Meet the MTNA President-Elect Candidates

Perhaps you are wondering what is MTNA? Music Teachers National Association is a professional organization dedicated to the support, growth, and development of music-teaching professionals. Learn more about it by clicking here.

I’ve been a member of this organization since I was in graduate school and continue my membership for many reasons, one of them being the connections I’ve made with other teachers at the MTNA national conferences and what I learn from respected professionals in the field. My favorite perk besides their magazine, American Music Teacher, is the MTNA “magic card “I use at Office Depot. I still can’t believe the discounts I receive for my printing needs with this member benefit.

Like all professional organizations, strong leadership is essential and this year members are invited to vote for a new President-Elect. There are two well-qualified candidates: Martha Hilley and Scott McBride Smith.  Although not required in this race, Scott McBride Smith decided to run a campaign for the seat via his own website and Facebook page. I was intrigued by his initiative and invited him to “stop by” 88pianokeys.me to answer some questions. Of course, it seemed appropriate to ask Martha as well so what you’ll find below are their responses to my questions.

NOTE: To learn about the impressive backgrounds of each candidate, please click on the prompts below. For the sake of space, they are not included here. Here’s the official MTNA election page.


Martha Hilley

Martha Hilley

Martha Hilley

Click here to learn more about Martha Hilley.

Leila: Martha Hilley was contacted and was asked to answer the same questions but graciously declined the invitation. Martha indicated that her statements included in the most recent issue of  American Music Teacher–MTNA’s magazine–sufficiently reflect her thoughts as a candidate for President-Elect.

Quote from Martha: I can think of no higher honor than to be considered for president of Music Teachers National Association. It was an unbelievable experience to be able to serve as vice president of MNTA–a period of time in my life that proved to be a personal growth time that paralleled a personally difficult time of my life. I can thank the association and the Board of MTNA for ‘having my back’ during this time. I would consider serving as president as my chance to give back and perhaps even ‘pay it forward.


Scott McBride Smith

Scott McBride Smith

Scott McBride Smith

Click here to learn more about Scott McBride Smith. His quotes included in the questions below can be found in articles posted at his website.

Q#1 Running for Office

Leila: For the sake of clarity, please explain why you are running for President-Elect and not President?

Scott: The system of succession MTNA uses is, I think, a good one. Future presidents serve a two-year term as President-Elect, participating in meetings “learning the ropes” and sometimes doing special projects.  When I served on the national board, I found the decisions I had to make as director much different than those I later faced as state president of California. I’m glad I’ve had both experiences—I see the global issues, and also the grass roots.

Leila: How long will you hold this office before you become President of MTNA?

Scott: Two years.

Q#2 Why You?

Leila: You are certainly qualified for this position so instead of asking why you should be President-Elect, I’d like to know why you want the position?

Scott: Thanks for the compliment! I see an important part of my role as president, should I be elected, is to voice the concerns that I have heard from teachers across the U.S. about the issues they are facing:

  • The challenges of attracting younger members
  • The difficulties of staffing programs in an age of declining volunteerism
  • The problems in bringing music lessons to underserved segments of the population
  • The complications in motivating today’s music student
  • The importance of advocating for music study for all.

Of course, identifying problems is just the first step. We need to define solutions.

Q#3 Perspective on Music Making

Quote from Scott: I have what I call my “big umbrella” theory. In my opinion, high-level music making and teaching exist in a wide range of forms, and styles, including popular music, jazz and improvisation. I would like MTNA to be a “big umbrella” that shelters outstanding student programs in each of these areas. There already are some fine programs at the local and state levels.”

Leila: Your big umbrella theory sounds inclusive to all styles. Trends shift slowly within the traditional music educational system and your term—if elected—is relatively short.

How will you implement your theory and see to its completion/continuation during your presidency and after you leave the office?

Scott: You understand me completely. I believe that any kind of music study with a professional teacher is inherently worthwhile. We need to include, not exclude.

The second part of your question is more complex. You’re right, two years as president is not a long time, although actually I would serve six years total on the board, two as president-elect, two as president, and two more as immediate-past-president.

I’m not sure what I can do about slowly shifting trends, but what I will do is present the statistics about music learning and the research about what motivates students to stick with music study. I will advocate for programs that include all styles and utilize the latest developments in technology.

I want to be part of the group that finds creative answers and develops innovative solutions for MTNA members. I certainly can’t do it all by myself.

Q#4 Creative Competitions and Programs

Quote from Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

Leila: If you become MTNA president, how would you incorporate more opportunities for musicians to excel and compete in the area of creativity?

Scott: Sir Ken’s “How Schools Kill Creativity” is one of the most frequently viewed talks on the TED (the Technology, Entertainment and Design) platform. He makes some interesting points. One that caught my attention was the statistic he quoted from UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization): more people from around the world will be graduating with university degrees in the next 30 years than at any time in history.

