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Published June 27, 2016
Michael Griffith is in esteemed company at an institution of higher education in a far-away land. However, it is one where he previously taught and with which he is in tune.
The University of Wyoming director of orchestral activities and music professor is one of 40 teachers or researchers from around the world invited to participate in the Shanghai University Short Term, a six-week period in which various courses are offered.
Griffith currently is coaching chamber music with students -- a clarinet trio and a mixed woodwind trio -- in the university’s School of Music.
“The clarinets will do a trio by Beethoven. The flute-oboe-clarinet will do two shorter works, by Haydn and Bach,” Griffith explains. “I will try to help them unify and refine their playing, leading to a concert at the end of the week. It’s like teaching students anywhere, with the added issue of me not speaking Chinese and their not speaking much English. It’ll be fun.”
Griffith began his Short-Term experience teaching a course, titled “Music of the Symphony Orchestra in China and the West,” June 13-17. The course was for students majoring in subjects other than music. His main emphasis was to teach the students some of the terminology (in English) that helps them better understand the art form; have them focus on 20 important works of music they experienced from video samples; and convey why the experience of great music is appreciated in Laramie and Shanghai, and even the tiny villages in Bolivia where Griffith took the UW Symphony on a tour during 2007.
“It was an overview of music written for symphony orchestra,” he says of the course that included works from Bach, Beethoven and Dvorak. “I made a point of using some examples from composers in China, who write for Western instruments, to show that this music is held in worldwide esteem.”
Griffith says he learned something from the students, too.
“From their engagement in some of the works I talked about, and played, many of them were really excited about what I brought them. That’s gratifying to know,” he says. “But, 8 a.m. classes are hard to teach anywhere in the world.”
Other educators chosen for the Short Term were from Australia, Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Poland and Russia, Griffith says.
“The visiting faculty is a fascinating group of people,” Griffith says. “There’s an economist from Korea that I got to know pretty well; a British philosophy professor currently teaching in New York; a Turkish mathematician now at Texas-Arlington, and so on. There’s even a Scottish historian with a strong interest in Buffalo Bill, who’s been to Cody a few times.”
This is not the first time Griffith has taught at Shanghai University. He was part of a UW-Shanghai University faculty exchange program in 2012 and worked with the university’s orchestra. He said that experience likely led to this opportunity.
“If I had to guess, I’d say they saw me teach in 2012; saw me work with their orchestra when it was at UW; and decided I was the kind of teacher they wanted for this summer’s program,” he explains. “Perhaps they looked at my bio online. I’ve conducted all over, including orchestras in New York City and Rio de Janeiro; and been a visiting professor at one of the world’s great music schools, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Or, perhaps, it was simply a logical extension of the relationship we have built up over the years.”
Griffith is a past president of the Conductors Guild; a winner of an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers/American Symphony Orchestra League Award for Adventurous Programming; and a winner of the American Prize in Orchestral Programming, known as the Maestro Vytautas Marijosius Award.