junior and senior years. Musicianship courses are also offered through Blair's precollege program. During the summer session in May and June, Marianne Ploger offers the Musicianship Intensives for graduate credit and post-graduate study; these sessions attract a wide range of musicians and educators, including those who are themselves instructors of musicianship.
About The Blair School
Located in Nashville, Tennessee, the Blair School of Music is the smallest of Vanderbilt University's four schools: enrollment is generally kept under 200, and unlike the other three schools, Blair is solely for undergraduates. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 4:1, the tight-knit environment offers small class sizes and numerous opportunities to develop productive relationships with the world-class musicians on the faculty. Blair confers the Bachelor of Music degree and offers programs in Performance, Musical Arts, and Composition. In addition to its university program, The Blair School offers pre-college and adult music training.
Meet the Instructors
Director of the Musicianship Program and Associate Professor of Music Perception and Cognition
Marianne Ploger is the Associate Professor of Music Perception and Cognition and Director of the Musicianship Program at Vanderbilt University, Blair School of Music. She studied with famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger in Paris and received her MM in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan. Since 1980, Professor Ploger’s early interests in neurology, psychology, perception, and cognition led to her original observations involving instant real time recognition of musical intervals and pitches. She developed her fluency-based method to train the musical mind, appropriate for all musical genres and levels of experience, now being employed by thousands of musicians around the world.
A pianist and composer with recent commissions from Duke University, University of Wisconsin (Stevens Point), and Hamilton College, NY., Marianne Ploger is also a pioneer in musical communication and has coauthored with Keith Hill articles relating to this subject, including the popular "Craft of Musical Communication." She has conducted workshops and musicianship intensives at universities, colleges, and conservatories in the US and Europe, among these the Hochschule für Kunst und Musik in Berlin, the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, the Bruchner Conservatory in Linz, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen, the University of Göteborg in Sweden, El Sistema Nacional de Educación Musica in Costa Rica, Oberlin Conservatory, the University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and Hamilton College.
Senior Lecturer in Musicianship
Joshua McGuire is Senior Lecturer in Musicianship at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where he teaches courses in Musicianship as well as Meditation for Musicians.
As a concert guitarist, McGuire is widely in demand as a performer of new music. Praised for his “gently expressive, noble sound,” (The Cincinnati Enquirer) McGuire has presented recitals in the United States as well as abroad at the Seminari e Festival di Primavera in Imperia, Italy and the Museo del Chopo in Mexico City.
McGuire is also an active writer, having penned the libretto for two full-length operas, The Secret of Luca (based on the novel by Ignazio Silone) and Roscoe (based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner William Kennedy), with music by Evan Mack. He is also the author of The Secret of Music: a look at the listening life, a collection of nonfiction essays on music and mindfulness. In 2014, McGuire was a resident artist at Yaddo.
McGuire studied at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he pursued Master’s work in both guitar and orchestral conducting, holding assistantships in both areas. As an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University, he took the Bachelor of Music summa cum laude as well as High Honors in English Literature for his thesis on musical structures in the work of James Joyce.
David Binns Williams
Senior Lecturer in Musicianship and Choral Studies
David Williams teaches courses in the Musicianship department, and conducts the Vanderbilt University Concert Choir, as well as the Vanderbilt Community Chorus. The Vanderbilt Community Chorus performs some of the most challenging music in the choral repertoire, including recent performances of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, Bach's Magnificat and Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, all with orchestra.
Williams' undergraduate studies at Indiana University with Edward Auer and Evelyne Brancart earned him the BM degree in Piano Performance. Graduate degrees in Music Theory and Choral Conducting at Indiana and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music afforded him the opportunity to work with Gary Wittlich and Mary Wennerstrom at IU, and with Earl Rivers, John Leman and Elmer Thomas at CCM.