When Sir Ken and I were boys (he’s British, so he would probably say “lads”), college degrees were relatively rare and, as he points out, if you had a degree, you got a job. Nowadays, many college graduates are saddled with huge debt and no, or very low paying, job prospects.

His solution? Empower creativity. Let each child find his or her own talent and power. Let them make mistakes, and learn from those missteps. And value each student for what they can give, rather than requiring everyone to fit into the same mold.

I think MTNA does a good job in many areas already. My students who compete in MTNA Competitions, and perform in traditional student events in my local Kansas City District, work hard, challenge themselves, and gain self-knowledge from the process of performing. Success requires making many creative choices. However, this is not the only kind of program MTNA should offer.

I would like to see a wide range of programs, some of which include improvisation and pop music, so that all kids can “find their talent,” in Sir Ken’s words.

And on that note, how many music teachers have ever spoken at TED? I certainly haven’t viewed every video, but I haven’t seen any music teachers speaking yet! This needs to be rectified.

Leila: Will you implement creative-based requirements in the MTNA certified teacher program? If so, what would they be?

Scott: I’ll have to think about this one. I’m not sure requiring teachers to pass extra tests is the way to build support for more broad-based programs or for MTNA Certification itself.

Q#5 Creativity at Conferences

Leila: I assisted Bradley Sowash and George Litterst while they led the 2012 and 2013 MTNA Saturday Pedagogy Tracks that focused on jazz and pop styles and improvisation. Both years, the tracks were extremely well-attended. This year’s conference does not include a Jazz/Pop/Improvisation track or what I’d rather refer to as a “creativity track.”

Will you incorporate jazz, pop, creativity, improvisation, arranging, and/or composition in future conferences? If so, how?

Scott: When I was on the National Board of Directors, the President did not determine the conference program. I was the chairman of the program for the 2010 Conference and I assembled a committee to help me make program choices. With over 400 submissions for about 30 sessions, it was certainly too much for one person. Moreover, I wanted to have a diversity of opinions.

I’m not sure what my role as President would be in conference planning. However, I would say that every conference needs a diversity of programs. Jazz, pop, creativity and improvisation should be front and center.

Q#6 Attracting New Teachers

Leila: You mentioned that “programs should be created to add value to our teaching and attract professionals of all ages.”

What kind of programs would you create to attract the new professionals in our field?

Scott: I speak often at colleges, universities and conservatories around the world. I ask the students, future music teachers all, if they are already in or planning to join MTNA. I don’t hear the answer “yes” often enough.

The question these talented young people ask me is: what’s in it for me? How will MTNA help me build my career? How will my students succeed by participating in MTNA programs?

To me, these are legitimate questions. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is the direction my thinking is going:

  • Greater use of technology, especially distance learning.
  • Resources that help young professionals build hands-on business skills for making a living as a music teacher.
  • As Sir Ken observes, much education seems to be aimed at training college professors. As a university professor myself, I can tell you, this is not a growth industry. And being a college professor is far from the only way to have a successful life in music!
  • Practical, grass-roots programs that motivate students to learn. Yes, these should include big doses of what you call “creativity.”
  • Bringing opportunities for music study to underserved populations.

Q#7 The Impact of Technology

Quote from Scott: There’s no question–technological and demographic changes have changed the art of music teaching. 

Leila: With the advances and accessibility in today’s technology it has become an integral part of our lives. How would we survive without our cell phones?

Scott: I agree. But (please don’t tell anyone…) I sometimes look back nostalgically on the days when we didn’t even have answering machines. In memory, at least, it seems more peaceful!

But then, had that world continued unchanged, I would never had enjoyed all the opportunities that have come to me through technology.

Leila: How important is the use of technology like an iPad, apps, digital keyboards, etc. in your teaching?

Scott: I am a great advocate of Yamaha’s Disklavier. I have one in my home studio and one in my studio at the University of Kansas. I consider this the most important innovation in music teaching in the last 100 years—and Yamaha isn’t paying me a cent to say so! The recording, playback, and distance learning capabilities are an incredible asset for a music educator.

I use separate apps for metronome, polyrhythms, recording, playback and for making quick videos. I am using my iPad more and more. Leila, thanks for your posts in the Facebook iPad group. Very helpful!

Leila: How has technology changed the art of music teaching?

Scott: I’ve written a blog about this that explains my ideas at length (http://www.scottmcbridesmith.org/music-teaching-and-technology/) Here, I would say briefly that technology is still not being used by a high enough percentage of music teachers, to their own detriment and that of their students. I say this because I firmly believe that technology has the potential to increase the pool of music students by making lessons in diverse styles available to a wider range of students, In my view, this is already starting to happen.

