New Faculty Member Q&A: Justin West, Assistant Professor, Music and Human Learning

Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Justin West, Assistant Professor

Justin West, Assistant Professor

Tell us about the classes you’ll be teaching this year.  

I’ll be teaching an undergraduate course (Musical Development of Children) and a graduate course (Qualitative Research in Music and Psychology). The musical development course, which I’m co-teaching with my Music and Human Learning colleague Dr. Laurie Scott, is on inclusive teaching practices (i.e., how to reach and teach all students regardless of exceptionality, disability and racial, cultural or socioeconomic disparities). In the field portion of the course, students get to teach music to kids in Austin-area public schools. At the graduate level this year, I’ll be teaching qualitative research methods. I use qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct my own research, finding that both approaches are useful in understanding music teaching and learning. I am eager to bring this perspective to our MHL graduate students. My broader scholarly interests include music teacher professional development, sociology of music education and arts education policy. I plan to develop courses around these topics in future years. 

What attracted you to the Butler School of Music and The University of Texas at Austin? 

I am a native Texan—born and raised in Houston—so at some level I always knew of and admired UT Austin (as I suppose many Texans do!). My regard for the Butler School specifically came into focus when I brought my high school students to compete in UIL events here. I loved the campus environs, but most importantly, I saw how UT faculty interacted with my students, as well as how UT student volunteers served enthusiastically in their role as Butler School “ambassadors.” I didn’t have my sights set on becoming a UT faculty member at that time, but I was struck nevertheless. Later, when I was a graduate student in music education, I read with great interest the scholarship of the faculty, and now my new colleagues, in Music and Human Learning. It’s a real thrill to be a part of this team, and I’m eager to see what the future brings.

How did your professional pathway lead to your focus on music and human learning? 

My formative years as a musician came in the church. I joined the choir at age 13, was one of the directors by 15, and became a regular music staff member at 17. These leadership opportunities, along with active middle and high school choir experiences, led me to music education. In fact, by ninth grade, I don’t think I seriously considered any other career option. After training as a choral music educator, pianist and tenor, I taught choir, AP music theory and piano at a high school in the Houston area. My goal was always to earn a doctorate and teach in higher education, but I thought I’d specialize in choral conducting. At that time I was ambivalent about the strictures of empirical research. Testing theories, analyzing data and writing papers didn’t seem all too appealing to me—at least in the abstract. However, once I got the chance to do a study of my own, to apply these tools to questions I thought important, I changed my mind. I became interested in earning a Ph.D. and becoming a music education professor.  

What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you? 

I've worn many hats in my professional work—pianist, singer, scholar, conductor—but I consider teaching my core calling. So, for students, I’d say that I’m willing and ready to work on your behalf. Come by and see me! To colleagues I’d convey much of the same. I am excited to get to know the school and its faculty, and to possibly collaborate on projects of mutual interest.  

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not teaching/researching/working? 

I am an avid consumer of podcasts.  I enjoy reading nonfiction, usually books that have some connection to social science (how people and groups think, behave and sort themselves) or social policy (how governments/institutions and the social world intersect). I also watch my share of TV (old episodes of The Office have been a welcome distraction recently) and movies (I saw F9 this summer, but I’m a fan of the whole Fast and Furious franchise.) 

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