Todd Van Kekerix is Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy and Class Piano Coordinator at the University of Houston (UH). Prior to his appointment at UH, he was a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Oklahoma. Other former piano teaching positions include The New School for Music Study in Kingston, NJ (2007-2016) where he was Director of Enrichment Programs and Kean University in Union, NJ (2011-2016). While living in New Jersey, he also maintained an active piano studio of his own. His degrees include a DMA in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma (Dissertation: “The Contributions of Elvina Truman Pearce to Piano Pedagogy”), Artist Certificate and MM in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Southern Methodist University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Business Administration from Augustana University.
In addition to teaching, Van Kekerix has given presentations and workshops for local, national, and international audiences. Most recently, his research was presented virtually at the 6th International Conference Association of Music and Medicine (2020). Internationally, he has given recitals and workshops at Zhejiang Conservatory of Music and Shaoxing University in China during fall 2019. Nationally, he has presented at The National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy and MTNA National Conference. Lastly, he has been a guest lecturer for numerous state and local music teachers associations and pedagogy classes around the United States. He has articles published by American Music Teacher and Clavier Companion was recently invited to contribute to Clavier Companion’s Inspiring Artistry series.
Van Kekerix is currently serving as the Commissioned Composer chair for Texas Music Teachers Association and is a member of MTNA, TMTA, and Forum Music Teachers Association. He serves as faculty advisor for MTNA at UH. He has also collaborated with the teachers from Northwest Houston Music Teachers Association offering masterclass experiences for his pedagogy students in both fall and spring semesters. In addition to NCTM certification, he holds Royal College of Music (RCM) certifications in beginning, intermediate and advanced levels.
In 2020, Van Kekerix was awarded a grant by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts to provide keyboard music-making experiences for long-term caregivers in Houston in collaboration with artist, Marisa Moran Jahn. Other significant awards and honors include The Provost’s Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from the University of Oklahoma (2018). While at OU, he was chosen as a soloist for their annual Concerto-Gala Concert, where he performed Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto: Finale: Alla breve. Other performance highlights include Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall and the Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, Austria.
Recent pedagogy students’ achievements include an essay chosen as runner-up in Piano Magazine’s collegiate essay contest and the publication of original pedagogical repertoire in Russia. While serving as faculty advisor, the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at UH was awarded the first TMTEF Collegiate Chapter of the Year Award at the 2019 TMTA Convention. His graduates have successfully completed MTNA Professional Certification and have presented at TMTA and the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy.
During his downtime, Van Kekerix enjoys downhill skiing, traveling, and exploring new gastronomic recipes and cookbooks.
Inspiring students to become the best versions of themselves through music is the driving force behind my desire to impact as many lives as possible through my career in music. From pre-college students through graduate levels, maintaining a flexible method of instruction while upholding exceptional standards and expectations, guides my teaching. I would love to see every one of my students as a lifelong learner of music and supporter of the arts throughout their lives.
My formal ideas of teaching were established through five years of detailed collegiate-level pedagogy instruction and through nine years of teaching experience at The New School for Music Study under Marvin Blickenstaff and Louise Goss. The foundational part that inspired me to be a musician in the first place however, was shaped by my own pre-college experience of figuring out pop and country radio songs by ear. This was not part of my weekly piano lesson assignment, but looking back I see my passion for that style of music harnessed my interests in a way that allows me to now be flexible in my approach to teaching music at the piano, with all ages and stages. The versatility of all genres is inspiring to me, and being able to communicate with my students about their needs and passions is paramount to my value as a teacher.
I have four teaching pillars that form my core teaching philosophy. First, in my classes and private lessons, I approach each teaching segment through the stages of preparation, presentation, and reinforcement. For example, when discussing the concept of beginning technique in my pedagogy course, I first have the students play through several pieces from a method book (preparation). Then, in a subsequent lesson we discuss the different elements of teaching beginning technique (presentation). Finally, as follow-through, students execute teaching demonstrations featuring beginning technique (reinforcement).
Second, I strive to teach the individual and build on their strengths and what they offer, while also imploring them to improve where they are otherwise challenged or unaware of. The intention being to help them move from the known to the unknown. I always believe that we can better utilize what a student’s strengths are, in order to point them in the direction of growth and expansion. When I have a student who is an auditory learner, I use that to their advantage, but also work on ways to strengthen their visual and tactile learning.
Third, as with the great pedagogue Frances Clark, I see that music resides in every child. My responsibility and calling as a teacher is to give them the tools to make music come to life in ways that are unique to them. In my own words, I teach to understand what makes each person love music, which takes on a different meaning at different times. In one instance that might mean foregoing a well-thought-out curriculum consisting of standard teaching repertoire from the eighteenth and nineteenth-century in favor of music that a student is listening to at the moment. For instance, a few years ago, I taught a teenage boy who grew reluctant to practice what he was instructed. One day, he entered my studio before I did, sat down and started singing a pop song while accompanying himself. Upon hearing him, I immediately asked myself how I could inspire this student to play all of his music with this much passion, precision and joy. I decided to reevaluate his curriculum to include music that inspired him. A few months later, his mother decided to sit in and observe one of his lessons where he sang and played his heart out on a piece that he had recently composed, both the lyrics and music. She held her head as tears of joy and happiness streamed down her face at what her child had just demonstrated. The power of music in that moment left an indelible mark on the choices I made as a teacher, not just for him. When we listen and embrace what a student is telling us, we often get it right.
Lastly, I believe in the power of discovery learning, with the caveat that it must be guided; asking the right question at the right time. Unless the right question is asked, how can one be sure a student made the discovery the teacher intended? In my own teaching, true discovery learning can only take place with a detailed and well thought-out lesson plan or with years of experience. Even then, we still must be adaptable. When guiding my pedagogy students on formulating lesson plans, I insist that they spend time phrasing the questions they will ask in the lesson. Communication, in the form of a question is key!
The field of piano pedagogy is unique because of the goal of the degree: learning how to teach in an effective manner that encourages growth and advancement of musical ability. Teaching how to teach requires integration of learning modalities and the implementation of ideas that are found in educational psychologists. It’s a synthesis of psychology, education, music and being a compassionate human. A delicate balance of breaking down concepts while constructing a scaffolding upon which the student can create their own style of teaching, based on proven historical research. When training teachers, I use myself as a reference point because at the end of the day, our personal experience in the field frames much of our teaching philosophy. Because of my extensive training in pedagogy and through my own achievements of classical solo and collaborative performances, I understand the importance of maintaining high standards of performance, in the classroom and at the keyboard. Because of my desire to play pop music in high school, I could empathize with the student who only wanted to practice pop music.
Through more introspection and through music that is meaningful to each human being, it is my intention to leave this world a kinder, more beautiful place. This is the place where I thrive—making beautiful music in a safe, supportive and diverse environment.