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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Life + Arts

New Moores director aims to make identity for the program

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Andrew Davis became the new director of Moores School of Music on June 1 and already has big plans for the college. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When Andrew Davis acquired the position of director at the Moores School of Music June 1, he hit the ground running.

In the past four weeks, Davis familiarized himself with his school’s staff and faculty — a group of more than 100 people — and appointed new directors and positions. He gave them an idea of what he expected, and then he let them loose.

“I really enjoy working for Dr. Davis, because he’s a very collaborative manager —he always works very hard to get the information and all the relevant opinions whenever making important decisions,” said Chris Foster, a graduate academic advisor at Moores.  “He’s very respected among students, faculty and the alumni; he’s spent many years here as the Director of Graduate Studies (at the Moores School of Music) as an administrator.”

A music theorist who has written on opera and instrumental music history while holding a number of titles at the University, Davis has big dreams for the Moores school and wants to expand its influence not only throughout the greater Houston area, but internationally as well.

“I think of course we can (expand) because we have a rich season of cultural events (and) musical events that draws people to campus, but we can also do it kind of in the opposite direction. I think we can provide meaningful cultural service, if you will, to the city,” Davis said.

Moores already reaches out to the Houston community in many ways, including through an after-school music program for students at a local Third Ward elementary school which does not offer music education. The program is held five days a week for students of various grade levels, and Davis hopes to expand the program to local middle and high schools in the Third and Fifth Wards as well as downtown.

“We can … fulfill an obligation in the city to sustain the culture and build the culture,” Davis said. “I want to do that in a very significant way. I think there’s so much potential — there’s endless potential — in an institution like this.”

Above all, Davis hopes to create an identity for the Moores School that helps it stand on its own without having to rely on the University’s name and promotion.

“Sometime within the next six months we are going to carve out a strategy for (creating) a national identity. In the meantime, I have begun to forge partnerships on the national level and even the international level,” Davis said. “I have been in discussions with music institutions, conservatories and schools of music in Asia, in Latin America with ways we can formally partner with those institutions. Maybe we exchange faculty, maybe we exchange students, maybe we recruit students from those schools and vice versa. We send students there as a study abroad, perhaps. So you begin to make those connections, nationally and internationally, and at the same time you forge an identity for the school, you define what the school is, what makes it great. What about our programing, what is it about our faculty that makes our school such a great place internationally, and what’s our role.”

Davis received his Ph.D. in Music Theory from Indiana University, and his Master of Music and bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania State University, respectively. Despite this, he has nothing but high praise for the quality of music education in Texas.

“I’m from Chicago. I moved here from New England and the difference in music education in the public education system here and in those places is astonishing. It’s more healthy here. More population, more teachers — although that’s anecdotal — but there’s a really large population of people teaching music in the public schools here,” Davis said.

“And there is a real focus on pedagogy, the science of teaching. People understand the pedagogy of teaching music. Whether that’s coming from universities or whether that is a tradition that’s handed down in an apprentice fashion from one teacher to another, I’m not sure,” said Davis. “Wherever it’s coming from, it’s (a) very good understanding of the pedagogy of music and music education in the public school system.”

Davis was appointed associate dean of the Honors College in 2013, which he retained until receiving the position of Moores director. But he believes connecting the Honors College and the Moores School is “critical,” and has already appointed a Director of Undergraduate Studies in order to create that connection.

“I charged him with investigating ways that we could collaborate with the Honors College. The simplest way of doing that is simply to pluck out the top students — say, for our entering freshman class in the school of music, and make available to them Honors sections of say, music theory or musicology,” Davis said.

“Those are core components of the undergraduate music education curriculum. We have a very large entering freshman class — usually about 100 students.”

Davis wants to further the relationship between the two by recruiting students who are interested in both schools from the Houston area, and to bring performers and musicologists to Moores to speak or perform. Moores has already started this, but Davis would like to formalize the process and create a series, similar to other politics and science lectures that are already held on campus.

Davis also wishes to expand collaboration between arts schools within the University, allowing students in the School of Theatre and Dance to work together with Moores and even swap venues.

But Davis believes that Moores as a whole is stable, and its current academic programs have a solid foundation. When he came to Moores 11 years ago, this stability is what has appealed to him most.

“(Moores) had a lot of faculty who had been there for decades and had a lot of history,” Davis said. “(The school) had a maturity about it, and what was attractive was that there were so many people in the school who loved the place so much, and loved the history of the school — the school of music, I mean. And to watch the University changing around that has just been fascinating. It was a very, very exciting time to come to the University.”

Davis is an active and vocal supporter of the move to bring Phi Beta Kappa — one of the oldest and most prestigious honor societies in the nation — to the University. With a history dating back to the American Revolution and a reputation for exclusivity, the University of Houston has been attempting to bring a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for more than thirty years.

Now, with a Tier One status and a rapidly growing national reputation, that prospect is looking more and more realistic.

Davis began working with the Honors College Dean William Monroe in 2009 in order to drum up support and apply for a chapter.

“This is a cause that means a lot to me — it’s a huge, huge initiative … Phi Beta Kappa is an organization that is devoted to sustaining the historical principles of liberal education, where liberal education means education in the liberal arts. Liberal as in the sense of ‘free,’ meaning education for the sake of education,” Davis said. “You go to a university and you study English, history, politics, literature, geography, all of those things where you are studying not because you are going to get a job when you graduate — it’s probably not. Honestly, you’re going to have to find some creative way of doing that, but because it enriches the mind and it educates you in a way that you’re able to deal with any problem that comes your way, you’re actually able to do any job at any career that you decide to do.”

“That’s the education that I had, it totally changed my entire life, and it totally changed the way I view education and the way I view the mission of the University.”

With past Moores directors retaining their position for upwards of 15 years, Davis potentially has a long tenure ahead of him. His predecessor, David Ashley White, who became director in 1999, stepped down in April to focus on his career of composing music. But that longevity, Davis says, is why he’s here.

“One of the great things about the Moores School of Music — and one of the things that attracted me so much when I came here 11 years ago, was that there were so many faculty and so many leaders who have devoted their lives and their careers to the school,” Davis said. “It just makes it an irresistible place to be.”

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