Ask Terry Sefton what she does, and her first response is “I’m a musician.”
“It’s who I am,” says the professor who teaches music in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. Before coming to Windsor, she played for more than 30 years with orchestras in Canada and the UK, including 25 years with Orchestra London (Ontario), and even though she lives in Windsor now, she says that playing with Orchestra London is “like a bad habit that I can’t give up.”
Not that she’d ever want to. Music and the arts are at the core of her work as a professor. In fact, she sees a lot of overlap in being an artist and being a teacher. “It requires courage to take the kind of risks in the arts that produce great work, and it also takes courage to teach in a way that makes a difference in the lives of your students. I agree with Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer who once said: ‘Teach on the verge of peril’.
“The arts bring greater dimension and fulfillment in people’s lives, and at their best, the arts challenge us to see
and hear and think differently about the world around us. Education, in its broadest sense, is the construction of meaning in society,” she says. “Arts and education create impetus for each other.”
Although some of the teacher candidates for the primary and junior divisions, whom she teaches, have no music background and profess not to be musical, Dr. Sefton strives to give them the courage to use music in the classroom.
A graduate of McGill University, she began her career in music in Montreal with the Canada Symphony Orchestra, a federally-financed project that gave musicians a step into the profession by touring the concert halls in towns and small cities to bring live performances to those communities. She went on to study with cellist William Pleeth in Britain, where she also played with the BBC Radio Orchestra before returning to Canada.
Sefton taught for the Thames Valley Board of Education while completing her graduate degrees at University of Western Ontario and University of Toronto, and moving into higher education.
She remains a student of the sociology of education, examining how people learn, and believing that education goes beyond the classroom. For Sefton, of course, that means art and music, and this has caused her to consider the question, “How do you get to the point in your life at which you can make the claim, ‘I am an artist’?”
She says you have to wonder what motivates people who want to go to graduate school to be an artist or a musician. In part, the increasing number of artists who take graduate degrees reflects a change in museum practices; curators are interested in the work of artists who are grounded in theory and are able to speak articulately about their work. Musicians are also highly educated, typically with a couple of degrees. They spend their lifetime in preparation, including 10,000 hours of practice, yet the average professional musician makes less than $25,000 a year. Sefton has been exploring that question with Dr. Zbigniew Pasek (Faculty of Engineering), an expert in organizational theory. They have found that the motivation that drives musicians is not financial.
“Motivation varies from person to person, yet in our research, orchestral musicians talk about the rich experience of creating and performing, about how they value working with their colleagues, and playing repertoire by the creative minds of the past as well as the present,” she says. The lack of financial reward is part of a larger complex of social attitudes and governmental funding practices that keep most arts organizations in a state of financial subsistence.
Sefton has been rehearsing with a colleague, Dr. Jonathan Bayley, Associate Dean of Research, Graduate Studies and Continuing Education, Faculty of Education. They first crossed paths at McGill where they both earned their
undergraduate degrees in music performance. “When I arrived in Windsor a few years ago and met Dr. Bayley again, we started playing together, working on contemporary repertoire for flute and cello, as well as
trios for flute, cello and piano. It’s been a lot of fun, plus it has provided some real balance to our
teaching and administrative work.”
Sefton explained that creative activity, such as performance, is recognized by most universities as a form of scholarship. It is complex, critical, and original, and engages the performer at all levels of scholarly work. However, Sefton and Bayley teach in the Faculty of Education where the focus is on preparing educators, not on preparing performers. So, as they have been working together, rehearsing and preparing for public performance, they have also been discussing the particular context in which they work, and how disciplinary boundaries can constrain certain kinds of action and thought.
In April, 2009, they presented a paper that explored some of these issues, along with video of their rehearsals, at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in San Diego with great success.
With more than 26,000 members, AERA is a prominent international professional organization, with the primary goal of advancing educational research in psychology, statistics, sociology, history, economics, philosophy, antrhopology and political science.
The presentation pulled frome very part of Sefton's indentity and working life - as a musician, a scholar and an educator. "I want to do more than write about it; I want to make a place for the performing musician as research, as producing meaning, regardless of the disciplinary context, and expand some of the institutionalized ways of thinking about where the arts belong. It feels risky - but that's usually a good sign in my world".