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The Professor Is In: Lee Evans

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PPA Professor Lee Evans drops by to tell us what he considers to be the secret to collegiate success, and envisions a dinner party where the music selection might be a bit…contentious.

From his new book Classics with a Touch of Jazz, to his undeniable passion for teaching, PPA Professor Lee Evans has built a successful career through influencing generations of students interested in pursuing a musical future. This month we were lucky to have Professor Evans—a nature show enthusiast with a tireless enthusiasm for creative flair—chat with us for our monthly The Professor Is In column. Evans notes the importance of punctuality, tells us about a particularly fulfilling teaching experience, and imagines a dinner party that would not only prove to be classic, but also classical.

What was one thing or person that made you passionate about your current career?

The one thing that made me passionate about my career was my love for music and for college teaching, for composing music, and for writing books and articles. I love to impart knowledge onto others in order to enrich their lives just as mine has been enriched through music.

What quality do you most value in your students?

Show up to class. Be prompt, be attentive to detail, stay current with the work, and ideally develop a genuine enthusiasm for the subject.

What’s your advice to students to make the most out of their time in college?

Be attentive to detail and stay current. Those are the most important things, particularly in my subject matter, where everything that is taught to students is based on what was previously taught to them. So if they miss something, they’ll find a gap in their knowledge. The important thing is to learn the material sequentially, and be present for the entire presentation. Again—show up, be prompt!

If you had to do it all over again and took another path, what profession would you choose? What profession would you not choose?

I think I might’ve chosen to be a writer. I have great faith in the power of words. It makes me feel good to engage in the process of assembling words into a logical statement.

Anything dealing with technology, or anything mechanical, I would not pursue. Those things frighten the heck out of me.

What is your favorite word? Least favorite word?

I have two favorite words:

  1. Hemidemisemiquaver: The British term for 64th note
  2. Quindicesima: to play the music two octaves higher

My least favorite words that my students use: “like” and “cool.” There’s no escaping those ubiquitous words.

What is your guilty pleasure TV show or mobile app?

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the New York Yankees on television—I was born in the Bronx, so of course I’m a Yankee fan. I’m also a news junkie. I’m especially intrigued by political news, especially this current election. My wife and I also particularly like nature shows.

What was your favorite class as a student? Least favorite?

My least favorite class was mathematics.

My favorite classes were those that centered around learning how to compose music, write music, and any music classes that taught me how to channel and direct my creative energy.

If you were a Pace student, what class would you like to take with another Pace professor?

Professor Paul Guzzone teaches a course called “How the Entertainment Industry Works”—the business end of the music industry intrigues me, and he’s very good at that I understand from what his students report. 

What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?

I’d probably write another book, an article, or another musical composition. That’s what I do in my free time. I have a compulsive need to be creative, so in most of my free time I’m creating.

What is your favorite professional or personal journey/experience?

For many years I have been presenting piano teacher workshops in which I teach teachers how to incorporate jazz principles and materials into traditional classical lessons. That has been my most favorite professional experience, out of everything I’ve ever done. It’s a unique activity—teaching teachers how to expand their own musical horizons. Most piano teachers are steeped in the classical tradition, unfamiliar with jazz. So by making the subject accessible to them, it helps motivate their students by including jazz materials and concepts in their lessons.

What is your favorite saying/words to live by?

My favorite saying is one by William Shakespeare: If music be the food of love, play on.

Turns out when I graduated from High School of Music and Art in New York City, that was the quote that appeared next to my Yearbook graduation picture.

If you could have any five people living or dead, imagined or real, as guests at a dinner party, who would you choose?

Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Joseph Haydn, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky. All major musical innovators.

Have a suggestion for the next installment of The Professor Is In? E-mail us.