By Jillian Slaight
When Loni Gornick began her Master of Music degree in string development, the deck seemed stacked against her. She worked full-time in the public school system and lived in Mukwonago, Wisconsin – an arduous commute to campus. Within a few years, she no longer juggled just work and school, but motherhood as well. Despite these demands on her time, Gornick graduated in December 2016 with a degree that has already enhanced her career as a music teacher and orchestra director.
After earning her Bachelor’s of Music Education from UW–Eau Claire, Gornick knew she wanted to pursue graduate work in string performance and pedagogy. Whereas other music programs “might not specialize in string instruments exclusively,” UW–Madison offered one that emphasized violin, viola, cello, and bass. That focus felt like a perfect fit for Gornick, who had begun teaching string instruments to students at Badger High School in Lake Geneva. From the start, coursework with Professor Janet Jensen enabled her to delve deeper into each instrument. Gornick learned how to hold a double bass bow, to distinguish from French and German bow techniques, perform in upper positions, and distinguish the differences in tone production on each instrument.
Most crucial to her progress toward her degree was the support of advisor Janet Jensen. “She did anything she could to help me finish,” Gornick remarks. This meant meeting off campus, sometimes as far as Milwaukee, to discuss current or future coursework. It also entailed coordinating private lessons on each instrument. Jensen’s own familiarity with instruction made her an ideal mentor.
“She gets what it’s like to be a teacher – and a teacher in the public schools.”
Together, Jensen and Gornick tailored coursework toward practicality, devising assignments that addressed day-to-day problems faced by music educators within public schools. As Gornick explains, a rigorous concert schedule – as many as 6 per year – sometimes “traps” orchestra directors into “teaching to the concert.” (In recent years, those concerts have included challenging contemporary works such as “The Drop That Contained the Sea,” by Christopher Tin.) Unfortunately, performance preparation pushes skills instruction to the backburner. In light of this problem, Gornick created a curriculum that incorporated technique instruction into the classroom. The resulting project established a blueprint for Gornick and other music educators to teach scales, bowing styles, and techniques like vibrato.
Projects like these have already paid dividends in her own classroom in Lake Geneva. This past fall, students responded positively to a new curriculum around ear training that she designed over the summer as part of an independent study. Her goal was to better prepare students for difficult tasks on the Advanced Placement exam in Music Theory, which include identifying scales by ear and writing melodies after listening to them. Since implementing her new approach, Gornick reports, “students already have a better understanding” of the material.
This past December, Gornick fulfilled a long held promise to her two small sons: “I promised that someday I’d be done!” In the future, she hopes to spend even more time with her children and husband, whose support enabled her to complete her master’s. But there’s no rest for the weary, as Gornick continues to fulfill multiple roles in string instruction, music theory education, and concert direction. Beyond that, she also performs with the Wisconsin Philharmonic. Gornick urges UW–Madison to cater to non-traditional students like her who are interested in advanced degrees but are discouraged by the daunting time commitment. Her own success is evidence that nothing is impossible.