Today, the Student Voice is heading over to the music department to talk with Professor Angela Tipps about the Women’s Chorale, being an introvert, and saving her husband’s senior recital.
Thanks for talking with me today! So what got you interested in music as a subject?
Well, my mother was a pianist and my father was a choir director, and all of my brothers and sisters–I’m the youngest of five–sang and played. We were a musical family; it’s always been a part of us. I learned how to play piano as soon as I could sit up on the bench. When I got to middle school, I started playing trumpet in the band, then went to high school. My sister taught at Riverdale High School, where I went, and she knew that the choir needed a piano accompanist. I applied and got it, so for four years I was the Riverdale Singer’s pianist. I didn’t know I was doing this at the time, but I was learning how to be a choir director just through learning to listen and play certain parts where they were missing, by sitting at the keyboard and listening for mistakes. Mr. Brian, my high-school choir director, said “Why don’t you major in music and be an organ major, and go into church music?” and I said “Sure,” because I was seventeen and that sounded fine to me (laughing). So I came here to MTSU and got a degree in organ performance, and then went to graduate school in Nashville and got a church music degree. I spent ten years doing church music, with the choir and little kids, that sort of thing, and then this position came open, so I switched to higher education.
At what point did you know that you wanted to teach?
It was on the first day of my freshman year here at MTSU, in SFA 117, the choral hall room. I was the pianist for the choir, and we were rehearsing Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”, which is a very unusual piece that not a lot of people do, but it’s an extraordinary piece of music. We were working on the third movement, on the “hallelujahs”, and this amazing sound came across the choir; it was one of those moments that was like a lightning bolt. I just thought “I have got to do this for the rest of my life”. I decided then and there that I needed to conduct choir. I can even tell you where I was sitting when that happened, because I get to teach in that very room now. It’s very cool!
When did you come to MTSU as a professor?
Twenty years ago was my first jaunt here. I was here for six years on a tenure track position, but then I got pregnant with my second child, and I just didn’t want to put him in daycare. I also didn’t want to have to go back for a doctorate, which at the time seemed like what I was going to have to do to have a long-term job and get tenure. So I was an adjunct for six years, and later I got a full-time temp job, which is what I do now. I’ve gotten hired twice with no terminal degree; I just have a master’s degree in church music, not a doctorate, so the fact that I’ve been hired here twice is a fluke, and I’m incredibly grateful for that!
If you could recommend one class that you teach to every MTSU student, which class would it be and why?
It would be Music 1030, Introduction to Music. It’s one of the gen-ed requirements in the Arts and Humanities. It’s a great course! You just listen to a bunch of different kinds of music and describe what you’re hearing, and you learn about the history and cultural identity of it. For instance, we’re doing world music right now and we had a group called Pangea, from the Chinese center for culture, come and give a concert in my class. We’ll have a salsa band and a sitar player coming later in the semester. We also have an American music component, which is everything from jazz to hip-hop to folk music, and then of course a classical music component. We call this class the Appetizer Sampler Platter, because it gives you a little sampling of all different kinds of music! And it really is an easy course; there’s no reason you shouldn’t get an A if you just come to class and do a few assignments. I love that course, and I love what I’m doing. I never thought I’d be teaching non-musicians and liking it so much! This course attracts all kinds of majors, everyone from aerospace to science to psychology.
What is something you wish you’d done in college, or wish that you’d done differently?
I wish I hadn’t worried quite so much about my grades. I wanted so badly to keep that 4.0, and then I got to my last semester and made a B. It was devastating! Obviously I still need therapy about it, 35 years later (laughs). I wish I hadn’t been so consumed by trying to get good grades so that I could’ve relaxed a little bit more. But I was a performance major and had a lot of practicing to do. I was in the music department all the time, which is necessary as a music major, but I wish I’d had some more time to take different courses like philosophy or geology. I didn’t have a chance to take electives like I wish I had, to be more well-rounded.
In addition to teaching, you’re also the organist and music director for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, correct?
Yes, it’s my part-time gig, if there is such a thing as a part-time church job (laughing). But it’s really more than a part-time job because you’re always on call, always going to play weddings or funerals and such. I’ve got two or three choirs–I direct the adult’s choir, then there’s a youth choir and also a children’s choir–plus I play a couple services. So it’s a big job, but I love it and it keeps me practicing at the organ, which I wouldn’t have time or the opportunity to do otherwise.
