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Genevieve Ruhland ’18

Before Genevieve Ruhland ’18 wrapped up her double major in music education and math this year, she directed a 70-minute experimental percussion performance in the Academic Quad—a project that allowed her to explore less mainstream percussion music as part of her Presidential Scholars research.

Her interest in the piece, and other experimental percussion music (instruments whose sound is made by striking, scraping, beating, or shaking), grew out of a visit to McGill University in Montreal for a percussion symposium in 2017. One of the speakers there talked about “Inuksuit,” an experimental composition by John Luther Adams. She thought, “how cool is that to get to play a percussion piece outdoors, and it’s not just a little five-minute thing, a 70-minute, full on production.”

She set out to make it happen during the LoKo Arts Festival. She arranged for 20 of her classmates to come together in the Academic Quad to perform “Inuksuit.” There was no shortage of sound filling campus as they played 48 drums, 56 cymbals, six conch shells, four sirens, two gongs, six triangles, six pieces of metal, six maracas, seven whirly tubes and two sets of crotales. They also played five sets of bells to replicate the sounds of local birds. Meant to be performed in nature, the sheet music was also composed in such a way as to emulate native American symbols by visually portraying actual Native American rock structures.

“We had a great turnout at the event, including many professors, students, and even the President. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would! I felt so proud of all my fellow studio members for taking on this project with me, and the amount of work they put into it. I honestly could not have asked for a better performance,” Ruhland said.

Her Presidential Scholars research really allowed her to go from playing that supportive role on drums or marimba, to playing and conducting music solely centered around the sounds of percussion music. She said that the view of percussion music has continued to evolve since the 1950s. It has led to percussion instruments being played as solo instruments and also “expanding the boundaries of what is considered percussion, and even what is considered music,” Ruhland said. “Through my Presidential Scholars project, I tried to bring awareness to not only Crane students, but the campus in general.”

Her quest to educate people through her Presidential Scholars project fits perfectly with her music education major at Crane. During her senior year, she had the opportunity to teach both middle school and high school music as part of her student teaching requirements for the major. As luck would have it, her placements were even with SUNY Potsdam alumni from The Crane School of Music.

For her first placement, she worked with alumnus Matt Doi ’08 at Bay Trail Middle school in Pennfield, N.Y. While there, she had the opportunity to teach general music, guitar and jazz band. After her first day, he gave her the reigns to teach and by the second week, she was leading her own music class. During her second placement, she worked with Mike Struzik ’88 at Brighton High School in Rochester, N.Y. where she was taught high school band and music theory.

“I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with. I always wanted to be a teacher, but this actually solidified not only my abilities but my passion for getting to actually teach kids,” Ruhland said.

For current students she emphasized the importance of actually getting into the classroom for student teaching to make sure it’s a good fit. She also said that Crane did a great job of preparing her for that experience. “I love being here at Potsdam. I don’t think I would have gone anywhere else. The faculty and the experience I’ve had being a music education major at Crane has been awesome,” she said.

One of her Crane professors in Department of Music Education, Dr. Emmett O'Leary, was particularly influential to her. Tech savvy and valuing the importance of music technology education, she said O'Leary pushed for his students to be aware of changing computer programs and trends. “Now that technology has become more accessible, a lot of classrooms are trying to move toward Garage Band and using online interfaces for music. If you don’t learn about it in college, it’s really hard for you to be able to bring that into the classroom,” she said.

“It’s great to have him as a faculty member. He’s been trying to help me out. He knows some jobs that are available and he’s recommending things and saying, ‘this is a program that you would work well in and these are things you should look out for,’ as far as setting me up for the best success as a new music teacher,” Ruhland said.

Between her education at Crane, student teaching opportunities and independent Presidential Scholars research, Ruhland has prepared herself well for the next step. She is now in the process of applying for music education jobs and currently working as a substitute teacher in the same school district where she was a student teacher just last year.

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- Article by Jason Hunter, Photos by Paul Mardy