Singing a new song – Radford University offers its first Summer Music Education Institute


Faculty and participants enjoy an active session during the first Summer Music Education Institute.

Heather Kirby, Stephen Marion and Dr. Jennifer McDonel during the institute.

A white scarf slowly fell 4 feet to the Porterfield Hall floor. It was the type of scarf one might expect to use in the case of surrender. And in some ways this particular, flimsy fabric was just that – a prop for yielding to an inner child.

At the first Radford University Summer Music Education Institute, Heather Kirby, a master teacher with 24 years' experience in elementary music education, dropped the scarf elegantly as she sang a few bars of a pleasant melody. She was demonstrating a lesson she gives to her primary education-aged students.

In response to her song, the institute participants stood around her, uninhibitedly repeated the sounds, and moved to the song’s rhythm with free-flowing motion. They were learning techniques to promote elementary school students’ skill levels of listening, performing, and creating/improvising through verbal association—chanting rhythms with rhythm syllables.

A group session led by Christina Hornbach during the summer institute.

This specific session was in musicianship activities. Kirby interned at the institute to become a Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML) faculty member in elementary general music. The Radford workshop follows GIML Professional Development Levels Courses (PDLCs) standards and techniques for teaching using Music Learning Theory (MLT).

The summer institute’s organizer and co-instructor is Jennifer McDonel, assistant professor of music at Radford University and the institute’s program director. Her goal is to help the university become a local hub for music education and offer professional development opportunities for music educators each summer. This will help participants learn new teaching techniques, connect with other music educators, and re-energize their teaching each fall.

“Students are learning in-depth about the theory of how children learn when they learn music (Music Learning Theory… NOT MUSIC THEORY!),” she said. “The participants will broaden their own musicianship through listening, moving with flow, singing and chanting in different tonalities and meters, and they will experience and learn to deliver practical applications of Music Learning Theory through music activities that they themselves might provide in an elementary general music classroom.”

Christina Hornbach and Heather Kirby during a session.

McDonel teaches music education courses and specializes in Music Learning Theory. This workshop is a way to introduce MLT to local practicing teachers. The institute also reinforces concepts taught to pre-service music educators at Radford.

Each summer McDonel plans to bring in leaders from different areas and levels of music education to promote continuing education for music educators. This year Christina Hornbach, an associate professor and director of music education at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, joins McDonel on the faculty of the institute. Hornbach is also an elementary general music faculty member for GIML.

This year’s attendees include several Radford University alumni who are practicing teachers, as well as current music education students. One participant, Stephen Marion, a Radford music education student who plans to graduate in 2018, believes the institute is life changing.

“In two weeks I've been able to improve my own musicianship and audiation skills,” he said. “I've learned about MLT as a whole and all of its ideas about how we learn music, and I've learned the most effective and efficient way to teach any musical concept.”

He gained a greater appreciation for learning music through the institute’s MLT approach.

“As I watched them model the learning sequence, my future curriculum and teaching persona started to form in my head for the first time. I feel with more time working with Dr. McDonel I will become a confident and competent music teacher,” he concluded.

For more information about Radford University’s Summer Music Education Institute, visit

Jul 28, 2016