Since 2019, Trinity University’s Humanities Collective has funded Public Humanities Faculty Fellows each academic year. The Public Humanities Fellowship program supports faculty in their efforts to communicate their scholarship in the humanities to a broad audience and engage local, national, and worldwide publics in the co-creation of humanistic knowledge. The Collective has funded 13 projects so far across various academic disciplines, resulting in many different forms of media, such as video essays, traveling exhibits, books, public talks, and more.
Faculty Fellows collaborate with their peers in academia, multiple generations of Trinity students, or Mellon Initiative Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURFs) to conduct their research, and they often incorporate their research into their courses. Through their fellowships, our humanities faculty showcase their brilliance as leading scholars across the nation and the world while creating opportunities for Trinity students to foster their own passions for humanities research.
The Public Humanities Faculty Fellows for the 2023-24 academic year are oboe, bassoon, and chamber music instructor Gillian Lopez and visiting assistant professor of French studies Maxence Leconte, Ph.D.
We asked Lopez to share a bit more about herself and her project, “Accompanied Instruction: Literacy Lessons through Music.” Keep reading to learn about Lopez and her public humanities goals.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I literally grew up on college campuses. I’ve always been surrounded by educators. My parents each have four degrees, so they were always either attending a university, working at universities or both. People often ask if I was a military kid because of how often we moved. I’ve lived in four states, seven cities, and know six college (and one community college) campuses very, very well.
I went to high school in Missouri where there weren’t many bassoon or oboe players. My band director held me after class one day and asked which double reed instrument I wanted to play. Up until then I had played clarinet. I was given a reed, a bassoon, and a pamphlet about the bassoon and was sent to practice. Two weeks later I was playing bassoon in the band. I had some intermittent lessons but was largely self-taught. The lack of consistent instruction from a double reed teacher, and a lack of resources for young players, significantly influenced my want to teach young double reed players.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of North Texas and a master’s degree in music performance from Texas State University. I have taught bassoon and oboe privately for 23 years to students ranging from sixth grade to university seniors.
My husband and I have three boys, a dog, and one grumpy gecko.
What is your research focused on, and why did you choose it?
I stumbled across a recording of Mr. McCarthy’s work “The Blind Men and the Elephant” while researching music for my Trinity chamber music ensembles. I remembered the story from when I was little; I assume from an early reader book or a school assignment. Mr. McCarthy’s work is a setting of the John Godfrey Saxe poem. I enjoyed the setting of the poem and thought it was a nice way to introduce some instrumental music into a school lesson. There are six short movements of music between the stanzas of the poem. Our setting of the work is for flute, clarinet, and bassoon. All of the movements are between a minute and 45 seconds and two minutes and 30 seconds—attractive little pieces of music that aren’t so long that younger audiences will get too wiggly.
By total coincidence, I met Robbie McCarthy at a summer conference in 2022. He had heard about my idea through a mutual friend, and he graciously granted performance permission for the educational concerts. He also added that although he wrote the chamber piece with the Saxe poem in mind, that any version of the story was acceptable. He acknowledged that a poem from the 1800s might not be the most approachable version of the story for elementary aged students.
My presentation will be about 45 minutes about the origins of the story, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” We will discuss how a story, piece of music, or art can change over time but the main idea of the work stays the same.
In elementary schools around San Antonio, students participate in music and art classes about once every six days. The idea of introducing some music and art while teaching some of their benchmark lessons is really exciting.
Tell us about your research process.
Most of my research process has been studying the benchmarks for Texas schools. It is important to keep the material in the presentation at the learning level of the students. The examples need to be relevant to their knowledge base so that they will resonate with the presentation. We also want teachers to be able to reference the examples in other lessons.
Additionally, I’ve been doing reading on arts integration and other works (visual art, poems, and stories) that have been reinvented with music accompaniment.
Is your research still ongoing or finished?
Doing the presentation will necessitate having a finished version. Having a stopping place is hard because it is so tempting to try and put more information or another example into the presentation. But there will be inspiration in interacting with the audience and talking with educators. I am sure we will learn from the audience about the best way to present the material.
What role does the Humanities Collective (funding, promotion, etc.) play in developing your project?
The funding for development and additional players has made these performances possible. Without the support of the Collective, I would not have been able to guarantee the two additional faculty members pay for their contribution. Also being sponsored by the Collective lends credibility to the project that has opened conversations with local school districts.
Does/will your research involve any Trinity students?
It is my hope that some of our music education students will be able to attend or assist with the performances during the spring semester. Hopefully, their class schedules will allow for them to travel with us.
How and where will you share your findings with the academic and local community?
Our first presentation will be in the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall as a preview for local educators and the Trinity community. At the conclusion of our performances, I will be summarizing the experience and submitting it to state music educator’s conferences as a presentation on arts integration.
What are your "public" humanities goals? What impact do you hope your project will have on the Trinity community and beyond?
I hope that the presentation will inspire the Trinity community to consider more arts integration in their teaching. As for our public school audiences, I hope it brings them joy and an opportunity to learn about literacy in an exciting new way.
Read about Maxence Leconte’s research project, “Paris sports: retracing the culture of play and games in the City of Light (1854-2024).”