Temple Times Online Edition
    DECEMBER 8, 2005
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Teaching, music both have their charms for Lindback winner Klein

The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation has granted Temple additional time to identify winners for its annual awards, and four outstanding faculty members were selected as 2005 winners. Michael Klein will be included in the faculty convocation in April 2006

From the time he started taking piano lessons at age 9, Michael Klein knew music was in his future. What he didn’t know was that it would be in teaching that he would find his greatest rewards.


“I knew right away I was going to do music,” said Klein, associate professor of music theory in the Boyer College of Music and Dance. After the regimen of lessons and recitals during his growing-up years, he enrolled at the Eastman School of Music, earning two degrees in performance (a B.M., with distinction, in piano performance and an M.M. in performance and literature, also in piano).

“I was too dumb to realize that if you don’t have a career at age 12, you’re done — and I was no child prodigy,” he recalled with a laugh.

After several years spent freelancing, Klein realized he wanted to pursue a doctorate. “I walked in to the University of Buffalo and asked, ‘What’s your quickest Ph.D. that I can get?’”

That’s how Klein came to enroll in their doctoral program in music theory, the study of structure and meaning in music. “It’s basically studying the grammar of music,” he explained.

“It’s somewhat akin to literary criticism.”

For Klein, the degree program not only gave him a fast track to a Ph.D., but along the way, “I found out I was good at it — a lot better at music theory than at playing the piano.”

It also opened the door to teaching. While pursuing his degree, he served as education coordinator for the Buffalo Philharmonic, a job that took him into the public schools to prepare students for the orchestra’s children’s concerts.

“I loved it. I got to talk about music and get kids excited about music,” he said.

He’s still getting students excited about music. Now, it’s the undergraduate and graduate students he teaches across all majors in the Boyer College, where in just six years, he has built a reputation as a masterful classroom teacher. Klein, who has been awarded a 2005 Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, downplays his teaching prowess.

“I had a dream once that I got a job and when I showed up to teach, they told me, ‘You’re supposed to be in the class, not in front of it.’

“That dream gave me my perspective on what I do. My job is not to teach students, but to learn from them. They teach me so much with their questions.”

His teaching style, Klein said, has evolved. “I started out trying to be a really difficult teacher — ‘do this now, do that this way.’ I got good results from the overachievers in class, but not from anybody else.

“I decided to take a more personable approach and be more like who I am. I want students to feel comfortable and to feel that it’s safe to say what they want without fear of being put down.

And I use humor to get them into a topic. I like to have fun, and I want them to have fun.”

He rarely teaches the same course the same way. “If things don’t work, I toss them out. And with so many pieces of music to choose from, I like to vary the mix.”

In their course evaluations, his students sing his praises. “What a rocking teacher,” a student in his aural theory class wrote. Others cited his “passion for music,” his “great knowledge,” his relaxed, humor-infused teaching style, and the attention he gives to individual students.

The admiration is clearly mutual.

“I love teaching here,” said Klein, who came to Temple in 1999 after a three-year teaching stint at the University of Texas. “I like the energy of teaching in a city. The students here have a certain grittiness; they’re always in your face, challenging you. And I love to see students achieve something they never thought they could do.

“It’s a pretty wonderful life.”

Klein recently learned he has received the Publication of the Year Award from the Society for Music Theory for his article on Chopin published in Music Theory Spectrum, the premier journal in the field.

After the publication of his first book, Intertextuality in Western Art Music (Indiana University Press), he is at work on another, this one about music’s ability to make people transcend their cultural surroundings.

As in his teaching, Klein holds himself to the highest standards.

“I want to write the best book I can,” he said.

- By Harriet Goodheart