Excellence in Teaching
Associate Professor of Music
College of Liberal Arts
Right: Mike Annicchiarico shows off his hand-split, handstacked firewood at his home in Concord, N.H.
Shining his light
When asked a series of questions about books and reading, jazz pianist, composer, and Associate Professor of Music Michael Annicchiarico was quick to acknowledge that his answers were slightly "off–beat." If Annicchiarico were headed for a deserted island, he would not take books to keep his mind occupied, but the scores of four composers.
That's not to say books don't also play a role in his life. The first line of Theory of Harmony, by Arnold Schoenberg sums up how Annicchiarico feels about teaching. "There has to be a give and take in the classroom, Annicchiarico says. "You are not the master and the students clay to mold into your image. The light comes into you and you try to shine it out again. It's a shared experience."
Annicchiarico says that even after 22 years of teaching at the college level students still surprise him. In a recent music theory class he handed out an assignment he'd used in many classes. "One of the students came up with a version I had never thought of. It was perfectly acceptable, made sense, and it bowled me over. I went home and spent a while thinking about all the possibilities based on what she had done. The day you think you've learned everything is the day to quit. I teach for the give and take and back and forth. Some semesters I think I learn more than my students."
His student evaluations suggest otherwise. Page after page recognizes not only his knowledge and enthusiasm, but also his persistent commitment to spend as much time as necessary to make sure every student is successful, giving countless hours outside of class and searching out different ways to present the same information. One student wrote, "I have always felt it really mattered to Professor Annicchiarico that I had a positive experience as a student at UNH." Another put in a pitch for him to have a larger office, noting that during office hours "there isn't room for as many that want to come." Unable to find a textbook that presented the material he felt was appropriate without the fluff, Annicchiarico put together a $10 manual that many of his colleagues now use.
So just how do you teach students how to listen to music? Annicchiarico says it's like anything else, "step–by–step." He teaches an ear training class, probably the toughest one–credit course on campus.
"I realized when I was a teenager that I was hearing things in music that people my age weren't hearing. I realized that I had a musical ear, an ability to recognize musical intervals, chords, and melodies.
"It's just intriguing," Annicchiarico says, "to look at a very complicated composition. I wonder, how did a composer ever hear that to write it down? It's like magic."
Despite his wonder, Annicchiarico does his own share of creating magic. He regularly writes compositions and arrangements, including original pieces for the UNH Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble. "As a composer, my job is to know what each instrument is capable of as well as what the particular group of musicians is capable of. I try to accentuate the positive."
"The first time you hear a group play your piece, it's frightening," he admits. "You don't know if the musicians will understand the music or play it well. But when you hear it working, it's really incredible to listen to something that a part of you made come alive."