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  Evan Tobias

Imagine by the age of 28 completing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education, teaching music to middle school students for seven years, launching a music educator Web site, being featured by ABC News and starting a doctorate program in music education.

Evan Tobias '99
Pictured here with Tobias is Crane School of Music and Potsdam Alumna, Meridith Stevens. She teaches at Willow Grove Middle School in Rockland County where Tobias taught before entering the doctorate program at NU.

That’s Evan Tobias.

Tobias graduated from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music in 1999 with his bachelor’s degree in music education. His adviser, Dr. Mark Campbell, a Crane associate professor of music education, spoke of the Class of 1999 the way a connoisseur of wine might refer to a particular vintage, calling it an “exceptional year.” Dr. Campbell said Tobias and others have already accomplished a great deal in their young lifetimes.

After graduating from Crane, Tobias returned to the same school district he had attended in Rockland County, NY, and began teaching general music to students in grades 5 though 7 and band to seventh and eighth graders.

During the summers, Tobias worked on his master’s degree in music education at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago. Eventually, he knew he wanted to earn his doctorate degree.

“After about my junior year at Crane,” Tobias said, “I knew I wanted to get my Ph.D. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”

“Taking graduate courses as an undergraduate really opened my eyes to what music education was all about,” he said. “Dr. Campbell would have us look at various pedagogical techniques and discuss which theories actually worked. We kept journals and kept improving on education theories. It helped put real life into the classes I was taking.”

Also, while attending Crane, Tobias began a Web site that he and other students could use to post their portfolios. That site,, grew into an Internet blog site, where music educators around the globe can post and share information.

As a middle school teacher, Tobias had been searching for innovative methods to approach popular musical culture in the classroom. He knew many of his students were watching the immensely popular TV show, American Idol. So, Tobias began using the show in his classroom. He would have his students watch the show in class, listen to the music and critique the judges’ comments. Tobias also had his class compose music, and he would have the students judge the compositions like on American Idol, a class that ABC News featured this class last May.

“The producer and reporter spent about two hours in the room and talked to students in different classes. What came out of that was about a two-minute clip,” Tobias said. “The best, though, was that they actually had a clip that had the students performing one of their compositions. The kids really got a kick out of that.”

Using popular culture in the classroom gives elementary and middle school students something contemporary they can relate to more easily than say classical composers, Tobias said. Yet at the same time, Tobias has his students use American Idol-style judging when students composed their own pieces.

“It’s always a lot of fun when one of the students shouts ‘we’ve got a hot one here, y’all,’” he said, referring to a frequent expression used by an American Idol judge when someone has performed exceptionally well. “It teaches students to listen intently to the compositions and offer constructive feedback.”

Last June, Tobias left Willow Grove Elementary School and headed back to Evanston, IL to begin working on his doctoral program at Northwestern University.