Prior to coming to the Blair School, Williams wrote and produced music for nationally broadcast TV and radio commercials. He has also held numerous positions conducting church and community choirs. Other faculty positions include Belmont University (1995-98), and Middle Tennessee State University (2005-06). Williams taught at the Blair School from 1995-98, and rejoined the faculty in 2006. He frequently serves as a clinician for high schools and colleges from around the country.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Musicianship
Dr. Fred Sienkiewicz is the newest member of the musicianship faculty at the Blair School of Music, where he teaches both collegiate and precollege musicianship courses. Conservatory-trained as an orchestral trumpeter, Sienkiewicz enjoys a diverse career as a performer, pedagogue, and scholar, and is a passionate advocate for solfège and musicianship training.
In addition to his work at Blair, Sienkiewicz also applies the Ploger Method concepts in teaching second-year Ear Training up the road at Austin Peay State University. The Ploger concepts also make up a strong element in teaching a private studio of brass students and directing the Madison Street Brass ensemble in Clarksville, TN. Sienkiewicz also maintains an active performing career as principal trumpet of the Jackson Symphony, second trumpet with the Owensboro Symphony, a member of the Bala Brass Quintet, and a substitute player with the Nashville Symphony. Dr. Sienkiewicz previously served as chamber music faculty at the prestigious Boston University Tanglewood Institute and trumpet studio faculty at Gordon College, Keene State College, and Plymouth State University.
Sienkiewicz earned degrees at the University of Massachusetts (B.M.), the New England Conservatory of Music (M.M.), and Boston University (D.M.A.), studying trumpet in the studios of Eric Berlin, Charles Schlueter, Terry Everson, and Eric Ruske, interpretation with conductor Benjamin Zander, and ear training and solfège with Dr. Gary Karpinski, Dr. Larry Scripp, and Marianne Ploger. His recent doctoral dissertation from Boston University is the first English-language investigation of the life and music of Soviet Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian.
Musicianship at Blair
Professor McGuire (left) and his third year students (below), engaged in discovering the intricacies of modulation. Josh began this morning's session of Musicianship Level III with two listening examples. The first - Sibelius, Symphony No. 5. The second? Freebird.
The Musicianship Program at The Blair School prioritizes the relevancy and applicability of the skills and concepts of its curricula and encourages students to incorporate skills and strategies from musicianship into their everyday musical lives. In this spirit, Marianne works with the Vanderbilt Wind Symphony a few times each year. Below, Marianne Ploger coaches the Vanderbilt Wind Symphony, addressing concepts of intonations and intervals; also pictured is colleague and collaborator Dr. Thomas Verrier, director of the Vanderbilt Wind Symphony.
(right) Vanderbilt students are all ears as they circle up to explore new ways of listening across the ensemble; Marianne works with associate conductor Dr. Erin Perez to instruct and inspire. In March 2015, Marianne had the wonderful opportunity to share some of her ideas with the higher education wind ensemble community through a presentation at the College Band Directors National Association's 2015 conference.
(left) First year students in Professor Williams' class practice taking dictation. With less than two hours a week for university-level classes, the faculty at Blair must set a quick pace. In the class pictured below, David and his class covered keyboard visualization, exercises in pitch space orientation, sight-singing, transcribing, di-chord review, rhythm reading, and rhythm improvisation, not to mention some talk about modes and clefs. Despite this wide range of topics, David's teaching has a great flow and never feels rushed.
(right) Marianne reviews the "Lap Map," a tool for understanding and performing rhythm and meter - today's Level III class is working on 7/4 meter.
In various ways throughout the class, Marianne asks students to develop sensitivity to the ways in which their individual minds work - to develop a healthy relationship with the “coach,” that is, the voice in the mind that sets us up for performances - either for success or for failure. Marianne peppers her commentary in class with references to the The Three Causes of Error, always encouraging students to examine the types of errors of the past performance in a nonjudgmental way, asking why the mistakes were made so that they can be prevented in the future.
(left) Lindsey Reymore discusses with precollege musicianship students how the skills they've been learning can be directly applied in the practice room. Level I Precollege Musicianship focuses on providing firm foundations in tracking pitches and rhythms; topics include learning to recognize and name intervals by ear and eye, the improvisation, reading, and dictation of rhythm, scale degree identification, and sightsinging. Small classes allow personalized training and frequent opportunities for in-class performances.
Photos and text by Lindsey Reymore
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