Sunday, January 1, 2012
Sandra Siler selected as Kilgore College’s Piper Award nominee
"If not because of her, I would still be an advertising major. And I'm happy about that."
KILGORE Sandra Siler, head of piano instruction, is Kilgore College's nominee for the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award selected each spring.
"I"m honored and humbled," Siler said of the nomination.
One glance at her teaching space is all it takes to understand her success; she is relentlessly dedicated to her students and to teaching piano. The walls of her classroom are richly decorated with pictures of her students and their achievements, and then there are the pianos. Two shiny black pianos dominate the center of the room and at least half a dozen keyboards are crammed together on the left side.
Her room decor reflects Siler's passion for music which grew from the examples her parents provided and her experiences growing up. Her mother recognized her talent and was unforgiving in her determination for her to succeed. Siler remembers how her mother would literally stand over her practice bench with a wooden spoon to make sure she did her scales.
At age 11 she began playing for her church. By 10th grade there was a demand for Siler to begin giving lessons. "I taught myself to teach," Siler said. "I learned more teaching by experience than anything else."
Siler's father also had a great influence on her. "The hardest class he ever took was music appreciation," she said of her father. "He hated it." So, when ever she is looking for an idea on how to improve her class she asks herself, "Would Daddy love this?"
Past Piper Professor recipient, Anne Dean Turk, was Siler's mentor and also had an important influence on her life.
Three of Siler's piano students played for a scholarship luncheon recently with Mrs. Turk in attendance. After the performance, an emotional Mrs. Turk said, "Listen to what Mrs. Siler tells you. She knows what she is talking about."
Siler responded to her, saying, "I had a very good teacher."
"Many forget to take the time to thank those that have helped them become the person that they are," Siler said. "So many teachers at Kilgore College have been influential in my career--Jeanne Johnson, Latane Speer, David Stroud--many have retired, but I do believe that Kilgore College has some of the best teachers in the nation."
Siler takes in any student for her piano program as long as he/she is willing to work for it. This is not a common practice.
"'You're in the wrong field,' [other piano teachers] say, but I just won't do it," she said of her desire to take students of all skill levels.
She finds joy in seeing students who begin the fall semester with little piano experience develop the skills to play a concerto with a professional orchestra in the spring some nine months later.
One such student to undergo this kind of transformation was KC graduate Galen Dean Peiskee.
"It is impossible to overstate the value of such an experience," Peiskee said. "I have heard of no other such place where a pianist can be certain of such a performance as an undergraduate, let alone a freshman or sophomore."
Peiskee also notes the great effort on Siler's part in bringing together such a performance. Siler coordinates the hiring of a conductor and each musician in the ensemble, as well as raising the bulk of the funding for such an endeavor. "I know no one else who works as hard as Sandra Siler to produce opportunities for her students," Peiskee said.
Siler is also an inspiration to her current students. Piano major Hou Si Wong, Macao, China, sophomore, had wanted to be in music therapy, but later changed her major to one she thought would be more practical. She credits Siler with reigniting her interest in piano and pushing her to make a future career of it. "If not because of her, I would still be an advertising major," Wong said. "And I'm happy about that."
Siler doesn't see a love for music and making a living as being mutually exclusive. "I don't believe in a poor piano teacher," Siler said. "I want them to succeed." She emphasizes creativity and her class activities reflect that.
"[Out in the real world,] they may face people who are so much more experienced than they are," she said. She wants her students to stand out and be unique.
She has an "American Idol" inspired activity where her piano majors dress up as characters and play classical and romantic works for her music appreciation students. She also has game-show-inspired activities based on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and "To Tell the Truth."
Then there are the keyboard orchestra and pedagogy programs. "There were opportunities here I couldn't find anywhere else," Brittany Crowe, Longview freshman and piano major, said of the piano program at KC and her decision to transfer. The pedagogy program allows second-semester freshmen to jump straight into teaching, making lesson plans and working directly with 35 students, school-aged to adults. The proceeds from the lessons they teach go straight to their pockets.
The KC Keyboard Orchestra has performed at five national conventions all over the country, including Utah, Washington, New Mexico, Georgia and Texas. The KC Keyboard Orchestra opened for the Texas Music Teachers State Convention last spring in Arlington.
"My mother had a saying," Siler said. "Make lovely that which you would have them love." And so she strives to inspire her students with her love of music. "My goal is to produce artists from my piano students and lovers of music from all that I come in contact with," Siler said.
Daniel Guy is a staff writer for "The Flare" Kilgore College student newspaper, where this story first appeared.