The MTNA Student Chapter at the University of Kansas, which I advise, is working on a Distance Learning project right now that will offer lessons to a group of children in an underserved rural area in ours state in which opportunities for music study have been sparse. It’s great to see my university students so excited and inspired. I’ll be blogging about that, too!

Leila: How important is it for MTNA to partner with music tech industry leaders to promote the art of music teaching in the 21st century?

Scott: Very. We should partner with everyone who shares our vision of a more musical tomorrow. That’s part of my “big umbrella” theory.

Q#8 Closing the Gap

Leila: After attending conferences I’ve come home inspired but also alienated. There seems to be a large gap between those in the collegiate field and those of us “in the trenches” of independent studios. I’ve attending numerous sessions and masterclasses that assume all are interested in teaching the next Lang Lang when in fact students of many teachers will be the next praise team pianist, jazzer, perhaps a YouTube sensation, an independent music teacher, or more likely, a general music appreciator with a job outside of the music field.

Scott: Well, no one should ever feel alienated or isolated. I think all of the possible types of music-making you describe are great.

Leila: How do you propose to close this gap between the academic scene and the reality of many music teachers who prepare students to play beyond the classics?

Scott: That is a big question, and one that educators in all fields are grappling with right now: how do we prepare students for the realities they face in today’s job world? Is the university the best place to do this? I personally am not sure the academy is where all the action is these days, or where all the future training of musicians and music teachers will take place. I see great opportunities for partnerships between the music industry, universities and independent teachers in training and internships.

Leila: How do you plan to include music teachers of other instruments besides the piano into MTNA?

Scott: In my 30+ years in MTNA leadership, from the local level to national, I have seen many initiatives to recruit non-pianist members. These have not met with overwhelming success. I’m not sure I totally understand why. My hope will be that, as MTNA moves creatively further into the 21st century, our programs will be so dynamic that they will attract all types of music teachers.

Q#9 The Future of Music Teachers

Quote from Scott: Music teachers in the United States face a time of unprecedented uncertainty. Established teachers complain that their teaching load is down, and that the students they do have are not working as hard as they used to do. Young teachers enter the field wondering if they will be able make a living.

Leila: When I graduated with a masters in piano performance and pedagogy, I had relatively no skills in business, marketing, web design, etc.

Could it be that we as music teachers are not equipped to manage the business aspects of our own profession?

What are the steps young teachers need to take if they are to make a living?

I haven’t seen statistics but I’ve heard that the piano is falling out of popularity and that piano dealers are hurting. What are your thoughts on the forces that are driving this?

In your opinion, does MTNA feel relevant, current, and in step with today’s students and teachers or is there room for growth in our overall vision, teaching, philosophy and demographic?

Scott: I doubt that this will make you feel better, Leila, but I was in the same boat after receiving my doctorate. My background and training had inclined me to teach at a university, and that is what I did at first. But I was dissatisfied. I felt that many of the students who came to study with me had lacked opportunities to receive good pre-college training, and that their dreams of a life in music would not be possible without more practical skills.

So that is what I spent the next 25 years doing: working in the private sector, teaching in my home studio, writing articles about teaching, publishing educational books and advocating for student programs. And that’s what I have been continuing to do as a professor for the last five years: advocating for the same ideals, but also providing practical training to my college students so they can carry on the mission.

Yes, statistics do indeed show that piano sales are declining, and suggest that the numbers of piano students are going down as well. This is something that should concern all music teachers. Our job is to do a better job teaching, help our students find their talent, and send them out into the world with a love of music. This alone will make a huge difference.

Q#10 In General

Quote from Scott: Ultimately, we lead: by example and through focused action.

Leila: How will you lead by example and focused action if elected president of MTNA?

Scott: The job of MTNA President encompasses many things beyond everything you and I have dialogued about today. Much of it is problem solving and responding to situations that arise beyond anyone’s prediction or control. I’m sure this will be true for me, too, if I am elected.

I’m just one person, with a full-time job and family responsibilities. If I tried to accomplish everything by myself, I would quickly become overwhelmed.

But I am also a student of history. And there are so many times in the past when a small group of committed individuals with a common goal have accomplished great things. That’s what we can do at MTNA. The future is bright. I invite all of your readers to join me in this journey, and I ask for your vote.

Leila: Thank you Scott for taking the time to answer these questions so thoroughly. We are extremely fortunate to have both you and Martha serving as inspirational leaders in our profession. 


If you are a member of MTNA or if you’d like to become a member so you can vote, click on the image below to learn more about membership and to cast your vote. 

Hurry! The polls close on March 1st, 2015.

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Leila Viss

Creative Pianist, Piano Teacher, Organist, Blogger and Author of The iPad Piano Studio

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