Dawn Pierce

Associate Professor, Music Performance
School: School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Teaching Philosophy


Empowerment, individuality, community, and excellence are prominent pillars of how I teach and live my life. These pillars create a foundation for inspired lifelong learning. To realize these ideals, my teaching emphasizes that singing is a balance of art and science. A singer’s understanding of the anatomy and physiology of their unique vocal mechanism provides a foundation for effective artistic expression. A solid vocal technique is to inspired performance as a rich vocabulary is to compelling poetry.

EMPOWERMENT:  It is my goal as an educator to perpetuate knowledge, promote learning, and encourage discovery. I foster growth in my students by giving them tools that inspire curiosity, open-mindedness, and a hunger for knowledge, which enables them to become independent and resourceful learners. To develop these skills alongside a solid vocal technique, I have designed a supplemental curriculum to enhance critical listening skills, understand the anatomy and physiology of the vocal mechanism, assist in selecting diverse and appropriate repertoire with an understanding of historical context, and develop tools for maintaining physical and emotional well-being. In addition, I explicitly teach a method for practicing effectively, comprised of three components: evaluation (the ability to self-assess), strategy (the ability to formulate a plan of action), and integration (the ability to adopt their strategy as habit. Each of these elements are crucial to becoming a nuanced singer-actor.

INDIVIDUALITY:  I believe in teaching the person, not just the instrument when it comes to teaching private voice. Finding a balance between academic rigor and compassionate empathy is crucial to effectively reaching each student. Using this approach with clarity and enthusiasm effectively impacts learners, ultimately connecting them to their passion for lifelong learning. I am committed to providing a brave environment that is safe and challenging; one that empowers both student and teacher in pursuing learning. I treat my students with utmost respect, creating an atmosphere where they feel supported as they strive to become the best singer and human they can be. Each student has a unique skillset, specific needs, and a dominant learning style. I teach vocal technique through repertoire and vocalese designed for a student’s individual talents and identity preferences. I tailor instruction to honor each student’s particular balance of visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic learning styles with their motivating purpose. Using this approach in teaching gives the individual student the opportunity to actively contribute to how their learning unfolds.

COMMUNITY:  In classroom teaching and repertoire classes, I find great joy in watching strangers grow into an intellectual community of creative, confident citizens. I invite students into relationships with each other and encourage them to develop, extend, and test their insights in the broader world.  I designed a guided group lesson for incoming students that creates a cohort, encourages trust, and builds shared vocabulary and community. Each semester, I assign a practice partner to every studio member with the communicated purpose of having another set of ears to help the student assess whether they are meeting their goals. However, the benefit of the practice partner goes well beyond this as it creates a solid foundation of encouragement among the students. They learn through their observations to offer informed feedback, articulate concepts, and have a stronger investment in their colleagues’ growth. Beyond the studio, I view experiential and service learning as strong components of community. For example, I strongly encourage every student who performs an academic recital to share their program with an audience outside the college community. An environment where a student is both an artist and a citizen offers them an opportunity to take their performance to another level.

EXCELLENCE:  At the core, my curriculum emphasizes the importance, relevance, and integration of knowledge combined with harmonic collaboration as a blueprint for excellence. In my approach, continual assessment is imperative to ensure that individualized strategies for growth are achieving results. I measure my own excellence by my ability to improve myself through staying current in the field, continuing to study and perform, reading professional journals and letters, constantly observing other teachers, and furthering my education. I strive to remain relevant and applicable in an ever-changing world while staying true to my core values. I want my students to see that I “practice what I preach” as a technician, an artist, and a citizen.

One of the most important concepts I hope to impart to students is that joy in learning is a process that never ends. I want to be that teacher who, even after decades in the classroom, still leaves each session asking how the next might be better. I want to move beyond fear into the unknown, exploring possibility, building energy, and living my love of the learning process. This pursuit of excellence, the determination to empower, and the recognition that unique individuals exist and thrive in community are foundational to who I am as a teacher.