Hundreds of books line the walls of Professor of Music Gwen Leonard’s office. Sheet music is stacked on the piano in the center of the room, and more binders sit neatly on the bench. Leonard looks around her office before laughing and saying, “My initial thoughts about leaving Linfield? I have no idea where I’m going to store all this music now.”
After 27 years at Linfield, Leonard is retiring this spring, leaving more than just an empty office in her trail.
Leonard said that while the music program at Linfield is stable and strives for excellence, it hasn’t always been as strong.
“I have to confess, when I first came to Linfield, I felt that students were sub-standard in musical abilities,” Leonard said. “But over 27 years I’ve been here, the college and the department has addressed that and there has been a terrific increase in intellectual capacities and interests. If you want standards to go up, you just have to ask.”
Leonard said that it took time for her to find a balance between giving students dignity and compassion and challenging them to reach their potentials. She said that viewing each student as a unique personality with different needs helped her teach more effectively.
“When I first came to Linfield, I immediately noticed a high level of caring,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve been in one community that has been as caring. But I also wondered if we were caring so much that we were coddling students.”
Leonard said she adapted to working closely with individual students and enjoyed the challenge of helping them meet personal goals.
“I’ll miss teaching one-on-one,” Leonard said. “It’s a privilege to get to know each student so well. Every person flows with their own uniqueness. I think I found dealing with that a bit daunting at first, but I got the hang of it.”
While at Linfield, Leonard has instructed theater opera and has taught classes such as Lyric Diction, Class Voice, Music History and Literature, Women in Music and American Sense in Sound. She said she received the 1998 Linfield College Edith Green Award for Outstanding Teaching after several of her students nominated her for the honor, which was one of her most unexpected experiences at Linfield.
Leonard said she also keeps her own musical life moving through singing and performances.
“Singing and teaching have always gone together for me,” she said. “Being an artist-teacher is part of my job. We must perform in order to teach performance.”
Leonard’s music background extends back to her childhood when she was raised by her mother and father who were both professional musicians. She said they gave her special training and encouraged her to pursue music because she had the most natural talent out of her three siblings.
Leonard said she recalls her father’s influence in her musical taste.
“I remember coming in the house with recordings of Elvis and my father looked at them and said, ‘Okay. Take them up to your room and close the door,’” Leonard said. “He thought I was rebelling. It turned out that Elvis probably lasted three weeks with me. I soon realized that I’d rather spend time with Beethoven’s sonatas.”
Leonard attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music for her undergraduate degree in music before earning a master’s degree at the University of Illinois. She said she got married and raised two children before receiving a doctoral degree from the University of Oregon. Leonard began teaching at Linfield in 1984, she said.
Although Leonard is retiring from Linfield, she said she isn’t finished with her music career. She said she plans to spend several years giving lessons in her studio in Portland, where she assists professional musicians. Leonard said she will eventually move to California, to spend time with her grandchildren and search for an adjunct teaching position.
“I look forward to setting my own agenda,” she said. “It will also be nice to spend more time in the sun when I move to California. I’m such a sun bird!”
Leonard said that there is still value in the field, even though music isn’t given as much room in education as it used to be given.
“We can’t deny that side of us that needs to be circumspect and expressive,” she said.
“Singing is a privilege and the world needs more of it. A lot of other cultures place more importance on music than we do, but we still have little cells of music. And hopefully those cells will keep us going.”
Joanna Peterson/Managing editor
Joanna Peterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.