Friday, September 5, 2014

a tribute to dr. todd and the lessons she taught

"What is Music?" was the first question posed by an intimidating, yet seemingly kind professor, Dr. Todd.  It was August of 2004 and my college career had begun.  This was my first day of class with her - Introduction to Music Study.  I knew nothing about Dr. Todd except that she seemed ridiculously intelligent and hilarious all at the same time.

I can only assume that our pencils were scratching down simple and uninformed definitions, such as "sound that consists of a melody" or "when voices or instruments combine in such a way to create harmony."

Little did we know that Music was in no way limited to that.  (Who could blame us?  We didn't know Steve Reich or John Cage yet.)

She taught me that I may not love all music, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it.  She taught me that while something may not sound "pleasing" to the ear or make "sense" on paper, it could very well be the most beautiful thing to me.

I'd like to think that when I made (allowed) a class of my high school students sit through all 13 minutes of Reich's "Come Out" I was making Dr. Todd proud.

Taking her music history courses was such an enlightening experience for me.  Composers weren't just composers anymore.  She told their stories in such a way that they became real people.  I began to fall in love with music in a new way.  I was constantly being challenged.  While I came into college feeling pretty confident about my musical knowledge, I quickly learned that I had a long ways to go.  She inspired me to be a lifelong learner.

Lesson #1: I don't know everything and never will, but I should always keep learning.

Another thing she made clear from day 1 was her disapproval of Britney.  There's really not much else to say about this.  All I know is, if you came into OBU listening to Britney Spears, you definitely didn't leave OBU listening to her.

Lesson #2:  Don't listen to Britney Spears. 

I will never forget the day that Dr. Todd and Dr. Vernon began to chip away at Serialism.  Mind blown, folks.  I mean, I couldn't even give you the right words and theory and history behind it right now because two kids have sucked a lot of knowledge out of me.  However, what I remember from that day was feeling confused (in a good way) and excited.  I remember asking several questions in class because I so badly wanted to understand.  Dr. Todd created that kind of atmosphere - an atmosphere where learning could be both confusing and exciting at the same time.  That kind of teaching is most definitely a gift.

Lesson #3:  If I'm going to teach, teach well.

One afternoon during my senior year, I sat across a table from her in the GC drinking coffee and discussing what I'd write my 20th century music history paper on.  I felt honored drinking coffee with the coolest professor at OBU.  But I was no special case.  She was always having coffee with someone it seemed.  Always giving time to someone.  I can only imagine that teaching the courses she taught, being involved in the things she was involved in, and being a wife and a mom would've made for a pretty busy life.  But she never seemed busied or hurried or out of time.  She seemed at ease, enjoying life as it happened and helping whoever she could on her way through it.

(Dr. Todd's comments on one of my music history paper proposals)

And then there was the time I walked into 20th century after spring break of senior year.  She remembered what I had been doing - walking through Colt's 2nd heart surgery with him.  She asked me how I was and how he was.  And, in true Dr. Todd fashion, told me that if I needed her help with anything to let her know.  

But even after my college career ended, Dr. Todd still offered a helping hand.  My mom and I were teaching a new course at Yukon HS entitled Music Mentorship.  We had just finished up a music history unit and I asked Dr. Todd if she would come and speak to our class.  I didn't really care what she spoke about because I knew it would be awesome.  She brought unique instruments for them to see, filled their minds with fancy facts and, of course, made them laugh.  I loved getting to watch her teach again.  I sat back that day and enjoyed one last little bonus class with Dr. Todd.

Lesson #4:  Always make time for and care for people.

I've already mentioned this, but Dr. Todd was really funny.  She was sarcastic and she described lots of things as "Sexy."  She'd say, "Fantastic!" and, "Brilliant!" quite often.  A friend on Facebook reminded me of her series of questions towards the end of each class - "Questions?  Comments?  Tragedies?"  And, of course, the thing that made everyone feel really awesome - hearing, "Say more," come out of her mouth after you fumbled through some kind of college student commentary.  Dr. Todd was lighthearted and extremely passionate.  She was highly respected and easily accessible.  She was incredibly unique.  She wasn't trying to be anything different than who she truly was.  There was no pretending.  There was no I'm-the-professor-so-I-should-keep-my-scholarly-distance-and-keep-these-kids-in-their-place.  Dr. Todd was so very Dr. Todd.  I'm sure I'll never meet another human like her.

Lesson #5:  Be myself.   

I'm so sad that she's gone and that stopping by her office the next time I'm around isn't possible.  I'm devastated for her family.  Of course, the beautiful thing is that I can stop by her office when I get to heaven.  (Surely she's the Angelic Head of Musicology up there.)  What a hope we have in the Lord that we can live without fear of death!

Dr. Todd taught me that being a musician who is a Christian does not equal a free pass for mediocrity.  If anything, as believers in God and followers/worshipers of our Creator, we should be producing some of the most intelligent, meaningful, beautiful art out there.  I must always do my best, keeping in mind that I am not just making music for myself or other people here on this earth, but for my Lord.  That is the most important music-making of all.

Although the music I create may not ever directly point back to Dr. Todd in an obvious way, she, like all of my music professors, is in my music.  She is very much a part of everything I create, play, or sing.  What an impact she has made.

Well done, Dr. Todd.  Well done.


  1. What a beautiful tribute. I wish I had known her! You have such a way with words that I do feel as if I've gotten a glimpse of someone extra special. Thank you! Mary Sharp

    1. Yes, she certainly was special! Thank you for reading. :)


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