Writen By: Qulea Anderson
North Carolina State University annually looks to recognize excellence in teaching by asking each college to nominate spectacular faculty members as their representatives for the Outstanding Teacher Award. The Outstanding Teacher Award highlights excellence in teaching at all levels, and anyone from NC State can nominate a faculty member for one of the six university-level awards.
This year, University College has selected teaching professor Wes Parker, director of Jazz Studies in the Department of Music, as the winner of the Outstanding Teacher Award Dr. Parker’s work and teaching have been praised by students and co-workers alike. Chris Branam, lecturer and assistant director of bands, has watched the transformation of the jazz program for over a decade since Parker has been teaching. Branam says, “Through hard work, consistently being an advocate for his students, and his superior teaching, Wes has developed a culture of excellence throughout the program. Wes’ passion for teaching music has been contagious with his students and has transformed the department’s jazz programs.”
Parker is dedicated to his students and the program, and he gets to know his students personally as well as make his expectations clear, which allows them to work through any problems that need to be addressed musically.
Thomas Koch, assistant director of the Music Department and associate professor of Music, has taken note of Parker’s teaching style as well as how his classes operate. Koch addressed some of Parker’s educating and mentoring skills.
“Rather than rushing through sections to fulfill some grand agenda, Wes takes extra time to work with individuals or groups when the circumstance demands it—even playing the part on the piano for note and style accuracy before asking members to reproduce it,” Koch said. “At times, he’ll be direct about what needs to be fixed by stopping the ensemble or verbally calling out necessary changes. At other times, he’ll use physical gestures or verbal cues to make these changes.”
Parker understands that his students are still people and takes time to make sure they understand what they need in order to push themselves and to correct their errors.
“Wes knows the capabilities of his players so well that he instinctively understands what situation requires what type of direction,” Koch said. “And when the passage is corrected and the playback successful, Wes offers praise.”
The jazz program has grown significantly since Parker’s arrival. “One example occurred in 2015 when the NC State jazz ensembles performed at the North Carolina Music Educators’ Conference in Winston-Salem—a performance that marked only the second time in program history that an NC State Jazz ensemble has played at this conference,” says Koch.
His students praise his abilities and acknowledge the care that he has for them. No matter the experience of the student, he gives them the tools and motivation to grow and overcome challenges as artists and people. Carter Harris, Ph.D. ’19, one of Parker’s former students, says, “My experience with Dr. Parker as a teacher ran parallel to the overwhelmingly positive time I spent with him in an ensemble setting. Few have had as long of a window as I have enjoyed, getting to see students join Dr. Parker’s band (sometimes with no prior experience in performing) and leave with a sincere love for jazz and new-found confidence in their abilities as musicians and people.”
Students choose NC State for many reasons, and a well rounded, diverse, and meaningful curriculum that spans many disciplines is essential to creating an environment that educates the whole Student.Wes Parker, 2020 Outstanding Teacher Award Recipient from University College
When asked about his contributions to teaching at NC State, Parker said he believes that his positions fit into the teaching mission here at NC State.
“Students choose NC State for many reasons, and a well rounded, diverse, and meaningful curriculum that spans many disciplines is essential to creating an environment that educates the whole student. I draw on these experiences (referring to his performances with classical symphony orchestras, professional jazz ensembles, etc.) daily when mentoring and teaching students in the music department, and I find that it has provided a significant advantage in my ability to run a growing program and to positively impact the lives of the students who are a significant part of everything we do at NC State.”
Parker received his undergraduate degree in music education from Tennessee Technological University. He earned his master’s degree in trombone performance and doctorate of musical arts in trombone performance from the University of Southern Mississippi. He has various affiliations with the International Trombone Association, Jazz Educators Network, ACC Band Directors Association, and more. As part of his professional outreach, he has been seen throughout the country as a performer, clinician, guest conductor, and adjudicator in jazz, classical, and marching arts. In 2017 the NC State Jazz Ensemble performed on tour in Italy, and the NC State Jazz Combo recently released its first CD, “Whistlin,” which features nine original compositions by his students. Parker has performed with symphony orchestras, professional jazz ensembles, world-famous musicians, and others, and believes these experiences have allowed him to adapt to a wide variety of performing genres that have been a significant influence on his work for NC State’s Music Department.