Elizabeth W. Maisonpierre, a member of the music faculty at UNC Pembroke, was awarded the 2010 UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence.
Dr. Maisonpierre joined the faculty in 1985 and teaches music theory and piano. To celebrate teaching on UNC’s campuses, the board selects 17 of the most outstanding faculty to receive the annual award.
As the recipient of UNC’s top teaching award, Dr. Maisonpierre is humbled. It is the 16th annual award, and the first time it has gone to a member of UNCP’s Music Department.
“I am honored to be the recipient,” she said.
What stands out about Dr. Maisonpierre, her colleagues say, is her boundless enthusiasm for teaching music and playing piano.
“I’ll never lose my enthusiasm for teaching or playing,” she said.
After making that declaration, Dr. Maisonpierre added this word of caution that could only come from a veteran teacher.
“I am enthusiastic in the classroom, but based on my students’ reactions, I’m not always successful,” she said. “I believe a teacher must recognize that point in order to become a better teacher.”
Colleagues offered praise for the performer and the teacher. Dr. Mark Canada, professor and chair of the English and Theatre Department, recently observed one of her classes.
“Anyone who has heard her play the piano knows of Dr. Maisonpierre’s mastery of her art,” Dr. Canada said. “This opportunity showed me that she was not only a fine pianist, but a brilliant teacher.”
Dr. Maisonpierre’s students also have been effusive in their praise of her teaching, including former student Tommy Cox.
“Dr. Maisonpierre is an exceptional communicator and a gifted teacher,” Cox said. “She is a highly motivated professional who knows how to motivate her students to strive for excellence both in the lecture hall and in person.”
Former student Maren Walter concurred.
“Dr. Maisonpierre created a feeling of community and encouragement among students in her classes and those of us who made up the piano department,” Walter said. “Her love of people, optimism and enthusiasm were infectious during daily interactions with her and during classes.”
Music theory and piano performance are demanding and complex subjects to teach or learn, and Dr. Maisonpierre has a special affinity for the rigors of the discipline. Mathematics was her first love, she said.
“I believe that the most important thing I can do as a teacher is to give my students a firm foundation upon which to build,” she said. “I think this is especially true in the field of music, and specifically in the two areas on which I am currently focused – piano and music theory.
“If students understand every step of the process, they will be successful and then they can take the next step,” Dr. Maisonpierre continued. “There is a connection or sequence that demands step-by-step learning.
“I’ve believed this since I began teaching Kindermusik and Suzuki piano to very young students,” she said. “As a teacher, I sometimes feel like a detective learning which step a student missed.”
In piano performance, Dr. Maisonpierre’s theory of teaching and learning is similar.
“Often students learn to play a piece, and it may be a beautiful piece that they have played over and over,” she said. “There is no guarantee they can transfer what they learned to another piece.
“We are not teaching them to play a piece but to play classical music,” Dr. Maisonpierre said. “We are teaching them to do music - to read it and to perform it.
“My philosophy is basically about the importance of foundations in musical education,” she continued. “The most important classes I teach are always a student’s first classes.”
When the steps are not taken in sequence, she said “I take the time to fix it.”
Dr. Maisonpierre’s enthusiasm for music started early, as she explained with a story of a little girl, age four.
“My father was a college president, and we lived next door to the music building,” she said. “My mother could watch our music lessons from the kitchen window. My older siblings were taking lessons, and I desperately wanted to be like them.
“My mother sent a snack with my sister who had a lesson before mine, so my teacher and I always sat down to cookies and milk first. It was such a good experience. I just couldn’t wait to go each week,” she said. “Taking piano lessons was such a privilege and so much fun,” Dr. Maisonpierre said. “I want my students to feel the same way.”
In this year’s recipient in the Award for Teaching Excellence, that kind of enthusiasm is infectious. Dr. Maisonpierre’s enthusiasm for performing also continues. She performs often as an accompanist, but more often with her husband, Dr. Jonathan Maisonpierre, also a member of the music faculty. They have performed hundreds of piano concerts for four hands.
“My scholarship is researching, practicing and playing,” she said. “That is how I grow as a performer and teacher.
“We study, read, listen and practice like crazy,” Dr. Maisonpierre continued. “You grow with each piece, and it takes a long time to do that because you have to know each piece on so many levels.”
Dr. Maisonpierre earned a Master of Music degree from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Music degree from Ohio Wesleyan. She also studied at the Eastman School of Music.
Drs. Elizabeth and Jonathan Maisonpierre earned their Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Maryland. Their joint dissertation was titled “Twenty-three Sonatas or Sonata-Related Works Written in the Twentieth Century for Piano, Four Hands.”
After completing work on their doctorates, the pair joined North Carolina’s Visiting Artist Program with stops at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, N.C., and Bladen Technical Community College in Elizabethtown, N.C.
“In 1985, Jonathan and I were filled to the brim with pieces we wanted to perform,” she said. “We just loved it.”
That exposure led to positions at UNCP. Dr. Maisonpierre has not lost her enthusiasm for higher education and the faculty evaluation model of teaching, service and scholarship.
“When I perform, I am doing all three at once,” she said. “I teach through performance, and some of my best teaching comes through well-performed pieces.”
When the Drs. Maisonpierre perform, they are ambassadors, role models and recruiters for their University. Their enthusiasm has enriched their students’ experience and their University.
Winners of the Award for Teaching Excellence receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize.