Guest Instructors Offer ‘Real Life’ Lessons To Patel Students

Patel Conservatory classrooms sometimes play host to Broadway actors, Grammy®-winning musicians and world-renowned dancers.

These performers aren’t there to sign autographs. They’re in the classrooms and studios to share their knowledge and experience with Patel students.

Guest instructor Beth Gibbs, associate professor of music and director of choral studies at Florida Southern College, leading a vocal class.

“Guest artists have a huge positive impact on students,” said Dr. Catherine Michelsen, a Patel instructor who teaches violin and chamber music. “Our students experience our resident faculty on a regular basis (often multiple days in a single week) and getting a fresh perspective can result in both faster and more long-lasting creative growth.” Guest artists in Michelsen’s department have included several musicians who are with the Florida Orchestra and the Sarasota Orchestra.

“It’s helped to provide an environment of higher learning,” said Matthew Weihmuller, who teaches saxophone and jazz improvisation. Having a guest artist in class, he added, “seems to motivate students to continue their studies and be more serious about their craft.” Jazz program guests include Dr. Tom Brantley, a University of South Florida instructor and Grammy nominee.

One benefit instructors cited was that guest artists sometimes explained concepts or ideas in a way that gets through to students who hadn’t understood it previously.

Heather Parcells leading a musical theater class.

“If I’m teaching an actor a certain skill on how to access emotion and they’re not getting it, they might hear from a different perspective, a different teacher, an approach that works for them and it clicks,” said Matt Belopavlovich. Guests in theater classes have included Broadway performers Heather Parcells (Tuck Everlasting, Finding Neverland) and Leslie Kritzer (Sondheim on Sondheim, Hairspray).

Students “hear some of the same things teachers are saying in the classroom, but either in a different light or maybe it’s … from a different person and so it kind of sinks in a little differently,” said choral instructor Kavanaugh Gillespie. Guest artists in this discipline have included Grammy-winning choral director Dr. James K. Bass.

Another benefit is that guest artists can provide valuable contacts who can help students academically or professionally.

“One of our goals is to have students work with Broadway professionals so that they hear what it’s like to audition, what it’s like to work on Broadway, what it’s like to tour,” said Belopavlovich. “They get that broad scope of what the career might be like.”

Touring artists from the Broadway companies of Anastasia, A Bronx Tale, The Sound of Music, Hello Dolly!, and Dear Evan Hansen lead master classes with Patel Conservatory students.

Guest artists who teach at the university level can be valuable contacts for students, many of whom are graduating seniors, Weihmuller said. Valuable relationships also can be formed with guest artists who are working musicians, he said.

“It’s really important to build relationships and get to know your fellow musicians,” Weihmuller said. “In the future, that’s who you’re going to be performing with.”

Instructors also appreciate hearing from professionals currently working in their fields. While most Patel instructors are working professionals, the demands of teaching mean spending less time as a performer.

“I am in the theater education industry now, so I’m slightly removed from the professional world of theater,” said Belopavlovich. Guest artists are “in the thick of it, they know what’s going on in the industry and they’re able to share that information.”

Edward Villella teaching a ballet class. (Photo: Kyra Nichols)

“I’m being fed new information vicariously through them,” said Philip Neal, head of Patel’s dance department. “I like to come and sit in on the classes or rehearsals and hear from them.” Among many others, the department has hosted guest artist Edward Villella, one of the most celebrated American male ballet dancers and founding artistic director of Miami City Ballet.

“It’s invigorating for me to hear other people teach,” Neal said. “And information is priceless. I always say to the children, ‘It might not have been your favorite thing but if you walked away with one little nugget of information that challenged your perception on something then it was worth it.’”

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