Between Classes With...Dr. Dean Bennett, Division of Liberal Arts
Among the 580 graduates who were members of the SCCC Class of 2014 was a familiar face to many students, both because he sat next to them in class and because he was at the front of the class, teaching them history. Dr. Dean Bennett, Associate Professor in the Division of Liberal Arts, crossed the stage at Proctors in May 2014, earning his A.S. degree in Performing Arts: Music. He shares his love for music, learning and life, and explains why he decided to earn his music degree, even after already holding a Ph.D.
(Watch the video of Dr. Bennett's recital at SCCC.)
Why did you decide to pursue an associate's degree in music?
This will have to be a long answer, since I've thought about it for a couple of decades. As a teenager, I was very involved in music (piano lessons, playing violin in the high school orchestra, singing in church choirs, etc.), but I also had my hands in a lot of other things, so when it came time to choose a college major, I had to make some tough choices. I chose History, but in compensation, I promised myself I would always continue to be involved in some sort of musical activity. Through most of my years as an undergraduate and graduate student (and beyond) this meant singing in choirs, which I really enjoy.
A few years after getting established in my job at SCCC, I decided it was time to get back to unfinished business with some serious musical training. For me, it's about fully enjoying life; I totally love the process of learning, and music in itself generates a lot of pleasure. Besides, I want to stave off mental decay for as long as possible; I'd like to believe all those studies that suggest learning and—in particular—musical practice tend to invigorate and keep the mind fresh and flexible. Finally, I never really wanted to stop being a "student''—it's one of the reasons I got into this teaching gig in the first place. It's actually been very helpful for my teaching to re-live the joys and woes of the student experience. One result is that I've changed some of the ways I operate my own classes, and I think I've learned some humility and compassion for my students who struggle, since I myself did not always get ideal grades.
As for enrolling in the program for a degree, I never really considered just taking a few classes here and there. A lot of the most rigorous classes are available only to students who have auditioned and entered a program. Also, aiming for a degree has given me that little kick of extra motivation to put in the necessary work; frankly, there were times when the tasks were so challenging that I might not have had the discipline to carry through with them if I hadn't had a grade hanging over my head. The degree is not really necessary for my employment or professional advancement. In my case, it probably deserves the nickname "vanity degree," since it's ultimately something for me to feel proud of.
When did you start and how many classes did you take a semester?
I started coursework in Fall 2008. For the first few years, I could manage a heavier load of about three courses per semester: basic music skill courses like Theory and Aural Skills in the first year, followed in the next couple of years by Performance Concentration, ensembles, and lessons. After getting to Conducting and the more advanced Theory courses, I had to slow down dramatically (sometimes only one course per semester). After all, I naturally needed to make sure to prioritize my other regular professional responsibilities here, and I had been getting quite busy!
Did you audition for the music degree program and were you accepted at the very beginning?
Yes, I did audition right at the beginning, and I was accepted (although my singing was stronger than my theory; I got kind of flustered and confused when asked to identify the key of the song I was singing. It was e-minor—one of the most easily recognizable keys!). As a matter of principle, I have been very determined never to ask for any special favors or exemptions because of my status as full-time faculty here. To their credit, I don't think my professors cut me any special slack, either.
What is your primary instrument?
Voice, and I also did a lot of piano.
Have you always been interested in music?
Hasn't everyone? Well, I was raised in an environment where musical skills were valued a lot; my mom sings and, besides, the Mormons of my community generally tried to outdo one another in developing their talents (I think that's a good thing). Among my geeky friends in high school, our idea of a good party was to gather around the piano singing hymns and showcasing our classical repertoire (this continued for me at Brigham Young University, which is a major hub of musical activity).
Did you find the curriculum rigorous?
Absolutely. Any worthy musical program needs to be rigorous, and SCCC has a good one. The faculty know the standards for their field, and they are unwilling to compromise in their expectations. This generates respect—and maybe a little terror?—but it ultimately benefits the students who make it through the program.
Any particular selections you have performed that were near and dear to your heart?
I really enjoyed singing the Mozart aria Non Piu Andrai from The Marriage of Figaro. Another favorite was Reynaldo Hahn's L'Heure Exquise, which is in an entirely different style from the Mozart.
About Dr. Dean Bennett
Dr. Dean Bennett teaches History full time at SCCC where his teaching topics include Western and World Civilization, European Witch Trials, Russian History, Chinese History, and a course on the Vikings. His main Ph.D. field was Scandinavian History—especially Sweden. He also teaches Norwegian History every summer at the University of Oslo International Summer School. He is currently serving in his first year as president of the Society of Historians of Scandinavia. He is interested in Swedish activities across the Baltic partly because he lived in Finland for a couple of years, and also earned a B.A. in Russian language. He is also a member of Albany Pro Musica, the premier choral group in the Capital Region.