Dr. Jeff Womack: Passion for Teaching
October 08, 2013
Dr. Jeff Womack not only teaches ASU music students to better play their instruments, he also shows some of them how to make their own parts.
An associate professor of music, Womack specializes in the double-reed instruments, bassoon and oboe. They are the only instruments that require their performers to make their own reeds out of two pieces of cane.
“All of the brass instruments use a mouthpiece that’s the same every time,” Womack said. “We have to make our mouthpieces. Even the single reeds, they have an actual mouthpiece and they have to put a reed on. We have to make a mouthpiece from scratch from a stick of cane, which is an organic material, and it’s different every single time.”
The reeds are made in a makeshift construction lab in Womack’s office. The technique can take years to perfect.
“Students come in with varying degrees of ability in reed-making,” Womack said. “Some have never made a reed in their life. With others, we work on refining their technique. But it’s extremely important that they learn how to make reeds that allow them to play their instrument at the level they need to graduate. This is in addition to all of the normal practicing that they have to do just like everyone else, plus all of their other responsibilities.”
For all those extra hands-on hours with his students, as well as his student and community outreach efforts, Womack received the 2013 ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Teaching.
“My philosophy is everything is about the students,” Womack said. “Everything that we do revolves around helping the students get the most out of the time that they’re here so that they can go be successful and contribute in a positive way in their chosen fields. All the students know that about me, that they come first.”
“Everything that we do revolves around helping the students get the most out of the time that they’re here so that they can go be successful and contribute in a positive way in their chosen fields.”
In addition to double-reed instruments, Womack also teaches music history, a two-year sequence of four classes required of every music major.
“I get to know every single music major who comes through,” he said, “and that’s really important. It helps them have a sense of belonging.”
Womack also teaches an introductory music elective and a woodwind methods class for music education majors. Outside the classroom, he coaches ASU’s Woodwind Quintet, an ensemble comprised of a single flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and French horn.
“Sometimes in larger bands, you have lots of people playing on a part,” Womack said. “Wind Ensemble is specialized, too, because typically there’s only one person playing on a part. But it’s a large group, so there’s lots more sound. In a quintet, there’s one person on a part. It challenges them on a different level. It makes them become more sensitive as musicians. It makes them become better musicians overall.”
As passionate as he is about teaching, though, Womack also loves to perform.
“I play in the San Angelo Symphony, I play with the Abilene Philharmonic and the San Antonio Symphony as well,” he said. “That keeps me engaged artistically. It keeps me charged up.”
Along with fellow woodwind faculty Dr. Constance Kelley on flute and Dr. Timothy Bonenfant on clarinet, Womack is also a founding member of the Mesquite Trio, formed in 2007 to promote chamber music and support new compositions. The trio performs regular recitals, and in 2010 performed Womack’s newly published composition, “Rustic Celebration,” at the International Double Reed Society conference in Norman, Okla.
Womack has loved the bassoon since his childhood in New Orleans.
“I chose the bassoon because I loved the sound,” he said. “When I was a child, we all watched Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner. The bassoon was featured prominently in the music of those cartoons. I fell in love with the sound. Secondarily, my band director told me that it was hard to play, and I always loved a challenge, so I took it up. I started band in the eighth grade on the flute and took up the bassoon in the ninth grade.”
He later earned his bachelor’s degree in music education at Berea College (Kentucky) his master of music at Illinois State University, and a doctorate of musical arts at Louisiana State University. He taught previously at Illinois State University, Northern Arizona University and Dickinson State University before joining the ASU faculty in 2006.
“I was warmly welcomed into the musical community in the region and statewide,” Womack said, “and have thoroughly enjoyed myself since coming here. I love being part of the ASU community.”