Do you think your experience at St. Paul’s has helped you as a teacher?
Yes, because church choirs are full of average, ordinary volunteers, and they’re not musicians first. Many of the students I teach here are primarily musicians, so I get caught up in the music-major world, and it’s nice to have that balance from folks who are lifelong singers, but not professional musicians. I’ve got an 80-year-old or two at St. Paul’s who have always sung in their church choir, and they just want to keep singing. So it’s really nice to have that connection between teaching folks who are going to make their living at it, and those who do it just because they love their church and they love to sing. Also, my church is awfully supportive of the things we do here. They come to our concerts all the time, and sometimes when a student can’t afford a dress for the women’s chorale, they’ll buy a dress or two for the students who need it.
Tell us some more about the MTSU Women’s Chorale!
We’ve got 59 singers, and almost exactly half of them are non-music majors. We’ve got aerospace, English, journalism…they just come from all over. It’s a wonderful blend! I’ve got 23 freshmen this year, and I’m encouraging them to stay with the chorale; it’s an excellent way to meet people who aren’t in your major, and you can take it every year as an elective. I’m always just honored and humbled that these girls come and use their credits and their money to sing for me.
Also, this year is a very special year for us! In the spring semester, in February, we’re going to Louisville Kentucky to represent MTSU at the American Chorale Directors’ Association. There were 85 choirs who auditioned; eighteen of them were accepted and six of those were college choirs, and ours was one of the six! It’s sort of been the last thing on my professional bucket list, to get a choir there. So sixty of us will truck up to Louisville in February to sing, which is very exciting. Now I’ve just got to raise $15,000 to do it! (laughs). We’ll be having some fundraising initiatives coming up in the next few weeks to help us reach that goal. It’s a very exciting time for us, and I’m thrilled that we get that opportunity.
What is something about yourself that your students wouldn’t guess?
That I’m incredibly introverted. When I put on my professional face, I have to be extroverted. I’m a choir director, for goodness’ sakes! And I like that; whenever I take the Meyers-Briggs personality test, I’m 50-50 extrovert-introvert, right down the middle. So in my job, where I need to be extroverted, I am. But I am a wallflower when I walk into a party; if I’m not the one hosting it, I am absolutely against the wall like “Please don’t talk to me!” (laughing). Isn’t that weird? So students are always surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert, and I really have to have my alone time, especially in the mornings when I prepare for the day. Personally, I would sit alone and read books all day if I could make a living doing that!
What advice would you give your students for success?
Show up for class! It astounds me when kids are paying this much money for tuition and they just don’t come! I’d say get your work done in time, come to class, and put your cell phone down sometimes and just talk to people. I often have to force my students into making conversation with each other, so we always have some sort of “question of the day” exercise that allows them to talk to their neighbors. So I’d also say, learn how to master the art of face-to-face conversation.
What is one of your favorite college memories?
I think that moment in the choral hall, playing Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”, was definitely a highlight of my college career. I also got to know my husband here at MTSU; he was a senior and I was a freshman, and I played for his senior recital. He was a voice major who was looking to be a music educator. He’s now actually a judge, so talk about somebody who changed career paths! But our first encounter was the summer before I went to college; I was playing at the St. Rose Catholic Church down the street, and Dale was one of the paid singers who came to sing at the choir every week. He was the cantor, the one who sang the Catholic liturgy for the day, and he got completely lost! He skipped about two lines, but I found where he had skipped to and caught up with him, playing over his mistake, and he muttered “Thanks” on the way back to the choir loft. And I thought “Aw man, I’ve arrived!” Some twenty-year-old talked to me! The next year, we sang in the college choir together and weren’t remotely interested in each other at all. Then we went to graduate school and realized “Wait, why weren’t we ever an item?” And that’s when we got together. He even remembered that incident from the Catholic liturgy when we met again later because I saved him; and I’ve been doing that ever since! (laughing). He got lost again at his senior recital, when I was playing for him again; he started just making up words in this German song that he was singing, and I managed to cover for him again. Looking back on it, it’s probably good that he changed careers and just went to law school!