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Reinventing the Steel: How Our Online Master’s Helped a Music Educator Form New Connections

May 20, 2021

Ed Anderson, professor in UF MMED programGrowing as a music educator means trying your hand at unfamiliar instruments and techniques, engaging with the cultures from which they come. Edwin Anderson, a Florida-based teacher, percussionist, and composer, embodies this spirit of exploration. He’s devoted much of his career to introducing musicians of all ages to the possibilities of steel band music, from his elementary school students to fellow music teachers.

Anderson advanced his own professional development by completing an online Master of Music in Music Education at the University of Florida, a program that complemented his career path while highlighting the importance for musicians at all levels to embrace new experiences and connect with people from diverse backgrounds. Musicians like Anderson who draw rhythms and melodies from a rich variety of musical traditions can find exciting possibilities for collaboration and individual achievement. In a recent conversation, Anderson shared how his time in the program expanded his horizons and helped him to take his performances to the next level.

Making Connections Through Music

While earning his undergraduate degree in 1993, Anderson joined the Mas ‘n’ Steel ensemble, discovering the steel drum—also called the steel pan— and the instrument’s rich history that traces back to Trinidad. In the 1930s, Carribean percussionists reshaped everyday items like pots and pans to produce multiple pitches. Musicians used their creations to form bands and develop wide-ranging repertoires. At the same time, these pioneers gradually refined their methods of constructing pans, paving the way for the versions that are now made from industrial drums and available in an array of tunings.

Anderson carries on the traditions of steel drum performance by playing throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean as a member of the Landsharks Band and making guest appearances with other groups like the UF Sunshine Steelers. He publishes his own steel band arrangements and has introduced many young people to the instrument in a teaching career that has spanned elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Anderson currently teaches at Triangle Elementary School in Mt. Dora, FL, where he formed the Manatee Steel ensemble for his percussion students. He says the most rewarding part of his job is to see those students develop new skills and deepen their appreciation for music. When Manatee Steel performed at the 2019 Florida Music Education Association conference, it was a special opportunity for the young pannists to play for an audience that instilled them with pride in their accomplishments.

In the same year, Anderson demonstrated that experimenting with steel drums can be just as fulfilling for highly experienced musicians and teachers when he led a day-long learning experience at the National Conference of the National Association for Music Education in Orlando.

“One of the best parts of this profession is to teach a group of enthusiastic people who are anxious to learn more about a genre of music that is not part of the mainstream music curriculum,” he said. “To have the opportunity to take a group of educators with little to no experience in steel drums and have them perform in a concert after one day of rehearsal was a highlight of my teaching career.”

In addition to his work as a music and percussion instructor, Anderson is also deeply immersed in practicing and teaching capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that integrates music, dance, and acrobatics. He includes capoeira movements in his classes and founded an after-school program focused on the discipline. According to Anderson, this centuries-old art form helps young people understand music theory, rhythm, and the value of multiculturalism.

“Students respond well to the use of kinetic movement in learning concepts,” he explained.

Seeking New Horizons in Music Education

When Anderson’s wife earned a master’s in reading education, he was inspired to pursue a graduate degree as well. He realized that an online program made it possible for him to build on his expertise while continuing to work full time. He chose to seek a master’s at the University of Florida School of Music because of the school’s reputation for excellence and his past experiences there as a guest performer.

Anderson found the online master’s in music education program both challenging and rewarding. The curriculum covers topics like instructional design, the psychological factors that shape human interactions with music, methods for theoretical analysis, and effective approaches to incorporate digital tools in the classroom. These lessons proved highly relevant to Anderson’s own practice as both a teacher and a musician, introducing him to technological resources that he now uses in his classes and theoretical principles that helped him to write more compelling arrangements.

“I like that the courses make you re-examine your views of music education and delve deeper to define your personal philosophy,” he said.

Anderson also appreciated his interactions with UF faculty and staff as well as his peers. Courses were led by highly knowledgeable educators and researchers who illuminate the course material and demonstrate how to apply fresh insights in the real world. Meanwhile, Anderson benefited from the input of fellow musicians and teachers who brought their own experiences and interests to the table.

The power of music lies in the way it connects people, and one of the greatest strengths of the UF’s online Master of Music in Music Education is the diversity of informed perspectives. With the convenience of an online program, teachers and musicians like Ed can come together and share ideas even if they live far from campus or must balance busy work schedules. By learning from top experts in the field, even master’s students who already have many years of teaching under their belts find new ways to approach complex issues in music education.

About the University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education

The University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education program is designed with the evolution of music education in mind. In addition to covering a broad array of music genres, the program’s curriculum explores advanced concepts in music education psychology, instructional design, and technology in the music classroom. The faculty includes instructors who have a wide range of professional backgrounds—from professional musicians to internationally recognized music education researchers and authors. Visit our success stories page to learn more about current and former music education master’s students who have taken advantage of the opportunities at UF to achieve their goals.

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